Dropping verbal bombs in a livestream usually isn’t a good thing.
But the experts on Ask the #CMWorld Community livestreams this past year dropped some amazing ones, talking about everything from analytics to video storytelling, SEO, and more. Here are the top 10 takeaways shared by our generous guests that we didn’t want you to miss.
(If you have time, check out the weekly episodes from 2021 here and tune in on your favorite social media platform every Monday at Noon EST.)
1. Let employees be their authentic selves on social (with some guardrails)
Erika Heald, consultant with Erika Heald Consulting, joined us for the social media in the workplace episode. We asked is it possible for employees to be their authentic selves on social media and follow your company social media guidelines?
She says, “I think the key is to hold some lunch-and-learns or some other kinds of conversations with those employees to let them know … we’re not trying to control what you say on social. We do want you to be yourselves, but give some guidelines about here’s how we should behave.
“So for instance, people can get really heated (on social) … give (employees) coaching on if somebody says something terrible about the brand, don’t engage with that person, flag it to corporate comms. Or give them some of those kinds of coping mechanisms around when you are tempted to say something that isn’t very nice, walk away from the computer for a minute or two, and then come back and ask yourself (if) would you actually say that to someone’s face. So just kind of giving some of that support and coaching.”
Chris Penn, co-founder and chief data strategist with Trust Insights, joined us to chat for the content marketing analytics 101 episode. We asked what is the biggest mistake he sees marketers make when it comes to gauging the performance of their content efforts?
Chris’ answer? “Not knowing the difference between a metric and a KPI by far.” As Chris explains, a KPI (key performance indicator) is a number that, if it goes in the wrong direction, you could get fired. Everyone is going to have a different KPI they should be measuring. The key is to think about what number will you get a bonus for or what number will get you fired or dinged on a performance review.
If you don’t know what that number is, then you need to ask your boss. And as Chris points out, “If your boss doesn’t know what that number is, you need to update your LinkedIn profile because you and your boss are in a lot of trouble.”
3. A content council solves many collaboration and coordination problems
Andi Robinson, global digital content leader for Corteva Agriscience, joined us to chat about how to get buy-in for your content marketing operations. She built a content marketing team from the ground up and talks about how one of the best things she did was create a “content council” within the organization.
Andi shares, “One of the first things I knew I needed to do was to form a team that could help me bring messages, bring best practices, and advocate for content marketing throughout the organization.” Andi works in Indianapolis but works with about 50 marketing teams around the world. She needed to enlist everyone to advocate on behalf of not only content marketing but content best practices. Andi also needed local teams to bring their ideas and information to the broader marketing team within the organization.
“One of the big things that we do as a content council when we meet is to talk about who’s doing what, if we could share best practices, and if somebody has questions about something that they’re doing that other team members can answer. So, it really is a collaborative team that comes together as part of that content council.”
4. Guest posting still works to generate potential new business
Michelle Garett, PR consultant with Garrett Public Relations, chatted with us about how freelancers in the content marketing space can set themselves up for success. We asked what are good places to generate leads and find work opportunities in your business?
“I’ve had a lot of success with social media. Twitter is my primary platform, but of course, a lot of people like LinkedIn. I also think having a blog and regularly, consistently blogging (helps), and then also contributed articles and guest posting. That’s been a very successful way for me to also reach new people that might not otherwise be familiar with my blog.
“Or it just helps me reach other audiences and a lot of publications are looking for guest posts … For example, I like manufacturing, so I’m always looking for and I’ve been on some podcasts about manufacturing. I have guest posted for Thomasnet, which is a big player in that industry … That’s probably a lot easier in some industries than others. I think health care probably has a lot of outlets that might be interested in guest posts and things.”
5. Technology should help, not drive your strategy
Content strategist Buddy Scalera talked about the importance of marketers understanding the technology in their marketing stack, and why it’s not necessarily a good thing to chase the newest, fanciest marketing tools out there.
As he says, “You need to really first start with what are your end goals. What do you want to accomplish? … You need to also begin by understanding the persona of your target audience. That will drive the technology that you need.”
Buddy explains: “(A)s we exploded on the internet with all the social platforms, we began to create our campaigns around the technology. We would say, “OK, we’re going to create something for TikTok. Maybe that was a great idea. Maybe it wasn’t, but often you will see people lead with the platform or the technology, and then try to shoehorn their content into it.
“I’ve been to plenty of different meetings where they were talking about … how will this work with Google Glass? And now these days, well, how will this work with blockchain. And they’re trying to figure out a way to make the technology work for their marketing. Whereas if their marketing is working and their content is right, that’s the first question. What does your audience need to hear and want to hear from you?”
6. Improvisation may turn out to be your most important skill
Kathy Klotz-Guest, founder of Keeping it Human is a big proponent of improvisation and giving teams room to play and create. We asked her how improv plays into building innovative marketing teams.
“(Y)ou’ve probably never thought of it that way, (but) your team is an improv group. And I’ll tell you why – you have to realign, you have to work together, co-create, things change. You have to pivot every day. So you’re already an improviser and your team is having to improvise. Everybody had to during COVID. That’s a high-stakes example, but sometimes the stakes are lower, and we have to switch, and we have to adjust. You’re already an improv team. My theory is, if you’re going to be an improv team, why not be an intentionally purposeful, good team, not a sucky team.”
Kathy says, “One of the most fundamental concepts is how do we create psychological safety. The reason improvisers on a stage are able to do that is because we have a concept called ‘I got your back.’ There’s no right. There’s no wrong. Imagine in our teams, if we judge each other’s ideas less and said … what’s viable about all these ideas and how can I build on what they said rather than how can I … find 20 reasons why it won’t work. How can I find reasons why it will work? That’s psychological safety.”
7. Find the unique angle before you start original research
Michele Linn, co-founder and head of strategy with Mantis Research, joined us to chat about the benefits of having custom research as part of your marketing mix. She explained that getting started isn’t about coming up with questions.
“So many marketers are like, ‘This is going to be fun. Let’s start writing questions.’ What I would say is back up and put together a really simple strategy. Understand what is that thing that you want your research to do? Do you want it to build email subscribers? Do you want it to be a thing for your thought leadership program? Do you want it to be a place where you can make a lot of other content? What’s that thing you want it to do?
“Also, figure out who it is that you want your research to most impact so that you can make sure that you’re really providing those insights that are super interesting to that audience. And then I really think it’s important that you understand what research (already) exists in this space … I was talking to someone last week and they say, you know, we want to do a report on video in content marketing. But if you type in video stats, there’s so many reports that already exist. You need to make sure that you have your own specific angle out there before you even start writing the questions.”
8. Brand voice should reflect company culture and audience norms
Digital strategist Vassilena Valchanova joined us to share advice on defining your brand voice and who within the organization should be involved.
“(It) is a marketing-led initiative and marketing gets to do the brunt of the work, but it’s not something that is done only solely by the marketing team. You need to involve a lot of different people. There are a few different stages in defining a brand voice. And the first one … is the initial research.”
Vassilena explains: “Check out your existing communication and see how your brand is already communicating and what you can keep from this communication style. This can be (done by) going through existing blog content or social media content or wherever your brand’s presence is. It can even go through internal company research. So how people are communicating in a more organic matter all throughout your organization.
“This can be a great source of inspiration because what usually happens is that the brand voice needs to reflect the company culture. And if your team is super informal and friendly in internal comms, but your brand needs to be very serious and conservative looking on the outside … it makes it much harder to sustain in the long run.
“And then there’s also your general audience research. So how do the people you are targeting, how do they communicate on their own in different online communities like LinkedIn groups or Facebook groups and so on? How do they talk amongst themselves or the jargon they use? What’s the language style? What we’re trying to do here is to understand our audience and make sure that we fit in, in the best way possible.”
9. The best SEO optimization starts before writing
Chris Craft, chief content officer with NEOLuxe Marketing, talked about how to make sure your content is organically optimized to perform before you write.
“Say you have a new content initiative you want to do. Typically, it starts with some brainstorming … You just sit at the table, hashing out ideas, and that’s healthy because you can start to build a general cloud of content ideas, whether those are specific topics or themes … Then you get a little bit more specific by doing a content matrix process where you take some of those themes and potential topics, and you organize it according to your target audiences.
“And then you take those themes or topics and turn them into what we call head terms. And those are just general phrases that you can potentially search for within a search engine, but they’re very, very high level, right? … (Y)ou’ll take those head terms and you’ll plug it into your favorite keyword research tool … and you turn those head terms of general keywords into long-tail keywords. Then you’ll take those long-tail keywords and apply them to the organized topics, themes, and clusters that you developed in your content matrix exercise. And then from there, you have all that you need. You could take those keywords that are matched up with those, themes and topics, and turn that into a content calendar.”
Tony Gnau, founder and chief storyteller at T60 Productions, shared why he thinks pulling back the curtain on your product or service operations is a great video marketing strategy.
“When we are producing videos, it’s always about trying to produce something that is genuine and authentic. Behind-the-scenes videos are all about authenticity and welcoming people into the business. Really dig into what your business or organization does. Do something on your operations, how you operate as a business or organization however that may be. If you have an actual product, show people how you produce it. Actually, take them behind the scenes at the manufacturing facility.
“It gets tricky when you are a service provider. But even if you are producing a video demonstrating an accounting service, you can take them into the office and show them the professional environment in which you’re conducting your business. You introduce them to the people who they will be doing business with. Those are still valuable behind-the-scenes videos. They are valuable because a lot of people don’t do them. They chicken out. It’s still valuable because your competitors aren’t doing those videos.”
HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:
So many guests shared great insights throughout 2021, check out more from the 2021 playlist. You can watch all the episodes of Ask the #CMWorld Community or Ask the CMI Team here. If you have any suggestions for topics or guests for 2022, please let us know in the comments or fill out this short form.
Ask the #CMWorld Community is on hiatus for the holidays. Set up a calendar reminder to join us at 12 p.m. EST Mondays (starting January 10, 2022) to catch a new set of truth bombs from experts in the #CMWorld community. Catch us live or on a replay on CMI’s YouTube channel.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
During my time in search, there are certain ranking factors that I’ve changed my perspective on. For instance, after coming to Go Fish Digital and working on internal linking initiatives, I started to realize the power of internal links over time. By implementing internal links at scale, we were able to see consistent success.
Freshness is another one of these factors. After working with a news organization and testing the learnings gained from that work on other sites, I started to see the immense power that content refreshes could produce. As a result, I think the entire SEO community has underrated this concept for quite some time. Let’s dig into why.
Reviewing news sites
This all started when we began to work with a large news publisher who was having trouble getting in Google’s Top Stories for highly competitive keywords. They were consistently finding that their content wasn’t able to get inclusion in this feature, and wanted to know why.
Inclusion in “Top stories”
We began to perform a lot of research around news outlets that seemed quite adept at getting included in Top Stories. This immediately turned our attention to CNN, the site that is by far the most skilled in acquiring coveted Top Stories positions.
By diving into their strategies, one consistent trend we noticed was that they would always create a brand new URL the day they wanted to be included in the Top Stories carousel:
As an example, here you can see that they create a unique URL for their rolling coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war. Since they know that Google will show Top Stories results daily for queries around this, they create brand new URLs every single day:
This flies in the face of traditional SEO advice that indicates web owners need to keep consistent URLs in order to ensure equity isn’t diluted and keywords aren’t cannibalized. But to be eligible for Top Stories, Google needs a “fresh” URL to be indexed in order for the content to qualify.
After we started implementing the strategy of creating unique URLs every day, we saw much more consistent inclusion for this news outlet in Top Stories for their primary keywords.
However, the next question we wanted to address was not just how to get included in this feature, but also how to maintain strong ranking positions once there.
Ranking in “Top stories”
The next element that we looked at was how frequently competitors were updating their stories once in the Top Stories carousel, and were surprised at how frequently top news outlets refresh their content.
We found that competitors were aggressively updating their timestamps. For one query, when reviewing three articles over a four-hour period, we found the average time between updates for major outlets:
USA Today: Every 8 Minutes
New York Times: Every 27 minutes
CNN: Every 28 minutes
For this particular query, USA Today was literally updating their page every 8 minutes and maintaining the #1 ranking position for Top Stories. Clearly, they were putting a lot of effort into the freshness of their content.
But what about the rest of us?
Of course, it’s obvious how this would apply to news sites. There is certainly no other vertical where the concept of “freshness” is going to carry more weight to the algorithm. However, this got us thinking about how valuable this concept would be to the broader web. Are other sites doing this, and would it be possible to see SEO success by updating content more frequently?
Fortunately, we were able to perform even more research in this area. Our news client also had many non-news specific sections of their site. These sections contain more “evergreen” articles where more traditional SEO norms and rules should apply. One section of their site contains more “reviews” type of content, where they find the best products for a given category.
When reviewing articles for these topics, we also noticed patterns around freshness. In general, high ranking articles in competitive product areas (electronics, bedding, appliances) would aggressively update their timestamps on a monthly (sometimes weekly) cadence.
For example, as of the date of this writing (May 25th, 2022), I can see that all of the top three articles for “best mattress” have been updated within the last 7 days.
Looking at the term “best robot vacuum”, it looks like all of the articles have been updated in the last month (as of May 2022):
Even though these articles are more “evergreen” and not tied to the news cycle, it’s obvious that these sites are placing a high emphasis on freshness with frequent article updates. This indicated to us that there might be more benefits to freshness than just news story results.
Performing a test
We decided to start testing the concept of freshness on our own blog to see what the impact of these updates could be. We had an article on automotive SEO that used to perform quite well for “automotive seo” queries. However, in recent years, this page lost a lot of organic traffic:
The article still contained evergreen information, but it hadn’t been updated since 2016:
It was the perfect candidate for our test. To perform this test, we made only three changes to the article:
Updated the content to ensure it was all current. This changed less than 5% of the text.
Added “2022” to the title tag.
Updated the timestamp.
Immediately, we saw rankings improve for the keyword “automotive seo”. We moved from ranking on the third page to the first page the day after we updated the content:
To verify these results, we tested this concept on another page. For this next article, we only updated the timestamp and title tag with no changes to the on-page content. While we normally wouldn’t recommend doing this, this was the only way we could isolate whether “freshness” was the driving change, and not the content adjustments.
However, after making these two updates, we could clearly see an immediate improvement to the traffic of the second page:
These two experiments combined with other tests we’ve performed are showing us that Google places value on the recency of content. This value extends beyond just articles tied to the news cycle.
Why does Google care?
Thinking about this more holistically, Google utilizing the concept of freshness makes sense from their E-A-T initiatives. The whole concept of E-A-T is that Google wants to rank content that it can trust (written by experts, citing facts) above other search results. Google has a borderline public responsibility to ensure that the content it serves is accurate, so it’s in the search giant’s best interest to surface content that it thinks it can trust.
So how does freshness play into this? Well, if Google thinks content is outdated, how is it supposed to trust that the information is accurate? If the search engine sees that your article hasn’t been updated in five years while competitors have more recent content, that might be a signal that their content is more trustworthy than yours.
For example, for the term “best camera phones”, would you want to read an article last updated two years ago? For that matter, would you even want an article last updated six months ago?
As we can see, Google is only ranking pages that have been updated within the last one or two months. That’s because the technology changes so rapidly in this space that, unless you’re updating your articles every couple of months or so, you’re dramatically behind the curve.
The concept of freshness also makes sense from a competitive perspective. One of the biggest weaknesses of an indexation engine is that it’s inherently hard to serve real-time results. To find when content changes, a search engine needs time to recrawl and reindex content. When combined with the demands of crawling the web at scale, this becomes extremely difficult.
On the other hand, social media sites like Twitter don’t have this issue and are made to serve real-time content. The platform isn’t tasked with indexing results, and engagement metrics can help quickly surface content that’s gaining traction. As a result, Twitter does a much better job of surfacing trending content.
Thinking about the web from a platform based perspective, it makes sense that most users would choose Twitter over Google when looking for real-time information. This causes a big threat to Google, as it’s a reason for users to migrate off the ecosystem, thus presenting fewer opportunities to serve ads.
Recently in Top Stories, you now see a lot more “Live Blog Posts”. These articles utilize LiveBlogPosting structured data, which signals to Google that the content is getting updated in real-time. While looking for real-time URLs across the entire web is daunting, using this structured data type can help them better narrow in on content they need to be crawling and indexing more frequently.
Google seems to be aggressively pushing these live blogs in Top Stories as they often see strong visibility in Top Stories results:
This might be a strategic move to encourage publishers to create real-time content. The goal here could be increased adoption of content that’s updated in real-time with the end result of showcasing to users that they can get this type of content on Google, not just Twitter.
Utilizing these concepts moving forward
I think as an industry, sometimes there’s room for us to be more creative when thinking about our on-page optimizations. When looking at how to improve pages that have lost traffic and positions over time, we could take freshness into consideration. When looking at pages that have lost prominence over time, we might want to consider checking if that content is also outdated. Through testing and experimentation, you could see if updating the freshness of your content has noticeable positive impacts on ranking improvements.
Build-A-Bear is remaking itself for the 25th anniversary of its founding this year. This means using its experience and its data to appeal to older customers and create stronger online connections.
“The goal that was stated for us was to diversify our brand, evolve our retail portfolio and build stronger relationships with our consumers,” said Ed Poppe, Build-A-Bear’s vice president, loyalty and performance marketing for Build-A-Bear, in a presentation at The MarTech Conference.
That’s why they launched HeartBox, an e-commerce play which the company says will let it move into “the adult-to-adult gift-giving and gift box market which has been meaningfully expanding over the past few years.” This goes along with its new Bear Cave line of “adult” bears (in this case adult means they have alcohol in hand). The brand has also expanded through partnerships with film, entertainment and streaming TV properties like Harry Potter, Pokémon, The Matrix and the Marvel series WandaVision.
These efforts are designed to give more options to customers who buy online, and increase options for engagement. This has required integrating new teams and new sources of data.
Connecting customer data and teams
“Over half of businesses now say that they expect the majority of their revenue to come from digital channels,” said Loretta Shen, senior director, product marketing, marketing cloud intelligence for Salesforce. “To meet changing consumer behavior, marketers are adopting digital channels like video, social media and digital ads across search and paid media. But it’s not just adopting these channels, but how you use them, and in particular how you use them in tandem.”
Build-A-Bear adapted to customers’ increased digital use by adding new digital experiences while also reorganizing customer data to better understand what customers want.
“We have to understand our guests at Build-A-Bear,” said Bryce Ahrens, Build-A-Bear’s senior analyst, CRM, loyalty and performance marketing. “How do they engage with our email, our websites, our advertising and, of course, how do they engage and experience our in-store environment?”
They keep a large CRM database made up of loyalty program members, website customers, retail customers and sales prospects. Additionally, through access to the CRM, the organization is pulling together different teams: web development, analytics, marketing and also data privacy people.
These teams have to remain connected because data is coming through different systems. Build-A-Bear has a first-party data warehouse, a commerce cloud storefront, an order management system, marketing cloud, an email platform and different analytics solutions, not to mention ad platforms for campaigns.
“We need to be able to bring this information together, prioritize what we look at, and identify strategies to move quickly,” said Ahrens.
Data and digital experience come together in an ongoing Build-A-Bear effort called “Count Your Candles.”
The promotion is a special offer for customers to order a discounted bear (regularly priced at $14) that costs a dollar amount that matches their age.
The dedicated webpage for this promotion also allows customers and gift-givers to buy gift cards and become loyalty members. Additionally, there are a number of other ways that customers can celebrate birthdays, including in-store birthday parties and special birthday gift boxes that can be ordered and delivered.
These strategies came from marketers looking at the data and seeing what sparked their customers’ interests. In this case, it was birthdays.
“We’re lucky to have a team up here who wants to jump in and help drive our business forward,” said Poppe. “But it also brings us back to where it’s important to aggregate data, identify patterns, see your opportunities, and pick your path forward.”
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Chris Wood draws on over 15 years of reporting experience as a B2B editor and journalist. At DMN, he served as associate editor, offering original analysis on the evolving marketing tech landscape. He has interviewed leaders in tech and policy, from Canva CEO Melanie Perkins, to former Cisco CEO John Chambers, and Vivek Kundra, appointed by Barack Obama as the country’s first federal CIO. He is especially interested in how new technologies, including voice and blockchain, are disrupting the marketing world as we know it. In 2019, he moderated a panel on “innovation theater” at Fintech Inn, in Vilnius. In addition to his marketing-focused reporting in industry trades like Robotics Trends, Modern Brewery Age and AdNation News, Wood has also written for KIRKUS, and contributes fiction, criticism and poetry to several leading book blogs. He studied English at Fairfield University, and was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He lives in New York.
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