There’s always more content to write.
Sometimes that can be encouraging, even exhilarating. You’ve got plenty of space for all your ideas, and countless opportunities to engage with potential customers and to build a stronger relationship with existing ones.
But producing a constant stream of content can be exhausting.
You’ll find yourself running out of ideas and running out of steam. And at that point, it can be really difficult to keep creating high-quality content on a regular basis.
Even if you’re in a position to hire someone to help, you’ll still need to have a fair amount of involvement in content production – supplying ideas and outlines, at the very least.
So how can you keep up with all the content you need to produce? Before we dig into some specific tips, let’s take a look at how much you actually need to create.
How frequently should you post on your blog and your social media accounts?
There are no rules here different blogs do different things, often within the same industry. In the content marketing world, for instance:
- Smart Blogger posts (very in-depth) pieces once a week
- Copyblogger publishes three or four posts a week
- Content Marketing Institute posts one piece each weekday
As a rough guideline, you’ll probably want to aim for at least one weekly post, one daily Facebook and/or Instagram post, and three or more posts a day on fast-moving networks like Twitter. (According to Louise Myers, the “general consensus” is that anything from three to 30 Tweets per day is fine.
So how do you keep up with this level of content, week after week?
How to create great content without burning out
Here are nine ways to keep up your content production without getting to the point of feeling so burned out that you simply give up.
You can use these as a step by step process, or you can pick and choose ideas that’ll make your existing process go more smoothly.
1. Decide how often you’ll post content
While there’s no “right” answer to how often to post content, there’s definitely a “wrong” one. Posting content whenever you feel like it, at wildly varying frequencies.
It’s best – for you and for your audience – to have a consistent posting schedule, both on your blog and on social networks. That might mean, for instance, two blog posts each week, one Facebook post each day (more may be counter-productive), and five Twitter posts each day.
While you might vary your schedule a little, having a clear idea of what to aim for makes it much more likely that you’ll write and publish regular posts.
2. Come up with a suitable pattern for your content
With social media, in particular, it’s helpful to “pattern” your content. This is also a useful practice for blog posts, especially if you post twice a week or more on your blog.
Rather than starting with a blank page when it comes to generating ideas, you can have a pre-set “pattern” for the content you’re going to create.
For instance, if you’re writing five Twitter posts each day, you might decide to have:
- Two posts linking to other people’s great content
- One post linking to your most recent piece of content
- One post linking to a piece of content from your archive
- One post that asks a question or prompts a discussion
3. Brainstorm lots of ideas
Simply coming up with ideas for content can take a lot of time. Instead of sitting down and staring at a blank page, try “batching” the idea generation process: set aside time once every week or two to come up with a whole list of ideas.
Some great ways to find content ideas include:
- Common search terms within your industry: this is part of keyword research and as well as being a useful SEO tool, it’s great for idea-generation.
- Questions that you frequently get asked by potential customers.
- Problems that you faced when you were starting out in your industry.
- Other people’s content – could you create something that tackles a topic in more depth, or from a different angle?
- Your own content: can you go back to an old blog post and update it, or take some social media posts and weave them into a piece for your blog?
- Asking influencers for their contributions – this might be in the form of a quote or two from one person, or a “round-up” post with quotes from lots of different experts.
4. Outline longer pieces of content
With short posts on Twitter and Facebook, you probably don’t need an outline – just a clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish.
For blog posts, though, you’ll find it’s much faster to write when you’ve got a solid outline in place, especially if you’re producing long-form content. Again, it’s often a good idea to “batch produce” your outlines, by picking four or so ideas and outlining all those posts at once.
That way, when it’s time to write those posts, a lot of the hard work is already done. Plus, if you outline several posts in a single session, you’ll find it much easier to create links between them.
5. Write several short pieces of content at once
Instead of opening up HootSuite (or your favorite social media management tool or app) every single time you want to send a tweet or create a post, write lots of posts ahead of time.
You might want to queue up a week’s worth of posts all at once. Buffer is a great tool for this, allowing you to schedule posts to go out at any time you want – making it easier to reach potential clients in other timezones or those on unusual schedules.
6. Set aside focused time for longer pieces
Creating content requires a lot of focus – it’s not something you can easily do while you’re fielding phone calls or responding to emails every few minutes.
Block out periods of time (ideally two hours long) in advance, where you can shut your office door, ignore your email, and let calls go to voicemail.
6. Set aside focused time for longer pieces
While you may have no choice but to self-edit your content, if it’s possible, get an editor involved. This might be someone already on your team, or a freelancer external to your company.
A good editor will go far beyond correcting spelling mistakes and grammatical slips. They’ll help to ensure your content is well structured, that it flows smoothly, and that it’s as engaging as possible.
8. Have an assistant format and upload your content
If you’re uploading all your own posts on your blog and social media, you’ll be spending time finding images, selecting categories, adding hashtags, including links, and so on.
While these tasks are an important part of the content creation process, they don’t need to be done by you. Delegate as much of the repetitive work as possible to an assistant so that you can free up more time to write or design the content itself.
9. Get ahead and take time off
If content creation is starting to feel like a treadmill that you can’t get off, then you’re probably heading for burnout. Plan your schedule so you can get ahead, perhaps by creating an extra piece or two of content each week.
That way, you can take a week off from content creation occasionally (plus, you’ll also be covered for any unexpected events, like a particularly busy period, or illness).
10. Repurpose your existing content
There may well be excellent blog posts in your archive that rarely get read, and your social media posts will almost certainly only gather fleeting attention.
Instead of always coming up with fresh ideas and creating new pieces from scratch, how about reusing some of your existing content? That might be as simple as writing an updated version of a blog post, and republishing it – or it could involve something more involved like turning a series of tweets into a blog post, or turning a post into an infographic.
Valuable, high-quality content is great for your business, your potential and existing customers, and your SEO. By trying some or all of the tips above, you can keep up the flow of content, without burning out.
If you have a tip for creating lots of great content, consistently, feel free to share it with us in the comments below.
Joe Williams is the founder of Tribe SEO. He can be found on Twitter at @joetheseo.
The post Ten ways to pump out a stream of great content without burning out appeared first on Search Engine Watch.
When consumers need to find the right product, service or storefront for their needs, they grab their phone, jump on their laptop, or just say, Hey Siri, Hey Alexa, and Hey Cortana. Search results immediately populate their screen and they skim, select, learn, and go.
To win at the game of search, your small or medium-sized business needs to be present online, discoverable and well-matched to the specific needs of consumers. Easier said than done, right?
If you want to quickly reach a targeted audience, drive the right kind of traffic towards your website, and develop a marketing strategy that works alongside your SEO efforts, pay per click (PPC) advertising is a great option. When consumers perform high commercial intent searches, meaning they’re online with the intent to buy a specific product, paid ads get 65% of all clicks. It’s a very effective way to get your products front and center on the search page. Both Microsoft Advertising (formerly Bing Ads) and Google Ads offer pretty intuitive platforms when it comes to the account set-up and refinement, but if you’re not a marketing expert (and even if you are) you’re going to need a little help sometimes.
As a small business, you may not have time to really dig into PPC advertising, but you still care about building a campaign that works for you and for your potential customers. Or, maybe you have a strong handle on PPC, but you’re wondering what you could be doing better. Both these scenarios, and many more, could be helped by reaching out to your Microsoft Advertising or Google Ads customer support center or setting up an appointment with a PPC coach.
A coach? Yes, a coach. Really, try it. Working with PPC customer support at Microsoft Advertising, for example, can help your business get the right advice, employ the right tactics, and simply streamline the process, so you aren’t emerging from a PPC rabbit hole feeling frustrated and upset. That’s no fun and can be easily remedied. Here are five common concerns and how customer support can help small businesses like yours with their PPC campaigns.
“I have no idea how to get started.”
Sometimes when people jump into the world of PPC advertising, the process begins easily enough, but issues tend to pop up. Maybe you aren’t sure about how to establish a budget or conduct important keyword research. That’s ok, nobody expects you to be an expert right out of the gate.
Onboarding specialists are part of customer support and work with small businesses to set up your PPC ad account from scratch, create your first set of ads, research keywords, set a budget, and assist you with competitive bids. They view the entire process as a team effort and are genuinely interested in understanding your business goals and objectives. Then they help you design a PPC campaign to meet them.
“I can’t figure out why my campaigns aren’t performing.”
Coaches and customer support specialists can provide visibility on what is and isn’t working by showing businesses how to generate and understand a variety of performance reports. With over 30 different types of reports available, selecting and analyzing them on your own can be a little overwhelming at first, simply due to the sheer volume of data at our fingertips. Working with a coach can help provide clarity, and together you can identify relevant strategies and innovations that have a positive impact on your campaigns. In other words, they can help you figure out what all the data means and how to use it to your advantage.
If you’ve been using PPC advertising for quite a while, coaches can support your campaign by introducing you to the latest features and tools you may not know about. Sometimes we get into a routine and performance plateaus but talking to an expert for 15 minutes can totally refresh your PPC perspective and provide you with valuable insight and ideas.
“I’m afraid I’ll look like an idiot if I can’t figure this out on my own.”
Managing PPC campaigns is a learned skill, but it might not be something that comes naturally to you. A coach’s job isn’t to do everything for you, but to educate you on how to improve campaign performances on your own. Customer support can help business owners get familiar with PPC tools, processes and resources that help you successfully manage your ads without external support. The goal is to empower businesses with the know-how, competence, and confidence to handle their campaigns like a pro and troubleshoot any issues that come up. Learning, in and of itself, represents a measurement of success and makes the next PPC campaign easier to set up, more profitable, and effective.
“I don’t think customer support will understand anything about my business and it’s too much of a hassle. I just have to figure this out on my own.”
The whole point of customer support is to take the time to understand your industry and your business goals, that’s the only way to provide meaningful and targeted guidance. Coaches treat you like a partner and pro-actively offer strategic direction and the right tools to increase your PPC efficiency. They meet you at your level of expertise and build up from there, no matter your budget or your business. You need to be willing to share your story and reflectively consider what you want to get out of your various campaigns, but rest assured, if you’re willing to put in the time, it will most definitely not be wasted.
“I’m not sure I’m managing my campaign correctly and spend too much time worrying about it.”
This is a big one, especially for businesses that aren’t familiar with paid search. Your time is spent worrying that you’re doing it wrong instead of learning how to do it right. This is where working with a coach can really help because they provide you with peace of mind. Peace of mind in the information you’re using, your level of comfort and familiarity with the platform, and the belief that you are fully capable of making changes that improve your business’s visibility and lead conversions.
Few technologies promise to have an impact on the marketplace as tremendous as the blockchain technology. Though many professionals in the search marketing industry are still entirely unfamiliar with it. Blockchain’s disruptive nature is changing the nature of digital advertising regardless of whether some professionals hear about it or not, however, meaning it’s imperative to catch up on how this technology is changing the industry if you want to remain competitive.
Here are five of the major ways that blockchain will impact search marketing, and how advertising professionals are already beginning to master this interesting technology as it takes over.
1. Blockchain will make ads trustworthy
Consumers hate advertisements for a number of reasons, but by and large the most common is that they simply think advertising technology is untrustworthy. Nobody likes feeling as if they are being surveilled 24/7, and few people trust digital advertisements that appear on their screen enough to click on them, even if its contents are interesting. Blockchain technology promises to help this problem by securing the ad supply chain and making the marketing process more trustworthy to consumers everywhere.
Soon, thanks to blockchain services, ad tech vendors, buyers, and publishers will be more connected than ever before. Transparency, that is sorely needed in the ad supply chain can be brought about by the application of blockchain services, which thanks to their nature as ledgers are accessible to every party involved in a financial transaction. Website owners and ad vendors of the future will thus be able to operate with one another much more securely when making marketing arrangements.
2. Blockchain is delivering ad transparency
Elsewhere, blockchain services will be applied to make ads more transparent in an effort to win over the trust of skeptical consumers. Companies like Unilever are now teaming up with the likes of IBM on blockchain projects that they hope will disclose information about their business footprint and the way they collect and utilize information on customers. As these endeavors become more successful, others will be convinced to enlist the help of blockchain technology when it comes to ensuring a transparent advertising industry.
3. Blockchain is changing ad payments
Blockchain technology will also impact search marketing by disrupting the way that advertisement payments are facilitated. Companies like Amino Payments will soon be springing up left and right as the market for blockchain services grows larger and larger. These businesses will help mainstream blockchain-powered ad buys that make use of interesting smart contracts. While smart contracts are only just beginning to become an accepted part of the business world, they’ll be a mainstream facet of doing business sooner than we think, all thanks to the wonderful power of blockchain.
4. New advertising ecosystems are springing up
Some of the ways that blockchain is impacting search marketing are truly monumental. Blockchain technology is helping new advertising ecosystems get on their feet, for instance, with nascent companies like Adshares that are working hard to create a blockchain-based advertising ecosystem. As cryptocurrencies and other blockchain-powered technologies become more mainstream, we’ll see an increased need for blockchain-friendly payment systems.
Search marketing professionals in the future may have to rely on specialized expertise when navigating these new blockchain-powered advertising ecosystems that use a standard bitcoin wallet, which will become dominated by the IT-savvy. Programmatic advertising has already been upended time and again in recent years as the digital revolution brought about better computers, and the rise of blockchain could very well be the next stage in that cycle of disruption.
5. New blockchain browsers will reshape user experiences
Finally, the digital experience of the average consumer will be fundamentally changed by the introduction of blockchain browsers. Browser options like Brave are becoming more popular and grabbing headlines as they promise a privacy-respecting internet experience that features more honest and safer ad tech. Our current understandings of the marketing world may be entirely useless a few years from now when blockchain powered browsers off secure, personalized search options to users who are sick and tired of modern advertising gurus.
Search marketing is in for more than its fair share of disruptive changes in the forthcoming years, largely because of the advent of blockchain technology. Like any other technological innovation, blockchain will take time and investment to grow into its full potential, but it’s already quite clear that its development is jarring advertising professionals.
Bounce rate is the percentage of site visitors that land on your website and leave before viewing a second page. You can easily determine your website’s bounce rate by setting up Google Analytics.
Now, if you’re thinking this isn’t such a big deal and that as long as they visit your website, irrespective of how long they spend on it or how many pages they view, they at least know your business exists, that’s not good enough. The longer visitors stay on your site, the more time you have to turn them into subscribers and customers. But how can you convince users to stick around longer and visit more pages?
Luckily, there are a number of easy and free ways to improve your website’s bounce rate and grow your business.
Here are five ways to improve your website’s bounce rate
1. Create content consistently
Creating content consistently is one of the best ways to keep users around longer and get them to view multiple pages. Useful, engaging content will drive traffic to your website. Once that traffic is there, they’ll stick around, keep reading, and eventually become a subscriber or customer if you have a wide array of informative blog posts for them to read. In fact, according to HubSpot, companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got about 4.5 times more leads than companies that published zero to four monthly posts.
So, create a content plan that’s consistent and offers something for everyone. Not everyone prefers written content, so include a mixture of formats such as written, video, infographics, audio recordings, and more.
Another important tip for your content: Practice effective internal linking. Relevant and useful internal links sprinkled throughout your content can guide users to more of your awesome content and keep them reading.
2. Add images and videos
Speaking of a mixture of formats, to improve your website’s bounce rate, be sure you add eye-catching images and videos to your website. Many users won’t spend a lot of time reading your website content, so you need to grab their attention with images and videos.
Add a large high-quality image or video to your homepage to grab the attention of viewers as soon as they see your site. Most websites do this while keeping everything else on the page simple, like the Panera website for example.
If you don’t have the means to hire a photographer, you can find a ton of stunning, free stock images on a site like Unsplash.
3. Speed up your site
You may not have realized it before but your website speed is important for improving your website’s bounce rate. In fact, according to Google, 53 percent of mobile site visitors leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. And for every extra second that your page takes to load, the probability of users bouncing dramatically increases. So, don’t make your website visitors wait.
You can use a site like GTmetrix to test the speed of your site. Not only will it tell you what your site speed is, but it’ll also give you advice for improving it. If you’re running your website on WordPress, it would also be wise to download and install some free plugins like WP Smush and W3 Total Cache to help boost the speediness of your site.
4. A/B test
As you’re attempting to improve your website’s bounce rate, don’t leave it up to chance. You should be A/B testing everything in order to determine what’s working and what’s not. You might be surprised by the small things that can cause users to abandon your website. It might even be something as simple as the color of your call-to-action button.
So, perform A/B tests, or split tests, of every aspect of your website. Does your bounce rate improve with a popup on your homepage or does it get a bigger boost on another page? Does one font convert more visitors over another? Does showing or hiding a progress bar help or hurt your bounce rate? When we say A/B test everything, we mean everything.
5. Target abandoning visitors
Did you know that over 70% of people who leave your website will never return? If you don’t start to improve your bounce rate now, that’s a lot of potential leads and customers your business is missing out on. One effective way to stop those users in their tracks and get them to stay on your website longer, and eventually convert them into subscribers or customers is by utilizing exit-intent popups.
Exit-intent popups are able to track when a user is about to leave your website and send them a targeted message at exactly the right time. Your popup can encourage website visitors to subscribe to your email list, download your lead magnet, or even offer a discount if they purchase. So, not only can exit-intent popups improve your bounce rate, but they can also boost your sales in an instant.
Got more points to share on improving bounce rates? Share them in the comments.
Syed Balkhi is an entrepreneur, marketer, and CEO of Awesome Motive. He’s also the founder of WPBeginner, OptinMonster, WPForms, and MonsterInsights. Syed can be found on Twitter @syedbalkhi.
The post Five ways to improve your website’s bounce rate (and why you should) appeared first on Search Engine Watch.
Constantly evolving search results driven by Google’s increasing implementation of AI are challenging SEOs to keep pace. Search is more dynamic, competitive, and faster than ever before.
Where SEOs used to focus almost exclusively on what Google and other search engines were looking for in their site structure, links, and content, digital marketing now revolves solidly around the needs and intent of consumers.
This past year was perhaps the most transformative in SEO, an industry expected to top $ 80 billion in spending by 2020. AI is creating entirely new engagement possibilities across multiple channels and devices. Consumers are choosing to find and interact with information by voice search, or even on connected IoT appliances, and other devices. Brands are being challenged to reimagine the entire customer journey and how they optimize content for search, as a result.
How do you even begin to prioritize when your to-do list and the data available to you are growing at such a rapid pace? The points shared below intend to help you with that.
From analysis to activation, data is key
SEO is becoming less a matter of simply optimizing for search. Today, SEO success hinges on our ability to seize every opportunity. Research from my company’s Future of Marketing and AI Study highlights current opportunities in five important areas.
1. Data cleanliness and structure
As the volume of data consumers are producing in their searches and interactions increases, it’s critically important that SEOs properly tag and structure the information we want search engines to match to those queries. Google offers rich snippets and cards that enable you to expand and enhance your search results, making them more visually appealing but also adding functionality and opportunities to engage.
Google has experimented with a wide variety of rich results, and you can expect them to continue evolving. Therefore, it’s best practice to properly mark up all content so that when a rich search feature becomes available, your content is in place to capitalize on the opportunity.
2. Increasingly automated actionable insights
While Google is using AI to interpret queries and understand results, marketers are deploying AI to analyze data, recognize patterns and deliver insights as output at rates humans simply cannot achieve. AI is helping SEOs in interpreting market trends, analyzing site performance, gathering and understanding competitor performance, and more.
It’s not just that we’re able to get insights faster, though. The insights available to us now may have gone unnoticed, if not for the in-depth analysis we can accomplish with AI.
Machines are helping us analyze different types of media to understand the content and context of millions of images at a time and it goes beyond images and video. With Google Lens, for example, augmented reality will be used to glean query intent from objects rather than expressed words.
Opportunities for SEOs include:
- Greater ability to define opportunity space more precisely in a competitive context. Understand underlying need in a customer journey
- Deploying longer-tail content informed by advanced search insights
- Better content mapping to specific expressions of consumer intent across the buying journey
3. Real-time response and interactions
In a recent “State of Chatbots” report, researchers asked consumers to identify problems with traditional online experiences by posing the question, “What frustrations have you experienced in the past month?”
As you can see, at least seven of the top consumer frustrations listed above can be solved with properly programmed chatbots. It’s no wonder that they also found that 69% of consumers prefer chatbots for quick communication with brands.
Search query and online behavior data can make smart bots so compelling and efficient in delivering on consumer needs that in some cases, the visitor may not even realize it’s an automated tool they’re dealing with. It’s a win for the consumer, who probably isn’t there for a social visit anyway as well as for the brand that seeks to deliver an exceptional experience even while improving operational efficiency.
SEOs have an opportunity to:
- Facilitate more productive online store consumer experiences with smart chatbots.
- Redesign websites to support visual and voice search.
- Deploy deep learning, where possible, to empower machines to make decisions, and respond in real-time.
4. Smart automation
SEOs have been pretty ingenious at automating repetitive, time-consuming tasks such as pulling rankings reports, backlink monitoring, and keyword research. In fact, a lot of quality digital marketing software was born out of SEOs automating their own client work.
Now, AI is enabling us to make automation smarter by moving beyond simple task completion to prioritization, decision-making, and executing new tasks based on those data-backed decisions.
Content marketing is one area where AI can have a massive impact, and marketers are on board. We found that just four percent of respondents felt they were unlikely to use AI/deep learning in their content strategy in 2018, and over 42% had already implemented it.
In content marketing, AI can help us quickly analyze consumer behavior and data, in order to:
- Identify content opportunities
- Build optimized content
- Promote the right content to the most motivated audience segments and individuals
5. Personalizations that drive business results
Personalization was identified as the top trend in marketing at the time of our survey, followed closely by AI (which certainly drives more accurate personalizations). In fact, you could argue that the top four trends namely, personalization, AI, voice search, and mobile optimization are closely connected if not overlapping in places.
Across emails, landing pages, paid advertising campaigns, and more, search insights are being injected into and utilized across multiple channels. These intend to help us better connect content to consumer needs.
Each piece of content produced must be purposeful. It needs to be optimized for discovery, a process that begins in content planning as you identify where consumers are going to find and engage with each piece. Smart content is personalized in such a way that it meets a specific consumer’s need, but it must deliver on the monetary needs of the business, as well.
Check out these 5 steps for making your content smarter from a previous column for more.
How SEOs are uniquely positioned to drive smarter digital marketing forward
As the marketing professionals have one foot in analysis and the other solidly planted in creative, SEOs have a unique opportunity to lead smart utilization and activation of all manners of consumer data.
You understand the critical importance of clean data input (or intelligent systems that can clean and make sense of unstructured data) and differentiating between first and third-party data. You understand economies of scale in SEO and the value in building that scalability into systems from the ground up.
SEOs have long nurtured a deep understanding of how people search for and discover information, and how technology delivers. Make the most of your current opportunities by picking your low-hanging fruit opportunities for quick wins. Focus your efforts on putting the scalable, smart systems in place that will allow you to anticipate consumer needs, react quickly, report SEO appropriately, and convey business results to the stakeholders who will determine budgets in future.
You might like to read these next:
- AI and machine learning: What you do and don’t need to know for SEO
- Using Python to recover SEO site traffic (Part one)
- TechSEO Boost: Machine Learning for SEOs
- Artificial intelligence for marketers
The post Five ways SEOs can utilize data with insights, automation, and personalization appeared first on Search Engine Watch.
Mobile search drives billions of calls to business each year, and calls convert at a higher rate than digital leads. When properly optimized, calls can have a transformational impact on your bottom line. Join this webinar to learn tactical tips and smart strategies to boost your PPC results with call analytics.
Read more at PPCHero.com
The era of graphs and spreadsheets as a way of thinking about analytics is beginning to approach its end. Predictive analytics, along with associated artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies, are changing the way in which we deal with data. These tools are becoming more accessible, and ‘big data’ thinking is no longer limited to firms with billion dollar budgets.
Predictive analytics provides a glimpse into the future, as well as access to strategic insights that can open up new opportunities. Here are five ways you can put predictive analytics to use, and how you can change the way you think about data.
According to Forrester research, predictive analytics has found three main use cases for dealing with leads. Specifically:
- Predictive scoring: This method analyzes how leads are responding to your marketing attempts and how likely they are to take action based on that information. In this way, you can more quickly identify which leads to focus more resources on and which to divert resources from.
- Identification models: This use case is an approach that focuses on comparing leads to customers who have taken actions in the past. In doing so, you can divert resources to those leads who are most promising based on previous actions they have taken, as well as identify new markets that you weren’t previously aware of.
- Personalization: In concert with predicting which leads are most likely to take which actions, the same data can be used to determine which leads respond best to which types of messaging. This advanced form of segmentation can take things deeper than simply splitting leads into groups – instead sending them much more personalized messages.
One prominent example of this was covered in the Harvard Business Review, detailing how a Harley Davidson dealership increased sales leads by 2930% using an AI named Albert.
The AI crunched CRM data to identify characteristics and behaviors of previous buyers. It then split them into micro-segments based on those characteristics. For each segment, it tested different combinations of headlines, visuals, and other elements to determine which worked best for each segment.
The value of your lead qualification is highly dependent on the value and quantity of your data. No matter how good your statistical models are, their abilities are still very limited without access to the information that they need to learn about your customers.
In the digital space – particularly if you are not using a CRM – the best place to start with predictive analytics will almost certainly be an integration of Google Analytics and Google BigQuery.
Modeling customer behavior
While lead qualification and conversion is the most obvious use-case for predictive analytics, and likely the one worth looking into first, it’s far from the only marketing application of this emerging technology. But virtually any use is going to have customer modeling at its core.
You can divide customer modeling into three basic types: cluster models, propensity models, and collaborative filtering.
Clustering is a way of segmenting customers into groups based on many variables. A cluster model looks for correlations between various attributes and identifies a number of equilibria in which certain types of attributes tend to accumulate. What makes clustering special, compared with traditional segmentation, is the sheer number of variables involved. Clusters often use 30 variables or more, far more than would be possible if you were manually segmenting customers, or even if they were manually segmenting themselves.
Clusters come in three forms:
- Product clusters: These are clusters of customers who tend to only buy specific types of products, ignoring other things in your catalog
- Brand clusters: These customers tend to buy from a specific collection of brands
- Behavioral clusters: These are segments of customers with a specific collection of behaviors, such as frequent buyers who place small orders, or customers who prefer the call center over the checkout cart.
What’s important to recognize about these clusters is that they enable predictions about which clusters people belong to – even with limited information. If they buy one product with a specific brand, your brand cluster can predict what other brands they may be interested in, rather than just the more obvious recommendation of simply offering everything else by the same brand.
A propensity model is one that makes future predictions about customer behavior based on correlations with other behaviors and attributes. This may be accomplished using regression analysis or machine learning. A good propensity model controls for as many variables as possible so that correlations aren’t confused for causes.
Here are a few examples of propensity models:
- Propensity to unsubscribe: A model like this allows you to determine the appropriate email frequency, weighing the possibility that a recipient will unsubscribe against any possible positive outcome
- Propensity to churn: These are customers who are likely to move on if you don’t take action, but who may be high value otherwise
- Lifetime value: Modeling the lifetime value of a customer can help you make strategic marketing decisions if it leads you to customers with more lifetime value, or leads to behaviors that extend lifetime value.
Other propensity models include predicting how far through somebody’s lifetime value you are, and how likely they are to convert or buy.
If you’ve seen Amazon’s “customers who liked this product, also liked…” recommendations, you know what type of model this is. At first glance collaborative filtering might sound similar to product-based cluster models, but collaborative filtering is a bit different. Rather than grouping customers by the types of products they are likely to buy, collaborative filters make recommendations based on aggregate behavior.
In other words, this is less about the user’s product preferences and more about the behaviors that products tend to cause for users.
There are three types of collaborative filters:
- Up-sell recommendations. These are recommendations for a higher tier version of a product before the sale is made
- Cross-sell recommendations. Also offered before the sale is made, this is a recommendation for a product that is often bought at the same time as the initial one
- Follow-up recommendations. These are recommendations for products that people tend to buy a certain time period after buying a prior product, such as replacing a product that runs out, or buying dishes after buying a table.
Connecting the right product to the right market
Working backwards from customer modeling, it’s possible to identify markets for your products that you may not have been aware of. Here are just a few examples of how this use case can play out:
- Incorporate referral sources into your cluster models. This will allow you to identify which traffic sources correlate with which types of products, brands, or behaviors. From this, you can immediately identify a new market for these products or brands
- Incorporate referral sources into your lifetime value propensity models. This will allow you to determine which locations to invest more of your marketing resources into, since you roughly know what the ROI will be
- Look for correlations between traffic sources and success with up-sells, cross-sells, and follow-up recommendations
- Look for correlations between keywords and your customer models
- Analyze the attributes that are strong predictors of buying specific types of products and brainstorm other markets that might share those attributes that you have not yet targeted
- Investigate high performing outliers where limited data is available and investigate whether expanding in those markets is a good option.
Connecting the right users to the right content
There are a number of ways that you can leverage your customer models to connect prospects with content in ways that move you toward your goals, some of them more obvious than others. Here are a few examples:
- Matching content related to products or brands based on the appropriate clusters
- Matching users to conversion copy when propensity models predict they are most likely to buy
- Recommending content to users that improves their propensity scores
- Recommending content to users that enhances their likelihood of responding well to an up-sell or cross-sell
- Matching traffic sources to the content that tends to produce high propensity scores for each particular traffic source.
As you can see, the number of approaches you can take here grows pretty quickly. Think strategically about how best to put your models to use and make the most of your models.
Discovering strategic marketing insights
While some predictive analytics tools can automatically streamline your marketing process and generate results (like Albert did for Harley Davidson), it’s important to remember that human decisions still play a very important part in the process.
Where predictive analytics and related AI tools often fail is in a propensity to ‘over-fit’ the data. They can get stuck at local maximums and minimums, incapable of making the leap to new terrain.
Escaping from traps like these, and making the most of these tools in general, requires you to find strategic insights from within your predictive analytics models.
For example, suppose you discover that a specific piece of content has a tendency to raise your prospects’ propensity scores; any automation you have in place can be applied to customize how your users are marketed to, and push them toward that piece of content. But what predictive analytics can’t tell you is whether there might be other traffic sources you haven’t tried yet that would be a good fit for that content. Using your experience and brainstorming capabilities, you can identify other potential markets for that content, feed them into your model, and see how the exposure changes things.
Your goal in working with these kinds of models must always be to find insights like these and test them to see if the results are as expected. If your model runs on autopilot it will not discover any new opportunities alone.
Google is always evolving.
Tweaks to the algorithm and changes to how search results are presented are often lamented by frustrated marketers, but these evolutions can also present valuable new opportunities for making content visible to searchers.
Today’s SERPs are a far cry from the humble list of ten results and handful of sponsored links that Google started out with.
In an effort to help searchers find their information faster – and with less clicking and scrolling – Google is incorporating a wider range of rich features into its results pages.
I want to use this post to take a look at some of these features.
How can we ensure our content is best suited to Google’s ever-more intuitive results pages? And how can we make it stand out there?
1. Google’s Answer Features
Answer boxes are increasingly being used by Google in an effort to provide searchers with answers to their questions, even without the need for clicking through to a site.
This can be annoying for marketers who have traditionally been working to optimize their content to garner clicks from Google. The more the SERPs provide answers to an increasing number of questions, the harder it will become to persuade searchers to click through.
This is all the more reason to start understanding how Google seeks to answer.
Searching around the term ‘doulas’ highlights how intuitive Google is at knowing what questions to answer (even if just a single word is searched for). Also, we can quickly see the diversity of answer boxes displayed from very subtle differences between search phrases.
Looking at the phrase ‘doulas,’ even though we haven’t asked Google a question, much of the above-the-fold SERPs are dedicated to an answer box. In this case, giving us related questions.
With the search phrase ‘whats a doula’ Google is even more confident, expecting us to most likely be satisfied with the dictionary definition of ‘doula’.
And with the question ‘what do doulas do’ Google gives us two answer boxes above the fold – the first is an info box, and the second is another related questions box.
These are just a few examples. Info boxes can vary in format from ranking lists, to numbered steps, and tables. Searches that relate to events are more frequently resulting in answer boxes that show the dates of the event.
Additionally, subjects such as weather and stock provide their own nicely displayed answer boxes too.
It’s good to think about this when it comes to creating content for your own site.
‘Doulas’ may be a relatively competitive search on its own, but it’s easy to see how a piece of content that answers a wider question about the niche (e.g. ‘how much does it cost to have a doula?’ or ‘why a doula is important?’) can be presented high in the SERPs even if the domain is not ranking in the top organic spots for the original search.
As Google declares, it is making the decision on what to show here programmatically. That is to say, unlike other rich features within contemporary SERPs, webmasters can not simply use mark-up to signal to Google that a certain piece of content contains an answer.
This means marketers and writers need to prioritise ensuring that the content answers their (well-researched) keyphrase promptly, naturally and succinctly on the page.
Video content – particularly from YouTube – remains a good way to stand out in Google’s increasingly content rich SERPs.
This search for ‘homemade baby carrier’ (you can see a theme developing here) ranks How To Make Your Own Baby Carrier… well but also quickly alerts the searcher to a number of important attributes about the content:
- It’s a ‘how-to’
- It’s a short-ish video
- The name of the brand is focused on the niche
- There’s a clear, action-led description (‘you need…’)
In short, there’s a lot of enticing content around that video result which might result in a click. It is authoritative and concise.
Even though the domain keepcalmandcarrythem.com is not visible on page 1 of Google’s rankings for this term, their brand is very visible thanks to this video.
3. Local, hyperlocal and business optimization
I covered some of this in my hyperlocal SEO piece recently on Search Engine Watch.
Google is increasingly good at presenting local, hyperlocal and business information. Businesses can upload their information to Google My Business, focus on local/hyperlocal/business key phrases, and mark up their content to make it even easier for the search engine to display relevant business information via rich features such as:
Knowledge graphs and panels
Note: Conscious Birthing have a good opportunity to improve this knowledge panel from Google for ‘doulas’ by simply updating their Google My Business profile.
All these attributes go further to helping your content stand out in the SERPs when people search for local, hyperlocal or business key phrases.
Depending on the search a user is making, Google is also very savvy when it comes to delivering image results.
We sometimes see them delivered next to rich snippets, accompanying information in answer boxes, and often in image packs.
Referring back to our earlier ‘homemade baby carrier’ search, the lead spot in the SERPs is given over to a feature pack of eight images.
The first image is a still from a YouTube video which doesn’t rank in the natural results. The second image is from a site called thediymommy.com – again, this domain doesn’t feature anywhere else in the front page results.
But they prove the point: Good images, if optimized well, can be very visible in Google – even if the content is outranked in text terms.
In this example, the info box content is taken from abckidsinc.com while the image is taken from wikihow.com. Both feature in the natural results in this instance, but both are below the fold and lower than two informational YouTube videos.
5. Don’t overlook SEO best practice and PPC
Just because Google continues to incorporate more intuitive and rich features in its SERPs, it does not mean we should overlook vintage SEO such as good title tags and meta descriptions. Well written content in regards to these can still make you stand out.
Also, we have not yet mentioned PPC, Google Shopping and sponsored listings. Of course, if your site is of the ecommerce type, it is still possible to use such tools to gain and maintain visibility in Google.
The search engine giant is still as keen to create revenue from ad clicks as it is to make its user experience quicker and more efficient.
That said, the changing landscape of Google’s SERPs is a challenge but is also ripe with opportunities.
If your content is well-planned, well-made, and well-optimized – Google will reward you with visibility.
Where should you focus when you have some unexpected downtime? Explore a few opportunities that have helped improve my long-term effectiveness as a PPC Account Manager.
Read more at PPCHero.com
What are query stream ontologies, and how might they change search?
Search engines trained us to use keywords when we searched – to try to guess what words or phrases might be the best ones to use to try to find something we are interested in. That we might have a situational or informational need to find out more about. Keywords were an important and essential part of SEO – trying to get pages to rank highly in search results for certain keywords found in queries that people would search for. SEOs still optimize pages for keywords, hoping to use a combination of information retrieval relevance scores and link-based PageRank scores, to get pages to rank highly in search results.
With Google moving towards a knowledge-based attempt to find “things” rather than “strings”, we are seeing patents that focus upon returning results that provide answers to questions in search results. One of those from January describes how query stream ontologies might be created from searcher’s queries, that can be used to respond to fact-based questions using information about attributes of entities.
There is a white paper from Google co-authored by the same people who are the inventors of this patent published around the time this patent was filed in 2014, and it is worth spending time reading through. The paper is titled, Biperpedia: An Ontology for Search Applications
The patent (and paper) both focus upon the importance of structured data. The summary for the patent tells us this:
Search engines often are designed to recognize queries that can be answered by structured data. As such, they may invest heavily in creating and maintaining high-precision databases. While conventional databases in this context typically have a relatively wide coverage of entities, the number of attributes they model (e.g., GDP, CAPITAL, ANTHEM) is relatively small.
The patent is:
Identifying entity attributes
Inventors: Alon Yitzchak Halevy, Fei Wu, Steven Euijong Whang and Rahul Gupta
Assignee: Google Inc. (Mountain View, CA)
US Patent: 9,864,795
Granted: January 9, 2018
Filed: October 28, 2014
Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on computer storage media, for generating an ontology of entity attributes. One of the methods includes extracting a plurality of attributes based upon a plurality of queries; and constructing an ontology based upon the plurality of attributes and a plurality of entity classes.
The paper echoes sentiments in the patent, with statements such as this one:
For the first time in the history of the Web, structured data is a first-class citizen among search results. The main search engines make significant efforts to recognize when a user’s query can be answered using structured data.
To cut right to the heart of what this patent covers, it’s worth pulling out the first claim from the patent that expresses how much of an impact this patent may have from a knowledge-based approach to collecting data and indexing information on the Web. Like most patent language, it’s a long passage that tends to run on, but it is very detailed about the process that this patent covers:
1. A method comprising: generating an ontology of class-attribute pairs, wherein each class that occurs in the class-attribute pairs of the ontology is a class of entities and each attribute occurring in the class-attribute pairs of the ontology is an attribute of the respective entities in the class of the class-attribute pair in which the attribute occurs, wherein each attribute in the class-attribute pairs has one or more domains of instances to which the attribute applies and a range that is either a class of entities or a type of data, and wherein generating the ontology comprises: obtaining class-entity data representing a set of classes and, for each class, entities belonging to the class as instances of the class; obtaining a plurality of entity-attribute pairs, wherein each entity-attribute pair identifies an entity that is represented in the class-entity data and a candidate attribute for the entity; determining a plurality of attribute extraction patterns from occurrences of the entities identified by the entity-attribute pairs with the candidate attributes identified by the entity-attribute pairs in text of documents in a collection of documents, wherein determining the plurality of attribute extraction patterns comprises: identifying an occurrence of the entity and the candidate attribute identified by a first entity-attribute pair in a first sentence from a first document in the collection of documents; generating a candidate lexical attribute extraction pattern from the first sentence; generating a candidate parse attribute extraction pattern from the first sentence; and selecting the candidate lexical attribute extraction pattern and the candidate parse attribute extraction pattern as attribute extraction patterns if the candidate lexical attribute pattern and the candidate parse attribute extraction patterns were generated using at least a predetermined number of unique entity-attribute pairs; and applying the plurality of attribute extraction patterns to the documents in the collection of documents to determine entity-attribute pairs, and from the entity-attribute pairs and the class-entity data, for each of one or more entity classes represented in the class-entity data, attributes possessed by entities belonging to the entity class.
Rather than making this post just the claims of this patent (which are worth going through if you can tolerate the legalese), I’m going to pull out some information from the description which describes some of the implications of the process behind the patent. This first one tells us of the benefit of crowdsourcing an ontology, by building it from the queries of many searchers, and how that may mean that focusing upon matching keywords in queries with keywords in documents becomes less important than responding to queries with answers to questions:
Extending the number of attributes known to a search engine may enable the search engine to answer more precisely queries that lie outside a “long tail,” of statistical query arrangements, extract a broader range of facts from the Web, and/or retrieve information related to semantic information of tables present on the Web.
This patent provides a lot of information about how such an ontology might be used to assist search:
The present disclosure provides systems and techniques for creating an ontology of, for example, millions of (class, attribute) pairs, including 100,000 or more distinct attribute names, which is up to several orders of magnitude larger than available conventional ontologies. Extending the number of attributes “known” to a search engine may provide several benefits. First, additional attributes may enable the search engine to more precisely answer “long-tail” queries, e.g., brazil coffee production. Second, additional attributes may allow for extraction of facts from Web text using open information extraction techniques. As another example, a broad repository of attributes may enable recovery of the semantics of tables on the Web, because it may be easier to recognize attribute names in column headers and in the surrounding text.
Answering Queries with Attributes
I wrote about the topic of How Knowledge Base Entities can be Used in Searches to describe how Google might search a data store of attributes about entities such as movies to return search results by asking about facts related to a movie, such as “What is the movie where Robert Duvall loves the smell of Napalm in the morning?” By building up a detailed ontology that includes may facts can mean a search engine can answer many questions quickly. This may be how featured snippets may be responded to in the futured, but the patent that describes this approach is returning SERPs filled with links to web documents, rather than answers to questions.
Open Information Extraction
That mention of open information extraction methods from the patent reminded me of an acquistion that Google made a few years ago when Google acquired Wavii in April of 2013. Wavii did research about open extraction as described in these papers:
- Open Information Extraction
- Open Information Extraction: the Second Generation (pdf) by Oren Etzioni, Anthony Fader, Janara Christensen, Stephen Soderland, and Mausam Ollie
- Open Information Extraction Software
- Open Language Learning for Information Extraction (pdf), by Mausam, Michael Schmitz, Robert Bart, Stephen Soderland, and Oren Etzioni
A video that might be helpful to learn about how Open Information Extraction works is this one:
An Ontology created from a query stream can lead to this kind of open information extraction
Semantics from Tables on the Web
Google has been running a Webtables project for a few years, and has released a followup that describes how the project has been going. Semantics from Tables is mentioned in this patent, so it’s worth including some papers about the Webtables project to give you more information about them, if you hadn’t come across them before:
- WebTables: Exploring the Power of Tables on the Web
- Recovering Semantics of Tables on the Web
- Applying WebTables in Practice
Query Stream Ontologies
The process in the patent involves using a query stream to create an ontology. I enjoyed the statements in this patent about what an ontology was and how one works to help search. I recommend clicking through and reading the description in the patent along with the Biperpedia paper. This really is a transformation of search that brings it beyond keywords and understanding entities better, and how search works. This appears to be a very real future of Search:
Systems and techniques disclosed herein may extract attributes from a query stream, and then use extractions to seed attribute extraction from other text. For every attribute a set of synonyms and text patterns in which it appears is saved, thereby enabling the ontology to recognize the attribute in more contexts. An attribute in an ontology as disclosed herein includes a relationship between a pair of entities (e.g., CAPITAL of countries), between an entity and a value (e.g., COFFEE PRODUCTION), or between an entity and a narrative (e.g., CULTURE). An ontology as disclosed herein may be described as a “best-effort” ontology, in the sense that not all the attributes it contains are equally meaningful. Such an ontology may capture attributes that people consider relevant to classes of entities. For example, people may primarily express interest in attributes by querying a search engine for the attribute of a particular entity or by using the attribute in written text on the Web. In contrast to a conventional ontology or database schema, a best-effort ontology may not attach a precise definition to each attribute. However, it has been found that such an ontology still may have a relatively high precision (e.g., 0.91 for the top 100 attributes and 0.52 for the top 5000 attributes).
The ontologies that are created from query streams expressly to assist search applications are different from more conventional manually generated ontologies in a number of ways:
Ontologies as disclosed herein may be particularly well-suited for use in search applications. In particular, tasks such as parsing a user query, recovering the semantics of columns of Web tables, and recognizing when sentences in text refer to attributes of entities, may be performed efficiently. In contrast, conventional ontologies tend to be relatively inflexible or brittle because they rely on a single way of modeling the world, including a single name for any class, entity or attribute. Hence, supporting search applications with a conventional ontology may be difficult because mapping a query or a text snippet to the ontology can be arbitrarily hard. An ontology as disclosed herein may include one or more constructs that facilitate query and text understanding, such as attaching to every attribute a set of common misspellings of the attribute, exact and/or approximate synonyms, other related attributes (even if the specific relationship is not known), and common text phrases that mention the attribute.
The patent does include more about ontologies and schema and data sources and query patterns.
This is a direction that search is traveling towards, and if you want to know or do SEO, it’s worth learning about. SEO is changing, just as it has many times in the past.
I’ve also written a followup to this post on the Go Fish Digital blog at: SEO Moves From Keywords to Ontologies and Query Patterns
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