It’s no secret that we love WordPress. It consolidates best practices across the CMS (content management system) spectrum in an easy-to-use, open-source format. This open-source accessibility is important because it results in a massive community of developers coming together to continually improve and evolve functionality. The WordPress community is constantly introducing new features and innovations that can be leveraged without the need for lengthy or complex code. By enhancing WordPress with plugins (think of them as apps that extend the functionality of a website), making changes to your site pages, forms, and content can easily be done by members of the marketing team who would otherwise have to collaborate with a web developer.
One plugin that is quickly becoming ubiquitous for WordPress users is Yoast—a free plugin designed to help users master the art of SEO via a clear-cut scoring system . . . with no coding required! Inversely, WordPress remains versatile for web developers who do want to write custom code or build on existing plugins. At Applied Interactive (AI) we use a combination of free and licensed plugins that enable the content team to easily post and update content, freeing up the development squad to focus on the technical aspects of the site.
When we heard about WordCamp Boston—one of many regional, weekend conferences where WordPress enthusiasts can come together and swap tips on the best ways to leverage the platform—we knew it would be a can’t-miss event for our team.
We walked away from the presentations and panels featuring local experts feeling inspired and reinvigorated. Conferences like WordCamp are a great way to learn about the newest features and techniques, and a weekend away from the office really revved up our collective creative engines. The relaxed atmosphere in the Happiness Lounge was the perfect place to swap tips and ideas with other attendees, while the exhibition hall gave vendors the chance to dole out swag (like our sweet new WP sunglasses!) and advice.
— WP Engine (@wpengine) July 25, 2016
Starting to feel like you missed out on a great weekend? Well, the bad news is that you’re right. You did. But the good news is that we’ve pulled together our key takeaways from the weekend and we’re sharing them with you!
There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution when it comes to the tools we use.
The discussion during the Content and Writing Panel on Sunday reinforced our thoughts on many systems we had initially developed in-house. For example, when the panelists were asked to discuss their content calendars and they tools they use to manage internal workflows, they all had similar answers. One by one, the panelists described their processes,which incorporated workflow management tools like Trello or Gain, and content calendars like CoSchedule. Each explained how they built their system (some more detailed than others) a little differently, but the message was clear: There is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” system.
The best approach is to try new things, document your processes, and combine your best finds to create a toolbox that enhances your workflow. In our own experience, we’ve tried just about every tool, app, and plugin out there, and while we know we’ve developed a great system, we’re always keeping an eye out for areas where we can gain efficiency without sacrificing quality.
One of the major challenges we face as a small agency is to not only produce and publish awesome content, but to also find enough free time and bandwidth to create meaningful reports from the mountains of analytics that our content provides. Sorting through data can seem like a waste of time when there are exciting tasks to do like writing blogs and creating graphics. But make no mistake: Capturing, reviewing, and acting on your analytics can be the most important part of your overall marketing strategy! Google Analytics is widely considered the standard resource for collecting this data, and several attendees and speakers from the weekend suggested augmenting the analytics platform with an enhancement that Google calls Intelligence Events.
For agencies and marketing departments wearing many hats, Intelligence Events can simplify data collection by sending alerts for specific, noteworthy events like major drops or spikes in traffic. This can save hours every month in time spent combing through spreadsheets looking for outliers and interesting correlations. Intelligence Events offer both automatic and custom events, and reports can be generated on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Results can also be sorted with the Alert Importance filter, which allows you to customize the amount of data being reported based on the size of these pattern shifts.
SEO doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
For content marketers, SEO is a touchy subject. Everyone seems to have a story about a run-in with an overly zealous SEO “expert” who is convinced the path to success is paved with keyword-stuffed, barely-readable content. These harbingers of bad advice seek to attract the attention of search engines with little thought for the human beings that will end up reading (or not reading) the content. On the other hand, content designers and developers can become so focused on the customer experience that they ignore the basic nuts and bolts of optimization; they forget the fact that SEO is what lets readers discover that content in the first place.
Tom Shapiro, founder of Stratabeat, beautifully conveyed these concepts with his presentation by emphasizing the importance of balance. Shapiro explained that it’s about more than keywords, it’s about more than the basic blocking and tackling of SEO, and it’s about more than just traffic or ranking. The key to this balance is to approach content as a multiphase process that starts at the root with a solid marketing strategy, blossoms into compelling content, and is nurtured by SEO and promotion.
The talk also covered the history of Google, following each iteration of the search giant from its humble beginnings through updates like Penguin and Hummingbird. This trajectory leads to Google’s ultimate goal: search engines powered by artificial intelligence that can assess the intent behind a search query and then rank results based on the quality and relevance of those results. As this technology progresses, a strong marketing game plan and content that offers the reader value will be viewed as a critical component of SEO strategy.
Marketing is a conversation, not a soapbox.
An interesting example from this presentation was Stratabeat’s approach to SEO for tech superstar, Intel. Intel’s existing marketing materials dragged the reader through dense technical content with little to engage the reader; they made the claim that their product was technical and had no potential for content that reached out on a more compelling, human level. By helping Intel reshape their strategy, Stratabeat was able to draw in new customers by creating content that piqued curiosity and inspired readers to imagine not just the technical specs of a device, but the ways that it could enhance and improve their daily lives. This narrative approach revolutionized the way they communicated with their customers and expanded their audience beyond that core group of early adopters and tech junkies hungry for specs.
For the Applied Interactive team, this point hits close to home. Time and time again, we find ourselves meeting with clients that struggle with marketing niche industries, desperate for a way to attract new leads. Many express frustration, and believe there is no way to craft a compelling narrative that connects with visitors while conveying key strengths and company talking points. Intel’s example teaches us that content is meant to be read by humans—not just machines—and those humans have lives, interests, and emotions that are intrinsically linked with their professional goals.
Companies often find themselves caught up in marketing strategies that proudly display slogans, mission statements, and canned sales points. But is this the content that will attract your target audience? Will it grab their attention and inspire them to imagine how your product or service will affect them directly? One of the greatest challenges any marketer will face is to convince clients that marketing is about listening. Listening to the questions your customers ask, hearing out their goals and struggles, and then providing content that offers genuine value while answering their needs will resonate better than any tagline or spec ever will. Inviting your customers to participate in a conversation will result in deeper, more memorable connections than any sales pitch.
Upgrade your content to upgrade your results.
One way to accomplish these connections is via a Content Upgrade. These upgrades offer customers tempting, content-relevant takeaways like checklists or templates. This concept is certainly nothing new, and most of us experience it daily without even realizing it. The free product guide that pops up while you’re shopping on your favorite clothing store’s website? Content Upgrade. The helpful shopping list download offered alongside that cool new recipe you found on Pinterest? Content Upgrade. The blog about time management tips that tempts you with a printable calendar template? Content Upgrade!
These upgrades can be offered to readers in exchange for some information (usually an email address), or simply presented as a gift that strengthens your relationship and keeps your content on their minds long after they’ve left your site. This technique engenders trust and loyalty in your audience and adds new contacts to your email list, which we all know is one of the simplest—yet most effective—marketing tools out there.
While we’ve been offering upgrades to bolster our content for a long time, it was interesting to hear different approaches to “the ideal upgrade” in respect to length, format, and design. The general consensus leaned toward short, concise content with a strong value proposition and shied away from dry, long-form items like whitepapers and data-heavy reports. Want to see a great example of the content upgrade in action? Well it must be your lucky day, because we’ve added a content upgrade to this blog to help illustrate the point. Go ahead, try it out!
What comes first: content or SEO?
This is a question that is sure to spark debate among even the most seasoned marketing professionals. Unsurprisingly, the responses during the weekend’s panels offered a diverse collection of perspectives, but one stood out as a universal guideline: Design your content with a specific goal in mind. This may seem obvious, but in the heat of the moment, it can be easy to produce what seems like a great piece of content . . . that has no clear purpose. Is the goal of the piece to achieve a high search rank or compete with a rival company? Prioritize that SEO! Are you trying to build relationships with customers by answering common questions or sharing success stories? Focus on crafting a narrative that connects with your audience and doesn’t overwhelm them with repetitive use of your keywords.
A similar misstep that was discussed at WordCamp is the creation of content without consideration for how it will be promoted. Speakers suggested working backwards, starting by getting an idea of your target audience and determining what delivery methods and formats will appeal to them most directly. Do your readers want 1,500 words of in-depth analysis, or a basic infographic? Will they be viewing your content on a desktop computer, or a mobile device? Asking these questions can help steer you toward creating content that resonates with your audience and leaves them hungry for more.
Our approach to content design has been refined over the years and we feel we’ve struck a great balance between powerful SEO and engaging content by using a simple template we call the SEO Blueprint. Every content piece begins with an idea, and then basic SEO guidelines are established. Keywords, meta descriptions, titles, and a tentative outline is drafted to build an guide for our writers to follow; this ensures that they stay on the right path. They are then free to unleash their creativity and create stories that revolve around strong messaging and effective SEO techniques. After the copy is written, the Blueprint is revisited for any final adjustments it may need. This approach allows us to expedite the writing process while driving SEO in a natural way that never feels forced.
Our weekend at WordCamp was productive and inspiring and we all left buzzing with new ideas. We’ve developed many of our processes in-house, and it was thrilling to hear industry experts validate the decisions we’ve made along the way. We’re already looking forward to the next WordCamp event and all the fantastic ideas that will come along with it.