How Netflix Maintains a Low Churn Rate by Keeping Customers Engaged & Watching

With over 90 million customers watching a combined 125 million hours of television and movies everyday, there’s no doubt that Netflix has changed the way we watch our favorite shows. It has also become a prime force in our daily lives — integrating into everything from mobile devices to our language and culture.

And with a relatively low 9% churn rate (lower than any other subscription streaming service), one has to wonder — how does a service like this continue to keep their customers engaged in both the short and long term? How do they succeed when others fall short? Let’s take a closer look and discover how they do it.

Why Engagement is So Crucial to Netflix

As a subscription service, each new month gives every Netflix users a chance to cancel the service.

Like all subscription companies, the best step Netflix can take to reduce churn is to create a great product that people are willing to pay for. They do this by having a large library of original and licensed content. As long as people keep watching, they’ll keep paying.

Let’s look at how Netflix achieves relatively low churn rates, when compared to their peers.

Reluctant to Switch

With more than a third of U.S. households subscribed to Netflix, it’s no secret they’re far ahead of their competitors (namely Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus) in the video streaming subscription race. Recent research by Parks Associates showed that only 4% of U.S. broadband households cancelled their Netflix service — representing almost 9% of Netflix’s subscriber base.

By comparison, 7% of users cancelled their Hulu Plus subscription within a year — but that figure represents approximately half of Hulu Plus’ current subscriber base.

subscribers-canceling-netflix(OTT refers to “Over the Top” – a term used in broadcasting to refer to internet-based transmission of media without an operator –as in cable or satellite — controlling or distributing the media).

What this tells us, is that not only are most households electing to keep their Netflix subscription and “test the waters” with other streaming services, but those same users keep coming back. But what is it that draws them back?

A Deeper Insight into User Preferences

Perhaps some of what makes Netflix so irresistible among its user base are its original shows. With fan favorites like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, Netflix has its finger on the pulse of what users are watching. And they’re not just skimming the surface, either. They look at things like:

  • How many users watched a particular episode
  • How many users watched an entire series
  • How much of a gap was there between when the user watched one episode and the next?

And that’s not all. They’re also gathering data on:

  • When you pause, rewind or fast-forward (or if you stop watching and never pick it back up again)
  • What day you watch (most people watch TV shows over the week and movies on the weekend)
  • What date and time you watch, as well as the zip code you’re watching from
  • What device(s) you use to watch which media
  • The ratings you give and the searches you conduct
  • Your browsing and scrolling habits
  • And even the data within the movies and shows themselves

Netflix knows when the credits roll – but it’s also speculated that they’re monitoring things like the volume, movie/show setting, colors and so on. All of this information is not just collected, but also acted upon.

Some might even say that Netflix took a huge gamble ($100 million to be exact) in purchasing the exclusive rights to House of Cards but they did so with a concrete hypothesis — that a large portion of its customers streamed “The Social Network”, directed by David Fincher from beginning to end. House of Cards is also directed by David Fincher. What’s more, they also noticed that films with Kevin Spacey tended to do well, as well as the original British version of House of Cards.

But Netflix didn’t just settle on one trailer to introduce users to House of Cards. Spacey fans saw trailers that exclusively featured him. Women who watched Thelma and Louise saw trailers featuring the female protagonists of House of Cards and big time film buffs saw trailers that reflected Mr. Fincher’s finest directing moments.

All of these points intersected in a way that practically lit up a path to customer engagement and retention. And all of them were made possible thanks to insights delivered by big data.

But this method only attracts users who happen to be watching other movies. What about when they’re not watching? Netflix has that covered, too.

Email: We Added a Show You Might Like

With the vast content library available, it would be overwhelming to not recommend shows to users. So Netflix doesn’t just collect data about the shows you watch — it acts on that data too, sending you emails when a show is added that you may like based on your existing viewing habits.

netflix-email-you-may-be-interested-in

The email itself is simple and straightforward, and, this is the important part — you can play the episode right from within your mobile device, or add it to your watch list. So it’s not just notifying you that you might enjoy this show, but rather giving you an action to take that lets them better tweak suggestions according to your viewing habits.

Push and In-App Notification – New Season

Many people find push notifications bothersome and frustrating — but it all depends on where they come from. Things that affect users directly – like utilities (your water or electricity is scheduled to be off for a time) or transportation (there’s a car wreck near you that may slow your commute) are definitely wanted.

Movie or series suggestions don’t seem like they’d be high up on users’ priority lists, but Netflix has done a fine job of customizing and fine tuning what gets shown to each user. For example, if you followed season 1 of House of Cards, Netflix lets you know that Season 2 is now available:

netflix-HOC-push-notification

What it doesn’t do is inundate you with notifications when every new season or every new movie is listed. Each push notification is carefully crafted again, based on the data from your viewing habits. This way, it’s not intrusive, but rather engaging.

Recommendations for You

Netflix is also famous for its recommendations. It knows it has just 90 seconds or less to convince you that there’s something worth watching that’s catered to your tastes, it looks at things such as the genre you watch and your ratings, but also what you don’t watch. There’s a very real problem of overwhelming the user — with so many choices, Netflix doesn’t want to get too personal.

And it doesn’t care so much about what you watch, but rather that you watch. When given the choice between calling a friend, reading a book or watching Netflix, they obviously want you to keep coming back.

And although Netflix does push its own original series up on its recommendation pages, it plays a flat fee to content providers, so there’s no reason for its recommendation algorithm to favor one series over another. Everything it recommends to you, it does not just because of your viewing habits today, but also historically.

All of these options filter in to create a uniquely personalized — but not too personal — list of recommendations specifically tailored to each user. An engaged user is a happy user, and Netflix is pulling out all the stops to keep them watching.

Interestingly enough, the personalization algorithm resets every 24 hours, making it more likely that users will keep discovering current titles of interest from Netflix’s ever-growing catalog.

Split Testing

Not surprisingly, Netflix also does a great deal of split testing — a couple hundred tests each year to be exact. It randomly selects around 300,000 users from around the world and tests everything from images to font size.

Whenever major changes are made, such as a homepage redesign, users are understandably upset and backlash is imminent – it’s in our nature to tend to resist change. However, Netflix does a good job of easing them into the new design by explaining what has changed and why. According to Netflix’s vice president of product innovation, Chris Jaffe, however, less than half of their tests have a positive impact on metrics.

Conclusion

Even still, with so many options to keep users informed across nearly every type of device, Netflix is continuing to test, innovate and refine its algorithms to prevent churn and keep users watching — and those users are at its core in a quest for never-ending user experience growth.

What are your thoughts on Netflix’s methods to keep you hooked? Have you discovered new shows as a result of their recommendations? Share your thoughts 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!

April Social Media News: AR on Facebook, Ads on Snapchat & More

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April showers bring May flowers (depending on where you live). This April also brought an onslaught of augmented reality, or AR, from a few of your favorite social media apps.

Just like last month, Facebook and Instagram continued to compete with Snap Inc. in April, with all three apps launching new products and features to keep more users and marketers spending their time there.

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This is good news for marketers: Social media platforms are making it easier to do your job well. The tricky part will be figuring out where your audience wants to hear from you most, and where to best spend your time and resources producing and promoting content.

We’re here to help. The list isn’t exhaustive, but you can expect to learn the major highlights in the social media space this month — what was launched, what changed, and what these stories could mean for marketers.

10 of the Biggest Social Media News Stories This Month

1) Facebook announced new AR, VR, and AI initiatives at F8 2017.

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Source: Facebook

At the annual F8 Facebook Developers Conference, CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook’s next act would be further steps into the worlds of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and artificial intelligence (AI). With the launch of new products like the Camera Effects Studio, the AR Studio, and Facebook Spaces, Zuckerberg hopes to make the Facebook camera “the first augmented reality platform.”

Down the line, Facebook plans to launch AR glasses and new 360-degree capable cameras, in addition to some truly mind-bending Building 8 initiatives, such as technology to type with your brain and hear with your skin. These announcements caught most of the headlines, but we think what was left off of the F8 agenda is just as important.

With almost no mention of Facebook Instant Articles, publishers, or Pages, it’s clear that Facebook is doubling down on high-tech visual content. So what does this mean for marketers? It’s tough to outsmart the News Feed algorithm and to drive content views and engagement. Our advice is to publish no more than 3X per day, to invest in live and native video content, and to connect with your audience and customers on Facebook Messenger (but more on that later).

2) Facebook surpassed 5 million monthly advertisers.

facebook-mobile-studio.png

Source: VentureBeat

Facebook also announced this month that it had achieved more than 5 million monthly advertisers — 75% of which came from outside of the United States. Digging into this massive number reveals even more interesting insights: 50% of these advertisers are mobile advertisers, and Facebook amassed more than 1 million new advertisers in less than one year.

These advertisers only represent about 8% of businesses with Pages, so it’s likely that Facebook will keep updating its Ads Manager to make advertising on Facebook more enticing, especially on mobile. Read our ebook for ideas on how to optimize your brand’s Facebook Page for more effective advertising on the mega-popular platform.

3) One in five Facebook videos are broadcast live.

Facebook’s head of video, Fidji Simo, shared a video announcing just how rapidly Facebook Live had grown in popularity — both among publishers and among viewers. One in five videos on Facebook is a Facebook Live broadcast. What’s more, Facebook Live watch time has increased more than than 4X longer over the last year.

Last year, Facebook announced it would start giving Facebook Live broadcasts greater weight in the News Feed algorithm as a result of its popularity. This increase in watch time could precede another algorithm adjustment favoring live broadcasts, so if you aren’t already doing so, recording Facebook Live videos could help your content earn more engagement and discovery in the News Feed. Read our guide for going live on Facebook here.

4) There are 100K active bots on Facebook Messenger.

facebook-messenger-bots

Source: CNBC

Facebook Messenger was another hot topic at the F8 conference, and one of the biggest announcements about the messaging app was that there are now 100,000 active bots deployed on the platform every month. Furthermore, Facebook announced that 2 billion messages per month were shared between Messenger users and businesses.

Messenger is becoming popular for customer service and content distribution, so Facebook announced changes to the platform to make it more discoverable and easy to use as a standalone product. These changes include a Discover tab on the home screen of Messenger and “smart replies” businesses can use to auto-answer frequently asked questions.

Marketers might consider using Messenger as part of their customer service or content distribution strategies — especially if their audiences are already highly engaged on Facebook. You can subscribe to HubSpot content using Messenger here.

5) Apple Clips achieved 1 million downloads in four days.

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Source: TechCrunch

Apple launched Clips, a media editing app designed to create photos and videos specifically for social sharing, and it rapidly achieved up to 1 million downloads in the four days after its launch in the App Store.

It’s still early to tell how the app will continue to perform, but App Annie noted that Clips was beating out Instagram’s own photo editing app, Layout, in the App Store during that period. This data is only based on United States numbers, but stay tuned for more coverage from us on media editing apps you should be using for easy social media sharing.

6) Pinterest kills the Like button

pinterest-blog-home.png

Source: Pinterest Blog

In a blog post published this month, Pinterest announced it would be removing the Like button from the visual search platform and sticking with the Save button as an indicator of Pins’ popularity. Pinterest put this change into practice with an email to Recode: It stated, in no uncertain terms, that Pinterest isn’t about virtual reality or connecting with friends. Instead, it’s about visual content discovery.

If marketers are spending a ton of time using Pinterest as a social networking tool, they might want to rethink their strategy and metrics now. Instead, consider shoppable Pins if you sell products as a better use of Pinterest’s discoverability capabilities.

7) Snapchat added Geofilters to its ads API.

snapchat-money-dollars3-ss-1920.jpg

Source: MarketingLand

Snapchat announced it would be adding Sponsored Geofilters to its ads API this month, making it easier for brands to customize and launch Geofilters for specific locations and events.

This is a big win for Snapchat. Now, advertisers can track the performance of Sponsored Geofilters within the Snapchat Ads API and get more insight into advertising ROI on the platform. We’ve talked before about how Snapchat’s analytics aren’t as robust as the other social media platforms it’s competing with, so this change makes almost all Snapchat advertising options available within the API for easy customization and performance analysis. Now, only Sponsored Lenses aren’t available in the API, and we’ll keep you posted if and when that changes as Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc., grows.

8) Snapchat started measuring foot traffic to brick-and-mortar locations.

Snapchat_SnapToStore-1920.jpg

Source: MarketingLand

Snapchat has started using a Snap to Store measurement tool that lets advertisers see how much foot traffic to physical locations was generated by Snapchat ad views. The measurement shows which visitors used Snapchat while in the brick-and-mortar location, how many people who visited had seen the ad on Snapchat, and the difference in foot traffic between visitors who saw the ad on Snapchat and visitors who hadn’t.

The Snap to Store measurement tool is still in the experiment phase with a few large brands for now, but we’ll keep you posted when it rolls out to all users. The measurement doesn’t distinguish between different locations if your brand has a chain of stores, so this might be a better fit for smaller businesses to test out.

9) Snapchat launched AR world lenses.

On the first day of Facebook’s F8 conference, Snapchat announced new AR lenses users could start adding to their photos and videos. With world lenses, users can add 3-D moving shapes and images to content to add another layer of fun and variety to their Snaps.

AR and VR features are the next logical step for Snap Inc., Snapchat’s parent company that rebranded itself as a camera company back in 2016. The announcement of world lenses just before Facebook announced its own AR camera capabilities at F8 was smart (and sneaky) timing, as marketers around the world start to consider how to incorporate AR into their visual content efforts.

Our advice — as always — is to experiment and iterate based on results. See if your audience responds and engages with world lenses on Snapchat and AR filters on Facebook, figure out what works, and replicate it in future posts.

10) Instagram Stories beat Snapchat’s user numbers.

instagram-stickers.pngSource: Instagram

Instagram Stories have officially attracted more users than Snapchat’s entire user base, hitting 200 million users this month. With roughly 161 million users to its name, Snapchat continues to face increased competition from its virtual replica on Instagram.

Case in point: In the same blog post announcing the user milestone, Instagram also demonstrated its new Selfie Sticker feature, which lets users take a mini-selfie that they can attach to images and videos in other Stories. If this sounds familiar, you’re right on the money — Snapchat introduced Scissors, which do the exact same thing, in December 2016.

More advertisers and marketers are turning to Instagram over Snapchat for their ephemeral marketing efforts. We suggesting focus your efforts on which platforms audiences are most engaged on, while still keeping a pulse on other platforms that might experience a resurgence if new tools or products are announced.

It’s not exactly a news story, but we wanted to make you aware of a new social media content creation tool, too. This month, HubSpot and Shakr teamed up to create StoriesAds.com, a platform to easily create videos for Instagram’s vertical format. Using StoriesAds.com, brands can easily create vertical videos for Instagram Stories and ads directly in a browser, so check out the tool the next time you plan to launch an Instagram campaign to make better content, more easily.

Did we miss any big social media stories? Share with us in the comments below.

Learn more about HubSpot Classroom Training!

9 Link Building Email Outreach Templates That Actually Work

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Thanks for joining me here on the HubSpot Marketing Blog today. I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you all a few things you might not know about me.

I’m ambidextrous (I can write with both hands), I’m the adoptive mother of three cats (one of whom is named Kitty), and before coming to HubSpot, I spent a lot of time writing and sending link building outreach emails.

New Call-to-action

Inbound links back to your website play an important role in achieving your inbound marketing goals. They also require strategy and diligent work to come by. I would know — I worked very hard to earn inbound links for a long time.

Whether you’re just starting out with inbound link building or you’re getting fatigued by nobody replying to your outreach emails, I wanted to help you out. I’ve created nine different templates for killer outreach emails that you can borrow and adapt for your own link building strategy.

What Is Link Building?

Before we dive into the templates, let’s quickly review the basics of inbound link building. If you’re already caught up to speed, skip ahead to check out the templates.

Inbound links, otherwise known as backlinks, are links pointing toward your website from another website.

Here’s an example: Check out this publishing volume experiment analysis on the Moz Blog. If you’ll notice, the previous sentence contains a link pointing toward Moz’s website. That’s a backlink. And if you read the article, you’ll notice it contains a link pointing back to our website here at HubSpot. That’s a backlink, too.

Now that we all understand what inbound links are, why are they important?

  1. Inbound links drive traffic to your website. In the example above, the HubSpot blog earned traffic from any of Moz’s blog readers who followed the link to HubSpot’s website.
  2. Inbound links improve your search engine rankings. Inbound links tell search engines that your website knows what it’s talking about — otherwise, why would someone link to it? The more inbound links you earn from high-quality sites, the higher your website will rank in search engine results pages (SERP).

To sum up, inbound links are valuable because they help your website rank higher in search, which helps more people find your organization, start clicking around, and eventually become a lead.

Link building is the process of obtaining those inbound links. When your website is a high-powered, well-respected content engine, other sites and individuals online will link to your content organically — without you having to ask. But if you’re like a lot of other inbound marketers out there, your website still has a ways to go.

A dedicated link building strategy starts with an ask — usually via email — and that’s where these templates come in.

Link Building Outreach Rules

But before we get to the templates, some rules.

There are right and wrong ways to go about improving your site’s SEO, and inbound link building — when done correctly — is generally regarded as one of the right ways. You’re pitching your content to publications that might be interested in sharing it with different audiences. A backlink is just the cherry on top.

However, there are wrong ways to go about asking for inbound backlinks, and I want to make sure you sure understand the rules of the road before you start emailing.

1) The best way to generate quality backlinks is to publish exceptional content publishers organically cite.

That being said, a dedicated backlink outreach strategy can be helpful for newer websites or if you’re promoting a specific piece of exceptional content. The more content you produce and, in turn, promote with social media content and backlinks, the more search engine authority your site will accumulate.

2) Only pitch guest posts or backlinks that add value for the reader.

Instead of asking your contacts to randomly link back to your site somewhere on theirs, ask publishers if you can write for their blogs or conribute new ideas and data for content they’re already working on. Offers such as these will result in quality backlinks that provide readers with valuable information.

3) Send individualized emails to specific publishers.

Never, and I mean never, mass email an enormous contacts list with a pitch template. It’s spammy, impersonal, and likely won’t get you the results you want anyway. Adapt the templates below if you like them, but it’s critically important to individually craft specific emails for particular publishers.

The first step of your outreach process should always be researching publications and specific people who might be interested in your content. You shouldn’t start with typing up an email and sending it to everyone in your industry with a website. Read on for new ideas for how to ask for an inbound link — in ways that are polite, clever, and might just get you that backlink.

Note: These email templates are based on emails I’ve sent and received. Any references to industries, companies, or individuals are meant to illustrate these fictitious email examples.

9 Link Building Outreach Email Examples to Try

1) The preview

If you don’t have any connections with the person you’re pitching, offering a preview might be an effective way to share your content. With this type of email, you’re asking first if the recipient would like to see the piece of content you’d like them to link to. The key to getting a reply is making sure you’ve personalized your email and enticed the reader with enough details to get them to reach back out.

Interest in new infographic about social media stats?

Hi Sophia,

Happy Friday! I’m reaching out because I’m an avid reader of your work on the SocialVille blog — I loved your latest piece about social media news.

I just followed you on Twitter, and I saw you’ve been tweeting about Facebook’s F8 conference. What did you think of the event?

I work over at SocialWorld, where we conduct market research and collect data for social media analysts and experts. We recently produced an infographic detailing a breakdown of the social media market and what changes you can expect over the next year.

Would you be interested in checking it out? I’d love to see what you think.

Let me know if you’re interested, and I can send you the infographic to take a look.

Best, Jack

2) The exclusive offer

If you’ve produced new research or data with surprising or intriguing results, it might be worth pitching your content as an exclusive before pressing publish on your own blog. An exclusive offer to a top-ranking publication in your industry could get you a lot of traffic from a single link, so it might be worth adjusting or reconsidering your own publication schedule.

When pitching to top journalists whose inboxes are probably flooded, keep your subject lines detailed and your emails short to communicate as much information in as few words as possible.

Exclusive: New data about Snapchat ads

Hey Sophia,

I’ve been reading your coverage of the competition heating up between Snapchat and Instagram, and I wanted to let you know that we’re releasing new data about Snapchat ad usage this week.

Among other insights, we found a surprising number of brands and publishers that were regularly advertising and publishing on Snapchat have started transitioning over to Instagram, where they achieve higher ad clickthrough rates.

I’d be happy to give you exclusive early access to our full report to be the first to write about it on the blog this week — what do you think?

Best, Jack

3) The DYK

Everyone likes to learn a fun fact. Couch your pitch as a “did you know” moment to pique the recipient’s curiosity to read the rest of your content for more fun and new information. If you were able to teach them something new, they may want to feature your fresh insight for their own readers.

DYK bots are more popular than blogs?

Hi Sophia,

Did you know that there are more than 100,000 active bots on Facebook Messenger?

If you aren’t already communicating with your audience via Facebook Messenger, you could be missing out on an opportunity to provide better customer service — and faster.

We rounded up more Messenger bot usage stats in a new report that I’ve attached below. Do you think it would be a good fit for an article on the SocialVille blog? Thanks in advance for checking it out, and let me know if you have any questions.

Best, Jack

4) The personalized pitch

The most critical part of a successful outreach email is personalization. I’m not talking about addressing your email to the correct name and spelling everything correctly — although you should definitely do both of those things. By showing the recipient that you know who they are and what they’re about, your pitch reads as genuine, and you read as a comprehensive possible partner.

It’s easy to write, “I loved your last article about [subject],” but it takes some digging and understanding to write, “I love reading your monthly social media news series. Did you catch the latest Facebook update that came out today?” Make sure your email shows that you’ve taken the time to understand what the person is all about and what they regularly cover.

Hi from a fellow Snapchat diehard

Hi Sophia,

I know you’ve been closely following the social media smackdown between Snap Inc. and Facebook — and I know who we’re both rooting for. So I wanted to show you this interactive timeline we created that compares the growth trajectories of the two companies.

Snap Inc. is similar to Facebook in a lot of ways, but its path to growth into the billions is mired with more competition. But this competition hasn’t limited Snapchat’s engagement — users are spending up to half an hour a day inside the app.

I noticed that you publish a social media news roundup every month featuring the latest stories and research, and I wondered if you thought this timeline could be a good inclusion. Let me know if you have any questions about the data!

Thanks, Jack

5) The offer

Nobody likes having extra work on their plate, so why not pitch doing the work for them? If you pitch a great idea alongside an offer to write a guest post, the recipient might be more inclined to say “yes.” But remember to do your due diligence before pressing “send.” If the person you’re pitching has already written about a specific angle a few times before, make sure you’re pitching something new and different to avoid getting ignored.

Offer to write up new report for SocialVille?

Hey Sophia,

You’ve written previously about successful Facebook ads and headlines, and I wanted to share some new research my team has put together about effective Facebook ad copy. We found that Facebook ads under 20 words in length performed significantly better than longer ads, along with a ton of other eye-opening stats.

Do you think this would be a good fit for the SocialVille blog? I’d be happy to write it up for you to take the legwork out of it. Let me know if you’d like me to get started.

Thanks for your consideration, Jack

6) The mention

Everybody likes to see their name in print. A clever way to angle for a backlink is to mention a product or an individual in a published piece, then circle back and share it with them. Ask for their feedback to get them reading the post, and they might link to it or share it on social of their own accord.

Your data featured in our latest report

Hey Sophia,

I love reading your stuff on the SocialVille blog! In fact, we featured your recent data about the impact of tools on productivity in our report on the growth of productivity as a business — I’ve attached the PDF below, and we’ve also shared it on Twitter.

I wonder if you’d be able to check out the report and let me know what you think or if I missed any important stats.

Thanks in advance for checking it out, and thanks for such an interesting write-up.

Best, Jack

7) The social proof

Social proof is the concept that consumers will be influenced by what others are already doing. For example, if you head to the bottom of this blog post, you’ll notice that we ask you to subscribe, noting that 300,000 marketers have already subscribed. That’s social proof in action: You might be more likely to subscribe now that you know hundreds of thousands of people are already doing it.

So, if you’ve published a great piece of content that people are responding positively to, tell people that when you pitch it for backlinks. They might be more inclined to cite you if other people in their field are already doing so.

Guide to Instagram ad analytics

Hi Sophia,

I’m sure you get a lot of content submissions, but I wanted to bring to your attention to a new guide we released about the ins and outs of Instagram ad advertising.

This helpful how-to guide tells you everything you need to know about advertising on Instagram and how to drive ROI, in addition to sharing real-world examples of ads that delivered results. Shameless #humblebrag here — the guide has been downloaded more than 5K times and has been retweeted more than 4K times — so I wanted to make sure you had a chance to check it out.

Do you think it would be a good fit for the SocialVille blog? I’d love to get your thoughts.

Best, Jack

8) The joke

Tread carefully with humor, but if you’ve perused their social media and they seem like they would appreciate a goofy joke, it could be a smart way to get your recipient’s attention.

As in the rules of the workplace or cocktail parties, avoid making jokes about politics, religion, or anything rated PG-13 and up.

What do cats, cooking videos, and your latest blog post have in common?

… they all went viral on social media!

Forgive the silly joke, but I knew cats would get your attention. I loved your recent piece about social media predictions for the coming year, and I wondered if you’d given any thought to predictions for where SEO is headed, too.

Here at SearchWorld, we predict that AMP and machine-learning will take center stage in Google’s quest to make search easier and more intuitive for the searcher.

We put together a report about how SEO has evolved and other predictions for where we think it’s headed next, and I think it would be a great reference if you decide to write a follow-up piece about the future of SEO. I’ve attached the report below — take a look, and let me know if there are any changes you’d suggest!

Thanks in advance, Jack

9) The response

This is another risky outreach strategy, but it could pay off if you do it properly.

The ultimate way to demonstrate that you’re an avid reader (instead of just saying so) is to respond to someone’s work with an opinion — even if it’s divergent. Other options besides the counterpoint in the example below could include:

  • A case study of you taking their advice and applying it to your brand
  • A different content format on the same subject — for example, a video explainer instead of a blog post
Quick question about your Facebook F8 recap

Hey Sophia,

Thanks for writing such a thorough recap of Facebook’s F8 conference. It was super helpful for those of us who couldn’t attend in person or watch the live stream!

I thought you made an interesting point about the competition heating up between Facebook and Snap Inc., but I think you could be missing a bigger idea here. I think it’s not as much a competition for users as it is a competition for features innovation vs. features execution.

I wrote up my take on the brands’ competition on our blog today and cited your recap — would you like to take a look? Maybe we could collaborate together on a blog post or video on how social media marketers should best evaluate the two companies’ competing apps.

Thanks, Jack

Email Link Building Best Practices

So, you might have noticed that these aren’t the traditional templates you can copy and paste into your own inbox.

And that’s because I don’t want you to simply plug in these emails and replace them with your own pitch. Part of the reason successful link building takes time and effort is because you have to craft a personalized email every time. You should use the guidelines I’ve outlined above, but copying and pasting the same exact message is just bad news for all involved. Don’t do it.

Below are more of my link building outreach email best practices:

1) Edit, then edit again.

Nothing makes me less interested in responding to a pitch email than when there is immediately a typo or grammatical error as early as the subject line — or my name. Double-check to ensure that all names are spelled correctly, that capitalization is perfect (Hubspot vs. HubSpot), and that punctuation is perfect.

On the other side of editing, cut your email down wherever you can. It’s better for your email to be on the shorter side than too long, so try to delete any extra words and phrases that aren’t completely necessary.

2) Keep your subject lines short and sweet.

My rule of thumb for subject lines is to avoid making them complete sentences. Stick to the important details to communicate as much enticing information in as few words as possible. If your brand name is recognizable, make sure to name drop yourself, too.

3) Don’t fake flattery.

If it’s easy to tell when someone’s compliments are inauthentic in person, it’s even easier to tell via email. Don’t flatter people you’re contacting for the sake of it — genuinely compliment their work, their insights, or their achievements, and take the compliment a step further to add value with your own content.

4) Do the legwork before you send.

Demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about by doing your research before you press “send.” When you think you’ve found the right person to pitch, take some time to research what they’ve written about in the past and what they discuss on social media. Pay attention to timing, too. If an author has just written about social media statistics, they might not want to write about the same angle one week later, so try to bring a new or related pitch to the table.

5) Don’t follow up more than once or twice.

Let’s face it — we’re all busy. Even if your outreach email is impeccable, it could get lost in someone’s inbox during a busy morning. You should feel free to reach out once to follow up, but don’t go overboard in pestering someone if they’re not getting back to you. After one or two follow-ups, let your pitch go, and reach out to them with another pitch further down the line.

For more link building strategies and best practices, the pros over at Moz can point you in the direction of more replies and backlinks and fewer ignores and “no”s. For more must-have SEO strategies to tackle in 2017, check out our free guide here.

Do you have an email link building outreach email that got you great results? Share with us in the comments below.

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Pop-Ups, Overlays, Modals, Interstitials, and How They Interact with SEO – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Have you thought about what your pop-ups might be doing to your SEO? There are plenty of considerations, from their timing and how they affect your engagement rates, all the way to Google’s official guidelines on the matter. In this episode of Whiteboard Friday, Rand goes over all the reasons why you ought to carefully consider how your overlays and modals work and whether the gains are worth the sacrifice.

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Pop-ups, modals, overlays, interstitials, and how they work with SEO

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re chatting about pop-ups, overlays, modals, interstitials, and all things like them. They have specific kinds of interactions with SEO. In addition to Google having some guidelines around them, they also can change how people interact with your website, and that can adversely or positively affect you accomplishing your goals, SEO and otherwise.

Types

So let’s walk through what these elements, these design and UX elements do, how they work, and best practices for how we should be thinking about them and how they might interfere with our SEO efforts.

Pop-ups

So, first up, let’s talk specifically about what each element is. A pop-up now, okay, there are a few kinds. There are pop-ups that happen in new windows. New window pop-ups are, basically, new window, no good. Google hates those. They are fundamentally against them. Many browsers will stop them automatically. Chrome does. Firefox does. In fact, users despise these as well. There are still some spammy and sketchy sites out there that use them, but, generally speaking, bad news.

Overlays

When we’re talking about a pop-up that happens in the same browser window, essentially it’s just a visual element, that’s often also referred to as an overlay. So, for the purposes of this Whiteboard Friday, we’ll call that an overlay. An overlay is basically like this, where you have the page’s content and there’s some smaller element, a piece, a box, a window, a visual of some kind that comes up and that essentially says, maybe it says, “Sign up for my email newsletter,” and then there’s a place to enter your email, or, “Get my book now,” and you click that and get the book. Those types of overlays are pretty common on the web, and they do not create quite the same problems that pop-ups do, at least from Google’s perspective. However, we’ll talk about those later, there are some issues around them, especially with mobile.

Modals

Modals tend to be windows of interaction, tend to be more elements of use. So lightboxes for images is a very popular modal. A modal is something where you are doing work inside that new box rather than in the content that’s underneath it. So a sign-in form that overlays, that pops up over the rest of the content, but that doesn’t allow you to engage with this content underneath it, that would be considered a modal. Generally, most of the time, these aren’t a problem, unless they are something like spam, or advertising, or something that’s taking you out of the user experience.

Interstitials

Then finally, interstitials are essentially, and many of these can also be called interstitial experiences, but a classic interstitial is something like what Forbes.com does. When you visit Forbes, an article for the first time, you get this, “Welcome. Our sponsor of the day is Brawndo. Brawndo, it has what plants need.” Then you can continue after a certain number of seconds. These really piss people off, myself included. I really hate the interstitial experience. I understand that it’s an advertising thing. But, yeah, Google hates them too. Not quite enough to kick Forbes out of their SERPs entirely yet, but, fingers crossed, it will happen sometime soon. They have certainly removed plenty of other folks who have gone with invasive or overly heavy interstitials over the years and made those pretty tough.

What are the factors that matter for SEO?

A) Timing

Well, it turns out timing is a big one. So when the element appears matters. Basically, if the element shows up initially upon page load, they will consider it differently than if it shows up after a few minutes. So, for example, if you have a “Sign Up Now” overlay that pops up the second you visit the page, that’s going to be treated differently than something that happens when you’re 80% or you’ve just finished scrolling through an entire blog post. That will get treated very differently. Or it may have no effect actually on how Google treats the SEO, and then it really comes down to how users do.

Then how long does it last as well. So interstitials, especially those advertising interstitials, there are some issues governing that with people like Forbes. There are also some issues around an overlay that can’t be closed and how long a window can pop up, especially if it shows advertising and those types of things. Generally speaking, obviously, shorter is better, but you can get into trouble even with very short ones.

B) Interaction

Can that element easily be closed, and does it interfere with the content or readability? So Google’s new mobile guidelines, I think as of just a few months ago, now state that if an overlay or a modal or something interferes with a visitor’s ability to read the actual content on the page, Google may penalize those or remove their mobile-friendly tags and remove any mobile-friendly benefit. That’s obviously quite concerning for SEO.

C) Content

So there’s an exception or an exclusion to a lot of Google’s rules around this, which is if you have an element that is essentially asking for the user’s age, or asking for some form of legal consent, or giving a warning about cookies, which is very popular in the EU, of course, and the UK because of the legal requirements around saying, “Hey, this website uses cookies,” and you have to agree to it, those kinds of things, that actually gets around Google’s issues. So Google will not give you a hard time if you have an overlay interstitial or modal that says, “Are you of legal drinking age in your country? Enter your birth date to continue.” They will not necessarily penalize those types of things.

Advertising, on the other hand, advertising could get you into more trouble, as we have discussed. If it’s a call to action for the website itself, again, that could go either way. If it’s part of the user experience, generally you are just fine there. Meaning something like a modal where you get to a website and then you say, “Hey, I want to leave a comment,” and so there’s a modal that makes you log in, that type of a modal. Or you click on an image and it shows you a larger version of that image in a modal, again, no problem. That’s part of the user experience.

D) Conditions

Conditions matter as well. So if it is triggered from SERP visits versus not, meaning that if you have an exclusionary protocol in your interstitial, your overlay, your modal that says, “Hey, if someone’s visiting from Google, don’t show this to them,” or “If someone’s visiting from Bing, someone’s visiting from DuckDuckGo, don’t show this to them,” that can change how the search engines perceive it as well.

It’s also the case that this can change if you only show to cookied or logged in or logged out types of users. Now, logged out types of users means that everyone from a search engine could or will get it. But for logged in users, for example, you can imagine that if you visit a page on a social media site and there’s a modal that includes or an overlay that includes some notification around activity that you’ve already been performing on the site, now that becomes more a part of the user experience. That’s not necessarily going to harm you.

Where it can hurt is the other way around, where you get visitors from search engines, they are logged out, and you require them to log in before seeing the content. Quora had a big issue with this for a long time, and they seem to have mostly resolved that through a variety of measures, and they’re fairly sophisticated about it. But you can see that Facebook still struggles with this, because a lot of their content, they demand that you log in before you can ever view or access it. That does keep some of their results out of Google, or certainly ranking lower.

E) Engagement impact

I think this is what Google’s ultimately trying to measure and what they’re trying to essentially say, “Hey, this is why we have these issues around this,” which is if you are hurting the click-through rate or you’re hurting pogo-sticking, meaning that more people are clicking onto your website from Google and then immediately clicking the Back button when one of these things appears, that is a sign to Google that you have provided a poor user experience, that people are not willing to jump through whatever hoop you’ve created for them to get access your content, and that suggests they don’t want to get there. So this is sort of the ultimate thing that you should be measuring. Some of these can still hurt you even if these are okay, but this is the big one.

Best practices

So some best practices around using all these types of elements on your website. I would strongly urge you to avoid elements that are significantly harming UX. If you’re willing to take a small sacrifice in user experience in exchange for a great deal of value because you capture people’s email addresses or you get more engagement of other different kinds, okay. But this would be something I’d watch.

There are three or four metrics that I’d urge you to check out to compare whether this is doing the right thing. Those are:

  • Bounce rate
  • Browse rate
  • Return visitor rates, meaning the percentage of people who come back to your site again and again, and
  • Time on site after the element appears

So those four will help tell you whether you are truly interfering badly with user experience.

On mobile, ensure that your crucial content is not covered up, that the reading experience, the browsing experience isn’t covered up by one of these elements. Please, whatever you do, make those elements easy and obvious to dismiss. This is part of Google’s guidelines around it, but it’s also a best practice, and it will certainly help your user experience metrics.

Only choose to keep one of these elements if you are finding that the sacrifice… and there’s almost always a sacrifice cost, like you will hurt bounce rate or browse rate or return visitor rate or time on site. You will hurt it. The question is, is it a slight enough hurt in exchange for enough gain, and that’s that trade-off that you need to decide whether it’s worth it. I think if you are hurting visitor interaction by a few seconds on average per visit, but you are getting 5% of your visitors to give you an email address, that’s probably worth it. If it’s more like 30 seconds and 1%, maybe not as good.

Consider removing the elements from triggering if the visit comes from search engines. So if you’re finding that this works fine and great, but you’re having issues around search guidelines, you could consider potentially just removing the element from any visit that comes directly from a search engine and instead placing that in the content itself or letting it happen on a second page load, assuming that your browse rate is decently high. That’s a fine way to go as well.

If you are trying to get the most effective value out of these types of elements, it tends to be the case that the less common and less well used the visual element is, the more interaction and engagement it’s going to get. But the other side of that coin is that it can create a more frustrating experience. So if people are not familiar with the overlay or modal or interstitial visual layout design that you’ve chosen, they may engage more with it. They might not dismiss it out of hand, because they’re not used to it yet, but they can also get more frustrated by it. So, again, return to looking at those metrics.

With that in mind, hopefully you will effectively, and not too harmfully to your SEO, be able to use these pop-ups, overlays, interstitials, modals, and all other forms of elements that interfere with user experience.

And we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

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5 Essential Skills Marketers Need to Succeed This Year [Infographic]

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The marketing landscape evolves at what often seems like a bewildering pace. There are changes in consumer preferences. There are updates to search algorithms. And, we can’t forget the frequent updates and features added to various social media channels.

For that reason, being a successful marketer today might appear to require a never-ending list of skills. Where do you need to excel — content creation, social media, web analytics, or all of the above … and more?

Relax. In a perfect world, it would be possible to constantly maintain all of these skills at an expert level. But in reality, it’s okay — and helpful — to prioritize. The question remains, however: What skills do marketers need the most to both keep up with the industry, and be good at their jobs?

Luckily, the infographic below from TEKsystems outlines five crucial skills — largely digital ones — that marketers need to succeed this year:

  • Digital Advertising
  • Social Marketing
  • Website Design/Development
  • Content Development
  • Mobile Marketing

It’s a helpful guideline for marketers who want to help their brands stay up to speed, as well as job seekers and recruiters who want to know which knowledge is the most valuable in today’s landscape. We’ve elaborated a bit on each one below the image — so read on, and learn more about the skills you need to start, continue, or foster a lucrative marketing career.


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5 Essential Marketing Skills to Succeed in 2017

1) Digital Advertising

Many marketers are trained to draw a bold line between marketing and advertising. But the latter, in its digital and analytical form, has become the work of the savviest marketers. That includes things like creating strategic ads on different social media channels, as well as pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns. According to TEK systems, some of the other specific skills that fall under this umbrella are:

  • Search engine optimization/marketing (SEO/SEM)
  • Digital business analytics — data like Google Analytics and Facebook Insights
  • Digital project management

2) Social Marketing

Long gone are the days of simply posting the occasional photo or update on social media. Social marketing has become far, far more complex — so much so that many brands dedicate full-time roles to it. Within this realm, you might see many overlapping skills with digital advertising, like understanding the same analytics and managing PPC campaigns.

While there’s a detailed subset of skills required in social marketing, the major ones fall under strategizing and managing social media posts and presence, according to each channel. That’s one form of content strategy, which we’ll get to.

3) Website Design/Development

As the infographic puts it, “The website is the face of your brand.” It’s often the first line of interaction that a customer will have with your company — that’s why an optimal user experience is imperative. After all, that’s one of the core principles of inbound marketing: Create the content that’s going to draw and benefit your buyer personas.

For that reason, here’s yet another area where — like most of these five skills — understanding content strategy is going to be important. But that’s not the only knowledge required here. TEKsystems also identifies the following top skills sought after by marketing hiring managers:

  • UX design
  • Front-end development
  • Web development
  • Consumer and behavioral analytics
  • Product management

4) Content Development

Finally — content gets its own category. Of course, understanding how to develop the best content for your various distribution channels is important. But then, there’s understanding how to develop consumable content that doesn’t necessarily reside on your social networks or website copy, like reports, or other downloadable items. And in addition to being well-produced and informative, it should be sharable, and a content developer needs to understand how to create something of that nature. Related skills, therefore, include:

  • Analytics
  • Project Management
  • SEO/SEM

5) Mobile Marketing

Mobile is gradually becoming the primary way we consume online content — 48% of consumers, for example,  start mobile research with a search engine, while 26% start with a branded app. That’s why mobile marketing has become such a valuable skill, from understanding how customers use mobile, to how a brand’s digital presence and content can be optimized for that platform.

And while mobile marketing might be a bit different from mobile development — the latter is a bit more technical — it doesn’t hurt to at least understand how that (and app development) contrasts from traditional web development. Additionally, valuable skills here include:

  • Mobile traffic analytics
  • E-commerce analytics
  • Mobile design

The More You Know

We’re not suggesting that marketers need to become experts in every single one of these areas. However, if there’s a specific area of marketing that interests you the most, or into which you’d like to move, understanding where you’ll need to excel can help you get there that much faster.

Plus, as your brand and the landscape continue to evolve, this list can serve as a good reference when you feel like you might need to brush up on certain skills, or at least become more aware of them when it’s necessary. That way, in addition to honing your own skills, you can understand where you might need to focus team-building efforts.

What are your most sought-after marketing skills? Let us know in the comments.

This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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6 Cover Letter Examples That Got Something Right

Let’s face it: A job search is, typically, anything but fun.

It’s almost as if it carries its own stages of grief. At first, there’s denial of its demoralizing nature. Then comes the anger over either radio silence or rejection from prospective employers. Of course, there’s bargaining — “I promise to never complain about work again, if I can find a new job!” That’s often followed by depression, and the idea that one is simply just unhireable. Then, there’s acceptance: “This is awful, but I have to keep trying, anyway.”

But we have good news. It is possible to have a little fun with your job search — and maybe even make yourself a better candidate in the process. The magic, it turns out, could be in your cover letter.

It may be true that 63% of recruiters have deemed cover letters “unimportant,” but that doesn’t mean yours has to contribute to that statistic. In fact, it might be that cover letters are deemed insignificant because so few of them stand out. Here’s an opportunity for you to exercise your creativity at the earliest stage of the recruitment process. Personalization, after all, goes beyond replacing the title and company name in each letter you send to recruiters. Boost your resume and join 30,000 marketers by getting inbound  marketing-certified for free from HubSpot. Get started here. 

What does that look like in practice, and how can you make your cover letter stand out? We found six examples from job seekers who decided to do things a bit differently.

Note: Some of these contain NSFW language.

6 Cover Letter Examples That Nailed It

1) The Short-and-Sweet Model

In 2009, David Silverman penned an article for Harvard Business Review titled, “The Best Cover Letter I Ever Received.” That letter contained three complete sentences, as follows:

short-and-sweet.png
Source: Harvard Business Review

One might argue that this particular letter is less than outstanding. It’s brief, to say the least, and the author doesn’t go into a ton of detail about what makes him or her qualified for the job in question. But that’s what Silverman likes about it — the fact that the applicant only included the pieces of information that would matter the most to the recipient.

“The writer of this letter took the time to think through what would be relevant to me,” writes Silverman. “Instead of scattering lots of facts in hopes that one was relevant, the candidate offered up an opinion as to which experiences I should focus on.”

When you apply for a job, start by determining two things:

  1. Who might oversee the role — that’s often included in the description, under “reports to.” Address your letter to that individual.
  2. Figure out what problems this role is meant to solve for that person. Then, concisely phrase in your cover letter how and why your experience can and will resolve those problems.

The key here is research — by looking into who you’ll be reporting to and learning more about that person’s leadership style, you’ll be better prepared to tailor your cover letter to focus on how you provide solutions for her. Not sure how to learn more about a leader’s personality? Check out any content she shares on social media, or use Growthbot’s Personality Profile feature.

2) The Brutally Honest Approach

Then, there are the occasions when your future boss might appreciate honesty — in its purest form. Livestream CEO Jesse Hertzberg, by his own admission, is one of those people, which might be why he called this example “the best cover letter” (which he received while he was with Squarespace):

Brutally honest.png
Source: Title Needed

As Hertzberg says in the blog post elaborating on this excerpt — it’s not appropriate for every job or company. But if you happen to be sure that the corporate culture of this prospective employer gets a kick out of a complete lack of filter, then there’s a chance that the hiring manager might appreciate your candor.

“Remember that I’m reading these all day long,” Hertzberg writes. “You need to quickly convince me I should keep reading. You need to stand out.”

3) The One That Says “Why,” Not Just “How”

We’ve already covered the importance of addressing how you’ll best execute a certain role in your cover letter. But there’s another question you might want to answer: Why the heck do you want to work here?

The Muse, a career guidance site, says that it’s often best to lead with the why — especially if it makes a good story. We advise against blathering on and on, but a brief tale that illuminates your desire to work for that particular employer can really make you stand out.

Why Example.png
Source: The Muse

Here’s another instance of the power of personalization. The author of this cover letter clearly has a passion for this prospective employer — the Chicago Cubs — and if she’s lying about it, well, that probably would eventually be revealed in an interview. Make sure your story is nonfiction, and relatable according to each job. While we love a good tale of childhood baseball games, an introduction like this one probably wouldn’t be fitting in a cover letter for, say, a software company. But a story of how the hours you spent playing with DOS games as a kid led to your passion for coding? Sure, we’d find that fitting.

If you’re really passionate about a particular job opening, think about where that deep interest is rooted. Then, tell your hiring manager about it in a few sentences.

4) The Straw (Wo)man

When I was in the throes of my own job search and reached one of the later stages, a friend said to me, “For the next job you apply for, you should just submit a picture of yourself a stick figure that somehow represents you working there.”

Et voilà:

AZWstrawCoverLetter.jpg

I never did end up working for the recipient of this particular piece of art, but it did result in an interview. Again, be careful where you send a cover letter like this one — if it doesn’t match the company’s culture, it might be interpreted as you not taking the opportunity seriously. Be sure to pair it with a little bit of explanatory text, too. For example, when I submitted this picture-as-a-cover letter, I also wrote, “Perhaps I took the ‘sense of humor’ alluded to in your job description a bit too seriously.”

5) The Exercise in Overconfidence

I’ll admit that I considered leaving out this example. It’s rife with profanity, vanity, and arrogance. But maybe, in some settings, that’s the right way to do a cover letter.

A few years ago, Huffington Post published this note as an example of how to “get noticed” and “get hired for your dream job”:

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Source: Huffington Post

Here’s the thing — if the Aviary cited in this letter is the same Aviary I researched upon discovering it, then, well, I’m not sure this tone was the best approach. I read the company’s blog and looked at the careers site, and neither one indicates that the culture encourages … this.

However, Aviary was acquired by Adobe in 2014, and this letter was written in 2011. So while it’s possible that the brand was a bit more relaxed at that time, we wouldn’t suggest submitting a letter with that tone to the company today. That’s not to say it would go unappreciated elsewhere — Doug Kessler frequently discusses the marketers and brands that value colorful language, for example.

The point is, this example further illustrates the importance of research. Make sure you understand the culture of the company to which you’re applying before you send a completely unfiltered cover letter — if you don’t, there’s a good chance it’ll completely miss the mark.

6) The Interactive Cover Letter

When designer Rachel McBee applied for a job with the Denver Broncos, she didn’t just write a personalized cover letter — she designed an entire digital, interactive microsite:

Source: Rachel McBee

This cover letter — if you can even call it that — checks off all of the boxes we’ve discussed here, in a remarkably unique way. It concisely addresses and organizes what many hiring managers hope to see in any cover letter: how her skills lend themselves to the role, why she wants the job, and how to contact her. She even includes a “traditional” body of text at the bottom, with a form that allows the reader to easily get in touch with her.

Take Cover

We’d like to add a sixth stage to the job search: Experimentation.

In today’s competitive landscape, it’s so easy to feel defeated, less-than-good-enough, or like giving up your job search. But don’t let the process become so monotonous. Have fun discovering the qualitative data we’ve discussed here — then, have even more by getting creative with your cover letter composition.

We certainly can’t guarantee that every prospective employer will respond positively — or at all — to even the most unique, compelling cover letter. But the one that’s right for you will. That’s why it’s important not to copy these examples. That defeats the purpose of personalization.

So get creative. And, by the way — we’re hiring.

What are some of the best cover letters you’ve seen? Let us know in the comments.

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Why Agencies That Conduct Market Research Grow Faster

You’re a busy marketer. Your days are full of client meetings, brand research, marketing strategy sessions …

Who has time to do market research for their own marketing agency?

If you think market research is for clients only, better think again. As a marketer, it’s equally important for you to understand your market, its wants and needs, the state of your competition, and your place in the marketing ecosystem and pecking order.

Make no mistake — market research for your own firm is no purely-academic exercise. Think of it this way: the better you know your audience, the more easily you can turn prospects into clients. Incredible as it may seem, most professional services firms, including marketing agencies, don’t know their audiences as well as they should. As a result, they’re missing out on opportunities to gain more clients and get more business out of current ones.

So why don’t more marketing firms do research? Well, because many think, for some reason, their clients are “different” so that the input won’t yield any insights. Others think research simply won’t impact growth.

We beg to differ.

We’ve conducted our own research on research (yes, really) and discovered that there are some significant benefits for marketing firms. Firms that regularly research their client markets (at least quarterly) grow more than ten times faster than firms that don’t conduct research. 

If you’re willing to go all-in and conduct research on a frequent, more-than-quarterly basis, your firm can really take off, compared to agencies that do no research. Our research confirmed that more than one-third of high-growth firms conducted target audience research regularly and at least once a quarter (see below chart). Virtually none of the no-growth firms conducted frequent research.


Data from Hinge’s 2017 High Growth Research Report

Research not only drives growth, it also impacts profitability. For instance, when Hinge studied the effects of research on growth and profitability, we found that firms that conducted frequent research realized 19.9% profitability, whereas firms that did not conduct research reported only 11% profitability.

What makes research so effective? There are a number of ways that firms become better positioned to secure prospects and grow their client relationships through research. These include:

  • Having a clear understanding of emerging issues and trends in order to determine which services to develop and offer.
  • Uncovering areas in which your firm has misjudged or misread their clients, such as what market influences are keeping them from growing their relationship with your firm.
  • Identifying purchasing or other types of patterns that you haven’t noticed since you are so deeply engrossed in your day-to-day interactions with your clients.

As Hinge has done research for ourselves and our clients, we’ve identified ten research questions that can drive growth and profitability. Below is a sample of the questions we have found to have a big impact for our clients.

Why do your best clients choose your firm?

Understanding what great clients find appealing about a firm can help the firm attract others like them.

What are those same clients trying to avoid?

This is the flip side of the first question and offers a valuable perspective. The answer can provide clues as to how to avoid being ruled out during the early rounds of a prospect’s selection process. The answer can also help shape business practices and strategy.

What is the real benefit your firm provides?

Firms are often surprised to hear the true benefit of their service, as viewed through their clients’ eyes. Once they understand this, they are able to enhance or even develop new services with other real benefits.

So what’s the best way to conduct research?

Believe it or not, Rule Number One is do not do it yourself. That’s right. Have someone else do it for you. Why? Because respondents are more likely to provide honest answers to a third party. If you insist on doing the research yourself — which is better than doing no research at all — be aware that you may capture only a portion of the overall picture.

Here are three more tips for conducting effective research:

1) Phone interviews are best. 

Nothing beats a live interview. Even reluctant participants will open up to a skillful interviewer. In fact, the greatest insights are often volunteered outside the scope of the questionnaire.

2) Online surveys are second best—but they don’t have to be second rate. 

An online survey will never capture the same insights as an interview, but a well-crafted online survey can still reap valuable information. Surveys also tend to be easier and less expensive to implement. Just remember, your response rate is likely to be very low.

3) Don’t limit it to your current clients. 

Cold prospects are more difficult to get on the phone, but they provide—by far—the most accurate picture of your marketplace. Clients who got away offer invaluable insights into your weaknesses. Similarly, lapsed clients can help you understand how to become more relevant and engaged.

And what should we do with all this research?

There are any number of ways you can use it, limited mostly by your goals and imagination. Here are just a few ideas on how you can use your research to enhance your reputation, generate leads and bring in more clients:

  • Tweak or redefine your positioning to differentiate your firm from competitors.
  • Introduce new services that prospects have indicated want.
  • Use it as an entrée to bring former clients back into the fold.
  • Offer new services to current or former clients.
  • Anticipate clients’ needs.

Most important, you can boost your credibility with your target market and increase your visible expertise by pulling data and results from your research findings to write blog posts and articles that address urgent market challenges, to publish a research study, and as fodder for speeches, seminars, and webinars.

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get researching. The sooner you get started, the sooner your firm will reap its rewards.

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