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.

A Painless, Effective Approach To Link Building That Any Business Can Employ

Mention link building to most business owners and you’re likely to get weird stares as their minds replay thoughts of a previous bludgeonings by Google Penguin. But that punishment wasn’t the result of link building; it was the result of bad business practices (i.e., buying links). No matter what you think about the process of building links, this much is clear:

Links remain one of the most important elements in your business’s efforts to gain traffic, authority and drive conversions.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the Link Ranking Factors from SearchMetrics’ SEO Ranking Factors for 2014:

Click image to expand size

searchmetrics-ranking-factors

While this chart only tells a smart part of the overall story, it does highlight that links still play a significant role in the overall ranking of a website. (Take a look at the complete list here.)

It’s pretty apparent that the role of links, while diminishing by comparison to content and social, isn’t going away any time soon.

“Links aren’t dying…We just need to focus on building better ones.” Link building expert Julie Joyce, owner of LinkFish Media.

I couldn’t agree more.

I also propose that we take a different approach to link building as well. If your company or agency has engaged in “traditional” link building, it likely looks something like this:

  • Identify a target you’d like to get a link from
  • Have a staffer reach out ask for a link to a piece of content or web page
  • Staffer sends emails with the same ask
  • More calls
  • More emails

Sound familiar?

Or, maybe your business is heavily involved in content marketing already, and you have a pretty good process in place. Instead of the hard sell, your team identifies your audience, determines where they go to consume and share content, creates content along the lines of what they normally share, then reaches out to them.

Certainly a better approach.

The framework above looks something like this:

Audience > Platform > Create Content > Outreach > Links

I have a much, much different—and, I think, more effective way of doing link building—and it’s one I think your business should give a try.

Link building begins with a content-first mindset.

When brands put users first in creating content all too often the messaging of the brand falters, and with it their link building or content marketing efforts.

For example, say you’re a brand that’s done your homework, discerning your target audience is Millennials who mainly use Snapchat and Instagram. You then go about creating highly visual content, which you share on those platforms and then begin outreach efforts in hopes of acquiring links.

In this scenario, which we see played out daily, the content is typically off-message, created only for the purpose of getting links and mentions but having very little to do with the overall goals of the brand.

It’s why we so many poorly targeted, poorly executed infographics. The social team notices the popularity of infographics; the SEO folks salivate at the link opportunity; and the content and design teams realize the information is already at hand and they can deliver a shiny infographic in two days.

You end up with something like this:

Untitled

Remember, every piece of content you create, and every endeavor you undertake to share such content, must have clear, definable goals and metrics associated with the larger goals of the business.

This serves to take the emphasis off vanity metrics (e.g., shareability) and places it on what the brand, overall, is trying to accomplish.

By taking a content-first approach that’s informed by users, you create wins for everyone.

Here’s how it looks:

  • You commit to only producing content that’s impactful, resonant and in line with your core branding (this assumes your brand was established after identifying your ideal prospects)
  • You continue to gain clarity on the members of your target audience who’re willing to support your brand (e.g., customer, ambassador, advocate, etc.)
  • You identify the platforms they’re using to share and link to content
  • You become a visible, active participant on those platforms, with hopes of creating a meaningful relationship
  • You notice certain members sharing, linking to and engaging around your content
  • You reach out to those members (a) who’ve shared your content, (b) who are the most active, visible and (c) who are the most influential to ask about the types of information that’s lacking in the sector (you might even ask them to be a part of the content, as part of a co-marketing effort)
  • You produce the type of content the audience members highlighted as missing
  • You ask if they would be so kind as to share the content
  • You share it and give audience members credit for their help

Notice anything different with this approach?

Great Content > Audience > Platform > Engagement > Outreach > Links

relationship buildingYou aren’t so much link building as you are relationship building. And, in an age where PR, branding and media relations is so neglected, but so very important, this is a philosophy every business must adopt, to some degree. As a content strategist, who has advised hundreds of companies and overseen thousands of content-related campaigns, I’m convinced that success begins with the commitment to create amazing content.

While a commitment to great content is tough to stick with over time, the effort is well worth the trouble. Why? Most of the competition doesn’t care enough to begin down this path.

It’s too easy to define the audience, find out where they congregate and then start peppering them with content similar to what they already read, share and (sometimes) link to. If your business hopes to earn links, and not just beg for them, you need must commit to creating compelling, novel and indispensable content. Is it hard? Yes. But is it scalable? Absolutely.

Google’s head of webspam, Matt Cutts, seems to convey a similar message in this video from SMX Advanced 2014: “If you do enough excellent, interesting, useful, funny, compelling stuff, usually your reputation, or your links, however you want to think of it, takes care of itself.”

I don’t agree that great information is all it takes to get links. But, in my experience, it is part of the surest path to acquiring links.

What are your thoughts?

Everything You Need to Know: Surviving @Pubcon

pubcon_logoPubcon Vegas 2014 is about 3 weeks away! We have found that when going to Pubcon you need to plan ahead of time to make the experience more enjoyable. So, Brian LaFrance and I, Melissa Fach, got together and figured out what tips we would give to Pubcon attendees. This was a complete collaborative effort, however Brian is the expert on food and restaurants in Vegas (check out the extensive list below!). You can also see some great tips on last year’s Pubcon post, see comments.

Pubcon is a ton of fun and Vegas is fun, but that fun can take a major detour if you are not prepared. So, please check out the tips and suggestions below and if you have any tips please add them to the comments. Lastly, both Brian and I will be attending and speaking at Pubcon! Come say hello!

Pubcon Tips

Things to Bring to Pubcon

  • Bring a hoodie or jacket to the conference – freezing! The biggest complaint you will see on Twitter is how cold people are. Everyone tries to warn people that it is cold – Pubcon can’t control the temp, the convention center does.
  • Bring water and drink water, lots of it! It is easy to get dehydrated in a dry environment, and drinking alcohol doesn’t help. (by Thursday you will see a few conference zombies that forgot to drink water…and are slightly hungover)
  • Bring Tylenol/Motrin, daily. Either you will need it or your fellow attendees will. A great way to make a new friend is have some Tylenol :).What-to-bring
  • Have some cash for the convention center – drinks, food, cabs and tips.
  • Comfy shoes for the conference – the convention center is large and all that matters is your feet survive.
  • Deodorant. Don’t forget it and use it a couple times a day. Vegas can be a stinky place and you don’t want to contribute to that.
  • Business cards and something to safely hold all the business cards you get. Or, set up Evernote on your phone and snap a quick photo of all the cards so they’re searchable – https://evernote.com/contact/support/kb/#!/article/53057988.
  • Camera that zooms – you want quality images for social shares, blog posts and memories.
  • Chapstick, it is dry – it will be useful for the convention center and casinos.
  • A small, portable power strip – Some hotel rooms and the convention center can end up with a limited number of outlet options. There are cheap power strips out there such as this one that will give you some extra flexibility on where you can charge your computer, phone, and whatever other accessories you have.
  • Labeled power and phone cords. People lose them all the time at conferences. If your name and Twitter handle are on the cords people can tweet your name with the #Pubcon hashtag and you have a better shot at finding it.
  • A couple of snacks/snack bars. You never know when you will miss a meal because you are talking with someone you don’t want to walk away from – snacks can save you!

Saving Money & Other Money Tips

  • Share cabs – you don’t want to walk to the conference shuttle or wait for it you can share a cab and it will cost you like $2-3 dollars (plus tip). It is always good to have cash and small bills work great for this.
  • Use your drink tickets. Free booze can be hard to come by outside of sitting at a table losing money. Plus, you can bring someone you respect a drink, that is always appreciated.
  • Gamble downtown if you want cheap tables. In the evening, most of the table minimums on the strip are all going to be 2-3x those of the casinos on Fremont Street.
  • Just plan on spending money on food and drinks – not a lot of savings :)
  • Save receipts for everything (cabs, food, networking drinks, hotel, travel expensives), or take pics and save them to Evernote or Dropbox; these are tax deductions!

Conference / Nightlife Survival

  • Make sure your cab driver knows to go to the Las Vegas Convention Center (South Hall) on Paradise Rd. (our cab driver tried to take us to the wrong convention center).
  • Pubcon-VegasPrepare to be up most of the night. If that means getting a quick nap at some point during the day or right before dinner, do it. Networking in the evenings is huge. (this is even more important for those that come from multiple time zones away)
  • Consider hitting the Breeze Bar in TI (Treasure Island) every evening; massive networking happens here (I think the earliest I left was 2:30 am).
  • Network with conference sponsors, like us, and exhibitors.
  • Plan dinners ahead of time and make sure they don’t conflict with parties or events you want to attend. Expect that plans may change on the fly though and be flexible.
  • Eat enough food so you don’t end up too wasted and on YouTube ;) – Good plan…especially avoid being on YouTube riding a bull. That would be embarrassing.
  • Get a cell number from people attending parties or dinners you are attending – if you get lost or if plans change you can always reach someone.
  • Wash your hands often. Nothing like picking up a virus because someone else with a cold or flu had their virus infested hands all over the same doorknob, gaming chips, or bartop you’re now touching.
  • REMEMBER – people you meet in a bar could be huge in regards to your future; make sure you don’t drink so much that you kill any opportunity you could have created (seen it happen).
  • There are many people in recovery, make sure you are respectful when it comes to drinking or offering drinks. Be willing to walk away from a bar for networking.

Things That Freaked Melissa, the Floridian, Out

I am from Florida and to say it is very humid here is an understatement. I didn’t realize what the ‘dryness’ of Vegas would do to me. So, here are some tips if you also live in a humid and/or sea level environment:

  • Drink as much water as possible. I was dehydrated and didn’t realize it. My skin was super dry, my lips were dry, I was weak and on the 4th day my legs swelled up and I looked like a freak…drink water. (Water is far cheaper at pharmacies and stores than hotels).
  • The dry skin – bring lotion and face moisturizer and use them often.
  • My hair is really curly, but in Vegas it was completely straight. If you have curly hair plan on a different hair style and bring the styling products you will need.
  • Altitude sickness – I didn’t realize this was a thing until I got back and a friend that lived in Vegas explained what I was feeling was altitude sickness. Where I live in Florida I am below sea level; the altitude of Vegas was a huge change for me. Here are some tips on how to avoid altitude sickness and some symptoms you should look out for.

Packing

Melissa

over-packingI always end up bringing too much when I travel and the truth is so much can happen in Vegas that you need options. Here is my strategy on how to not overpack:

  • Plan and bring an outfit for each day and night. This will save you a lot of time!
  • Don’t worry about being dressed up for the conference. The majority of the people attending are on the geeky side and they don’t expect business attire. Plus you want to be comfortable when spending all day at a conference dragging around a laptop and accessories.
  • Have 1-2 dressy options for possible nights out (Bring items you can mix and match for a possible 3rd night).
  • Bring comfy daytime shoes for walking around Vegas and the conference.
  • Bring a dressier pair of shoes for evenings – focus on comfort instead of looks. You need a dressy pair.
  • If you end up needing something there are stores everywhere!
  • Plan on bringing back multiple freebies from the conference – consider the room you will need when you pack and the weight of your bag after the conference (airline fees).
  • Plan a comfortable/comforting outfit for flying home – you will be tired, exhausted, possibly hungover and looking nice won’t matter. Also, the TSA is super careful in Vegas, wear things that don’t require you to remove items to get through the long line. (They checked my hair in a pony tail, twice! They aren’t messing around)

Brian

Like Melissa, I usually end up bringing too much. It’s just hard to plan for everything and sometimes plans fall through.

  • Bring multiple pairs of shoes. I prefer having 2 sets of walking shoes so I can rotate day to day.
  • Good walking shoes typically won’t get you into clubs, so you’ll want to consider that if you plan to go out and party.
  • Pack your clothes in a roller bag. Almost everything is a pretty long walk in Vegas.

Brian’s Dining Suggestions

dining-vegasBrian has attended many Pubcons and been to Vegas many times. He has a fantastic list of restaurants to choose from. Each of the links below takes you to Yelp so you can check out reviews, get directions and see pictures of the food.

Lunch

You have to buy your own lunch. On site lunches are hit and miss and the lines get huge. Sometimes better to catch a cab to a close restaurant and get better food. Some options that are a quick cab ride away…

  • Lotus of Siam – Good Thai food option. Can be busy, but has also accommodated groups of around 10-12 on past trips.
  • Bahama Breeze – Good food and service with a ton of great drink options.
  • Freakin Frog – Good bar food and great beer options.
  • Yama-Sushi – Good service and you can do their all you can eat deal, which is a great if you’re a big eater.
  • Cornish Pasty Co. – Not sure there is anything that’s not amazing here.
  • Firefly on Paradise – There’s food for just about anyone’s appetite here. The desserts are pretty awesome too.
  • Angie’s Soul Food Kitchen – Not necessarily for the health conscious, but it’s bound to make just about anyone happy.
  • Imperial Tacos and Beer – If you’re a fan of tacos, you can’t miss this place.
  • Culinary Dropout – Get the pretzels & fondue appetizer. You’ll thank me later. You can also order any burger on a pretzel bun, which is awesome.

Dinner

People usually scatter all over the city for dinner. There’s no shortage of great options in Vegas. Most of the casinos have several restaurants inside with everything from amazing steakhouses to huge buffets. Some places can get busy and reservations are recommended in most cases. Many of these options are a short walk or quick cab ride away from the convention center and conference hotel.

Sushi

  • Shibuya – Great sushi inside MGM Grand. If you want a great food experience where you don’t have to make any decisions, go with the omakase.
  • Nobu – There are two options for Nobu in Vegas. Service can be a little slow at times but the food more than makes up for it.
  • Sushi Roku – Solid sushi choice in the Forum Shops at Caesars that’s a quick walk from Treasure Island. Good service and usually easy to get in without a wait.

Steak & Seafood

Lighter, Faster & Some Vegetarian

Buffets

Be prepared to wait in line for most of these. They’re good but some people don’t have the patience or time :) 

You Will Have a Great Time!

By taking the suggestions we offered above you can plan out everything and really enjoy Pubcon. Every tip offered is based on experience and failures :). We want you to avoid having anything negative and Brian wants you to eat well! If you have any Pubcon suggestions please add them in the comments below.

Brian’s Sessions at Pubcon – Wednesday

Melissa’s Session at Pubcon – Wednesday

4 Surefire Ways You Can Create An Indispensable Brand

awesomeness

Jay Baer’s book Youtility makes a point, on page 30, that’s as important as it is easy to miss:

“Stop trying to be amazing and start trying to be useful.”

I first read the line in July, during a flight to the West Coast, and since that time it’s occurred to me that the point Baer made has far deeper meaning than I’d initially realized.

In a nutshell, my realization is that potential customers, far and wide, are raising their hands, eager for help, eager to spend their money with our businesses but we’re too busy to notice, too busy marketing to them, trying to push them down the sales funnel, toward conversions.

What are our prospects saying? “Just have a conversation with us first.”

Usefulness Is The First Step To Your Brand Getting The Attention It Deserves

You wouldn’t expect someone to walk up to you, ask your name, then, in the next breath ask to marry you. So, why are you asking prospects to make the plunge before they’ve ever decided you’re worthy of a relationship?

Take a gander at social media to see numerous examples of brands getting it right.

  • @HiltonSuggests has raised eyebrows and their brand’s profile by being an indispensable resource on Twitter for travelers, even those who don’t stay at their hotels.
  • @AmericanAir has swiftly become the airline of choice for many fliers by using social media as the de facto arm of customer service, honestly answering specific questions about delays, cancellations and hassles other airlines typically ignore.
  • @Clorox‘s Twitter profile is a treasure trove of information, as they dispense useful tips to some of the most common problems, and in the process provides an enviable example of how a brand that loses the me-first attitude can prosper. (I defy you to check out this brand’s Twitter profile and NOT find something that makes your life easier.)

These brands, and others like them have created top-of-mind awareness by catering to three of the most important needs of consumers: usefulness, meaningfulness and indispensability.

  • Useful: We’re here when you need us most.
  • Meaningful: We strive to add value.
  • Indispensable: We’re willing to earn the right to be a part of your life.

From working with hundreds of companies of all sizes over the last 15 years, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that, to ensure long-term success, the goal must be to create an indispensable brand.

Start the journey to creating an indispensable brand by doing the following:

  • Answer a question on Twitter - Seek out relevant conversations in your vertical, then, as often as time permits, chime in the answer to questions related to your service or product category. Be sure to refrain from pushing your products or services. The goal is to be present and in-the-moment useful.
  • Share meaningful tips in your newsletter - Let’s face it, newsletters have become the scourge of our inboxes. Be a trailblazer by gathering your sales and marketing teams to figure out some of the biggest problems your customers are facing. Once you have that list, get with the content folks to have them create Q&A’s and other one-page features designed to answer those questions as part of the newsletter. (This is the kind of information that gets shared outside the company as well.)
  • Take the show on the road - Actively seek out offline groups and organizations to speak to and share generic information about your line of service or products. The goal is to get in front of these groups, no strings attached, and build a rapport that could pay dividends down the road, not lead to a sale right away. For example, a physician might talk to the parents of high school athletes, making them aware of how to prevent common injuries.
  • Create an amazing piece of evergreen content - Sounds easy enough, right? Not so fast. I don’t mean a piece of content relevant to your industry, products or service. I’m talking about creating a piece of content that’s imminently needed and useful. For example, you could create a “Complete Guide For Brewing Amazing Coffee At Home” or “The Definitive Guide For Keeping Kids Safe Around Pools.” Doesn’t matter that those topics fall outside your area. Your goal is to organically tie your business to prospects’ everyday life, and that begins, first, with visibility. Creating comprehensive evergreen content on topics that are of concern to a huge swath of the population is a surefire means of getting on the useful-meaningful-indispensable path.

Again, the playbook for becoming an indispensable brand has already been written. You just need the commitment to follow the course in front of you.

What is your business doing to become an indispensable brand?

Take Your Presentations to the Next Level, Great Tips from Erica McGillivray

Erica McGillivrayErica McGillivray is the Senior Community Manager at Moz. She also handles the presentations that are given during Mozcon to ensure that the presentations will be received in a positive light by the audience. Because Erica has so much experience with presentations, conference attendees and speakers I thought I would reach out and get some advice on presentation design, content and themes.

If you currently speak or you hope to speak one day I suggest you read Erica’s advice carefully and check out all the great resources she offers.

1. You are a huge part of the presentations at Mozcon. Can you tell us what your role is?

I essentially function as the speaker wrangler for MozCon. I herd cats. :)

But in all seriousness, I have the privilege to work with some of the brightest minds in our greater industry and bring their brilliance to the MozCon stage. MozCon speakers are selected by a small committee, and as part of that, I help get our speakers vetted and selected. Then I work with each speaker from initial outreach about coming to MozCon to post-MozCon feedback.

MozCon is quite a bit more hand-ons than other conferences in the space, because we believe that further coaching and help has gotten already amazing speakers to bring the best presentations (so far) of their careers to the stage. We have initial calls to discuss topics, reviews of drafts or outlines, early final deck reviews, a walkthrough of the stage pre-MozCon, final reminders before going on stage, and post-MozCon pretty robust feedback. There’s a lot I’ve learned over the years of doing this at MozCon (and from my own speaking) or have observed particular needs for the MozCon audience through their feedback and our stage setup.

2. What are the common mistakes you see in presentations?

Ian Lurie from Portent really summed up bad deck mistakes. The two biggest things I see are 1) text not being large enough for the entire audience to see, and 2) cramming too much text on a slide. The latter is the cause of excessive bullet points and often just bad design layout. Audiences will read your slides before they listen to you, so if you have more than 20ish words on a slide, they are likely not listening to you and instead are reading.

Besides the actual deck itself, the biggest mistake I see is not practicing your talk multiple times or not practicing it in front of a live audience. Great talks are practiced, and great speakers practice their talks. Too many speakers work on their decks until the very last minute — which most conferences runners hate — and don’t give the deck time to settle and the talk to fully form in their heads. You want to be comfortable with it on stage.

3. Based on your extensive experience can you tell us what makes a presentation successful with a live audience? How about on Slideshare?

I highly discourage presenters from attempting to make one deck for both the presentation and your Slideshare upload.

Presentations should mostly be about what you say, and most of the time, without your words, the deck will range from mildly to completely incoherent. The best decks present information clearly to the audience and support the talk itself.

TakeawayIt’s about storytelling and takeaways. (The MozCon audience is particularly finicky on those actionable takeaways in that you can give the best talk in the world and get killed in the feedback if there’s no easy-to-grab tips.) You don’t have to have the world’s prettiest deck, but it does need to clearly present the information. Those two things often get misconstrued as the same.

For SlideShare, you want to provide audiences with that extra information that’s missing from the deck, but relayed in the talk. Some speakers release their full speaker notes — though sometimes speakers are hesitant or perhaps embarrassed by them in the raw — and others go as far as transcripts or making a completely separate deck. Personally, I recently did a presentation where I put colored bubbles with text of information into the slides that needed more explanation, and this seemed to work well.

4. There are a lot of recommendations about not using text in presentations. What are your thoughts on this?

Text can be powerful, especially if you choose the right words. Sometimes text can also help the speaker in their flow. For instance, I’m pretty terrible at remembering numbers, and if I’m giving a talk on analytics, numbers are going to be important; so as a speaker, I will often make the slide show the numbers (or whatever else) that I might forget.

As mentioned above, great decks are often ruined by too many words. Limit them.

5. Should presentations be professionally designed?

While I don’t believe they need to be professionally designed, I do believe some basic art of slide building education or a critic of a deck by a designer can be a great thing. A lot of excellent speakers are brought down by bad decks.

I highly recommend Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology, which is a relatively easy book for a non-designer who’s building decks to get some basic principles. On the other hand, a professional designer never hurts if you can afford one. To be perfectly transparent, I was an art student and a graphic designer in a past life, and I know that this has given me a leg up in understanding the principles behind great or bad decks. But I do think that frequent presenters can at least learn some of the basics by reading Duarte’s book or other resources.

6. If you had to single out one thing that consistently sets apart the presentations that get chosen from those that are rejected, what would it be?

Solid pitches that provide details and stand out as a new or unique twist on the topic, plus videos and slide decks from past presentations to serve as a speaking-ability resume. I’m constantly pretty surprised at how many people leave out the details of what makes their talk really different and cool from their descriptions. Sure, your talk’s goodies are a surprise to our audience, but shouldn’t be to show-runners.

7. Personality vs. Professionalism in presentations, what are your thoughts?

I think there can be a balance of both creating a so-called professional deck and put some personality in it. Similar to too much text, too much fun or theme-ing can overwhelm your talk.

For instance, I once created an Inspector Spacetime themed deck. Most of my marketer audience didn’t know that Inspector Spacetime is a fake TV show within the TV show Community. I had a lot of fun doing it, but my audience worried more about knowing how my theme-related and about the theme instead of about my talk. It convoluted the clarity of my deck. I’ve seen similar things happen to MozCon and Mozinar (our webinars) speakers.

8. Anything you would like to share? Resources, tips, pet peeves, etc.?

Don’t be afraid to get out there and speak. Speaking is like everything else in our professional lives: a skill that we learn and evolve to be better at over time. We all have moments where we’re due to falter and times that we will shine.

I always like to share my ever-evolving list of resources for speakers or those who are interested in speaking:

Books:

Articles:

  1. How to Give a Killer Presentation by Chris Anderson, curator at TED
  2. How to Become a Confident Public Speaker by Matthew Capala
  3. The Evolution of My Public Presentations by Rand Fishkin
  4. The Making of SearchLove by Mack Fogelson
  5. Too Busy To Succeed: How I let ‘busyness’ make me choke at MozCon by Adam Audette (make sure to read comments too!)
  6. 11 Things To NEVER Say In A Presentation by XCamilleWong
  7. Presentation Horrors: Don’t Do These Things by Ian Laurie
  8. Being a MozCon Community Speaker: A Look Inside by Zeph Snapp

Videos:

A Big Thanks to Erica McGillivray!

Erica is very busy and I really appreciate her taking the time to answer these questions for us, and for providing all these great resources to learn from. You can find Erica on Twitter , Google+ and Slideshare.