How to Decide What to Blog About: 6 Data-Driven Tactics for Choosing Blog Topics

blog-topics.pngHave you ever written a blog post you were sure was destined to go viral? You spent hours crafting each sentence — positive that your audience would devour each word, shared it on every possible social platform, and knew it would propel to internet fame in a matter of mere hours.

You even thought about changing your LinkedIn headline to “Marketing Guru” — because why not? You were about to become one.

Sadly, your digital utopia was just a fantasy. The post — as some inexplicably tend to do — tanked. But while you were writing it, you would’ve bet your life it would break the internet. So what the heck happened?

As marketers, we often succumb to a cognitive bias called the overconfidence effect. Since we’re technically experts, we tend to overestimate our industry knowledge and our ability to predict content performance.

This can lead us to rely on our intuition more than data when we brainstorm new blog ideas. Since we like our own ideas, we think our audience will too.

But just because we like our own post, doesn’t mean our audience wants to read it.

Instead of relying on our own personal taste, we need to let our audience’s behaviors and preferences drive our new blog ideas — or else we risk publishing irrelevant content.

Analyzing audience data before ideation is crucial for crafting desirable content. Take a look below to learn six data-driven tactics for choosing the topics your audience actually wants to read.

6 Data-driven Tactics for Choosing Blog Topics

1) Find Out What’s Already Working for You

The most accessible data source that can inform your blog strategy are your own metrics. You just need to tag each of your blog posts with their respective topic first. By categorizing your blog posts, you can measure each topic’s performance with data analysis tools like excel or HubSpot’s Content Strategy tool.

The performance metrics you decide to track depend on your marketing goals. At HubSpot, page views largely determine a topic’s success, but other metrics like time on page, subscribers gained, or leads generated can also indicate whether a topic resonates with your audience or not. It’s crucial to determine a key business objective you want your blog to serve and monitor the metrics that indicate its success.

It’s also valuable to take into account how many posts you publish on each topic. You want to make sure you’re serving your audience’s true interests and not overlooking potentialy fruitful topics.

For instance, let’s say HubSpot’s blog posts about display advertising and video marketing generate the same amount of total traffic. On the surface, it seems like our audience enjoys these topics equally, right?

But a particular topic’s total traffic might not tell the full story. What if we publish display advertising posts three times more often than video marketing posts?

This means publishing 30 display advertising posts produces the same total traffic that 10 video marketing posts produce. In other words, video marketing posts are three times more effective than display advertising posts.

By cutting display advertising out of our content mix and writing more video marketing posts, we’d serve our audience’s interests better and generate more traffic with less content.

Here’s a concrete example of what I’m talking about:

Old Blog Strategy

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New Blog Strategy

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When you analyze your blog topics, use the average or median views per post to paint the clearest picture of your audience’s preferences. Looking at a topic’s total traffic without accounting for post quantity could make you prioritize a topic that your audience doesn’t really care about.

2) See What Works For Your Competitors

Odds are, you and your competitors have a very similar audience. This means their most popular content could potentially be your most popular content too.

Consider using a tool like BuzzSumo or EpicBeat to analyze your competitor’s most shared topics. Are they writing about something that would interest your own audience?

Once you discover their top performing content, ask yourself how you can improve upon their work. It’s fine to cover the same overarching topics as a competitor, but you should offer your own unique perspective and provide new insights to your audience.

3) Read Your Audience’s Conversations Online

As a writer who blogs about inbound marketing, I constantly comb through Inbound.org and the Content Marketing Institute LinkedIn group because they’re full of fodder for my best blog ideas.

Marketers post questions to these sites every day. And since they publicly display their professional information, you can tie their inquiries to your buyer personas. This helps clarify your personas’ needs and makes it easier to personalize content for them.

On Inbound.org, I like to scan the Discussions section where the top marketing questions of the week live. When someone posts a question about a topic we want to cover, I check to see if that person’s role aligns with one of our buyer personas. If so, I write down a blog post idea that answers their question and pitch it at our monthly brainstorm.

If you don’t blog about marketing, then you can search for your audience’s questions on Quora. Just type in your topic and you’ll find loads of relevant questions. If an overwhelming pile of questions presents itself, then just check out your topic’s top followers and read the questions they’ve answered about your topic.

Check out the tutorial below if you need more clarification.

4) Leverage Google’s People Also Ask Box

If one of your chosen topics resonates particularly well with your audience, and you want to keep leveraging its popularity, Google it to discover related search terms. When you search for a term in Google, you’ll see a “People Also Ask” box pop up beneath your entry, like this:

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Think of these queries as high-demand topics that branch off of your main topic. If your audience loves consuming content about your main topic, then they’ll likely devour content about its related topics.

5) Survey Your Blog Subscribers

Is there a better way to capture your audience’s reading preferences than surveying your own audience?

Before you send out your surveys, though, you should know that not all your subscribers will pounce at the chance to provide feedback. But that’s where incentives come in. Consider offering respondents the chance to win a prize, like a gift certificate, to encourage feedback.

Every time we incentivize subscribers to complete our blog surveys, we see much more participation than when we don’t dangle any carrots.

6) Ask Sales and Success About Your Customers’ Pain Points

Sales and customer success help consult your prospects and customers everyday, so they have the firmest grasp of your audience’s actual needs and pain points. Collaborating with these teams is the best way to pinpoint your readers’ most pressing issues.

To better understand your prospects and customers’ struggles, you could set up a monthly meeting with sales and success or ask them to jot down the most common problems and the content recommendations that would likely solve them.

How do you research new blog ideas? Tell us in the comments below!

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AI in Marketing: 10 Early Use Cases

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Just a short while ago, robots were the stuff of fiction.

Sure, artificially intelligent beings graced movie screens and the pages of novels, but the robot revolution hadn’t arrived yet. Maybe in another few decades, along with flying cars.

But the truth is, artificial intelligence is already here, and you probably engage with it more than you think.

As it turns out, you’re not alone. We surveyed more than 1,000 consumers and determined that 63% of respondents were already using AI technologies — they just didn’t realize it.

And that’s because AI technologies are being developed, in part, to help make humans’ lives easier by independently — and intelligently — completing tasks for them.

AI is already in use in a myriad of marketing use cases. From content curation, to SEO, to email marketing, different tools are already being used by brands — not only to make human marketers’ lives easier, but to make them better at their jobs. When processes are optimized and made faster by technology, not only can businesses achieve better outcomes, but humans also have more time freed up for critical thinking, data analysis, and long-term planning when they aren’t bogged down with more rote tasks.

Here’s a rundown of how forward-thinking brands are already using AI in marketing.

10 Marketing Use Cases for AI

1) Website Design

AI can assist marketers in a variety of use cases — even from the very beginning of the marketing process — including the building of the website.

The Grid uses AI named Molly to design websites, and a few creators are already using platforms “she” has built.

The Grid’s value proposition? Molly can build websites at a fraction of the time — and cost — it would require hiring a team of developers and software engineers to complete the same task. The Grid starts at less than $100 per year for one website — a bargain compared to a salary.

Creators can input content into The Grid — like images, text, and calls-to-action — and Molly builds the site using the power of AI. Check out the demonstration below:

2) Content Creation

Content writers might think jobs are safe from being replaced by AI, and for now, that’s mostly true. But tools like Wordsmith and Quill are already being used by the likes of The Associated Press and Forbes to create clickable news content. Using templates and fill-in-the-blanks to enter relevant data and keywords, these tools can generate unique written content that actually reads like it was written by a human. (Maybe not a Pulitzer Prize-winning human, but the sentences and stories make sense.)

Here’s an example from The Associated Press:

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Then, marketers can edit AI-generated content using Hemingway App, a simple AI that makes prose bolder, clearer, and more concise by highlighting complex sentences and suggesting different word choices, as shown below:

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3) Content Curation

There’s nothing worse than the moment when you finish an amazing new series on Netflix. But luckily, you can usually start binge-watching another show right away — thanks to the power of AI.

Brands like Netflix and Amazon are already using AI to curate recommendations to keep customers engaged and consuming and continuing to subscribe. Using AIs like IBM Watson, brands can learn more and more about consumers by analyzing their behavior — and providing curated content and recommendations for them.

Under Armour uses data from Watson to customize emails it sends to its app users, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art uses an “artbot” that answers requests to see specific types of art with curated photographs and paintings. I tried out the artbot below — send it a request at 572-51:

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4) Search

AI has already had a tremendous impact on the way users conduct online searches, and, in turn, that’s changing the way marketers create and optimize content.

Two big AI advances have changed online searches — and search engine optimization: voice search, and Google’s RankBrain.

Innovations like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana make it easier for people to conduct searches with just the press of a button and voice command. That means the terms they’re searching for are changing, too — now, instead of typing in “restaurants in Boston,” users can ask a device, “where should I go to dinner tonight?” 

RankBrain is Google’s machine-learning algorithm that was created to deliver more relevant search results. It interprets queries and, using the power of AI, serves up the best possible results according to what it interprets from the language. For example, if you searched for “president” on Google in the United States, RankBrain might interpret that you wanted information about the current president and would serve you information about the individual — and not just the office of government. 

Conversational search queries and algorithms are changing thanks to AI — and, in turn, these changes are forcing search engine marketers and content creators to adapt. Long-tail keywords have been replaced by conversational keywords, and writing blog post after blog post about every topic imaginable has been replaced by the topic cluster keyword strategy, as outlined in the video below. In fact, we’re adapting our blogging strategy to this new model here at HubSpot — and that’s partly because of AI.

5) Marketing Automation

Brands are using the power of AI to customize marketing emails based on customer preferences and behavior to engage them more and — hopefully — prompt them to convert or make a purchase. 

Using tools like Boomtrain, brands can send out customized email newsletters based on previous interactions recipients have had with content. AI helps send customized, personalized content recipients might be more likely to interact with — and click through.

Online lingerie brand Adore Me used Optimove‘s AI to segment its customer list into different types of prospects and customers to increase purchases and subscribers to its membership pricing program. The AI automated the segmentation process and started sending customized content based on each recipient’s lifecycle stage via email, text messages, and in-app notifications. Segmenting customers and contacting them on different platforms helped Adore Me increase its monthly recurring revenue (MRR), average sales price (ASP), along with doubling its active customer base.

When it comes to marketing automation, AI can free up valuable human marketers’ time — and quickly create more targeted marketing materials that convert better among customers.

6) Social Media

What’s wonderful about social media is its ability to connect people from around the world to talk about and share topics or stories they care about. It’s something users have clearly gleaned to — considering that global social media users number in the billions.

Of course, that also means advertisers want to capitalize on social media’s popularity — and not all advertisers are good advertisers.

So platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have made it easier for social media users to hide ad content they don’t like or derive value from — and this information helps customize the user experience for them while providing advertisers and publishers with more audience insights on the platforms.

Here’s an example of an ad I can hide on Facebook — and I can even choose a reason why I don’t want to see it:

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Platforms use these insights to algorithmically curate a news feed better suited to user preferences, and ad buyers don’t have to waste money serving ads users have already indicated they don’t like.

Facebook is using AI to mitigate and prevent websites from sharing content that provides a bad user experience. It’s training artificial intelligence to identify and recognize patterns in low-quality sites — things like little original content, clickbait headlines, and multiple disruptive ads. These low-quality links — and the original domain — will be penalized in the News Feed and likely result in significant decreases in traffic for the publisher.

7) Images

Do you like playing around with neat filters and facial lenses that turn you into a dog, a bumblebee, or a cat on Snapchat? These augmented reality capabilities are powered by AI image recognition.

Using neural networks to recognize and identify shapes and faces, Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram have made it possible for you to barf rainbows, turn into a cute animal, or swap faces with your friend — to horrifyingly funny results.

cat-snapchat-faceswap.jpgSource: BoredPanda

These disappearing messaging platforms are used by millions of people worldwide — not only for private communication with friends, but also by brands trying to connect with audiences on a more authentic and personal level. Through the power of AI, brands can connect with people in unique and personal ways where audiences are spending time online — namely, on social media.

8) Advertising

If you’ve purchased keyword ad space using GoogleAdWords lately, you’ve already used AI — in the form of its automated bidding system. Advertisers can automatically bid for the lowest possible cost per click (CPC) to efficiently and effectively capture traffic from Google results.

And now, Adgorithms has AI that they want to take over entire advertising campaigns — named Albert. Programming advertising will make up the majority of ad buying going forward, but Albert will handle the bidding, integration, management, and execution of ad campaigns across platforms — from email, to search engines. to social media.

Human marketers and business leaders tell Albert about a campaign’s desired outcome, target audience, and geographic area, and “he” handles the rest. And because Albert is AI, he works a lot faster than people, and he can identify different audience niches and buying patterns by analyzing data, too.

Harley-Davidson of NYC started using Albert, and “he” made triple the sales the in-person dealership typically made in a single week. The brand credits Albert for its 40% motorcycle sales growth and 566% growth in website visits.

9) Chatbots

Lots of brands have started communicating with customers using messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Slack. It’s fast, customers are already using these tools to communicate with friends and coworkers, and let’s face it — sometimes, you just don’t want to hop on a phone call to get an answer.

And chatbots seek to make that process even easier. GrowthBot seeks to provide answers to commonly-asked questions about marketing and sales professionals — without them having to hunt down the information themselves. 

Here’s how GrowthBot works in action on Slack: Users can ask specific questions about different industries and brands, and the highly technical answers are served up quickly without having to track them down:

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Chatbots’ wealth of information — like GrowthBot’s — helps marketers and salespeople quickly find and analyze information about their industries and competitors to get their jobs done more efficiently. Neat, huh?

10) Sales Handoff

And finally, once marketers have successfully created content that’s generated leads ready to work with a salesperson, AI can assist with the handoff process.

Conversica created AI named “Angie” to work for CenturyLink, one of the world’s largest telecommunications providers. CenturyLink needed help identifying hot leads among the thousands of leads it generates every day from its large presence online and in media. Angie sends initial emails to new leads to determine if they’re ready to talk to a human sales representative — which saves reps time and effort, more efficiently segments leads, and saves CenturyLink money on hiring another human being.

At CenturyLink, Angie can identify 40 hot leads per week, and for every dollar spent on “her,” she brings in $20 in revenue. The AI can understand 99% of email replies sent when “she” reaches out to leads — which saves the company time and helps leads communicate on their desired platform.

What About Me?

At this point, learning about all of the use cases for AI in marketing might be giving you a bit of anxiety about your own job security. If that’s the case, you’re not alone.

While it’s true that part of the appeal of using AI is its low cost and high levels of efficiency, there are only so many things AIs can replicate. In fact, some of the best use cases for AI in this blog post involve AIs and humans working together to solve problems and achieve goals faster and more efficiently. So don’t think of AI like a robot trying to steal your job — think of AI like technology that will make your job easier, much like computers and internet did over the last century.

If anything, the growth of AI in marketing might make you excited about a future where you have more time freed up for higher-level projects, and more rote tasks are taken off your plate. Learn more about how AI is used and the future of artificial intelligence from new HubSpot research.

Which AI technologies will you consider implementing? Share with us in the comments below.

AI Story

The Lazy Writer’s Guide to 30-Minute Keyword Research

Posted by BritneyMuller

You, a content marketing ninja, are able to wield immense SEO reach with your content in ways most SEOs (*cough* like myself) can only dream of.

BUT, you’re not leveraging keyword research to your advantage!

The fact that you can discover how many people per month are searching for something, what words they’re using, and what questions they’re asking still blows my mind!

Keyword research doesn’t have to be a marathon bender. A brisk 30-minute walk can provide incredible insights — insights that connect you with a wider audience on a deeper level.


Why keyword research is essential [Case Study]

My previous company, Pryde Marketing, was not founded on out-of-this-world high-quality content. It was founded on leveraging online data strategically for private medical practices.

When we were hired to do keyword research for an MRI company, we discovered that hundreds of people a month were searching “open vs closed mri” but no one was providing any good answers, content, or photos for these searchers.

We decided to create an “Open Vs. Closed MRI” page for our client that, to our surprise, continues to see over double the traffic of the homepage. Plus, it’s brought in over 50k+ unique visitors.

We were not successful because we thought of this content idea.

We were successful because we listened to the keyword data.


5 keyword research hacks in under 30 minutes

Example client: Hunter & Company (Wedding & Event Planning)

Objective: Write better content for their website and assist with digital marketing efforts.

#1: Blog category keyword research

Having five to ten data-driven blog categories can help you rank for popular topics, allow readers to find more relevant content, and help to organize your blog.

Evaluate top industry websites (10 mins)

Identify the most common navigation items and blog categories on leading industry sites.

Top Wedding Site Eval.png

Advanced search operators (3 mins)

While exploring top websites, you can use advanced Google operators to dig deeper.

Example: Bride.com has topic pages like /topic/wedding-beauty. To view all of Bride.com’s topics search this: site:brides.com/topic

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Google Suggest (10 mins)

Google “wedding” and don’t hit enter!

Instead, make note of the drop-down search suggestions. You can also search “wedding a” [don’t hit enter], “wedding b” [don’t hit enter], all the way through to z to get the most popular and/or trending wedding-related searches.

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Now that we have aggregated keywords from the above tactics, we have a solid list:

wedding venues, wedding photographers, wedding dj, wedding beauty, wedding videographers, wedding bands, wedding budget, wedding invitations, wedding registry, wedding colors, wedding decorations, wedding party, wedding ideas, wedding cakes, wedding centerpieces, wedding hairstyles, wedding bouquets, engagement rings, wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, mother of the bride dresses, wedding rings, flower girl dresses, wedding accessories, wedding jewelry, wedding tuxedos, wedding registry, wedding ceremony, wedding reception, wedding cake, wedding food, wedding favors, wedding flowers

Keep up the pace — we can’t stop here!

Next, let’s determine which categories are most popular by average monthly Google searches.

There are two primary tools to view average monthly search volume (AKA to know how many times a query like “wedding flowers” are searched per month): Google Keyword Planner and Moz Keyword Explorer. (Check out GKP vs. MKE to learn more.)

Google Keyword Planner (5 mins)

Step 1: Paste your saved keyword list into the box under “Enter one or more of the following” and click “Get Ideas”:

Step 2: Evaluate and save search volume data while being mindful of the large search data ranges and limited data:Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 10.09.51 AM.png

Note: Google will occasionally change your keywords to something different; “wedding videographers” was changed to “wedding videos” in this case. It’s important to be mindful of this as you’re deciding on the exact category names.

You should also explore the keywords below your immediate keyword search section. Sort by average monthly searches (highest to lowest) to make sure you aren’t missing any other big category items.

Moz Keyword Explorer (5 mins)

Step 1: Create a new list.

Step 2: Paste your keyword list into the “Enter Keywords” box:

Step 3: Take a quick water break, because KWE will take a minute to gather data. Once the data is in view, sort by and evaluate average monthly search volume:

Woohoo! We reached the finish line with two minutes to spare.

To finalize our blog categories, we need to ask ourselves two things: Which topics are the most popular and the most relevant to a wedding planner site?

With that in mind, you’ve chosen six of the most popular wedding topics and have nested several sub-categories within “Wedding Decorations” — brilliant!

  • Wedding Dresses
  • Wedding Invitations
  • Wedding Photography
  • Wedding Cakes
  • Wedding Venues
  • Wedding Decorations
    • Wedding Flowers
    • Wedding Colors
    • Wedding Centerpieces
    • Wedding Venues

#2: FAQ keyword research

Answering the most commonly searched-for questions about your product/service will provide value to your readers and solidify you as an industry expert.

Here’s how to gather the most commonly asked questions on a topic:

AnswerThePublic.com (10 mins)

Search for your product/service.

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How cool is this snazzy question wheel?! While the visuals are fun, it’s easier to gather the questions by clicking the top-right yellow “export to csv” button and deleting non-relevant questions in a .csv or Google Sheet.

Moz Keyword Explorer (10 mins)

Step 1: Search and filter “display keyword suggestions” by “are questions”:

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Step 2: Add relevant questions to a new keyword list:

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Step 3: Add relevant AnswerThePublic questions to list:

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Research done!

I wouldn’t worry about evaluating search volume too closely for FAQs because questions are typically more long-tail (meaning they have lower search volume and are usually easier to rank for). In multitudes, these can be very valuable to your site.

Now you can start adding your newly discovered FAQs to an FAQ page (while trying to avoid duplicate types of questions):

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#3: Competitive content research

Evaluate your competitor’s 10 most popular pages on SimilarWeb (5 mins)

This uncovers the specific type of content your audience is interested in. Here are the 10 most popular pages for One Fine Day Events:

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Evaluate each of the top pages & gather 3 key takeaways (20 mins)

  1. The most popular “Gallery” page confirms that images are extremely popular in the wedding and event space. Maintaining an optimized gallery and incorporating more images into on-page content should be a top digital marketing priority.
  2. Interestingly, the “Preferred Vendors” page is a Category page! It’s something we should consider implementing on Hunter & Co. It would also be a great link building opportunity (to get vendors to link back to Hunter & Co)… but I digress.
  3. Testimonials are also be a top priority and live off the primary navigation.

Pro tip: Use Google Trends to evaluate seasonal searches and prepare competitive content months before it spikes:

#4: Expand your keyword reach

Expanding your page’s topical content will expand your digital SEO reach. This is why you’ll see definitive guides like Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO ranking so well, and for such a wide range of keywords (~1,665!).

Download MozBar (Chrome add-on) (1 minute)

Step 1: Activate MozBar. Enter in your primary keyword and click “optimize.”

Step 2: Click “On-Page Content Suggestions”:

Step 3: View the 23+ content integration ideas for your webpage:

Decide which topics you want to integrate (5 mins)

You never want to force non-relevant content onto a page for SEO reasons. Instead, look through the topics and think about which would provide value to your readers.

Then, devise a plan to naturally integrate those topics into the page’s content.

Topic integrations for the Hunter & Co. homepage:

  • Wedding Planning Checklist (create a checklist page that’s linked to from homepage)
  • Wedding Vendors (confirms our popular page strategy! Add a page link from the homepage)
  • Wedding Venues
  • Couples

#5: Keep up with Google

We are seeing a big rise in “no-click” Google searches.

No-click searches occur when individuals search for something and find their answer, without ever having to click on a search result.

Example: If you search “Denver weather,” Google will show you an 8-day weather forecast for Denver. Most searchers are satisfied with that and leave, resulting in a no-click Google search.

Image from State of Searcher Behavior Revealed

No-click searches are rising because Google continues to provide searchers answers within search features such as featured snippets (answer boxes), People Also Ask boxes, knowledge graphs, weather forecasts, etc.

Know which search features show up most often for your keywords (5 mins)

Knowing which search features occur most frequently for your product/service-related searches can help you to steal search features by optimizing for them. Keep in mind that if you’re ranking on page one or two of a desired featured snippet search, you’re better positioned to steal that featured snippet than if you were on page 3+.

Remember our FAQs about “wedding planning” above? Twenty-four of 28 questions found in Moz Keyword Explorer have featured snippets (answer boxes) in their search results:

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RealSimple currently has a large featured snippet for “wedding checklist”:

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Looking more closely into that page, you’ll notice RealSimple’s <html> check-box markup and definitive style content.

Brainstorm a better (and more useful) wedding checklist (10 mins)

  • Hire a freelance developer to create a beautiful, printable wedding checklist calendar that, once a reader enters their wedding date, populates with scheduled to-dos.
  • Create an IFTTT (If This Then That) recipe to schedule Google Calendar To-Do Reminders based on the user’s wedding date.
  • Provide a more detailed and more beautiful wedding checklist.

Now, my content marketing ninjas, go forth and tap gloves with a wider audience! Your content deserves it!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Beyond Sales: The Different Types of Conversions, Why They Matter, and How to Get More Of Them

When you think of “a conversion”, what goal comes to mind? For most of us, a sale is the ultimate goal, so it’s no surprise that sales and conversions are inextricably linked to each other. But even though a sale might be the end goal, it’s almost never the first thing a new potential customer does when they visit your site.

Yet they’re still converting, even when a sale doesn’t take place. Paying more attention to these types of conversions can not only help you win over more customers in the long run, but also deliver valuable insights that you can glean from your existing data — insights you may never have considered when focusing solely on sales. Let’s take a closer look.

Introducing the Prospect to Your Solution

The first step in any good funnel is to introduce prospects to your solution. Oftentimes brand awareness campaigns like these are done via pay-per-click solutions like Google Adwords or Facebook Ads. In the case of Adwords, you have tight integration with Google Analytics, so you can easily see which ads worked, which ads didn’t, and what kind of actions the user took on your page.

But these platforms really only scratch the surface of the conversion potential that’s happening behind the scenes. To really dig deep and get the gold nuggets of impactful data that makes a real difference in your campaigns, you need a robust analytics solution. Kissmetrics is one such tool that allows you to not only see things that you can also find in Google Analytics (like “How many people clicked this ad” and “how long did they stay on site afterwards?”) but also answer more meaningful, conversion-propelling questions, like “How many new users did we gain as a result of this campaign?” “When did users go from our onboarding email funnel to becoming full-fledged customers?” “Which email encouraged them to do so?”

If you’re truly data driven, you can even have the system crunch the numbers and figure out the average cost to acquire people who downloaded your white paper, for example. Either those leads will pay off, or you’ll find that you need to revisit your free offer to create something of greater value.

These are the kinds of insights you simply don’t get by looking at pure sales-focused conversion data.

Moving the Conversation from Web to Email

Getting the prospect’s email takes the conversation from web to email, and even though it’s a small win, it’s still a type of conversion nonetheless. The visitor is saying, in essence, “I’m interested in what you have to offer, and would like to know more.”

All too often, marketers seize upon this opportunity to blast users with all kinds of information — which can be overwhelming and disconcerting, and lead to them regretting their choice and unsubscribing. This is the time where it pays to look closer at the data in your email automation program. Most platforms will give you simple data such as clickthroughs and open rates – but again, we want to go deeper.

For example, are you tagging users so that you can follow where they go (and how long they stay) after they click an email link? What criteria do you have in place to identify and separate the eager, ready-to-act prospects from the freebie “tire kickers”? And what are you doing to warm up the tire-kickers into becoming ready-to-act prospects?

Fortunately, you can use a tool like Kissmetrics Campaigns to not only automate your email, but provide behavior-based segmentation so that you can know, with far greater precision, who’s taking the actions you want them to take, and who needs a bit more hand-holding?

Behavior-based marketing is more than just a buzzword, and it goes well beyond the traditional $Firstname “personalization” that many email marketing platforms offer. Want to segment emails based on whether or not a user opened or clicked through a previous email campaign? With Campaigns, you can, leading to a whole new level of one-on-one engagement with your prospects.

Getting Your CRM Software to Do the Heavy Lifting

When customer data goes into the CRM (customer relationship management) program, oftentimes the ball gets dropped. No matter which platform you use, your CRM system and marketing automation system need to work together harmoniously in order to output actionable data that delivers a return on investment — and the real sales numbers you crave.

While Kissmetrics isn’t a CRM platform specifically, it does mesh nicely with existing services that specialize in lead generation and customer tracking, including:

  • Salesforce
  • Marketo
  • CallRail
  • Call Tracking Metrics
  • Tapstream
  • And many more (see the full list here)

Details on how to integrate Kissmetrics with your existing shopping cart, SaaS or CRM can be found at the list link above, and once you follow this simple process a wealth of data will open up to you, effortlessly blending marketing and sales information so that you get detailed snapshots of user behavior from the start of the funnel to the end.

Here, you’ll be able to see which customers took which actions, and who needs a bit more nurturing to take that all-important next step.

Seeing the Big Picture (And the Little Details) – What Makes a Conversion a Conversion?

Focusing solely on sales as conversions can be disheartening at best, since very few people will ultimately make it through your funnel even on the best of days. It can be discouraging to focus on such a small percentage when instead, you should be looking for lots of little wins.

Bounce rate on your lead magnet page is lower as a result of more targeted ads? That’s a win.

FAQ pages have an unusually high time on page? People are getting their questions answered. That’s a win.

Downloads of a new white paper resulting in more high end, enterprise-level customers? That’s a win.

To be sure, right now a lot of the information out there can seem scattered and uncoordinated. Marketers still have a great deal of data sifting and filtering to do. But new advances in both tools and technology are helping not only comb through the data, but deliver meaningful, relevant information which in turn helps entire companies work together as a cohesive unit – and focus on conversions beyond the sale.

Are you focusing solely on sales when tracking conversions? Or are you looking at other types of “little wins” as well? How is this approach working for you? Share your success stories and triumphs with us in the comments below!

About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps business owners improve website design and increase conversion rates through compelling copywriting, user-friendly design and smart analytics analysis. Learn more at iElectrify.com and download your free web copy tune-up and conversion checklist today!

AI and Big Data Are Changing Our Attention Spans

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What catches your attention?

The business of answering that question attracts hundreds of billions of dollars every year. As long as there have been things to buy, there’s been a market for human attention.

Long ago, capitalizing on human attention consisted of little more than the call of a street vendor over the din of a crowded village market.

Much later, the first one cent copies of The Sun hit the streets of New York, inspired by the realization of its editor that it was much more valuable to sell each reader’s attention to advertisers than to make money off newspaper sales directly.

Today, that concept has been taken to an extreme. Thousands of algorithms on millions of servers auction off your every click and tap, anticipating which emails you’ll open, which search results you’ll read, even how your eye might dart around the page.

Google and Facebook rely almost exclusively on directly reselling human attention. Machines are starting to help optimize email subject lines and article titles based on what might catch your eye. The playbook is simple: attract human attention with cheap or free stuff — cheap newspapers, Google search, interesting reading material — and optionally resell that attention to the highest bidder.

Where are we headed? In the face of this transformation, what can we expect? Answering these questions is hard. To go any further, it’s important to understand how attention works.

How Attention Works

Your attention is like a spotlight cast on a stage. You’re the spotlight operator. You can point the spotlight at specific things on stage, but you can’t control what actually appears on the stage.

The stage is your awareness, and it contains the sum total of information accessible to your mind at this moment. That includes the words on your screen, the sensation of pressure from your chair, and background noises in your environment, as well as the never-ending stream of random thoughts that pop up in your head.

As you read this, you are volitionally casting your spotlight on the words you’re reading. You’ll keep this up for a little while, but inevitably, the spotlight will move without your permission, attracted by an unexpected noise behind you, or someone walking into your field of view, or a stray thought about what you want for lunch.

This is the nature of attention. It darts around, scanning continuously for what’s interesting. This was an invaluable benefit in our ancestral environment. It was rare we might need to focus on one thing for more than a few moments at a time, but essential not to miss that snarling predator lurking in the bush.

As a result, if you try really hard to pay attention to only one thing, you’ll quickly find your attention elsewhere. In fact, usually, your brain decides to change the subject of your attention without your conscious input, much less your permission. You might have already drifted off into a different thought a few times as you read this. Your brain expects a little hit of feel-good neurotransmitter every time your attention jumps to something interesting. Novelty feels good.

This is precisely what makes it hard to reliably capture people’s attention. Generally, people themselves don’t understand what catches their attention or why. Most shifts in attention are unconscious, so it’s impossible for people to articulate why their attention does what it does. They only notice what it does after it has happened. Certain colors of call-to-action buttons work better on a landing page than others not due to any conscious decision by anyone, but due to the unconscious preferences of billions of brains.

Certainly, there are some things that work very well on all of us: bright colors, flashing objects, and attractive scantily clad people are all widely used to great effect. For a new parent, there’s nothing better than an iPad to quell a tantrum from a cranky toddler, and that’s because looking at colorful moving images feels good.

But beyond the obvious, the target of your attention is largely determined by neural mechanisms cultivated over decades of interacting with the world and anticipating the reward from different stimuli. Your brain is constantly moving about the spotlight of attention on the lookout for potential sources of pleasure and pain.

Attention in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

The best approach we’ve developed for understanding what captures people’s attention is empirical. We record as much as we can about what’s in their awareness — or what’s on stage. We then try to record where the spotlight is cast  — by recording a clicked link or opened email. Then, we look for patterns.

Each of those components is going to evolve dramatically over the next few years. The environments where we spend our time increasingly facilitate data collection. Algorithms for working with language, audio, and video are rapidly becoming more sophisticated. Hardware and cloud service improvements are accelerating research and discovery in artificial intelligence. There are several implications:

1) We’ll have more data on both attention and awareness.

Eye-tracking has long been used in psychology, marketing, and consumer research, in both academia and business. It works great for studying cognitive development in infants and can even be used to A/B test their preferences.

Shops already use realtime facial expression APIs to track ad viewers’ age, gender, mood, and interest level. Google’s Project Soli is a miniature solid state radar that can detect the movement of your hand and other objects near your phone. We appear comfortable with inviting Amazon Echo’s Orwellian always-on microphone into our homes.

How long before we see Amazon announce Prime Plus, requesting permission to occasionally activate your front-facing camera, Echo microphone, and motion tracker in exchange for free 30-minute drone delivery?

2) The arms race for attention will expand.

Attention is zero-sum, because every click your competitor gains, you lose. This accelerates competition. That’s why your email inbox is a battleground of people vying for your attention. So is the results page for every Google search. This will be increasingly true of everywhere you spend your attention.

3) Screens will remain the primary conduit of human attention.

Screens are everywhere. Not only did our glossy paranormal hand rectangles become globally ubiquitous in just 10 years, they’ve fundamentally transformed how humans interact with the world. While technology often advances unpredictably, screens are probably likely to persist for a while. That’s because out of the five senses you have — the five ways of putting information into awareness — vision has the highest throughput to the brain. We are multiple breakthroughs away from anything faster.

4) Humans will spend huge amounts of time in virtual worlds.

The $100 billion video game industry continues to boom. Games will become dramatically more immersive as virtual and augmented reality go mainstream. People will routinely spend time in deep and engaging virtual environments with limitless content to explore and hundreds of millions of other real and simulated people to interact with. That could transform how we spend our leisure time, how we learn, and how we meet other people.

Content in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Think of “content” as all things that attract human attention that can be represented as data. That includes almost anything online that humans make, from blog posts and dance music to short stories, video game livestreams, entertaining social media posts, and more. The more quality content you can produce, the more attention you can scoop up, continuing to sate our limitless thirst for customization and novelty.

1) Generative algorithms for text, images, sound, and video will improve dramatically.

Machine vision, automatic speech recognition, and natural language processing have made tremendous advancements in the past five years. Algorithms can already generate extremely convincing content from scratch.

The next generation of photo and video editing tools will make it trivial to rewrite any record of reality, replacing pixels using algorithms that are aware of what they’re looking at.

Adobe claims to be working on a Photoshop for audio, making it easy to generate an audio clip of anybody’s voice saying anything at all.

Today, you can ask a neural network to hallucinate arbitrarily many images of bedrooms or cats or sailboats, most of which look real enough to fool people. Or you could use a neural network to create a language snippet to insert into an email by reading a company’s website.

Eventually, you might ask a machine to produce a fantasy novel. Say you theme it similar to Harry Potter … but with a Game of Thrones flair. And let’s maybe have the bad guy win this time.

This is a very a long way off, past multiple breakthroughs in semantics and discourse, but current techniques can already generalize well enough to spit out a cohesive and useful paragraph of text.

2) Machines will help us produce content.

Machines will play a much bigger role in helping us produce the content that captures human attention. We’ll see a proliferation of collaborative agents in products that assist us in our workflows. Machines will suggest assets to include in the content you’re making, or subsets of content to include. Executive control will remain with creators, but the ideation and production process will become increasingly automated. Think Clippy the Microsoft Office Assistant, but with a much bigger brain. 

3) To cut through greater noise, humans will keep innovating.

Demonstrating that content was created by a human will become much harder. There’s no way you can imagine this article having been written by a machine, but one day, that won’t seem so ridiculous.

Machines are cheap, so as machines contribute more to creating content, the places where we consume content will be flooded. Early adopters of those techniques will benefits, but the late adopters will find that to stand out, they’ll have to produce content that is demonstrably beyond machines’ capabilities in an effort to keep attracting interest.

4) Machines will help us allocate our attention.

Work will become increasingly symbiotic. You’ll spend more of your time deciding among things and less collecting and preparing things. Machines will find relevant documents and emails, do Google searches in the background, and perform other functions that can be defined as a semi-structured set of tasks. As the deluge of content on our screens grows, tools will emerge to stem the flood. 

Broader Implications

Attention is an essential currency in the global transaction ecosystem. Understanding it is critical for anybody in sales and marketing. Despite the fact that attention is zero-sum in any given transaction, it’s important to remember that the pie is growing dramatically.

Leisure time has grown by seven hours per week since the 1960s, and we will unlock much more free time as we shift toward self-driving vehicles. Economists from the National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper suggesting that high-quality video games are contributing to an increase in unemployment among young men.

Uber, Upwork, and Crowdflower support the emergence of a global market for part-time, on-demand work at a variety of price points. Y Combinator and Elon Musk are calling for a universal basic income plan.

To connect these dots, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which wealthy corporations and governments support a basic minimum wage, and in return, people spend their time and attention generating training data and validating models. It would generally be simple tasks, easily performed on a phone, and would involve only skills or data that machines don’t have yet.

Data on human attention exposes the unconscious information locked away in our minds. That information is valuable and important, because in the aggregate, it is an encoding of everything humans want — not just of our buying preferences and creature comforts, but also of our ethics and values as a species. We want machines to understand us, and monitoring human attention may be a good way to collect the necessary data.

With the curtain pulled back on how powerless we are to control our attention and how valuable it is to everyone, perhaps we’ll all find ourselves being a bit more careful with how we spend our attention.

Download Marketing Psychology

 
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The Best Time to Post on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+ [Infographic]

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Social media is one of the best ways to amplify your brand and the great content you’re creating. But it isn’t enough to just post content to social whenever you feel like it. Some times are better than others.

So, which one is best?

Unfortunately, there’s no perfect answer. Different businesses may find different days and times work best for them. In fact, timing often depends on the platform you’re using, how your target audience interacts with that platform, the regions and corresponding time zones you’re targeting, and your goals (e.g., clicks versus shares).

Learn how to use social media to amplify your content marketing by taking  HubSpot's free Inbound Certification course here. 

That said, there is ample data out there on the best times to post on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. Earlier this year, the great folks at CoSchedule looked at a combination of its own original data and more than a dozen studies on this very topic — from the likes of Buffer and Quintly, just to name a couple — and compiled it into the infographic below.

Bookmark this post as a go-to set of guidelines, and refer to it next time you need to find the optimal posting times for your business.

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The Best Times to Post on Social Media

With many businesses facing a growing global audience, varying time zones have become a growing concern, especially when it comes to the best times to post.

To start, let’s take a look at the U.S. About half of the country’s population is in the Eastern Time Zone, and combined with the Central Time Zone, that accounts for over 75% of the total U.S population.

Given that sizable share, if you’re targeting a U.S. audience, try alternating posting times in Eastern and Central Time Zones — we’ll get into those specific times in a bit.

If you’re targeting users outside of the U.S., conduct some research to find out where they live and which social media channels they’re using. That kind of data is available through studies like Smart Insights’ Global Social Media Research Summary, or We Are Social’s annual Digital Global Overview.

1) Best Time to Post on Instagram

Instagram is meant for use on mobile devices. Half of its U.S. users use the app daily, though it would appear that many engage with content more during off-work hours than during the workday.

  • In general, the best times to post on Instagram are on Monday and Thursday, at any time other than 3-4 p.m.
  • The best time to post videos is 9 p.m.-8 a.m., on any day.
  • Some outlets have reported success on Mondays between 8-9 a.m., correlating with the first morning commute of the week for many.

2) Best Times to Post on Facebook

People log in to Facebook on both mobile devices and desktop computers, both at work and at home. How it’s used depends heavily on the audience.

  • On average, the best time to post is 1-4 p.m., when clickthrough rates have shown to be at their highest.
  • Specifically, 12-1 p.m. is prime time on Saturday and Sunday.
  • During the week, the same goes for Wednesday at 3 p.m., as well as Thursday and Friday between 1-4 p.m.
  • The worst times are weekends before 8 a.m. and after 8 p.m.

3) Best Times to Post on Twitter

Like Facebook, people use Twitter on both mobile devices and desktop computers, both at work and at home. How it’s used also depends heavily on audience — but people often treat it like an RSS feed, and something to read during down times like commutes, breaks, and so on.

  • Good times to tweet average around 12–3 p.m., with an apex at 5 p.m. — which makes sense, given that it correlates with the evening commute.
  • Weekdays tend to show a stronger performance, though some niches might have more active audiences on the weekend.
  • If your goal is to maximize retweets and clickthroughs, aim for noon, 3 p.m., or 5–6 p.m.

4) Best Times to Post on LinkedIn

Roughly 25% of U.S. adults use LinkedIn, largely for professional purposes, during weekdays and the work hours. It’s used with slighly less frequency than some of the other channels on this list, with more than half of users visiting less than once a week

  • Aim to post toward the middle of the week, between Tuesday-Thursday.

  • When aiming for a high clickthrough rate, post on these days during times that correspond with the morning and evening commute — roughly 7:30-8:30 a.m. and 5-6 p.m. — as well as the lunch hour, around 12 p.m. 

  • Some have also seen a positive performance on Tuesdays, between 10–11 a.m.

5) Best Times to Post on Pinterest

Pinterest users skew heavily female, and 25% of users are active on this channel daily.

  • Interestingly enough, Saturday evenings are said to be the best time to reach users, especially between 8-11 p.m.
  • Some have also seen a strong performance on the later side of Friday afternoon, around 3 p.m. 
  • Contrasting many of the other channels we’ve listed here, evening commutes tend to be some of the worst times to post to Pinterest. That could be due to the fact that it’s not as “browseable,” with many pins requiring navigation away from the channel.

6) Best Time to Post on Google+

People love to debate whether or not Google+ is a social media channel worth investing in — though according to my colleague Chris Wilson, some marketers have experienced success with it.

But if you’re going to use it, you might as well do so effectively — which includes posting at the optimal times.

  • People seem to be most active on Google+ during the start of the workday, between 9-11 a.m.
  • That’s especially the case on Wednesdays, around 9 a.m.
  • Some marketers have also seen success during the lunch hour, posting between 12-1 p.m.

There you have it, folks. Happy posting, tweeting, and pinning.

What days and times have proven to be the most successful for your business? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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The New Type of Landing Page That Increased Our Contacts by 69%

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Welcome back. If you’re just tuning in, allow me to catch you up: This post is the second in a two-part series on our experiment to move gated offer content onto a site page, and test different conversion methods. If you missed Part I, check it out here.

Back in Part I, we saw significant increases in organic search traffic only on offers that already were performing well for search. Also, our Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) test failed. So in Part II, we turned our focus to running more CRO tests.

In order to avoid putting many more conversions at risk, we decided to test the offers we’d already experimented with to find a conversion method that worked well. We tested two of the three offers we experimented with in Part I, but this time, our approach was a bit different. Download our free guide to landing pages here to learn how to design landing  pages that convert. 

Let’s walk through what we did for Part II of our CRO Test, followed by the results of both tests.

Does Un-gating Offers Improve Conversion Rate?

The Hypothesis and Objective

In Part I, we hypothesized that by partially gating the content on our newly-created HTML offer pages, we could provide a better user experience and still generate leads from it.

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Standing landing page/form
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Partially un-gated offer/form

But in reality, page visitors:

  1. Decided the content was not valuable enough for them to exchange contact information to see the rest of it.
  2. Expected to be able to read the entire offer, and were put off by the experience of running into a form upon scrolling.

So, we took each of these findings and used them build two tests within Part II of the experiment, each with its own sub-hypothesis, but a shared objective: to increase net submission and contact numbers, so that they’ll surpass those of the original landing pages pointing to gated PDFs.

CRO Test #1

Hypothesis: By hiding all of the written content behind a partial gate template — with the blur effect pictured below — readers arriving at the site through search will be intrigued enough by the topic to convert on the page.

CRO Test #2

Hypothesis: By setting the expectation of a gated offer early on — by using a form that looks and reads just like our normal landing pages, but opens into an HTML page upon form submission instead of an offer download — more people will fill out the form.

The Experiment

With conversion rates way down on our previous CRO tests, we thought to ourselves, “If we want to get our conversion rates back to their original levels, let’s make the landing page look like it usually does, but with the organic gains of having the offer content on the page itself.”

So, we pitched the idea of a brand new, gated template that looks and reads just like our regular landing pages, with one key difference: When the user clicks the form submission button, the page opens into an HTML page, instead of leading to a thank-you page with a PDF download button.

My colleague, Patrick Wilver, built this template for us. Here’s a GIF of the template in action:

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You might be wondering, “But what about SEO? Can Google crawl and index that hidden content?”

The answer is a resounding, “Yes.”

While that HTML content exists behind a CSS layer initially blocked by the template, it turns out that Google is still able to successfully crawl and index it. Our theory was that, because Google has much more high-quality and optimized content to crawl on the landing page, organic traffic will still flow to the page. Plus, if you can increase organic traffic significantly to the landing page, while also retaining the high conversion rates of the original landing page design — jackpot.

The only other difference between this template and our normal landing pages is that this one uses a shorter version of our typical landing page lead generation form, requiring less information and investment from the user.

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The Results

CRO Test #1

While the submission rates for this variation were still much lower than those of the original landing page, they were slightly higher than those of our CRO tests from Part I. So when push comes to shove, it seems, the partially-gated template is simply not effective for lead generation.

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It was time to move onto Test #2.

CRO Test #2

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.

Using the new un-gated template, the two offers we tested both achieved significant increases in net organic submissions and contacts, compared with the original landing pages.

  • Organic submissions increased by 47.44% and 63.09%, respectively.
  • Organic contacts increased by 63.64% and 76.05%, respectively.

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In other words: The landing-page-style gated template is an effective one for lead generation.

By lifting conversions to their original rates — or better — while simultaneously getting that boost in organic traffic from the crawlable offer content, both offers achieved significant increases in net organic submissions and contacts.

What We Learned, and What’s Next

So … Is It Okay to Hide Content Like This?

We know that the offer content lives behind a layer of CSS, which blocks it from being shown to the user, but still makes it crawlable by search engines like Google. That’s clever and all, but as with every decision we make here at HubSpot, we had to ask: “Is this the right thing to do?”

We’ve mulled over this question, and we think the answer is, “Yes — it’s okay.” Here’s why.

1) We’re not tricking the search engine or the user.

There’s a black-hat SEO tactic that comes to mind here called “cloaking” — which refers to methods of manipulating SERP ranking, like hiding content written in white text with a white background, or serving different content to search engines than you do to your users.

But the key difference between cloaking and what we’re doing is that, once users actually open the gate, they seeing the exact same content the search engines see.

When you have a business need, we don’t discourage gating content — but we strongly advise against hiding in the ways we described above. However, content can still be gated in a way that provides a better user experience, which was part of the impetus behind this experiment.

2) Mobile favors hidden content, so Google has been relaxing its policies.

As web usage has shifted toward mobile, expandable and hidden content has become more acceptable. With more people searching on mobile devices than they do on desktops, Google has had to adjust its algorithm to accommodate the fact that mobile design actually favors hidden content. Better web designers hide content on mobile pages because it makes them look cleaner, and avoids bombarding visitors with masses of text, so that it’s easier for them to find what they’re looking for.

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Source: Google

For that reason, if Google were to penalize hidden content, they’d effectively be penalizing mobile. But if, somewhere down the line, Google decides to stop indexing the content on these pages, that would call for a modified template design.

Next Steps and Recommendations

In Part I, we learned — much to our chagrin — that we could increase organic traffic by putting offer content onto an HTML site page only for offers that were already receiving strong search traffic. That reinforces to the idea of historical optimization: If a page already performs well in organic traffic each month, and you increase the depth of that content and optimize it even further for search, then odds are, you’re going to see outside returns.

For that reason, we recommend focusing on transferring only the offers from PDF > HTML that are already generating high organic traffic, and have pre-existing search authority. To begin prioritizing, try pulling a list of your most popular offers, and rank them by organic traffic.

In the meantime, we’ll continue putting our findings into practice, and will keep you posted on anything valuable that we discover along the way.

Have you ever conducted similar tests? Comment below with your best experiment — and hey, we might even feature it on our blog.

Learn how to engage with visitors to nurture them into a purchase.