7+ Ways to Attract Searchers and Boost Your SEO Rankings


Optimizing your content for search engines means optimizing it for readers: Quality content wins in rankings as Google refines its algorithms to give searchers what they want.

While SEO tricks and shortcuts only serve to get your content penalized in the long run, that doesn’t mean that marketers should ignore how to use the underlying algorithms that cause quality content to be rewarded.

New findings about how Google incorporates user metrics to rank quality content can help you create content to achieve and measure specific key performance indicators. These KPIs help you place priority on the human perspective while still keeping Google’s methods in mind.

The good news is that since you’re practiced in creating content for readers first, you’ll find it easy to aim for these new KPIs to help rank your content even higher, reaching a wider audience with little additional effort.

Read on as I share which user metrics Google considers to determine rankings, and the steps you can take to optimize your quality content to reach the users who are searching for it.

How Google Judges Quality and What You Should Do About It

What user metrics influence rankings?

If you ask Google directly how user metrics influence rankings, you’re not likely to get a straight answer. But a little digging makes it clear.

Google’s employees, including its former search quality chief and another member of the search quality team, have stated publicly that user metrics influence rankings. Many of Google’s patents mention user behavior as a ranking factor. Google has a patent dedicated to modifying search result ranking based on implicit user feedback, which states:

User reactions to particular search results or search result lists may be gauged, so that results on which users often click will receive a higher ranking.

But don’t take Google’s word. Many experiments indicate that user metrics directly influence rankings (in one particularly convincing case, Moz’s Rand Fishkin mobilized his Twitter followers to temporarily boost the rank of a link).

From the available evidence, we can determine that Google evaluates and ranks your content based on three main user metrics:

  1. Click-through rate – ratio of the number of times a given search listing is clicked vs. the number of times it was displayed
  1. Dwell time – how long searchers spend on the clicked-through result before returning to their search results
  1. Pogo-sticking – how frequently users click search results in succession (presumably because the result they clicked on didn’t satisfy their search)

In addition, the evidence strongly suggests that good performance in terms of clicks and dwell time on an individual page also can impact the rankings of your site’s other pages.

What this means for content marketers

Now that you understand what user metrics Google uses to determine rankings, you can optimize your content to perform well for those metrics, allowing your organic rankings to rise.

Let’s look in more detail at how you can improve each of these metrics.

How to get more clicks

Follow this three-step process to review what’s working well and take steps to improve what you’re doing for better rankings, which will garner more clicks.

  1. Identify pages with a low click-through rate

Focus first on the pages that need the most help. You can quickly find pages with a low CTR by logging in to your Google Webmaster Tools account and navigating to the Search Analytics report. Choose to display Clicks, Impressions, CTR, and Position in your report.


A page’s CTR is influenced by its current search engine results ranking and other factors such as the type of query, (i.e., branded vs. non-branded queries). On average, you can expect at least 30% of clicks for a No. 1 position in search results, 15% for a No. 2 position, and 10% for a No. 3 position, according to the Chitika study.

Select all pages in No. 1 position and make a list of those with a less than 30% CTR.

  1. Improve titles and descriptions

Google search results display a snippet with a title, URL, and description. Focus on these factors to increase your clicks.

First, make sure your title tag and meta description meet the technical requirements or they’ll be cut off or displayed incorrectly. Google displays about 65 characters of your title tag, so make sure searched-for keywords are included in the title. Keep your description at 160 characters or less so it displays in its entirety.

Consider rewriting your headlines to be more clickable and conversion-oriented, instead of SEO-oriented. If your headlines are keyword-rich, bald statements of what the page contains, rewrite them to be more enticing for the searchers to click.

For example, the headline, Title Tags in Content Marketing | Content Marketing Institute, could be rewritten to: Everything You Need to Know about Using Title Tags in Content Marketing.

Increase Content Marketing Success With Helpful Headline Tips & Tools

Use the same principles in writing descriptions that capture searchers’ attention and incite their curiosity.

  1. Implement rich snippets when applicable

By default, Google only displays a title, URL, and description in the search results, unless rich snippets are implemented.

Rich snippets are a way to impart all kinds of detailed information to Google, including:

  • Products – price, availability, review ratings
  • Recipes – preparation time, nutrition facts, etc.
  • Reviews – product or business reviews
  • Events – date, time, location
  • Software applications – URL, review ratings, price

Google can opt to display that rich-snippet information within the search result itself.

Implementing rich snippets is as easy as adding a bit of code to mark up the data. You can use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to see how your snippets would appear in search results.

Increase dwell time

The second part to boosting your rankings with user metrics is to increase the amount of time searchers spend on your site and to prevent them from pogo-sticking to other results.

  1. Create compelling content

Of course, quality content is a top priority. Make sure the content lives up to the promise of your newly optimized title, and is compelling and useful for your readers.

What makes content compelling?

According to CMI research, compelling content must be unique, credible, and trustworthy in order to engage readers. Readers need to feel that they can trust the information you provide. Relying on data, analysis, and credible sources enhances your credibility with your audience. Content also should be written in a transparent, clear, and polished style.

How to Make Every Piece of Content SEO Friendly
  1. Optimize speed and usability

The most compelling content won’t increase your visitors’ dwell times if they don’t wait for it to load. Make sure your page-load speeds are optimized as much as possible. You can use Google’s PageSpeed Tools to help analyze your site and evaluate suggestions for improving your page-load speed.


Click to enlarge

In addition, factors like confusing navigation, distracting pop-ups, and intrusive ads cause many visitors to go back to the search results. Compelling content needs to be easy to use and share.

  1. Encourage visitors to explore your site

One logical way to increase dwell time is by encouraging further exploration of the site. You can link to related content within your site, and make sure your navigation is intuitive and logical.

Adding a “related articles” or “related products” section at the bottom of each page is a great way to keep readers engaged on your site, as is enabling a site search so readers look for other content they need themselves.

Also, be sure to periodically check your site for broken links and fix them quickly since this is a common frustration that can cause visitors to abandon your site.

6 Linking Techniques That Will Help Your Content Get Ranked, Found, and Read
  1. Make your 404 page useful

A blank 404 page puts a block in front of your visitors, giving them no option but to turn around and try another site.

You can’t prevent all errors, but you can certainly mitigate them by making your 404 page useful.

Using humor, for example, on your 404 page can help diffuse user frustration, as CMI does on its own 404 page:


Including a search box and links to popular content can keep visitors engaged on your site. Even if they don’t find the original page, similar content can capture their interest.


By enticing searchers to click on your page from Google search results and engaging them to stay on your site, you can boost your search-engine rankings, resulting in a positive feedback loop that results in more readers for your content.

SEO and content marketing are more related than many marketers think: You can optimize for search engines by optimizing for your readers – that’s what Google always aims to reward no matter what algorithm changes the future brings.

Big B2B and B2C Companies: Fix SEO and Content Marketing Strategies [Study]

Want to stay updated on the latest SEO trends, content marketing insight, and more? Sign up for the daily or weekly CMI blog.

Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via pixabay.com

The post 7+ Ways to Attract Searchers and Boost Your SEO Rankings appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

Content Marketing Institute

Content Marketing: Forget About the 5%


At the end of Karen McGrane’s keynote speech at Intelligent Content Conference 2016, she talked about getting to 95%. Specifically, she discussed how a responsive web design can get you to 95% of your goals … so don’t be in such a rush to get to adaptive or personalized content (the last 5%). If you reach the 95%, then (and only then) go for the last 5%.

Exactly a week later, I was keynoting an event for Business Marketing Association’s Milwaukee chapter. Before the keynote talk, I had a fantastic conversation with the executive digital team at a large B2B enterprise. The team was really trying to figure out how they were going to start personalizing their content for their customer base. At the same time, the group had no documented content marketing strategy, had multiple internal issues, was experiencing content quality issues, and knew the content they did produce wasn’t getting seen.

Basically, they were jumping over the 95% to get to the 5%.

The 5% doesn’t matter if the 95% is broken.

Let’s just jump to the end right now: Before you focus on the nice to have, focus on what’s important.

2016 Content Marketing Toolkit: 23 Checklists, Templates, and Guides

Poor decision-making in play

As we end the first quarter of the year, it’s time to get your team together to see how the year is progressing and to get your priorities straight.

Just over the past 60 days, I have seen the following cases (do any of these sound familiar?):

  • Implementing a marketing automation system, while the e-newsletter isn’t sent consistently to the subscriber base
  • Launching an initiative on Snapchat, while the in-person customer event was put on hold
  • Creating a new series of customer video tutorials, while the podcast has been left for dead
  • A company was ready to disband its blog after a year for nonperformance, but yet not in one of the 52 weeks did they ever consistently deliver blog posts.
  • A manager wanted to kill the e-newsletter because “nobody” reads email newsletters anymore, not recognizing that their e-newsletter was a pure sales pitch that made “wanting” it challenging.

We marketers always seem to look to the new, the exciting, the different instead of focusing on doing correctly what we we’ve already committed to.

You Are Publishing Too Much (and Failing)

Market moving to less

According to our CMI/MarketingProfs annual content marketing research, the average enterprise uses 13 to 15 tactics (e-newsletters, webinars, events, blogs, etc.) to communicate with their customers. Too many? Probably so.

The average enterprise uses 13 to 15 tactics to communicate with their customers via @cmicontent #research
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I had a wonderful conversation with a marketer at a large B2B manufacturing company last week. She was interested in how they can take one content asset (a white paper, for instance) and break that asset apart into 10 or 15 assets. Here was my response:

“Breaking up one piece of content into dozens may be a good use of your resources, as long as you plan up front for how and why you are doing this, and set up the process to minimize human involvement.

But here’s my question: Is the main asset (your white paper) amazing? Is it unlike anything else out there? Is it truly telling a different story? Because if it’s not, then you are breaking up one mediocre content asset and turning that into an additional 12 equally mediocre assets, which at the end of the day will not move the needle for you one bit.”

Don’t worry, I was nice about it, but what I said is true. You can be delivering content in every channel on the face of the earth to dozens of audiences, but if it’s not relevant, not compelling, not differentiated and not consistent, IT WILL NOT WORK.

If your content is not relevant, compelling, different, and consistent, it will not work via @joepulizzi
Click To Tweet

One Thing Is Killing Content Marketing and Everyone Is Ignoring It

For my money, I’d rather have one amazing e-newsletter, one amazing video series, one amazing in-person event, or one amazing blog rather than 100 content pieces that don’t inspire any kind of behavior change.

You know, there is something about focus. There’s something about being truly remarkable at one thing. The problem is that it requires you to choose. It requires you to stop doing all the little things and focus on what’s really important and what will really move the needle.

Take the rest of today and think about what you are doing with your content plans. Maybe by focusing on your new initiatives and not doubling down on doing a few things really well, you are robbing Peter to pay Paul. Maybe you should stop thinking about that personalization project and just make sure you’re continually telling a different story to a very specific audience. Maybe instead of creating another video series, you should make sure your content marketing strategy actually makes sense.

Maybe the 5% can wait.

Content Marketing Projects That Are Taking the World by Storm

Want to strengthen your 95%? Content Marketing World 2016 is a great opportunity to expand your knowledge and be inspired to focus on what matters for your brand. Register today and use code BLOG100 to save $ 100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post Content Marketing: Forget About the 5% appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

Content Marketing Institute

Future-Proof Your Content Rankings With These SEO Tips


Here’s some cold, hard truth about content marketing: No matter how good you get at your job, you need to continually upgrade your skills and processes.

Consider the case of search engine optimization. The SEO techniques that we’ve come to know and respect primarily revolve around the almighty algorithm: The search engine’s quality team (at Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) determines what criteria it will include in its ranking system, then builds a mathematical formula that evaluates, retrieves, and displays the content that satisfies its terms.

Today’s algorithms do a pretty good job of using input like keywords, content quality, and uniqueness to rank content by its relevance. But what if those formulas could learn from the actions taken on previous searches, predict the intent behind a query, and apply this new contextual information to provide a more meaningful search experience – without Google’s search team reconfiguring its code?

It may sound more like science fiction than search functionality; but it’s a concept called deep learning (aka machine learning). And the truth is it may be in the works.

In his highly popular Content Marketing World session on the future of SEO, the Wizard of Moz, Rand Fishkin, pointed out some ways Google already takes user insights and actions into account when serving up content.

Over the last few years Google began to identify specific entities of knowledge — e.g., distinguishing between searches on Sting, the musician, and sting, the sensation of pain. By accounting for these contextual semantics, Google offered segmented auto-predictions on relevant search terms and phrases.


What changes does Rand see next on the horizon as search engines grow as smart as their engineers? We’ve compiled the top insights from Rand’s Content Marketing World presentation into a new e-book: Next-Generation SEO Strategies That Will Future-Proof Your Content. But first, here are some highlights, along with tips that will help your content find success in the age of more sentient SEO.

5 elements of next-gen SEO

ranking input vs. searcher output

According to Rand, content marketers always will need to optimize for standard ranking factors like keywords, user experience, and content quality and uniqueness. But in the near future, search engines will likely include an additional set of user signals in their ranking calculations. To stay on top of the search game, Rand recommends that content marketers account for the following factors in their optimization efforts:

10 Ways to Make Your Website Content More Relevant (and Rank Higher)

1. Relative click-through rate (CTR)

Smart search engines will be able to tell if your content is getting more clicks than results that appear above it on the search engine results page (SERP) – and may reward your content with a boost in its ranking.

Future-proof your SEO: Once every click starts to count as a vote for relevance, you need to optimize your content to satisfy all the criteria a user might rely on when choosing among search results – not just your content’s keywords and meta descriptions.

Consider what information appears in a typical search result (like the example below), and what it tells searchers about the content they will see when they click. Then, ask the following questions to gauge how click-worthy your content might appear to be if your target audience were to search for it:


Click to enlarge

  • Does the title match what they might be looking for?
  • Does the URL seem compelling and consistent with their interests?
  • Is there a drop-down description of our brand, which would signal that our content is reputable (e.g., the Space.com drop-down indicator above)?
  • Will our website domain be familiar to the searcher?
  • Will this content be recent enough to address their needs or is it too dated to be relevant?
  • Does the content description pique their interest or demonstrate that they will find what they are looking for?
7+ Ways to Attract Searchers and Boost Your SEO Rankings

2. Short click vs. long click

In the near future, it will be essential to beat your competition on factors like engagement if you want to hit the top spots on a SERP. Content that causes users to “pogo stick” or jump right back to the results page after clicking won’t retain its search value nearly as well as content that drives the “long click” – when users find valid reasons to stick around.

Future-proof your SEO: What factors increase the staying power of the content you create? Here are some suggestions to extend the duration of every click:

  • Ensure that your page loads quickly and completely: Making searchers wait for a video to buffer or an image to render can drive them to try their luck on a different search result so make sure you have adequate bandwidth to support your content collection.
  • Provide a quality user experience that works on all browsers, platforms, and devices: Mobile, desktop, tablet, iOS vs. PC – no matter how searchers prefer to access the content, they should arrive at an interface that functions cleanly and correctly.
  • Compel your visitors to explore your site more deeply: Once you’ve gotten their initial click, retain their interest by serving up additional content resources that might be relevant to their search.
  • Minimize distractions: Pop-ups, auto-playing videos, or requests for subscription sign-ups may hold marketing value for your brand, but these features can delay the payoff, irritating repeat visitors and dissuading new ones from discovering a reason to stick around.

3. Content gap fulfillment

As search engines rely more heavily on predictive modeling, their highest rankings will likely be reserved for content that provides lasting value. In other words, the better your content is at satisfying the informational needs a visitor may have next (i.e., after their current query has been addressed), the more relevant it will be in the eyes of the algorithm.

Future-proof your SEO: Don’t limit your optimization efforts to keywords that are relevant to one particular piece of content. Instead, find ways to communicate that your business has both a broad view of the problem at hand and deep insights into how to solve it. Here are some indicators you may want to leverage:

  • Terms related to the competitive landscape – For example, if you are targeting people who search for “best fitness trackers,” try including industry-leading brand names like Fitbit, Apple Watch, or jawbone.
  • Terms with a semantic relation – For example, if you are targeting people searching for New York City vacations, include words like Brooklyn and subway to indicate more comprehensive coverage of the topic.
  • Terms that indicate community membership – If you are trying to reach a niche audience, use terms that identify your business as an insider who speaks their language and understands what their lifestyle is like.
16 Common-Sense Reminders for Uncommonly Good Content

4. Amplification and loyalty

While there are too many variables involved in social sharing for the search engines to rank by pure numbers, Rand believes the next-gen engines will start to emphasize the engagement that is relative to these shares – in other words, how quickly your content’s share rates are accelerating (or decelerating) over time, and how often those shares are resulting in loyalty and return visits.

Future-proof your SEO: Rand contends that content marketers would be wise to track two new key performance indicators to account for the role social fans and influencers play in search ranking:

  • Shares and links per 1,000 visits – Check with social-sharing trackers like TrueSocialMetrics or Hootsuite to gauge how often your viewers take the additional initiative of sharing or linking to your content. If your averages are consistently increasing – even slightly – the smart search engines will likely take notice.
  • Return visitor ratio over time – While breaking down return visits week over week or month over month won’t necessarily tell you why visitors are returning, it will show if your content is trending in the right or wrong direction – a factor that sentient search engines may consider in their ranking determinations.

5. Task completion success

Say you are searching for new jeans. Wouldn’t you prefer to search on sites that you can purchase from directly rather than go down a rabbit hole once you’ve tracked down the perfect pair? Tomorrow’s search engines prefer the simpler option too and will reward content that enables users to complete their desired transactions quickly, conveniently, and in as few clicks as possible.

Future-proof your SEO: To help next-gen search engines recognize that your content can take searchers all the way to the goal line, optimize your efforts for both the search engine’s judgment and the goals of your target audience:

  • Conduct surveys and usability studies: They are a great way to gather information about what searchers (or potential searchers) are actively seeking, what they want to find on a page, and what tasks they might be doing that your content will need to enable.
  • Include customization tools in your content offerings: These could be comparisons, configuration engines, apps that enable consumers to “try before they buy,” or widgets that let visitors personalize the content they see when they return to your page.

For more details on these five search inputs and how you can prepare your content for their arrival check out the complete e-book below. And if you would like to learn even more from Rand, you won’t want to miss his presentation at Content Marketing World 2016: The Worst Advice Marketing Ever Gave to Content. Register with code BLOG100 to save $ 100 off main event and all-access passes.

Next-Generation SEO Strategies That Will Future-Proof Your Content from Content Marketing Institute

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Please note:  All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

The post Future-Proof Your Content Rankings With These SEO Tips appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

Content Marketing Institute

How to Measure Engagement the Right Way


The term “content engagement” gets thrown around a lot. I get that. Why would we be creating content if we didn’t want people to engage with it?

But what, in all seriousness, does engagement actually mean? “Clicks,” “social shares,” and “time on page” are phrases I often hear when companies talk about how they measure engagement, but how accurately do metrics like these disclose how – or if – people are interacting with our content?

Stick with me and you’ll find out what engagement really means and what you need to be measuring to see if your content is engaging.

5 Engagement-Driven Elements You Should Add to Every Blog Post

Reach vs. engagement

Your content’s “reach” is determined by the number of people that see it – even if only for a moment. It’s a vanity metric. It means little.

Your #content’s reach is a vanity metric. It means little and is also easily manipulated says @andrewraso1
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It’s also easily manipulated. Think about clickbait headlines like this:


Clickbait is a way for publishers to boost clicks by slapping an enticing yet misleading title onto a piece of content.

This tactic might drive more visitors to a site, but what happens next? Annoyed by the false premise on which they were led to the site, they are likely to leave quickly. Does that brief interaction with the content make it a success?

Of course it doesn’t.

Reach also can be artificially manipulated with the use of paid content-promotion ads. They help get your content in front of a targeted audience quickly and cheaply, and that’s awesome, but you can’t necessarily label your content a success because you paid to get traffic to it. You need to do something with that traffic.

Track instead: Conversions

I think it’s safe to assume that most of us aren’t creating content in the hope that people will visit, read, and leave – no matter how “engaged” they are. We want people to take action when they visit.

Create a call to action that you want people to complete after they read your content (newsletter sign-ups is a good one) and track how well that performs instead of how far your content reaches.

Create a CTA that you want people to complete after they read your #content and track performance
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Ultimate Guide: 11 Sign-Up Strategies for Building Your Email List

Time on page vs. engagement

“Time on page” sounds like a much better measure of engagement than “reach.” If someone spends a minute or more on a page, we can safely assume they were reading and absorbing – engaging with our content. Can’t we?

Not exactly.

Time on page is a heavily skewed metric for a couple of key reasons.

  • In website analytics, the “time on page” is calculated based on visitors who did not bounce. If someone came, saw, and went within the bounce time, their visit to the page is not factored into time on page. This statistic reveals only those who interacted with the site longer than the bounce time.
  • Time on page is calculated on the time between the visit to the first page and the next page. This would be fine if we all browsed a site in a single-session, linear mode – clicking links to other pages and leaving when we’re done. But we don’t.

We open multiple tabs. We walk away from devices. We become distracted when in front of a screen. That can artificially inflate our time on page.

There are so many variables to how we browse a website that Google (or any analytics tool) does not account for. This makes time on page a questionable metric at best.

Track instead: Scroll depth

Scroll depth measures how far down a page a visitor scrolls. It’s not foolproof, but if most of your visitors are making it to the end of your posts, you should be safe to assume you’re doing something right.

Crazy Egg’s heat maps (in full disclosure, Neil Patel is my business partner, and this is his tool) can tell you how far down a page visitors scroll (and lots more). For a free (albeit less-detailed) way to measure scroll depth, try WordPress’ Scroll Depth plug-in, which hooks into your analytics.

How to Uncover Critical Content Marketing Insights Using Google Analytics

Shares vs. engagement

We’ve established that reach and time on page aren’t the most reliable metrics by which you can measure content engagement, but what about shares?

Surely, people share content that they’ve read and that has resonated with them in some way?

Actually, that’s not quite true.

Tony Haile of Chartbeat revealed in his Time magazine article, What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong, that there is little correlation between the articles we read and the articles we share.


There is little correlation between the articles we read and the articles we share says @andrewraso1
Click To Tweet

As Haile shared, the story with the longest engagement time had fewer than 100 “likes” and 50 tweets. And visitors to the story with the largest number of tweets read it for only one-fifth of the time of the story with the longest engagement.

“Bottom line, measuring social sharing is great for understanding social sharing, but if you’re using that to understand which content is capturing more of someone’s attention, you’re going beyond (that) data,” Haile wrote.

Do you want people to share your content? Of course you do. Shares help content reach more people. But should you rely on share stats to measure the success of your content? Probably not.

Is Your Social Media Content as Popular as You Think?

Track instead: Comments

Visitors don’t comment on your content unless they are genuinely engaged with it (or they’re spammers, but I hope that you’ve taken steps to prevent that).

Is It Time to Ditch Your Company Blog’s Comments Section?


In all forms of marketing – online or offline, paid or organic, local or international – we need to be taking steps to understand what is and isn’t working. If we don’t we might as well withdraw our budget dollars from the bank, set them alight, and throw them off the nearest bridge.

We need to measure engagement the right way because we need to understand how people are really responding to our content. It’s not how many times they click “like” on a Facebook post. It’s not how many people are being driven to a page. Engagement is about how involved people are with the content you create and promote to them.

If you believe this, you will measure to learn what’s working and what’s not, and harness this knowledge to ensure that each piece of content you create is that little bit better than the last.

Metrics Made Easy: 8 Easy-to-Use Categories and A Dozen Tools

What metrics do you use for monitoring engagement? What do you do with the results? Please take a minute to share your thoughts with me in the comments.

Find out what really matters in a successful content marketing program. Make plans today to attend Content Marketing World 2016 this September. Use BLOG100 to save $ 100.

Please note:  All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team.  No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

Cover image by Jeff Sheldon, Unsplash, via pixabay.com

The post How to Measure Engagement the Right Way appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

Content Marketing Institute

Out of Ideas? 13+ Tools to Spark Content Creation


At one point, my ideas didn’t do the trick in terms of producing new, engaging, and relevant content. I’m sure you can relate.

It dawned on me that I needed to change my strategy and fully embrace this sentiment from Kevin Roberts: “Ideas are the currency of the future.”

Great ideas are based on logic, data, and emotions. To hit those marks, I use different tools and surveys as well as logic-focused tricks. Here are some that will help you find great content ideas to which your audience will respond.

Follow your industry

The first tactic is straightforward. Research and analyze websites that you already visit or should visit to stay updated or learn more about your enterprise’s niche. Create a spreadsheet to track each of those sites.

When scrolling these websites, leverage the ideas, research tidbits, or data-supported points to infuse your own unique content.

Use an aggregator

Blog aggregators like Alltop, BizSugar, and Blog Engage mine useful content and products that are relevant to your field.

For example, I select 10 great articles, extract interesting and useful data, and create phenomenal content from my point of view using the original source. Linking to the original source is essential, not only to credit the original authoritative source but also to allow your readers to trust your content more.

Although each aggregator operates slightly differently, you usually can conduct one-off searches or register to monitor certain subjects on an ongoing basis.


Take their pressure

Consumer Barometer with Google is a tool that helps understand how people use the Internet across the world. It uses data from the Consumer Barometer questionnaire and the Connected Consumer Study, which weights the barometer results across the total population.

View its interface for geographic-, product-, or insight-specific information about consumers. Use this data to inspire custom ideas and stories for your own target audience.


Get to the forum

Forums are another fountain of idea generation. You may be surprised how many great ideas and experiences people share. As a marketing industry writer, I really love the Warrior forum, as its members are really responsive, open-minded, and willing to share their tricks.

Quora is another valuable community where real people ask real questions and discuss the content they’re interested in and issues they care about. This is a powerful way to find out the needs of your target audience. You first must create a profile (don’t forget to mention your brand and include your owned media links in it). Then you can:

  • Create topics for discussion.
  • Set up notifications so that you’re alerted when your pre-designated topics, blogs, or experts pop up in conversations.
  • Test your ideas – ask the question, pose your possible solution.
  • Check out the popularity of topic-related threads through the up-votes and conversations to find a particular angle to make a great blog post.
  • Review the headlines by typing your keywords and seeing what questions (headlines) people are asking about those topics. The most popular questions and up-votes can be a good guarantee about the value of the things mentioned and help you with content creation.

Other valuable communities for trend monitoring include:

  • Yahoo Answers
  • Reddit
  • Ask MetaFilter


  • 6 Content Ideas Every Marketer Should Steal From IBM
  • Confessions From a Reddit Junkie and Why You Should Care

Look at your competitors

You also should analyze your competitors’ content and user engagement to find angles where your brand could offer a different way of thinking or an alternative view on a topic. Your competitors’ content also can allow you to find sources for your content and to leave relevant comments to their posts and mention your brand.

I use Ahrefs to monitor the activities and content of competitors:

  • Ahrefs is an amazing content analysis tool that allows you to view what is performing best based on keywords. You can easily track the most popular content of any domain and search for interesting trends.



How to Find the Best Pieces of Content in Your Industry

Seek your own data

If you don’t have partners that can provide the data on relevant topics and you have a small budget, you can use Google Consumer Surveys. (You pay a fee for each completed survey.)

You choose the target audience:


At this point, Google shows you how much it could cost. It usually charges 10 cents for a single-question survey and $ 1.10 to $ 3.50 for longer surveys. You can ask up to 10 questions.

The next step is to write questions that will be perfect for content creation. You can use the most relevant format, such as a rating system, multiple choice, side-by-side images, and open ended. Pick the one that best serves your planned content creation.


Results are available within 24 hours.

Gather together

I want to give you a priceless tip that I have discovered over time that always works well for me in creating content – roundup articles always fly off the shelf.

You can survey experts to share their opinions on a recent relevant news event, trend, or question. I’ve created this kind of content a few times and the articles get shared like crazy. It also is a great chance to build good relationships with well-respected leaders in your niche.

You don’t need to know the experts to collect unique insights. I recommend MyBlogU to gather ideas and opinions from knowledgeable people. Its group-interview feature is the most exciting one on this platform – you ask, the experts answer.


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Grab a pen or whiteboard

Now that you have a volume of idea-generation resources at hand, the biggest challenge is not jumping right into content creation. To be truly effective, you should tie together the ideas to ensure that they complement each other to produce an amazing and fresh perspective.

I know using a whiteboard or sticky notes sounds silly, but it’s a great way to get everything out and filter through all of the thoughts before moving on to a first draft.

I wonder if Rand Fishkin’s Whiteboard Friday series starts with his original presentation or is adapted after each article is written. Either way, he illustrates how to connect a topic particularly well.


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In the long run

When is this writing battle over? Unfortunately, there are no specific and quick rules that discover how to make your content phenomenal. Only hard work and experience can help you continually improve the process.

10 No-Cost Tools to Help You Conquer Writer’s Block

Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post Out of Ideas? 13+ Tools to Spark Content Creation appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

Content Marketing Institute

What Should Marketers Look For in a Content Strategist?


The day has come: Your boss signed off on your proposal to get the help your marketing team needs from a content strategist. Great!


What skills should you look for in a content strategist? What are some good questions to ask? Where and how can you find the right help?

Here’s advice from some of the experts who spoke at the 2016 Intelligent Content Conference.

Seek visionaries

What should you look for in a content strategist? It depends. Content strategists aren’t all created equal. Some specialize in the editorial aspects of content (writing, messaging, tone of voice), while others specialize in content choreography and content engineering (making sure your content travels unencumbered through a maze of systems to reach its destination).

The most important thing is the ability to help you devise the strategy you need. Strategy is not software. It’s not project planning. It’s not how you’re going to work or with whom. Strategy includes a vision of the future, goals for achieving it, and a plan of attack.

Strategy includes a vision, goals for achieving it, and a plan of attack says @scottabel #contentstrategy
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Scott Abel, president, The Content Wrangler| ‪@scottabel

4 Tips for Hiring a Content Strategist with the Skills You Need

Identify influencers

First, look for people experienced and skilled in content – marketing, technical, instructional, any type of content – and then look for user experience design and engineering skills.

Look first in your company’s own ranks: Content strategists or information architects who are working on the experience of the content vs. implementing infrastructure and technology (like content management systems). You might also consider hiring a content strategy consultant or consulting company who could help you hire someone. Model your job descriptions on other companies’ job postings in content strategy and information architecture.

After you’ve identified some candidates, sift out those who can think both abstractly and analytically, who are excellent problem solvers, who dig for root causes, who understand the goals and needs of other roles on a cross-disciplinary team and can influence them. Content strategists need to rally a team to implement a vision, so they need to not only have the vision but also communicate it to get buy-in and build enthusiasm.

Ask candidates these questions:

  • What is an exceptional content experience?
  • How would you get the input you need for each inflection point: Content, person, place, time?
  • How would you develop a content strategy if you had no product strategy, no market data, and no user data for input?
  • How have you created content strategies and content experiences that have helped achieve marketing or sales goals (revenue, customer advocacy, etc.)?
  • How do you know that you helped achieve those goals?
  • How would YOU partner with you?

Andrea Ames, enterprise content experience strategist/architect/designer, IBM | @aames

The Content Talent Crunch: Time to Change How We Train, Hire, Nurture

Hunt for big thinkers

Find a big thinker, someone who does the following:

  • Understands all forms of content production, distribution, and connection
  • Understands design thinking and user experience
  • Shows an ability to connect content to business results
  • Has business acumen
  • Solves problems creatively

Questions to ask:

  • What does content strategy mean to you?
  • What does your content dream team look like?
  • How do you create content strategies with low budgets and small teams?
  • How do you prove content ROI?
  • How do you determine whether content is successful?

Jake Athey, marketing director, Widen | @jakeathey

Take Your Content From Albatross to Asset: 18 Experts Tell How

Go to your network

You need a content strategist who can complement your strengths so that you can address both the editorial and technical sides of content. If you’re consumed by editorial demands (brand and messaging and omnichannel marketing), you’ll want someone who understands best practices for production, structure, and semantics – someone who knows the right systems and methods for multichannel delivery and so on. Finding these people isn’t easy since they’re in demand. Networking is the best way to determine who knows their stuff and will be a good match.  

Rahel Anne Bailie, chief knowledge officer, Scroll | @rahelab

Look for outstanding content creators in your field

Existing managers can be surprisingly good content strategists. Most often, the best strategists have a track record of making awesome content. If you can find people with a lot of experience creating content in your field – even if they’ve never held the title of content marketer or content strategist – they can almost certainly give you what you need from a strategist: Insight into how best to reach your audience systematically over time.

Andrea Fryrear, content marketer and Agile evangelist, MarketerGizmo | @andreafryrear

16 Common-Sense Reminders for Uncommonly Good Content

Find people who feel your pain

Seek people who will create a strategy you can execute. If you get a hint of the engagement being about them, thank them for the coffee and walk away. These folks may be measured by their ability to grow and win awards instead of by your ability to execute their strategy. You need a partner who feels your pain and celebrates only when you win.

Jeff Julian, chief marketing officer, AJi Software | @jjulian

Discover people who constantly learn

Great content strategists are chameleons who can quickly become experts in any industry. What is most important is that content strategists embrace the craft.

Ask content strategists how they help teams do the following:

  • Capture audience attention
  • Convert that attention into value
  • Define reachable business goals
  • Create tactics to accomplish those goals
  • Stay abreast of the latest changes in this discipline

A good strategist never stops learning.

A good #content strategist never stops learning says @bediscontent #contentstrategy
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Vishal Khanna, director of digital marketing, Wake Forest Innovations | @bediscontent

Select for the skills you need: editorial or structural

I often distinguish between editorial and structural content strategists (also known as front-end and back-end content strategists). Of course, every content strategist has a unique set of skills, but I find that people’s skills and work history often fit into these big buckets:

  • Editorial content strategists might have a background in copywriting, journalism, or brand strategy. These people might help define the tone and messaging for the site, maybe even serving as a managing editor.
  • Structural content strategists might have a background in library science, information architecture, or data modeling. These people might help plan a CMS implementation or define structured content, metadata, and taxonomies.

Rather than simply partnering with someone with the title of content strategist, first define which subset of skills you need. Not every content strategist is great at both editorial and structural work.

Karen McGrane, author and managing partner, Bond Art + Science | @karenmcgrane

Why You Need Two Types of Content Strategist

Look for realistic planners

While content strategists must have big ideas, they must also have enough love for detail to create a realistic road map for implementation.

Questions to ask:

  • How would you optimize a blog post for search engines in 2016? (Anyone who mentions meta keywords is not up to date on best practices.)
  • Why do brands invest in content marketing? Why are users so receptive to great content?
  • What is your process for creating a strategy?
  • How do you determine what you can achieve with the resources available?
  • How do you develop personas for content?

Kat Robinson, director, strategic planning, Vertical Measures | @katrobinson1

Stretch beyond the strategy deliverables

While the ability to create an effective content strategy – the ultimate deliverable – is important, it’s not enough. Ask the content strategist these questions:

  • How do you determine what needs to get done and how best to approach a project?
  • What are the steps that you follow when building a content strategy?
  • What are some memorable lessons you’ve learned on both successful and unsuccessful projects?
  • How can we work best together to achieve success?

Ann Rockley, CEO, The Rockley Group, @arockley

Find innovation seekers

Great content strategists focus on the customer experience. They identify the needs of the users so that they can create the right messaging AND they work with content engineers and technologists to make this content nimble, agile, and deliverable to any place at any time.

Ask content strategists how they define and work with content:

  • If they talk about branding, messaging, and personas, you understand their (front-end) focus.
  • If they talk about content models, intelligent content, and content attributes, you understand a different (back-end) focus.

The best content strategists understand that content has a continuum between strategy, marketing, and engineering, and they know how to integrate the worlds. They underscore the importance of working across silos and departments to deliver a good customer experience. Look for those candidates who are excited by the potential of content as a digital asset. Find someone looking for innovative new ways to discover, create, target, distribute, and deliver value with content.

Content strategists underscore the importance of working across silos to deliver a good customer experience
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Cruce Saunders, principal founder, Simple [A] | @mrcruce

Look for people who create content outside of work

First, make sure that you and your interviewees agree on what a content strategist does. Then, look for someone who understands the range of tasks that are required to plan, execute, measure, optimize, and govern content across multiple channels.

I favor people who create content outside of work since it gives them the opportunity to experiment with ideas and techniques. It also shows a level of curiosity and initiative that’s required for the role.

Right now, it’s a difficult time to recruit the right talent because so many people are adding “content strategist” and “storyteller” to their LinkedIn profiles. LinkedIn is a good place to start – as long as you ask the right questions and filter out people who are just using the keywords.

Ask people to show you examples of their content strategy work. Ask them to show you the tools they use to manage their content strategy plans.

Buddy Scalera, a content strategist focused on healthcare and pharmaceutical communications | @buddyscalera

Your Brand Needs a Point of View, But Do You?

Seek someone who understands marketing

Marketers need to seek content strategists who have these three key traits (aside from solid content strategy skills, of course). They:

  • Appreciate marketing. You want someone who understands and appreciates the role marketing plays in the organization and the way marketing interfaces with other functions, like sales and customer service. This is table stakes for delivering sustainable, scalable content experiences that serve the needs of the total customer.
  • Get that content marketing is just one type of marketing content. Sometimes a company needs to talk about itself. All types of content must adhere to the same core content strategy, the same messaging, the same tone of voice, the same overarching approach to content planning, production, workflow, and governance.
  • Know what it takes to produce good content. As a marketer, you’re judged by what you produce, not by what you plan. A content strategist must help you bridge the gap between planning and production. Strategy (of any kind, content strategy included) is only as good as an organization’s ability to execute it well.

Strategy is only as good as an organization’s ability to execute it well says @gregverdino #contentstrategy
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Greg Verdino, managing partner, VERDINO & CO | @gregverdino

Search for someone who understands more than marketing

A content strategist needs to understand marketing and the value of content marketing, but beyond that, look for a content strategist to support your marketing team with additional skills in these areas:

  • Editorial management: How do you get a team to create, manage, and deliver the right stuff, when it’s needed?
  • Content structures and metadata: How should content be shaped, tagged, and modeled so that it’s ready for all your channels and adaptable for all your personas, touchpoints, formats, and audience scenarios?
  • Content process and governance: How can we not only get content out the door but also make sure that the assets remain useful and compliant with the automatic rules we set for them over the content’s life cycle?
  • Technology: How do the technical underpinnings work? It’s not about the tech, but that tech can hold you back or open new avenues.

Noz Urbina, founder, Urbina Consulting | @nozurbina


What should marketers look for in a content strategist? A visionary. An influencer. A big thinker. A motivated content creator. An empath. A lifelong learner. A realistic planner. A seeker of innovation. A strategic thinker who appreciates marketing.

How do you find such a person? You shake your network tree, gather candidates, and ask them questions. Many of the suggested questions for candidates sort themselves into three groups in my mind, something like this:

  • Customer goals
    • How do you define an exceptional content experience?
    • How do you help teams determine the goals of customers and prospective customers?
    • How do you help teams plan content that meets those goals?
  • Business goals
    • How do you help content teams define reachable business goals?
    • How do your strategies help achieve those goals?
    • How do you know?
  • Strategist’s fit with your content team
    • Are you primarily a front-end or back-end strategist?
    • What is your process for creating a content strategy?
    • What expertise do you offer marketing teams that they typically lack?

Marketers, what other questions would you ask? Content strategists, what other questions would you want to be asked? Please let us know in a comment.

Want to expand your content strategy skills? Subscribe to Content Strategy for Marketers, our weekly email newsletter for forward-thinking marketers.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post What Should Marketers Look For in a Content Strategist? appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

Content Marketing Institute

How to Beat the Battle of an Ineffective Blog


Despite how much work is involved, blogging often is thought of as one of the most basic points of entry into the content marketing game: It’s a versatile technique with a lot of creative possibilities, options, and approaches; yet it doesn’t require a lot of technical expertise or equipment to produce and maintain.

Blogging is also a powerful means of building an audience for your brand, and sustaining their interest over time – something every content effort should strive to achieve.


Those are just a few of the likely reasons why 81% of B2B marketers in our 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends study say they are blogging as part of their content program, with other sectors (B2C and nonprofit) reporting similarly high usage rates. However, despite these high adoption levels, our research also found that many of those marketers are struggling to feel effective at this technique (as you can see in the chart above).

What’s holding these businesses back from beating the battle of the blog? For starters, the B2B research found that more than half (55%) of content marketers lack a clear idea of what content marketing success looks like for their organization. It may seem backward, but many businesses begin blogging before they outline the goals to which they want their efforts to contribute or before they even understand how to gauge its performance.

B2B #research: 55% of content marketers lack a clear idea of #contentmarketing success
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There are also plenty of less obvious obstacles your blog content needs to overcome if your efforts are going to truly benefit your business. If you aren’t feeling effective with your blog, chances are you are struggling with at least one of the following issues, and might benefit from the tips and examples below:

Problem 1: You aren’t publishing on a consistent schedule

Great blog content should be like an eagerly anticipated gift you offer to your readers – they look forward to every new delivery and are happy to visit your site to retrieve your content as soon as it is available. But what happens when they arrive and the gift they were expecting hasn’t shown up? If you can’t keep the content engines churning or fail to deliver on the expectations you set with your blog, those readers will walk away disappointed – and may think twice about returning.

Warning signs: Consistency issues typically result from one of these two underlying problems:

  • Lack of editorial infrastructure: You haven’t set a workable schedule for creating and publishing your content or established the necessary workflow that would govern your process.
  • Lack of resources: You need more writers or more creative ideas; or you are running into productivity problems that are keeping your team from being able to bring your ideas to fruition.

Potential solutions:

  • Develop an editorial calendar: Establishing a schedule of topics you will cover and the timeline for doing so can help you set realistic expectations and keep your content creation in line with your marketing goals. These editorial calendar essentials will help get you started.
  • Brainstorm ideas to fill your content calendar: Brainstorming techniques, like this super-simple sticky-note approach, can help you break out of any creative slumps that might be derailing your content production.
  • Enhance your productivity: With so much to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated as the to-do list grows ever longer. Need some tips to help you streamline your efforts and keep up with all the tasks involved in content creation? Check out this list of helpful time-saving content marketing tools. You can also follow our complete guide to becoming a content marketing productivity master.
  • Enlist the help of your team members for content creation: Your executives, team members, and even colleagues outside of the marketing department can be motivated to help increase your content coffers. Use these tips to make content creation a benefit – not a burden – for your fellow employees.

Best practice example: Moz’s Whiteboard Friday

moz whiteboard friday

If consistency is key, The Wizard of Moz Rand Fishkin certainly knows how to unlock the doors of audience engagement. Whiteboard Friday blog posts tackle the SEO questions (both large and small) that marketers have, and do so in a creative and visually appealing way – week after week, without fail.

Problem 2: Your blog content isn’t unique or distinct

For your content to stand out among the competition, it needs to offer distinctive value – providing information your readers can’t get anywhere else, serving a segment of your audience no one else is addressing, or delivering on promises your brand is uniquely qualified to make.

Warning signs: If you aren’t giving your audience a compelling reason to choose your content over everything else they could be spending time with, your blog will never reach its full marketing potential. Here are some sure signs your content is going to fade into the background:

  • You don’t know what makes your brand special: You need to identify the specific ways your business is different than everyone else’s before you can create content that communicates with a signature tone, voice, or style.
  • You are targeting too broad an audience: As CMI founder Joe Pulizzi often says, if your content is meant for everybody, it won’t benefit anybody.

If your #content is meant for everybody, it won’t benefit anybody says @joepulizzi
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Potential solutions:

  • Craft your editorial mission statement: This sets the tone for all your content creation efforts by defining your unique perspective on your industry and outlining the value proposition your blog content will offer.
  • Find a new niche: If you don’t believe you can be the leading information provider in your chosen content niche, you haven’t drilled down deeply enough to find the right angle – for your blog or any other content your business offers. Struggling to find your footing? Try following Joe’s advice for creating a content tilt.
  • Get creative with your approach: Sometimes the power of a blog isn’t rooted in what you say but rather in how you say it. Look for opportunities to take your blog readers down an unexpected path, approach topics from a unique angle, or explore special interests that your brand and its fans may have in common. Check out these 75 examples for a little inspiration on taking content in a novel direction.

Best practice example: Saddleback Leather


It takes a tough leather company to create a blog full of tender-hearted tales. Focused around topics of interest to founder Dave Munson – like family, philanthropy, solid craftsmanship, and travels with his faithful dog Blue – the Saddleback Leather blog doesn’t just talk product. It highlights the aesthetic of adventure and the love of a life well-lived.

Problem 3: Your blog is all about you – not your audience and their needs

Warning signs: Ever meet someone at a party who goes on and on about himself, without showing any interest in the people he’s talking to? If your brand is “that guy,” your readers will eventually grow tired of not being heard and look for any excuse to leave the conversation – for good.

Potential solutions:

  • Highlight ways readers can get involved in your brand, and recognize them for their efforts: Don’t just say you are interested in your readers – prove that you value their participation and feedback by responding to their comments, creating opportunities for them to contribute their ideas, and rewarding them for helping you spread the word about your business.
  • Demonstrate your understanding of their needs by addressing common pain points and providing relief: Create content with tangible value such as tips, templates, and toolkits; answer your customers’ questions; or give your audience access to other real-world solutions that will enable them to accomplish their tasks more quickly and more effectively, with your brand at the top of their minds.

Best practice example: Clean My Space

clean my space blog

The blog for Toronto-based cleaning firm Clean My Space uses video to demonstrate time- and effort-saving tips on tidying up. It’s a perfect example of how a company can consistently answer questions that customers and prospects may have, and prove the unique value it provides to its fans and followers.

Problem 4: Your content has a short shelf life or limited reach

Content can be the gift that keeps on giving – for your brand, as well as for the consumers who love it. But for this to happen, you need to know how to squeeze as much value as you can from every piece of content you create and get it into the hands of as many interested readers as possible.

Warning signs: There are a few key reasons why your blog content might be withering on the vine instead of spreading its seeds far and wide:

  • Your aren’t producing evergreen content: Trend- or news-focused content is great for illustrating your brand’s insights; but this type of content typically comes with a built-in expiration date, cutting off your potential for long-tail engagement.
  • You aren’t making it clear you want readers to speak on your brand’s behalf: If you aren’t making it as easy as possible for readers to share your content, you are making it harder for your influence to spread.
  • You publish, then move on: Content marketing isn’t for those lazy, “set-it-and-forget-it” types of businesses. It takes hard work before, during, and after you publish to make sure your content works hard to bring you success.

Potential solutions:

  • Use content curation techniques to refresh older posts: In addition to creating content on evergreen topics that have long-lasting relevance, you can also give your aging content a new lease on life through content curation. Try updating popular posts with more contemporary advice, linking to newer sources of information, including outside perspectives on the topic, or adding fresh visuals – like infographics or videos – to liven up the discussion. Then, republish the post, making sure to acknowledge – and link to – the original.
  • Enable the sharing behaviors you seek: Featuring sharing buttons, requests for comments, and calls to action in your blog posts signal to readers that you would like them to share their brand love, while helping you channel their assistance in the specific directions you desire.
  • Promote your content: Social media and email marketing are both must-have techniques for spreading the word about the content you’ve published. But if you want to extend your blog’s life span and expand its reach beyond your circle of influence, consider supporting your posts with paid promotional techniques like native advertising, promoted posts, and search ads.

Best practice example: The Buffer Blog

buffer social curation experiment

In late 2015, Buffer decided to eschew creating new blog posts for one month in favor of repurposing and refreshing content from its archives. Though some of its efforts were more successful than others, the experiment provided some invaluable insights on how to increase the payoff of every blog post.

Problem 5: You aren’t using your blog to build subscribers

Let’s face it: For your blog to be effective, it needs to help you achieve your business goals, not just boost your brand’s ego and pad your writers’ personal portfolios. Increasing subscriptions is a solid, measurable step in that direction given that the awareness and interest the blog generates now can be nurtured into long-term brand engagement and loyalty over time.

Warning signs: Why aren’t your blog readers signing up for more? Perhaps your content is getting caught up in one of these likely traps:

  • You aren’t directing readers down the path you want them to follow: It took your hard work to bring guests to your door – why would you just let them wander around aimlessly once they’ve arrived?
  • You aren’t making a compelling case for subscription: Sometimes readers need a little convincing to help them decide that your content is worth raising their hand for.
  • Your offerings are all-or-nothing: While a one-size-fits-all subscription might satisfy some enthusiastic brand fans, it could be a big turn-off to casual readers, or those who are already inundated with unread emails in their inboxes.

Potential solutions:

  • Include a call to action that directs site visitors to take the next step: Be clear as to what you want them to do and highlight the benefits they’ll receive in return. But remember, your ask doesn’t need to follow the same format every time. Consider these alternatives to the traditional text-based end-of-post callout.
  • Offer an incentive to sweeten the deal: Give subscribers access to exclusive content, insider discounts, or other members-only benefits in exchange for their permission to connect with them more directly. You’ll be surprised at how much more willing readers may be to share their personal info when they feel they are getting something tangible in return.
  • Enable subscribers to customize the communications they receive: Just because a reader doesn’t want to hear from you every day, doesn’t mean she might not appreciate the opportunity to receive a monthly message, or hear about specific types of offers. By making your terms of engagement flexible and giving readers the power of choice, you’ll make the experience more comfortable, satisfying, and mutually beneficial.
11 Sign-up Strategies for Building Your Email List

Best practice example: Copyblogger


In Joe’s most recent post on subscription goals, he mentions how Copyblogger Media founder Brian Clark leveraged a strong and loyal base of more than 200,000 targeted email subscribers to transform his humble blog into one of the fastest SaaS companies on the planet. Today, Copyblogger continues to grow that fan base by offering exclusive content resources to members who sign up via email.


Blogging may have low barriers to entry, but that doesn’t mean it’s an effortless path to content marketing effectiveness. Fortunately, a few small blogging hacks and helpers like the ones above can make a big difference in your brand’s potential for attracting, impacting, and activating your audience more successfully.

Grow your blogging skills and improve your content marketing effectiveness. Subscribe to the free daily or weekly CMI newsletter.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post How to Beat the Battle of an Ineffective Blog appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

Content Marketing Institute

Demystifying Content Strategy: Key Takeaways From Intelligent Content Conference 2016


With all the complex content problems marketers face, our way forward sometimes seems mysterious. Content strategy holds promise for demystifying the things that we can’t always picture; it helps us understand how those things will get us there. That’s why this year’s Intelligent Content Conference – the only conference that focuses on content strategy for marketers – embraced the theme Bringing Meaning to the Mystery.


Famous fictional detectives were the stars of the Intelligent Content Conference 2016 – Bringing Meaning to the Mystery – posters.

Of course, meaning isn’t an easy thing to bring. As presenter Wendy Stengel put it in her talk’s title, “constructing meaning is bloody work.” To bring meaning that means something, you need to have a lot of conversations, maybe even some arguments. Whether you’re nailing down the meaning of a word, a content plan, or an enterprise, discussions get political. People get emotional.

And that’s good. Because if we don’t care about bringing meaning to our work and helping our colleagues and customers make sense of that work, we may find ourselves out of a job. As Robert Rose, our chief strategy officer, noted in his keynote address, we can’t afford to get so busy creating content that we fail to look up. We have to pick up our heads, look ahead, and clarify the meaning of what we’re doing so that we can create a path worth following.

We have to keep sharpening our ability to think strategically about content.

In support of this concept, a number of subthemes emerged from this year’s ICC talks. This article gives you a sense of some of them.

Before I go into detail, I want to thank all of the attendees and sponsors of the conference, held last week in Las Vegas, for making the week such a success. OK, now on to our subthemes.


8 Experts – 1 eBook – and, the most critical decision you will make in 2016
Want to create content with the perfect tone and style?  Ann Handley, Doug Kessler, and more share their secrets in this 60-page eBook. Everything you ever wanted to know about capturing the heart of your brand with perfect pitch.

Technology in itself solves nothing

Technology – that mysterious bundle of things that puts the “intelligent” in intelligent content – deserves credit for many seemingly magical things we do with content. It helps us deliver the right content to the right people at the right time. It helps us make our business processes more efficient. It helps us do many powerful things with content: aggregate it, syndicate it, mash it up, reuse it automatically, deliver it across channels.

If not for the technology-driven Internet, Andy Weir told us in his closing keynote talk, his self-published story The Martian (whose rise in Amazon’s best-seller rankings captured the attention of Random House, whose book sales captured the attention of 20th Century Fox, whose movie rights caught the attention of actor Matt Damon and director Ridley Scott, whose movie captured the attention of the Golden Globes and Academy Awards) would not have captured anything beyond his circle of friends.

But technology alone brings no meaning to the mystery.

Any technology decisions we make as content professionals must be based on sound strategy. “Technology is not an answer. It’s just a conduit,” Kate Kenyon said in her presentation. “A big content management system requires talent. How much tech do you need?”

In a day-long, content-modeling workshop led by Cleve Gibbon and Kate, technology’s role didn’t even come up. It’s not that technology is unimportant. It’s that, as they pointed out, “The content model comes first.”

Similarly, when Andrea Ames spoke on measuring the effectiveness of content, she said bluntly, “We’re not talking about technology in this session.” She wasn’t saying that technology doesn’t matter. She was saying that making good business decisions – the strategic part of the effort – has nothing to do with technology or tools.

Takeaway: When you make content decisions, lead with strategy. Let technology follow.

When you make #content decisions, lead with strategy. Let technology follow says @joepulizzi #intelcontent
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Treating content as a business asset isn’t easy

To think like a content strategist is to think like a business strategist. This observation by attendee Michael Andrews, moderator of the Google Plus Content Strategy community, came up in various forms throughout the conference.

For example, in his keynote talk, Robert had a lot to say about the importance of treating content as a business asset – emphasis on “business.”

During his session, Matthew Grocki reinforced this point using terms any accountant would love: “Without content strategy, content is a depreciating asset.”

Without #contentstrategy, content is a depreciating asset says @mgrocki via @cmicontent #intelcontent
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What does it mean for marketers to make the most of content as an asset? Kate put it this way: “To design content as an asset, design it for a particular business outcome and decide how to assess its performance.”

The concept is simple. Unfortunately, as most marketers know, assessing content performance in a way that makes sense is tricky. Metrics that are easy to come by (“likes,” shares, etc.) often tell us nothing of value. The only measurements worth pursuing are those that help answer questions of value to the business.

“Start with the end in mind.” Andrea said. “What answers are you looking for? Look for numbers that can get you there.”

After you have the numbers, the question becomes, what will you do with them? If you’ve ever seen a content team collect mountains of data and then do nothing useful with it, you’ll nod your head at what Andrea said next: “If you’re going to measure content performance, use the information to improve something.”

Takeaway: For each piece of content, have a business goal, a measurement plan – and a commitment to using the measurements – to help the business improve.

Take Your Content From Albatross to Asset: 18 Experts Tell How

Personalizing content can earn you friends – or enemies

If you aren’t personalizing your marketing content (beyond “Dear Sam”), you’ve probably wondered whether you should. The answer is: It depends. Personalization – delivering different content to different audiences – is not for everyone. Personalization is complex and expensive. Before you go to all the trouble, make sure that you have a business case.

As Cleve and Kate put it in their workshop, “If you’re going to personalize, have a good reason, a clear goal, and a manageable plan.”

If you’re going to personalize, have a good reason, a clear goal, and a manageable plan.
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Personalization can backfire. In her keynote talk, Karen McGrane warned of the dangers of making assumptions about people based on information you can glean from their devices, like time of day or location. For example, she was traveling when the Google home page asked if she wanted the page displayed in Hebrew. “Google, you’ve known me for all these years,” she told the ICC audience. “Besides my location, what makes you think I suddenly want to read Hebrew?”

Personalization also can backfire when people perceive it as disturbing. You recently bought a gift for your uncle – a pipe, say – and find ads for pipes on your Facebook page invasive. To avoid creeping people out, make sure that any personalizing you do is aimed at helping or delighting people.

For example, in my welcome address, I mentioned the personalized videos that Nike created for runners based on their data. Nike used wearables data to send over 100,000 custom videos directly to their best customers.

One attendee who works for a cruise line said she was taking home new skills that would help her company personalize its website content for people planning cruises for families, singles, or couples.

I have to believe that that kind of personalization, based on personas, would help and maybe even delight customers.

Personalization is sometimes defined as targeting content not to personas (as in the cruise-line example) but to individuals. In her talk, Ardath Albee pointed out that this type of personalization is beyond the reach of 99% of organizations. She suggested that for most, especially those of us in B2B organizations, targeting content to personas is a more feasible way to increase our ability to get the right content to the right people at the right time.

Takeaway:  If you can personalize your content in a way that people will appreciate, and if you can justify the expense, plan it and give it a try. Otherwise, save yourself the headache.

Adaptive Content: The Way to Your Customer’s Heart

Content modeling is a cheap, helpful tool

Several presenters talked about content models, which are simply drawings of the relationships between a set of content types. In Cleve and Kate’s content-modeling workshop, attendees reviewed a variety of approaches, including the box-and-line example shown here.


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This content model shows the relationships among content types that a company like Netflix would have.

The topic of content modeling – a practice to which Andrea referred in her keynote talk as a “secret sauce” – is too big to cover in detail in this post. Here are the main things to know:

  • Content models are simple. You could draw them on napkins.
  • They can take whatever form the team finds helpful.
  • They help people across departments see how the organization’s most important content types fit together.
  • They help people make – and then communicate – strategic decisions about content.

Content modeling isn’t a phase. It’s an ongoing part of the care and feeding of an organization’s content. If you do it, make a sustaining plan.

You don’t have to model your content – unless you’re personalizing or single sourcing. Still, even if you do it only for yourself, sketching out your content models may help you better understand what’s going on, see things you could be doing in a smarter way, and share your ideas with colleagues.

Takeaway: People who get paid to think strategically about content can’t say enough about the benefits of sketching content models. If you haven’t tried it, grab the nearest napkin.

Effective content helps customers through their journeys

“Before you make content models, you have to understand your key personas and their journeys.” This observation from presenter Noz Urbina reflects another ICC subtheme: The importance of providing content that supports key points in customer journeys.

As Andrea put it in one of her session slides, “Effective content moves customers successfully through their journey.”

Effective #content moves customers successfully through their journey, says @aames via @cmicontent
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Presenter Tim Walters suggested that we identify “hot spots” or “moments of truth” within customer journeys. He quoted Lavrans Løvlie, “It’s crucial to identify and select the hot spots that really affect customers’ experience, both positively and negatively.”

We content professionals can’t (and shouldn’t try to) provide content for every conceivable point – every moment – of every possible customer journey. But we do have a mandate to figure out which key customer journeys – and which key moments within those journeys – require the help that content can give.

Takeaway: Your customers have an infinite number of journeys (things they want to do) involving your brand. Figure out which of those journeys – and which moments within those journeys – you could support with content in a way that significantly helps your business. Does that content already exist? If not, make it.


  • Wonder What Content to Create? Try a Customer-Journey Map [Template]
  • How to Increase Conversions at Each Stage of the Customer Journey

Restructuring your content? You may need to restructure processes and departments, too

Well-structured content requires well-structured organizations. Kate put it this way: “Old production processes won’t deliver the benefits of new structured content. You need a plan to change your planning.”

Old production processes won’t deliver the benefits of new structured #content, says @kate_kenyon
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For example, silo team structures can work against cross-functional content goals. Not all bosses take kindly to sharing “their” content creators with other departments. As Andrea Fryrear noted in conversation, some strategies require that content creators be organized by product team instead of by department or by channel.

Kate pointed out that content marketing teams are typically organized by channel, which can limit their ability to plan for cross-channel efficiencies.

Agile marketing is one approach that addresses the need for flexible organizational structures – an approach that Andrea Fryrear and Jeff Julian discussed in depth. Andrea has written about this topic for CMI several times. A good place to start is with this recent post that answers some common questions.

Another topic related to organizational structures is digital governance, which Lisa Welchman and Kristina Podnar discussed in their workshop. As Lisa explained, digital governance is a “framework for establishing accountability, roles, and decision-making authority for online publishing and development.” In short, companies need to identify who is responsible for doing what so that content teams can focus on the work at hand instead of getting stuck with process issues and figuring out (over and over) who needs to do what.

Often, Lisa explained, all it takes is one look at a website to reveal what state of chaos someone’s team or organization is in. Organizations that provide a defined, logical content experience, typically have well-structured teams that work together well.

Takeaway: To take your customer experience to the next level, look not just to the structure of your content but to the structures and processes of your organization.

Customer experience rules

While many marketing events focus on customer’s needs, the vernacular has been shifting. Instead of simply thinking about our customers, the conversations revolve specifically around experience. And while it may seem like a subtle difference, looking at everything we do under the lens of experience helps make what we do customer-focused, as Robert reminded us in his keynote talk.

Customer research continues to be imperative. Ardath’s session on creating customer personas gave attendees a straightforward, digestible approach to this perennial topic. (Stay tuned – or subscribe to our Content Strategy for Marketers newsletter – since we plan to cover this topic in more depth.)

Another session that reinforced this point – everything needs to help create better experiences – was Wendy’s talk on taxonomy. Even something as seemingly simple as carefully choosing the words we use for metadata tags can go a long way toward helping customers find and understand the content they’re looking for.

Takeaway: If you are struggling to put your customers at the center of all you do, reframe your thinking to focus on experiences.

You are the future of business

I’ll close with the theme that Robert shared to kick off the conference:

The future of content is your ability to change the business … You are the future of business.

The future of #content is your ability to change the business. You are the future of business via @robert_rose
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Those of you who educate yourselves and evolve will be the leaders of tomorrow’s businesses.

Takeaway: Look beyond your skills and expertise to consider the larger business impacts of content so that you can help drive your organization – and your own career – forward.


Did you attend ICC? We would love to learn what your biggest aha (mystery-solved) moments were.

Do these topics interest you? Subscribe to our Content Strategy for Marketers newsletter for weekly write-ups on ICC presentations and more. You can also purchase the Post-Show Video pass and catch them by signing up. Access is good for one full year and contains video, audio, and slide capture for the Main Conference sessions.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post Demystifying Content Strategy: Key Takeaways From Intelligent Content Conference 2016 appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

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This Week in Content Marketing: Social Media Organic Content at Crisis Levels


PNR: This Old Marketing with Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose can be found on both iTunes and Stitcher.

In this week’s episode, Robert and I consider the implications of a new format for Google search results, which could eventually let any brand integrate a dedicated Twitter-like feed into them. We smell trouble. Next, we explain why The New York Times’ recent acquisition of HelloSociety is a big deal and agree with one author’s assessment that we’re in the midst of a social media engagement crisis. Finally, we ponder a Google evangelist’s decision to launch a newsletter and build an audience. Rants and raves include Dos Equis’ savvy Most Interesting Man in the World reboot, the future of news publishing, and human- versus bot-produced content. This week’s This Old Marketing example: Hydraulic Pressed Steel Company. 

This week’s show

(Recorded live March 14, 2016; Length: 1:02:31)

Download this week’s PNR This Old Marketing podcast.

If you enjoy our PNR podcasts, we would love if you would rate it, or post a review, on iTunes.

1. Content marketing in the news

  • Discount codes for CMI services (5:51): If you’re planning to attend Content Marketing World 2016, now is the time to register. Use the discount code PNR200 to save $ 200 on the registration fee. This “return to early bird” pricing is good through March 31, 2016. In addition, we’re offering a $ 100 discount on CMI University, our recently re-launched e-learning program that’s focused on content strategy. Save $ 100 with the discount code CMIPODCAST. Open enrollment – and this discount – end on March 31, 2016.
  • Google is letting celebrities and businesses post directly to search results (8:30): Google has begun experimenting with an entirely new format for search results, which could eventually let any brand, celebrity, or organization have a dedicated Twitter-like feed built right into the company’s search engine. Google says this service will be free, but Robert and I are very skeptical. We’re concerned that when it rolls out this new service more broadly there will be many opportunities for brands to “game” the system.
  • New York Times acquires influencer marketing agency HelloSociety (14:15): The New York Times is expanding its native ad studio with the acquisition of HelloSociety, a digital marketing agency owned by Science, Inc. HelloSociety connects brands with influential social media users who can help promote their marketing efforts. I explain how this acquisition opens the door for NYT’s T Brand Studios to pursue opportunities outside of the Times’ website. Robert and I disagree on how successful it will be when it competes against digital agencies.
  • The engagement crisis in content marketing and social media (21:08): Even as social channels are proliferating, engagement is dropping. MarketingLand columnist Blaise Lucey says this is because many marketers have failed to keep pace with the constant evolution of social channels and audience behavior. Robert and I agree that this author is recommending what we’ve been saying all along: Focus on a niche audience via a limited number of channels.
  • I’m starting a new newsletter – rented vs. owned (29:13): Google evangelist Avinash Kaushik explains how the evolution of the major social media channels has affected his ability to communicate with his readers and how that has driven him to launch a newsletter. Once again, this aligns with our experience at CMI: Don’t get blinded by the idea of creating huge audiences on social channels; focus instead on creating an addressable audience that you own.

2. Sponsor (35:20)

  • GoToWebinar: Webinars are consistently rated as the No. 1 marketing tactic for lead generation. Over 60% of all marketers utilize webinars. But many businesses still struggle with how to find their target audience and deliver the right message. Following a very simple five-step plan, the keys to using webinars for successful lead generation go from daunting to doable. From finding your audience and developing engaging content to authentic interaction and webinar promotion, you’ll discover the five steps to attract your target audience to your next webinar in this new report from GoToWebinar. You can download it here: http://bit.ly/gotowebinar-attract-audience

Go ToWebinar-Sponsor

3. Rants and raves (37:36)

  • Robert’s rave: Robert loves the way in which Dos Equis is rebooting its popular Most Interesting Man in the World campaign: By sending him on a one-way trip to Mars. In a series of new videos, the über-man says goodbye to a motley cast of characters we’ve seen in earlier commercials. It’s a wonderful piece of storytelling. Robert also has a commentary on an article about SurfStitch’s investments in content firms, which could be negatively affecting the company’s profits. He cautions against blaming content marketing for poor corporate performance. It’s still a worthwhile strategy.
  • Joe’s rave: I like this thought-provoking article from Columbia Journalism Review. In it, author Emily Bell predicts how journalism will evolve as channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter become more powerful. In the future, some news publishers may distribute their articles exclusively on these channels, instead of their own websites. This is a must-read for marketers! I’m also intrigued by a New York Times quiz that asks readers to discern which news stories were written by humans versus algorithms. It’s harder than you think!
Put More Creativity in Your Content Creation: Automate

4. This Old Marketing example of the week (52:37)

  • Hydraulic Pressed Steel Company: This industrial company was started in Cleveland in 1907 to produce pressed steel products. Through a series of acquisitions, it grew to employ over 3,000 people. Hydraulic Pressed Steel was featured in a 1919 Printers Ink article about using art and type to build industrial morale. It mentions a magazine the company produced to help build the morale of its workers. Its editorial mission was to sell the spirit of the enterprise to the people who produced its products. It celebrated the people who worked for the company and their involvement in the community. Hydraulic Pressed Steel engaged a Cleveland-area painter to produce portraits of the featured workers for the cover of each issue. This far-sighted vision for the role content could play in an organization makes Hydraulic Pressed Steel an outstanding example of This Old Marketing.

tom-122-hydraulic-pressed-steel 15.37

For a full list of PNR archives, go to the main This Old Marketing page.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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Don’t Follow a Funnel, Create Content for an Engine [Research]

 Don't -Follow-Funnel-Content-engineSince 1902, marketers have relied on the Attention-Interest-Desire-Action (AIDA) Model developed by Elias St. Elmo Lewis to understand how consumers learn about and take actions related to brands.

The growing influence of the consumer’s voice in an always-on digital environment, however, has made obsolete many of the AIDA Model assumptions that underlie the funnel-based view of how consumers and brands engage with each other. The antiquated assumptions include:

  • Engagement is a linear process with a distinct beginning and end.
  • Communications are initiated and controlled by the brand.
  • The only communications that influence the purchase are between the consumer and the brand.

If consumer engagement can no longer be explained by a brand-managed funnel, what construct accurately depicts the way that engagement occurs? And what types of engagement have the biggest impact on customer lifetime value? My colleagues and I at Northwestern University’s Spiegel Research Center set out to answer those questions, and what we found has powerful implications for content marketers.

Watch as Tom discusses the findings of the research that led to the development of the Consumer Engagement Engine:

Introducing the Consumer Engagement Engine

Our research showed us that engagement in today’s digital communications ecosystem works not like a funnel but like an engine where brands and consumers are synergistically interacting with each other in new ways that can have a powerful impact on customer value.


While the Consumer Engagement Engine differs from the traditional funnel in many ways, these five characteristics are particularly important to content marketers looking to engage with consumers in relevant and valuable ways:

1. The engine is elegant

It’s made of five interlocking components: Brand actions, customer motivations, purchase behaviors, brand consumption, and brand dialogue behaviors. Consumers are constantly being influenced by messages from friends, social networks, strangers, the media, and intermediaries – messages that are sent and delivered across numerous platforms and devices.

2. There is no on/off switch

Unlike the funnel, which represents engagement as a linear process with a beginning and an end, the engine reflects the always-on state of engagement. Unlike the funnel’s “end,” often the purchase is the catalyst for the start of new and enhanced levels of engagement. The engagement engine is in perpetual motion.

3. Brand actions are just one of the cogs

The brand no longer controls when and how consumer engagement occurs. Today, customers or other actors are just as likely as marketers to initiate brand-related communication. Brands are moving from being broadcasters to being listener-responders.

4. Users of the brand are vital

Buyers’ brand consumption experiences – good or bad – are fuel for sharing. The good ones positively power the engine.

5. Brand dialogue behavior is the biggest cog

Our research found that non-purchase behaviors – brand dialogue behaviors (BDB) – have the greatest impact on future engagement. We uncovered powerful insights about how BDBs are driving customer lifetime value. Now, we examine BDBs and their role in driving value.

Understanding and ranking brand dialogue behaviors

Our research found that the types of engagement that frequently had the greatest impact on consumers were brand dialogue behaviors, which can involve consumers, other purchasers, non-purchasers, and the brand itself.

The research also found that these BDBs currently lack a categorization, taxonomy, or ranking according to the value they create for the brand. Content marketers need to better understand the opportunity presented by BDBs, as well as the brand’s role in BDBs – a role that involves enhancing the customer experience and/or listening and responding to the engagements.

BDBs can be categorized into three distinct types, all of which have an increasing degree of interactivity and value for the brand:

  • Observation – “Lean-back” behavior where the consumer takes a passive role, such as reading a tweet or looking at a retargeting ad
  • Participation – Behavior where the consumer takes an active role in engaging with the content, such as retweeting or looking up a consumer review of a product
  • Co-creation – Behavior where the consumer creates original content that is relevant to the brand, such as participating in a contest to create a new flavor of potato chips, writing a blog post, or voting in a reality TV show
4 Tools to Create Interactive Content in Minutes

Our research found that as consumers engage more actively and in ways that involve relevant interaction with the brand, there is a strong correlation to increasing levels of customer lifetime value.


Revving the engine

Here are five things that you can do to engage with customers in ways that drive customer lifetime value in today’s digital ecosystem:

  1. Adopt the engine – Use the engine framework to better engage and drive value for your brand.
  1. Map your engagement – Identify where your engagement efforts lie on the brand dialogue behavior hierarchy.
  1. Invest in your customers – Invest heavily in customer experiences and help this audience become your advertisers.
  1. Drive relevant engagement only – Stimulate only the types of engagement that create a relevant connection to the brand.
  1. Listen and respond – Use social media to be a responder, not just a broadcaster.
Onward & Upward: Go Behind the Scenes of Priceline’s Social Media

As content marketers continue to adapt to the opportunities and challenges presented by today’s rapidly evolving communications landscape, we believe the Consumer Engagement Engine will be a valuable tool for helping marketers engage with existing customers, prospects, intermediaries, and other actors in ways that create value for the brand.

Stay updated on the latest research and insight from academic and industry experts. Subscribe to the daily or weekly CMI blog.

Cover by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via pixaby.com

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