Create Web Content That Gets Noticed With These 5 Tools

We all know that content management systems makes it fast and easy to publish to the web. Fast and easy, however, isn’t the same as optimal. Optimal is harder to achieve—and squishier to define. On the web it means you have to think about multiple variables: your audience, text, images, search engines, standards, guidelines, technology and a lot more. The good news: it’s pretty easy to get started.

Your reader comes first. Period.

This should be obvious. You are publishing content for your audience. You are trying to inform, educate, persuade and amuse your audience. But when traffic or ranking on search engines is lower than you’d like, it’s tempting to make changes that negatively impact your audience in the hope of a short term traffic boost. My advice: don’t do it. Earning a loyal audience and avoiding penalties are two good reasons to take the high road.

Earning a loyal audience

If you’re like most web site owners, you want the audience to visit more than one page. Perhaps you want them to buy something or register for update or browse other content on your site or return again in the future. That first visit is your chance to earn trust and loyalty. If you think it’s hard to get somebody to your site, just wait until you learn how hard it is to keep them on your site or to convert from an anonymous visitor into a potential customer. Yes you need to get people to your site, but success requires planning for a journey, not just a single step.

Avoiding search engine penalties

Search engines have the power to reward and to punish publishers. Remember, they’re competing for users and trust just like you are. The are continuously tweaking and improving algorithms to present the best and most relevant information to users with each and every search. So when a page or an entire site is employing tactics that inflate the relevance of your content, you may get a short term improvement in your rankings and visits.

Users and search engines are smart. Users will abandon pages with weak content (called pogo-sticking). Search engines will take notice of sketchy practices and issue algorithmic or manual penalties. If your site relies on search engine traffic for revenue, getting penalized will be very painful. Future traffic could drop by 20% or more. And even after you clean up the user un-friendly tactics, it will take weeks or months to regain the trust of a scorned search engine vendor.  Those are significant costs and effective deterrents for mainstream site owners.

The flip side of penalties are rewards.  Following Quality Guidelines will not only let your avoid penalties, it will reward you with engaged readers and higher rankings in search engine results pages. Surprisingly few people have read Google’s quality guidelines. Fewer have put them into action. And even fewer still embrace these guidelines consistently across their site and content. That is your opportunity. Below are five tools that help authors succeed at publishing content that gets noticed by readers and search engines alike.

5 Tools for creating irresistible content that gets noticed

Below are several of my favorite tools that help you create elated and sticky users and sites that are easy for search engines to crawl, parse, index and rank highly in search results. These tools focus on “on-page optimizations” which means that each page you create is ready for consumption by readers and search engines. “Off page optimization tools” which focus on building site-wide credibility and links are beyond the scope of this article. All of the recommended on-page optimization tools have free versions. Some have extremely useful professional editions that are worth evaluating.

1. Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO is an excellent plug-in for WordPress and Drupal that helps authors follow on-page search engine optimization best practices.

Get Noticed: Yoast SEO

 

Incorporating this tool into the writing/editing/publishing workflow is super easy for everyone from authors to content strategists, blog editors and WordPress administrators. Use this tool before publishing posts to validate that the content is set up for success across multiple dimensions. Yoast SEO uses the idea of a “focus keyword” as an organizing principal. It then provides guidance to authors for improving the content for robotic search engines crawlers such as increasing article length, incorporating useful hyperlinks and subheadings and crafting optimized meta descriptions. Now it’s even better because of 2016 improvements for post readability. Yoast SEO provides helpful and light-handed readability suggestions by scanning your content for long sentences, passive voice and use of transition words.

Yoast SEO also does a ton behind the scenes optimizations too. Webmaster best practices such as maintaining sitemap.xml and robots.txt files happen without direct intervention from authors, editors, administrators or theme designers.

2. ImageOptim

ImageOptim is a free and open source MacOS app that strips images of extra pixels and unneeded meta data. This is extremely important because photographs, stock images and even images created in tools like Photoshop include a lot of information that isn’t needed by image consumers. Extra information results in bloated files that download slowly. The result is small image files that render beautifully and transfer across the internet quickly.

Get Noticed: ImageOptim

Adding ImageOptim to your workflow is super simple. Once you’ve downloaded and install the app, add the icon to your Mac’s dock. Before adding new images to your post, drag it onto the docked icon. The reduced-size file replaces the original. Lossy compression is a available as a user preference if you want to reduce file size even further.

3. Web Developer Extension for Chrome

Web Developer is a Swiss Army Knife of web development tools used by just about every experienced web developer and publisher—and you should start using it too. Your initial focus should be on using the extension to run validation tests using the W3C validation engines for your HTML and CSS code plus any links that are on your page.

Get Noticed: Web Developer for Chrome

Many HTML and CSS errors are benign. Others cause pages to render poorly. Poorly formatted pages discourage users and diminish trust. The same is true of hyperlinks. Nothing frustrates a visitor more than clicking on a link and not getting the desired payload.

4. SEOQuake Browser Extension for Chrome

SEOQuake presents a consolidated audit of SEO metrics and ranking factors for published pages.

Get Noticed: SEOQuake

It gives you information about how easy your pages are to be indexed along with useful information on effective keywords. Not only does SEOQuake help you evaluate your own site and pages, but it’s highly useful for evaluating how effective your competitors are at creating irresistible pages.

5. Google PageSpeed Insights

Google PageSpeed Insights is a web application focused on the all-important page load time. You provide it with a URL and it identifies fixable elements on your pages for improving performance on desktop and mobile devices. Research studies suggest that in 2016 users prefer pages to load on any device in 3 seconds or fewer and that pages that take more than 5 seconds to load risk abandonment. What’s more, Google uses page load time as a ranking factor.

Get Noticed: PageSpeed Insights

The tool presents a numeric score for your pages, but the real value is in the detail. Drill in to learn where PageSpeed bottlenecks are and how to fix them. The report is a gold mine of issues that are generally easy for authors to fix, like compressing images with ImageOptim.

There’s a lot more you can do but I strongly recommend start with a “high road” philosophy and this initial set of tools. Take the time to learn their features. Figure out how to incorporate the tools into your publishing workflow. And, when you have a few moments, you should also run these tools previously published pages.

Demand Generation Best Practices Aren’t About Digging Deeper

It’s 2016 and the current debate about marketing tactics in Silicon Valley resembles the tactics for farming crops in the increasingly parched San Joaquin Valley. Let me rant a little and explain.

I just got out of a long meeting. A meeting that many marketers have every quarter. The topic: what campaigns and spend levels do we need to hit this quarter’s lead quota. These meetings are incredibly important, but today’s meeting turned in a less useful direction when the focus switched to which tactical “best practices”  to use in the upcoming quarter.

digging deeper wells

Photo Source: Rakshith M Gowda. Shared via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

This unfortunate turn in a marketing meeting led me to draw an analogy with California’s current, and historic, drought.

“Digging Deeper Wells” Isn’t a Marketing Best Practice

With California farmers not getting enough surface water for their thirsty crops, they’ve turned to digging wells. Farming, you see, has exactly two sources of water: surface water (rain, reservoirs and snow melt) and ground water (digging wells). They can’t control rain, but they can invest in wells. So they dig. 20 years ago they might have dug a few hundred feet. Today they are digging a few thousand feet. And so goes the discussion amongst farmers: tactics, timing, ROI and viability of digging deeper wells.

The “digging deeper wells” analogy is relevant to marketing spending because fresh leads are getting tougher and tougher to find. Organic—the surface water of B2B marketing—is the preferred source of leads, but few organizations generate enough organic leads to meet their growth objectives. So they hire marketers and allocate budgets for lead generation. The ask: create the campaign equivalent of digging well water. The budget is set by how deep the hole needs to be to hit water.

Herein lies the problem. Instead of building demand generation engines based on innovation, many marketers simply recycle and reuse demand generation tactics from the recent past: purchase yet another compiled email list, send yet another nurture email to the marketing database, launch yet another Google AdWords campaign, host yet another webinar, and set up yet another gated white paper. Yes, these tactics continue to work. But they are no where near as efficient in 2016 as they were in 2009.

Demand Generation Best Practices: Build for the Future Instead of Replicating the Past

Unlike the exactly two options available to farmers seeking water for their crops, marketers have nearly unlimited options for building future-oriented demand generation success. As a professional marketer my value is from strategizing, executing and measuring demand generation programs that are relevant to today’s target buyers and that will likely out-perform tactics from five years ago.

So instead of just re-allocating larger spends across traditional SEM and content tactics, I suggest marketers build fresh new plans based on projections for the competitive climate, projected company differentiation and latest assessment of target buyers. In other words, instead of defaulting to digging deeper wells, it is very possible for B2B marketers to find fresh sources of water by looking for buyers in fresh locations. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Revisit your target personas, segments and use cases—does your recent product release have new differentiated features or appeal to new buyers? Can you re-segment your existing database? Can you find new and different target lists? Tap into the green fields with your new campaigns.
  • Partner with sales on a target account strategy—here’s an opportunity to proactively reach out to your sales team: offer to provide augmented contact info for, say, five specific job titles at a handful of target accounts. To benefit from this offer, each representative needs to provide the specific account names for research. And together you are building personalized emails and talk tracks to earn meetings and win deals.
  • Find fertile activity patterns in web visitor behavior—still using point based lead scoring? Stop. It never worked and there are better approaches like predictive lead scoring. Even if you can’t invest in fancy predictive lead scoring solutions this quarter, you can start doing the analysis toward identifying sales-ready buyers. Explore the behavior of every user with > 5 visits in the past 90 days. Explore the behavior of every user who has an email address associated with a forecasted deal. Build charts of the findings, share the details with your extended go-to-market-team … and start using those findings to define sales-readiness.
  • Look for “first time” events and partnerships—think you have to be at the largest trade show in your industry with a major presence? Don’t make this an either-or decision. The cost of participation in hyper-targeted shows will be less that for the mega-events, and you’ll have less competition for buyers’ eyes.
  • Switch it up with your pre-paid channels—you probably have an existing multi-quarter media buy in place. How about making experimental changes to your ads, landing pages and assets and perhaps even the target audience within the publishers’ site/publication portfolio.

These are just a few of the ways you can get away from drilling deeper wells and the associated diminishing returns. There are many, many, many others.

Embrace Strategic Demand Generation Best Practices

The best practices from five years ago aren’t the campaign tactics. It’s the relentless focus on relevance, measurement and data. As you move forward apply what you’ve learned from:

    Predictive analytics brings data to marketing decision-making.

    Predictive analytics enhances marketing decision-making.

  • Being relevant, helpful and targeted—are you still promoting that allegedly evergreen white paper from 2014? If the content is still good, make it great with a modest refresh. Update the trend data, add fresh quotes from customers and analysts, insert new use cases and correct your boilerplate. Even evergreen content needs a bit of pruning and fertilizer. If the people in your marketing database trust you, they’ll quickly jump at an updated white paper from you—which is yet another reason to reopen a dialog. And new prospects will reach out for the new and timely information you’re providing.
  • Measuring everything—if you’ve set up your infrastructure correctly, this is free. You’ll be able to compare different channels, classes of offers and campaigns against your benchmarks. Once you have a meaningful engagement sample, you can compare new programs against historical success.
  • Listening to your data … and customers—in 2016, data has earned a seat at the table for campaign success decision-making. Bring it to your meetings. Discuss what it means. And absolutely use data to challenge ingrained assumptions on the team. If you don’t have a large enough sample size for statistically significant findings, bring qualitative feedback (from prospects, buyers and customers, not employees) on the utility of the campaign asset.
  • Taking smart risks—don’t be afraid if a great campaign effort doesn’t generate lots and lots of leads. Reduce risk from any single campaign by having a portfolio of campaigns running concurrently. That way every campaign is a success if you have data for improving decisions about future campaigns. With multiple campaigns you can act like a portfolio manager and not a water-hungry farmer: cancel the clearly ineffective campaigns quickly, double-down on the clearly effective campaigns, and iterate and improve those that have unfulfilled potential.

In summary, the best practices from the digital era are a refreshed point of view on campaign strategy, more than deeper reliance on going back to the well with specific campaign tactics.

What Do You Think?

Look at your plan for next quarter. Do you stand a better chance of winning by writing your own 2016 playbook or following legacy demand generation best practice of digging deeper wells?