Top Takeaways from Next10x Digital Marketing Conference 2019

Eric Enge, General Manager of Perficient Digital speaking on stage at Next10x Conference in Boston in 2019

On May 2, 2019, Perficient Digital hosted the third annual Next10x conference in Boston. The one-day agenda was packed with relevant, valuable digital marketing and SEO information and networking breaks. It included 12 industry speakers and had a strong focus in two areas:

  1. The future of digital marketing
  2. Things that you can do right now to grow your business

Many of the industry’s top speakers came and shared their knowledge, expertise and insights. Didn’t get a chance to join us this year? No worries – today’s post will provide you with a recap of the top takeaways from the day.

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Top 5 SEO Opportunities

Eric Enge, General Manager, Digital Marketing, Perficient Digital

SEO is about giving Google what they want — a great user experience based on intent. Our learnings from the algorithm updates show that consistent updates raise the rankings of sites that meet user intent. It’s in our interest as publishers to align with Google’s goals. As a result, here are the five biggest opportunities for SEO in 2019:

  • High-quality content – Google recognizes that user needs are complex and unique to each use, and its algorithm updates are focused on surfacing sites that offer a depth and breadth of content likely to satisfy those needs. In short, publishing high volumes of content (when compared to competition) can cause your organic search traffic to soar.
  • Promote content effectively – You can have the world’s greatest web site, but you won’t get much traffic if no one knows about it. Promote your site, drive high levels of visibility to what you’ve created, and get cited and referenced across the web. Links still matter a great deal, and they remain a big key to SEO success.
  • Speed matters – A one-second mobile delay can reduce conversions by up to 20%, and 53% of users abandon pages that take more than three seconds to load. Yet, the average page takes more than 12 seconds to load on mobile. Find ways to speed up your site and you’re likely to see great results. One approach to consider is to implement accelerated mobile pages (AMP), a progressive web app (PWA), or both (a PWAMP!).
  • Publish original, high-quality images – Searching with a camera is the next big phase of search. Original, large, clean, and optimized images directly related to the site will offer users a better experience with your content and open the door to new traffic opportunities, such as traffic from Google Discover.
  • Invest in voice – Users are becoming more and more comfortable speaking to their devices. Personal assistants will be the driving applications behind voice usage. As a publisher, the biggest opportunities are for those who create personal assistant apps, such as an Alexa Skill or an Actions on Google app. These will advance from the scripted conversations available today to fully cognitive conversations.

Make Your Mobile Site Fly with AMP

Ben Morss, Developer Advocate, Google

Speed is everything. It matters to users across the globe. It is even more critical in a world where most users have 3G connections or slower (40% of connections worldwide are 2G). Here in the U.S., delays in page load times significantly impact user engagement and conversions on your site.

AMP is an open source program that provides an industry-standard approach to speeding up your pages. Based on a collection of web components built off HTML, AMP provides some JavaScript functionality like menus and image carousels. AMP also includes these key aspects:

  • AMP discourages/bans features that slow speed, provides a stable layout that eliminates distracting ads, and only loads content when it’s needed.
  • Originally, site owners that adopted AMP created an HTML/JavaScript version of their site and then an AMP version that was used as an alternate mobile experience. Today, more and more implement AMP as the standard (and only) version of their mobile pages.
  • In general, most sites can largely be re-created in AMP, which can support visually rich experiences. Some exceptions remain but are rare.
  • Checkout pages are one of the few pages that still usually require too much JavaScript to translate to AMP pages.
  • Ben shared a case study of an e-commerce site in India that saw a 60% improvement in speed and a 40% reduced bounce rate.

PWAs create an app-like experience on the web, and adoption of these is spreading. Microsoft is actively looking for PWAs to feature in their app store and Chrome has started launching PWAs for PCs, with Macs hopefully soon to follow.

Consider the key aspects of PWAs:

  • If your site is developed with a PWA, your normal web pages behave like a smartphone app when accessed via your phone, eliminating the need to develop a separate code experience for phones. This drives rapid adoption — since all users who access your site get the PWA, maintenance and development are simplified.
  • A core component of the PWA is the Service Worker, which actively preloads content prior to a user requesting it. As a result, the page they access next is often preloaded onto their phone even before they request it, resulting in great increases in speed.

The Future is Conversational and Visual

Duane Forrester, VP of Industry Insights, Yext

Yext's Duane Forrester Speaking on stage at Next10x Conference in Boston in 2019

Trends are driven by platform change. It’s important to have these new devices and platforms in your life to understand how users are searching and what content they are consuming. Smart speakers and personal assistants are integrating with everyday life, including in houses, cars, and during a user’s day-to-day routine.

Your brand has numerous audiences and consumer touchpoints. Search engines want consistent and reliable data across touchpoints to determine how to serve up a reasonable and expected answer.

  • Seventy-three percent of high-intent traffic (someone intending to enter a business/make a purchase) happens off-site. Most customers never visit a homepage because search intent takes them to other channels and specific landing pages.
  • It’s important to manage entities (companies, events, people) as users become more thoughtful about their spending power.

The customer journey usually begins with a question, but it involves a series of questions and answers before the goal is completed. As a result, search is moving from keywords to questions. Developing a questions catalog can help drive content creation to enable your business to be a part of the conversation.

  • To be a trusted and valued brand, businesses must structure data across entities and platforms and provide answers for all stages of this journey. Knowledge graphs are key for a business to develop an authentic relationship with consumers. Using “best” in a query automatically filters out any business with less than a four-star rating, so cleaning up and responding to feedback is more critical than ever.
  • The world is having a conversation, whether you’re in it or not. It’s best to be in it. For example, do you look at your reviews? Do you respond to the bad ones and try to resolve the issue?
  • Conversations are more authentic. An organization must understand the complex intent behind questions and get to what the user means to better advertise to a group. This is especially effective when you overlay demographic data — one of the things that makes psychographic marketing on Facebook so interesting.

Spicy Content Marketing that Warms Up Cold Calls

Chris Brogan, CEO, Owner Media Group

Chris Brogen speaking on stage at Next10x in Boston in 2019

It’s critical for marketers to put humanity back into content. Attention is at an all-time low because of the junk content cluttering the space, especially for email marketers. Over 2,000 words may get you linked and bookmarked, but quick content gets you actions. As a result, it’s important to match the content you produce to the user needs you’re trying to address and the results you hope will come from it.

Two types of users exist – browsers and searchers. Both start their query because of an event, followed by awareness, and then an evaluation of the results. Marketers need to get smarter about the customer journey and recognize that trying to reach the masses won’t reach anyone. Instead, we need to go after multiple specificities.

For example, consider Microsoft’s Super Bowl ad about disabled gamers. It is very targeted, yet has broad audience appeal at the same time. At the heart of this type of approach is understanding that specificity makes us take an interest because we feel connected.

In addition, email marketing needs to be worth forwarding and worth keeping in an inbox. Don’t waste the opportunity of a newsletter with poorly planned content — make sure it resonates. Don’t send it from inhuman email addresses that shut down conversation (donotreply@ addresses). Invite the responses and respond back to them. Create a conversation.

When reviewing content, don’t just focus on the technical aspects of writing like grammar, word count, and links. Review the content for tribalism and consider the social flux. Speak to audiences that are developing their voices when you have a compelling reason. Business is about belonging — fitting in is what you do when you don’t belong.

In terms of creating a connection, video is underutilized and underappreciated:

  • People read, on average, 19 minutes a day.
  • On average, they spend six hours online consuming content, but text is no longer a driver.
  • Video puts a human face in front of human faces.

Panel: Case Studies

Four panelists discussing at Next10x Conference in Boston, MA in 2019

This panel had four speakers covering several different topics:

  • Susan Wenograd, Account Group Director, Aimclear
  • Grant Davies, Agency General Manager, Perficient Digital
  • Jordan Silton, Director of SEO Marketing, Apartments.com
  • Shawn Tyler, Senior Director of Marketing, SEO, Affiliate and Social, BOLD

Brand Awareness Case Study

Susan Wenograd, Account Group Director, Aimclear

Aimclear tried to prove the impact of a Facebook video ad campaign on brand awareness by testing a two-market strategy for six weeks. For this test, they determined the measurement for increased awareness would be a lift in traffic. The test focused on scalable tactics for the travel vertical for two cities, one of which would operate as a control group.

The client created how-to videos with long wind ups that achieved an average watch of two seconds. Aimclear provided aspirational videos rooted in the emotions of travel and received an average watch time of 10 seconds. Aimclear scaled the project and achieved a 41% lift year over year (YoY) for the test group over the control group.

  • The emotional connection helped with engagement that stimulated a retargeting campaign featuring product details.
  • The key is to capture attention in the first couple of seconds.

Mobile Case Study

Grant Davies, General Manager, Perficient Digital

Apps account for 80% of time spent on mobile devices. Businesses are doing the work to get users to their mobile experiences but aren’t emphasizing work to keep them there. Fifty percent of consumers are put off by a bad mobile experience, and 40% will turn to a competitor after a bad mobile experience.

Grant shared a rental equipment case study that found a change in user needs within their industry. His team found that users wanted to make phone calls and talk to a person rather than go through an app.

Once this was realized, new ways to chat and personalized features, like active notifications and chatbots, were developed. Identifying the actual needs of the consumers changed the way the business prioritized work.  

Grant also added some thought on the future of mobile:

  • We will see more microtransactions from users that are willing to sell data when properly informed of the use and personal benefits.
  • There will be improved accessibility for those with disabilities.
  • Healthcare services will increasingly leverage mobile.
  • Voice assistants with actual intelligence will emerge.

Contextual Linking Case Study

Jordan Silton, Director – SEO Marketing, Apartments.com

Apartments.com is a large and complex site with many opportunities for natural interactions between their pages. Yes, the problem of implementing contextual linking was a tough one – it’s hard to do it in an easily scalable way.

Using artificial intelligence (AI), Apartments.com created a scalable method for adding accurate, quality links to test. The method correctly identified entities and the correct links, but the cost to parse the content wasn’t scalable. Apartments.com couldn’t easily prioritize entities that mattered to them.

As a result, Apartments.com started with a database of their entities. They used regular expressions to match entities within content with content to link to. This method allowed them to effectively narrow down on local entities and the content they were linking to. Using this method, the contextual links on their site update automatically.

Takeaways from the experience:

  • Data science is key.
  • Simple solutions can be more effective.
  • When you dream big and push the envelope, you find your most creative solution and accomplish more.

Managing a Mature Product Case Study

Shawn Tyler, Senior Director of Marketing, SEO, Affiliate and Social, BOLD

Shawn shared an enterprise’s approach to assessing and evolving a mature online property. His presentation focused on years of building up a successful site – when some of the strategies stop working, how can you change direction without risking what is still working well? Some key takeaways were:

  • Realizing that catching and strategically addressing technical errors is essential.
  • Utilizing multiple tools to track and differentiate their properties is important. This helps prioritize what content to emphasize or devalue and collect and evaluate backlinks.
  • The need to stablish KPIs across sites and develop content and technical QA processes.

Technical SEO and How It Can Benefit Your Business

Martin Splitt, Developer Advocate, Google

Technical SEOs are the link between developer and marketer. They need to understand the challenges of developers and investment interests of marketers to help both achieve their goals. Some key aspects of this include:

  • Supporting development teams so they are thinking about SEO when you are not in the room and can keep pace in an agile workflow.
  • Testing and monitoring for technical issues to build a strong foundation rather than after the fact. This is more costly and time intensive than catching issues early on.
  • Advocating for site performance in a sea of competing priorities.
    • Sixty-six percent of customers judge a company based on website performance.

The four most important aspects of technical SEO:

  1. Be discoverable
    1. This comes down to good links (use the <a> tag) and limited JavaScript – if the JavaScript fails or connectivity is lost during load, it will ruin the link. Parsers can understand JavaScript links but can’t run them.
    2. Knowing when to use buttons vs. links. If it takes the user to different content, use a link.
    3. The History API runs code when URLs change. This helps to avoid tricking browsers with fragment identifiers.
  2. Be crawlable
    1. Crawl budget is based on crawl rate, and demand is determined by the server.
    2. Changes to the server include migrations and changing pages.
    3. Crawlability has nothing to do with ranking.
    4. Update your robot.txt file very carefully.
  3. Be indexable
    1. Googlebot understands JavaScript but processes it in a deferred manner.
    2. Using semantic HTML markup helps search engines understand the page.
    3. Make sure you’re making a reasonable number of requests.
    4. Reduce render-blocking JavaScript. If the JavaScript comes before the content in the code, search engines must download and execute the JavaScript before it, or the users, can understand the page content.
  4. Be usable
    1. An obvious title and snippets are a must.
    2. Website performance and mobile friendliness must be a priority. Use tools to verify this.
    3. Measure speed by the time it takes to load the content users have come to the site to find.
    4. Understand the limitations of your framework.

Panel: Demystifying Analytics

This panel had two speakers:

  • Kathryn Bogen, Analytics Director for Perficient Digital
  • Jenny Halasz, Founder, CEO for JLH Marketing.

Analytics Governance and Documentation

Kathryn Bogen, Analytics Director, Perficient Digital

Some of the top requirements for a successful analytics program include:

  • Expertise to understand tools and resources.
  • Centralized tracking to promote accuracy.
  • Constantly onboarding new talent and tools.
  • Learning to trust the tools and the data they collect.
  • Reducing reliance on development and deployment.

Since the number of people involved in analytics programs is often small, even at large enterprises, one of the biggest challenges these organizations face is staff turnover. As a result, the approaches used, specifics of how things are setup, needs of the stakeholders receiving information, and all other aspects of the program need to be thoroughly documented. Businesses also need to clearly define their analytics goals and how to measure results for each project so tools, goals, and staff knowledge are accessible by those who need it.

Google Data Studio

Jenny Halasz, President and Founder, JLH Marketing

Google Data Studio (GDS) is a program designed to make the process of creating compelling views of data easy to setup and use. Key to its success is that GDS plugs into many sources of data, including Google Analytics (GA) and Google Search Console (GSC), to enable the processing of data from those sources simple to setup.  GDS supports far more than GA and GSC, including data from non-Google sources. More companies are creating connectors for GDS all the time.

Additional key points about GDS:

  • Corporate governance tracking and tagging make it easier to understand where data is coming from with custom channels and channel rollups.
  • GDS makes it easy for businesses to figure out analytics goals and tie them to business goals.
  • Sharing data and controlling risks can also be easier.
  • It’s recommended that you make a copy of free templates and existing reports so you have copies of original data.

A Bigger, Braver, Bolder 2019: What to Stop, Where to Double-Down, How to Kill It

Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs

Ann Handley Speaking on stage at Next10 2019 in Boston, MA

Email is vastly undervalued. It’s the only place where people, not algorithms, are choosing to receive content. It is a place to build trust and brand affinity by projecting who you are. Email content needs to build trust and affinity. Don’t underinvest in the value of that content.

  • Ninety-two percent of surveyed businesses use email, but how many actively think about the value of the email content?
  • Seventy-three percent of businesses are producing more content than the previous year, but 35% know their content isn’t hitting the mark.
  • Ninety percent met user’s needs, 94% value creativity and craft, and 96% say their audience finds them a credible resource.

Businesses need to ask these four questions about content:

  1. What are we communicating, and more importantly, how?
    1. The content is less important than how the news is conveyed.
    2. Personal style increases trust and affinity and should have a human at the other end.
    3. Content should be a conversation between the brand or, preferably, a human face for the business.
  2. What kind of letters do we most love to get?
    1. Include less promotion and more information.
    2. Make it more about the subscriber.
    3. Write with “here is my reason for writing to you” in mind.
    4. Generate a feedback loop to better understand the audience and engage in an intimate and social way.
    5. Don’t fret about an audience that isn’t a fit for your content. Focus on your targets.
  3. Does your marketing feel like marketing?
    1. Don’t tell me what to do, tell me why it matters to me.
    2. Ask yourself what your audience wants.
  4. How does this content only come from me?
    1. Lose the marketing voice and talk to your audience. Businesses need to establish an embedded style that conveys who you are in your content
    2. If your logo disappeared from the web, would anyone be able to attribute your website to the brand?

Summary

Overall, the day was a great success. In our follow-up survey to attendees, 100% of respondents said they would recommend the conference to a colleague.

We are already starting to plan for Next10x 2020. Interested in receiving updates for next year’s event?

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A Content Marketing Conversation with Ann Handley and Eric Enge

Ann Handley and Eric Enge 's Webinar on Content Marketing - Featured Image

Technology makes it easier than ever to market to the individual at scale, but if you don’t truly understand your audience, your content could be perceived as generic and impersonal. Automated personalization helps, but it’s no longer enough. Customers want and expect useful, valuable, and relevant content that feels like it was created just for them. How can you deliver that?

To help answer this, I interviewed Ann Handley from MarketingProfs. We discussed why marketers need to think about content marketing as a one-on-one conversation with customers and the best ways to execute this strategy.

Check out our conversation in the video below, or scroll down to read the transcript.



Original Live Webinar aired on Monday, April 18, 1:00 PM

Transcript

What is personalization, from a marketing standpoint?

Eric: What we want to talk about today is really personalization and content marketing together, and I think we should start the conversation with an opening question. What do we really mean by personalization? Are we talking about dynamic content optimization, or using data for automated content, or user-generated content, or tone of voice? What do we mean?

Ann: I think that the short answer, Eric, is a yes, right? It’s all of that. I think in marketing over the past few years, obviously we’ve had the opportunity to use data and technology to be able to deliver increasingly personalized experiences to the customers and the prospects that we’re trying to attract.

But as you just said, I think it’s so much more than that, too. I think it’s how we’re communicating—so, the tone of voice that we’re using through our emails, through our social channels, and all across the digital space. But I think it’s also things like, are you bringing your customers and their voice into your own marketing?

And then from a company standpoint too, are you personalizing who you are as a brand? Are you going behind the scenes a little bit? Are you showing your customers and your prospects who you are as much as you’re letting them know that you know who they are? So that’s how I think about it. I think of it maybe a little bit more broadly beyond just, you know, the sort of textbook definition of personalization. I don’t think it’s just about data and technology. I also think it’s about being human and really putting the “person” in personalization, from both a brand as well as an audience standpoint.

Eric: Yes, and I think a big thing that a lot of people miss, to put it in my own words, is having your own personality associated with your brand or the people representing the brand. Really projecting that well and giving something that people can attach to is as important as figuring out how to interact with them.

Ann: Yes, exactly. And I think that’s the “person” in personalization—you want to use your personality. You also want to make sure that you’re using personalization to create an emotional connection.

You’ve probably heard this, but one of the biggest problems, I think, with personalization is that it does veer into the creepy lane sometimes. We’ve all had those experiences where we’re shopping for something online, or we’re looking at something on Instagram, and the next thing you know, this thing is following you all over and you’re getting an email that says, “Hey! Did you mean to put this in your cart?”

That’s where I feel, as brands, we tend to go immediately. We tend to think about the technology first—let’s chase these people, let’s let them know, let’s harass them through personalization. But at the same time, I think the opportunity is so much greater than that. Like you just said, it’s really thinking about your personality as a brand and connecting in a very human, emotional way to the people you are trying to attract.

Eric: Yes. One kind of side topic, but I want to bring it up anyway, is that this really parlays itself into nearly every environment you’re communicating in. I did a presentation not too long ago with Duane Forrester about the evolution of voice interactions.  It starts with voice search, but more broadly covers just voice interactions between brands and their customers. You’ve got to project your persona even at the voice level, even if that’s the only element that you have in the entire picture in the communication. This has shown itself everywhere.

Ann: And I guess that’s sort of what we mean by omnichannel, right? I kind of hate that word as much as I love it because it feels so buzzword-y. But really what it means is, are you presenting the same way on social media as you are in your blog, on your website and voice communications—you know, across everything?

And it’s interesting that you bring up voice, because I think there’s a lot of unexplored territory there. We’re really just at the beginning of figuring it out. How do we leverage that channel as part of this omnichannel experience? How do we bring all those touch points together? And so I think, you know, sort of the next challenge for brands is not just in voice, but how do you actually align all the pieces so that it is sort of a coherent, cohesive customer experience, so to speak.

Eric: Absolutely.

Personalization at scale for marketing

Eric: So, what about this though? Is personalization really the enemy of scaling, because everybody wants to scale? That’s what everybody thinks about. You know what I mean?

Ann: I don’t think it’s necessarily the enemy of scaling if you think about just the technology we have available that allows you to scale personalization and that allows you to use personalization at scale. But I also think that using things like our brand voices—that’s something that we can all do at scale. What’s your take on that, Eric?

Eric: One of the things that I like to think about is when people say scaling, my fear is that they’re at the point where they want to be all things to all people, and they’re trying to address every single audience. Here’s a slide just to capture this concept, right? To me, effective scaling and personalization both start with really identifying your target audience and learning how to deliver your persona or your personality to that target audience, which means excluding others.

Design content that is the best fit for your target audience only - not for anyone and everyone

And that’s actually a good thing. If you’re really trying to grow your business and you try to address everybody, you’ll fail. That’s the path to mediocrity.

Ann: Yes, 100%. I totally agree with that. I think there is a default in marketing that we want to get as many people into in the B2B world—the top of the funnel, so to speak. We want to appeal to as many people as possible and then, you know, nurture the heck out of those people throughout our content, at campaigns, throughout our everything that we’re doing right over time.

But I think that’s the wrong approach. I think it is much smarter and more efficient long term to figure out who it is we’re actually talking to. And that’s one way, I think, to do that. One way to figure out how to weed out those people that aren’t going to be a good fit for us is through things like the content that we’re publishing and the tone of voice that we’re using. You’re automatically going to attract the people to you if you know who you’re talking to. You’re going attract those people to you as much as you will repel the people who are not a great fit for your brand.

So, I think to the degree to which we can figure out who we are as brands and think through our personality and persona, and who we are as a company, and who we are as people, and why we are doing what we’re doing—that is number one. And then, who is the best fit for our products and services, and who are they, and really having a conversation with those people and approaching your marketing more in that way.

Versus just brand to target, I think it’s much more efficient and effective to think about marketing in a human way to the people we’re trying to connect with. So again, it’s putting the “person” in personalization and not thinking about target audiences as much as actual people, because that’s what we are, right? Which sounds so elementary, but I don’t see enough of it really, especially in the B2B space.

Eric: I couldn’t agree more. This whole thing about connecting and having a connection—that really is, sort of, at its heart. There’s this one-on-one aspect to it. Now brands can accomplish it with the right kind of personalization, sometimes operating in scale depending on how you do that, just by understanding who they’re trying to connect with, what those people are like and what they might respond to, and focusing on those things. And as we’ve both said, now it necessarily means you’re shutting some other people out. And that’s actually a good thing.

Ann: Yes, I think so. I was just thinking as you were talking. The spring has been kind of a crazy spring for me, and I’ve been at just a string of marketing conferences and marketing events. A big theme of a lot of the events that I’ve been to recently has been about this customer experience.

Marketers and marketing leaders are really feeling this pressure to really execute on the customer experience, to really put the customer at the heart of everything that they do and that the organization does. Which again sounds super elementary, like, aren’t we already doing that? But I don’t think we are. Like, I think we’re still communicating as brands versus trying to think about what the customer actually needs from us. So, I think that another mandate, as part of the customer experience, is really thinking through your personalization strategy and how you actually connect with people as individuals.

Eric: Absolutely.

Personalized content marketing

Eric: So, what are some things that marketers should change to make content marketing a more personalized conversation?

Ann: So, I’d like to show some tidbit of research from the content marketing study of 2019 that MarketingProfs did. We’ve done it every year with the Content Marketing Institute. I think this is the ninth year that we’ve done it, or something like that.

Eric: Awesome study by the way. Anybody out there who hasn’t looked at this study, you need to go get this data. It’s amazing insight about B2B focus, and you do B2C versions too, for content marketing. It’s just fantastic stuff, but I’m sorry. Please go ahead.

Ann: Thanks for that plug. And if anybody here wants to pick it up, you can go to the MarketingProfs SlideShare channel, and you can grab a copy there. It’s ungated, it’s free. You can pick it up.

But you know, the beauty of the study is that it does give brands a sense of what’s going on in content marketing. It’s sort of the state of the industry and content marketing from a B2B and B2C perspective. And it’s interesting because over time—like I said, this is the ninth year I think that we’ve done it—it does really give you a sense of sort of where we’re at in the industry. So, just pull the numbers up just one more time again so I can just talk through them. Sorry, I went a little too long in the preamble, maybe.

Eric: Let’s look at the data from the study that you mentioned earlier.

MarketingProf research on b2b content marketing shows that 42% of the marketers are actually talking to their customers to understand their needs

Ann: Yes, we were talking about opportunities. So basically, how do you start to think about personalization through your content marketing from a content marketing point of view? What that top step there says is 42% of the marketers are actually talking to their customers to understand their needs—that’s only 42%. I mean, that to me spells enormous opportunity that, you know, so many more of us I think could actually be talking to our customers to figure out how it is that we can serve you better. What information is useful to you? How do you make decisions? Where do you get your information from? All those things, like trying to get a sense of who it is they were actually talking to. Who is it they were marketing too?

And then that second step there is really talking about how only 23% of us are using any sort of audience participation. So, things like user-generated content and really getting your customers into your marketing as part of the conversation. So, I think again, an enormous opportunity there as well. So, I just wanted to share those because I think when you ask where to start, I think those are two really great places to start talking to your customers and really gathering insight on a regular basis.

And it doesn’t have to be super complicated. It can be a survey, it can be a phone call, it can be coffee with a customer—it can be any of those things. I still don’t think that marketers are talking to customers enough. And then secondly, try to bring new voices to the table. Bringing the voices of your customers directly into your marketing, I think, is a super effective way to think about personalization.

Eric: Absolutely. And one of the really neat things that’s happening more broadly, from an SEO perspective and what Google is doing these days, is Google is investing so much of their energy into who they’re sending people to from their search results, around the goal of really what ends up being the best customer experience for the people that they send to a given website. So, if you invest in the right kind of content marketing strategies, not only are you doing really great stuff from a traditional content marketing point of view, but you’re probably also driving the crap out of your SEO.

It’s an amazing amount of opportunity that Ann has just really given us a sense of. Yes, it can be a big investment—we’ll talk about that more in a second. But the fact of the matter is, your competition probably isn’t doing it. That’s how I spell opportunity.

Ann: Right. And actually, I don’t think it needs to be a bigger investment necessarily. I think, like we talked about, it’s thinking about how it is that you are communicating and really understanding and nailing those elements first. That’s not a massive investment.  I mean, certainly the more you dig into the data and the tech side of it and being able to do things like dynamic content and being able to customize customer journeys and all that kind of stuff—that can get expensive. But I don’t think that it has to be, and I also feel like there are ways to do it. There are ways to personalize your brand and personalize who you are as a company that really don’t cost you anything at all aside from maybe a lot of brainpower.

Eric: Right. Projecting your own persona, right, should be fairly straightforward, for example. And I agree, you don’t necessarily have to invest a ton of money to make this work. And also, if you’re a small local business, the way I’m trying to think about it is, am I doing a better job at it than the people I’m competing with? And if I’m a small local business and I’m not competing with some Fortune 200 company, I just have to be able to do something that’s at the scale that works for my size of business and make sure that I’m standing out well compared to the people I’m competing with. So, what’s the coolest example of personalized marketing you’ve seen of late?

Ann: I have a couple of favorites that I pulled ahead of time to share with you today. You know I’m a writer, right? I’m a real content nerd, and one of the brands that I use on a regular basis, I have a browser extension. It’s called Grammarly, and essentially what Grammarly does is it helps me improve my writing and my communication.

Whatever I’m creating, it’s kind of like a spell check on steroids. It’s like a spell checker with an editor kind of wrapped into one. I don’t think it’s a substitution for an actual, live editor because I use one of those, too. But Grammarly is kind of—I think of it like my first pass.

A screenshot from Grammarly insights email show how usage and productivity dashboard of a user

And so, what you’re looking at here is a copy of an email. Every single week, they send me an email with my statistics, right? So, they tell me sort of where I compare as compared to the rest of the Grammarly audience. And again, I’m kind of a nerd, right? So, I love getting this email because there’s something that makes me kind of proud about seeing whether I’m more productive then the rest of the audience or how many different words I use. They give me all these sort of touch points or all these different benchmarks, I mean, just to tell me, like, where I am. And it just kind of gamifies it for me, but the way they deliver it is incredibly personalized. Now obviously, Grammarly has all of this data on me because it’s their own data that they’re collecting, but the way they deliver it is just very fun.

The other thing that they do is that they use my usage of their program to reward me. So, they’ll deliver badges to me. When I do a particular thing, like when I’ve been using Grammarly for so many weeks, I get a badge.

A screenshot of Grammarly badges shows achievements of a Grammarly user

When I’ve used complicated words more than other users of the Grammarly product, I get another badge. So, I’m unlocking all of these badges. And this is so goofy and it’s completely meaningless, but it keeps me engaged with the Grammarly product, because I think it’s fun and I like to see, oh, where am I at? What am I doing? How have I done this week? Super silly, but again, just sort of a fun way I think to keep me engaged with their product and to remind me just how valuable Grammarly is to me on a consistent basis.

Eric: Well, the thing is, you call it super silly and of course, the way they present it to make it fun and so on. But come on, they’re feeding that self-improvement, self-measurement, make-myself-better kind of mentality. An uber-geeky, highly-driven person will just dive in headfirst.

Ann: Right! But they’re using data, and they’re making it fun and accessible because they know that some of the people who use their platform, right, and who use their software are writing geeks like me. And so, I love to see that the words that I’m using are just more unusual than say, I don’t know, 90% of people who use Grammarly. It’s sort of like, yes, it’s silly. But it’s a fun way to keep me engaged.

Eric: Absolutely.

Now, let’s spend a few minutes and take some questions. So, if you have any questions for Ann or me, you know, please feel free to put those in the chat. We’re a very much looking forward to seeing what those of you out there want us to pontificate on.

Ann: While we’re waiting for questions, I wanted to show you another one of my favorite examples.

Eric: Okay, sure. Let’s do that while we’re waiting for questions.

Ann: So, as I’m talking to you here today, I have a 15-year-old—she’s almost 15 years old—Cavalier King Charles spaniel, a little dog, underneath my desk. She’s, you know, she’s a fantastic dog. She’s my heart. She’s such a great girl, but BarkBox will forever be cemented in my brain as one of my favorite brands, because they do such a great job personalizing their email, right? So, they know that my girl is an old girl, and they send me offers on a regular basis to add to her quality of life and make sure that she’s living the best life she possibly can live, and that we can make it as long as we possibly can.

A screenshot of a personalized email from Barkshop

They know that Abby is almost 15, so they’re detailing that. But, we were talking about tone of voice and how important that can be just from a brand perspective to personalize the experience for your customers. BarkBox does such a great job because the email is hilarious. It’s so well written now. It’s not hilarious for everybody, but for dog people like me especially, you know, older dog people or people with older dogs—yes, that’s what I wanted to say. You know, it’s just, it’s such…it delivered such a great experience to me, like that top photo right there of Carl, who’s 72 years old. The copywriting on there, the tone of voice that they’re using—it just completely grabbed me. And yes, I absolutely did fetch some hip and joint treats for her because it really just spoke to me as the owner of an older dog, not only because they were targeting me through their promotion, but the way that they wrote this email and the voice that they used, not just in this email but across everything. It just…they do such a nice job with it. So, that’s my second-favorite example of personalization.

A screenshot of different persona of Barkbox customers

Eric: That’s awesome. And basically, again, back to the tone of voice and how well they did with all of that. But while we’re waiting for questions to come in, I’m going to actually just expand a little bit on the voice conversation, because I mentioned the joint presentation I did with Duane Forrester a while back. And leading into that, what we did is we did some research into effectively what research has been done around voice and how humans respond to voice. This was actually spawned by the advent of Interactive Voice Response Systems way back in the ’80s and ’90s, and they found things like we’re really wired as human beings to respond to voice.

For example, a baby in the mother’s womb can recognize their mother’s voice, and we know that because their heart rate goes up when their mother talks and the heart rate goes down whenever anyone else talks, which is a really interesting thing. And then there’s other data points that show that people who are introverted respond more to introverted voices. Men respond more to men and women respond more to women.

Those associations have been proven through extensive research for people who want to dig into that more. There’s a very famous researcher guy called Clifford Nass that led a lot of this work. But it is offered because it just shows how the breadth of personalization really impacts us.

It looks like we do have a question here. First question is from Katie Goh. Eric, you mentioned that personalization can boost SEO. How can you leverage SEO within your personalization strategy if Google can’t always read dynamic content? So, on pages, emails, custom dashboards?

Eric: So, I’m actually going to relate that back to what you said in the very beginning and the response to the first question. It’s not really about the level of personalization you saw on the BarkBox example or on the Grammarly example that Ann shared, but more in the way that you appropriately identify your audience, broadcast your personality to that audience, and create a good match between that persona you’re broadcasting and your target prospects. And if you do that effectively, that’s what will draw a good SEO response. The more individualized personalization is at a whole other level, so not something that Google necessarily responds to.

So, this question is from Ateeq Ahmad. Is scale all that important for small businesses? Don’t they need to personalize anyway just even to basically survive? Ann?

Ann: Well, to the second part of that, yes. And I also think that for small businesses, the idea of personalization, especially in how they’re communicating, is a whole lot easier.

 I talk to big brands all the time who really struggle with things like communicating in a human way and having a real human voice through all their social channels and all across every way that they’re reaching out to customers. And so, I think that challenge is so much easier for smaller brands. I don’t think you necessarily have to scale, but I absolutely do think that you need to personalize the experience that you’re delivering to customers. And again, I think it’s a lot easier for smaller brands. At least, that’s my take on it.

Eric: Yes. It’s hard for them to find the time, but as I said earlier, if you’re a smaller business and you’re competing with other small businesses, you’re not talking about having to put out content every single day, probably. You take things in a more entry level.

One more question here. What are some of the metrics that Google uses to measure customer experience on a website?

Google has a lot of patents published about potentially measuring and evaluating customer experience and user experience, but there is nothing currently confirmed about what they’re doing, so it’s actually a very difficult question to answer. I think the way I would answer is that we know that Google cares a great deal about this. So even if the only thing you cared about in the world was SEO—and it shouldn’t be the only thing you care about in the world—but if it were, you should therefore still care about customer experience and user experience. It’s an incredibly important part, even if it just plays itself out and is how you get links, how people refer to your content, or how people share your content. That’s reasonable enough. And by the way, it drives conversion at the same time, too. So, there’s just so many reasons to do this.

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SEO is Dead, Long Live SEO: Understanding the Hows and Whys of Google’s Visual Evolution

In its 20 years as a company, Google has revolutionized the way we find information. The search engine giant is in the midst of rolling out even more changes – it’s moving from answers to journeys, shifting away from queries, and, now, the shift to visual searching.

Strings to Things to Concepts

One easy way to understand Google’s search technology evolution is through three main ideas: strings, things, and concepts. As we move into the concepts phase of internet search, it’s helpful for us to review the steps that came first.

1. Strings

When Google began, it was all about keywords. Those were the “strings”—the words (and sets of words) that helped Google provide users with the most relevant, high-quality information. We can’t overstate how revolutionary keyword technology was, but keyword-based search placed most of the responsibility on the user to find the right information. If you didn’t enter the right keywords, you wouldn’t see the search results you wanted to see.

2. Things

Statue of Liberty Knowledge Graph

After a while, Google’s algorithms got smarter. With the launch of the Knowledge Graph in 2012, Google began to understand what people meant when they used fuzzy search criteria, and began to steer them toward the stronger searchable terms and relevant information. Put simply, it was a progression from basic keywords to semantically related keywords and ideas.

The Knowledge Graph enabled Google to aggregate millions of search queries to understand what users were actually interested in when they used certain search terms. This 2012 blog post laid out Google’s hopes for the future:

“We’ve always believed that the perfect search engine should understand exactly what you mean and give you back exactly what you want. And we can now sometimes help answer your next question before you’ve asked it, because the facts we show are informed by what other people have searched for.”

3. Concepts

Tom Brady Knowledge Panel

In 2018, Google announced it would be focusing not just on words, but also on images and other visual content. With this shift, Google hopes to move from answering users’ questions to being their personal assistant. Instead of just responding to your searches, Google will pick up where you leave off, taking users on an information journey. One of the biggest changes since 2012 is that more than half of all Google searches are coming from mobile devices. The visual shift we’re seeing specifically targets those mobile users. In 2018 we also saw Google’s understanding of content and query intent reach a whole new level.

Good Content vs. Great Content

We know now that Google is moving in a more visual direction, focusing on the mobile experience and integrating images, videos, and other visual content. But what does this mean for SEO? The good news is that the fundamentals remain the same:

  • High-quality content
  • Relevancy
  • Authoritative perspective
  • Answering users’ questions useful

Google’s algorithms will only continue to sharpen their accuracy in finding the best, most relevant visual content. This is still about finding content that addresses user needs the best. This visual shift means that SEO experts will need to help content creators create and maintain relevancy. It will also be critical that content creators put out fresh content on a regular basis, as the algorithms will prefer sites that are frequently updated with highly query relevant text and visual information.

Google’s understanding of content appears to be exponential in nature, not linear. In other words, their algorithmic abilities tend to leap rather than crawl, and the next few years will see dramatic improvements in those abilities. This advanced understanding means good quality content won’t cut it anymore. Rather, sites that want to perform well in search rankings will need truly outstanding content written by experts. In some industries, this expert-level content is already necessary.

Next Steps for SEO

As Google paves the way for a drastically different search experience, here are a few concrete steps SEOs can take to stay relevant in search.

1. Understand the basics

This means having a thorough understanding of how to create high quality and relevant titles, H1 tags, and body content. For visual content, context is key. Stock photos likely will not cut it anymore; you’ll need images that are highly related to your specific content and unique on the web.

2. Consider the user’s journey

Create Content that includes visuals that are optimized for search. Include captions for your visual content that show how those images are a core component of your content. This will help your images/photos perform better in image searches and help users find the information they want quickly and easily.

3. Build visually

For higher visibility and accessibility, optimize your product images for Google Lens. Don’t rely on a user’s ability to type in specific search terms to find your product online. Google Lens shows users relevant images automatically, especially ones with direct links back to product pages. Google is also building its own AMP stories—AI-constructed visual experiences that immerse the user in text, video, and photos. With highly optimized visuals and text, Google may pull your authoritative content into one of these stories.

Differentiating between good and truly world class content used to be a person’s job. Now it’s the purview of intelligent and powerful algorithms. As we move into the future of search, SEO experts need to stay rooted in the basics of high-quality content, all while remembering that “content” is much more than just words on a page.