How to find good writers and other content marketing struggles

You get what you pay for when it comes to copywriters says contributor Jessica Fowler. Here’s a look at how to hire good copywriters to help drive traffic and sales to your site.

The post How to find good writers and other content marketing struggles appeared first on Marketing Land.

While the “content is king” mantra sits firm 0n its throne, it leaves one burning question: “How do I find writers fit for such royalty?”

From low-cost content factories to high-ticket copywriters you feel you can’t afford, you may find yourself wondering if there’s a middle road.

How do you know which solution is best for you?  Some say the best solution is to build an in-house team of writers, but this isn’t always the most affordable (or practical) option.

For those that need to outsource content writing, finding the right fit can be a bit of a whirlwind and confusing.

Today’s column will help answer all those questions, and more!  I’m going to share ideas that will help you find, qualify and hire quality search engine optimization (SEO)-savvy content writers you can depend on.

Struggle #1: What qualifies as a “good” SEO content writer?

Qualifying a good writer can feel a lot like qualifying a new love interest. They look good on paper and make a good first impression, but how do you really know they are the one?

The hard truth is that, just like with a love interest, you’ll have to spend time getting to know your writer before you really get an answer in full. But that doesn’t mean you have to go in blind. Here are some non-negotiables that will increase your odds of finding a good fit without wasting time:

  1. It should be clear to you from the start that your writer understands the basics: grammar, spelling, and structure. You can learn this through conversation. Converse with your writer by texting and/or email to get a feel for their grasp of the written word.
  2. A good SEO content writer also understands that a search engine wants you to write for the audience, not the algorithm. Ask for samples to assess this and watch out for keyword heavy posts that have poor flow and readability. Read their work and ask yourself, “If I am my target audience, do I find this information valuable and consumable?” If you don’t, usually the algorithm won’t either.
  3. Run the samples you receive through a readability scoring app like HemingwayApp.com. Sometimes an article will look great on the surface, but you’ll find that it carries a low readability score. This means the way its written lacks clarity and is difficult to consume.
  4. If you want to doubly ensure that you’re going to get a great return on your investment, look for content writers that do SEO copywriting — not just practice SEO. Why? People that only specialize in SEO might be able to bring you traffic, but will they know how to influence that traffic? Not necessarily. Copywriters understand the psychology of why your audience will purchase, join your list, or take any action you want them to take on your website. This is where the real magic happens, so look out for these copywriting unicorns.
  5. Lastly, copywriter or not – your writer should understand your audience’s relationship with your niche. If you want to sell diet pills to middle age women who want to lose weight, your writer shouldn’t just understand the audience or only understand the diet pills. They should understand where the two collide. What are your audience’s pain points, limiting beliefs, and buying triggers around your product or service? Usually, this is the biggest mistake when hiring, but the answer is simple: require relevant samples when vetting your wordsmith and see what they know.

Struggle #2: Where can I find good SEO writers?

Speaking objectively, you can find good writers anywhere. But there’s definitely a difference between shopping around on Fiverr versus other higher quality avenues that offer you better screening opportunities.

One of the best ways to vet an SEO content writer is to find them on social media where they post long-form content. This way you can see for yourself how they write, how they work, and how they interact with their clients and prospects.

Join SEO and copywriting groups on platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn and just hang out for a bit. You’ll notice writers posting in quality groups to attract leads. Instead of just seeing samples that can be tweaked, you’ll get to see how they write and interact with leads and clients on a day to day basis.

This level of consistency and insight into a writer’s personality, ethics, and values will help you feel more comfortable and less blind going into a working agreement together.

You can also post in these groups asking for recommendations. You’ll find community members are happy to showcase the writers who’ve brought them the most value.

Struggle #4: Do I need an “SOP” for my writers?

A million times yes!

You are probably going to pick an experienced writer who is also catering to multiple clients at the same time he/she works with you. Each client they work with has different primary preferences and concerns, from the style of writing, how the work should be submitted, and so on.  Standard operating procedures (SOPs) help minimize the guesswork for your writer and potential headaches for you.

The truth is most business owners aren’t struggling to find quality writers, they’re struggling to keep them! Without clear direction, writers have to guess how you want things done and that generally causes confusion and room for error.  With more direction and outlines like an SOP, everyone stays happy.

Writing SOPs may seem like a time-intensive step, but the good news is, once it’s done it saves you hundreds of hours on the backend. And if you want to take it off your plate, consult an operations specialist who can help with this. It’ll increase your return on investment (ROI), help eliminates stress and keeps good writers happy and in your employ.

Struggle #5: How much should I pay for copywriting?

A wise human somewhere once said — you get what you pay for.  If your audience is based in the US, will a non-English speaking content writer fully understand not only the language but the culture of your audience?  Probably not.  Do you have editors available to help or are you setting yourself up to spend just as much time editing a piece as you would have spent writing it yourself? The allure of inexpensive writers is high but unless you have the time and patience to train them it’s probably not a smart investment.

Even a native speaking writer charging minimum wage is probably inexperienced and may not have access to research resources. At the end of the day ,you’re paying for a result. How much is it worth to you to make sure you are getting the best content in a reasonable amount of time?

Ultimately, the best copywriter understands your audience’s language and culture, is skilled in SEO and conversion rate optimization, is resourceful and capable. You have other things to worry about, and having a writer that can produce high-quality content is key not just for successful writing, but successful business operations and scaling.

Struggle #6: Is “SEO content” worth the investment?

Search-engine-optimized content is like anything else — you get out of it what you put into it. If you hire top quality writers, you’re going to get top quality content which in turn will help drive traffic and better rankings for your site.

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12 pieces of conversion optimization advice you should ignore

Whenever you hear a marketing practice referred to as “easy,” it’s usually not. Contributor Ayat Shukairy looks at some common CRO misconceptions and their uncommon realities.

The post 12 pieces of conversion optimization advice you should ignore appeared first on Marketing Land.

A lot of content on conversion rate optimization (CRO) is published every day. Most of it is spot-on, but some articles make me cringe a little.

A lot of the advice being shared gives people false hope that if they conduct CRO correctly, they’ll see the millions roll in. It’s not that easy. The process is vigorous and requires a lot of time and effort — much more than the advice being shared will lead you to believe.

Whenever you hear a marketing practice referred to as “easy,” it’s usually not.  Let’s look at some common CRO misconceptions and their uncommon realities.

Misconception 1: Anyone can do it

Not hardly! To do well in CRO, you need good people on your team. A conversion rate optimization team usually includes:

  • Two or three conversion optimization specialists.
  • A UX designer.
  • A front-end developer.
  • A customer research specialist (can be part-time).
  • An analytics specialist (can be part-time).
  • A data analyst (can be part-time).
  • A product or program manager, depending on your business.

With all the different job types and responsibilities, how can one person do it all? Unless they’re Wonder Woman, they can’t.

Now that we have an idea who we will need on our team, let’s look at common statements you’ll hear about CRO that aren’t always accurate.

Misconception 2: There are CRO best practices

Everyone wants best practices, but in CRO, best practices simply don’t exist. We wish we had best practices, but it’s not a reality because what works on one website may not work on another.

For example, CaffeineInformer and Bookings.com both tested the same navigational menus and found the most commonly recommended menu worked for one but not the other.

CaffeineInformer tested the hamburger menu (an icon made up of three bars) versus the traditional word MENU enclosed with a border and one without a border, writing up and publishing the results online. You can see that the boxed MENU results were clicked on more often than MENU without a border, and the hamburger menu showed no use.

When Bookings.com ran their test results, which a designer wrote about on the company’s blog, they found no difference in the number of clicks for their  MENU options:

Representatives from Booking.com said:

With our very large user base, we are able to state with a very high confidence that, specifically for Booking.com users, the hamburger icon performs just as well as the more descriptive version.

So, although your competitors may inspire you, most of the time you’ll find what they introduce on their site may not work on yours. In the case above, it’s a small change, but we have seen companies make a bet on a change that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and produces a negative impact on their site.

My advice is to know what is out there and get inspiration from other sites, but validate through research, prototyping and usability testing before rolling out a change on your site (especially if it’s major). If it’s something minor like a hamburger menu, go ahead and test, but ask yourself, what are you really trying to achieve with the change? Consider the validity of the concept to begin with and see if it fits within the overall roadmap you have for your site.

Misconception 3: More testing yields positive results

Statistically speaking, more variations = greater possibilities of false positive and inaccurate results.

My staff experienced this when we were first starting out as CRO practitioners. We would start testing by running a control versus variant 1, variant 2 and variant 3.

Once we found a statistical winner, we would launch just the control versus the winner. For example, if variant 2 reached statistical power with a significant statistical lift, we would launch control versus variant 2.

Of course, variable 2 completely tanked. What happened? Well, statistically, each variant brings a chance of a false positive. So of course, more variants = more chance of false positives.

According to Sharon Hurley Hall’s blog post on OptinMonster.com:

Most experienced conversion optimizers recommend that you don’t run more than four split tests at a time. One reason is that the more variations you run, the bigger the A/B testing sample size you need. That’s because you have to send more traffic to each version to get reliable results. This is known as A/B testing statistical significance (or, in everyday terms, making sure the numbers are large enough to actually have meaning).

If you have low conversions (even in the presence of a high volume of traffic), you definitely shouldn’t test beyond one variation.

Anyone with a sufficient number of conversions should be cautious and test, then retest the winning variation over the control to ensure it sticks.

Misconception 4: CRO is A/B testing

A/B testing is a part of the conversion rate optimization process, but they are not one in the same.

Our methodology for conversion rate optimization is combined into the acronym SHIP:

Scrutinize, Hypothesize, Implement and Propagate

Over 70 percent of the time we spend doing CRO is the scrutinize (planning) phase of the process. An unplanned test that is not backed by data does not usually do well.

When we talk about conversion optimization, the mind should go to design thinking, innovation and creativity. Ultimately, you are optimizing an experience and bringing it to a new level for the site visitor. You’re putting a spin on solutions to complex problems to ensure the visitor not only converts but has a memorable, enjoyable experience they’ll buzz about.

That is no easy feat!

Misconception 5: A simple change will impact your bottom line

Sometimes a simple change can have an impact. but let’s be real: that’s the exception, not the rule.

Expecting a color change on your site will increase conversion by 40 to 50 percent is really a stretch. When someone says it will, I immediately wonder, “How long did the test run?” and “Did it reach statistical power?” I think Allen Burt from BlueStout.com said it best in an expert roundup on Shane Barker’s blog:

I love talking about how we can increase conversion rate and how we can optimize it, because most sites, especially ecommerce merchants, get this wrong. They think it’s all about A/B testing and trying different button colours, etc. In reality, for 90% of small to medium-sized businesses, the #1 change you can make to your site to increase conversion rate is your MESSAGING.

Don’t try and take the easy route; usability issues need to be addressed, and testing colors and critical calls to action like a “Proceed to Checkout” statement is a viable test. But expecting a “significant impact” on your bottom line for simple changes is asking too much

One of the key components of a successful CRO program is the creativity behind it. Test and push limits, try new things, and excite the visitor who has been accustomed to the plain and mundane.

Misconception 6: A/B test everything

In the past, there was a strong emphasis on A/B testing everything, from the smallest button to the hero image. But now, the mood has changed, and we see A/B testing differently.

Some things just need to be fixed on a site. It doesn’t take an A/B test to figure out a usability issue or to understand that conversions increase when common problems are fixed.  A simple investigation may be all that is required to determine whether or not an A/B test should be done.

When evaluating a site, we find issues and classify the fixes for those issues in “buckets,” which helps determine further action. Here are the four basic buckets:

  • Areas and issues are evaluated for testing. When we find them, we place these items in the research opportunities bucket.
  • Some areas don’t require testing because they are broken or suffer from an inconsistency and just need to be fixed. We place these issues in the fix right away bucket.
  • Other areas may require us to explore and understand more about the problem before placing it in one of the two former buckets, so we add it to the investigate further bucket.
  • During any site evaluation, you may find a tag or event is missing and not providing sufficient details about a specific page or element. That goes into the classification instrument bucket.

Misconception 7: Statistical significance is the most important metric 

We hear it all the time: The test reached 95 percent statistical confidence, so we should stop it. However, when you look back at the test, between the control and the variation, only 50 conversions were collected (about 25 for each), and the test ran for only two days.

That is not enough data.

The first step to consider when launching an A/B test is to calculate the sample size. The sample size is based on the number of visitors, conversions and expected uplift you believe you will need to reach before concluding the test.

In a blog entry on Hubspot.com, WPEngine’s Carl Hargreaves advised:

Keep in mind that you’ll need to pick a realistic number for your page. While we would all love to have millions of users to test on, most of us don’t have that luxury. I suggest making a rough estimate of how long you’ll need to run your test before hitting your target sample size.

Second, consider statistical power. According to Minitab.com, “[S]tatistical power is the probability that a test will detect a difference (or effect) that actually exists.”

The likelihood that an A/B test will detect a change in conversion rates between variations depends on the impact of the new design. If the impact is large (such as a 90 percent increase in the conversions), it will be easy to detect in the A/B test.

If the impact is small (such as a 1 percent increase in the conversions), it will be difficult to detect in the A/B test

Unfortunately, we do not know the actual magnitude of impact! One of the purposes of the A/B test is to estimate it. The choice of the effect size is always somewhat arbitrary, and considerations of feasibility are often paramount.

Another important point here is to understand that it’s important to keep your business cycles in mind. In the past, we’ve seen sites where conversions spike on the 15th and 30th of every month. In order to run a test that would account for the entirety of that 15-day business cycle, we would need to test for a minimum of  2 1/2 weeks (including one of the spikes for each testing period).

Another example is SaaS companies, where a subscription to their service was a business decision that often took two months before closing. Measuring conversions for less than that period would skew data tremendously. 

Misconception 8: Business owners understand their customer base and visitors

A client of ours insisted they knew their customer base. They are a billion-dollar company that has been around since 1932, with 1,000 stores and a lot of customer data. But they have only been online for about 10 years.

Based on our experience, we told this brand their online customers will behave and act differently from customers in their brick-and-mortar stores and may even vary in terms of overall demographics.

However, our client insisted he knew better. After doing research, we suggested running some experiments. One particular experiment dealt with the behavior and actions of visitors on the cart page. Was the cart used to store products until they came back later? Or was it just not effective in persuading visitors to move forward? Our theory was the latter. We shared that from what we observed, there was hesitation to move beyond the cart page.

This suggestion was met with a lot of resistance from the brand’s director of marketing, who claimed we didn’t understand their customers as they did. To compromise, I suggested we test a percentage of traffic and slowly grow the percentage as the test gained momentum. If the customer follow-through did not grow, we would end the test.

The test was launched and reached sample size within days because of the amount of traffic and conversions they have, and it revealed a 20.4 percent improvement.

The brand was stumped and realized there was another way to think about how their customers were using their shopping cart.

According to William Harris from Elumynt.com (also published in Shane Barker’s roundup):

It’s easy to get stuck in the “A/B testing world,” looking at data and numbers, etc. But one of the best sources of learning is still having real conversations with your customers and ideal contacts. It also increases the conversion rate.

The point of my story is this: You think you know, but until you do the research and conduct testing on theories you’ve built, you can’t be sure. Additionally, the landscape is ever-changing, and visitors are impatient. All of that plays into your ability to persuade and excite visitors.

Misconception 9: Only change one thing at a time

The next two points are related. Some people feel you should move slowly and make one change at a time in order to understand the effects of the change. When you’re testing, you create a hypothesis regarding the test, and it may involve one or more elements.

It isn’t template tweaking (e.g., just changing locations and design of elements); it’s testing against an entire hypothesis which is backed by data resulting in data-driven changes that visitors can see and feel.

Misconception 10: Make multiple changes each time

Counter to the point made in number 9 above. Sometimes we find a hypothesis becomes muddled because other changes are included within a single test. That makes it difficult to decipher the authenticity of the results and what element impacted the test.

Always stick to the hypothesis, and make sure your hypothesis matches the changes you’ve made on the site.

Misconception 11: Unpopular elements should be avoided

We had an account that simply did not believe in carousels. I’m not a fan, personally, but because the account sold a specific product, we felt carousels were necessary and recommended they be used.

But the account resisted until customers started complaining. It wasn’t until then the account realized carousels will help visitors find what they need and give breadth to the range of products they were selling.

Elements that have been deemed unpopular aren’t always unpopular with your customer base or your specific needs. If the research shows an element can provide a solution for you, test it before you completely discount it.

Misconception 12: Your site is too small for CRO

Conversion rate optimization is not only about testing. CRO is about understanding your visitors and giving them a more engaging experience. All digital marketers and webmasters owning a site of any size should be implementing CRO.

If you have the traffic to justify your theories, test! Otherwise, continuously update your site and measure your changes through observation of key metrics through your analytics or through usability testing.

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Attention + intensity: Tips for navigating the new age of media strategy

Contributor Mark Williams says marketers must evolve the metrics they monitor to keep up with the changing media-consumption environment.

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As marketers and brands have seen, the prevalence of digital video has transformed how consumers access media and content.

Essentially, video is not the future, it’s the “now”.

According to Cisco, global IP video traffic will represent 82 percent of all consumer internet traffic by 2021, up from 73 percent in 2016. Consumers no longer want to read about a brand  — they want to visualize it.

In 2018 and beyond, we’ll see a big shift from before, when advertisers were looking to buy reach and frequency with traditional media, to now, where advertisers will want to capitalize on intensity through the maximum amount of reach and frequency. In a post-pivot-to-video world, it’s time to change your video and media strategy, especially how you measure it.

To tackle all of the changes and innovations in media and digital marketing within the past few years, and especially to gear you up for the further integration of video, here are three tips for navigating the new age of media strategy.

1. Measure your audience with intensity

Rethink your approach to measurement. It’s not just about clicks and views. Viewability and reach are no longer the main indicators of success because they don’t measure how an audience is connecting with the content.

Instead, track deeper actions. Update your key performance indicators (KPIs) with different engagement metrics, such as watch time, engagements, earned metrics and follower acquisition, to track whether or not your intended audience actually viewed your message and reacted to it.

Watch time is one of the most valuable metrics to track in order to gauge whether or not audiences are actually watching your content. It’s also the most important factor for platform algorithms. If you track minutes watched, retention rate and the average percentage of those who watched through, you’ll have a better idea of how you are captivating the audience’s attention, and at what level of intensity.

Tracking engagements (e.g., likes, shares and comments) is also a key indicator of your strategy’s performance. Engagements and engagement rates indicate that fans are making a decision beyond simply watching your content. If they’re sharing, starting up a conversation, or compelled by a call to action from the content, you can measure the intensity with which your audience is consuming the material.

Also, be sure to watch your follower/subscriber acquisition. Growing a fan base is essential to the marketing efforts of advertisers, and it is important to identify what content brings in new followers so that you can focus your content strategy to consider these insights.

2. Rethink content strategy: Transform ads + make content relevant

Given the prevalence of ad blockers, it’s clear that interruptive advertising doesn’t work anymore. Instead, we’re seeing high performance through integrated brand messages. To do this, make your content relevant to your consumer.

Embed your campaign initiatives into publisher sites through partnerships to make for a smoother and natural integration of your advertising.

Consider integrating with influencers. Research conducted by Fullscreen (my employer) and MediaScience found that the percentage of viewers who would recommend a brand after watching a branded video from an influencer was 13 percent higher than the percentage for a TV ad.

Test different content strategies to see what resonates best with your audience, and for a more specific segmented analysis, A/B test different interest sets and demographics to inform your marketing plan.

3. Tailor by platform

To keep your marketing strategy specific and efficient, optimize content and advertising to reflect the platform. Utilize metadata by making campaigns that align with proper titling and tagging across all of your platforms. Keep your branding design consistent to ensure that your content is distinguishable. Ensure that your creative is designed for the specific tech specs of the platform where it will live.

Gone are the days of the one-size-fits-all approach. Facebook creative must be treated differently from Snapchat and so on. Perhaps most importantly, the creative must feel endemic to the platform — which explains why repurposed television commercials have some of the lowest engagement metrics.

Identify and maintain a consistent publishing schedule that is tailored to times when platforms reach the highest number of eyes, not only to maximize viewership and engagement but also to help consumers know when to expect your content.

Further, aim to promote circular traffic: Utilize the platforms through their available interactive elements so that you can cross-promote across all channels.

When tailoring your content for specific platforms, you also want to pay attention to how the platform is accessed.

Take a look at the platform functions, according to recent data from each platform and Statista, YouTube is accessed 50 percent of the time on mobile, whereas Facebook is at 95.1 percent and Instagram is at 100 percent.

This means that when creating content for YouTube, you should pay equal attention to mobile and desktop access, whereas Facebook and Instagram should lean more heavily toward mobile usage.

In closing

You’ll want to keep these three tips at the forefront of your digital marketing and content strategy so that you quickly adapt your brand to the changing video and media environments of today.

Remember, the overarching difference in paid media targeting online versus traditional targeting is the more refined, specific targeting of individuals, which ultimately leads to higher attention and intensity, as well as greater returns.

With all of these advancements, online media has many new metrics which you absolutely must utilize to expand your reach and retention far beyond that of traditional paid media.

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