How to Leverage Your Creativity to Convert Leads

Creativity (cre·a·tiv·i·ty)
krēāˈtivədē
noun

  1. the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

Creativity may not immediately seem incredibly relevant to CRO. After all, CRO is often thought of as a study in best practices and procedural experimentation.

Today, I’d like to challenge you to look a little deeper.

Following best practices does matter of course. You should absolutely continue to optimize your pages with A/B testing, focusing on message-match and ensure your CTA’s are clear and concise.

But there are a number of interesting and entirely useful ways that you can “shake the trees” so to speak.

Let’s take a closer look at how you can flex your creative muscle to increase conversions.

Remind Me Why We Have to Do This?

One word. Oversaturation.

Users are increasingly “blind” to traditional forms of advertising. Just take a look at banner ads.

Users are essentially numb to them, and have been for a long time. In fact, studies show that users generally don’t even give site siderails a single consideration. I know I don’t, and I bet you don’t either.

This study showed that across all mediums and placements, CTR on banners lands somewhere around .05%. Yikes.

banner-ad-placement-performance

Same goes for spam emails, banners, popups… the list goes on.

I’m not saying these tactics don’t work, remarkably some of them still do. Banners are still valuable to expose new audiences to your brand identity even if they don’t garner clicks. Popups can still gather leads when implemented appropriately.

My point is, they’re no longer “fresh” enough to grab someone’s attention and create a memorable experience.

This is why leveraging creativity matters now more than ever. Without further ado, here are three wacky ways to do just that.

1. Be Original. Be Memorable.

“Just be yourself.”

I know, I know. This sounds like the advice Mom gave you before you went to summer camp. How’d it work out for you then? Stolen lunch money? Teasing?

While there are some potential downsides to being unique, particularly when surrounded by kids or teenagers, the perks can be pretty fantastic as well.

I’d go so far as to say that in the business world, being memorable is worth its weight in gold.

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Many customers make buying decisions based off emotional responses to brands. Whether it be to an ad, an email, or maybe a customer review they saw on YouTube.

The brands that tell compelling and memorable stories are the ones that land the most sales.

By being memorable and evoking a positive response from leads, you too can capitalize on this. A few ways to accomplish this…

  • Curate a quirky imagery style that you feature on ads, social platforms and your website. Moz does a fantastic job of this, check out their ad portfolio on MOAT.
  • Come up with a memorable and unusual catch phrase, then shout it to the world. When I think about slogans, my mind always races to Redbull. “Redbull gives you wings” is to this day, one of the most impactful, concise, and informative slogans I can think of.
  • Be disruptive with your advertising (screw the norms). Facebook canvas ads are a fantastic way to get creative with your approach. Check out this example by tieks.

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Sticking out like a sore thumb is a good thing when it comes to converting leads. Making a lasting impression and being personable will endear your brand to leads.

Remember, you always want to view your digital funnel from the eyes of the visitor.

Discerning visitors have an inherent sense of authenticity. If you’re genuine with your approach to your product or service, that will come across loud and clear, and in turn builds trust.

The icing on the cake? The more a lead trusts you, the more likely they are to convert.

TLDR: Developing your brand’s unique voice and “personality” encourages consumer trust, which in turns produces sales.

2. Email Nurturing with Authenticity

We all know that email is massively effective when it comes to converting leads. It’s safe to assume each and everyone of you reading this tracks email signups as “goals” in your analytics platform of choice.

Hell, at RankPay we even have a tradition of lining up for high-fives when our MailChimp subscription level increases.

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Here’s the problem with emailing nowadays: Email users, aka the vast majority of people, are increasingly savvy as to what constitutes something of value in their inbox. You can’t just send an email with any old subject header and expect a double-digit open rate.

It’s time again to bust out our creativity and buck the trend.

In short, we want to be the unforgettable brand that’s unique but not bizarre enough to be off-putting.

For instance, I recently landed an opportunity by breaking all of the rules. Even the ones deliberately laid out in the denial letter I first received.

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With this in mind, start by taking a closer look at your own lead nurturing email campaigns. Are the subject lines innovative, quirky or unique? Do they have any personality?

Have some fun and try A/B testing novel subject lines where you let your personality shine through. Note that it’s OK if you hear your brain protesting…

“Play it safe! What are you doing? Best practices are established. You can’t go rogue like this!”

But do it. Click send. That quirky but endearing email subject line might be just what the doctor ordered.

When you have fun, your audience will recognize this intuitively. Smiles are infectious. Positive brand associations mean more conversions.

3. Write Marketing Copy to Appeal to Emotions

Every chance you have to put words in front of your leads, is a chance to sell them on your solution. But without appealing to a lead’s emotions, we’re wasting these opportunities.

It’s understandable that us marketers occasionally struggle with this part. We become intimately familiar with our products and services, and it can become difficult to see the forest for the trees. That is to say that we lose sight of what a customer journey looks like from the prospect’s point of view.

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One negative outcome of this lack of perspective can be uninspired copywriting. No need to be hard on yourself, it happens to all of us! Present company included.

Just the other day I caught myself writing a headline for a lead-nurturing email as follows: “The Best SEO Service for Small Businesses”. That’s all well and good. It’s a fairly standard headline in that it clearly highlights our company’s service and our target audience. But it’s not memorable and I’m not sure it will truly “connect” with readers.

Luckily I realized it, and took a step back to brainstorm. In the end, I decided to go with “The easy, affordable way to earn higher rankings.” This version has a lot going for it.

  • It’s punchy
  • It’s catchy
  • It connects with the problems this reader faces (budget and difficulty)
  • It conveys authority
  • It explains what we do

And again, I’d point out that being memorable matters. Generic = forgettable. Unique = memorable.

Let’s take a look at a few places you can put this to work for your business.

Company motto or slogan

Day in and day out I see brands without a good catch phrase.

Look at it this way: every single person is inundated with brand exposures from the moment they wake up. Some studies show individuals being exposed to literally thousands of ads each day.

Yankelovich, a market research firm, estimates that a person living in a city 30 years ago saw up to 2,000 ad messages a day, compared with up to 5,000 today. – New York Times

The thing is, there’s only so much room in our brains to remember all of these brand impressions. It’s thus critical that we aim to be one of the few brands that leaves a truly lasting impression.

When I’m helping clients develop these “quick pitches”, my process looks like this:

  • Brainstorm as many ideas as I can (25-100)
  • Pick the best 10-15
  • Iterate and improve
  • Get third-party feedback
  • Finalize 3-5 versions
  • A/B test for resonance

It’s so simple it hurts. But at the end of the day, it works.

Headlines

When it comes to being creative with your headlines, start by asking yourself a few key questions.

  • Does this convey our solution’s value to the customer?
  • Is it punchy and concise?
  • Does it appeal to emotions?
  • Is it consistent with our overall “story”?

These questions should get your gears turning and the creative juices flowing.

Remember, we want to craft a memorable message that our leads will not forget. We also want to make sure that we evoke an emotional response and appeal to the potential customer’s needs or desires.

Check out this killer example

brisket-master-headline

It’s got everything going for it. It’s punchy and unique. The wording matches the imagery. The use of the word savor as a verb is particularly great because it elicits a clearly emotional response from the audience. Who wouldn’t want to eat whatever they’re serving at this place?

Calls to action

You’ve probably already spent a lot of time optimizing the button size, color and placement. If not, be sure to check this guide on how to improve the efficacy of your CTAs in general.

Regarding the wording however, it’s important to take the chance to put something personal in the actual text. Instead of using a button that says “Submit” try something like “Start My Trial” or “Boost My Rankings”.

Copyblogger clearly showed data that corroborates using “first-person” CTA text will increase conversions. Cool right?

Last but not least, remember to be unique. Don’t be afraid to let personality shine through. Here’s an example of both a CTA and a form that I immediately loved.

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Remember, Being Weird Isn’t So Bad

If you’ve watched Freaks and Geeks, you probably already believe this statement. If you’re more of the Biff type, there’s nothing wrong with you either. We love everyone here.

But I hope you’ll take the time to consider the advice above, as it can really work wonders on your conversion rate.

The key takeaways are to embrace personality, be genuine, and appeal to your customers emotions. The more a customer trusts your brand and remembers your message, the more likely they are to buy.

Write interesting copy, be weird with your subject lines, and be memorable! Let your freak flag fly!

About the Author: Sam Warren is the Manager of Marketing and Partnerships at RankPay.

How to Repost on Instagram: 4 Easy Ways to Reshare Content

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Where most social media feeds are almost distractingly busy — full of photos, videos, and text updates from friends and brands you follow — Instagram is different because you can only look at one post at a time.

And while this simple, clean interface makes to easy to focus on the beautiful photography and interesting videos on Instagram, it also leaves something to be desired: the ability to easily repost other users’ content.

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But fear not: for every problem, the internet has afforded a solution. We tested out four different ways to repost content on Instagram in a few simple steps. All of these methods are free, but some require you to download an app from the iOS App Store or Google Play first.

How to Repost on Instagram: 4 Methods to Try

1) Use Repost for Instagram

Download Repost for Instagram for iOS or Android devices to share content from other Instagram users from your mobile device. Here’s how to do it:

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Open your Instagram app, and find a photo or video you’d like to reshare.

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(Psst — do you follow HubSpot on Instagram?)

Tap the … in the upper-right hand corner of the post. Then, tap “Copy Share URL.”

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Open Repost for Instagram. The post you copied will automatically be on the homepage.

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Tap the arrow on the right-hand side of the post. There, you can edit how you want the repost icon to appear on Instagram.

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Tap “Repost.” Then, tap “Copy to Instagram,” where you can add a filter and edit the post.

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Tap “Next.” If you want to include the original post’s caption, tap the caption field and press “Paste,” where the original caption will appear with a citation.

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When you’re ready to share the post, tap “Share” as you would a regular Instagram post. Here’s how the post appears on your Instagram profile:

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2) Use InstaRepost

Download InstaRepost for iOS or Android devices to share content from other Instagram users from your mobile device. Here’s how to do it:

Open InstaRepost, log in using your Instagram credentials, and authorize it to access your account information.

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InstaRepost will only show you a small selection from your Instagram feed. If you know what post you’re looking for, head to the search magnifying glass to look at the Explore tab or enter a username.

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Once you’ve found a post you want to reshare, tap the arrow in the lower right-hand corner. Then, tap “Repost,” then “Repost” again.

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Navigate to your Instagram app, and tap “Library.” The post will be saved to your camera roll.

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Add a filter and edit the post as you would any other. Then, tap “Next.”

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Tap the caption field to paste the original caption. The repost won’t include a citation, so we suggest adding one by typing “@ + [username].” Then, press “Share.”

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Here’s how the post appears on your Instagram profile:

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3) Use DownloadGram

DownloadGram lets Instagram users download high-resolution copies of Instagram photos and videos to repost from their own accounts. Here’s how to do it:

Open your Instagram app and find the post you want to repost. Tap the … icon in the upper-right hand corner of the post and click “Copy Share URL.”

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Navigate to DownloadGram and paste the URL into the field. Then, tap “Download.”

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Tap the green “Download Image” button that will appear further down the page.

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You’ll be directed to a new web page with the downloadable image. Tap the download icon, then tap “Save image.”

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Return to your Instagram app. The image will be saved to your camera roll, so edit it as you would any other Instagram post.

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The repost won’t include a citation, so we suggest adding one by typing “@ + [username].” Then, press “Share.” Here’s how the post appears on your Instagram profile:

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4) Take a Screenshot

This method doesn’t require any or other websites to repost on Instagram. It’s worth nothing that this method only works for reposting photos. Here’s how to do it:

Find a photo on Instagram you’d like to repost, and take a screenshot:

  • For iOS: Press down on the home and lock buttons simultaneously until your screen flashes.
  • For Android: Press down on the sleep/wake and volume down buttons simultaneously until your screen flashes.

Tap the new post button in the bottom-center of your Instagram screen. Resize the photo so it’s properly cropped in the Instagram photo editor.

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Edit and filter the post like you would any other Instagram post.

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The repost won’t include a citation, so we suggest adding one by typing “@ + [username].” Then, press “Share.” Here’s how the post appears on your Instagram profile:

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Do It For the ‘Gram

Now that you’ve learned how to repost on Instagram, you can diversify your profile with content sourced from friends, family, and brands. Use the methods above — being sure to cite the source of the original post — to quickly and easily reshare your favorite content. And if you’re looking for more ideas for sourcing and creating Instagram content for your brand, download our free guide to using Instagram for business here.

Do you use any of these methods to repost on Instagram? Share with us in the comments below.

how to use instagram for business

45 Engaging Examples of Interactive Storytelling in Content Marketing

As inbound marketers, content plays an important role in attracting attention to our company and building trust with our prospects. Our content can come in many different formats, and the format we choose can speak volumes about the research and ideas within.

Interactive content has become increasingly more popular as brands try to cut through the noise and keep prospects’ attention long enough to deliver a message.

So how exactly do you harness audience’s ever-decreasing attention span? By giving them an active role in their content consumption process by publishing stories with interactive elements. Such tools can increase engagement, on-site dwell time, and social share rates.

Free Download: 45 Interactive Content Examples to Inspire Your Next Content Project

HubSpot and Playbuzz joined forces to scour the web for amazing examples of interactive storytelling. Each industry poses its own obstacles and unique characteristics, but share one common denominator: Interactive content works for all topics and audiences.

Let’s take a look at a few examples from the ebook:

Interactive Content Examples from Real Brands

1) The Wall Street Journal

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Delivering a large amount of information is a challenge for content creators. This example from the Wall Street Journal does so using searchable, visual stats. The facts are arranged in a number of ways, including a recorded timeline for readers to hit “play” and simply watch.

How can you incorporate this into your content marketing? Search is an interactive action on its own and can be easily incorporated into your content. Using search provides readers with a task to keep them engaged while presenting a healthy amount of information in a positive manner. Adding search options very much depends on the content you create, but tools like FlippingBook and Viostream make even PDF and video content searchable.

2) National Geographic

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Some of the most inspiring forms of interactive content match the topics they address. This example allows readers to follow the ancient cave paintings as if they are touring a prehistoric cave, with color-coded topics to provide insights.

How can you incorporate this into your content marketing? Making history come to life can be a hard task. Don’t shy away from numbers and important facts, but don’t skimp on the imagery and engagement, either. Leave the canvas clear for creative imagery and video, while the text wraps the visuals but does not interfere.

3) Orbitz

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Whether or not your travel partner will make or break your trip is one question all backpackers ask themselves before embarking on a new adventure. Orbitz knew what was on their audience’s mind and created an online quiz that addresses this burning question — specifically for business travelers.

How can you incorporate this into your content marketing? Everyone loves interactive quizzes, but when creating one for your business, always think of what your audience would spend time in investigating. This is particularly true when you wish to exchange results for readers’ contact information.

How to Get Started with Interactive Storytelling

If you’re new to creating digital content, start small with a simple quiz or flashcards embedded in a blog post with Playbuzz. These assets perform well at the top of the funnel because they motivate the user to share and see how their peers stack up against their own experience. Experiment with new formats, topics, and which stage in the buyer’s journey your content serves.

When it’s time to build something more sophisticated, consider working with a developer to determine how to build the user experience and interactive elements you’re looking for. And remember to experiment. That means release early and often so you’re consistently collecting feedback and iterating on your interactive content.

Download the full guide here to learn from over 40 more examples of interactive storytelling, ranging in complexity and industry vertical.

What types of interactive content have you encountered around the internet? Share with us in the comments below.

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10 of the Best Ads from April: Hygge, Apocalypse, and a Robot Baby

Although we haven’t been fortunate enough to see more than a few scattered days of sunlight here in Boston, I’m told it’s technically spring.

In addition to rain, April also brought us some stunning new creative work from agencies around the word. Our monthly ad round-up features a German-produced animated short, a delightful Danish beer ad, and a clever insurance spot from Japan starring a rugby team from New Zealand. 

Did you miss any of these ads from April? Scroll down to check them out, and get inspired to tackle your next big project. 

10 of the Best Ads from April

1) AIG Japan

New Zealand’s national rugby union team, the All Blacks, hit the pedestrian-heavy streets of Toyko in this unexpectedly charming spot for AIG Japan. The three-minute ad opens with the uniform-clad players tackling seemingly random (and reasonably stunned) Tokyo residents — but things quickly take a heartwarming turn.

About half-way through the TBWA\Hakuhodo-produced video, it becomes apparent that the All Blacks were actually saving people from unpredictable disasters — a car running a red light, a pile of debris falling from a construction site, and a sudden laptop fire.

“[The ad] was an arresting way to show our fantastic relationship with the All Blacks, demonstrate the idea of risk prevention, and create a strong connection to the Japanese audience,” said Matthew Walker, AIG Japan’s senior vice president and regional chief marketing officer.

 

2) Carlsberg

Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen ponders the secret source of his home country’s enviable happiness in Carlsberg’s latest UK campaign. Produced by London-based agency Fold7, the ad follows Mikklesen as he peddles his way through Copenhagen, magically passing through hedges, into stylish, minimal apartments, and over a rustic table set for a hyggelig gathering.

His tour ends (where else?) at a Carlsberg brewery, where Mikklesen enjoys a cold Carlsberg pilsner and decides that this is the real secret of Danish happiness … probably.

 

3) Student Flights

If you’re young, you better enjoy traveling while you can — before you become an uncool, perpetually exhausted parent. That’s the message of this spot for Student Flights, a company that specializes in travel deals for the university set.

To really drive that message home, Johannesburg-based agency TBWA\Hunt Lascaris convinced a hip millennial to carry around a wailing, pooping “Babybot” for a few days at a music festival. The poor guy in question, Loyiso Madinga, is promised a free trip to New York if he can survive a weekend with Babybot unscathed. His initial assessment of the challenge? “How hard could this be … right?”

As expected, having a baby at a music festival isn’t super fun — even if that baby is Wifi-enabled and made of metal. 

 

4) Netto

Ever wonder where the Easter Bunny came from? European supermarket chain Netto teamed up with German agency Jung von Matt and production house Mill+ to share their whimsical imagining of the egg-laying rabbit’s origins (Hint: it starts with a hen and a rabbit meeting each other at a night club.)

Set to a innocent, heart-wrenching rendition of “Beautiful, Always,” the animated short packs a surprisingly poignant punch. It’s sure to make even the coldest little hearts grow three sizes.

 

5) The New York Times

Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky (of Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan fame) lends his talents to this Droga5-produced spot for The New York Times. The stark, one-minute ad series is part of the Grey Lady’s first brand-focused ad campaign in a decade.

Aronofsky met with several New York Times photojournalists, asking them to recount their experiences covering some of the most impactful stories from recent years. As the photojournalists discuss their fieldwork and motivations, images from the trips in question flash across the screen.  

 

6) Unilever

Pricey, trendy beauty products aren’t necessarily worth the hype, according to Unilever’s latest marketing stunt. Vice’s digital agency Carrot invited a group of real beauty influencers to try a fake new shampoo: Evaus (Spoiler alert: that’s just discount hair care brand Suave spelled backwards).

Packaged in a sleek, minimal bottle, Evaus products were a big hit with the influencers, who raved about how shiny and soft their hair felt after 10 days of using the line. When producers reveal that the “startup” hair care brand is really just $3 Suave shampoo poured into fancy schmancy bottles, the influencers are shocked — and then seemingly delighted at the great value.

“We found seven of 10 women think higher-priced brands are more trustworthy,” Jen Bremner, Unilever marketing director explained to AdAge. “That really was the inspiration. We wanted to peel back the labels and convert the skeptics.”

 

7) Entourage

To promote Entourage, a French app aimed at reconnecting neighborhoods with their homeless populations, TBWA\Paris decided to take an unconventional, offline approach to viral marketing: writing directly on banknotes.

The agency asked homeless community members to pen short messages directly on paper bills. Each hand-written note reveals something that homeless people wish everyone else knew. Take this example from the case study video below: “For me, Pierrot, homeless for 19 years, this bill has a lot of value, but not as much as a hello.”

The hope is that the simple messages with encourage Parisians to download the Entourage app, which helps people offer support and make social connections with homeless folks in their neighborhood.

 

8) SubHub

When the inevitable robot apocalypse finally spells fatal disaster for the human race, won’t you wish you shelled out to see that Sia concert?

Goodby Silverstein & Partners produced this cinematic, YOLO-fueled spot for StubHub, encouraging you to buy those concert tickets “before it’s too late.” The ad balances sleek, action-movie pacing with an unexpected, hilarious ending.

 

9) Pedigree

BBDO New York resurrected a little-known story from the Revolutionary War to promote Pedigree’s “Feed the Good” campaign.

In 1777, General George Washington and his troops were in the midst of a battle against British Forces Commander-in-Chief William Howe when one of Washington’s men discovered Howe’s dog wandering lost near the American camp. Instead of harming the lost pup (as some of Washington’s men reportedly suggested), Washington benevolently returned the dog to Howe with a kind note. The true story reflects Pedigree’s belief that dogs bring out the best of us.

 

10) Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Here’s one for the IT guy or gal in your office.

In this playful Publicis New York-produced ad for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, a sad, bobble-head IT employee named Brian is forced to deny his colleagues’ earnest requests due to inadequate legacy technology. That is, until his office gets Hewlett Packard Enterprise — at which point Brian transforms Pinocchio-style from a plastic bobble head doll into a guy who can finally say “yes.”

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There’s No Such Thing as a Site Migration

Posted by jonoalderson

Websites, like the businesses who operate them, are often deceptively complicated machines.

They’re fragile systems, and changing or replacing any one of the parts can easily affect (or even break) the whole setup — often in ways not immediately obvious to stakeholders or developers.

Even seemingly simple sites are often powered by complex technology, like content management systems, databases, and templating engines. There’s much more going on behind the scenes — technically and organizationally — than you can easily observe by crawling a site or viewing the source code.

When you change a website and remove or add elements, it’s not uncommon to introduce new errors, flaws, or faults.

That’s why I get extremely nervous whenever I hear a client or business announce that they’re intending to undergo a “site migration.”

Chances are, and experience suggests, that something’s going to go wrong.

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Migrations vary wildly in scope

As an SEO consultant and practitioner, I’ve been involved in more “site migrations” than I can remember or count — for charities, startups, international e-commerce sites, and even global household brands. Every one has been uniquely challenging and stressful.

In each case, the businesses involved have underestimated (and in some cases, increased) the complexity, the risk, and the details involved in successfully executing their “migration.”

As a result, many of these projects negatively impacted performance and potential in ways that could have been easily avoided.

This isn’t a case of the scope of the “migration” being too big, but rather, a misalignment of understanding, objectives, methods, and priorities, resulting in stakeholders working on entirely different scopes.

The migrations I’ve experienced have varied from simple domain transfers to complete overhauls of server infrastructure, content management frameworks, templates, and pages — sometimes even scaling up to include the consolidation (or fragmentation) of multiple websites and brands.

In the minds of each organization, however, these have all been “migration” projects despite their significantly varying (and poorly defined) scopes. In each case, the definition and understanding of the word “migration” has varied wildly.

We suck at definitions

As an industry, we’re used to struggling with labels. We’re still not sure if we’re SEOs, inbound marketers, digital marketers, or just… marketers. The problem is that, when we speak to each other (and those outside of our industry), these words can carry different meaning and expectations.

Even amongst ourselves, a conversation between two digital marketers, analysts, or SEOs about their fields of expertise is likely to reveal that they have surprisingly different definitions of their roles, responsibilities, and remits. To them, words like “content” or “platform” might mean different things.

In the same way, “site migrations” vary wildly, in form, function, and execution — and when we discuss them, we’re not necessarily talking about the same thing. If we don’t clarify our meanings and have shared definitions, we risk misunderstandings, errors, or even offense.

Ambiguity creates risk

Poorly managed migrations can have a number of consequences beyond just drops in rankings, traffic, and performance. There are secondary impacts, too. They can also inadvertently:

  • Provide a poor user experience (e.g., old URLs now 404, or error states are confusing to users, or a user reaches a page different from what they expected).
  • Break or omit tracking and/or analytics implementations, resulting in loss of business intelligence.
  • Limit the size, shape, or scalability of a site, resulting in static, stagnant, or inflexible templates and content (e.g., omitting the ability to add or edit pages, content, and/or sections in a CMS), and a site which struggles to compete as a result.
  • Miss opportunities to benefit from what SEOs do best: blending an understanding of consumer demand and behavior, the market and competitors, and the brand in question to create more effective strategies, functionality and content.
  • Create conflict between stakeholders, when we need to “hustle” at the last minute to retrofit our requirements into an already complex project (“I know it’s about to go live, but PLEASE can we add analytics conversion tracking?”) — often at the cost of our reputation.
  • Waste future resource, where mistakes require that future resource is spent recouping equity resulting from faults or omissions in the process, rather than building on and enhancing performance.

I should point out that there’s nothing wrong with hustle in this case; that, in fact, begging, borrowing, and stealing can often be a viable solution in these kinds of scenarios. There’s been more than one occasion when, late at night before a site migration, I’ve averted disaster by literally begging developers to include template review processes, to implement redirects, or to stall deployments.

But this isn’t a sensible or sustainable or reliable way of working.

Mistakes will inevitably be made. Resources, favors, and patience are finite. Too much reliance on “hustle” from individuals (or multiple individuals) may in fact further widen the gap in understanding and scope, and positions the hustler as a single point of failure.

More importantly, hustle may only fix the symptoms, not the cause of these issues. That means that we remain stuck in a role as the disruptive outsiders who constantly squeeze in extra unscoped requirements at the eleventh hour.

Where things go wrong

If we’re to begin to address some of these challenges, we need to understand when, where, and why migration projects go wrong.

The root cause of all less-than-perfect migrations can be traced to at least one of the following scenarios:

  • The migration project occurs without consultation.
  • Consultation is sought too late in the process, and/or after the migration.
  • There is insufficient planned resource/time/budget to add requirements (or processes)/make recommended changes to the brief.
  • The scope is changed mid-project, without consultation, or in a way which de-prioritizes requirements.
  • Requirements and/or recommended changes are axed at the eleventh hour (due to resource/time/budget limitations, or educational/political conflicts).

There’s a common theme in each of these cases. We’re not involved early enough in the process, or our opinions and priorities don’t carry sufficient weight to impact timelines and resources.

Chances are, these mistakes are rarely the product of spite or of intentional omission; rather, they’re born of gaps in the education and experience of the stakeholders and decision-makers involved.

We can address this, to a degree, by elevating ourselves to senior stakeholders in these kinds of projects, and by being consulted much earlier in the timeline.

Let’s be more specific

I think that it’s our responsibility to help the organizations we work for to avoid these mistakes. One of the easiest opportunities to do that is to make sure that we’re talking about the same thing, as early in the process as possible.

Otherwise, migrations will continue to go wrong, and we will continue to spend far too much of our collective time fixing broken links, recommending changes or improvements to templates, and holding together bruised-and-broken websites — all at the expense of doing meaningful, impactful work.

Perhaps we can begin to answer to some of these challenges by creating better definitions and helping to clarify exactly what’s involved in a “site migration” process.

Unfortunately, I suspect that we’re stuck with the word “migration,” at least for now. It’s a term which is already widely used, which people think is a correct and appropriate definition. It’s unrealistic to try to change everybody else’s language when we’re already too late to the conversation.

Our next best opportunity to reduce ambiguity and risk is to codify the types of migration. This gives us a chance to prompt further exploration and better definitions.

For example, if we can say “This sounds like it’s actually a domain migration paired with a template migration,” we can steer the conversation a little and rely on a much better shared frame of reference.

If we can raise a challenge that, e.g., the “translation project” a different part of the business is working on is actually a whole bunch of interwoven migration types, then we can raise our concerns earlier and pursue more appropriate resource, budget, and authority (e.g., “This project actually consists of a series of migrations involving templates, content, and domains. Therefore, it’s imperative that we also consider X and Y as part of the project scope.”).

By persisting in labelling this way, stakeholders may gradually come to understand that, e.g., changing the design typically also involves changing the templates, and so the SEO folks should really be involved earlier in the process. By challenging the language, we can challenge the thinking.

Let’s codify migration types

I’ve identified at least seven distinct types of migration. Next time you encounter a “migration” project, you can investigate the proposed changes, map them back to these types, and flag any gaps in understanding, expectations, and resource.

You could argue that some of these aren’t strictly “migrations” in a technical sense (i.e., changing something isn’t the same as moving it), but grouping them this way is intentional.

Remember, our goal here isn’t to neatly categorize all of the requirements for any possible type of migration. There are plenty of resources, guides, and lists which already try do that.

Instead, we’re trying to provide neat, universal labels which help us (the SEO folks) and them (the business stakeholders) to have shared definitions and to remove unknown unknowns.

They’re a set of shared definitions which we can use to trigger early warning signals, and to help us better manage stakeholder expectations.

Feel free to suggest your own, to grow, shrink, combine, or bin any of these to fit your own experience and requirements!

1. Hosting migrations

A broad bundling of infrastructure, hardware, and server considerations (while these are each broad categories in their own right, it makes sense to bundle them together in this context).

If your migration project contains any of the following changes, you’re talking about a hosting migration, and you’ll need to explore the SEO implications (and development resource requirements) to make sure that changes to the underlying platform don’t impact front-end performance or visibility.

  • You’re changing hosting provider.
  • You’re changing, adding, or removing server locations.
  • You’re altering the specifications of your physical (or virtual) servers (e.g., RAM, CPU, storage, hardware types, etc).
  • You’re changing your server technology stack (e.g., moving from Apache to Nginx).*
  • You’re implementing or removing load balancing, mirroring, or extra server environments.
  • You’re implementing or altering caching systems (database, static page caches, varnish, object, memcached, etc).
  • You’re altering the physical or server security protocols and features.**
  • You’re changing, adding or removing CDNs.***

*Might overlap into a software migration if the changes affect the configuration or behavior of any front-end components (e.g., the CMS).

**Might overlap into other migrations, depending on how this manifests (e.g., template, software, domain).

***Might overlap into a domain migration if the CDN is presented as/on a distinct hostname (e.g., AWS), rather than invisibly (e.g., Cloudflare).

2. Software migrations

Unless your website is comprised of purely static HTML files, chances are that it’s running some kind of software to serve the right pages, behaviors, and content to users.

If your migration project contains any of the following changes, you’re talking about a software migration, and you’ll need to understand (and input into) how things like managing error codes, site functionality, and back-end behavior work.

  • You’re changing CMS.
  • You’re adding or removing plugins/modules/add-ons in your CMS.
  • You’re upgrading or downgrading the CMS, or plugins/modules/addons (by a significant degree/major release) .
  • You’re changing the language used to render the website (e.g., adopting Angular2 or NodeJS).
  • You’re developing new functionality on the website (forms, processes, widgets, tools).
  • You’re merging platforms; e.g., a blog which operated on a separate domain and system is being integrated into a single CMS.*

*Might overlap into a domain migration if you’re absorbing software which was previously located/accessed on a different domain.

3. Domain migrations

Domain migrations can be pleasantly straightforward if executed in isolation, but this is rarely the case. Changes to domains are often paired with (or the result of) other structural and functional changes.

If your migration project alters the URL(s) by which users are able to reach your website, contains any of the following changes, then you’re talking about a domain migration, and you need to consider how redirects, protocols (e.g., HTTP/S), hostnames (e.g., www/non-www), and branding are impacted.

  • You’re changing the main domain of your website.
  • You’re buying/adding new domains to your ecosystem.
  • You’re adding or removing subdomains (e.g., removing domain sharding following a migration to HTTP2).
  • You’re moving a website, or part of a website, between domains (e.g., moving a blog on a subdomain into a subfolder, or vice-versa).
  • You’re intentionally allowing an active domain to expire.
  • You’re purchasing an expired/dropped domain.

4. Template migrations

Chances are that your website uses a number of HTML templates, which control the structure, layout, and peripheral content of your pages. The logic which controls how your content looks, feels, and behaves (as well as the behavior of hidden/meta elements like descriptions or canonical URLs) tends to live here.

If your migration project alters elements like your internal navigation (e.g., the header or footer), elements in your <head>, or otherwise changes the page structure around your content in the ways I’ve outlined, then you’re talking about a template migration. You’ll need to consider how users and search engines perceive and engage with your pages, how context, relevance, and authority flow through internal linking structures, and how well-structured your HTML (and JS/CSS) code is.

  • You’re making changes to internal navigation.
  • You’re changing the layout and structure of important pages/templates (e.g., homepage, product pages).
  • You’re adding or removing template components (e.g., sidebars, interstitials).
  • You’re changing elements in your <head> code, like title, canonical, or hreflang tags.
  • You’re adding or removing specific templates (e.g., a template which shows all the blog posts by a specific author).
  • You’re changing the URL pattern used by one or more templates.
  • You’re making changes to how device-specific rendering works*

*Might involve domain, software, and/or hosting migrations, depending on implementation mechanics.

5. Content migrations

Your content is everything which attracts, engages with, and convinces users that you’re the best brand to answer their questions and meet their needs. That includes the words you use to describe your products and services, the things you talk about on your blog, and every image and video you produce or use.

If your migration project significantly changes the tone (including language, demographic targeting, etc), format, or quantity/quality of your content in the ways I’ve outlined, then you’re talking about a content migration. You’ll need to consider the needs of your market and audience, and how the words and media on your website answer to that — and how well it does so in comparison with your competitors.

  • You significantly increase or reduce the number of pages on your website.
  • You significantly change the tone, targeting, or focus of your content.
  • You begin to produce content on/about a new topic.
  • You translate and/or internationalize your content.*
  • You change the categorization, tagging, or other classification system on your blog or product content.**
  • You use tools like canonical tags, meta robots indexation directives, or robots.txt files to control how search engines (and other bots) access and attribute value to a content piece (individually or at scale).

*Might involve domain, software and/or hosting, and template migrations, depending on implementation mechanics.

**May overlap into a template migration if the layout and/or URL structure changes as a result.

6. Design migrations

The look and feel of your website doesn’t necessarily directly impact your performance (though user signals like engagement and trust certainly do). However, simple changes to design components can often have unintended knock-on effects and consequences.

If your migration project contains any of the following changes, you’re talking about a design migration, and you’ll need to clarify whether changes are purely cosmetic or whether they go deeper and impact other areas.

  • You’re changing the look and feel of key pages (like your homepage).*
  • You’re adding or removing interaction layers, e.g. conditionally hiding content based on device or state.*
  • You’re making design/creative changes which change the HTML (as opposed to just images or CSS files) of specific elements.*
  • You’re changing key messaging, like logos and brand slogans.
  • You’re altering the look and feel to react to changing strategies or monetization models (e.g., introducing space for ads in a sidebar, or removing ads in favor of using interstitial popups/states).
  • You’re changing images and media.**

*All template migrations.

**Don’t forget to 301 redirect these, unless you’re replacing like-for-like filenames (which isn’t always best practice if you wish to invalidate local or remote caches).

7. Strategy migrations

A change in organizational or marketing strategy might not directly impact the website, but a widening gap between a brand’s audience, objectives, and platform can have a significant impact on performance.

If your market or audience (or your understanding of it) changes significantly, or if your mission, your reputation, or the way in which you describe your products/services/purpose changes, then you’re talking about a strategy migration. You’ll need to consider how you structure your website, how you target your audiences, how you write content, and how you campaign (all of which might trigger a set of new migration projects!).

  • You change the company mission statement.
  • You change the website’s key objectives, goals, or metrics.
  • You enter a new marketplace (or leave one).
  • Your channel focus (and/or your audience’s) changes significantly.
  • A competitor disrupts the market and/or takes a significant amount of your market share.
  • Responsibility for the website/its performance/SEO/digital changes.
  • You appoint a new agency or team responsible for the website’s performance.
  • Senior/C-level stakeholders leave or join.
  • Changes in legal frameworks (e.g. privacy compliance or new/changing content restrictions in prescriptive sectors) constrain your publishing/content capabilities.

Let’s get in earlier

Armed with better definitions, we can begin to force a more considered conversation around what a “migration” project actually involves. We can use a shared language and ensure that stakeholders understand the risks and opportunities of the changes they intend to make.

Unfortunately, however, we don’t always hear about proposed changes until they’ve already been decided and signed off.

People don’t know that they need to tell us that they’re changing domain, templates, hosting, etc. So it’s often too late when — or if — we finally get involved. Decisions have already been made before they trickle down into our awareness.

That’s still a problem.

By the time you’re aware of a project, it’s usually too late to impact it.

While our new-and-improved definitions are a great starting place to catch risks as you encounter them, avoiding those risks altogether requires us to develop a much better understanding of how, where, and when migrations are planned, managed, and start to go wrong.

Let’s identify trigger points

I’ve identified four common scenarios which lead to organizations deciding to undergo a migration project.

If you can keep your ears to the ground and spot these types of events unfolding, you have an opportunity to give yourself permission to insert yourself into the conversation, and to interrogate to find out exactly which types of migrations might be looming.

It’s worth finding ways to get added to deployment lists and notifications, internal project management tools, and other systems so that you can look for early warning signs (without creating unnecessary overhead and comms processes).

1. Mergers, acquisitions, and closures

When brands are bought, sold, or merged, this almost universally triggers changes to their websites. These requirements are often dictated from on-high, and there’s limited (or no) opportunity to impact the brief.

Migration strategies in these situations are rarely comfortable, and almost always defensive by nature (focusing on minimizing impact/cost rather than capitalizing upon opportunity).

Typically, these kinds of scenarios manifest in a small number of ways:

  • The “parent” brand absorbs the website of the purchased brand into their own website; either by “bolting it on” to their existing architecture, moving it to a subdomain/folder, or by distributing salvageable content throughout their existing site and killing the old one (often triggering most, if not every type of migration).
  • The purchased brand website remains where it is, but undergoes a design migration and possibly template migrations to align it with the parent brand.
  • A brand website is retired and redirected (a domain migration).

2. Rebrands

All sorts of pressures and opportunities lead to rebranding activity. Pressures to remain relevant, to reposition within marketplaces, or change how the brand represents itself can trigger migration requirements — though these activities are often led by brand and creative teams who don’t necessarily understand the implications.

Often, the outcome of branding processes and initiatives creates new a or alternate understanding of markets and consumers, and/or creates new guidelines/collateral/creative which must be reflected on the website(s). Typically, this can result in:

  • Changes to core/target audiences, and the content or language/phrasing used to communicate with them (strategy and content migrations -—more if this involves, for example, opening up to international audiences).
  • New collateral, replacing or adding to existing media, content, and messaging (content and design migrations).
  • Changes to website structure and domain names (template and domain migrations) to align to new branding requirements.

3. C-level vision

It’s not uncommon for senior stakeholders to decide that the strategy to save a struggling business, to grow into new markets, or to make their mark on an organization is to launch a brand-new, shiny website.

These kinds of decisions often involve a scorched-earth approach, tearing down the work of their predecessors or of previously under-performing strategies. And the more senior the decision-maker, the less likely they’ll understand the implications of their decisions.

In these kinds of scenarios, your best opportunity to avert disaster is to watch for warning signs and to make yourself heard before it’s too late. In particular, you can watch out for:

  • Senior stakeholders with marketing, IT, or C-level responsibilities joining, leaving, or being replaced (in particular if in relation to poor performance).
  • Boards of directors, investors, or similar pressuring web/digital teams for unrealistic performance goals (based on current performance/constraints).
  • Gradual reduction in budget and resource for day-to-day management and improvements to the website (as a likely prelude to a big strategy migration).
  • New agencies being brought on board to optimize website performance, who’re hindered by the current framework/constraints.
  • The adoption of new martech and marketing automation software.*

*Integrations of solutions like SalesForce, Marketo, and similar sometimes rely on utilizing proxied subdomains, embedded forms/content, and other mechanics which will need careful consideration as part of a template migration.

4. Technical or financial necessity

The current website is in such a poor, restrictive, or cost-ineffective condition that it makes it impossible to adopt new-and-required improvements (such as compliance with new standards, an integration of new martech stacks, changes following a brand purchase/merger, etc).

Generally, like the kinds of C-level “new website” initiatives I’ve outlined above, these result in scorched earth solutions.

Particularly frustrating, these are the kinds of migration projects which you yourself may well argue and fight for, for years on end, only to then find that they’ve been scoped (and maybe even begun or completed) without your input or awareness.

Here are some danger signs to watch out for which might mean that your migration project is imminent (or, at least, definitely required):

  • Licensing costs for parts or the whole platform become cost-prohibitive (e.g., enterprise CMS platforms, user seats, developer training, etc).
  • The software or hardware skill set required to maintain the site becomes rarer or more expensive (e.g., outdated technologies).
  • Minor-but-urgent technical changes take more than six months to implement.
  • New technical implementations/integrations are agreed upon in principle, budgeted for, but not implemented.
  • The technical backlog of tasks grows faster than it shrinks as it fills with breakages and fixes rather than new features, initiatives, and improvements.
  • The website ecosystem doesn’t support the organization’s ways of working (e.g., the organization adopts agile methodologies, but the website only supports waterfall-style codebase releases).
  • Key technology which underpins the site is being deprecated, and there’s no easy upgrade path.*

*Will likely trigger hosting or software migrations.

Let’s not count on this

While this kind of labelling undoubtedly goes some way to helping us spot and better manage migrations, it’s far from a perfect or complete system.

In fact, I suspect it may be far too ambitious, and unrealistic in its aspiration. Accessing conversations early enough — and being listened to and empowered in those conversations — relies on the goodwill and openness of companies who aren’t always completely bought into or enamored with SEO.

This will only work in an organization which is open to this kind of thinking and internal challenging — and chances are, they’re not the kinds of organizations who are routinely breaking their websites. The very people who need our help and this kind of system are fundamentally unsuited to receive it.

I suspect, then, it might be impossible in many cases to make the kinds of changes required to shift behaviors and catch these problems earlier. In most organizations, at least.

Avoiding disasters resulting from ambiguous migration projects relies heavily on broad education. Everything else aside, people tend to change companies faster than you can build deep enough tribal knowledge.

That doesn’t mean that the structure isn’t still valuable, however. The types of changes and triggers I’ve outlined can still be used as alarm bells and direction for your own use.

Let’s get real

If you can’t effectively educate stakeholders on the complexities and impact of them making changes to their website, there are more “lightweight” solutions.

At the very least, you can turn these kinds of items (and expand with your own, and in more detail) into simple lists which can be printed off, laminated, and stuck to a wall. At the very least, perhaps you’ll remind somebody to pick up the phone to the SEO team when they recognize an issue.

In a more pragmatic world, stakeholders don’t necessarily have to understand the nuance or the detail if they at least understand that they’re meant to ask for help when they’re changing domain, for example, or adding new templates to their website.

Whilst this doesn’t solve the underlying problems, it does provide a mechanism through which the damage can be systematically avoided or limited. You can identify problems earlier and be part of the conversation.

If it’s still too late and things do go wrong, you’ll have something you can point to and say “I told you so,” or, more constructively perhaps, “Here’s the resource you need to avoid this happening next time.”

And in your moment of self-righteous vindication, having successfully made it through this post and now armed to save your company from a botched migration project, you can migrate over to the bar. Good work, you.


Thanks to…

This turned into a monster of a post, and its scope meant that it almost never made it to print. Thanks to a few folks in particular for helping me to shape, form, and ship it. In particular:

  • Hannah Thorpe, for help in exploring and structuring the initial concept.
  • Greg Mitchell, for a heavy dose of pragmatism in the conclusion.
  • Gerry White, for some insightful additions and the removal of dozens of typos.
  • Sam Simpson for putting up with me spending hours rambling and ranting at her about failed site migrations.

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3 Copywriting Mistakes That Could Be Hurting Your Free Trial Engagement (And How to Fix Them Right Now)

Find a box with a CD-ROM in it, buy it, then learn how to use it.

That’s how I bought software as a kid. So when I first started working, I assumed that if I wanted to start using work-related software, I would have to pay for it the same way: upfront — site unseen! — just like the software of my youth.

I worried that I would have to justify the cost with only the specs, reviews, and sales guy’s word to make my case. (And if I was wrong, it would be my butt on the line.)

So I’m not exaggerating when I say that discovering I could try software for free actually improved my job performance and reduced new-on-the-job anxiety by ~62%.

Using a tool BEFORE I had to recommend it to my colleagues and pull out the corporate credit card gave me a chance to see which tools actually did what we wanted them to do.

All of a sudden, the risk that we’d pay for something that didn’t have a key feature or turned out to be a user-unfriendly nightmare shrank to almost zero.

What’s the Point of a Free Trial, Anyway?

Your serious prospects approach their free trials of your software with a mindset similar to mine circa 2000-something: they want to reduce the likelihood of buying something that doesn’t work.

They’ve got a problem to solve, they’ve discovered that your app might solve it for them, but they’re not yet certain that your app will be quite right. The free trial is a chance for new users to see for themselves what it’s like to use your app.

But. It’s not up to your free trial users to figure out how your SaaS app actually works. It’s not your new users’ job to figure out how your app will turn them into a better version of themselves.

It’s yours.

Too many SaaS apps lose free trial users with erratic, boring, or vague lifecycle emails.

If you run a SaaS app in pretty much any niche, you have an enormous opportunity to outmaneuver your competitors during the free trial process.

I sign up for free trials all the time to see how they onboard new users, and most don’t do a good job. Most onboarding emails don’t make it easy to understand what to do next. Most apps leave it up to me (the brand new user) to figure out how to get started.

Why is this a problem?

Because every time you make your new readers pause and try to figure out what to do next, you create an opportunity for them to give up and just do nothing instead.

What should you say to new free trial users?

Alas, there is no single hard and set rule. Every SaaS app is unique. What you say in your free trial, how you say it, and when you deliver your message will be specific to your app.

But if your biggest problem is that you’re sending triggered emails to new free trial users but they still aren’t signing back in after the first 10 minutes of using your app, there’s a strong chance that the copy in your emails is to blame.

To fix it, pull up your emails and see if they’re are suffering from one of these 3 engagement-killing mistakes.

Mistake 1: Your emails ask people to do too much.

When you offer more choices, you inspire less action.

The famous jam paper that explained the paradox of choice (and the TED talk that made it famous) showed us how we may be unintentionally taxing our prospects’ decision-making resources by offering too many choices.

But that’s not the whole story.

A 2015 meta-analysis of the research found that the total quantity of options is just one of many factors that can contribute to decision fatigue.

Another factor is the way that options are presented to us. When the presentation of options makes it hard to determine what choice is right for us, we’re likely to defer making a decision.

So if you’re sending your free trial users emails that look like this one, then there’s a strong chance you’re causing some serious decision-deferring choice overload.

a-personal-welcome-9-linksIt would probably take all afternoon to do everything this email mentions, and I might not get any closer to my goal.

This message tosses out 9 links (including one that’s hidden by my redaction) without a clear messaging hierarchy to help me figure out what order I should click on them.

This email provides login info, asks me to read help articles, watch help videos on 3 separate channels, ask for help via email, read interviews, or read a blog that might be helpful–all under the umbrella of “important information”.

But for your trial users, the real important information is the information that helps them decide what to do next.

The Fix: Write each email for the sole purpose of getting your users to complete a single action–and remove text and links that don’t support that action.

This particular message might be rewritten to focus on getting a single reader to respond to the important request hiding at the bottom of that email:

hidden-request

In the now-famous experiment, sending a welcome-why-are-you-here email helped Groove get response rates of 41% while also providing juicy voice of customer data to power future messaging development and laying the foundation for more personal relationships with new users.

Whether you’re following Groove’s lead or not, your free trial emails should all follow the Rule of One for best results: get one reader to take you up on one offer.

One email, one action. That’s it.

Mistake 2: Your emails don’t ask readers to do something specific and measurable.

When you rewrite your emails so that they’re focused on a single action, make sure that action is a discrete, clearly defined task on the user’s path to activation.

Your reader should be able to complete the task you’ve asked them to complete–and they should be able to tell that they’ve completed it.

Unfortunately, lots of emails offer vague and nonspecific CTAs. Some of them even sound exciting — especially CTAs that use the word “explore”. Exploring is fun! It’s adventurous! Brave souls explore!

explore-my-accountJust because it sounds fun doesn’t mean it is.

All true of actual exploring. But your SaaS app is not the Louisiana Purchase.

When you ask someone to “explore” something — anything, really — you put the onus on the reader to figure out what to do.

And because exploring doesn’t have a clearly defined end, it’s impossible for your reader to figure out exactly what to do next–and when they’ve actually completed the thing you’ve asked them to do.

The Fix: Reduce cognitive overwhelm with a CTA that calls for readers to complete a clearly defined single task.

Zapier does this well. This app helps you connect what feels like an infinite number of apps to do all sorts of cool things (including powering the technical logistics behind managing your lead nurturing messaging).

With so many options, it would be easy for free trial users to get overwhelmed. They could explore their options, but then decide not to do anything.

So instead of leaving it up to new users to decide what to do next, Zapier’s first email removes some of the cognitive drain of “Shoot, how will I choose?” and offers a CTA tightly bound around completing a single task.

zapier-build-your-first-workflowI love this email, and if I was going to rewrite it I would try other CTAs that don’t sound like they’re asking your reader to do work.

You already know what steps a new free trial user needs to complete to get to the point where your app suddenly becomes a can’t-live-without-it tool. You might even know the different steps different populations take to get to the point of activation.

Use your knowledge to guide your free trial users along the steps of that path.

Mistake 3: Your emails don’t connect the CTA to the outcome your free trial users want.

If you’ve rewritten your emails to get users to complete one and only specific and measurable action, that’s a great start.

Unfortunately, one of the most common grade-F CTAs I see in onboarding emails are the ones that don’t connect completing the action to solving a problem.

They make a call to action (the CTA “sign in” and its synonyms appear with devastating frequency), but they don’t make a call to value–so readers have no reason to expect that anything good will happen after they log back in.

Did logging into anything ever solve anyone’s problems? Of course not.

It’s what happens after you log back in that makes the difference.

The Fix: If your email’s CTA could easily appear in the free trial email sequence of another app outside of your category, change it.

If you’ve conducted your jobs-to-be-done research, you also know why your readers are using your app–and the outcome they hope to achieve.

Instead of “Log in to Your Account” or “Sign Back In Now”, your free trial email CTAs should make it clear that someone who clicks on this link will be moving closer to the goal they want to achieve with your app.

Buffer does a great job of sending an email that connects my click to what happens after the click.

After I signed up for a trial but didn’t finish setup, I got an email asking me to connect my accounts that also had some background info on what accounts, exactly, we’re talking about here. (In case I forgot what Buffer is.)

buffer-connect-social-profileThis email shows me everything I can connect to Buffer and makes it abundantly clear what I need to click to move forward.

Buffer could have sent an email that said “log back in” or even “connect a profile”. But “login” = boring and “connect a profile” = kind of vague.

Instead, this email makes it abundantly clear what to do with this email (click on the link that says “click here”) and the meaningful reason why you should take that next step (because it’s what you need to do to connect your social profiles).

Are You Making it Easy for Free Trial Users to Disappear?

When I first learned about free trials for software, I was over the moon. “Look at all this stuff I get to try!” “Look at all these opinions I get to form!” “Look at how few people I have to talk to before I make my decision!”

But what are all these thoughts really about?

What are your new free trial users really thinking when they sign up for your app?

My hypothesis is this: free trial users are really thinking some version of: “Look how little risk there is to trying this software. Let’s see if it works.”

The free trial reduces the risk of having to buy before you try. Your free trial messaging is what helps your prospect understand for themselves if your software will solve a problem.

What can you do to help free trial users understand that yes, your product can change their life?

Make it easier for free trial users to evaluate your app with focused, specific, and meaningful lifecycle emails.

About the Author: Alli Blum helps SaaS apps build messages that get customers. Click to get her copywriting checklist for high-converting SaaS onboarding emails.

The Character Count Guide for Blog Posts, Videos, Tweets & More

ContentLength-compressor.jpg

When it comes to writing text for your blog and social media posts, many marketers wonder, “But what’s the character limit?” It’s never a simple question — sometimes, it’s answered by parameters established by certain channels. And on other occasions, it’s more a question of what’s ideal.

For example, you probably know the character limit for a tweet is 140, but did you know that the ideal length is actually less than that? (Hold tight — we’ll explain why.)While we’ve written before about optimizing your actual content, we thought it would be helpful to gather the numbers of character limits — both enforced and ideal — for different online channels, all in one place. New Call-to-action

Below, you’ll find a more detailed guide to character limits and ideal character counts for posts on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat, and YouTube.

The Length & Character Count for Everything on the Internet

1) Blog Posts

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Source: Medium

Quick reference:

  • Post length: 2100 words
  • Title: Under 60 characters
  • Meta Description: Under 155 characters

Post Body

When it comes to the length of blog posts, there are a few different items to consider. For example:

  • According to Medium, posts with an average read time of seven minutes captured the most attention.
  • The average reading speed of native English-speaking adults remains commonly cited as 300 words per minute, according to research conducted in 1990.
  • At that reading rate, the ideal post length is 2100 words.
  • That aligns with research previously conducted by serpIQ, which indicated that, on average, the top 10 results for most Google searches are between 2,032 and 2,416 words.

That means that this ideal word count can address goals around both readability and SEO. But that’s just the actual body of the post. Plus, when we looked at our own blog on organic traffic, we found that the sweet spot was 2,250–2,500 words.

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But that’s just the post body — let’s have a look at the other areas of text that comprise a full blog post.

Title

The length of your title depends on your goals, and where it will appear.

Let’s start with SEO. Do you want this post to rank really well in search? It turns out, that often has to do with the dimensions of each entry on a search engine results page (SERP). For Google, titles of search results are usually contained at a length of 600 pixels — which Moz measures as being able to display the first 50-60 characters of a title tag. So, if you don’t want your title to get cut off in the search results, it might be best to keep it under 60 characters. But when in doubt, you can double-check the length of your meta description and title tags with this handy tool from SEOmofo, or you can use Moz’s title tag preview tool.

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Then, there’s optimizing your title for social sharing. On Twitter, for example, consider that each tweet has a limit of 140 characters — however, if you include an image, that doesn’t count toward the limit. But consider that even the average shortened URL takes up about 23 characters — that leaves you with about 116 characters left for the title and any accompanying text.

In our own analysis at HubSpot, we found that headlines between 8–12 words in length got the most Twitter shares on average, while headlines with either 12 or 14 words got the most Facebook Likes.

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Meta Description

A meta description refers to the HTML attribute that explains the contents of a given webpage. It’s the short description you see on a SERP to “preview” what the page is about.

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Moz notes that Google seems to cut off most meta descriptions — which are sometimes called snippets — after roughly two lines of text — though there’s some conjecture that, like title tags, it’s actually based on pixel count. In any case, it amounts to about 160 characters, though this particular outlet recommends keeping it at 155.

Again, you can double-check the length of your meta description and title tags with this handy tool from SEOmofo.

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2) Facebook

Quick reference:

  • Status updates: 63,206-character maximum | Ideal length is 40 characters
  • Video: 120-minute maximum | Ideal length is two minutes

Status Updates

Facebook’s character limit on status updates is 63,206. However, that’s far from ideal, says HubSpot Social Media Marketing Manager Chelsea Hunersen. “The social gurus will throw around the number 40 characters. That data seems to be backed up by BuzzSumo’s ranking of HubSpot’s own Facebook Page.

But why 40, specifically? “Ideally,” Hunersen says, “you’ll want to use the copy in a status update to provide context for whatever you’re linking to.” That said, she notes, the copy of the status update itself isn’t as important as the copy in the meta title or meta description that gets pulled in when you insert a link into your post. That’s right — social media posts have their own meta data too.

“Often, people look at the image of the article and then directly down at the meta title and meta description for context clues,” she explains. “A lot of people don’t realize you can change those.”

Even on Facebook, it’s still best to keep your meta title to fewer than 60 characters, and to 155 for meta descriptions. There are some resources available to those familiar with coding that let you play around with social media metadata character counts, like these templates. But unless you’re a developer, we recommend keeping it short and sweet.

Video

While Facebook allows a maximum of 120 minutes for videos, we wouldn’t advise posting anything that long, unless you’re doing a special, social-media-only screening of a full-length film.

According to research conducted by Wistia, two minutes is the “sweet spot” — even a minute longer than that shows a significant drop in viewership. “Engagement is steady up to [two] minutes, meaning that a 90-second video will hold a viewer’s attention as much as a 30-second video, the research reads,” so “if you’re making short videos, you don’t need to stress about the difference of a few seconds. Just keep it under [two] minutes.”

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Source: Wistia

However, optimal length can vary depending on the topic. “If you produce something as catchy as BuzzFeed and Refinery29 are putting out there, it can be up to five minutes long,” says Hunersen.

Regardless of the length of your video, Hunersen reminds us that all Facebook videos start without sound, meaning users have to make a conscious decision to stop scrolling through their feeds and unmute the video. Facebook videos should be visually compelling from the get-to, make sense without sound, and be engaging enough to encourage the user to stop and watch.

3) Twitter

Quick reference:

  • Tweets: 140-character maximum
    • Does not include images, videos, polls, or quotes tweets
    • Ideal length is 120-130 characters
  • Hashtags: No more than two
  • Videos: Maximum length is two minutes and 20 seconds

Length of Tweets

Marketers everywhere rejoiced when Twitter finally eased up on its character count parameters, and such media as images, videos, and polls, as well as quoted tweets, ceased counting toward its 140-character limit.

Still, the “Quote Tweet” feature remains available, providing even greater character-saving measures. That happens when you press the rotating arrow icon to retweet a post, and then add a comment in the text box provided. You’ve still got 140 characters all to yourself to comment.

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Ideal Length Overall

Like so much of what we’ve covered, it seems that when it comes to the overall length of a tweet, aim for short and sweet. (See what we did there?) That’s resonated in research conducted by social media scientist Dan Zarrella, who found that tweets with 120-130 characters showed the highest click-through rate (CTR):

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Source: Buffer

The same goes for hashtags. While they can technically be any length up to 140 characters, remember that people will want to accompany the hashtag with other copy. Short hashtags are always better. Ideally, your hashtags should be under 11 characters — shorter if you can.

Also, in a single tweet, stick to one or two hashtags, and definitely don’t go over three. Buddy Media found that all tweets with hashtags get double the engagement metrics than tweets without any. But tweets that kept the hashtags to a minimum — one or two — have a 21% higher engagement than tweets with three or more.

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Source: Buffer

Videos

You can post a video on Twitter by importing a video or recording it using the Twitter app. In any case, the maximum video length is two minutes and 20 seconds.

4) LinkedIn

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Profiles

Here’s a handy list of some of LinkedIn’s most important profile character maximums, according to Andy Foote:

  • Professional headline: 120
  • Summary: 2,000
  • Position title: 100
  • Position description: 2,000 (200 character minimum)
  • Status Update: 600 characters — however, Foote also notes that, “if you select to also post on Twitter from LinkedIn, only the first 140 characters will show on your Twitter post.”

Original Content

With LinkedIn’s publishing platform, users can now compose and share original written content with their networks, or publicly. Of course, that comes with its own character counts, according to Foote:

  • Post headline: 100
  • Post body: 40,000

5) Instagram

Quick reference:

  • Bio: 150-character maximum
  • Hashtags: Maximum of 30
  • Captions: Ideal length is under 125 characters

Since Instagram is, first and foremost, a platform for sharing photos and videos, the primary focus is typically your visual content. However, it’s always helpful to provide some context, and let users know what they’re looking at.

Given that, here are some helpful character counts for the text you include with your visual content:

Captions

While Instagram doesn’t seem to specify a maximum total number of caption characters, it does note that, within users’ feeds, the caption is cut off after the first three lines. For that reason, it’s advised to limit captions to 125 characters. However, don’t leave out important information just for the sake of keeping your entire caption visible. Instead, frontload it with crucial details and calls-to-action, leaving any hashtags, @mentions, or extraneous information for the end.

As for Instagram Stories, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of detail on character limits there, either. However, because the text overlays the visual content — which is the focus — don’t obscure too much of the photo or video with a caption.

6) Snapchat

Quick reference:

  • Character limit: 80 per post

Speaking of not obscuring visual content — that brings us to Snapchat.

Instagram Stories was, many believe, an effort to emulate the features of Snapchat, to create an opportunity for users to share quickly-disappearing photos and videos. And again, because the focus here is on the visual, you’ll want to prevent distracting viewers from it with too much text.

According to Teen Vogue, Snapchat’s character limit is 80 per post, which is more than double its previous 31-character limit. And, if you’re looking for more guidance, just look to this particular app’s name, and remember the “snap” element of it — a word that implies brevity — and try not to ramble. Here’s a great example of how SXSW uses its captions efficiently:

7) YouTube

Here we have yet another network that’s focused on visual content, leading some to incorrectly assume that accompanying text — like titles and descriptions — don’t matter as much.

That’s not entirely false — as a video-hosting platform, YouTube should primarily be used to showcase a brand’s quality videos. However, like any other visual content, it needs context. People need to know what they’re watching, who it’s from, and why it matters.

Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t appear to provide any specific parameters over its character counts — except for your channel description, which according to the official help site is limited to 1,000 characters. But other than that, it seems that the only guideline available is the alert display that lets you know, “Your [title or description] is too long,” if you’ve entered too much text in either of those fields.

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In this case, we would advise taking the same approach as adding text to support your visuals on Instagram and Snapchat. Like the former, a video’s description is cut off after the first line or two, so frontload the most important descriptors and CTAs, leaving extra details for the end.

Show Your Character

As you set out to determine the length of your text, regardless of the platform, remember to do so with the user in mind. Many of these channel-mandated character limits are established for that reason — to keep audiences from getting bored or overwhelmed.

Like anything else in marketing, however, it’s never an exact science, despite the best data. We encourage you to follow these guidelines, but don’t be afraid to experiment if they don’t always work. Test different amounts of text within your various channels, and keep track of how each post performs. From there, you can make decisions about which types of content, as well as its accompanying titles and descriptions, are the most well-received from your audience.

How do you approach text with different online channels? 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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