Email-driven content marketing for SMBs

Learn which digital content types are most effective.

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You’ve probably heard plenty of talk about how email marketing is dying or even that it’s already dead. In fact, based on the insights gathered by SharpSpring and Ascend2, it seems the opposite is true. Marketing influencers at 145 businesses with 500 or fewer employees tell us email is alive and thriving.

Download this guide from Sharpspring to find out:

  • The top strategic priorities and the most common barriers to success
  • The most effective channels for marketing content
  • Which digital content types are most effective

Visit Digital Marketing Depot to download ” Email-driven Content Marketing for SMBs.

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Are these 5 content marketing myths holding you back?

Although there may include a grain of truth, these myths ultimately stand in the way of content marketing success.

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Nowadays, most marketers understand the essentials of content marketing: know your audience, provide value, don’t sell aggressively. 

But content marketing is evolving quickly – and success is not always cut-and-dried. As a result, it’s easy for old ideas to outlive their usefulness, or for marketers to overreact to changes in the landscape. And when that happens, myths and misconceptions creep in. These myths may include a grain of truth, but ultimately they stand in the way of content marketing success. 

With that in mind, let’s clear away five myths that continue to haunt content marketing. 

#1: Your content speaks for itself

Myth: If your content hasn’t truly broken through with your audience, either your content isn’t good enough or you’re not producing enough of it. 

Reality: Content remains the heart of your marketing efforts, and there is no substitute for brilliant content. But it’s easy to fall into the cult of “more” or the cult of “better,” and fail to examine the role of amplification and distribution in content marketing success. Without support and validation from other marketing channels, even the best content can fail.  

#2: SEO is dead

Myth: Old-school SEO tactics – such as keyword stuffing and amassing low-quality backlinks – no longer work. Therefore, competing for organic rankings is impossible and a waste of time. 

Reality: SEO is as important as it’s ever been. It’s true that search engine algorithms have evolved, and there are no tactical shortcuts to the top of the rankings. As algorithm updates make search engines better at gauging whether content has value to actual humans, the focus has shifted to creating unique, rich and engaging content – while still optimizing so search engines can crawl and interpret content properly.

#3: RIP Facebook 

Myth: Young people are abandoning it in droves, “organic reach” is an oxymoron, and Mark Zuckerberg is seemingly in front of Congress every other day. The targeting tools might be nice for advertisers, but organically Facebook is over. 

Reality: Despite the bad press, Facebook is still the world’s largest social network. While it may not be the main social channel for every business, a decent Facebook presence is still a necessity for most well-rounded organic social strategies. An abandoned-looking Facebook page is a missed opportunity and may lead visitors to think less of your brand. 

#4: More content is better content

Myth: The more you throw at the wall, the more likely something is to stick, right? 

Reality: There is some truth to this myth. If you sink all your resources into one content masterpiece, you can’t iterate and learn – and if your piece doesn’t perform, you’ve got a problem. But the trouble with turning on the content fire hose is that your audience is already inundated – they’re seeing vast amounts of low-quality, unmemorable content every day. The soundest content strategy is a happy medium – a series of strategically chosen bets rather than trying to be everywhere at once.  

#5: More martech, more money

Myth: Technology solves problems. Therefore, marketing technology solves marketing problems. 

Reality: To be clear: great tech, used well, is a massive advantage. Martech solutions become problematic when you lack a clear strategy, or don’t have strong executional foundations. In those cases, you’re adding a whole new set of costs – in money, implementation time and ongoing effort – that can divert resources from doing the basics well. Also, marketers often underestimate the difficulty of mastering the new competencies that technology enables. Technology can help you personalize content, for example, but personalization is not a switch you can flip – it’s a capability that needs to be developed and nurtured over time.

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Shutterstock launches Smart Brief, collaborative tool for creative briefs

The tool employs automated technology to accelerate the traditional creative collaboration process.

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Visual content provider Shutterstock today announced the launch of ​Smart Brief – a new tool designed to simplify and improve the creative briefing process for marketers and creatives.

The new service is part of Shutterstock Custom, a premium content management solution that helps enterprise clients produce and scale branded content. Shutterstock Custom users will be able to access the Smart Brief tool, which employs automated technology to accelerate the traditional creative collaboration process.

Smart Brief in action.

According to the company, key highlights of the tool include:

Intelligence. Powered by machine learning, the tool guides users through the process with relevant prompts that capture accurate inputs while eliminating conflicting or unnecessary information

Improved collaboration. Users will have the ability to accept changes and recommendations from other team members, view or revert to previous versions, and clone existing briefs.

Flexibility. Users are able to make adjustments to controls, production value, and the service level per project as the scope of work evolves.

Why we should care

Creative collaboration is often a pain point for both marketers and creative professionals alike – and can be particularly challenging for agency teams managing high-volume client projects.

A tool like Smart Brief has the potential to streamline workflows, resulting in less time spent inputting briefs and obtaining approvals and more time dedicated to creating high-quality branded content.

“The traditional creative brief process is laborious, time-consuming, and leaves a lot open to interpretation… We set out to automate and simplify the experience,” said Sylvain Grande, SVP of product and UX at Shutterstock. “Smart Brief streamlines our clients’ workflow and in turn, allows them to receive content faster without compromising results or having to be on set.”

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Competitor content analysis: Here’s what you can learn

Understanding your competitors’ content strategies will help you outperform them where it matters most, in the search results.

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It’s 10 pm – do you know where your competitors are?

Like the effect those PSAs had on parents in the 80’s and 90’s, this message likely brings up feelings of concern and uncertainty, especially if you’re a brand fighting for your spot in the marketplace.

Competitor analysis is an integral part of running a successful business and this holds true for online brands as well, particularly when it comes to search marketing and SEO. While it may take quarterly or even annual studies to discover when you’re losing market share to the competition in terms of positioning or share of mind, you can see your competition start to outrank you in the search results immediately.

Since search engines largely rely on algorithms to determine the results they show searchers, these results are constantly updating, and if you’re standing pat with SEO, you’re losing ground.

To mitigate these losses – as well as find growth opportunities – you need to monitor competitor strategies, and one of the best places to start is with their content.

Analyzing competitor content to identify content gaps

Keeping an eye on the competition is important because it can help you find gaps within your own content strategy and where your pages might be missing the mark.

Start by identifying your competitors’ top pages. One way to find these pages is to use a tool like Screaming Frog to see which pages have the most internal links pointing to them. Internal links signal importance to search engines, so these are the pages your competitor has flagged as their most important. Review these pages to see if there are any relevant pages you need to add to your site.

Another great way to find missed opportunities through competitor content is to identify which pages are driving organic traffic to competitor sites. Tools such as SEMrush or Ahrefs make it easy to identify top pages based on what percentage of organic traffic they earn. 

If you see a page that is responsible for a substantial percentage of your competitor’s traffic – and you don’t cover that subject on your site – it may be worth exploring what it would take to create your own page on the topic. Furthermore, if your competitor’s content is thin, poorly structured, or you are otherwise confident you can create something equal or better, you’ve just found a prime opportunity to capture more search visitors.

Analyze your competitors’ top pages, and the keywords associated with those pages, then examine your own content to see if there are any gaps you could fill to create new sources of organic traffic.

Competitor content analysis for content improvement

Analyzing competitor content can also empower you to improve your existing pages.

As you analyze your competitors’ top pages, don’t just focus on keywords – scrutinize the structure and organization of the page to understand why it might be performing so well.

Does the page go in-depth and perhaps it’s ranking based on thoroughness? Or is the page answering a specific question quickly and succinctly? Or does it do both?

These are important questions to answer if you want to understand why their page is ranking, and more importantly, how you can improve the performance of your pages.

You should also pay attention to the formats and types of content used. Is the content broken up with images or screenshots? Do they use bullet points and sub-headers to make the page easy to scan? Is video or audio present on the page? Again, these are your competitor’s top pages, and that short video they’ve embedded on their page might be the difference between their content’s performance and yours.

However, don’t stop at your competitor’s page. Go examine the corresponding search results where they rank and analyze the other pages featured there. While these pages might be from brands you don’t consider traditional competitors, these are the pages you’re competing with for visibility in search. Also, these pages can provide further insight into how you can tweak and improve your existing content.

Other information you can glean from competitor and current ranking pages includes:

  • Primary intent that search engines associate with the given topic.
  • Relevant and related sub-topics or questions.
  • Associated SERP features (rich snippets, knowledge graph, local packs, etc.)
  • And credible external sources and relevant citations.

With this information, you will have all the tools necessary to update your page to best answer the query you’re targeting. 

At this point, the only thing standing between your content and page one rankings might be backlinks. However, with backlink tools like Majestic and Moz you can identify the sites linking to those top pages – if you work to improve your page to the level of quality of the ranking pages, it’s likely these sites would be open to linking to your page as well.

Leveraging competitor content for linkable asset ideation

Speaking of backlinks, analyzing competitor content can help you generate ideas for link-worthy content too.

Before, you were scrutinizing competitor pages based on organic traffic, but many of the tools I’ve discussed here will also help you identify your competitors’ top pages based on backlinks. Just as you analyzed their top trafficked pages to understand why they rank so well; you can analyze these top linked pages to understand why they attract so many backlinks.

This analysis provides you with a host of topics that generate links and interest within your niche. You can also dig into the backlink profiles of these pages to learn how they are linked to gain insight into what types of pages and websites would want to link to this content.

For example, your competitor may have executed an original study that produced one interesting statistic that is being cited by numerous websites. It’s likely you won’t be able to replicate that study – and if you do, other sites are more likely to find your competitor’s site when searching for a citation – but you can analyze their study and identify what made it interesting to springboard ideas for tangential or supportive research.

Of course, improving on their idea, also known as the skyscraper technique, is an option as well, but this approach typically requires significant investment.

The key to this analysis is identifying linkable topics and pivoting them to be unique while maintaining the attributes that made your competitor’s pages link-worthy.

Benefits of competitor content analysis

Content marketing continues to be an integral part of successful digital marketing and SEO as search engines constantly provide the advice to “create good content.” However, consistently generating quality content ideas and executing them well is difficult, particularly if your goal is to rank your content in competitive SERPs.

Fortunately, your competitors are here to help! Through competitor content analysis you can learn:

  • Which pages and topics your competitors identify as important.
  • How your competitors earn organic traffic from search.
  • Where gaps exist within your current content marketing strategy.
  • Which low-investment content opportunities are available.
  • Ways to improve existing content for better search performance.
  • Which topics generate interest and backlinks within your niche.
  • And how and why websites link to content within your space.

Understanding your competitors’ content strategies will help you outperform them where it matters most, in the search results.

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Soapbox: Publishers, stop giving lucrative content away to Amazon and Facebook

In today’s Soapbox, the focus should be less on walled gardens and more on embracing the future as a forward-thinking digital brand.

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As Facebook once again rolls out its pitch to publishers, this time pledging publishers more money and promising to hire former journalists to evaluate the feed, the industry begins its seemingly never-ending, tired debate around Facebook’s trustworthiness.

But it’s not just Facebook trying to lure publishers, Amazon launched Onsite Associates program as an appeal to publishers to upload publisher’s lucrative product guides to the Amazon platform.

Are publishers really going to fall for it again?

Look to the precedent of their treatment of video creators on Prime Video, where they mirrored the classic moves of Facebook and Google and cut the returns for the actual creators of content.

Publishers need to protect their future by lessening reliance on any intermediary. Publishers recognize this which led to the recent craze in instituting paywalls. And already, there are incredible advancements in this area. Some companies are making use of the assets publishers exclusively have at their disposal (first-party data) to build models that aren’t reliant on platforms like Facebook and Amazon to create revenue.

By using all the data signals they have at their disposal, publishers can drive subscriptions effectively, thus lowering their dependence on the walled gardens for revenue. Publishers have a lot of weapons at their disposal but they’re still, by and large, thinking like a newspaper that gets read on a computer, not like a forward-thinking digital brand. Publishers should embrace all the data they have at their fingertips and invest in exploring how to cut out the intermediaries.

Soapbox is a special feature for marketers in our community to share their observations and opinions about our industry. You can submit your own here.

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Planning and creating the perfect landing page

Landing pages can make or break your digital marketing.

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If you’re looking to gather leads for your business, you need to have a landing-page strategy. Just like every other marketing tactic, this can be done well or it can be done poorly. To see the greatest return on their investment, businesses need to build effective landing pages, then test and optimize them to maximize conversion rates.

This guide from SharpSpring is written for any marketer looking to initiate or improve their landing page strategy. It will guide you through everything you need to know to allow you to create and optimize landing pages for your website.

Download your copy to find out:

  • What a landing page is and is NOT.
  • Planning & creating the perfect landing page.
  • Testing & optimizing: Why your landing pages are never “done.”

Visit Digital Marketing Depot to download “Creating Landing Pages That Convert.”

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Does the 9th Circuit’s new decision in HiQ vs. LinkedIn open the floodgates to scraping?

The case may still be reheard or appealed but it appears to be a broad ruling in favor of “the open internet.”

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Yesterday the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found (.pdf) in favor of data analytics company HiQ Labs, which had been scraping data and building products from LinkedIn public profiles. It’s a case that has a lot of implications — and may still be appealed.

CFAA and anti-hacking rules. LinkedIn tried to stop HiQ by using, among other things, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which is a federal cybersecurity and anti-hacking law. In basic terms, the CFAA says that a computer may not be accessed without authorization or in excess of authorization.

The profile data on LinkedIn was and is public. But LinkedIn didn’t like HiQ scraping its content and issued a cease-and-desist order in 2017. The letter stated that HiQ was in violation of LinkedIn’s user agreement as well as California and federal law, including the CFAA among others. LinkedIn also said that it would technically block HiQ’s efforts to scrape the site.

HiQ sued for a preliminary injunction against LinkedIn and won at the district court level. The court ordered LinkedIn to allow HiQ access to the content again. LinkedIn appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

Who’s “authorized” to access website content. A central question in the case involved determining, once HiQ received LinkedIn’s cease-and-desist letter, whether it was “without authorization” under CFAA. The Ninth Circuit said no.

CFAA contemplates information that is not publicly accessible (e.g., password protected). Public LinkedIn profiles were not password protected. In simple terms: only if the LinkedIn data was non-public would the company have been able to invoke CFAA to block HiQ’s access.

LinkedIn argued that HiQ violated the terms of its user agreement. The Ninth Circuit pointed out that its status as a “user” was terminated by LinkedIn with the cease-and-desist letter. In addition, LinkedIn didn’t claim any ownership interest in the public profile content. And while LinkedIn also said it was also seeking to protect users’ privacy rights in blocking HiQ, the court didn’t buy that argument regarding public profile information — where there was little or no expectations of privacy.

Other potential ways to block scraping. The case was substantially about CFAA, though there were other claims the court discussed. In the end, it didn’t say a website owner doesn’t have any recourse against wholesale appropriation of its public content. The court said that other laws could apply: “state law trespass to chattels claims may still be available. And other causes of action, such as copyright infringement, misappropriation, unjust enrichment, conversion, breach of contract, or breach of privacy, may also lie.”

The Ninth Circuit didn’t analyze the application of any of these theories to the facts of HiQ, however. It simply said they might apply to protect against scraping or content appropriation.

In response to the decision, a LinkedIn spokesperson offered the following statement: “We’re disappointed in the court’s decision, and we are evaluating our options following this appeal. LinkedIn will continue to fight to protect our members and the information they entrust to LinkedIn.”

Why we should care. This case may not be over and could ultimately wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court. Its broadest interpretation, however, appears to be: any “public” online data not owned or password protected by a publisher — and facts cannot be copyrighted — can be freely captured by third parties.

At the end of the opinion, the court expressed concern about “giving companies like LinkedIn free rein to decide, on any basis, who can collect and use data—data that the companies do not own, that they otherwise make publicly available to viewers, and that the companies themselves collect and use—risks the possible creation of information monopolies that would disserve the public interest.”

 

This story first appeared on Search Engine Land. For more on search marketing and SEO, click here.

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Learn how to turn customer reviews into customer insights with sentiment analysis

Join us on Thursday, September 5 at 1:00 PM ET (10:00 AM PT) for this live webinar.

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Customer ratings and reviews have become a critical brand marketing tool. In fact, 88% of consumers now trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, and 95% say that online reviews influence their buying decisions.

But how do you turn customer reviews into customer insights? And how can you apply those insights to your overall marketing strategy to improve reputation and create a compelling customer experience that builds brand loyalty?

Join our data science and review management experts this Thursday as they show you how to identify and use customer sentiment at scale to make improvements to both the in-store and online experience. You’ll learn:

  • Techniques to leverage long-tail reviews into search best practices.
  • Tips to analyze review sentiment at scale in order to identify in-store concerns at the national or local level.
  • How AI can evaluate review phrases, words and sentiment to improve marketing effectiveness.

Register now for “From Customer Review to Customer Insight: Best Practices in AI and Sentiment Analysis,” produced by Digital Marketing Depot and sponsored by Chatmeter.

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Spotify’s rumored ‘Create a podcast’ feature could be a valuable resource for marketers

The “Create a podcast” button discovered in the Spotify app would allow users to create podcasts via Anchor, an app Spotify purchased in February.

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Spotify is rumored to be launching a “Create a podcast” button within its app that will allow users to record, edit and publish podcasts using the Anchor podcast creation app, according to Engadget. The feature was first spotted by app researcher Jane Manchun Wong, who shared images of the “Create a podcast” button in the Spotify app via her Twitter account on Tuesday.

Spotify purchased Anchor in February; Wong noted that Anchor’s website included a product page for the Spotify feature.

Why you should care

The ability to produce and publish a podcast via Spotify’s app could open up a brand new marketing channel for SMBs and brands with limited resources and budgets.

Podcasts are booming business. Best-selling author and marketing veteran Seth Godin recently reported that 25% of the U.S. population listens to podcasts, on average, for six-and-a-half hours per week. “There is no other medium I am aware of that has grown at that pace with the exception of browsing the internet,” said Godin during his podcast on the topic (aptly titled “Meta”).

An Adobe Analytics report from earlier this month revealed mobile podcast app usage had increased 60% year-over-year since January, 2018 — and that 25% of podcast listeners had purchased a product discovered through podcast advertising.

By giving creators an easy-to-use podcast creation tool on top of its distribution platform — paired with its recently launched podcast analytics dashboard — Spotify is providing marketers the opportunity to tip their toe in the ever-growing pool of podcasts without the financial burden or risk of a large-scale initiative.

More on the news

  • Spotify’s podcast analytics dashboard allows creators to upload their podcasts to see listener demographic and engagement data.
  • Along with the Anchor podcast creation app, Spotify acquired Gimlet Media, a podcast development company.
  • At the time of the Anchor/Gimlet Media acquisitions, CEO Daniel Elk said he believed the podcast industry was positioned to become, “Significantly larger when you add internet-level monetization to it.”

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