10 Ways to Get More Inbound Leads For Your Agency or Consultancy

Disclosure: We sometimes use affiliate links which means that, at zero cost to you, we may earn a commission if you buy something through our links.

Last year we had to turn away 300+ qualified leads.

After four years of trial and error, Venture Harbour reached full-capacity, with 100’s of leads on a waiting list. I say this not to brag, but to provide some credibility before I share any advice.

In this article, I’ll outline five of the most effective strategies I’m aware of for generating a steady stream of ‘bread and butter’ leads for your agency, followed by five tactics to attract big accounts.

Whether you’re an established creative agency, a leading management consultancy firm, or a startup SEO consultant, I encourage you take action on this information to build a scalable lead generation machine that takes your business to the next level.

#1 Scrap your generic enquiry forms

Most agencies and consultancies use dull, out-dated forms on their websites.

These cost agencies a lot of leads (we were no exception). Your form is the final step in the lead generation marathon – it literally separates your leads from your non-leads, and therefore has significant influence over how many leads you receive. Simply put, the better your lead capture forms, the more leads you receive.

At Venture Harbour, I continually optimised our form using Leadformly, ultimately increasing the conversion rate of the site from 0.96% to 8.1%. Not only did this skyrocket our leads, but our cost of acquiring a lead was now much lower, opening doors to new acquisition channels.

Leadformly form on Venture Harbour

So, how do you improve your form?

Give people what they want

Your leads want to know four things:

1. What will you do for them?
2. How much will it cost?
3. How are you different from everyone else?
4. Do you know what you’re talking about?

So give it to them.

Instead of using a dull contact form like every other agency, offer your visitors a free proposal, a 60-minute introductory consultation, or a personalised audit. You could even use a tool like Leadformly to build an interactive form that gives each lead a personalised response, like what Hubspot do with their marketing grader form:

hubspot-marketing-grader

#2 Speak at small, industry-specific events

Between 2012 and 2015 I spoke at almost any conference, meetup, or event that would let me step on a stage. Anything from a 20-person meetup in London, to a TED conference in Australia.

Here’s what I learned about generating leads from public speaking:

marcus

Speaking at big marketing conferences is mostly ineffective

While speaking at established marketing events is great for credibility, they’re often ineffective for generating leads.

First of all, there are too many competitors pitching for the prospect’s attention. It’s like trying to promote your book in a book store: Unless you have something truly exceptional to say, you’re soon forgotten.

The bigger problem, though, is that most of the audience assumes that you’ll be busy after your talk – so relatively few people come up to speak to you.

In contrast, at a small event with 50-100 people you’re seen as more accessible. As a result you have more (and deeper) conversations that turn into better leads, and more clients.

Industry-specific events are a goldmine

Last year, I spoke at a forex conference in Cyprus. We had just started working with a client in the forex niche, so I flew to this event to meet them and learn about their industry. To make the most of my time there, I offered to give a keynote on marketing automation.

I came away with more leads than I’ve ever received from any event I’ve spoken at.

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How? I was one of the only digital marketers at the event. The audience was full of CMOs and marketing directors from banks and other financial institutions, but no other agencies or marketing consultants were competing for their attention.

People quickly assumed that I was an expert in forex digital marketing, which led to more financial speaking events and opportunities to write for financial publications.

I observed a similar phenomenon speaking at conferences in the music industry. When you attend or speak at industry-specific verticals, you’re seen as the expert in that field.

My advice? If you want to get leads from speaking, zig where everyone else is zagging.

#3 Use webinars to out-teach the competition

No company wants to hire an agency or consultant that isn’t an expert in their field. Our BS radars have become so good that as an agency you must show, not tell, that you’re the authority.

The most scalable way of doing this online is through webinars, which have a few bonuses:

  • Reciprocityaccording to Dr. Robert Cialdini, people are hard-wired to want to repay favours, even when it’s totally irrational. It was found, for example, that people are more like to buy a car at a dealership if the sales person gave them a free coffee. By giving a free webinar, your leads are more likely to reciprocate by signing the contract.
  • Authority – your webinar positions you as the authority on your topic.
  • Likability – we’re more likely to buy from people we like. A webinar is an opportunity to spend an hour with a prospect where they’re listening to your voice, developing a relationship, and building rapport.
  • Scarcity – Many webinars end with an offer such as ‘The first X companies get started with our agency from this webinar will get a free Y’. This scarcity increases the likelihood of your leads taking action.

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-17-11-49

At Venture Harbour, we use WebinarJam to run webinars. This tool allows you to run polls, display timed offers, and even pre-record your webinar and have it play once a week, and much more.

If you’re interested in watching one of my webinars, I host a free webinar for Leadformly on ‘How to acquire 300% more leads without increasing your traffic’, which you can secure your spot for here. In it, I share even more techniques that can be used by agencies and consultants to capture more leads.

#4 Low-frequency content marketing

If we apply the 80/20 principle to content marketing, 80% of your leads will come from 20% of your content. If you can identify what 20% of content would be most effective, you can get 80% of the rewards for only 20% of the effort.

This is where low-frequency content marketing comes in.

Instead of creating content on a daily or weekly basis, slow down. Spend at least 40 hours on every piece of content you product, and make it exceptional.

If your dream clients are film companies, create the ultimate guide to digital marketing for film companies. Continually refine this piece of content to make it 10X better than the next best piece of content on the topic.

From my experience, this approach to content marketing and blogging yields significantly higher quantity and quality of leads.

#5 Automate prospecting & outbound sales

Lets be clear, outbound sales does not mean cold-calling.

I’m talking about building an automated system that:

  • Builds a qualified prospect list for you – by pulling in public data on company financials, technology used on their website, and other public data that can be found online. If your clients typically have over £10m in annual revenue, are based within 100 miles of London, and use a premium CRM like Pardot or Marketo, you can automatically build a list of all of the companies that meet this criteria (I’ll explain how in a moment).
  • Automatically reach out to these companies – You can then automatically trigger a personalised introductory email to all of the prospects that meet your ‘typical client profile’. The ones that respond are then handed over to your sales team.

datanyze

This means that your team no longer needs to spend time prospecting, and can focus 100% of their time and effort on the leads that have the highest likelihood of closing.

The best tools for this are Datanyze and Growbots. They’re not cheap – but if you’re spending a lot of time finding prospects for outbound sales, this will save you a lot of time.

#6 Build your referral network

If you want to attract clients with big budgets, you either need a referral network, or to create word of mouth. Ideally both. As word of mouth is slightly more elusive, I’ll focus on how to build a referral network.

There are three kinds of partners that I recommend developing partnerships with:

  • Upstream services – If you’re an SEO agency, an upstream service might be a web design agency, a PR agency, a venture capital firm, or a marketing training company. These companies will typically have influence into which SEO agency their clients choose.
  • Other agencies – While it may seem counter-intuitive, other agencies are a great source of leads. First of all, another agency’s bad-fit client may be a dream client for you. Also, when an agency (like ours) is at full-capacity, they need other agencies to recommend.
  • Niche partners – If your agency specialises in consulting to hotels, it makes sense to partner with organisations and associations that are well-connected within the hotel industry.

#7 Build complimentary tools and software

The majority of Venture Harbour’s best leads come from our ventures, such as MarketingAutomationInsider.com (a site we built to help marketers find the right marketing software).

I’ve noticed that more and more agencies are combining the agency model with either SaaS or information products. By building complementary tools or products, you can not only cross-sell and create new revenue streams, but you can also market your agency services to the people who’re signing up for these products.

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Screaming Frog is a fantastic example of this. With their software widely loved by the SEO community, many people don’t even realise that Screaming Frog is actually an agency.

#8 Run your own shows

While conferences and events (including meetups, dinners, and award ceremonies) may not be the best standalone business model, they are a great way to boost your influence in your industry or niche.

When you run the events in your niche you become a de-facto authority. This attracts publicity opportunities, enables high-potential networking opportunities, while insulating your agency from the competition as you’re able to somewhat control who can access your event’s audience.

Above all else, though, it gets you out of the office and into a room full of potential clients. Combined with a steady flow of beers, and valuable insights on who’s attending, it’s a clever and underused strategy for topping up the top of your sales funnel.

#9 Write the book in your niche

For similar reasons as above, authors are widely perceived as authorities. Sending a copy of your book to leads is a great way to differentiate your agency, while putting your agency’s brand front and center in your leads’ day-to-day lives for a few weeks.

If you’re able to secure a publisher it can also be an effective way to reach an even larger audience of potential leads. Just remember that most (reputable) publishers require you to put in a lot of public speaking work to more or less guarantee at least 10k-20k book sales within the first year.

A great example of this is Blue Ocean Strategy, which has sold 3.5 million copies promoting The Boston Consulting Group’s infamous strategic principles.

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#10 Ask

One of the best ways to get more business is to simply ask for it.

Try this: Create a list of no less than ten companies that would be your ideal leads. These must be companies that you can genuinely offer transformational results to. Once you have your list, use email hunter to find relevant contacts at each of these companies, and then reach out.

Your email needs to sincerely explain why you want to help them and what you believe you can do for them. Be specific, and don’t copy and paste the same email.

I guarantee that you’ll receive at least one very high quality lead from this, and most likely a new client.

Summary: Take action

As I mentioned in the introduction, this information is only valuable when acted on. Whether you decide to improve your lead capture forms, test webinars, or start a referral network, or all of the above, the key is to make changes. Because…

If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got – Henry Ford

3 SEO Strategies to Beat Competitors in a Competitive Niche

Disclosure: We sometimes use affiliate links which means that, at zero cost to you, we may earn a commission if you buy something through our links.

While I don’t consider myself a black-hat SEO, I find it fascinating to experiment and learn from those who work in the most competitive niches and who push the boundaries as to what is possible in SEO.

Five years ago I ran a popular experiment where I built 10,000 links to a domain in 24 hours. To my surprise, the site ranked #1 for a competitive keyword for about two weeks. When the rest of the industry was preaching that these tactics were ineffective, I showed that they did in fact work quite well for targeting seasonal keywords.

My takeaway from that experiment, which I believe is still relevant today, is that the effectiveness of SEO tactics is highly contextual, and your level of competition plays a big role in that context.

In this post, I want to walk through three strategies for ultra-competitive SEO. I’ve avoided talking about tactics, as they’d inevitably become outdated and it’s not my specific area of expertise.

To get started, I want to talk about a strategy that’s traditionally reserved for investment bankers and high-frequency traders; hedging.

1. Hedging Your SEO Strategy

Hedging is a risk management strategy used to offset the probability of loss. In laymen terms, it simply means not putting all of your eggs in one basket.

Just like in an investment portfolio, where spreading your money between stocks, bonds, and commodities can hedge against swings in the economy, a well-hedged SEO strategy can protect you from swings in the Google algorithm.

Last year I heard about a brand in the online gambling industry who had one of the most interesting SEO strategies I’ve ever heard of.

This brand had three separate SEO strategies that were all isolated from each other (the results of one did not affect the others), and more importantly, they were all hedged against each other so that the company would, in theory, benefit regardless of whether Google decided to increase the priority of brands, content marketing, spammy link building, exact-match domains, or a variety of other variables.

In a nutshell, their strategy looked like this:

Strategy A (long term / white hat) – The main strategy, which consumed the majority of time, effort and budget, was the long-term white hat strategy. This strategy focused on a diverse range of white-hat link building / content marketing, and brand building tactics. This strategy is the only one to be used on the brand’s main domain(s).

In the short-term, this strategy was relatively ineffective, as most of the their competitors were being very aggressive with black-hat tactics that occupied the most competitive search terms.

Over the long-term, though, this strategy betted on the likelihood that Google would prioritise brands in the SERPs, and make it harder for black hats to rank for competitive commercial terms. Given the signals, that’s a pretty safe long-term bet.

Strategy B (medium term / grey hat) – Their medium term strategy included a series of grey-hat tactics such as buying competitor sites / setting up micro-sites, and building a varied range of links to them.

This strategy betted on the probability that certain tactics, like scaled guest blogging and widget links, will probably still work for another six-twelve months or so, but not in 3-5 years.

Strategy C (short term / black hat) – Their short-term strategy took an extremely aggressive churn and burn approach. While I don’t know the specifics, I suspect that they were buying hundreds of domains, building large quantities of links to them, and getting these sites to rank for a couple of weeks, before they repeated the process over and over again.

If you wanted to take it to the next level, you could even add multiple layers of diversification within strategies A, B, and C. For example, by targeting different markets, languages, and tactics within each strategy.

While the example above is a relatively extreme case study, I personally believe that every marketer should apply a degree of hedging, or diversification, to their strategy. Given the amount of unknowns in SEO, and digital marketing in general, it can be risky to put all of your eggs in any basket – white-hat or black-hat.

For companies in ultra-competitive niches like pharma, online gambling, adult, and finance, hedging multiple strategies is almost a necessity. The downside of this approach is that it’s expensive and arguably wasteful. It’s only wasteful in hindsight, though.

2. Out-thinking, Out-Working, and Out-Branding the Competition

When it comes to winning the game of ultra-competitive SEO, you need to have a solid plan for how you’re going to beat the competition. As with many games, there is more than one way to win. You could, for example:

  • Out-brand the competitors
  • Out-working the competitors
  • Out-thinking the competitors

Out-branding the competition

Earlier last year I read Marc Benioff’s book, Behind the Cloud, where he explains the story behind Salesforce.com’s growth. In it, there was some great advice on positioning: position yourself as Goliath, or against the Goliath. Nothing in between.

In SEO, many competitive niches, such as pay day loans and credit cards, have been won by underdogs who out-branded their large laggard competitors.

Take MoneySuperMarket or CompareTheMarket, who rank #1 and #2 for ‘compare credit cards’, among many other competitive keywords. Despite effectively being affiliate sites, they’ve beat all of the banks, financial institutions, and financial press who were previously competing over these terms.

How did they do it? By out-branding them with meerkats, mostly.

Compare Credit Cards serps

Another great example of out-branding in ultra-competitive SEO niches is Wonga.com (disclaimer: I used to work on their SEO, although had nothing to do with what I’m praising here).

By sponsoring football teams, running TV ad campaigns, and investing in a lot of brand-building and educational content, Wonga now rank #1 in Google for ‘Pay Day Loans’, one of the most competitive financial search terms.

Wonga

Out-thinking the competition

If you haven’t read Predatory Thinking by Dave Trott, leave this website and add it to your Amazon Wishlist. I promise it’ll be among the best books you read this year.

Without spoiling the content, the premise of his book is that, no matter how large or small you are, you can eat your competition’s market share by thinking smarter than them. While the book contains stories that can be applied to all walks of life, the concept of out-thinking the competition is extremely relevant to SEO.

One example of out-thinking your competition in SEO is to swim upstream and focus on a different portion of your market. We’ll talk more about this in the next section.

Out-working the competition

Last year I examined how six popular blogs reached over 1,000,000 monthly visitors/month in just a few years. Bear in mind, that these six blogs, including Mashable and ProBlogger, were one-man projects competing against websites with tens or hundreds of journalists.

Almost exclusively, they won by out-hustling their competitors. At one point, Pete Cashmore (founder of Mashable) was writing 7 blog posts per day, more than what most of his competitors were publishing in a week.

To out-hustle your competition in an ultra-competitive niche, you’ll need some fire in your belly and a true passion for what you’re doing. Out of the three options, it’s by far the most work.

3. Re-Focus on a Different Portion of Your Market

The majority of your competitors are likely focusing on the same small collection of keywords. One strategy for out-thinking your competitors is to swim upstream and target a different portion of market, perhaps more long tail or ‘mid tail’ focused.

Long tail

Another good example of refocusing is to target an entirely different geographic market or language, if it makes sense to from a business perspective. In this post, I explained how one guy reached over 1 million visitors / month in under six months by targeting Japanese keywords, even though he couldn’t speak Japanese.

You could also consider re-focusing on a different part of the sales funnel. If everyone in your niche is focusing at the top of the sales funnel e.g. ‘what are the best online casinos?’, you could re-focus on keywords that are closer to the sign-up process e.g. ‘online casino bonuses’ to capture more converting traffic.

In Summary

When it comes to ultra-competitive SEO, you need to be beat your competitors in at least one area. Whether that’s out-smarting them, out-working them, out-spending them, or simply persisting for longer than them, you need to have enough focus on an area that you can win at.

We’ve just touched on a few potential strategies here, so I’d encourage you to think about other ways in which you can beat your competition. Hopefully this has helped spark a few ideas to get you started.

5 Best B2B Lead Generation Strategies (That Work in 2017)

Disclosure: We sometimes use affiliate links which means that, at zero cost to you, we may earn a commission if you buy something through our links.

When it comes to B2B lead generation, what really impacts the bottom line?

In this post, we’re going to talk about how one health-tech company generated a 5,100% ROI from a $1 million integrated online marketing campaign. We’ll also look at how a major accounting firm generated $1.3 billion in pipeline revenue from content marketing.

But before we jump into the case studies and discuss specific strategies, it’s important that you get the foundations right and ensure that you’re able to capture and convert a large percentage of leads from your campaigns.

Avoiding the leaky bucket effect

Many B2B marketers spend a lot of time, metaphorically, pouring water into leaky buckets. Rather than fixing the bucket (the marketing funnel), they pour more water (traffic) into the bucket to keep it full.

This is a recipe for inflated acquisition costs and below-average results.

The biggest culprit here are landing pages and, in particular, your forms. Forms separate your leads from non-leads, and have a huge impact on your conversion rates and overall lead generation results. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend optimising your forms – or using a tool like Leadformly to ensure that you’re not leaving leads behind from your marketing campaigns.

Let’s say you send 1,000 visits to your landing page at a cost of $3 per visit. If your form converts at 1% you’ll get 10 leads at a cost per lead of $300. If, on the other hand, your form converted at 3%, you’d receive 30 leads at a cost per lead of $100.

That’s 3X more leads for one third of the cost per leads without spending a penny extra – just by improving your lead generation form.

Leadformly

Once your funnel is well-optimised and you’re confident that there’s no more opportunity to improve your landing pages / funnels, it’s time to acquire traffic – but which channels or lead generation strategies should you use?

Which B2B lead generation strategies work?

The answer to this question depends on who you ask.

If we were to go by Hubspot’s study of the best B2B lead sources, we’d conclude that SEO is the best (identifiable) lead generation channel.

B2B lead sources

If, on the other hand, we used Chief Marketer’s data on the same question, we’d conclude that email marketing is the most effective channel for B2B lead generation. Needless to say, there are similar surveys reporting that social media and content marketing are also the most effective forms of B2B lead generation.

B2B chief marketer stats

Why so much variation?

The likely answer is to do with audience biases. A survey conducted by an email marketing provider is almost certainly going to have different results to one conducted by PPC management tool, as their audiences have different skillsets and biases, skewing the results of their sample. As such, we should take the specific ranking of different strategies in these studies with a pinch of salt.

Inconsistencies aside, the online strategies that consistently come out at the top are:

  • Email marketing
  • Search marketing
  • Social marketing
  • Content marketing

 
We’ll look at each these in more depth in a moment, but bear in mind that how you use a lead generation channel is more important than what lead channel you choose.

Twitter can be used to close a $250,000 lead for a B2B business, or it can be used to spam potential leads and tarnish a brand. So, while the channel/strategy you choose will play a large role in how effective your lead generation is, how you execute your campaign will play an even bigger role.

With this caveat out the way, let’s look at some of the ways that B2B companies are using the four strategies listed above to generate impressive results.

5 Ways to Generate B2B Leads Online

In this section, we’ll cover the four strategies outlined above, as well as a strategy that hasn’t been mentioned in any of the studies, yet it enabled one B2B company to generate a 5,100% ROI from a $1 million investment.

First though, let’s talk about one of the oldest strategies in online marketing: email marketing.

1. Email Marketing

Email marketing is one of the few online marketing channels that has stood the test of time. In fact, email is 23 years old this year, and it still trumps the top spot on many B2B marketer’s lists of B2B lead generation strategies.

One of the biggest trends in email marketing at the moment, that has generated great results for many B2B businesses, is marketing automation.

Not sure what the fuss about marketing automation is? Read this. In short, marketing automation tools are effectively hybrid email marketing tools that connect with your CRM to enable you to automatically send highly targeted emails to leads that are personalised specifically to them.

When Thomson Reuters upgraded to a marketing automation solution, their revenue increased by 172%. Another company increased their revenue by 832% (going from $80,000 in debt to $2 million in revenue) in just three years.

While traditional newsletters and email marketing are still important, the ability to capture more data on users and use behavioural-triggers has enabled B2B marketers to get a lot smarter with how they target users in the inbox.

2. Content Marketing: From Blogging to Microsites

By creating a total of 48 infographics, videos, and Q&A blog posts targeting C-level prospects of large market cap financial institutions, the public accounting firm Crowe Horwath generated $250,000 in revenue attributed to content marketing.

If 6-figure growth doesn’t get you excited, perhaps 10-figures (a billion) will.

In 2012, Xerox created a microsite offering relevant tips to business owners. The result? 70% of the companies targeted interacted with the microsite, adding 20,000 new contacts to their pipeline, 1,000+ of which scheduled appointments. The value of those appointments exceeded $1.3 billion in pipeline revenue.

Given the broad scope of content marketing, a good question to ask is what type of content should B2B companies be focusing on to generate leads?

Well, you could go by which tactics are most commonly used by other B2B companies (displayed below). The risk of this approach is that, by definition, you’ll be doing what everyone else is doing.

B2B content marketing

While there is some wisdom in following trends, there’s a good argument to do exactly the opposite of what other marketers are focusing on.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

Whether you’re a contrarian marketer or prefer to stick to what’s working for others, a good content marketing strategy requires a degree of diversity and experimentation to understand where the biggest growth opportunities are for your business.

So, by all means, experiment with the common and uncommon tactics. Whether you use microsites, blogging, research reports, or infographics, the important thing is to test what does and doesn’t work so that you can gradually refine your lead generation over time.

3. Search Marketing

Organic search marketing is arguably one of the most valuable long-term strategies for generating B2B leads.

About 5-6 years ago, I was working on the SEO campaign for a major business stationery brand. It was one of my first ‘big campaigns’ that I was allowed to manage in my previous job.

While I can’t take the credit (their in-house SEO team and previous agencies had laid a great foundation for us), I watched the site’s revenue from SEO increase by over £4 million, just from a handful of keywords reaching #1 on Google.

Getting to #1 in Google is a lot harder today than it was five or ten years ago, and it can barely be summarised in a few sentences.

If I were to attempt it, though, I’d probably say that good SEO in 2015 is largely a bi-product of doing things well in other areas e.g. design, conversion rate optimisation, content marketing, and social. While there are exceptions, this is increasingly looking like the rule.

4. Social Media

Calling social media an effective B2B lead generation strategy is a controversial discussion to be starting.

While social media scored very well on both of the aforementioned ‘studies’, we can just as easily find reports where social media channels are regarded as the least effective lead generation strategies.

B2B lead generation

The bottom line is, social media isn’t inherently a poor channel for B2B lead generation. The reason social media is sometimes rated poorly on these aggregate studies is because most B2B companies have an ill-fitting social media strategy, to put it politely.

While tens of thousands of companies blast out self-promotional drivel, a minority of businesses use it generate and nurture millions of dollars worth of leads. In this instance, it’s best to learn from the minority rather than the majority.

One of the most obvious ways to generate B2B leads from social media is using LinkedIn. An commodity risk management company managed to generate over $2 million in pipeline value through their lead generation strategy.

Another consideration is that social media is an integral part of content marketing, and to some extent, search marketing. How successful will your blogging or infographics be if no one’s following your company’s updates on social media?

5. Integrating it all together

It’s said that success leaves clues. Well, when a $37 billion company generates a 5,100% return on investment on a million-dollar marketing campaign, it might be a pretty good clue.

From a $1 million investment in an integrated marketing campaign that included display ads, email marketing, campaign websites and content marketing, the healthcare technology company Optum generated $52 million in new business.

So, what’s the clue?

I believe it’s this: exceptional lead generation results come from a relentless willingness to experiment with different tactics, and to combine tactics across multiple channels.

Only by experimenting, can you truly know what does and doesn’t work, and when you know this, you can use your time and budget more effectively to generate higher returns on your investment, and better lead generation results overall.

I hope this post has given you some inspiration on what’s possible with B2B lead generation, and which areas are best to focus on. As always if you have any questions, or are interested in getting touch, feel free to comment below or drop me an email here.

The 11-Step Guide to Growing Your Website’s Organic Search Traffic

Disclosure: We sometimes use affiliate links which means that, at zero cost to you, we may earn a commission if you buy something through our links.

Over the next decade, it’s expected that an extra 3 billion people will gain access to an Internet connection, exponentially increasing the amount of content on the Internet that you and I will need to compete against.

So, what implications will this deluge of content have on search marketing and how can we prepare for them? What do we need to focus on in 2015 to ensure that our websites thrive?

Content production growth

In this post, I’ve outlined six defensive and five offensive tactics that I believe will set you up for considerable and sustainable search traffic growth in 2015.

Defensive Tactics

“Invincibility lies in the defence” – Sun Tzu

A strong offense without a strong defence is the strategic equivalent of firing missiles from a fishing boat. In the short term it may appear as though you’re generating good results, but inevitably the boat will sink along with any progress made.

In the context of SEO, a strong defence comes from diversifying your tactics, building a strong brand, and having a website that Google wants to rank.

Ultimately, a strong defence encompasses anything that will prevent or limit the negative impact of algorithm updates (of all sizes), competitor activity, and wider changes in how information is consumed online.

Considering that there are shelves of books written on each of these topics, I just want to cover six actionable tactics that I believe will have the biggest defensive impact over the next year.

Step 1. Have the fastest website in your niche

Google have made it no secret that they have a strong bias towards ranking fast sites. From their perspective, it increases indexing efficiency (lowering their server costs), while improving the user experience for visitors.

For webmasters, the benefits of a fast site are even more compelling: more engagement, higher conversion rates, and increased ranking potential.

If you’re wondering how fast your website should be, my opinion is that it should be faster than the lowest of these (as measured by a tool like Pingdom or GTmetrix):

  • Two seconds
  • Your fastest competitor

Pingdom page speed

If your website currently loads slower than you’d like, I’ve written extensively about how to improve your page loading speed here.

Step 2. Fortify your website’s security

In August 2014, Google made an interesting announcement that, over time, sites that are secured with HTTPS encryption will have a ranking advantage over non-secure sites.

While this may be reason enough for you to consider tighter security and encryption for your site, I think the wider picture of how the web is evolving provides a more compelling case, and perhaps suggests the reason why Google is encouraging webmasters to focus on security.

With increasingly sophisticated cybercrime, and a general shift towards DIY development (e.g. click and install WordPress plugins), the potential for sites to be hacked is greater than ever.

While the link between security and SEO rankings may seem tenuous, I think the link is becoming less so. Consider this: if your site was hacked tomorrow and all pages on your server were deleted, how would that affect you and your company’s resources? How quickly could you revert to a backup? How would Google react to this down time?

My advice is this:

  • HTTPS – If you have an eCommerce site, or manage any sensitive data, use HTTPS encryption. For less than $10/year you can get yourself an SSL certificate, which will encrypt any user data that is entered on your website.
  • Use a reputable hosting company – Increased security and daily restorable backups are just two of the many reasons why investing in good hosting is one of the best investments you can make for your website.
  • If using WordPress, only use highly-rated themes and plugins – Most security issues with WordPress come from poorly developed plugins and themes. Avoid any plugin or theme that doesn’t have good ratings like the plague.

Of course, all general advice like using strong passwords and installing security plugins also apply here. At the end of the day, the less time you have to deal with hacking and data leakages, the more time you can focus on growing your website.

Step 3. Make your website compatible across all devices

In November, Google sent webmasters a big nudge to make their websites mobile friendly by launching the mobile friendly testing tool, and by highlighting mobile usability issues in Google Webmaster Tools.

Mobile usability in Google WMT

At the same time, it appears that Google have began to experiment with showing whether a search result is mobile friendly or not alongside search results.

Mobile friendly serps

As if there were any doubt, clues from Google don’t get much more obvious than this. If you want your website to rank well in 2015 and beyond, your website needs to be mobile friendly.

Step 4. Neutralise and diversify your link profile

To mitigate against the possibility of being hit by a link-based penalty or algorithm update in 2015, you might want to take the time to neutralise and diversify your website’s link profile.

Neutralising your link profile
Regardless of how ethical your SEO strategy is, it’s possible that your site might have acquired some suspicious links over the years.

To ensure that you don’t get caught up in the next refresh of the penguin update, you can use a tool like OpenLinkProfiler or LinkRisk to diagnose your link profile and highlight any links that might need removing.

Link neutralisation

Diversifying your link profile
Perhaps with the exception of (natural) editorial blog links, having too many links in any link category can leave you susceptible to changes in what Google considers a valuable link.

Take infographics and guest blog posts for example. For years, these were considered the most effective and white hat methods of link building… until Matt Cutts said that these types of links might be discounted due to being over manipulated.

You can check the distribution of link types pointing to your site using OpenLinkProfiler. While the results aren’t perfect, it should highlight any standouts.

Link diversity

Step 5. Diversify your content strategy & traffic sources

When you put all of your eggs into one basket, you have to be absolutely sure that your basket is a good one, and will stand the test of time.

Unfortunately with SEO, putting all of your eggs in one basket is a really bad strategy due to the large number of variables, unknowns, and constantly changing parts. What looks like a good basket today could easily be a pile of broken twigs tomorrow.

As such, it’s sensible to diversify your strategy as much as possible – from the type of content you publish, to how you monetise your website, and where you acquire traffic.

Step 6. Above all, invest in the subjective user experience

If I had to make one prediction as to what will increase in importance for SEO in 2015, I would put my money on an increasing emphasis on user experience.

Why? Because all things being equal, there is no plausible argument for why Google wouldn’t value ranking a site with a good user experience over one without, and it influences so many sub-factors, from page speed to trustworthiness, that strongly correlate with higher rankings.

As much as we try to measure user experience with conversion and engagement metrics, the reality is that it’s highly subjective. Put another way, changing a call to action from green to blue isn’t necessarily a good idea, even if it does increase conversions and engagement.

When improving the user experience, it’s important to go beyond the tools to understand what your users really want and like.

Offensive Tactics

If you have a strong defensive and a weak offence, then you’re playing not to lose, rather than playing to win. The two strategies are far from the same.

So how do you play to win? Below are five tactics that I believe will improve your offence and help you climb the search results in 2015.

Step 7. Long-form content marketing

Throughout 2014, I experimented with a wide range of content marketing techniques, from infographics and videos, to a myriad of weird and wonderful blogging formats.

Out of all of the various formats, the one technique that consistently generated excellent results was highly-visual long-form guides like this guide to the best scotch we launched on Qosy.

Whisky guide

Irrespective of niche (we tried this in finance, luxury travel, music, and even on this site with our guide to best web hosting), the results from this type of content outperformed everything else.

The key to this strategy is that it contains many ‘hooks’ for success. Most of the long-form content campaigns that we launched in 2014 were between 2,000 and 8,000 words long, which enabled them to capture large amounts of long-tail search traffic.

On top of this, they typically contained stunning visuals, which led some to go viral on visual social networks like Pinterest and StumbleUpon. Most also generated a large number of shares across Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Google+.

Of course, content like this takes a long time to produce (usually 40 hours+), but we’ve found it to be one of the least risky formats for generating everything that we’re after: links, leads, shares, conversions, and traffic.

Step 8. Automating & systemising your marketing

The marketing automation industry has already exploded in size from being worth $500 million to $1.2 billion in just two years, and this growth doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

The reason why is fairly obvious: the impact and value of automation speaks for itself: you save precious time while getting better results.

One friend of mine was able to completely automate his company’s sales process using a series of marketing automation sequences that were so good, his customers had no idea that the charming salesman ‘Barry’ was actually an Infusionsoft bot, not a real person.

While automation obviously won’t directly lead to increased rankings in Google, the indirect impacts are extensive. Not only can it increase the value of your search traffic by boosting customer lifetime value and sales effectiveness, you can use automation sequences to incentivise sharing, third-party site reviews, and much more.

Step 9. Brand building

Over the years, Google have increased the weighting placed on brand-biased ranking signals. It has also been made quite clear that brands are treated differently in the search results than smaller non-brand websites.

Brand bias

If you’re in an obscure niche, the impact of this shift will undoubtedly be less dramatic, but for the underdogs looking to take on the big brands, it’s going to be a challenge.

I like Rand Fishkin’s advice in the article linked above: “Those who aren’t building brands will struggle mightily in the years ahead. The only logical strategy today is to be so good that Google looks bad taking you out”.

Step 10. Authority building

Despite Google Authorship appearing to have largely come and gone, the value of building your personal authority remains unchanged.

For the same reasons as above, building a strong personal brand evokes trust – which is the underlying trait that Google are ultimately trying to understand when they calculate and weight the value of links, social shares, and other popularity metrics.

Building your personal authority in your industry through traditional PR, interviews, guest blogging, and cross-promotions will likely have an increasingly powerful impact on search as Google continues to place more weight on brand citations and non link-based popularity metrics.

Step 11. Building a mailing list

A strong mailing list enables you to reach a large relevant audience whenever you need to. When combined with blogging, email marketing can be very powerful in driving natural links, social shares, and other engagement that positively impacts your search rankings.

On top of this, email is one of the few online communication channels that has stood the test of time. While the value of building an audience on various social networks have risen and fell, email marketing still continues to increase in effectiveness, even after 22 years.

If you don’t already have a mailing list, there’s a guide here on how to set up and build a mailing list.

Summary

Of course, there is almost no limit to the range of strategies and tactics that will impact your search rankings. The 11 that I’ve outlined here are some of the main areas that I’m focusing on with our portfolio of sites over the next 12 months based on where the industry seems to be heading.

If there are any tactics that you think will become increasingly important for improving a site’s search rankings over the next year, feel free to add them to this list by sharing them in the comments below.

Google Panda 4.0 Update Just Rolled Out

Disclosure: We sometimes use affiliate links which means that, at zero cost to you, we may earn a commission if you buy something through our links.

I noticed a few pretty large traffic fluctuations across some of our sites this morning (this site’s traffic increased by 36.7% compared to last week, woohoo)! After a bit of searching around, it turns out that Google’s just rolled out Panda 4.0.

Google Panda 4.0

What’s different about this update?

Google’s panda updates target websites with low quality content. In my experience, this usually boils down to one of two fundamental issues that are exacerbated by other issues. Those two fundamental issues being thin content and duplicate content.

While the panda update is said to target everything from slow page loading speed to ad:content ratio, i’ve never come across a website that has been hit by panda exclusively for being slow, having too many ads, or any of the other many factors implied by Google’s panda recovery guidelines (if everything else was okay).

There’s been no comment by Matt Cutts or Google yet on whether this update targeted anything different, but I imagine they’ve tweaked the algorithm to either target a larger range of keywords (incidentally, they did announce that they were working on their pay day loan algorithm over the weekend). Alternatively, Google may have just tightened up how they’re identifying low quality sites.

How big is this update?

Google told SearchEngineLand that the update affects 7.5% of all English queries, to a degree that might be noticed by a regular user.

To me, this looks like a pretty massive update. While Algoroo is reporting slight ‘above average’ changes for yesterday, Mozcast has reported massive fluctuations in search results this week. Of course, we won’t really know until tomorrow’s data comes out – but based on what we’re seeing so far it looks to be a big one.

Algoroo Panda 4.0

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 13.33.14

What to do if your site’s been hit

I’ve written extensively on cleaning up a panda penalty, and what the usual culprits to look into are. As mentioned in the article above, a good place to start is to audit your site against all of the possible causes to diagnose where the issues are.

From there you can begin to systematically make changes that will improve the quality of your site and get it ranking well. Bear in mind that panda updates tend to take a while to fix, as you’ll often need to wait for the next algo data refresh for your site to get reindexed.

I’d be keen to hear what anyone else is noticing with this update. In particular, are the sites that have dropped the same as the ones hit by the last Panda updates, or does there appear to be anything different with this update?

The Ultimate Guide to Video Marketing on YouTube: From Ideation to YouTube SEO

Disclosure: We sometimes use affiliate links which means that, at zero cost to you, we may earn a commission if you buy something through our links.

Establishing and maintaining a strong presence on the world’s biggest search engine is the number one priority for most marketers. It’s easy to get caught up in search engine optimisation (SEO) and forget everything else, mainly because SEO has been proven to work.

Yet most marketers are forgetting about the Internet’s second-largest search engine.

YouTube.

Why Establishing Your Business Presence on YouTube Is Important

Before you tell me that YouTube doesn’t count because it’s a video search engine, let me tell you that it does count. Particularly with statistics like these (Social Media Today):

  • Bigger than Bing, Yahoo!, AOL, and Ask … put together
  • > 3 billion searches monthly
  • Almost 1 out of every 2 internet users are on YouTube
  • Attracts more US adults in the 18-35 age group than any cable network
  • 6 billion hours of video are viewed every month

And we’re just getting started.

If you don’t want a slice of this pie, then your online marketing campaign is aiming too low.

The Anatomy of a Successful YouTube Video

When’s the last time you headed over to YouTube to engross yourself in a poorly produced, self-promotional, boring video that didn’t help you accomplish anything?

Me, neither.

People visit YouTube for one of two reasons:

  1. They have a problem they want to find the answer to.
  2. They want to relax/have fun/watch cute cats.

As a professional business, you’ll be providing the former: solutions. Not self-promotional videos (the only exception is pre-roll advertising, but we’ll get into that later). Answers to problems. Beneficial videos that viewers can take something away from.

The process of launching a video marketing campaign on YouTube boils down to three essential, basic steps:

  1. Setting a platform for success.
  2. Producing video content.
  3. YouTube SEO & marketing.

Setting up a Platform

First things first: build your platform with thorough planning. You need to develop a strong strategy you’re willing to back a hefty portion of your marketing dollars on.

The main parts of a video marketing strategy are:

  1. Identifying your goals
  2. Identifying your audience
  3. Identifying the type of video you’ll produce

Identifying Your Goals

Like with everything else in marketing, if you don’t have goals, you don’t know where you want to go. And if you don’t know where you want to go, you’ll never get there.

A big part of planning is setting reasonable, attainable goals for yourself. The key here is to plan small, and achieve big. In other words, underestimate your ability, and you’ll never be disappointed.

Good goals are: measurable, time-sensitive, and contain an action verb.

Here are a few example goals a hypothetical company Awesome Replacement Doors (ARD) might have (I’ve bolded how each aspect of a good goal plays out in the example):

  1. Generate an additional 1,000 visitors to my website per month within six months of video marketing.
  2. Generate an additional $2,500 in revenue per month within six months of video marketing.
  3. Increase my clientele by 50% within six months of video marketing.

Identify Your Audience

Before you can launch any marketing campaign, you need to know who you’re going to market to.

To do that, you need to analyze three W’s of your target YouTube audience.

Who are they? — their basic demographic details (age group, location, etc.)

Where are they? — where are they virtually (see which competitor YouTube channels are the most popular with your target audience)

Why are they there? — why do they visit YouTube (to learn how to replace a door, to view reviews of kitchen doors?)

Identify the Type of Video You’ll Produce

YouTube encompasses many different kinds of video. Here’s a list of the three most popular ones.

1. Teaching sessions: recordings/videos of public sessions in auditoriums, or even just someone standing and talking (maybe even illustrating concepts on a whiteboard). A good example of this is Marcus’s talk at Tedx about comfort zones. While this tactic is somewhat time-consuming, it doesn’t have to be expensive if you go with the latter approach.

2. Webinars: mostly PowerPoints and/or a few graphics with a voiceover. (quick to produce and inexpensive)

3. Tutorials: elaborate, dynamic videos; either animated, or it could show the actual process of someone performing a certain task (time-consuming to produce, and usually expensive).

Personally, the third video type is my favourite: even though they’re both expensive and difficult to produce, elaborate tutorials are often he most appreciated video type and can bring you huge traffic and exposure.

After understanding who your target audience is, you’ll also know which of the above three types of video appeal most to them, and capitalise on that information.

Deciding the type of video you’ll produce will also go a long way towards helping you fix your budget. When budgeting, remember to work around your goals as well — you can’t expect to start driving seven-figure traffic on a three-figure monthly budget.

Producing Video Content

This is the fun stuff, where you actually start producing your videos. It’s also where video marketing starts getting expensive.

Just like the planning stage, there are three different steps involved in producing video content:

  1. Purchasing the right equipment at the right cost.
  2. Finding video topics.
  3. Shooting the video.

Purchasing the Right Equipment

Video-Marketing-Equipment

Any form of video marketing requires investment. You’ll have several items of equipment to spend on, more so with certain types of video.

Let’s say, for instance, that our hypothetical company ARD goes with in-depth tutorials. That makes sense for their audience, since they’ve researched and found a lot of people look for D.I.Y door replacement videos, etc.

ARD is going to have to spend money on several things:

  • a professional video camera (high three-figures to mid four)
  • a tripod (low three-figures)
  • video editing software (mid three-figures)
  • wireless microphone (three figures)
  • lighting setup & equipment (depends)
  • much more

So to reiterate, video marketing isn’t a cost-effective revenue stream in most cases. In fact, it can turn out to be quite the opposite. So before you jump on the bandwagon, make sure that you have the money and time to invest.

Finding Video Topics

YouTube-Vide-Marketing

If you’re planning to produce videos on a regular basis, you’re likely to run out of ideas. Fast. Particularly if you’re in a niche like replacement doors — there just aren’t too many potential video topics.

If you find yourself in the same predicament, there are still a number of ways you can generate new video ideas.

Rework an old blog post. Take one of your earliest blog posts and re-work it into a video tutorial. For example, Venture Harbour loves writing up extensive guides — the web hosting guide, for example. That could easily be reworked into a PowerPoint/screencast YouTube video.

Steal a competitor’s idea. It’s not against the law, you know. No, DON’T steal the competitor’s actual video content (script, setting, unique ideas, etc.), but by analyzing the trending videos in your market, you can find out which topics resonate best with your audience and garner the most traffic. From then on, it’s only a matter of creating a better resource and marketing it more efficiently than your competitor.

Use Uber Suggest to generate a list of relevant keyword ideas. Supposedly “Google Instant on steroids”, Uber Suggest is a web-based tool that allows you to plug in a keyword and get hundreds of new keyword ideas. It’s the ultimate keyword brainstorming tool.

Ask your audience. The best video topics will come from the people who actually know what they want — your audience. Ask them. Create a survey with a free tool like Survey Monkey and reach out to your previous customers and get them to take it.

In other niches (conversion rate optimisation or WordPres “how-tos” for example) you’ll have an overabundance of video topics popping into your mind.

If such is the case with your business, remember this one rule: validate the profitability of each and every idea.

In other words, if there’s little/no chance that the topic will make you money, or if there isn’t a justifiable amount of traffic for the topic, then there’s no reason to drop three to four figures creating a video for it.

If it won’t make you money, don’t invest in it.

Plain and simple.

Shooting the Video

A whole lot of behind-the-scenes elements goes into a successful, engaging video.

For one, you need a script. A good one. Otherwise, you’ll risk sounding like a fool to the thousands of potential customers who are going to view your video.

Secondly, you need an appropriate location. For ARD, location isn’t a big problem. All they need is a well-lit house with a door that needs fixing; something that’s easily simulated (read: it isn’t too hard to break a door with a well-placed shoulder with a good amount of force behind it). For a motor company, it’s an entirely different scenario. You need a traffic-free road that looks good and will play nicely with your setup.

Lastly, the most important thing you need to remember when producing your video is to make it engaging. Enunciate — make sure people can here you. Throw in a joke or two. Admittedly, door replacement is a very serious matter with little opportunity for humor, but there’s always bound to be an opportunity for you to throw in a witty one-liner that will keep your viewers stimulated.

There’s another factor to keep in mind: video length. Few people will sit through a 47-minute monster video. C’mon. We’ve only got 24 hours in a day. While there is no one-fits-all length, Reel SEO analyzed the top 50 (according to social shares) YouTube videos to find that under five minutes and anywhere from a high three minutes to a low four minutes is your best bet.

720 Strategies says that shorter is better. Both analyses say the same thing: don’t go overboard on length. Besides, short videos are cheaper. :)

Another important aspect to remember is your video thumbnail. You have the option to upload a custom thumbnail, or you can let YouTube randomly pick a millisecond in your video as the representative thumbnail.

If your smart, you’ll go with the latter. The ideal thumbnail is:

  • branded (has your logo in the bottom left corner — makes for better visibility)
  • very descriptive of the video topic
  • makes people want to click

The last trait of a good thumbnail is one you want to especially focus on: making people click. If you’re doing a PowerPoint-type video, use a screenshot of the most informative, helpful slide as the thumbnail. That lets people know even before they watch the video that they will be able to get something out of it.

And that makes them click.

YouTube SEO

Fantastic — you have a thorough video marketing plan for the next quarter, an excellent, engaging first video 3 minutes and 46 seconds long, and you’ve just uploaded it to YouTube.

And you’re watching your views counter … and watching … and watching. But, of course, nothing’s happening. It continues to sit at that dismal 11 views (after you, your parents, and each person in your production team viewed it from separate computers).

Wait, I think I might know the reason why nobody’s viewing my video … perhaps I forgot the marketing part of video marketing?

Yep, you did.

No matter how great the content, if people can’t find it, you won’t make money with it. And the first step in YouTube video marketing is optimizing your video for higher rankings in the SERPs.

Even though Google bought YouTube, the video search engine still runs its own unique algorithm, which means that what worked for getting you listed in Googe’s SERPs might not work for YouTube’s.

However, the basic concepts still apply: engage visitors, and make your video relevant to your keywords. The four predominant YouTube SEO factors are:

  1. Video relevancy.
  2. Channel relevancy.
  3. View count.
  4. View ratings & engagement.

Video Relevancy

Now, we both know that no YouTube spider can “watch” your video and determine its relevancy to a keyword from that alone (even though it would be wickedly cool if that was possible).

Instead, spiders rank your video relevancy according to what they can read: the video description and the title.

It’s just like meta descriptions and headlines for Google: get your keywords and secondary keywords in there. Tag your video appropriately.

Here’s an example of an optimized description + title for ARD:

How to Replace a Kitchen Door in 4 Minutes Flat

Here’s a step-by-step video guide that teaches how to replace a kitchen door (primary keyword) — learn to replace the door in four minutes flat. Equipment necessary: screwdriver, nails, replacement door (these are secondary/LSI keywords)

For more information on replacement doors (website’s primary keywordand to get your own door, visit http://awesomereplacementdoors.com.

I incorporated keywords into the description and the title — the spider now knows that my video is relevant to the keyword “how to replace a kitchen door”.

Channel Relevancy

If you know SEO, then you know that optimizing just one blog post isn’t enough — your whole site needs to be in good standing in Google for related keywords as well.

It’s the same concept with channel relevancy.

Use your channel description to write a short, keyword-rich description that tells a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Example:

Awesome Replacement Doors (keyword) is a respected and widely known door distributor (another keyword) that makes the process of replacing your doors quick, painless, and cheap. We’ve been providing stellar doors to over 2500 customers for over 25 years.

It’s alos important to include a link to your website, because the website link in your channel description is set as dofollow. You get a juicy backlink from a PR-9 website absolutely free.

Additionally, make sure that your YouTube channel produces videos related only to one niche — uploading videos on skateboard reviews won’t help ARD’s channel relevancy a bit.

View Count

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem.

One of the major YouTube ranking factors is view count … but it’s hard to get views unless you’re already ranking high in the SERPs.

Solution?

Market the videos on your social media, blog, e-mail list and everything else you own like crazy.

Video Ratings & Engagement

Are your viewers leaving five seconds after clicking-through to your video? Unacceptable.

Is a very small percentage of your viewers stopping to leave a comment? Pathetic.

Does your video have a 50/50 like to dislike ratio? Deplorable.

If your viewers aren’t engaged with your video, YouTube’s spiders assume that your video isn’t quality … which is probably true.

A five-figure view count isn’t enough if half those people are down-voting your video before they leave.

Probably the easiest way to increase your engagement (subscriptions, shares, comments, and votes) is to ask your visitors to do so. At the very end, use a standard outro telling people to like, share, and subscribe.

A high percentage of the top YouTubers heavily use this tactic, so it obviously works.

YouTube Advertising

YouTube offers several pre-roll ad options to their advertisers, including:

  • in-stream: before, after or during a video (pre-roll ads)
  • in-search: in the YouTube search results page
  • in-display: next to YouTube videos

In-stream video ads are by far the most engaging for visitors, as both in-search and in-display ads tend to result in banner blindness.

Pre-Roll-Advertising

The introduction of TrueView in December of 2010, however, gave users the option to skip pre-roll ads after watching for five seconds. Advertisers pay only when users watched 30 seconds of the ad or the entire ad (whichever length is shorter).

Surprisingly, pre-roll advertising is somewhat effective: The Next Web reported that 30% of YouTube visitors watch these ads. However, there is a rather wide range, as YouTube themselves have stated that they see anything from a 30% to an 80% skip rate on ads.

Furthermore, engagement with users who choose to watch ads is up to 273% higher than with users forced to view in-stream ads.

In other words, your success with pre-roll advertising on YouTube is dependent on a diverse range of factors and not just on how engaging your ad is. When developing your YouTube advertising campaign, consider the following:

  • the type of ad that works best for your product/niche (in-stream, in-search, or in-display)
  • mobile advertising
  • ask yourself: is my ad engaging enough for users to want to watch past the five-second mark?

Video Marketing Across Multiple Networks

Although YouTube is by far the behemoth of video marketing, it’s important to remember other video hosting networks too: Daily Motion, Viddler, Vimeo, Hulu, and even Facebook, to mention just a few.

Daily Motion for instance, is one of the top 100 sites in the world, with hundreds of millions of views monthly (TechCrunch). Combine that with the impressive traffic statistics that Hulu, Vimeo and the others earn, and multi-network video marketing is just too big a channel to ignore.

It’s also hard. In other words, signing up to and distributing video across each network isn’t the most invigorating job in the world.

One Load to the rescue.

One Load allows you to upload a video once, and distribute it to 18 different video networks all at once:

  1. YouTube
  2. Vimeo
  3. AOL
  4. Bing
  5. Hulu
  6. Bright Cove
  7. Blinkx
  8. Daily Motion
  9. Amazon S3
  10. LinkedIn
  11. Facebook
  12. Twitter
  13. Tumblr
  14. Dropbox
  15. iTunes
  16. Flickr
  17. Veoh
  18. Viddler

One Load do offer a free plan (with limited features), but you can call in to get quotes on a more advanced plan.

Wrapping Up

Video marketing isn’t cheap. It isn’t easy. And it certainly isn’t simple.

But it works.

How are you planning to use video marketing to take your business to the next level?

Featured image credit: La Salebete via Flickr.

An SEO’s Checklist: 101 Ways to Improve Your SEO in 2017

Disclosure: We sometimes use affiliate links which means that, at zero cost to you, we may earn a commission if you buy something through our links.

Search engine optimisation: one of the most (if not the most) controversial digital marketing topics. Some say that content marketing is the new SEO. Others say that it’s possible to link your way to the top of Google. Matthew Woodward, on the other hand, will tell you that it’s possible to rank a blog (and yes, even make it to the top 100 in Technorati) with zero intentional backlinking efforts.

There seems to be no clear answer to what works and what doesn’t … because, well … there is no clear answer to what works and what doesn’t. Different people with different skill sets can make different things work for their website’s SEO.

In short, what worked for Rand Fishkin may or may not work for you.

SEO doesn’t have to be difficult though — you just need to think it through, discover what works best for your site, and (above all) track your progress to see what is/isn’t working.

To get you started with that, here’s a colossal list of 101 SEO tips (similar to a recent post we ran on 101 conversion optimisation tips). It describes a variety of SEO strategies and tips — every webmaster in every industry will be able to take something (or 101 things) valuable away after reading this post.

To help you digest each of the following hundred-and-one tips easier, I’ve organised them into 5 categories:

  • keyword research & optimisation (how to discover which keywords you should target and how to optimise your site to rank for them)
  • content marketing (publishing and distributing online content)
  • social signals & user engagement (the two complement each other)
  • branding (getting you recognised on the Internet)
  • competition analysis (knowing how your competitors works is something you can turn to your advantage
  • general (miscellaneous tips that don’t fit into any of the above categories)

SEO Jargon You Should Know

Just like every other industry, SEO has its own set of jargon and legalese. Here are a few definitions of very fundamental terms, just to make sure we’ve covered all the bases.

SERPs — search engine results pages
keyword — a word or phrase someone searches the Internet for (e.g. “weight loss tips”)
long-tail — long keywords with low monthly searches and low competition (e.g. “weight loss tips just before running a marathon”)
social signals — social shares; in essence, they signal to Google that your site is a popular ‘un; the more you have, the better
backlink — an inbound link from a site to yours (verb form: backlinking, linkbuilding)

Now that we’re done with that, let’s get into our first segment on keyword research & optimisation.

Ready? Set?

Keyword Research & Optimisation

Keyword-Research
  1. Use an Excel sheet to document the information (competition and monthly traffic metrics) you’ll gather for each keyword from the following steps. At the end of it, you’ll be able to quickly see which keywords are best for you to target.
  2. UberSuggest (supposedly “Google Instant on steroids”) displays a ton of relevent keywords when you type in any single one. You can also filter by geographic location, and by media type (news, image, video, recipes, etc.)
  3. Use Google Keyword Planner to discover the search volume and PPC competition of each keyword, or even a more advanced paid keyword research tool like NinjaOutreach or Long Tail Pro.
  4. Use Google Instant to brainstorm new keywords ideas (as you type in a word or phrase into Google’s search engine, a list drop-downs to autocomplete your search query — use this list to brainstorm keywords).
  5. Use Soovle to brainstorm keywords from Wikipedia, Amazon (great if you do affiliate marketing), Yahoo!, and more.
  6. After searching Google for “your keyword” (keep the quotes), note the number of results listed (located beneath the search bar — this is the keyword competition).
  7. Install WordPress SEO by Yoast (by far the best SEO plugin).
  8. Use your keyword in the beginning of your post/page SEO headline (what shows up in Google), but ensure that you craft a click-generating, catchy title for your actual post headline (what readers see).
  9. Use relevant keyword in the alternate description of images you upload to the post.
  10. Name your image file like this before upload: your-keyword-here (with the dashes — it’s easier for Google to read and interpret as relevant that way).
  11. Ensure that all images are as small as possible, without compromising image quality. Use a jpg optimiser if necessary.
  12. Use your keyword and relevant phrases twice in H2s, H3s, and H4s throughout your blog post.
  13. Generally speaking, your keyword density shouldn’t exceed 1%, otherwise readability suffers.
  14. Your readers are always the most important part about a blog post, so never compromise writing quality for SEO benefit. In other words, write for readers and not for robots.
  15. Tag your blog post with appropriate keywords (between 3-5).
  16. Include your general keyword as the “Focus Keyword” for each post/page with WordPress SEO (right beneath your post editor).
  17. Use LSI (Latent Sematic Index) keywords — basically synonyms and relevant phrases that help define your focus keyword — in your blog posts.
  18. Mention your keyword once or twice in the meta description. At the same time, make those 156 characters of copy as catchy as possible. If Google sees a high click-through for your blog post in SERPs (search engine results pages) they are more likely to promote your rank, as readers obviously enjoy your content.
  19. A keyword in your subdomain or domain name is generally a good idea, but EMDs are usually a no-no. When in doubt, always go with your brand name.
  20. The URL of a blog post or website page should have the keyword in it, e.g. www.ventureharbour.com/101-seo-tips.

Content Marketing

  1. Know this: content marketing isn’t just a means to increase SERP rankings. Far from it — content marketing is all about building brand visibility online and generating traffic. While you’re executing a content campaign, though, you end up with quite a bit of SEO benefit on the side, which is why it ends up being an integral part of an SEO campaign; the two complement each other.
  2. Guest posting has always been a crucial element of successful content marketing.
  3. Don’t use anchor text too often for your guest post author link(s). Remember that guest posting is all about generating traffic, not about getting backlinks.
  4. Long-form content performs better in SERPs than short-form content. The average first-page result has over 2000 words of content (which is why we here at Venture Harbour like to produce monster, 2500+ word posts with a good number of tips). It also gets a lot more social shares due to higher perceived value.
  5. This really should go without saying, but unfortunately it doesn’t in this day and age of black-hat SEMs and SEOs. Your content needs to be good great so fantastic your readers check your blog every day/week, devouring each post you publish.
  6. Infographics are awesome — they do amazing things for content marketing campaigns. They get a boatload of shares, attract lots of comments, and generate numerous backlinks when you allow users to share your infographic on their blog (with attribution to you for original publication, plus a link). In short, they can help you reach that elusive status of “viral”.
  7. Increasing your content quality in turn decreases bounce rate and increases average visit duration (more on those later), which Google takes as a positive signal.
  8. Read blogs related to your industry, then steal their ideas. No, not their content, their ideas (and no, that’s not illegal). Leo Widrich (co-founder of the popular social tool Buffer) did it when he launched a huge guest posting campaign.
  9. Increasing your blogging frequency increases your organic (and overall) traffic.
  10. The more comments you have, the better (tells Google that people are interacting and engaged with your site).
  11. Build your content marketing around a specific niche in your industry — it’s easier to build brand authority when you specialise. That’s why Venture Harbour focuses on providing marketing services to entertainment websites.
  12. Creative & original may not always the best way to go with your content ideas. Why not? People might not be searching for the content, as it might not be satisfying a knowledge demand. Consequently, organic traffic for that piece of content will be virtually nonexistent.
  13. Develop a personality for your content. An identifiable one that stamps your brand’s mark across all the content you produce.
  14. Don’t try to please everyone, because it’s impossible. If you try, you’ll come across like an unopinioned coward (sorry if the word “coward” doesn’t sit well with you, but I can’t please everybody!).

Social Signals & User Engagement

Social-Signals
  1. Social Crawlytics allows you to analyse your competitor’s most shared blog posts. Use this to get an idea of the type of content you should be creating that has the potential to go viral (and hence will bring you numerous social shares).
  2. Tell your audience to share your blog posts at the end of every one. Social sharing just slips readers’ minds — by actually telling them to share, you at least raise awareness that they could share.
  3. If you’re using Jetpack’s default social sharing buttons. Get rid of them. Now.
  4. Instead, use something like Digg Digg or Flare, they look nice, grab users’ attention, and convert visitors into a social share. Or better yet, get a custom-coded plugin that fits your very own website and brand design.
  5. Create seriously awesome, long guides that are meant to be THE resource on a specific subject. These attract huge amounts of social shares, backlinks, and, needless to say, traffic. Something like Qualaroo’s guide to CRO.
  6. User engagement is a big thing, because it decreases your bounce rate, and increases your average visit duration, social share count and pageviews per visitor, website metrics that Google values highly.
  7. Format your text to make important stuff prominent, and thereby easier for users to read.
  8. Use bullet-points and numbered lists to make your content skimmable.
  9. Shorter paragraphs are really, really good (seriously — this isn’t high school English), because readers love them. When’s the last time you trudged through a 25-sentence monster paragraph? Me, neither.
  10. Page load speed is crucial — not only in Google’s eyes, but also for conversions. Which is why Venture Harbour wrote a detailed guide on the subject.
  11. Add a “popular posts” widget to your sidebar to increase pageviews and keep readers browsing your site.
  12. Establish a strong internal linking structure in your blog posts that sends readers over to related posts, extending their browser session.
  13. Create Squidoo, Hubpages, Weebly, and Tumblr pages on topics related to your brand. For example, if you are a kitchen door replacement company, write about DIY kitchen door replacement and provide a branded link at the end to your main website. It’s not so much for the traffic as it is for the branding, the backlink, and the ability to raise awareness in your niche.

Branding

  1. Your logo defines your online presence. Don’t go cheap with it (in other words, avoid Fiverr).
  2. Your website design doesn’t have to be unique, but it’s always better to go with a custom-made WordPress theme design. If you don’t have the budget for a web designer and choose to go with a standard theme, at the very least customize it.
  3. On your website, display a tagline. “Tagline: a phrase that lets your visitors know exactly what you’re about the minute they visit your site” (thank you Chris Ducker!).
  4. Brand your backlink anchor text. Example: Venture Harbour (branded link) vs. digital marketing agency (non-branded link).
  5. Your about page contributes to your brand personality in a huge way. Make it count.
  6. Build strong social profiles. Social profiles are as much branding as they are social media marketing.
  7. Develop a voice for your blog. Generally, it’s best to stay away from dry, boring, and formal.
  8. Become known for something in your industry. HubSpot is known for great webinars (amongst numerous other things), Bufferapp for in-depth blog posts, and KISSMetrics for A/B split testing.
  9. Press releases really do still work. It’s just that you have to be careful with them.

Backlinks

Backlinks-and-SEO-Linkbuilding
  1. PR = page rank, a metric ranging from 1-10 that calculates the quality of a blog by the quantity and quality of it’s backlinks. A backlink from a PR 7 website is more valuable than one from a PR 2.
  2. With linkbuilding, quality is always over quantity. 10 relevant backlinks from high-PR blogs > 1000 backlinks from random article directory submissions.
  3. Don’t overoptimise anchor text. Try branded hyperlinks or more generic keywords, like “read more, click here”, etc.
  4. Links from .gov and .edu domains are much more authoritative and beneficial than backlinks from a .com, .net, etc. Accordingly, it’s very difficult to get a link from a .gov or .edu.
  5. Content syndication is a potential powerhouse for backlinks — but it hasn’t been properly explored/tested yet.
  6. High-PR audio sharing sites like BandCamp and Reverbination are simple ways to get backlinks.
  7. Building your own blog network is a (very) expensive, somewhat grey-hat tactic, but it evidently works.
  8. The Yahoo! Directory, albeit expensive, provides you with a very high-quality, contextual link.
  9. Submit your site to Technorati (PR 8) for a backlink.
  10. Submit your site to AllTop (PR 7) for another backlink. A few minutes of work for two incredibly high-quality links from authoritative sites.
  11. E-mail webmasters who have broken links on their website and offer to allow them to replace the link with a live one to your website.  Not all of them will respond, and even fewer will actually do what you ask, but it has worked for some in the past.
  12. Any link in your Google Plus profile “Introduction” section is dofollow. With enough engagement and interaction on your profile, you can get your profile page to a high PR. Thanks for the tip, Brian Dean!
  13. A YouTube profile also gets one dofollow backlink (NOTE: video description links are nofollowed). Again, to make that link count you’ll have to build up engagement and traffic to your YouTube profile. But you’re already doing that because video marketing is such an awesome traffic strategy, right?
  14. Guest posting for linkbuilding is dead. In other words, it’s not as effective as it used to be (or, at least, it won’t be once Google figures out how to disavow an anchor-text optimised guest post link in author bios of guest posts).
  15. Your high-PR competitors obviously have linkbuilding strategies that work. Spy on them with the use of a few nifty SEO tools.
  16. Bloggers (and this goes especially for high-profile ones) link to other bloggers and webmasters that they know and trust. That’s another reason to make connecting with industry leaders in your niche a priority.
  17. If you buy a product/service and if you’re happy with it, give the original creator a positive testimonial. Often, they’ll “reward” a testimonial with a link to a website. For some reason, that’s especially true if you’re in a marketing-related niche).
  18. One of the most important things about backlinks is diversification: get backlinks from a variety of referring IPs, domains, and addresses.
  19. While this hasn’t been proven or set-in-stone, many believe that the quality of the sites you link to is an indicator of the quality of your own site for Google.
  20. Keywords like “sponsor, advertiser” etc. around a backlink can convey negative connotations to search engine spiders.

General

  1. The older your domain is, the better.
  2. Remember that you won’t see search engine optimisation results on the second day. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that you should avoid tracking your progress until six months after your campaign. Rather, you should…
  3. …track, track, track your progress. If your SEO firm isn’t tracking your progress, then they probably aren’t worth hiring.
  4. You don’t need to submit each blog post URL to search engines. Pinging is a thing of the past — the algorithms have progressed beyond needing to be notified when a website updates with new content.
  5. Read these, and then re-read them.
  6. Watch these when in doubt.
  7. Duplicate content on your own website is a no-no (e.g. the same post published twice). Across different sites, duplicate content is NOT a problem, contrary to popular belief.
  8. If you must have duplicate content on your website for some reason (like a sidebar, for example) use rel=”canonical” to prevent spiders from indexing the content.
  9. Google Authorship increases click-throughs for your SERP listing, which leads to increased rankings.
  10. Ensure that the WordPress theme you use has the Schema.org markup enabled. It helps Google interpret your multimedia and JavaScript/Ajax-enabled content better.
  11. Before downloading and activating a WordPress theme (or getting someone to design your own), make sure that the code is properly optimised.
  12. Whatever media you upload should have alternative text in the following format: your-keyword-here.
  13. Google doesn’t look on a private WHOIS too kindly, so make your contact information as a webmaster public.
  14. Use a country code top level domain (ccTLD) when trying to rank for a particular place, e.g. wearelondonplumbers.co.uk.
  15. Setup Google Webmaster Tools.
  16. Create and upload a sitemap for your website.
  17. Constantly update your website and blog. Search engines like to display recent content to their users.
  18. Don’t make a URL for specific pages unnecessarily long. Not only is it harmful to SEO, but it makes for an unattractive link.
  19. Structure your website — draw up an architectural plan for it before you start the building process.
  20. If you’re going for local SEO, try to get a server close to the place you try to rank for.
  21. YouTube’s organic traffic increased notable after the Google Panda update (well, duh, Google owns it). So, make YouTube marketing a priority, provided that video content makes sense for your particular niche.
  22. Title your hyperlinks.
  23. More direct traffic = high quality website = higher rankings.
  24. Getting your visitors to come back a second, third, or fourth time signals to Google that your website is a useful resource for visitors.
  25. Avoid getting DMCA complaints on your website (especially important for entertainment/film streaming websites). It hurts your rankings.

Wrapping Up 101 SEO Tips

We just covered a lot of ground on SEO, so if you’re suffering from information overload right now (I know I was after researching this post!), take a breather. Bookmark and come back to it later and digest it in blocks. If you’re still hungry for more, here’s a great post by our friends at SingleGrain on effective SEO techniques.

But more than learning and remember these tips, make sure you implement these on your own website, starting today.

But hold on – mind leaving a comment and sharing this massively useful resource to your social profiles (it helps our SEO, y’know!)?

How to Improve Your Page Load Speed by 70.39% in 45 Minutes

Disclosure: We sometimes use affiliate links which means that, at zero cost to you, we may earn a commission if you buy something through our links.

In 2006, Amazon reported that for every 100 milliseconds they speed up their website, they see a 1% increase in revenue. Then Google announced, in an effort to improve the web, that page speed was a consideration in how they rank search results.

Hare and Tortoise

Since then, there’ve been no shortages of case studies showing the benefits of having a fast site. In this guide, I’ve tried to pull together everything that will enable you to improve your website’s loading speed. For a bit of fun, I also decided to test everything in this post on this site to see what impact it had.

First of all, how fast is fast enough? Optimising your page speed can be a hedonic process, kind of like running on a treadmill. There will forever be room for improvement, so when should we be satisfied?

One way is to use WhichLoadsFaster to compare your site’s loading speed against all of your major competitors. Aim to be the fastest of the bunch.

Another way is to use the following guidelines:

Below 1 second = perfect
1-3 seconds = above average
3-7 seconds = average
7+ seconds = very poor

These benchmarks are based on studies showing that 47% of people expect a web page to load in under two seconds, and 57% of visitors will abandon a page that takes 3 or more seconds to load.

So how did this site perform before I carried out everything in this post?

Page Speed Before

The Venture Harbour site wasn’t too bad with a page loading speed of 1.61 seconds, but clearly there was room for improvement. The home page was making 64 requests and was over 3mb, which is quite high, and largely caused by loading lots of JS files from plugins that weren’t even being used.

After spending 45 minutes implementing as many of the recommendations in this post as possible, I managed to reduce our page loading speed to 583ms, reducing the page size to one third and almost halving the number of HTTP requests. All of this was done without making any changes to the visual user experience.

Page speed after

So how can you speed up your site like this? Let’s start off with some of the things that have the biggest impact.

#1 Use a CDN (Content Delivery Network)

Hosting your media files on a content delivery network is one of the best ways to speed up your site, and can often save up to 60% bandwidth and halve the number of requests your website makes.

CDNs work by hosting your files across a large network of servers around the World. When a user visits your site from Thailand, they are downloading files from the server that is closest to them. Because the bandwidth is spread across so many different servers, it reduces the load on any single server and also protects your sites from DDoS attacks and traffic spikes.

We’ve tested a few CDNs at Venture Harbour, including MaxCDN, Cloudwatch, Static DNA and Cloudflare. Out of the bunch, Cloudflare is our favourite (and is free to get started with).

#2 Use WP Engine

While researching our guide to the best web hosting, I setup response time monitoring for a range of different web hosting companies. I simply opened an account, uploaded a blank WordPress site with an identical theme, and then used a server monitoring tool to test the response time every five minutes.

9/10 of the web hosts I tested had a response time of 600ms – 1300ms. WP Engine‘s server response time was 293ms. Yes, it’s not the cheapest web hosting solution (they start at $29/month), but it’s one of the few hosting companies that really justifies its price. In fact, if I could go back 5 years and do one thing differently it would be to start using WP Engine earlier, as it’s not just made our sites significantly faster, but the security and workflow improvements have also saved us so many headaches.

Changing web hosts may not be something you can do in under 45 minutes, but it has the potential to have a bigger impact than all of the ‘tweaks’ below combined. My advice? If you’re using a mediocre or low quality web hosting company, stop reading, get started with a host like WP Engine, and come back later if you still have page speed issues.

#3 Use a caching plugin

If you’re using WordPress, one of the quickest and easiest ways to cut your page loading speed is to install a caching plugin like WP Total Cache or WP Super Cache. Of course, if you are using WP Engine, you can skip this point as they have caching built-in.

Both of the plugins mentioned above are free to download and very good. Despite their name, caching plugins do quite a lot beyond browser caching, although that is their primary function. I’ll discuss the benefits and how to add browser caching in a second without a plugin, but for those using WordPress and looking to improve page speed quickly, it’s often easier to just install a plugin.

#4 Add Expires headers to leverage browser caching

If you’re not using WordPress, or you would rather not install another plugin to add Expires Headers and browser caching, here’s how to implement it manually.

Expires headers tell the browser whether to request a specific file from the webserver or whether to get a version of a page from the browser’s cache. Of course, this only applies if a user already has a version of your web page stored in their cache, so it will only speed up your site for users who have already visited your website.

Expires headers speed up your site in two ways. First of all, they reduce the need for users to download the same files from your webserver twice. Secondly, it reduces the number of HTTP requests that need to be made, further speeding up the time it takes for the page to load.

Adding Expires Headers is extremely easy. You just need to follow the instructions here to add a bit of code into your .htaccess file.

#5 Use a good theme (if using WordPress)

Prevention is usually a better strategy than cure. To prevent lots of page speed issues in the first place, you should opt for a good host, a good CDN, and good theme / design.

As a digital marketer, it’s frustrating when web designers build sites that look beautiful but perform terribly from an SEO perspective or a speed perspective. I remember once having to deliver news to a client who spent one quarter of a million pounds on a new website, only to have it scrapped because it would have obliterated their digital marketing efforts. This is the most extreme example I’ve ever experienced, but it’s etched a scar that I’ll always remember.

Today, the problem is neither better nor worse than it was five years ago. Back when I started doing SEO, designers still used flash and other primitive technologies to build sites. Today, designers built WordPress themes with so many bells and whistles that it’s no wonder they take 10 seconds to load.

I recently put together this huge list of responsive WordPress themes that have been designed by theme designers that have taken speed into account. When choosing a theme, if in doubt, go minimal.

#6 Compress your images with WP Smush.it

If you’re using WordPress, install the WP Smush.it plugin to automatically compress your images. This will reduce the size of your images without losing any visual quality. The great thing about this plugin is that it works in the background every time you upload a new image. You can also run it retrospectively on all of the images uploaded to your media library.

#7 Clean up your database

One of the pitfalls with WordPress is that your database can get very messy very quickly due to saved drafts, post revisions, deactivated plugins etc. WP Optimize is a fantastic plugin that routinely deletes all of the stuff you don’t need that’s cluttering up your database.

After running this on the Venture Harbour database I managed to reduce the database from 5mb to 3mb, which helps speed up the time it takes for the browser to collect and return files from the database.

#8 Compress your website with gzip

Gzip is a simple method for compressing your website’s files to save bandwidth and speed up page load times. Gzip works by compressing your files into a zip file, which is faster for the user’s browser to load. The user’s browser then unzips the file and shows the content. This method of transmitting content from the server to the browser is far more efficient, and saves a lot of time.

You can enable Gzip by simply adding the following code into your .htaccess file:

# compress text, html, javascript, css, xml:
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/plain
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/html
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/css
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xhtml+xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/rss+xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/javascript
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-javascript

# Or, compress certain file types by extension:

SetOutputFilter DEFLATE

To check whether Gzip is enabled or working properly on your site, you can use Gziptest.com.

#9 Fix all broken links

Broken links are not only a drain on bandwidth, but they’re also one of the surest ways to get a user to leave your site. One of our clients recently had several hundred 404 errors showing in Google Webmaster Tools. After fixing all of these, the average pages visited per user increased from 1.4 to 1.85 pages/visit, and there was a noticeable decrease in bounce rate.

Screaming Frog broken links

If page speed isn’t compelling enough a reason to fix your broken links, hopefully the impact on these behavioral metrics is.

To identify your broken links, I’d recommend using the following (free) tools:

The reason why I recommend using all three, is because some will go deeper than others and identify crawl errors that others don’t. Once you’ve reached 0 broken links on all three tools, your job is done!

#10 Reducing Your redirects

While 301 (permanent) redirects are preferable to 404 errors (broken links), they’re still not ideal as they slow down the time it takes for the browser to reach the correct version of a page.

Screaming Frog is once again a great tool for spotting 301 redirects. If you’re using a PC, you can also use Xenu Link Sleuth, which is a great tool for crawling data from websites.

#11 Minify your CSS and JS files

When you look at what’s causing your pages to load slowly, chances are that it’s got something to do with lots of clunky Javascript files or CSS being loaded inefficiently. One of the pitfalls of WordPress and other content management systems is that a new JS or CSS file is added virtually every time you install a new plugin.

There are several ways to minify your files. The first way involves squishing all of your files into one – so instead of calling ten individual javascript files, you simply place all of your javascript in one file.

The second aspect on minifying involves deleting white space and making your files smaller. If you’re using WordPress, WP Minify is a great plugin that automatically does all of this for you.

#12 Replace PHP with static HTML where possible

PHP is great for making your site efficient and reducing the need to enter the same information multiple times. However, calling information through PHP uses up server resource and should be replaced with static HTML where it doesn’t save any time

#13 Link to your stylesheets, don’t use @import

Similarly to the point above, @import uses up more resource than directly linking to your stylesheets despite achieving the exact same result. Another reason why not to use @import is that some of the older browsers do not support it, so it’s best to avoid it where possible.

#14 Turn off ping backs and trackbacks in WordPress

Pingbacks and trackbacks don’t really serve any practical use in WordPress, and yet they’re often enabled by default. I’d recommend turning both of these off as they do clog up your database and increase the number of requests that are made.

#15 Enable Keep-Alive

HTTP Keep Alive refers to the message that’s sent between the client machine and the web server asking for permission to download a file. Enabling Keep Alive allows the client machine to download multiple files without repeatedly asking permission, which helps to save bandwidth.

To enable Keep Alive, simply copy and paste the code below into your .htaccess file.

<ifModule mod_headers.c>
    Header set Connection keep-alive
</ifModule>

#16 Specify image dimensions

Before your browser can display your webpage it has to figure out how to lay out your content around your images. Without knowing the size of these images the browser work it out, causing it to work harder and take longer.

Image dimensions

Specifying your image dimensions saves the browser having to go through this step, which helps to speed things up.

#17 Specify a character set in HTTP headers

For the same reason as above, it’s useful to specify a character set in your HTTP response headers, so that the browser doesn’t have to spend extra time working out which character set you’re using.

You can do this by simply adding a UTF-8 character set tag in your website’s section.

#18 Put CSS at the top and JS at the bottom

It’s considered best practice to put your CSS as close to the top of your page as possible, as browsers won’t render your page before rendering the CSS file. Javascript, on the other hand, should be as close to the bottom as possible, since it prevents browsers from parsing after the tag before it is loaded and complete.

#19 Disable hotlinking of images

When other website’s ‘hot link’ to your images it steals bandwidth, slowing your site down. To prevent other sites from hogging your bandwidth, you can add this snippet of code to your .htaccess file. Remember to change the bit that says VentureHarbour.com!

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?ventureharbour.com [NC]
RewriteRule \.(jpg|jpeg|png|gif)$ – [NC,F,L]

#20 Switch off all plugins you don’t use

With WordPress sites, plugins are usually the biggest culprit for slowing the site down. If there are any plugins that you’re no longer using or aren’t essential, delete them.

#21 Minimize round trip times (RTTs)

Round trip time is the time taken for the client to send a request and the server to respond. It’s affected by a huge range of things, but is primarily impacted by the number of requests that are being sent. As shown in the Pingdom screenshots at the top of this post, I managed to almost halve the number of HTTP requests that were being made, which massively reduced the round-trip time.

To reduce the number of requests, use CSS sprites to call less images, minify and combine your JS and CSS files, and don’t call anything that you don’t need. One of my biggest gripes with WordPress is how plugins that are only needed on certain pages, such as Disqus, or Contact Form 7, tend to be called on every single page, which creates unnecessary requests. Reducing the number of unnecessary requests will reduce your RTTs.

#22 Use CSS Sprites

A sprite is one big image that contains all of your images. They look similar to those sticker sets you used to get with one hundred stickers on a single sheet. Using CSS you can ‘hide’ everything in the image except for a section between a set of co-ordinates.

SpriteMe

CSS sprites work because it’s faster to load one big image and use CSS to show the section you want than it is to load lots of smaller images. This is because the browser doesn’t need to make as many requests.

The fastest way to use CSS sprites is to use SpriteMe, which is a tool that enables you to easily turn all of your images into a CSS sprite.

Why page speed is more important now than ever before

With mobile Internet usage expected to take over desktop usage in 12 months time, it’s never been as important as it is right now to fix your site speed. Internet users are less tolerant of slow websites than they’ve ever been, and the shift towards Internet-enabled mobile devices means that if you’re not fast, you’re not going to be seen.

Image Credit: Len Matthews

The Ultimate Startup Marketing Strategy

Disclosure: We sometimes use affiliate links which means that, at zero cost to you, we may earn a commission if you buy something through our links.

Two fundamental truths exist when marketing a startup. One is that a great product alone is not enough to succeed. The other is that no amount of marketing will make a crap product gain a mass audience.

“Nothing kills a bad company faster than good marketing”

Successful startup marketing requires that you have both a great product and great marketing. For that reason, I’ve focused this guide on both customer acquisition and improving your product-market fit.

What’s in this guide?

I’ve split this guide into four parts. Feel free to skip to the section that you’re currently working on. If you have any specific questions, you can go straight to the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Chapter 1: The Foundations of Startup Marketing


For early-stage startups, feedback is more important than customers. The faster you can resolve customer objections, and improve the product to match market demand, the more likely you are to win over the long run.

In this chapter we’re going to look at seven essential aspects of laying the foundations for an aggressive marketing strategy.

  • Growth hacking – building marketing into your product
  • Conversion rate optimisation
  • Using Facebook ads to understand your audience
  • Customer feedback loops
  • The diffusion of innovation & targeting early adopters
  • Fine-tuning your messaging
  • Differentiation

#1 Viral Marketing & Growth Hacking: Building Marketing Into Your Product

“Marketing is for companies with sucky products”Fred Wilson, VC

I disagree with Fred Wilson’s quote, yet I can’t dispute that the most successful startup marketing strategies are those that embed marketing into their product.

Dropbox, Hotmail, Eventbrite, Mailbox, and Snapchat famously acquired millions of users with almost no money spent on marketing. Their secret? Building virality into their product.

A startup’s ability to go viral depends on two variables: time, and the ‘viral coefficient’ i.e. the number of new users each user generates.

Below is a graph to illustrate startup growth at different rates based on varying viral coefficients. Imagine that the Y-axis represents your number of user signups, and the X-axis represents time.

Viral coefficients

If your viral coefficient is 1.0 (each user generates one new user), you will achieve linear growth, assuming you retain your users. If you have a viral coefficient above 1.1, you will achieve exponential growth as illustrated by all of the lines above the lower green line.

How do you embed marketing into your product?
Every startup is unique, so I won’t discuss tactical methods in great detail. There are two broad strategies I’d recommend, though: The first is to build a product worth recommending. If every single user recommends two new users, you have exponential growth.

The easiest method of measuring a user’s likelihood to recommend your startup is by using the Net Promote Score, a simple test where you ask users “on a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend our product to a friend?” If the aggregate score is above 9.0, you will likely achieve exponential growth.

The second strategy is to align your ‘growth hack’ with the channel(s) that your ideal customers use to learn about your product. Brian Halligan from Hubspot put it best when he said:

“To be successful, you must match the way you market your products with the way your prospects learn about and shop for your products.” – Brian Halligan, Hubspot

In the context of growth hacking, it’s no good if your growth hack generates enormous exposure for your brand on Facebook – when 99% of your best-fit customers coming from reading B2B whitepapers. If that were the case, a better approach would be to produce user-generated content that could be used to scale producing high-quality whitepapers.

It may be less sexy than the growth hacking case studies covered by TechCrunch, but it’ll work.

#2 Conversion Rate Optimisation: Increase your signups with split-test experiments

Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is the science behind understanding why your visitors are not ‘converting’ into customers, and then improving your messaging or value proposition to increase this rate of conversions. Contrary to popular belief, it does not start with running A/B experiments; it starts with understanding your visitors and their objections.

How to identify customer objections:
The fastest way to understand why potential customers are not converting is to ask them. Below are several tools and techniques that I’d recommend.

  • Install Intercom – a great tool that allows you to talk in real time with website visitors.
  • Ask visitors to fill out a survey using Survey Monkey. Usually, you’ll need to incentivise this with some kind of giveaway.
  • Ask for feedback in a forum your customers participate on.
  • Commission some user tests from UserTesting.com.
  • Invite someone you know (a customer) to lunch / Skype.

Following this, hopefully you will have a good idea of what is preventing your visitors from converting. Now it’s time to make changes to your landing page to counter these objections.

The first thing I’d recommend is focusing on the areas with the most leverage. Focus on your headlines, call to actions, and lead capture forms. Use tools like Leadformly, which will give you a high-converting form without having to spend months split testing different variations.

The following model by WiderFunnel is also a fantastic starting point for understanding how to improve the likelihood of a conversion. Whenever I am presented with a CRO project, I like to consider how we could improve each point. For example, can we reduce the navigation to minimise distractions? Could we increase the urgency by having a countdown timer or a “Only X left” next to our call-to-actions? In 2012, I managed to quadruple a website’s conversion rate from 2.5% to 10% using these methods.

Lift conversion rate optimisation

Once you have your mockups designed, I recommend using Visual Website Optimizer to test them against your existing landing page. VWO has a great user interface, making it very easy to quickly test variations of your website without needing to make backend coding changes.

Visual Website Optimizer

Conversion rate optimisation is not something you do once. You should strive to constantly tweak and improve your landing pages to make incremental improvements.

At the same time, always remember the model below. Incremental tweaks will always hit a limit. There’s often far more opportunity in being bold and testing something very different.

Iteration vs. new versions

#3 Facebook Advertising: Finding your perfect audience using segmentation

Most people think of Facebook Ads as an acquisition channel for driving signups. The truth is that it’s also one of the best customer research tools we have available to us.

Let me explain. There is no limit to how finely you can segment a Facebook advert. If you wanted, you could run an identical adverts to 500 different demographic and psychographic audience segments. Using conversion tracking, you can see which demographics and psychographics then have the highest conversion rate on your service.

Here are a few examples. I work with many music startups, and I’ve found time and time again that guitarists are typically more likely to sign up to a music service than a drummer or a bassist. For one of our clients, FanDistro, we found that 23 year old Canadians are approximately 3x more likely to convert than 21 year olds. We know that musicians in New Zealand are more likely to convert than Australians.

Facebook Ads are, in my opinion, the best way to quickly and affordably verify who your audience are, and what your cost-per-acquisition is for different demographic groups.

#4 Installing a Customer Feedback Loop

It’s worth reiterating that the most important asset for most startups is to be told what needs improving, and have an agile system for making those improvements. Anyone who’s read Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup will understand this as the ‘Iteration Cycle’.

The iteration cycle

A simple ‘give us feedback’ form is not enough. Most people will not go out of their way to give you feedback. Use incentives, meet your users, and study user behavior data to understand where people fall off in your funnel, and more importantly – why?

#5 Diffusion of Innovation: Targeting Early Adopters

Many inexperienced marketers make the mistake of targeting the mass market too soon. The reason this rarely works is because the majority of people resist change, and are not receptive to products / services that are not already recommended by early adopters.

Law of diffusion

I learned this lesson through A/B testing. Two years ago, while running an experiment to see whether additional social proof increased signup rates, I found that by simply adding the number of likes and users already signed up next to the signup button, had a dramatic impact on increasing the website’s signup rate.

If you want to own the majority market share, your initial launch strategy and messaging must appeal to innovators and early adopters. Once you have a number of case studies, testimonials, and respected innovators singing your praises, then it’s time to approach the majority. The laggards will follow.

#6 Why, What, How: Fine-Tuning Your Messaging for Conversion

If you haven’t read Simon Sinek’s book ‘Start With Why’, I’d strongly recommend putting it on order.

The gist of the book is that, if you want to inspire someone to take action, you must begin by explaining why you do what you do. Not what or how.

Apple is a great example of a company that sells “why”. Apple challenges the status quo with everything they do – MacBooks, iTunes and iPads are just how they do that. Dell don’t have a why – they just sell reasonably good computers. While Apple talk about pushing humanity forward and challenging the status quo, Dell talk about the size of their processors and RAM. Is it any wonder why people queue for hours to get the latest product, while Dell receive nowhere near the level of advocacy, despite their products being very similar.

In the example below, Leadformly’s headline is ‘Capture & convert up to 300% more leads’. This doesn’t tell visitors anything about what or how the product works, but it gives a compelling ‘why’, followed by a subheading that explains what the product is and how it works.

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 09.47.10

Does your messaging communicate why your startup exists? Do you know your why? If not, this is an important step that I would not advise skipping over.

#7 Differentiation in your marketing

Various studies predict we see between 1,000 – 5,000 advertisements per day depending on where we live. How do you compete and stand out with your marketing in such a saturated space?

The answer is by being the shepherd, not a sheep.

Our brain categorises similar pieces of information together, a process known as Gestalt. Because of this, the more of a similar thing we see, the less impact each additional thing has. When Lady Gaga wore a dress made of meat it made headlines all over the World. When others copied her quirkiness, hardly anyone talked. This pattern has repeated itself millions of times over.

This is not about first-mover advantage; this is about observing what everyone else is, and being the opposite. Apply this from the most macro aspect of your strategy down to the micro, and you’ll be amazed at how significant this is.

Now that we’ve covered off the foundations of messaging and preparing your product for a successful marketing strategy, let’s move on to customer acquisition. I’ve split the section on customer acquisition into three chapters, paid media, earned media, and owned media.

Chapter 2: Paid Media Marketing for Startups


There’s a school of thought that says startups should spend as little as possible on marketing. I disagree. I believe that marketing should focus on positive ROI (return on investment). If a paid media channel can profitably drive qualified users for your startup, it’d be foolish to refuse it on the basis that it’s paid for. Another reason for using paid media is to establish a cost-per-acquisition, as this will act as a benchmark to compare all other marketing activity.

Paid media channels fall into three broad categories: display, search, and affiliate marketing. Below are some of the main online channels I’d recommend looking into, along with some tips on each.

#8 Facebook Advertising

We’ve already discussed Facebook Ads from a research perspective, but let’s consider it now as a channel for acquiring users.

While it’s possible to write a guide of this length on Facebook Ads alone, I’ll quickly summarise some of my recommendations based on a considerable amount of Facebook Ad campaigns that I’ve worked on.

  • Use page promoted posts targeting people in the news feed. These ads have the highest click-through and engagement rates.
  • Test as many advert variations as possible. The weirder, brighter, and more unique your ad is, the better. When everyone else zigs, zag.
  • Don’t create ads using the Facebook Ad Manager (it’s awful). Either use the power editor, or a dedicated tool like Qwaya. This will make segmentation much easier.
  • Use conversion tracking – by installing the conversion pixel you enable oCPM for conversion bidding. This basically means that Facebook will algorithmically optimise your budget for more conversions.
  • Use fine segmentation – If you use Qwaya, you can split your ad campaign into tens or hundreds of individual ads each targeting a specific segment of your audience. This enables you to quickly see which ad segments perform well and which don’t, so you can move your budget to the segments that are most profitable.

I’ve written about Facebook Ads in more depth here.

#9 Google Adwords (Search)

If your product solves an issue that people search for, there’s a high likelihood that Google AdWords will be a great acquisition channel for you. For example, if your startup helps people find the cheapest gig tickets, you may want to bid on terms like ‘cheap gig ticket’, ‘London gig tickets’, and ‘Gaslight Anthem London Roundhouse tickets’.

Google Adwords

#10 Google Adwords (Display)

Similarly to above, Google enable you to purchase banner adverts through their display network. You can specify which websites your banner ad appears on, or bid to appear on websites related to certain keywords.

Display network

An example of Nikon using Google Display Network to run adverts on Billboard.com.

#11 Reddit Advertising

Reddit is often overlooked as a paid marketing channel. I have to admit, the results I’ve had in the past are extremely varied, but it’s very cheap and always worth testing.

Reddit advertising works by running ads at the top of any subreddit of your choice. For example, for a music client, we may advertise in the subreddits ‘WeAretheMusicMakers’, ‘Music’, and ‘Guitar’. Each subreddit has a very distinct community, so it pays to get involved in each one for a bit of time first before running ads.

One specific reason why I’m a fan of Reddit Advertising is because Reddit seems to attract the early adopter types. It’s a great place for getting honest feedback and targeting people who are likely to be receptive regardless of what stage your product’s at.

#12 Google Remarketing

Google Remarketing goes one step beyond the standard display advertising mentioned above. Essentially, when someone visits your website a cookie is dropped on their computer. When they visit other websites, an ad will appear encouraging them to come back to your website.

You can get very smart with this by running different remarketing ads for different stages of your signup funnel. For example, if they visited the signup page but didn’t complete the form, you could run an ad with an incentive to finish signing up.

Remarketing

Google Remarketing is generally very effective as the people you’re advertising to are qualified and already aware of your product. The trick is to get the frequency right and not be overly annoying!

#13 Facebook Exchange

Facebook Exchange works in a very similar to Google Remarketing, but using Facebook Ads instead. In other words, someone visits your website and bounces. When they go to Facebook they’ll find your ads encouraging them to come back.

To use Facebook Exchange you’ll need to use one of their partners. I’ve tested a handful of them and recommend AdRoll.

#14 StumbleUpon Advertising

While the quality of visitors from StumbleUpon is generally quite low, the cost per click is exceptionally low also, enabling you to buy a large amount of traffic for a low cost.

I’ve yet to see astounding results from StumbleUpon ads, except for travel related content. StumbleUpon is very visual social network where inspirational and stimulating content seems to spread virally. If you’re a luxury travel operator, this is a gold mine. If you a SAAS company promoting an app, it may be a little bit trickier.

#15 Twitter Advertising

Twitter Ads can be very effective, but the reason I haven’t recommended them sooner is due to the budget limitations. Currently, the minimum budget for a Twitter Ad campaign is £5,000/month, which is outside of most startup’s budget. If you do have this sort of budget to invest, then Twitter Ads do tend to be pretty effective when done right.

My advice would be to promote an amazing piece of content rather than directly promoting your services. View Twitter as a 1:many platform where, if you run your ads correctly, you can launch your content to a large audience who will introduce your content to an even larger audience.

If your campaign dies after being promoted to the initial audience, start again.

#16 Content Discovery Platforms

There are a number of content discovery platforms that promote your content alongside articles on major news sites such as the New York Times and The Guardian.

I’ve tested a handful of these, including Outbrain, Zemanta, nRelate and Taboola. For driving backlinks and launching content they’re a powerful tool, although they can get quite expensive depending on the quality of your content.

Outbrain

#17 LinkedIn Advertising

While my personal experiences with LinkedIn advertising has not been particularly positive, I know of a few startups (particularly in the financial services industry) that have achieved great results by running targeted ads to people by their job title and sector.

In my opinion, the problem with LinkedIn Ads is banner blindness. The adverts don’t stand out, and appear in the same spot on every page, causing users to become ‘blind’ to them.

#18 Video Pre-Roll Advertising

If your startup has produced a compelling promo video, pre-roll advertising could be a powerful paid marketing channel for you. Using TubeMogul, you can pay for your video to appear as an advert before video content on major video networks, such as 4od, and YouTube.

One interesting ‘trick’ with pre-roll advertising is that you do not pay if your ad is skipped within the first five seconds (which most people do skip). The trick, then, is to go down one of two routes. The first route is to get the message out about your service within the first five seconds of the video hoping that people skip so that you can expose your message to a huge number of people without paying too much.

The second option is to make the first five seconds ambiguous and weird enough to intrigue people to watch the rest of the video. Here’s the best example I’ve seen of this tactic being put into practice.

#19 Affiliate marketing

If your startup benefits from offering a high margin product and has a good conversion rate, then you may benefit from offering an affiliate programme through a network such as Affiliate Window or ClickBank.

I wouldn’t advise diving into affiliate marketing until you’ve already established your brand and found other marketing channels. Consider it more of an accelerant rather than a base fuel for your online marketing strategy.

Chapter 3:Earned Media Marketing for Startups


Earned media can be thought of as any form of publicity generated by your advocates (customers, fans, partners). In my opinion, earned media is the most valuable, cost-effective, credible, and sustainable form of online marketing. It’s also the hardest to create and measure.

The reason earned media is so effective is because people trust their friend’s recommendations. Conversely, our trust in virtually all other forms of paid & owned media advertising is declining.

Trust in advertising

So how can you leverage this shift in trust to drive more sales / signups?

#20 Do Something Remarkable

The secret sauce of the PR industry is that remarkable things get remarked upon. If you want to earn word of mouth and have the press, your customers, and whoever else talking about your startup, you must give them something remarkable.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to build a full-scale dragon skeleton on a beach in Dorset, or fly jetpacks around New York City, but if you want to cause a ripple, you’ll need to do something beyond the norm. Perhaps your startup is remarkable in itself?

As much as I’d love to say “do X”, there is no simple answer here, because quite often it’s the things that haven’t been done before that are work the best. My best advice is to read Edward De Bono’s book on Lateral Thinking (he pioneered the word ‘lateral thinking’), get some post-it notes and blast out as many ideas as you can conjure up. Then go for the idea that’s most promising.

#21 Build Exceptional Resources

I struggle to go a week without mentioning Moz.com’s weather report tool. It’s an incredibly useful resource for the SEO industry and generates enormous amounts of publicity for Moz.

Moz weather report

Sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the wheel – you just need to ask yourself “what would our customers find useful?” and build something exceptional.

#22 Meet Your Influencers

How valuable would it be to your startup if you met Robert Scoble, Jack Dorsey, or some TechCrunch journalist? A large aspect of your success in PR and marketing does revolve around who you know, so it’s important to learn what affects the size and quality of your personal network.

Meeting anyone starts with being in the same space as them, either geographically or virtually. Last January I was speaking at Midem, a music conference in the South of France. While over there I met Robert Scoble, Mark Hoppus from Blink 182, and a number of interesting people who’ve become invaluable contacts. I don’t say this to boast, but to make the point that it was incredibly predictable and well publicised that these people would be at Midem on the specified dates – all I had to do was show up. The hardest part in meeting the people you need to meet is booking the ticket and showing up.

“80% of success is showing up” – Woody Allen

#23 Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Over 500 million people search in Google every day. Regardless of what some startup celebrities may proclaim, SEO is not something you should ignore.

The strength of search marketing is that, if you have a product that people are looking for, your site can appear at the perfect moment – when they’re searching for it.

This differs to Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube advertising, where you’re relying on distraction to pull people away from what they were doing to visit your website. With Google, you’re helping them find what they were looking for in the first place.

Organic search marketing is a broad field in itself, so I won’t go into much depth at all here. However, I will impart a few pieces of advice from my experience working at an SEO agency for several years, and overseeing hundreds of campaigns.

  • Don’t think you’re saving money by hiring a cheap SEO. Rankings go both ways, and if you get someone crap, they’ll cost you a lot more than you think. Be prepared to pay a decent price for good SEO services.
  • Focus on what’s best for the users – when in doubt, ask yourself “is this best for our users?” – if the answer is yes, there’s a very good chance that it’s also best for search engines.
  • Nothing is guaranteed. Anyone who guarantees results is most likely selling snake oil.
  • It takes time. I advise most of our clients not to expect any increase in SEO traffic for at least 3 months. Of course, sometimes we see increases in as little as a week, but SEO typically takes a long time to grow.

Chapter 4: Owned Media Marketing for Startups


Owned media relates to any marketing channel owned by your startup. In the online world, this refers to any websites and social media profiles that you operate.

There’s a great deal of crossover between owned and earned media, and I like to think of owned media being the ‘platform’ for increasing the success of your earned campaigns.

Imagine you created a great story on how your startup just broke a World Record. Without a platform to publish the story on, you’re best hope is to send out a press release and cross your fingers that at least one journalist will publish the story.

If you have a blog with a steady audience of 5,000 visitors per day, you can post your story to that audience, and rest assured that at the very least, 35,000 people will have been exposed to the story by next week. Hopefully, that initial audience will have ‘launched’ your story creating organic growth.

#24 Building a Blog That Converts

Building a blog that converts is hard. Most companies fail because they blog about what they want their customers to read, rather than writing about what their customers want to read.

There are a small number of companies who understand this. Buffer, for example, are a company that offer social media automation software. Instead of going on about their services, their blog contains insights on everything from happiness to writing tips. They write what their customers want to read.

My advice when building a blog is this: if you want to create a truly successful blog, you must be willing to commit at least 100 great articles. After you’ve written 100 articles you’ll not only have a good understanding of what works, but each article will be driving a little bit of traffic, a few links, and a few signups each day. From there, the results will compound.

If you’re ready to kick start your blog, check out our study on the best web hosting companies to get started with.

#25 Email Marketing

Five years ago, email marketing was about building your mailing list and sending newsletters or autoresponder campaigns out.

Those days are long gone. Traditional email marketing is rapidly being replaced by marketing automation, which is software that gives you the ability to trigger personalised messages based on different rules. For example, if someone signs up for a free trial but doesn’t actually use a certain feature within a certain amount of time, you can trigger an automated email inviting them to check it out.

Marketing is ultimately a pursuit to send the right message to the right people at the right time. Marketing automation is about as close as we can get to scaling this.

There are lots of great email marketing tools that now offer marketing automation. I personally love ActiveCampaign, which has one of the best interfaces for building marketing automation campaigns that I’ve seen.

ActiveCampaign

The next step is to know what makes a good email. This isn’t just about writing clickable subject lines and crafting beautiful HTML templates, it’s about understanding what your audience wants to receive in their inbox. I can’t tell you the answer here, but I urge that you consider “would I want to receive this email?”

Be sure to experiment with different frequencies of emailing, days of the week, and types. Comparing the open and click through rates over time is the only sure way to know what works and what doesn’t.

#26 Video: Leveraging the second largest search engine in the World

We rarely think of YouTube as a search engine, but with over 50,000,000 searches made on YouTube every day, that’s effectively what it is. Using YouTube Traffic Estimator, we can see exactly how many searches are made for different queries every month.

Let’s say your startup offers time management solutions. A quick search on YouTube for videos on productivity reveals that many 3-minute videos have over 50,000 views – some have over 1,000,000.

YouTube Productivity Videos

The benefit of incorporating video into your search strategy is that YouTube, and other video hosting sites, are considerably less competitive than Google. Interestingly, Google are also featuring more and more videos in their universal search results, making it a powerful method of ranking in Google in itself.

video search results

#27 Content Marketing: Infographics, Videos, Case Studies, White Papers, and more

When it comes to digital marketing, I like to think about what will work in two years time. I don’t believe content marketing will be the future, but I do think that content-based online PR will be.

I think the overlap between creating exceptional content and relationship-based PR will be what the best digital marketers will focus on a few years from now.

I won’t focus on the relationship-based part here, as I’ve already covered that in some depth in the section on meeting influencers. Let’s instead focus on what makes content exceptional.

The first step in producing exceptional content is to define exceptional. For example, in the music industry I know that infographics, on average, out-perform every other format of content by roughly 198% (number of backlinks & social shares). I know that content relating to piracy, royalties, and music industry challenges is more likely to be shared than content relating to artist news or the live industry. I know this because I measure what works extensively.

Content marketing in the music industry

You too should know, with confidence, what works in your niche.

On producing content of exceptional quality, my rule of thumb is to spend more than 40 hours producing it. Anything that takes less time is easily probably easy to replicate. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create it, it just means it probably won’t generate amazing results.

Don’t start your content strategy with what can we create? Start with what would be amazing? You’ll find a way to create it.

For specific tips on content marketing, I wrote a post for Moz offering 97 tips on content marketing.

#28 Building a Presence on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and other social networks

Like email marketing, social networks provide a great opportunity to launch content and drive potential customers to your service, but there’s far more to it than broadcasting your agenda. Social networks provide a great opportunity to gather feedback, build relationships, and add credibility to your service.

While a guide on social media is far beyond the scope of this guide, here are a few important points to consider in your social strategy.

Know why you’re using it
Because of the ever increasing number of social networks, and the endless possibilities of what you can do within social media, it’s important to know why you’re using social media from the outset.

You can have multiple reasons. Quantity is not the issue, clarity is.

Ultimately, retweets, likes, +1s and shares are meaningless. Your core business goals are what matter: user signups, retention, revenue, customer lifetime value, user satisfaction etc. Social media becomes valuable when you connect the two together. When you use Twitter to leverage PR opportunities, Facebook to increase the quantity of monetisable eyeballs, or Google+ to increase search rankings, that’s when social media has a tangible value.

Know what works
I spend a lot of time in the entertainment industry understanding what content is the most shareable. While it’s good to confirm these things with data, often it just takes a few hours of research to understand what people talk about in your niche. So many companies publish crap that no one in their right mind would have a conversation about – don’t fall into that trap. Start by knowing what sparks conversations in your niche.

Lead with content
We manage a decent number of social media strategies at Venture Harbour, and if I can sum up what differentiates the clients who are successful using social media from those who are less so, it’s having a content-centric strategy.

What I mean by this is that by having a regular stream of interesting content being created and shared within your social networks, the amount and depth of engagement seems to naturally grow and compound. It stops you from using social media for the sake of using social media, and instead focus on using it as a means to a more valuable end.

Conclusion

I’d like to wrap this guide up by making the paradoxical point that nothing in this guide is exclusively correct. It’s just one perspective. In many cases, the opposite of what I’ve said is equally correct and I advise experimenting to reach your own conclusions on what works.

The reason I’ve been able to reach many of these conclusions is through eight years of testing assumptions day in and day out. But this is a fast-moving industry where nothing remains static, so we must challenge what we’re told and work out for ourselves how to effectively market our companies.

Finally, if you have any experiences or points you’d like to add, please use the comments below, which I’ll keep an eye on. If you have any questions I’d be happy to answer them there. If you’d like to keep things private, or are interested in working with us, feel free to get in touch.

Recovering from the Google Penguin Update

Disclosure: We sometimes use affiliate links which means that, at zero cost to you, we may earn a commission if you buy something through our links.

As we all know, Google like to spin their algorithmic Wheel of Fortune every once in a while to remind us that nobody is safe from the search engine wrath. In an effort to deliver the best possible search results to their users, Google’s team of experts often shake things up to stop people from gaming the system.

Businesses will want potential customers to find them when they’re searching for a service, but Google really wants to take them to the best resource.

Whether the two are the same thing – well that’s another debate entirely!

google penguin

Google Penguin was first seen in April of last year, making its way throughout the online landscape and punishing websites which have been indulging in ‘Black Hat’ SEO and trying to over-optimise. The real sting in Penguin’s tail was that it put paid to many modern SEO practices that had previously been used for the benefit of rankings – but are now providing a hindrance.

We could write a tome on how to recover from Penguin and what to do to avoid future penalties – but it all boils down to sensibility, ethical link building and a fair playing field.  Google released this algorithm update in an effort to counter spam and over-optimisation, giving websites with genuine quality a chance to succeed.

Avoid Excessive Link Building

Five years ago –  it was all about the number of links your website has.  Today – it’s about quality.

Avoid the excessive link building techniques such as mass directory submissions and social bookmarking.  These have been painted with the tar brush by Google and there are only a select few channels in each method that are still seen to have some authority.  Great websites attract links naturally, so focus on improving the content and calibre of your website rather than forcing links into it.

Avoid Keyword Stuffing

Mentioning ‘cheap power tools’ on every page of your hardware website won’t do the trick any more.  The Google Bot is intelligent and comprehensive, it will crawl your pages at lightning speed and pick up on your efforts to influence it.  Avoid building links with exact match anchor texts which mirror the terms you want to rank for and impress a ‘natural’ personality to your website.  Concentrate on delivering service and knowledge to your customers – not to Google.

Clean Up Your Back Link Profile

Google released the ‘Google Disavow Tool‘ to help websites recover from their Penguin update.  It gives you a second chance on your back link profile – instructing Google to ignore those links that you had built hurriedly and without thought in the past.  Work through your links and identify those which have little or no value.  Try to remove these and if you cannot, disavow them.

Embrace Social & Content

Digital marketing, SEO, search marketing – it’s all about social & content.  Google is moving toward these with increasingly larger strides, so it’s time for the rest of us to take notice too.  Concentrate on setting up quality Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ pages – linking them to your website and to your content.

Link them to quality content.  That doesn’t just mean writing helpful articles, but also other multimedia including videos, images, infographics and more.  This is what is going to attract those natural links that we’re always chasing so much.

WELL DONE PENGUIN

 

 

We hire for passion, positivity, and a desire to never stop learning