AuthorityLabs 2014 Pubcon Vegas Scavenger Hunt

Pubcon-VegasIt is time to return to Vegas and we all want to win! Starting Monday, October 6, we will be posting tasks on Twitter and this page so you have an opportunity to win, without gambling.

The first person to complete each task will win a prize such as cash, free drinks, a free AuthorityLabs account and there is even a grand mystery prize!  If you are not the first person to complete a task, we will still have AuthorityLabs t-shirts, pint glasses, and other goodies to give out until we run out.

Who will beat last year’s winner, Greg Gifford?

The Hunt

The contest will start Monday evening and run through midnight Wednesday night. The first tasks will go live on Twitter around 7 PM Monday. Keep an eye on our feed for more information!

How to Find Us

The AuthorityLabs team will be at the conference and official Pubcon networking events. Team members you can look for include:

We suggest you check out the pictures of our team members so you can find them easily. Team members will be, off and on, at the Breeze Bar in TI (and if anyone wants to pick up tattoos, shirts, hats, pint glasses, etc. find us here before supplies run out). We will also be at Epic Dinner on Monday night and will have some things with us like AuthorityLabs tattoos. You can also find us wondering the halls and sessions at the conference and you can find Brian in these two sessions:

The Prizes

Prizes will include cash, free drinks, AuthorityLabs accounts, a few mystery prizes and a grand prize that we will announce soon. The first person to complete 10 of the items on the list will win an awesome prize.  Prizes for each task will be for the person first to finish and the 2nd and 3rd finishers will get a mystery prize.

More Info Coming Soon

Watch our Twitter feed and our blog for upcoming information!

Check out our Pubcon survival tips

Giving A Damn Is Your Business’s Best Blogging Asset

It’s content marketing’s $64,000 question: “What does my company blog about?” No matter the size of the business, the knowledge of the staff or the access to resources, this question inevitably comes up. It makes sense, when you consider businesses who blog receive 55 percent more web traffic per month than those who do not.

Having a blog not only makes it possible for you to engage with and share content with your audience, it also allows you to educate prospects about your products and services as a means of priming the pump: When they are ready to buy, they think of your business, the one whose content they have encountered, whose website they have visited and whose products and/or services they are now familiar with.

The Benefits Of Blogging

(Image courtesy of HubSpot)

Successful Blogging Starts With Giving A Damn

The success or failure of your blog, however, rests on a decision you make—or choose not to make—well before you ever put words on a page.

You must decide to give a damn. You must be so committed to placing your prospects’ and existing clients’ needs ahead of your business’s needs that you use their goals as a beacon for any and all content efforts.

One of the dirty little secrets of content marketing is tactics and strategy alone don’t win. Yes, they help get the ball down the field, but tactics and strategy have to be guided by something.

That something is a commitment to…

  • Better knowing your audience
  • Better interacting with your audience
  • Better serving your audience

The way to meaningfully get noticed is to care more about meeting your audience’s needs than the competition. Several months ago, while putting together a content strategy for a large health and fitness brand, I was asked “What about the blog? What should we blog about?”

The company was rebranding and adding a consumer blog to the website. I shared with the global marketing manager that the surest way to gain ground on the competition and build up good will with prospects was to deliver information that added value to the latter’s lives, and that meant putting them first early and often.

Instead of blogs about the company or its products, blogs would be written about people.

  • “How Janet McMillan Prepares For A Marathon Less Than Three Months After The Birth Of Her Fourth Child.”
  • Not “Ways Our Products Can Help You Prepare For Your Next Race.”

Which one would you read? The one that shows you the business gives a damn, right?

To win your customers over and score big in the content marketing race, commit to giving a damn before you do anything else.

Find out…

  •  Who they are.
  •  What they care about.
  •  How your business can help them accomplish their goals.

Early on, this process is rather easy and simplistic.  Spend some time brainstorming about the people who would potentially be your customers.

Are they men or women? Where do they likely live? What income do they likely enjoy? Where do they spend the majority of their non-work-related time?

From there, you’d place yourself in their shoes, looking to discern what makes them tick: Family? Sports? Career? Travel? Etc.

Give A Damn(Photo credit: ShellyS via photopin cc)

Customers Are Waiting For Brands To Talk To Them, Not At Them

Keep in mind that this process is wholly iterative. You will refine and revise this approach with time and as you gather more information. The goal is to harness enough information for you to market intelligently to prospects.

So, when you sit down to write a blog the process takes shape naturally:

  • Who am I writing this for?
  • What are his/her needs?
  • How can our brand make him/her the hero?

In the case of the fitness brand, the answers looked something like this:

  • A 32-year-old mother of two girls
  • The ability to train in her home
  • By offering a low-cost exercise option that can be used in the home but stores easily and requires less than 45 minutes a day to get a training effect.

As you can imagine, blog content began to flow easily from team members.

  • “How To Exercise For 3o Minutes A Day Without Leaving Your Home”
  • “Ways To Get Your Before-Baby Body Without Leaving Home To Exercise”
  • “Work Up A Sweat While The Kiddies Are Napping”

What began as “What should we blog about? took shape as Who are we talking to? What are their needs? How can we help them?” Your company can follow a similar outline. All it requires is that you you give a damn and drop the brand-first thinking.

What do you say? Ready to give it a try?

Steal Mike King’s Ideas To Get Your Feet Wet With Personas

If you’ve ever seen a grown man reduced to tears, you know it’s not pretty. There’s lots of sniffling and “uh-huh-huhs,” in addition to the bits of spittle that fly everywhere as they attempt to talk through the episode. So, you can imagine my discomfort at sitting in a room with the senior vice president of a midsize company as he grilled a contractor —an SEO recommended by one of his friends— about the information, or lack thereof, he’d presented.

“You aren’t telling me anything I don’t know,” said the SVP, who headed up marketing and advertising, but whose background was in data. “This report is something I can generate myself. And don’t give me some B.S. about competitive analysis. I’m asking you about my customers … Who are they? Answer that. You can’t, can you? Because if you could you wouldn’t have spent—what is it now?—24 minutes of my time going over B.S. metrics, analytics, keywords and other worthless s**t! You’re supposed to help me define my customers, and to this point you have not.”

I witnessed this train wreck first-hand. It was as shocking as it was telling, leading me to come away with three thoughts:

  1. Don’t position yourself as a “data-focused SEO who can help you identify and market to your target audience” unless you have the chops to back it up.
  2. Know your client’s “m*!$@#^$*&^+g audience!”
  3. A few hours spent reading and researching Mike King’s work could have saved the poor guy a lot of heartache and embarrassment.

I’ve written before that I’ve stolen, er, appropriated, numerous ideas from the work of Mike King, a brilliant digital marketer who understands how to develop buyer personas as well, or better, than anyone whose work I’ve read.

If you’ve seen Mike present, you know he’s entertaining and a wealth of knowledge.

What I appreciate more than anything about his work is (a) it pulls folks away from the silliness of single-mindedly focusing on keywords and (b) it provides a simple (though not necessarily easy) framework for companies to clearly discern the audience they should be targeting, which is a far cry from the “guess-and-miss” approach I see all too many businesses employ.

“When you target everyone you actually target no one,” he says.

I’m on record as saying keywords do not play a huge role in any of the work that I do for clients. As a content strategist, my role is to help companies use content to reach their long-term business goals. The last thing I’m interested in doing is giving them information they can hire pretty much any junior SEO or junior content person to provide.

Rather, what I spend my time doing is getting my hands in the squishy places where others aren’t interested to go, but that the business desperately needs to delve into.

One of those places is buyer persona development, which makes businesses aware of who buys from them and why. This is an effort your business needs to undertake.

Before you roll your eyes and click to another page, hear me on this:

Understanding who your core prospect is, in addition to why they buy from you will make you more money than you could have ever imagined. It’ll also save you more money than you could imagine.

Here’s how:

  1. If you know who your customers are, it’s much easier to figure out where they congregate online, then market to them with a message that will resonate, anywhere online, including on your website.
  2. Unlike the competition, which is likely taking a spray-and-pray approach, you aren’t wasting money on content (e.g., web design, copywriting, PPC, etc.) that’s 70 percent guesswork.

Now do I have your attention?

If you’ve read any of King’s work, you know it’s involved, thorough and has the depth of a Calc II textbook.

That’s not where we are going to start, however.

In my experience, the easiest way to get a company energized about buyer persona development is to get everyone’s hands dirty simultaneously, and that’s by taking the qualitative route.

Here’s how that process looks for your company:

  • Create. One of the biggest energy sappers for staff members is the constant genericising of information about their users and prospective users. Not here, though. Have a member of your team pull the data on three to five of your customers, while ensuring that the sampling is representative of the breadth of your customers. Then, get in a room with a whiteboard and begin mocking up each person, creating a demographic profile that highlights everything from age and sex to income, employer and residence. Keep in mind that this is not science, so some of this information can be assumed based on known factors. This is my preferred method for rudimentary persona development, and I refer to it as “going from specific to general,” for you are looking to market to cohorts of the specific person you’ve profiled.
  • Test: Begin creating content for these personas based around their assumed needs. That is, blogs should “speak” to prospects in a way that matches their education, interests and goals for interacting with the business. Web pages should be clear, uncluttered and compelling, sure, but they must also instantly deliver the message your personas expect to encounter and would be amenable to. What’s more PPC ads, too, should mimic the style, voice and tone reflected in your persona discovery process. The more clear and aligned this process is, the better and more relevant the information you’ll receive.
  • Analyze: After a pre-determined amount of time, put the team back together and analyze the data. What messages seemed to perform best? How could they be enhanced? What changes should be made? What form those changes should take?.
  • Tweak: Resist the urge to make wholesale changes only because you didn’t receive the feedback you hoped for in the allotted amount of time. If your persona models are accurate, or even close, maintain the course and only change what looks like a clear loser. For example, if the homepage looks like a dud, applying a heat map or conducting an A/B test could prevent you from making changes for changes sake.
  • Repeat: The goal is to continue refining the process as more information becomes available. The key here is accurate information, however. The more prospects reach out to and interact with the brand, the more opportunities you have for meaningful data-gathering. In this way, you’re acting as a baker leavening bread, continuing to fold in those essential elements.

This qualitative approach could be deemed elementary. But I love it for getting buy-in from stakeholders and for energizing brand managers about the need to gather as much accurate information as possible about their target audience.

I’d love for you to give it a try and let me know what you think.

2014 Pubcon Vegas Schedules You Need to Know

Pubcon Registration Dailypubcon_logo

7:30 AM – Monday-Thursday

Check out our Pubcon survival tips

Bus Timesto and from Pubcon

One of the hardest things for people to remember is when the buses will be coming and going. Every year we see a lot of tweets about when the buses will be there. Here is the list of times, and please notice that the times vary depending on the day.

Monday, October 6:

7:00 a.m. – 8:15 a.m. Pubcon buses making a loop from Treasure Island to the Las Vegas Convention Center
4:40 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Pubcon buses looping from the Las Vegas Convention Center to Treasure Island

Tuesday, October 7 and Wednesday, October 8:

7:15 a.m. – 9:15 a.m. Pubcon buses making a loop from Treasure Island to the Las Vegas Convention Center
4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Pubcon buses looping from the Las Vegas Convention Center to Treasure Island

Thursday, October 9

8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. Pubcon buses making a loop from Treasure Island to the Las Vegas Convention Center
5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Pubcon buses looping from the Las Vegas Convention Center to Treasure Island

Open Parties and Networking Events

There is always a group of folks at the Breeze Bar at TI every night. Don’t miss the great networking opportunities!

Monday, Oct. 6

Monday Night Kickoff Networking Reception  – 5:30-7:30PM

This is for Gold and Platinum passes and is held at the convention center, south hall. You will need to pick up your Pubcon registration info earlier so you can attend. This is a great place to network.

Epic Dinner – ONLY IF you signed up and are on the list!

Monday October 6th 8PM –  Carmine’s

Tuesday, Oct. 7

SEJ Open Bar in Expo Hall – 12-3PM

Stop by booth #201 for a free drink!

Networking Sponsored by Facebook  – 6PM

This will be at the convention center.

Señor Frog’s Restaurant & Bar at TI –  7-9PM

This is an informal networking event, all welcome.

Eighth Annual Purpose Inc. SEO Poker Tournament –  9:15PM

The Mirage Hotel and Casino poker room R.S.V.P. Required, register here.

Wednesday, Oct. 8

US Search Awards  – 6:30PM at TI

You have to pay for tickets to this event.

Thursday, Oct. 9

Pubcon Closing Keynote Happy Hour – 2:30-5:00PM

South hall keynote area for gold, platinum, or networking badge pass-holders.

Important Conference Events

The Session Grid / Agenda is Your Friend

You want to keep this session grid handy via mobile. It will be up in multiple places at the conference, but you need this handy so you know when you need to head out in the mornings (times may vary depending on your previous evening).

Pubcon Labs

Tuesday & Wednesday 11:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. – Session Grid

Exhibit Hall Grand Opening Tuesday 9:35 a.m.

You don’t want to miss going to the exhibit hall! There are lots of people to meet, networking to be done and swag to grab. Some of the activities you don’t want to miss:

  • Vendor Bingo – Tuesday & Wednesday 9:35 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
  • Barnes & Noble Author Book Signings  – Great writers to meet and books to see - Tuesday & Wednesday 9:45 a.m. – 2:45 p.m.
  • Pubcon Exhibitor Demo Theater  – Learn about tools and companies that could help you in the future – Tuesday & Wednesday 9:35 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
  • Exhibit Hall Breaks – Lots of networking happens here – Tuesday 9:35 – 10:15 a.m. & Wednesday 2:15 – 2:45 p.m.

Check us out at Pubcon!

We would love to meet you, so come say hello!

Brian’s Sessions at Pubcon – Wednesday

Melissa’s Session at Pubcon – Wednesday

If we have missed any events and you would like us to add it to the list please let us know!

Are Conversions A Red Herring To Your Brand’s Content Strategy?

As a dyed-in-the-wool strategist, nothing gets me more excited than going after the soft underbelly of the competition. I’ve seen time and time again that when a business commits to smartly zig when others zag, the dividends can far exceed what anyone initially expected. But this only happens if business owners are open-minded, willing to refrain from allowing conversions to be a red herring to their overall content strategy.

Conversions, while important, are not the be-all and end-all when it comes to the driving the content for your brand.

In fact, it might be wise to ignore conversions to a large extent when it comes to the content that should be added to your website.

Opportunities Can Trump Conversions

"300 movie" "This is madness"

Image courtesy of KnowYourMeme.com

I know what you’re thinking: “This is madness, Ronell! You’re a mad man!”

When you or your staff are deciding what to add in the way of content to your site, you likely start with Google Analytics, which alerts you of everything from where the user came from and which pages they visited to how long they spent on the site and everything else you need to fill up your daily data cup.

Simple enough, right?

But what about the folks who visited your site and did not convert? How did they end up there? What could you have offered them to gain their business? Most important, what about the folks who never found/visited your site?

How could you get in front of them so that next time, or at some point in the future, they visit your site and do convert. I’ll tell you how: By largely ignoring your keywords and your conversion traffic.

Here’s why:

Let’s say one of your main branded keywords are “Jeff’s Coffee Beans” and your money keyword is “Coffee Beans Phoenix.”

  • This means that you’d obviously have the website local SEO-optimized for anyone looking for “Jeff’s Coffee Beans in Phoenix”
  • And you’d have main category pages and blog content centered around “Coffee Beans Phoenix”

If someone is walking through Phoenix and thinks, “What was the name of the coffee shop Diane told us about?” you’re covered. Then they get on mobile and type in “Coffee Shops In Phoenix,” and assuming you have your local citations in order, you pop up as one of their top choices.

But…

  • What about the person looking for a great place to work, with free Wi-Fi, in downtown Phoenix?
  • How would the person who’s meeting a friend in downtown find you?
  • And for the four co-workers looking for a light lunch—would your keywords make them aware that you offer tasty bagel sandwiches and homemade chicken salads?

Keywords Are Great Until They Aren’t

rsz_darpa_big_data

Image courtesy of Darpa

Don’t be misled by data and keywords. Those amazing conversions could be distracting you from real opportunities, the ones that your business (a) needs and is (b) on the cusp of.

The problem arises when you think of your keywords from the standpoint of your business, not as your customer. You think, “I’m a location in downtown Phoenix that roasts and sells coffee beans and that also runs a coffee shop that sells specialty items.” Many would-be customers are likely looking for none of those services, but would happily visit, or even frequent your location, if you’d simply market yourself to them.

How?

By focusing on their solutions, not their problems.

No matter what business you’re in, the better you understand the intent, not just actions, of your ideal prospects and existing customers, the closer you are to realizing the level of success that’s available to your business.

This is a point summed up nicely by brilliant SEO Ruth Burr Reedy, in a recent blog, Persona Research and SEO: Nobody Googles Their Problems: “Focusing solely on the last keyword—the one that converts—means missing out on a huge opportunity to engage earlier in the decision-making process.”

She continued: “The searches that convert tend to be searches where people already have a solution to their problems in mind. The real opportunity, however, lies in the searches people conduct while they’re trying to figure out what those solutions are. Information-gathering queries are unlikely to convert right away, but they are an excellent opportunity to build a relationship with a consumer so when they’re ready to buy, they come to you.”

An Agile Persona Model That Gets Big Results

Remember, content marketing is not PPC, where someone clicks an ad, is taken your landing page, and then decides to buy your product or service. No, content marketing is part of the long game, which means you’re planting today what likely won’t yield fruit until some point in the future.

That’s why blogs are important. Consumers find your content, become familiar with your brand, then, when they need a product or service, you’ll be top of mind, provided you’ve made the commitment to content marketing early and often enough.

Thanks to our recent blog on long-tail keywords, you’re savvy enough to think beyond your main terms and, instead, now look for opportunities around long-tail keyword phrases.

Now, it’s time to take that effort to the next level by marrying it with your buyer personas.

Don’t let the word “persona” scare you. I’m not going to propose that you spend months compiling data about users, spent thousands on some fancy service or pay a marketing firm to conduct a study.

What I am going to do is ask you and your team to put on your thinking caps and come up with the reasons folks buy/would buy your products.

Notice, this is a bit different than the typical approach to personas, whereby marketers focus on the various types of people who purchase their products. This broad-to-narrow view can be very effective, especially for larger brands having varied but similar product lines.

However, it is fraught with problems many businesses need not concern themselves with:

  • It can lead business leaders down a path of assuming there are vast groups of people seeking any one product
  • It can result in marketers taking their eyes off their core audience, which is most-easiest identified
  • It often lends itself to “there-is-never-enough-information” syndrome

Start Marketing To Real People

Real-people

I’ve compiled hundreds of personas for dozens of companies, and I can say that, with rare exception, what most small and midsize businesses would benefit most from is identifying the why, not the who.

While the personalities/personality types could be endless for the people who would buy your product or service, the reasons for which people make those purchases is very, very narrow.

No one buys a car to fix a nasal infection.

So, I want you and your team to focus on the various reasons prospects would buy your product and why existing customers currently purchase your product.

These two exercises alone will tell you more than you ever imagined and inform your content strategy, and your blogging strategy.

Here’s how the process looks, using the fictional coffee shop above:

  • Ask team members to keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas of why customers would frequent your location (e.g., cup of coffee, coffee beans, work space, food, meeting, etc.)
  • Talk to current customers about what brings them in, what they purchase, where they work/live, why your location works for them, what additional items they’d be interested in, how many times a week they visit, etc.
  • Meet weekly to compare notes and to discuss content that should be created around the topics discussed

This exercise accomplishes two very important tasks:

  1. It gets staff to thinking about content strategically, not just for the purpose of creation
  2. It focuses the business’s marketing “eyes” on a few clear, definable targets
  3. It allows the team to see the business through the eyes of would-be consumers and actual consumers

This is the where content strategy meets brand strategy: defining clearly who you (the business) are in the minds’ of consumers, and in the process understanding the types of content your audience expects, is receptive to, will share and reward you with business for.

The game-changing benefits to this strategy are that it energizes your entire team to market to real people, not fictional characters created on a whiteboard. In essence, the amalgamation of your (informed) keyword strategy and personas delivers a handcrafted content strategy that’s easy to get started on and, dare I say, fun to keep going.

Let’s see this in action…

One of the coffee shop’s customers is Pam, an upper-middle-class 43-year-old mom of two girls who lives three miles away, visits four times a week, after she leaves the nearby gym. She always purchases the 10-ounce skinny latte but says she’s (a) interested in a low-fat, gluten-free muffin and (b) would consider visiting the shop for lunch if the menu had sufficient healthy options.

It’s safe to assume other moms in the area are like Pam, so why not create content around her and moms like her.

  • Create lifestyle-oriented blogs with topics like “How To Find Your Local Gym Partner,” “Stay Skinny With The Best Latte In Phoenix,” “Why Should Pam Enjoy All The Fun?” and “Don’t Throw Away All That Hard Work At The Gym: Stay Skinny With Phoenix’s Best Latte”
  • Offer coupons through the local gym for a buy-one-get-one-free skinny latte (available only to those who bring in a friend who is also in gym clothes)
  • Feature moms/patrons in your blog, on your website and in your promotional materials, highlighting who they are and what makes them tick
  • Create discount cards with a space for writing on the back, allowing them to double as suggestion cards, when they are traded in at the register

See a pattern? Every bit of content is infused with the user, and the solution he or she is seeking, not with the needs of the business.

The more willing your business is to commit to delivering the content prospects need, the more they will reward you with consistent business for your efforts.

This entire process has legs.

If your team is willing to jot down notes as time permits, then bring those notes to a brief meeting each week for discussion, the benefits can be eye-opening.

This is the sort of content strategy I think all businesses can and should engage in. I’ve seen the positive benefits with my own eyes.

What are your thoughts? Did I leave out something of significance?

Tired of Your Keywords Not Being Provided?

We have been putting the finishing touches on our initial Google Analytics integration over the past few weeks. Those of you who requested access to our beta testing list should be receiving emails soon letting you know that these new features have been activated on your account.

The first report that we will be adding is our “Now Provided” report. This report will mash up rank tracking data, Google Analytics, and various AdWords related metrics. You can see a sample of that report below.

Keyword Opportunities

Our goal with this report is to give a clearer picture of which keywords are driving traffic to each page. Then we narrow down opportunities where you may not rank in the top couple positions for a keyword, but there is data to support the value of focusing on those keywords, even if they’re not something you’re tracking in AuthorityLabs.

We will be rolling these new features out to accounts over the next couple weeks. Keep an eye out over the next few months as we add even more reports to help you with your SEO campaigns.