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5 Things You Should Automate When it Comes to Your Content Marketing Strategy

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Content marketers wear many hats. From researching content topics to writing engaging content to promoting content, there is a lot of work to do in order to run a dynamic content marketing strategy. But what if we told you that your workload could be lighter?

Learning what areas of your content marketing strategy that you can automate and identifying the tools you need to make it happen is going to save you a lot of time. You can use this time to focus on things you can’t automate like creating awesome content that resonates with your target consumers.

This post will take you through a few things that you can automate when it comes to your content marketing strategy in hopes of adding a little time back into your day.

Editing

Grammarly is a Chrome plugin that you can use to automate the proof reading of the content and even emails that you produce. The tool goes beyond spelling and grammar mistakes and alerts you when there are errors with your writing, style or tone. While Microsoft Word or Google Docs will alert you of basic spelling or punctuation errors, Grammarly catches commonly confused words when they’re used in the wrong context.

Grammarly has a free plan and a premium plan. The premium plan offers advanced suggestions about word choice, run on sentences and more. The tool will even send you weekly updates on common mistakes that you’re prone to making so that you can learn from them.

Save time editing blog posts, emails, social media copy and more with this freemium tool!

Content Digests

Automating news and blog posts to subscribers and leads can save you a ton of time and free up more time for you to focus on creating great content. FeedOtter allows you to send weekly or monthly digests of the content your brand puts out. Choose from different templates and sync it up with your marketing automation platform so that distributing your content literally runs on autopilot.

You can hook FeedOtter up to any RSS or news feed. It even has a bookmarking plugin that allows you to bookmark content that you would like to put in your content digest. From there, insert a personalized greeting to show up at the top of your content digest email and let FeedOtter do the rest.

Content Curation

Sharing your own content on social media takes a lot of time, let alone sharing like-minded content to keep your followers engaged. Luckily there is a tool like DrumUp where you can automate the content you curate. This tool recommends content for you to share on each of your social channels. It’s super easy to peruse through and find great content to curate that will resonate with your social followers. After you find content on DrumUp, the tool allows you to edit the original post, add images and schedule it on your social sharing platform. It even recommends hashtags to use.

Monitoring

In order to make the most out of your brand shout outs on blogs and social, you need to monitor for these brand mentions in real-time. Manually monitoring for brand mentions is tedious so we recommend using a tool like Mention to see all of the brand recognition that you’re getting. Mention allows you to see every time that your brand is mentioned on social or in a blog with a streamlined dashboard. The tool even allows you to message and engage with the channels who mention your brand straight from the dashboard. To make sure you don’t miss any brand mentions, Mention will email you every time your brand is recommended or talked about.

In addition to monitoring your own brand, Mention allows you to track competitors.

Identifying Content Topics

Brainstorming and researching topics to write your content around can take a lot of time and work. You want to write something innovative and that will resonate with your audience but sometimes it’s hard to come up with new topics every week. There are tools out there that can automate the brainstorming process so to speak like BuzzSumo. This tool’s content analysis reports allows you to look at how popular a topic is and how often it gets shared. It will also tell you which content types are performing better like infographics compared to video or “why” posts compared to list posts. Leverage content topics that are the most shared by your target readers to come up with a content topic for your next post that you know will resonate with your audience.

Final Thoughts

It’s no secret—content marketing strategies take up a lot of time. Luckily there are tools like the 5 we’ve listed in this blog post that can automate parts of your content marketing strategy and ease your work load. Learning what to automate and which tools help you automate your strategy are going to add a bunch of hours back into your work day.

Do you have a strategy or tool that allows you to automate pieces of your content marketing strategy? We’d love to hear from you on @Feed_Otter!

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How Can I Get More People to Subscribe to My Blog?

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So, you have a blog and are producing great content, but it may feel like that content isn’t getting viewed as much as you would like. And let’s face it, being in the B2B world, we don’t want people to just read our blogs, we want them to subscribe to them so that we can set up email marketing campaigns and turn these subscribers into engaged leads and sales.

When it comes to a B2B brand’s blog, the top metric that most marketing departments looks at are number of subscribers to the blog aka new leads. So many marketers spend more time on promoting their content and getting subscribers than they spend on actually writing content. Because promoting content and getting subscribers is that important.

Just in case you are unsure of how effective blogging is for B2B content marketing, let’s start with some data about B2B blogging as part of a functioning content marketing strategy:

So now that it’s been established that blogging is uber important and that a blog can generate leads for your brand, let’s explore how you can get more people to subscribe to your blog.

Optimize your CTA

Make your CTA to subscribe to your blog look visually appealing and prominent. You also don’t want to ask for too much information as this will turn people off. Your subscribe CTA should really only ask for the person’s name and email address. Here is where your subscribe button/box should show up on your site:

  • Website’s homepage
  • Sidebar of your blog
  • At the end of each post.

You can create a subscribe button in any WordPress theme or you can have your website designer create one really easily. Just make sure it’s hooked up to your marketing automation platform so that all of your blog subscribers are being funneled into a specific list.

Feature it on Your Homepage

Aside from having a small CTA to subscribe to your blog on the sidebar of your homepage, try dedicating a section of your homepage to your blog. Talk about your blog’s theme and have a carousel of your latest posts for site visitors to check out.

Create a Landing Page

In addition to having a subscribe button in strategic places on your site, you can also create a separate landing page just for getting people to subscribe to your blog. You can tease readers with a summary of the strategies and information that your blog covers and offer a sample of your best blog posts.

Having a landing page where users can subscribe to your blog means that you can easily recruit and direct people to that landing page as opposed to a small box on the side of your blog. Here are a few strategies to get new viewers to your landing page:

  • Google Ad Words
  • Paid social ads
  • Organic social media strategies
  • Links in guest posts
  • Email marketing

Tap into Your Email List

Tap into your email list of lead and clients and send out an email inviting people to subscribe to your blog. Make it friendly and seem urgent by saying something to the effect of “We don’t want you to miss any of the tips and strategies that we publish weekly so subscribe to our blog to stay in the loop.” It may also be helpful to add “We won’t spam you, we’ll just send you great posts once a week!”

Popups

70% of people who come to a website never come there again so it’s crucial to capture their information right away. Popups are hard to ignore and if the popup goes up while the reader is viewing one of your great blog posts, they might want to sign up so they get more great content like the piece they’re currently reading.

Add it to Your Email Signature

An easy but overlooked way to get people to subscribe to your blog is to have a link to it in your email signature. Think of all the emails that you send out per day and all these people could be potential blog subscribers! This is another reason to have a subscribe landing page because it would be better to put the subscribe landing page in your email signature as opposed to a link to your blog.

Offer a Free Resource for Signing Up

Bribe people who come to your homepage or blog with a free ebook or white paper when they subscribe to your blog. It’s completely ethical and just may help blog viewers take that extra step to subscribe to your blog.

Post in Forums

Virtually networking in groups like LinkedIn Groups and Triberr can you engage with like-minded professionals and you can invite them to read your blog posts and subscribe to your blog. Be sure to lead with your best content and ask them to share it with their own readers and ask them to subscribe to your blog. Play fair and subscribe to their blogs too!

Ad Opt-In Checkboxes to All Your Lead Capture Forms

It’s likely that part of your content marketing strategy involves producing content that is gated with a lead capture form like ebooks, white papers and webinars. In your lead capture form, you can put a check box that allows people to subscribe to your blog in addition to downloading your piece of content or registering for your webinar.

Try OptInMonster

OptInMonster is a tool that helps marketers convert website visitors into subscribers. In it, you can design forms, show personalized messages according to behavior patterns, A/B test your ideas and it helps marketers create the type of forms we’ve talked about in this post like side bars, floating bars and scroll boxes. OpInMonster has gorgeous templates so it takes the design work out of the process on your part.

Things to Keep in Mind

Once you’ve implemented all of these strategies to grow subscribers on your blog, you want to make sure that you retain them. Here are some things to keep in mind to keep the subscribers on our blog:

  • Don’t over e-mail them. Instead, consider a weekly or monthly digest of your brand’s best content. You can automate this process with FeedOtter.
  • Continue to put out great content that readers actually want in their inbox so be sure to consult your buyer personas and stay up to date on your industry so that you constantly producing great content that keeps your subscribers engaged.
  • Optimize your content for SEO so that it continues to be found organically and attract new readers and hopefully subscribers.
  • Keep implementing these strategies continuously so that you’re constantly attracting new subscribers to your blog, your work is never done!

Do you have any strategies that have worked for you to grow subscribers to your blog? We’d love to hear about them on Twitter @Feed_Otter!

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New Strategies for Reaching Decision Makers with Your B2B Blog

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By now, everyone knows you need a blog for your B2B brand. However, keeping up with a blog takes a lot of time and marketers don’t always see the results they want from their content. Desired results typically include generating new leads and converting leads into a client, as well as giving your website better visibility.

Chances are though, if you’re reading this post, you’re not seeing the results from your blog that you’re hoping for. This is a common content marketing pain point, especially in the B2B world. And if the market is so saturated with good content, how do you make your content stand out? And, more importantly, how do you make sure your content gets in front of the right people?

Due to the pressure of delivering a blog that actually converts readers into leads and leads into sales, you may be considering getting rid of your blog together. But, before you decide to give up on your hard-earned content, consider these ways you can reach the real decision makers through your blog.

Take Buyer Personas Seriously

The first thing you need to do, if you haven’t already, is create definitive buyer personas for the decision makers at the types of companies you want to get your content in front of. We like this template from HubSpot. You should be sure to include the following persona components and more:

  • Job titles
  • Company size
  • Skillsets
  • Professional background
  • Industry knowledge as it pertains to your brand
  • Years of experience in your industry
  • Age range
  • Budget
  • Career goals
  • Challenges they face in your industry
  • Pain points they encounter when trying to perform their goals
  • How your brand solves pain points
  • An elevator pitch about your brand that would appeal to decision makers
  • Where they can find your brand (search, case studies, blog, etc.)

It’s likely there are different types of decision makers that you’re trying to reach, so be sure to create a buyer persona for each job title, industry segment, etc. We find it’s helpful to name each persona, and, keep in mind the different personas you are creating content for and to make sure to spread the content out evenly that caters to those specific people.

Cater Your Content Topics

Once you create your buyer personas, it’s time to plan content accordingly.

Next time you fill in your content calendar, consider the topics that actually appeal to decision makers. It’s possible that “101” type basic content might get a lot of views, but it won’t get the right views. If you’re a decision maker at a top brand, you almost certainly have a solid understanding of the niche your brand falls into. How can you take your content to the appropriate level to meet these buyers where they’re at?

One way to plan the most relevant content is to meet with your client-facing coworkers. Ask them to come up with common questions that clients have or pain points that they notice. Turn these questions into post ideas, or even use the question for the post title. It’s a great way to grab attention and resonate with the decision makers.

Move Your Readers Through the Buyer’s Journey

Just like you need to create content for different personas, you also need to create content for different stages of the buyer’s journey. The established (but useful) stages in order of how a buyer moves through them are awareness, consideration and decision making.

Be sure to move your buyer personas through the sales funnel from awareness to making a purchase decision by linking up your content with the right resources. For example, if you are creating a blog post to generate brand awareness, you want to link your post with content that takes the reader to the next step, consideration. In the consideration phase, it’s likely the reader wants to learn more about how your brand can solve pain points so links to a landing page and/or case studies would move them to the next step. Another example, if you’re creating a post that caters to buyers in the consideration phase, you want to link to resources that guides them through the purchase decision page like how to get in touch with your brand or examples of work you’ve done in the past.

Say you’ve created 3 buyer personas and you want to move each one through the buyer’s journey. That means you have 9 different posts to create to cover the full spectrum of your buyer personas and your buyer’s journey. Say you’ve named your personas Alice, Peter and Bob. Your upcoming post targets should look like this, with 3 posts per persona:

Alice: Awareness, Consideration, Decision Making

Peter: Awareness, Consideration, Decision Making

Bob: Awareness, Consideration, Decision Making

Feel free to mix them up, but be sure to create an equal amount of blog posts that speak to each of these personas in each of their phases. It’s helpful to create a content calendar where you can keep track of the posts geared toward your target personas and stages.

Optimize Your Email Program

If someone within a brand has reached the decision-making phase of their career, they are almost certainly a high-ranking employee in the company, knowledgeable about the industry, and don’t have a lot of time on their hands. Therefore, they aren’t doing a lot of research about or keeping up with a scattered variety of blogs. This means you need to get your blog in front of them and accessible when they have time. You can do this through emailing a weekly digest of your blog content. Use your most valuable post titles in the subject line, and consider segmenting your emails either by industry or buyer personas.

Because we believe in content digests so passionately here at FeedOtter, our product is an easy-to-use content marketing tool that automates content digest emails and integrates with tools like Marketo, Pardot and more so that you can drip content to all of your leads and clients. It only takes 5 minutes!

Use LinkedIn

There are a few ways you can use LinkedIn to get in front of your target audience. Let’s explore a few:

  • Message your contacts: You can message up to 50 of your contacts at a time. We recommend using this feature wisely and limiting the messages you send out to once a quarter, so be sure to lead with your strongest content. Research shows that people open LinkedIn Mail 85% more often than regular email. So, while you could export your LinkedIn contacts and email them directly, we don’t recommend doing it that way.
  • Updates: You should share your content on both your personal LinkedIn profile and on your company page. Be sure to leverage hashtags and catchy taglines. We recommend you update your profile and company page once per post. When decision makers are considering your brand, they might vet your LinkedIn profile so you need to establish thought leadership.
  • Ads: LinkedIn Ads allow you to get really specific when it comes to the types of companies and job titles that you are trying to get in front of. We recommend not just putting an ad up about your company; you need to lead with thought leadership resources, like your best blog posts. This works with any budget and you can pay per click to be sure the right people are reading your posts.

Align with Sales

Be sure that your sales team knows everything about the awesome blog content that you produce. If your sales rep is talking to a lead, that lead is in the consideration or decision stage of their buyer’s journey. Equip your sales team with content that appeals to the different stages and industries, and sales can leverage your thought leadership content to establish brand credibility and close deals.

While brand awareness content is part of the buyer’s journey (and thus part of your blog), know that if sales is talking to a lead, they have obviously moved passed the awareness phase, so you shouldn’t need to share that type of content with your sales team.

You might want to consider an internal library that you update with your new content. This way you can slice and dice it up to sales by categorizing your content by buyer persona and buyer’s journey.

If you want to take it a step further, you can pre-write social media posts for your sales team to share on their own social channels every week. Any bit of word-of-mouth recommendations you can get that point to your content is extremely helpful.

Re-Think Your CTA

The usual CTA (call to action) at the end of a blog post functions for readers to ask pertinent questions or share personal insights in the comments below. But, are people really commenting? If you feel like you’re doing everything it takes to reach the decision makers, but you’re still only reaching mid-level or entry level readers, invite them to share your post with their boss or co-workers.

Conclusion

The key things to consider when creating a blog targeted towards decision makers is to make certain you’re utilizing and integrating your individual buyer personas and buyer journeys. Leveraging email and LinkedIn can be really powerful, and don’t forget to have your co-workers share your awesome content. Give these strategies a try before you decide to give up on or put less time in your blog.

Are you ready to get your blog in front of the right people? Try our curated newsletter feature to stay on the top of mind for your target consumers.

 

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How to Announce New Product Features Through Content Marketing

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Do you have some cool new product features that you’re about to launch but don’t know how to tell your target consumers about them? Or maybe you want to tell your current clients about features they can upgrade to? Or maybe both? This post is here to help, because launching a new feature and marketing it effectively is no easy task.

The trick to a successful feature launch is starting your marketing plan way before the product is actually ready. Outlining your goals, messaging, and strategies that you want to tap into before the feature actually launches is the best way to proceed, and here are some hints on how to pull it all off.

Create Buzz Before the Launch

Before you actually launch your brand-new feature, you’ve got to get consumers excited about it before it’s actually released. You can do this by:

  • Posting “teaser” social media posts with pictures or short video clips highlighting aspects of your new feature
  • Creating an anticipatory “coming soon” video and putting it on your homepage
  • Giving beta access of your new feature to a select few people, and asking them to blog or post about it on social media
  • Sending out an email to your customers and leads telling them that you have some exciting new things coming up with your product

Work with Influencers

Influencers are people who specialize in a niche and have a large and loyal following on blog and/or social media. Influencers are so powerful because they create authentic content and can talk organically about your brand in ways you can’t talk about yourself without seeming self-promotional.

It’s a common misconception that B2B brands can’t utilize influencer marketing effectively, but we’re here to tell you that there are influencers in every vertical. You just need to find them, and you likely need some help. Innovative tools like GroupHigh and BuzzSumo are ideal options for influencer identification.

Once you’ve found your target influencers, think of a creative way to work with them to create maximum buzz around your new product feature. This can include giving them access to your product before it actually launches, or you can have them use your new feature in a project they are working on. Just make sure to ask them to write a blog post about their experience with links to your site, so all their loyal readers can get the scoop.

Email Marketing

Tapping into email marketing for a new product feature is a given so let’s explore some creative ways you can tap into email to announce your new feature.

  • Buying an email blast from a like-minded publication and tapping into their network
  • Considering a newsletter insert from a thought leadership site
  • Emailing your leads and incentivizing them with a gift card for joining a demo of your new feature
  • Reaching out to your current consumers and offering them exclusive early access to your new feature as a “thank you” for being customers…this also creates a sense of urgency for them to upgrade their current plan to the plan that includes your new feature

Strategic Blog Posts

When launching a new feature, it’s key to create a handful of exciting blog posts to accompany your launch. Of course, you want to post blog posts on your own website, highlighting aspects of your new feature through screen shots and video, but you also should place some guest posts on popular sites that highlight your product as well.

When guest posting, sites will generally not take a self-promotional “sales” post. So, instead of trying to get a guest post that only talks about your new feature, think of a thought leadership topic that discusses why this feature would be beneficial, and then subtly insert a link to your brand. This strategy will be far more effective in both engaging readers and getting clicks.

Utilize Video

Many of your target consumers may wish to visually digest information, so you want to create a short video surrounding the launch of your new feature. Highlight the components of your product and address pain points that it solves. Once your video is ready to go, consider these ways of sharing it:

  • Marketing emails
  • Blog posts
  • Social Media
  • The homepage on your site
  • Press release

Social Media Ads

It’s key that you utilize your social media channels in the launch of your new feature. To ensure that news of your new product gets in front of as many people as possible, you may want to consider purchasing some social media ads. You should “a/b” test them to see what messaging and visuals are getting the most clicks.

LinkedIn will be especially helpful, and it lets you target multiple segments, including company size, job titles, location and more.

Tap into Your Customers

By now, you should know who your happiest customers are. Try giving them early or free access to your new feature and ask them to share with their own networks about your brand’s new product. It also would be beneficial to ask them for testimonials about their experience with your new feature that you can incorporate on your site. People are far more receptive to a feature that has already been used and has positive recommendations that accompany it.

Write a Press Release

Writing a press release about your new feature can help you gain traction and buzz about your launch. Here are some things to keep in mind when writing your press release:

  • Addressing how this new feature makes consumers’ lives easier and focusing on pain points it may solve
  • Including a video or screen shot
  • Quoting your CEO on why this new feature was brought to the marketplace
  • Including a quote from an influencer or consumer who tested out this new feature
  • Providing an email address for the press to contact

Once your press release is up, you can send it to like-minded websites with a personalized email to see if they want to write about your new feature.

Run a Webinar

When you start marketing your new feature, it is sure to pique a lot of interest, but consumers might not be quite ready to buy or upgrade. Meet these prospects on their buyer’s journey and provide them with a webinar, where they can see your feature in action and learn more.

Your webinar should be about 30 minutes and should weave in how your new feature solves their problems, in addition to showcasing the feature in action. Leave time for questions either in your webinar hosting platform or on Twitter, and make sure to answer all that you can.

You can include a link to sign up for your webinar in the same marketing emails that announce your new feature so that your target consumers can decide if they’re ready to buy (or if they want to learn more).

New Feature Checklist

We know we threw a lot of ideas at you, and we don’t want it to be overwhelming to plan your new feature launch, so here’s a checklist that wraps up everything we just discussed:

  • Create a video that highlights your new feature
  • Run a pre-launch social media campaign
  • Identify influencers to talk about your product
  • Reach out to happy customers
  • Give early access of your feature to influencers and consumers
  • Identify email blasts that you can purchase
  • Write out all your marketing emails
  • Create and schedule out your social media posts
  • Purchase social ads on LinkedIn
  • Identify guest post opportunities
  • Write blog posts for your brand’s blog and your guest posts
  • Schedule a webinar
  • Write a press release
  • Distribute your press release to like-minded sites

Do you have any suggestions for announcing a new feature? We’d love to hear from you on Twitter @Feed_Otter

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Creating a Story Map from A to Z

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Story mapping is a practice that can be applied to many verticals to organize and visualize a new project, including (but not limited to); customer or product journey, go-forward plans, or basic project management. The process is useful when collaborating with multiple stakeholders to understand key objectives, communicate on workflow, and visualize progress.

Story maps are most prevalent in software development, especially among teams practicing agile methodology. However, they can be a valuable tool for any industry. Of course, the specifics of a map will differ based on the vertical and project. Follow these steps to use a story map for any new initiative.

Define Your Vision and Goals

What is the overall objective of your project? Are you creating a new internal system, working with an outside client to develop a service, building a website, visualizing your customer journey? Whatever it may be, identify the main goal of your project so that you can work backward from there, to start your story map.

Once you identify your end target, the next step is to outline your vision. Think of this step as telling the initial story. Here are a few examples of initial stories:

  • E-commerce site– walkthrough the customer journey. Customer searches for an item, finds your website, views products, selects a specific product, looks at images, puts product in the cart, enters payment information, enters shipping information, confirms the order.
  • Planning an event– walkthrough a guest’s experience. The guest arrives, valets their car, checks their coat, finds their table, has cocktails, participates in the silent auction, enjoys their meal, watches live entertainments, departs with their thank-you bag.
  • Developing a job board– outline the job seeker’s journey. Applicant uploads resume, applicant browses open jobs, applicant finds an appropriate job and applies, the employer is notified of the new applicant and can choose to engage or not, communication is established.

The key with this step is to understand your end game (goal), and the ideal storyline (vision) you would like to happen to get there.

How to Establish Your Strategy

Knowing where to start when creating a strategy can be tricky. Take each step of the initial story and group and define activities from there. Ask yourself; what needs to be ideated or created to make that step occur? You might need to break down each step further if the process is complex.

After you establish what needs to happen, make a list of specific activities or tasks to complete. Intuitively group activities into stages. For example, what are the tasks that need to be done first? In many software related story maps, these individual tasks are referred to as the backlog.

Assign each task to a person or team, ensure they understand the task and set a firm deadline. Communication plays a crucial role in story mapping, no matter if you have a team of five or two-hundred. Each stakeholder in the story map should have a point person they can turn to for issues; this will help you avoid roadblocks.

story-map

Determine the Best Way to Visualize your Roadmap

This is the step of actually putting together a physical story map (often referred to as a roadmap) for your project. Original practices used a white-board or a large open wall space, with colored post-its or index cards to outline the roadmap. The main concept being that everyone could visualize steps and assignments, and physically move cards as they progress.

Traditional roadmaps generally have the following stages; backlog (unassigned tasks), in progress (assigned tasks), testing (testing the first iteration), and completed.

If you don’t have all employees or stakeholders in one physical office space, or you would prefer a digital alternative, there are many story-mapping programs. These platforms allow for interactive, usually cloud-based, story maps, accessible from any location, with real-time updates. A few popular options include:

  • Cardboard– takes the post-it format and makes it digital, very customizable, offers integrations with other software and programs, with free and paid versions available.
  • Realtime Board– also uses the digital post-it format for their visual story maps. Realtime offers multiple story-board templates to choose from, a benefit to new story-mappers. The platform is customizable, with third-party integrations, and free or paid subscriptions.
  • Trello– a digital project management system that you can also use for for story mapping. Trello uses lists and boards to organize information, but is very interactive, and can integrate popular programs like GoogleDocs, Dropbox, or Microsoft OneDrive, as well as the Atlassian suite products.

For more options for digital story mapping, check out this article by Feed Otter.

Pro-Tip: Translate Software-Specific Principles for All Story Maps

While every story map will differ depending on the industry, company, and campaign, there are main software and agile principles that apply to any project.

Deliver important requirements first.

If you’re working on a large project with many moving parts, determine the must-haves. Then move those to the front of your story map, to work on and deliver them first. Items that are non-essential, but would be nice to have, should be given second or third priority. This way, if the project takes longer than expected—which it often does—you can cut those tasks.

Break down complex requirements.

If there’s a large requirement or task, break it up into smaller more manageable pieces. Even though you might not physically be working off of post-its or index cards, break down updates or tasks as if you are. If the task description can’t fit on a post-it, divide it into multiple tasks. This can also help you divide less critical components, to move them to a later time frame.

Focus on communication and progress documentation.

Agile software teams have daily or weekly stand-up meetings, where they quickly go over all of the need-to-know information, give progress reports and discuss roadblocks or issues. From here, if further meetings need to happen, they break off into to one-on-ones. While you might not need to have frequent meetings, communication should be key. Further, make sure to document the progress of each task, whether that be on an actual board or the digital story map. Each stakeholder should be able to see progress and understand the current stage of each assignment.

Ready to Create Your Story Map?

Story maps offer a dynamic process to organize any type of project with multiple stakeholders, stages, and tasks. If you’re facing a challenging new campaign, try creating a story map to set progress in motion.

Image Credit: www.visual-paradigm.com

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Story Mapping 101: How This Organization Strategy Can Set Your Business Apart

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User story mapping is relatively simple: you’re talking about a user’s experience with your product in a format that explains their journey like a story. The concept was invented by Jeff Patton because he noticed that oftentimes people would get lost in arguments about a product’s features, and the actual user experience would get put on the back burner. But ultimately the way a user experiences a product is what determines whether or not they purchase and use it, and so in reality the user experience should be one of the TOP priorities when creating a new product. According to Jeff, story mapping “will help you build a better backlog that [in turn] will help you more effectively explain your system, prioritize, and plan your releases.” It helps you focus on the big picture so that you don’t get lost in the individual elements.

So What Exactly is Story Mapping? 

story-mapping

Image 1: Story-mapping in action

It’s exactly what it sounds like- a map. It consists of two independent dimensions; user activities and implementation. Typically you would arrange the user activities along the horizontal axis in order of their priority, and you would use the vertical axis to show increasing sophistication of the implementation of said activities. If you follow this model, the first row of your map will be an extremely simplistic version of your product, ie: everything you need for it to run, but no bells and whistles. As you add more rows, you’re essentially adding more product features (while still focusing on the user experience). It might sound complicated, but in practice it’s really not.

Jeff shared the picture on the left of his friend Gary creating a story map for his product “MIMI”, otherwise known as Music Industry Marketing Interface.

While he was working on the map, Gary realized that his original idea was a bit more complex than he originally thought. He was able to use the map to tone down his project and focus on one specific part; building a piece of commercial software to send out mailers quickly and easily.

Agile Velocity has a somewhat more simplistic version of story mapping on their website:

story-mapping

Image 2: Story mapping design

If you look at the top row in blue, you’ll see that it’s the most basic version of their website. It consists of the most simple version of the user activities. The yellow boxes listed vertically show the user experience broken down into more specific steps. For example, when you make a purchase you don’t just “check out” (but wouldn’t that be nice?) you have to follow specific steps, such as entering your payment information and shipping address. By creating a map, you’re forced to look at each individual element and evaluate its effectiveness. Without the map, you may have been tempted to rush through the checkout stage without realizing that perhaps your template for contact info isn’t formatted correctly. This is something that could easily annoy a user enough to cause them to leave your site without making a purchase.

Not interested in making a physical story map? Check out this article by Feed Otter on 7 story mapping programs you can find online!

So What Else Do You Need to Know in Order to Incorporate Story Mapping?

Story mapping should always be a TEAM effort; it should never be left up to one person to complete. In the above example about Gary and MIMI, it was also mentioned on the website that Jeff Patton was also helping Gary create his map, as well as another contributor called Dave Hoover AND an entire team of people from Obtiva. So who should be in the room when you create your map? First and foremost, users! Who better to describe the user experience than people who are actually using the product? It’s also a good idea to include the product manager, someone who is specifically in charge of user experience and design, SME’s, and someone in charge of engineering. The more people you have working together on your team, the better your map will be.

In addition, it’s always a good idea to color code your map to make it easy to read and understand (and then don’t forget to make a key so others understand your system (again, it’s about working on a team!)). Work one step and one layer at a time, and know that each step does NOT require an action (don’t make it harder than it needs to be). Finally, don’t forget to continually update your map. It’s ok to present an early version of it to your stakeholders, but then don’t just throw it in the corner! Add and revise as you go along, and then share your progress! It’s a great way to make your progress visible (and have proof that you’ve been working!) so that you’re not just telling people what you’ve been up to.

If you’d like more detailed information on how to incorporate story mapping into your business, check out Jeff Patton’s website. He’s written a book, numerous articles and blog posts, put together a slideshow and a presentation, and if that’s not enough he also lists more resources on his site. Good luck and happy mapping!

Image 1: jpattonassociates.com

Image 2: agilevelocity.com

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The Top 3 Free Email Builders

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As a content marketer, one of your most valued duties includes creating content and sharing it. However, using different marketing software may present as your biggest challenge. Picture this, you’re up against a tight deadline to launch an e-newsletter containing this month’s featured content, but you’ve run into a snag because your email template just doesn’t translate the way you imaged or worse isn’t rendering correctly.

If you’ve ever found yourself in this scenario, this blog is for you! By the end of this piece, you will know how to use the top free email builders and how to import your new design to use in Pardot.

 

BEE Free

BEE Free is one of the easiest email builders to use. You can drag and drop content onto email templates, including buttons, text blocks, images, and more.  With BEE Free, marketers can design sleek and modern emails with ease. This site also offers a way to export HTML to transfer into email marketing platforms.

To begin building your email template, head over to the BEE Free homepage and “Start Designing”. The site will prompt you to start your own design from scratch or select a template where you can filter through an abundance of free templates, usage types, and different industries.

 

Once you’ve selected a template you’re now ready to customize it! The drag and drop email builder gives you a seamless user experience. Once you’ve got the look you desired you want to “Save” the email template. However, if you’re using the free version, BEE Free will ask if you’d like to sign up for a paid plan or if you’d just like to download your template – you want to choose to download it.

 

After selecting to download the email, a zip file should load where you will find an image (holds all the images to the email template) and .html file. You’ll want to open this file and right-click to reveal the drop-down for “View Page Source”. This will allow you to view the code of the whole page. This is the code we’ll later copy and paste into Pardot.

 

In the Pardot email builder, you’ll want to paste the code from the page source into the HTML tab in Pardot.

 

*Note: You may receive the following alert: HTML message: An unsubscribe tag (%%unsubscribe%% or %%email_preference_center%%) is required somewhere in the body of the email. This can be done by highlighting the text you’d like to link for unsubscribers and selecting the hyperlink icon to choose the unsubscribe tag as the link type.

 

Once the HTML code is added I suggest previewing your email template and making revisions. Please note if you’re adding images to the BEE Free template, you will need to readd them to the Pardot template.

 

TOPOL.io

Similar to BEE Free, Topol.io allows users to design emails with a drag and drop tool and it’s “sooooo easy”. In comparison to BEE Free, Topol.io also provides a number of email templates but not nearly as many. One feature I believe Topol.io does better is the process of exporting the email HTML. Topol.io automatically creates a download of the .html file, rather than a zip file.

 

After selecting your email template to design, you’ll want to “Save & Download”, which will prompt an automatic download of the HTML. From here the same process as stated above should be followed to import the email HTML into Pardot.

Stripo.email

Unlike our first two contenders, Stripo requires users to sign up for a free account and caps off at 4 free downloads each month. However, Stripo.email states the download limits get reset every month. By selecting “Email Templates” in the navigation bar, you’re able to select from numerous email templates and filter by type, industry, and season.

 

“Try Out” your email template once you’ve selected the right fit and begin to make your revisions. When you’re ready to export the HTML, you will save the email template which will then prompt you to create a free user account.

 

When your new account has been registered you will be brought to an overview screen of all your email templates. Select the one you’d like to export the HTML and proceed with selecting the “Export” button > HTML > Download HTML file.

 

Not a Pardot user? Here’s a similar article for Marketo.

 

 

 

 

 

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Is Your Source Code SEO-Friendly? 7 Simple Tweaks to Make Today

There’s more to on-page SEO than just content. It’s true that your web copy and blog have a big impact on how you rank in Google and other major search engines, but if you don’t audit your source code regularly too, you’re missing part of the picture. Here are seven simple things you can do to improve your source code right now.

Finding Your Source Code

Accessing your source code is easy for even a non-coder whether you’re using a PC or a Mac. In most major browsers, you can right-click on the page you want to look at and select “View page source.” If you’re using a PC, you can also use the shortcut Ctrl + U. On a Mac, hit Option + Command + U.

Once you open your source code, you’ll see a page that looks something like this:

Source code might look dense and intimidating if you’re not used to working with it, but finding different elements in it is actually easy. Just use Ctrl + F or Command + F to search for different tags, like you would in a browser or text editor.

  1. Check Your Title Tags

If you only check up on one thing in your code, make it your title tag. Your title tag tells search engines what your page is about. Generally speaking, your title tag has a bigger impact on your search rankings than anything else in your source code. Your title tag looks like this:

Your title tag is what shows up as the clickable link on SERPs. For instance, this title tag…

…turns into this link on Google’s results page:

Each page on your website should have one (and only one) title tag. Use a unique title on every page, instead of repeating the same title across your entire site. 50 to 60 characters is a good length because if your titles are too long, they’ll get cut off in search engine results. You can learn more at Learn to Code With Me here.

Make your titles as descriptive as possible, so search engines can tell what each page is about. Include one or two of your most important keywords in each title, but don’t overdo it. Stuffing all your keywords inside your title tag just results in an overwhelming or incoherent page title. A better approach is to check your analytics to see which keywords are bringing the most searchers to your site, and incorporate those into your titles.

  1. Write Killer Meta Descriptions

A meta description is a brief summary, usually one or two sentences, of a webpage. Meta descriptions may not impact your SEO directly, but they have a big impact on your clickthrough rate. This does affect your SEO, so if your meta descriptions are a little lackluster, updating them is well worth the effort.

Meta descriptions go inside the <head> tag. They look like this example from Yoast:

Search engines display a site’s meta description after its title. Here’s an example of one meta description in action:

One common mistake webmasters make with meta descriptions is using the same one on every page. If you do this, you’re not making the most of your free advertising space on SERPs. Instead, write a unique meta description for every page. Aim for a length of 130 to 160 characters – any longer than that, and search engines will probably chop off your description mid-sentence.

Think like a copywriter as you write your meta descriptions. Your goal should be to give searchers an accurate idea of what your site can offer them, while making them feel like they just have to click to know more. Include a keyword or two, but like with your title tag, don’t go overboard. Write for humans, not machines.

  1. Add Some Structured Data

Structured data is a particular kind of markup that lets search engines find and understand information about your business. When you include structured data in your HTML code, search engines can display what are called “rich snippets” – that is, extra information in your listing. This might include information like your rating, location, price range, or hours.

There’s a particular kind of code, called schema markup, that you can use to add structured data to your site. Schema.org has plenty of information and guidelines on how to use it. If you’re not familiar with coding, you can also use Google’s structured data markup helper to format your information.

  1. Check Your H1 Headings

The main title of your page goes inside <h1> tags, like this:

Here’s what FeedOtter’s H1 heading looks like in the source code:

And here’s what it looks like on the page:

You should have only one H1 heading on every page. Your headings don’t carry as much SEO weight as your titles, but they still affect your rankings a little, so choose them carefully. Make your H1 headings descriptive and unique on every page, and hit one or two of your main keywords in a natural way.

  1. Add Image Alt Text

Alt text helps to make your website more accessible to visually impaired visitors. It also tells web crawlers what your images are about. Here’s how image alt text is formatted:

This example from w3schools shows that the text “Smiley face” shows up if your image can’t display for some reason. It also tells web crawlers that your image contains a smiley face.

If your images don’t currently have alt text, or if your alt text isn’t descriptive and accurate, add some. Note that you should focus on images that are important to your business. Pictures of the products you sell or of your team members should always have alt text, for instance. But you don’t need to add alt text to generic or decorative images – use empty quotation marks instead, like alt=””.

  1. Check Your Canonical Tags

If you have different pages on your site with the same (or very similar) content, it can cause problems with your SEO. Why?

In a nutshell, when other websites link to one of your pages, it gives that page a ranking boost. Google (or any other search engine) sees that these other sites are all vouching for the usefulness or trustworthiness of your page, and it bumps that page up higher in its results.

If you’ve got two pages with very similar content on your site, it can dilute the effects of this “link juice.” For instance, you’re better off having 10 links around the web pointed at a single page on your site than having 5 links pointed at each of two similar pages.

The canonical tag fixes this problem. When you include a canonical tag on a webpage, you’re telling Google to pass any link juice from the duplicate page over to the original page. Thus, the original page is the one that gets a ranking boost.

Here’s Google’s example of how to format a canonical tag. The link specified in the tag is the canonical one. This snippet of code should go inside the <head> tag, where your title and meta tags are.

  1. Make Sure Your Pages Can Be Indexed

The meta robots tag tells search engines whether or not they can index a page or follow links on that page. Obviously, if you want a page to show up in SERPs, search engines needs to have permission to index it. Most of the time, it’s best to let them follow links on your page, too.

Using “noindex” tells search engines not to index a page. Similarly, “nofollow” prevents them from following any of the links on that page. Here’s what it looks like in action:

Your meta robots tag will look like one of these four options. You should only have one on every page.

Be very careful when you tell Google not to index a page or follow links. If you do this by accident, it can make your site unfindable, even if you’re doing everything else right.

The Takeaway

Technical SEO is a broad subject. There are lots of other ways your source code affects your SEO – like hidden text, embedded scripts, or too much Flash, etc. – but those issues are more complicated to understand and fix, so it’s best to consult your web developer about them. For now, stick to making these seven easy tweaks yourself, and you’ll have a good head start in optimizing your technical SEO. Add your questions and comments below!

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How to Grow Your Blog Traffic (Without Obsessing Over SEO)

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Ever wonder how to not only grow an audience for your blog, but a committed audience? One that comes back to read your content and, potentially, grow your business? It’s easy to say you’re going to grow your blog traffic and then pay for ads, social posts, email lists, and more, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that growing a committed audience takes a lot of hard work and a ton of dedication. While SEO is essential, there are other ways to grow your traffic that are underrated. Below focuses on the ten best methods you can use to improve your blog traffic meaningfully and efficiently.

Consult With Other Bloggers

Building relationships with other bloggers in similar subjects or fields is absolutely essential. Why? Because you all have the same goal: to attract a bigger audience. Collaborating to give and receive feedback can be useful when evaluating your audience’s experience, the style of your writing, the content you publish, and the frequency of your posting. You can start by reaching out to other bloggers via social media or subscribing to their blogs and developing a rapport through comments.

In addition to simply market research, utilizing other bloggers audience can be incredibly beneficial. Depending on your company, you may want to work with a complimentary business (in other words, definitely not a direct competitor), or if you are more focused on entertainment, it may make sense to consult with others in your direct line of work. For example, MasterCard and Apple don’t usually have much in common, but with the new Apple Pay their audience is suddenly overlapping. Apple wants people to use their service to pay, and MasterCard wants those same people to pay with their card. It’s a win-win:

Contribute Guests Posts: Celebrity Shot!

Once you build up some of these relationships, consider writing a guest piece to contribute to another blog (and returning the favor). This can expose your content to an entirely different audience that could potentially share your information and commit to your blog. Put your quality content out there and respond to questions or comments to build relationships just as if it were your own blog.

Now this may sound overdone, and you’ve likely read the “guest blogging is dead” articles, but it can still be incredibly effective if done right. The truth is that content is still king, and while guest posting has lost some of its luster; Google is still taking it seriously. Google aside, focus on high quality blogs over quantity as a way to get your own blog in front of new, relevant eyes. It’s time consuming, but well worth it.

Publish Content Tailored to Your Target Audience

Your faithful subscribers count on you to keep them up-to-date on what’s current and pragmatic. You, therefore, need to be aware of news, buzzwords, and trends as they are happening. You could subscribe to Google Alerts to help you with this; every time content related to your blog topics is published, you will be made aware of it.

Some of the options you can choose from include how often you are alerted, the sources from which the information comes (news, blogs, web, video, books, discussions, or finance), the country or region from which you want the information, and where you want it sent.

Create a Schedule and Maintain It

Whether you post once a week or once a month, you want to make sure you maintain a consistent schedule. If your audience is waiting for your weekly post on Monday mornings, do not disappoint them. The more it becomes a habit of yours to post on the same day at the same time, the more it becomes a habit of theirs to read those posts on the same day and the same time. You want this consistency and commitment from them just as they want it from you.

A great way to stick to a schedule is to upload your blog posts, schedule them through WordPress (shown below, just click “edit” and then “OK” and the “publish” button will change to “schedule”), and utilize a calendar plugin such as Editorial Calendar. Write all of your blog posts as early as you can and then schedule them accordingly.

Note: We recommend that if you have a solid amount of traffic and data, consider a CRM tool to help you grow your reach even further.

Encourage Social Sharing

You want your content out there, wherever “out there” might be. You don’t just want your audience members to read your content – you want them to share it with their friends, partners, and employees. To encourage this action, you must provide sharing on your blog; see the example below:

You will note a few things: the location on the page, the number of networks, and the number of shares. The social sharing options don’t need to be overbearing or distracting from your content; a relatively small icon to the side of your post is sufficient. These options also do not need to include EVERY social media network in existence. Do some initial research. Where are you seeing your information posted the most? What are your followers using the most? Choose a few of those networks and roll with it. Finally, consider how many shares you are actually getting before making your share count visible. If the number is relatively high, include it. This shows your audience that your content is worthy and sought after. If the number is relatively low to start with, then wait until you build up your audience.

Also keep in mind that connections mean everything to your blog’s success. As I’ve mentioned, it’s not enough to just have avid readers. You need your readers to share your information in order for your audience size to grow. More than that, you need to connect with your readers on social media. Follow up one of your posts with a fact or anecdote on social media. That way, when you are in between your lengthier posts, you can still provide a brief reminder of the quality information you provide to your followers.

Clean Up the Audience’s Blog Experience

Obviously, your page should be easy to navigate and aesthetically pleasing. Unnecessary distractions such as too many menu options, too many ads, sidebars, or pop-ups can deter readers and diminish your audience size. The page should also be organized in a way that catches readers’ eyes. Balance what is necessary and unnecessary to be successful. Elegant Themes put together a list of bad blogs that shows what not to do:

Your Turn

Building your blog’s traffic is essential to building your audience. You want visitors to not only appreciate what they read, but subscribe to it and share it. Following the listed steps will ensure your audience grows and your blog remains successful.

What do you grow your blog traffic? What has worked for you in the past? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.

Feature Image Photo Credit: DigitalMarketingPro.net

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7 Story Mapping Programs and How to Use Them To Increase Engagement

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Story Mapping is a technique that product owners use to gather all of their user story elements while providing a bigger picture. This method is also useful for stakeholders who want to track the progress of their project. The importance of online story mapping programs lies in the fact that they are great for working with teams who can’t physically come together for whiteboard session. These tools will help developing story-mapping skills to create a vivid, dynamic representation of the entire process of building and improving a product, service, or campaign.

7 Story Mapping Programs to Choose From

Nowadays when users need help story mapping in the development stage of a product, they use agile tools and incorporate them into the flow of digital production for teams. This allows them to work with portable digital boards; thus giving every participant the opportunity to collaborate, and because they are digital, the work is always delivered in real-time. Storyboards of today are probably not what you’d envision, either—think of it like a visual way to organize information (not an infographic!).

Below outlines a few story mapping programs that will help you increase engagement and can create the “bigger picture” idea you’ve been lacking. The most surprising thing you’ll find? They aren’t all focusing on pictorial representations:

Cardboard

CardBoard is a design tool used specifically for story mapping because it allows distributed teams an opportunity to collaborate. In other words, it’s a harmony of how we use Google Docs and Post-It Notes. Cardboard is in basic terms, a sticky note application that can be used for story mapping under the simple and fast concept of using sticky notes on a grid for better product story telling. It is the digital version of having a physical board at the office and using Post-It’s to create ideas and discuss in groups.

FeatureMap

FeatureMap is a browser-based cloud tool that helps with the product management backlog, which is done by creating user stories online (it is similar to StoriesOnBoard, the next tool, as both of them are story-mapping programs). FeatureMap is a digital board for team collaboration in real-time where everyone can share updates of their work and the product owners have a complete visualization of the project. This allows for prioritizing and organizing the backlog, linking ideas, objectives, and consolidating client requests. It can be a great tool for connecting ideas with all the teams involved in a single project. Tip: FeatureMap will integrate with Trello and JIRA!

StoriesOnBoard

This one is probably the most comprehensive story mapping program out there. With StoriesOnBoard, you can create smaller sections of your user stories to set priority for the most urgent and important aspects of the project. The major features of StoriesOnBoard include endless storage space, adding tasks in the middle of an existing user story, and a clean interface with keyboard shortcuts. This tool is for teams looking for a user-friendly, highly accessible, and free storyboard tool.

Trello

Trello has all the features required for story mapping, but instead of robust images it is a visual way to see lists. It is filled with lists and cards and allows comments, all making for quality, real-time discussions with the team. Managers can organize the backlog by adding due dates, creating checklists, labels, and it’s even connected to Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive for ease when uploading files. Trello will ensure that all the members of the user team are connected as it hosts an app for all devices with iOs, Android, Windows software and even Kindle Fire tablets.

UpWave (formerly Symphonical)

The concept of UpWave is simple. It is a digital board with sticky notes for team collaboration in real-time. Just like most of the boards on this list, it has a drag & drop feature to add notes to plant and supervise your team’s activity. Some solid features of this story-mapping program are the text editor, note assignment, and the built-in calendar to help prioritize deliveries.

Craft

Craft is a powerful story-mapping program for product management, which allows “agile teams” to have a broader visual of story maps. It’s flexible and easy to manage. Its main features include the structured visuals, the drag & drop feature, the mobility which allows changing and prioritizing tasks, the linking of stories and sub-stories, and the real-time collaboration between teams and managers which allow up-to-date interaction on the project.

Easy Agile for JIRA

Easy Agile for JIRA enables the creation of story maps easily and fast. It can be used by newbies or professionals, allows visualizing, supervising, and prioritizing the team’s activity and their engagement with each task and the project as a whole, as well as checking on the team’s progress. This tool is perfect for remotely sharing ideas and translating the product manager’s vision to the team working to make it happen. Tip: Cardboard from above will integrate with JIRA if you’re really serious!

The Takeaway

Backlogs are used to prioritize and organize all the steps to in a project and even data collected. Sometimes this organization can be tough to grasp because everyone needs to be on the same page regarding where the project is and where it is going. Story mapping is the best way to split tasks and trace the performance of each team member involved with the development of a particular project.

With the development of technology, story mapping has gone from being an old-fashioned working method to being a real-time, collaborative tool for companies. These tools afford owners and project managers the opportunity to see work being carried out on a large scale, while helping the team understand and identify every task in the backlog, making the planning and delivery of each stage more efficient.

The story mapping tools mentioned above are reliable and enable stakeholders to grasp the speed of a team’s progress and overall efficiency. They also enable project managers to check the status of the project, as well as signaling leaders to be more involved in the project and making any necessary changes to the existing framework. So get started, and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Image Credit: Craft screenshot from Quora.com, all other screenshots taken by author May 2017