Search Has Changed. Here’s How Your Content Needs to Evolve.

When inbound marketing was on the rise in 2006, search engines were the primary way readers discovered new content. In 2017, this still holds true.

Social, video, and messaging apps now occupy a fair share of the content landscape — but with over 3.5 billion searches per day on Google alone, search is a channel marketers still can’t afford to ignore.

Over the last ten years or so, it feels like we’ve figured out a pretty standard content formula: publish a large volume of content to target long-tail keywords, and convert that organic traffic into leads via gated content offers. 

But this way of thinking about content has hit a wall. Search has changed, and it’s time content did too. 

How Search Has Evolved

There are two big ways search has changed in recent years:

  1. Our search behavior has shifted.
  2. The technology search engines use to interpret and serve results has improved.

Let’s dive into each.

How Our Search Behavior Has Changed

Back in 2006, search behavior was relatively simplistic. We typed at search engines with queries like, “Restaurants Boston,” rather than talking to them conversationally.

Today, the average search query goes something like, “Where is the best place to eat near me right now?”.

In fact, in May 2016 Google CEO, Sundar Pichai announced that 20% of queries on mobile and Android are voice searches.

Regardless of whether you type or use voice search, longer, more-conversational queries have become standard.

In a study conducted by Ahrefs of search volume by keyword length, they found 64% of searches are four words or more. And the rise of conversational search is only making this search pattern more prevalent.

keyword-length-distribution.pngSource: Ahrefs long-tail keyword study

This isn’t because we’ve suddenly become comfortable talking to robots. It’s largely because the quality of results that search engines serve has substantially improved, along with the quantity of content.

We’ve learned the playbook and have published so much content, some marketers say we’ve hit “content shock,” and that producing content at this rate is no longer sustainable.

"While the quantity of content has dramatically increased, quality has not."

While the quantity of content has dramatically increased, quality has not. Sure, there are individual publishers and sites that create amazing content you probably consume regularly. But for the most part, a lot of content published today doesn’t contribute much to the conversation.

In addition to our search behavior, the general way we use the internet to interact with sites has changed. We’ve shifted from desktop-based PCs, to mobile laptops, to smartphones as mini-computers in the palm of our hands.

Readers are skimming content and searching for quick answers. The emergence of messaging also means visitors are less likely to fill out a lengthy form. This has natural consequences on how we think about our content to build an audience, brand, and ultimately generate leads.

The Impact of Search Engine Updates

We’re going to focus on Google-specific updates here, since between their core search, image search, and YouTube, they collectively control 90% of the search market.

When Google first popped up on the scene, the way they returned results was to essentially deconstruct queries into their fundamental pieces — meaning individual keywords that appeared — and serve results based on exact matches. At that time, marketers who stuffed matching keywords into content would naturally rank for the query, until Google started adjusting their algorithm.

If we go back just a few years, we can see a rich history that leads us to the search experience we have today, and we can uncover lessons that apply to our own content strategies.

Let’s walk through three of the most important Google search updates and how they impact your strategy.

Penguin Algorithm Update — Rolled out April 24, 2012.

This algorithm update was designed to penalize “webspam” and sites that were over-optimized using black-hat SEO techniques. Webspam –such as keyword stuffing and link schemes — was penalized in this update, with 3.1% of English search queries impacted.

In the official Penguin announcement, Google described a blog post that was written about fitness and had relevant content. But within the post, there were also completely irrelevant links to payday loans and other sites. This form of random keyword stuffing is a perfect example of an SEO tactic that was likely impacted by Penguin.

The takeaway: Include relevant links and keywords in your content, but don’t overdo it. While there’s no magical number that’s right or wrong, look at your content through the lens of a reader and make a judgment call if it’s too much.

Hummingbird Algorithm Update — Announced on August 20, 2013.

Based on what we know, this was a core algorithm update that focused on improving semantic search. As search becomes more conversational, Hummingbird is now the core algorithm interpreting these queries and translating them into meaningful results.

For example, if you search for “what’s the best place to buy an iPhone 7 near my home?” a traditional algorithm before Hummingbird would have taken each individual keyword and looked for matches. With Hummingbird, Google began to look at the meaning behind these words and translate them into a better result. 

Digging into that example query above, “place” means you’re looking for a store you can physically go to, instead of a website you can buy from. Hummingbird looks at the entire query and attempts to understand the meaning behind the words used to return relevant results.

The takeaway: We now search the way we talk. Focusing only on keywords means you’re likely missing out on traffic from conversational search. Start thinking about clustering your content into topics, and adjusting the way you create content with pillar pages.

RankBrain Algorithm Update — Announced on October 26, 2015.

In October 2015, Google announced that machine learning, via RankBrain, had been a part of their algorithm for months and is now the third most influential ranking factor.

It’s important to understand that there are over 200 ranking signals when Google evaluates a page. When RankBrain was announced, it immediately became the third most-important factor Google uses to determine rank. 

So, what does RankBrain do? At a basic level, this algorithm helps interpret searches to find pages that might not have the exact words searched for. For example, if you search for “sneakers,” Google understands that you might have meant “running shoes” and incorporates that factor into results.

Although Google begun to understand synonyms between words prior to this update, RankBrain propelled that understanding forward and truly brought a focus on topic-based content to the forefront.

The takeaway: Searchers are likely discovering your content even though they don’t use exact keywords. When you combine this update with Hummingbird, the evidence is clear that we need to shift how we think about, plan, and create content.

Based on our search behavior, and the search technology updates, the playbook for content needs to change. The same formula we used for the past ten years might still generate moderate results, but it will not help us adjust to the way potential buyers are searching for our content today, or the way search works.

Wait, does this mean keywords are irrelevant?

No — keywords are still very relevant today. Yet many marketers solely rely on keywords to inform their content strategy. With the search behavior and technology changes we’ve discussed, your future playbook must be based on the overall topics that match the intent of a searcher, and the specific keywords they use.

For example, if you want help companies redesign websites, then you would naturally want to appear on a search engine results page for the keyword “website redesign.” In this case, “website redesign” is the overall topic. But some users might be really be searching for “redesign existing website”, which is essentially the same query with different keywords. 

With this shift in search technology, search behavior, and how we interact with content, the way we make content to attract users has to change.

Here are core tenets of the new playbook to help you adjust:

The New Content Playbook

The new content playbook is comprised of three parts: overall topics that you want to be known for organized into clusters, pillar content, and subtopic content. This model can helps you establish areas of influence into overall topics, and a solid information architecture at the same time.

Topic Clusters

As Matt Barby, Global Head of Growth and SEO at HubSpot, explains:

 

“The basic premise behind building a content program in topic clusters is to enable a deeper coverage across a range of core topic areas, whilst creating an efficient information architecture in the process.”

Instead of thinking about every variation of exact keywords, think about the topics you want to be known for, and the content you create will deeply cover that topic. Then, within this topic-based content, include relevant keywords. To explain this further, let’s break down topic vs. keyword in the table below.

Keyword-and-Topics.png

An overall topic cluster is represented with a comprehensive piece of content at the center (called pillar content) and then surrounded by subtopic content. Visually it looks like this:

Cluster model.png

A topic cluster should be specific to the topic you want to be known for and should be short — ideally between two and four words.

For example, at HubSpot “inbound marketing” is a topic cluster, and we have pillar content dedicated to describing the methodology. You can have numerous topic clusters across your site for as many topics as are relevant to your company. 

Pillar Content

Pillar content is central to this new strategy. It is typically comprised of a single page — such as a website or landing page — that offers a comprehensive view of the topic. 

If you have a lot of content, this page might already exist on your site. If not, or you want to expand into a new topic, check-out this decision tree to help decide when to create a new piece of pillar content.

final2-pillar-cluster-flowchart.jpg

There are a three key aspects of pillar content that you should consider:

  • Ungated – Pillar content should be ungated. That is, all of the content should be available for search engines to crawl and visitors to read without having to fill out a form. You can have a form on the page, but just don’t hide content behind the form. 
  • Comprehensive – Pillar content should be comprehensive, which also generally means long-form. Consider all of the questions your sales, services, and support teams regularly receive concerning a specific topic and build in answers within the page content.
  • Related terms – Remember when we talked about the algorithm updates above? Be sure to mention your core topic a number of times on the page, but also include synonyms as well. That way, no matter how someone searches for that topic, they’ll hopefully land on your page.

Subtopic Content

Subtopic content should be related to your pillar content. It centers around the same overall topic, but should answer longer, more niche questions. These can take the form of blog posts or site pages, and should contain a text link that points back to the pillar content. 

This hyperlink helps signal to search engines that all of this content is related. With all of your subtopic content pointing towards the pillar, it builds authority within your site.

Here’s an example of what this could look like for your website:

New structure.png

This new approach helps you attract more traffic from broad topics, and still captures long-tail keyword based traffic as well. It’s a solution that is better for your visitors, and allows you to provide answers they expect to find without encountering technology hurdles. 

The best content will be remarkable, comprehensive, and organized in this structure to not only help search crawlers discover their content, but naturally provide answers to topic-based queries. Content creation has evolved over the past few years, and is now hitting an inflection point where another major evolution is happening right before our eyes. 

As marketers, it’s up to us to create valuable content people actually want. Content that is helpful, human, and easily found.

Ultimately you want to achieve your goals — whether that’s increasing traffic, leads, or MQLs — but it all begins with content that matches the way people search, and the way search engines work today.

Intro to Lead Gen

Value Creation vs. Revenue Extraction: Which Kind of Business Are You?

There’s a problem in business.

Okay, fine, there are plenty of problems in the wide world of business.

Obviously, there are tons of good things in business brought about by new innovations, advances in technology, and improvements in customer engagement.

But for all the new changes, old habits sure do die hard. Specifically, there are a lot of old ideas that still have a grip on the business world.

These ideas are preventing businesses from successfully engaging present day users.

This is why so many brands are dying out; they’re failing to actually serve today’s customers. Think about your business’s focus, where you’re putting your energy.

Is your business people-first or money-first?

Because the hard truth is that a business that puts revenue first won’t be able to stay afloat in the tumultuous waters of today’s economy. It sounds counterintuitive. Doesn’t a business exist to make money?

Yes. Obviously, you need to think about profit. But when you make that your number one goal above your customers, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

This is more than just a chicken-and-egg riddle.

This is about how and why you do business.

If you haven’t given the issue some thought, I will share a few thoughts that I think are crucial to a business’s longevity and ultimate success.

The point I’m making is simple. Businesses should work to create value not just extract profits.

Let me show you the how and why.

A Primer on Value Creation and Revenue Extraction

In terms of customer interaction, there are typically two general types of businesses: value creation and revenue extraction.

You’ve probably seen both in action before, but you might not be able to tell which one you are.

So let’s start by going over the characteristics of both types of businesses and looking at some examples.

If a business is focused on value, it will naturally put its customers above everything else. (Yes, even above revenue.)

Image Source

As the definition above notes, value creation increases your business’s worth.

Listen to that again: Value creation increases the worth of your business.

How does this happen? It happens because customers are attracted to businesses that can give them something.

The more value you provide, the more attracted your customers will be to your business.

It’s a simple (and scalable) formula, but far too few businesses actually adopt it.

Many companies still believe that a revenue extraction model is the best for doing long-term business.

What’s revenue extraction?

Revenue extraction is the idea of operating a business with the sole goal of getting money from customers. It’s the exact opposite of value creation.

This little image sums it up well:

Image Source

Where value creation is focused on serving, revenue extraction is obsessed with being served.

The type of business makes a colossal difference in how customers respond and interact.

And that’s not just theory. It’s a fact.

Quick caveat here.

Obviously, every business has to focus on profit to some degree.

Why?

It’s simple.

If a business doesn’t make a profit, it doesn’t exist. End of story.

Value creation vs. revenue extraction has more to do with motivation and priority rather than simple accounting.

As I’ll explain below, placing a higher priority on value creation will produce higher revenues.

Let’s look at an example.

UrbanBound is a company that prioritizes value extraction. They weren’t engaging their customers well enough, so they listened to customer feedback and rolled out a new marketing plan that included lots of high-value content.

The results were astounding:

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That’s what value creation can do.

Okay, that was a positive example.

Now let’s look at a negative example.

From 2000 to 2014, Steve Ballmer was the CEO of Microsoft. As CEO, Ballmer was known for focusing on sales to the exclusion of nearly everything else.

I’m smelling revenue extraction.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Ballmer made it obvious that he was focused on revenue extraction, saying, “It’s easy to glorify the products produced and the reputations won, not the money made.”

Even his exit from the company didn’t stop him from having this mindset. In early 2017, he said of Microsoft, “I want to see more profit growth.”

Sure enough, Ballmer’s attitude contributed to Microsoft’s poor performance during his tenure. The company produced several products that flopped, share price was largely stagnant, and Forbes called him the worst CEO.

ups and downs of steve ballmer

When Ballmer announced his retirement as CEO, the stock price jumped 10%, which ironically enough, added even more to Steve Ballmer’s enormous wealth. He quits, and makes $1 billion. If only we could all be so lucky.

Interestingly, while Ballmer increased Microsoft’s revenue, his reign also saw a dip in customer satisfaction.

Some point to Ballmer as the big bad reason why Apple overtook Microsoft.

Apple, who seems to focus more on the customer, steadily grew its revenue while staying at the top of the American Customer Satisfaction Index for eleven years straight.

Today, the fact that Microsoft lost customers (and that Apple gained customers) in the long term is evident by just looking at each company’s revenue over a ten-year period.

apple revenue after iPhoneImage Source

So what’s the point of all of this?

If you rely on a revenue extraction business model, you’ll turn your customers into enemies.

Your sales might look good for a bit, but that won’t last long.

If you think about human nature, this makes a lot of sense. No one wants to feel like a company just wants to empty their wallets.

Rather, customers see themselves as part of an exchange system. They contribute money to a business. In return they get some sort of value.

Image Source

When customers receive value, they have a huge incentive to come back to your business.

And in a crowded economy, if you want to stand out, you have to win your customers over with a ton of value.

The world’s most successful businesses all think this way, and it’s proven to improve your relationship with your customers.

You might be scared right now, wondering if you’re focused on value creation or revenue extraction.

Here’s how you can tell.

Where’s your focus?

Businesses who focus on value creation and those who focus on revenue extraction look very different when you look at their priorities.

And, really, that’s all this is — a priority issue.

Pivoting from revenue extraction to value creation doesn’t require firing your employees, shuffling top management, or changing your logo.

It simply means an adjustment of priority. That can start with a simple mental shift.

I’ve identified five positive priorities of a value creation business.

1. You put the most effort into creating and refining your products or services with your customers in mind, and you continually take customer feedback into account.

2. You often ask your customers for feedback and maintain a strong online presence, answering questions and addressing complaints.

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3. You publish lots of free, value-packed content. You might publish so much free content that people tell you to charge for it. Hubspot is one company that does this often:

4. Your company ethos revolves around helping your customers achieve their goals.

5. Your marketing hinges on the benefits your customers will receive from your products or services.

difference between features and benefitsImage Source

Now, let’s go over to the dark side.

Here are five signs that you’re a revenue extraction business:

1. You put the most effort into your pricing schemes and/or create your products or services with profit in mind.

2. You rarely ask your customers for feedback and don’t prioritize your online presence or interaction with customers.

3. You don’t publish free content often, and when you do, it doesn’t provide a lot of value.

4. Your company ethos revolves around maximizing your bottom line.

5. Your marketing hinges on sensational tactics (like clickbait) to get people’s attention using hype.

Of course, it’s not always black and white. In fact, your company may have characteristics from both of those lists. Most businesses tend towards one side or the other.

What about your business?

If you’ve identified your business as the revenue extraction type, don’t panic.

This doesn’t mean you’re doomed to fail, and it doesn’t mean you have an evil company.

There are several tactical ways to shift from the revenue extraction model to the value creation model.

Value begins with great content

To provide the kind of value that your customers will love, you need to make some serious changes.

In particular, you need to know what your customers want and need and then give them what they’re looking for.

Learning who your customers are is important for every business, but if you’ve found out you only think about revenue extraction, you need to kick your customer engagement strategy into overdrive.

This is where it gets good.

The best way to do this is with a killer content strategy.

elements of content strategyImage Source

If you don’t have one, you need to make one.

But whether you’re revamping your current strategy or creating one from scratch, the steps are more or less the same.

Here’s a good framework for what a content strategy should look like:

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Let’s break that down.

Step 1: Plan your content

What kind of high-value content are you going to produce? This is a step you should spend some time on.

You don’t want to put out a ton of content if it’s just going to be watered down. Instead, focus on quality over quantity.

There’s a lack of high quality content on the web. If you’re one of the businesses in your niche that’s creating helpful content, you’ll easily stand out.

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Your content should revolve around information that will benefit your readers in some way. Sometimes that means actionable tips, and sometimes that means in-depth explanations.

Remember, providing value needs to be your core mission.

As long as you prioritize that, you’ll be on the right track.

Step 2: Audit your existing content

Even if you don’t have much content right now, you might still be able to salvage some or all of the content you do have.

If you search “content audit,” you’ll be greeted by several articles that focus on SEO.

You don’t have to worry about that too much right now, but you should determine if any content on your site is driving large amounts of traffic.

If you find something, you’ll definitely want to update it.

For all your other content, think critically about how well the content would perform. You can use sites like Buzzsumo to see what’s trending in your niche.

If you choose to keep any content, you should update it. Your existing content is probably low-value, so increasing the amount of value will be your first priority.

Step 3: Fine-tune your content process

During this step, think about how you can make a repeatable, scalable process for content creation. This needs to be a system that you can use time and time again.

First, you need to think about how you’re going to deliver the content. Will you use longform articles? Videos? Infographics?

Second, you need to create an editorial calendar that will map out what you publish and how often you publish it.

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Basically, you should have a smooth process in place that covers all the bases.

This will take some time to fully develop, so expect to make frequent changes.

Step 4: Set up a performance tracking system

To maintain a powerful content strategy, you need to know what’s working and what’s not.

In terms of content, your success or failure will be measured by how well your content performs.

Performance is generally measured using a few key metrics: views, time on page, and conversion actions (like email signups or even sales). These are also called Key Performance Indicators or KPIs.

You can see all of these metrics in Google Analytics. Once you get familiar with the platform, you’ll be able to track each metric individually to put your strategy under the microscope.

Step 5: Share your content

This is the “marketing” part of “content marketing.” If you’re serious about your content, you want to get it in front of as many people as possible.

Social media plays a big role in this. You’ll want to have a strong presence on the big social networks and share your content on them, optimizing the content for each site.

If you optimize well enough, your content will get lots of views and shares, and your traffic will grow.

One more thing: Having a social sharing schedule will let you make the most of your content.

But none of these steps matter in the least if you’re not delivering value.

That’s where it all starts.

Conclusion

To put it simply, the revenue extraction business model is outdated.

Customers have more choices than at any point in history.

If you don’t like one coffee shop or grocery store, you can easily switch to one of the countless others.

In most situations, every customer has the ability to decide where they want to spend their money.

You have to convince them that your company is worth spending money on.

That’s why so many businesses are utilizing high-value content strategies. People respond to value, and they want to give back to businesses who give them value first.

How are you going to provide that kind of serious value to your customers?

About the Author: Daniel Threlfall is an Internet entrepreneur and content marketing strategist. As a writer and marketing strategist, Daniel has helped brands including Merck, Fiji Water, Little Tikes, and MGA Entertainment. Daniel is co-founding Your Success Rocket, a resource for Internet entrepreneurs. He and his wife Keren have four children, and occasionally enjoy adventures in remote corners of the globe (kids included). You can follow Daniel on Twitter or see pictures of his adventures on Instagram.

The Future of Connection Model Looks Awesome

website.jpgConnection Model is a fluid digital marketing agency focused on helping clients build their businesses. Through inbound marketing Connection Model has set an industry standard by generating revenue, generating qualified leads, and enhancing social media marketing strategies. By targeting specific prospects already interested in what our clients have to offer, we have optimized SEO, business blogging, and life-cycle marketing via email. 

Now, we have decided to up the game even further. We have launched our new website with optimized features and the best offerings in social media management, website design, and content creation for all our clients’ business needs.

The Client Comes First

Connection Model has always placed their clients’ interests ahead of our own. Since we opened our doors, we have built 100’s of new websites, either from scratch or migrated an old site to a better, more responsive platform.  Our goal is to make sure our clients have the newest technologies and are informed of upcoming trends, so they can stay ahead of the competition. As new developments in digital marketing continue to appear, we make sure our clients are the first to know so they can keep their businesses innovative and current. This holistic approach to digital marketing is one of the reasons our clients are so satisfied with our services. 

In the process of making sure the client always comes first, we have neglected to apply those same principles to our own business. It was time to practice what we preach. In an effort to stay innovative ourselves, we have designed a new website that showcases all that we have to offer. We are the same digital marketing experts our clients have learned to trust, but now we have integrated new technologies within our website and business model so we can help our clients even more.

A Better Website Design to Better Serve Our Clients

The updated website will do more than attract new clients; it will serve our existing clients in new ways. It will act as an informational hub between us and our clients. Users will now be able to access more of the website and our knowledge base with ease as well as enjoy our timely and informative blog articles. The new design will also show clients how we can help them manage their accounts, look into website and content creation options, and create a digital brand through social media. 

Databox-1.pngThrough our dashboard offering we can pull information from up to 40 data sources, and run the metrics our clients require. We make it easy to view metrics concerning consumption, sharing, lead generation, sales, and other analytic tools. Our clients can rely on real time reporting and learn how to maximize ROI. We make it possible for our clients to experience the ability to reach across different devices and find which marketing campaign is best for each type of device or platform. 

Core Services

Our clients don’t just want a regular campaign, they want a campaign that is innovative, fresh, and that will move their business forward. They don’t want to compete with competitors, but lead the pack in their industry. Other companies look to our clients to see how to do things right. Connection Model’s core services model promotes this effect in the best possible way. We have taken several services and broken them down into four basic models to better fit our clients’ needs. Here’s an overview of these core services:

  • Paid Media– We can build a lead generation platform through Google Adwords, Facebook, LinkedIn, and more to leverage algorithms and AI marketing. This helps to remove the guesswork from which one platform is the best tool. Through this media storm we can target the right consumers and, in conjunction with interactive email technologies, get the right messages to the right audiences.
  • Website Design – There is no need to look at an existing website and think it is time to start over. We can revamp that website and use existing website traffic to create more demand and more conversions. We have the professionals to build websites from scratch and enhance an overall image or to create a better customer experience. Download our Ebook and learn “The 7 Secrets of Improving Traffic Through Effective Website Redesign.”
  • Digital Brand Management – We help clients redefine who they are, and get their brand noticed by the rest of the world. By connecting to social media sites we create organic link sharing, profiles across multiple social platforms, and use SEO news releases and blogs to increase brand growth. This path increases a consistency in brand growth across multiple platforms and devices.
  • Content Creation – Creative content is a must for any business to grow. We use organic content that always meets the requirements of our clients, and tools like blogs, interviews, polls, calculators, and infographics to get messages from the client to the consumer. Through an integral web of content management, we can bring more customers to businesses, and increase email subscriber rates. Once customers are willing to see what our clients have to say, then we follow up with more intricate tools to create a solid client-consumer relationship.

Inbound marketing is a rising trend in business. More tools are being developed across multiple platforms with the increase in popularity of the cloud and the effectiveness of inbound marketing.  The practices we developed at the early stage of Connection Model are still very active, but they are now grouped in more precise dimensions allowing us to streamline the processes and give clients better access with better tools – and the reporting to ensure you are making sound business decisions to maximize ROI.

Although every period in a technology lifecycle is called a trend, inbound marketing is more than a passing trend. It is a business lifestyle that continues to evolve as more technologies are introduced. Modern technology provides the tools need to make it easier to create organic content, blogs, and link building, and we offer the best tools to our clients as they migrate to newer business practices in and out of the cloud. 

We will now pass everything we learned from upgrading our site and our approaches to our clients. We have new video techniques and interactive email that has opened new horizons to us and our customers. We will continue to keep up to date on the latest technologies and pass the best findings to our clients. Our website may have changed, but we still believe fully that our clients always come first.

Contact us and find out more about our services.

How to Write a Blog Post: A Bookmarkable Formula + 5 Free Blog Post Templates

You’ve probably heard how paramount blogging is to the success of your marketing. Without it, your SEO will tank, you’ll have nothing to promote in social media, you’ll have no clout with your leads and customers, and you’ll have fewer pages to put those valuable calls-to-action that generate inbound leads. Need I say more?

So why, oh why, does almost every marketer I talk to have a laundry list of excuses for why they can’t consistently blog? Maybe because, unless you’re one of the few people who actually like writing, business blogging kind of stinks. You have to find words, string them together into sentences, and ughhh where do you even start?

Click here to download our free guide on how to double your blog traffic and  leads.

Well my friend, the time for excuses is over.

After you read this post, there will be absolutely no reason you can’t blog every single day — and do it quickly. Not only am I about to provide you with a simple blogging formula to follow, but I’m also going to give you free templates for creating five different types of blog posts:

  • The How-To Post
  • The List-Based Post
  • The Curated Collection Post
  • The SlideShare Presentation Post
  • The Newsjacking Post

With all this blogging how-to, literally anyone can blog as long as they truly know the subject matter they’re writing about. And since you’re an expert in your industry, there’s no longer any reason you can’t sit down every day and hammer out an excellent blog post.

How to Write a Blog Post: A Simple Formula to Follow

Step 1: Understand your audience.

Before you start to write, have a clear understanding of your target audience. What do they want to know about? What will resonate with them? This is where creating your buyer personas comes in handy. Consider what you know about your buyer personas and their interests while you’re coming up with a topic for your blog post.

For instance, if your readers are millennials looking to start their own business, you probably don’t need to provide them with information about getting started in social media — most of them already have that down. You might, however, want to give them information about how to adjust their approach to social media from a more casual, personal one to a more business-savvy, networking-focused approach. That kind of tweak is what separates you from blogging about generic stuff to the stuff your audience really wants (and needs) to hear.

Don’t have buyer personas in place for your business? Here are a few resources to help you get started:

MakeMyPersona_Tool.png

Step 2: Start with a topic and working title.

Before you even write anything, you need to pick a topic for your blog post. The topic can be pretty general to start with. For example, if you’re a plumber, you might start out thinking you want to write about leaky faucets. Then you might come up with a few different working titles — in other words, iterations or different ways of approaching that topic to help you focus your writing. For example, you might decide to narrow your topic to “Tools for Fixing Leaky Faucets” or “Common Causes of Leaky Faucets.” A working title is specific and will guide your post so you can start writing.

Let’s take a real post as an example: “How to Choose a Solid Topic for Your Next Blog Post.” Appropriate, right? The topic, in this case, was probably simply “blogging.” Then the working title may have been something like, “The Process for Selecting a Blog Post Topic.” And the final title ended up being “How to Choose a Solid Topic for Your Next Blog Post.”

See that evolution from topic, to working title, to final title? Even though the working title may not end up being the final title (more on that in a moment), it still provides enough information so you can focus your blog post on something more specific than a generic, overwhelming topic.

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, check out this blog post from my colleague Ginny Soskey. In this post, Soskey walks through a helpful process for turning one idea into many. Similar to the “leaky faucet” example above, she suggests that you “iterate off old topics to come up with unique and compelling new topics.” This can be done by:

  • Changing the topic scope
  • Adjusting the time frame
  • Choosing a new audience
  • Taking a positive/negative approach
  • Introducing a new format

Step 3: Write an intro (and make it captivating).

We’ve written more specifically about writing captivating introductions in the post, “How to Write an Introduction,” but let’s review, shall we?

First, grab the reader’s attention. If you lose the reader in the first few paragraphs — or even sentences — of the introduction, they will stop reading even before they’ve given your post a fair shake. You can do this in a number of ways: tell a story or a joke, be empathetic, or grip the reader with an interesting fact or statistic.

Then describe the purpose of the post and explain how it will address a problem the reader may be having. This will give the reader a reason to keep reading and give them a connection to how it will help them improve their work/lives. Here’s an example of a post that we think does a good job of attracting a reader’s attention right away:

Step 4: Organize your content.

Sometimes, blog posts can have an overwhelming amount of information — for the reader and the writer. The trick is to organize the info so readers are not intimidated by the length or amount of content. The organization can take multiple forms — sections, lists, tips, whatever’s most appropriate. But it must be organized!

Let’s take a look at the post, “How to Use Snapchat: A Detailed Look Into HubSpot’s Snapchat Strategy.“There is a lot of content in this post, so we broke it into a few different sections using the following headers: How to Setup Your Snapchat Account, Snaps vs. Stories: What’s the Difference?, and How to Use Snapchat for Business. These sections are then separated into sub-sections that to go into more detail and also make the content easier to read.

To complete this step, all you really need to do is outline your post. That way, before you start writing, you know which points you want to cover, and the best order in which to do it. To make things even easier, you can also download and use our free blog post templates, which are pre-organized for five of the most common blog post types. Just fill in the blanks!

Step 5: Write!

The next step — but not the last — is actually writing the content. We couldn’t forget about that, of course.

Now that you have your outline/template, you’re ready to fill in the blanks. Use your outline as a guide and be sure to expand on all of your points as needed. Write about what you already know, and if necessary, do additional research to gather more information, examples, and data to back up your points, providing proper attribution when incorporating external sources. Need help finding accurate and compelling data to use in your post? Check out this roundup of sources — from Pew Research to Google Trends.

If you find you’re having trouble stringing sentences together, you’re not alone. Finding your “flow” can be really challenging for a lot of folks. Luckily, there are a ton of tools you can lean on to help you improve your writing. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Power Thesaurus: Stuck on a word? Power Thesaurus is a crowdsourced tool that provides users with a ton of alternative word choices from a community of writers.
  • ZenPen: If you’re having trouble staying focused, check out this distraction-free writing tool. ZenPen creates a minimalist “writing zone” that’s designed to help you get words down without having to fuss with formatting right away.
  • Cliché Finder: Feeling like your writing might be coming off a little cheesy? Identify instances where you can be more specific using this handy cliché tool.

For a complete list of tools for improving your writing skills, check out this post. And if you’re looking for more direction, the following resources are chock-full of valuable writing advice:

Step 6: Edit/proofread your post, and fix your formatting.

You’re not quite done yet, but you’re close! The editing process is an important part of blogging — don’t overlook it. Ask a grammar-conscious co-worker to copy, edit, and proofread your post, and consider enlisting the help of The Ultimate Editing Checklist. And if you’re looking to brush up on your own self-editing skills, turn to these helpful posts for some tips and tricks to get you started:

When you’re ready to check your formatting, keep the following advice in mind …

Featured Image

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 4.51.41 PM.png

Make sure you choose a visually appealing and relevant image for your post. As social networks treat content with images more prominently, visuals are now more responsible than ever for the success of your blog content in social media. In fact, it’s been shown that content with relevant images receives 94% more views than content without relevant images.

For help selecting an image for your post, read “How to Select the Perfect Image for Your Next Blog Post” — and pay close attention to the section about copyright law.

Visual Appearance

No one likes an ugly blog post. And it’s not just pictures that make a post visually appealing — it’s the formatting and organization of the post, too.

In a properly formatted and visually appealing blog post, you’ll notice that header and sub-headers are used to break up large blocks of text — and those headers are styled consistently. Here’s an example of what that looks like:

header-and-sub-headers-blog-posts.png

Also, screenshots should always have a similar, defined border (see screenshot above for example) so they don’t appear as if they’re floating in space. And that style should stay consistent from post to post.

Maintaining this consistency makes your content (and your brand) look more professional, and makes it easier on the eyes.

Topics/Tags

Tags are specific, public-facing keywords that describe a post. They also allow readers to browse for more content in the same category on your blog. Refrain from adding a laundry list of tags to each post. Instead, put some thought into a tagging strategy. Think of tags as “topics” or “categories,” and choose 10-20 tags that represent all the main topics you want to cover on your blog. Then stick to those.

Step 7: Insert a call-to-action (CTA) at the end.

At the end of every blog post, you should have a CTA that indicates what you want the reader to do next — subscribe to your blog, download an ebook, register for a webinar or event, read a related article, etc. Typically, you think about the CTA being beneficial for the marketer. Your visitors read your blog post, they click on the CTA, and eventually you generate a lead. But the CTA is also a valuable resource for the person reading your content — use your CTAs to offer more content similar to the subject of the post they just finished reading.

In the blog post, “What to Post on Instagram: 18 Photo & Video Ideas to Spark Inspiration,” for instance, readers are given actionable ideas for creating valuable Instagram content. At the end of the post is a CTA referring readers to download a comprehensive guide on how to use Instagram for business:

Instagram_for_Business_CTA

See how that’s a win-win for everyone? Readers who want to learn more have the opportunity to do so, and the business receives a lead they can nurture … who may even become a customer! Learn more about how to choose the right CTA for every blog post in this article. And check out this collection of clever CTAs to inspire your own efforts.

Step 8: Optimize for on-page SEO.

After you finish writing, go back and optimize your post for search.

Don’t obsess over how many keywords to include. If there are opportunities to incorporate keywords you’re targeting, and it won’t impact reader experience, do it. If you can make your URL shorter and more keyword-friendly, go for it. But don’t cram keywords or shoot for some arbitrary keyword density — Google’s smarter than that!

Here’s a little reminder of what you can and should look for:

Meta Description

Meta descriptions are the descriptions below the post’s page title on Google’s search results pages. They provide searchers with a short summary of the post before clicking into it. They are ideally between 150-160 characters and start with a verb, such as “Learn,” “Read,” or “Discover.” While meta descriptions no longer factor into Google’s keyword ranking algorithm, they do give searchers a snapshot of what they will get by reading the post and can help improve your clickthrough rate from search.

Page Title and Headers

Most blogging software uses your post title as your page title, which is the most important on-page SEO element at your disposal. But if you’ve followed our formula so far, you should already have a working title that will naturally include keywords/phrases your target audience is interested in. Don’t over-complicate your title by trying to fit keywords where they don’t naturally belong. That said, if there are clear opportunities to add keywords you’re targeting to your post title and headers, feel free to take them. Also, try to keep your headlines short — ideally, under 65 characters — so they don’t get truncated in search engine results.

Anchor Text

Anchor text is the word or words that link to another page — either on your website or on another website. Carefully select which keywords you want to link to other pages on your site, because search engines take that into consideration when ranking your page for certain keywords.

It’s also important to consider which pages you link to. Consider linking to pages that you want to rank well for that keyword. You could end up getting it to rank on Google’s first page of results instead of its second page, and that ain’t small potatoes.

Mobile Optimization

With mobile devices now accounting for nearly 2 out of every 3 minutes spent online, having a website that is responsive or designed for mobile has become more and more critical. In addition to making sure your website’s visitors (including your blog’s visitors) have the best experience possible, optimizing for mobile will score your website some SEO points.

Back in 2015, Google made a change to its algorithm that now penalizes sites that aren’t mobile optimized. This month (May 2016), Google rolled out their second version of the mobile-friendly algorithm update — creating a sense of urgency for the folks that have yet to update their websites. To make sure your site is getting the maximum SEO benefit possible, check out this free guide: How to Make a Mobile-Friendly Website: SEO Tips for a Post-“Mobilegeddon” World.

Step 9: Pick a catchy title.

Last but not least, it’s time to spruce up that working title of yours. Luckily, we have a simple formula for writing catchy titles that will grab the attention of your reader. Here’s what to consider:

  1. Start with your working title.
  2. As you start to edit your title, keep in mind that it’s important to keep the title accurate and clear.
  3. Then, work on making your title sexy — whether it’s through strong language, alliteration, or another literary tactic.
  4. If you can, optimize for SEO by sneaking some keywords in there (only if it’s natural, though!).
  5. Finally, see if you can shorten it at all. No one likes a long, overwhelming title — and remember, Google prefers 65 characters or fewer before it truncates it on its search engine results pages.

If you’ve mastered the steps above, learn about some way to take your blog posts to the next level in this post. What other steps do you take to refine your blog posts? Don’t forget to download your five free blog post templates right here.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

Free Download Historical Blog SEO Optimization

 
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How to Build a Chatbot from Pitch to Promotion

In April 2016, something happened at Facebook that would quickly result in a revolutionary paradigm shift on the horizon of online communication — from mobile to desktop, marketing to services, personal to corporate — everything, really.

Messenger opened its doors to developers with an invitation to create chatbots — something of which roughly 78% of online adults were unaware. 

Within six months, developers had created about 30,000 active Messenger bots. Today, less than a year later, that number is up 233%, with 100,000 active bots on the platform. 

But it’s not just a popular, funky thing to do. Businesses using chatbots are seeing results, like Sephora, which reportedly earns “an average spend of over $50 from clients who have booked an in-store service via its Messenger assistant,” according to VentureBeat.

In case you’re wondering what the heck a chatbot actually is, though, here’s the condensed definition: A bot is nothing more than a computer program that automates certain tasks, typically by chatting with a user through a conversational interface.

There’s a vast range of chatbots. They can be rule-based, or powered by artificial intelligence (AI), both of which will drastically change the process of developing one. And if you’re looking to formulate your own chatbot strategy — from building the bot from scratch to promoting it and getting customers to use it — we’ve developed a basic framework for just that.

Read on, and let’s start building.

How to Build a Chatbot from Pitch to Promotion

1) Decide your bot’s purpose.

Ultimately, the purpose of a bot is to provide a service people actually want to use — time and time again. No bot is meant to do everything, so when you set out to create your own, think of an existing problem that it can fix in a more efficient way.

While there are many types of chatbots, if you’re building one for the first time, you’ll likely want to choose from the following two options:

Informational bots

As the name suggests, these bots provide users with a new format of information consumption. For example, breaking news bots send developing stories as the information becomes available. TechCrunch has a bot of that nature — check it out below:

Utility bots

These bots are automated to complete tasks and answer questions. In other words, they solve a user’s problem or inquiry via a chat transaction. Customer service bots might immediately come to mind here, but a growing number of utility bots are being built for purposes like booking appointments or shopping online. One of our personal favorites is TacoBot: Taco Bell’s still-in-development bot that allows people to order food via Slack. Join the waitlist here, and check out the preview:

tacobot_preview.gif

Source: Taco Bell

2) Decide what messaging app your bot will live on.

Earlier, we provided examples of bots that live on Messenger and Slack, respectively. And while those are two very popular options, there are many more available — for example, Kik and Viber.

Your chatbot’s “home” will largely depend on who’s using what. You’ll want to aim for the apps with an audience that matches the one you’re trying to reach. Slack, for example, tends to be more business-focused, so productivity bots are particularly helpful there.

Sephora is a great example. While the brand has bots on both Messenger and Kik, each one functions differently. The Messenger version is used for customer service, feedback, and booking makeovers:

The Kik version, on the other hand, is designed to help users find products and makeup tips:

3) Decide which platform you’ll use to build the chatbot.

Most messenger apps have tools and documents to help developers build bots — for example, Messenger has an entire library of resources here.

However, there are numerous platforms that can also help you build your bot — in some cases, without a lot of coding required. Here are a few that we recommend:

  1. Motion AI
  2. Chatfuel
  3. Botsify
  4. Beep Boop
  5. Bot Kit
  6. Octane.ai

4) Create your bot’s personality.

Remember when we mentioned the importance of matching your bot’s home with the audience you’re trying to reach? Well, we have a similar guiding principle for your bot’s personality: It should match your brand.

One of our favorite examples here is Pegg, a financial assistant designed for startups and small businesses — but speaking as someone who recently returned from vacation, it’s helpful for anyone trying to track their spending. And while finance isn’t something that’s usually associated with a fun, playful voice, Pegg’s bot, HelloPegg, flips that connotation on its head with a cute logo and friendly voice.

5) Build your bot’s flow.

When you begin creating your chatbot, the platform you’re using should provide options on how to build out conversations. Usually, this is by way of providing the user with drag-and-drop or multiple choice responses, or frontloading the bot with if/then statements. For example, with the HelloPegg app above, the if/then flow might look like this:

If the user begins the sentence with, “Spent” — then respond with, “Who did you pay?”

It’s a way of building a series of questions that are dependent on certain input criteria from the user to reach a given response or solution. Remember, a bot is supposed to be able to understand intent and deliver a solution in the most efficient way possible — that’s the main point of building a conversational strategy. Unlike a type form, for example, not every user can receive the same questions, and each answer the user gives should alter the following question to make the conversation as productive as possible.

Chatbots don’t necessarily need to be loquacious — they serve the purpose solving real problems from real people with the same (or better) ability as a human.

Things like buttons, cards, or other UI elements can be helpful here. For example, when chatting with a friend on Messenger, you might notice that the app prompts you to do certain things, depending on what you’ve typed in — like when I used it to wish my colleague, Eric Peters, a happy birthday.

EPMessenger.png

To help you build out these various pieces, we created the conversational framework below.

Finally, you’ll need to set up your chatbot’s ability to process the natural language that most users will input — meaning, the conversational vernacular that we use day-to-day. For example, “People don’t typically chat using words like ‘affirmative’ and ‘negative’,” explains HubSpot Senior Manager of Web Development Dmitry Shamis. “They say things like ‘yup’ and ‘nah, playa’ so natural language processing allows your bot to understand the underlying message and sentiment of those words.”

The way to do this varies with each platform, so depending on what you’re using to create the bot, going about this step will vary.

6) Connect the bot to the messaging app.

Once you’ve reached this step, you’ve likely finished building your bot. Now, it’s time to connect it to the app where you want it to live.

Many of the resources we listed in section 3 will allow you to do this within the same platform you used to build the bot. Both Motion AI and Chatfuel, for instance, have buttons in the interface that allow you to simply attach your bot directly to your Messenger page. But before you commit to those options, make sure you do thorough research to make sure you won’t be expected to pay any fees to the platform in the case that your bot sees a high level of success.

There are a few tools available to help you do this, one of which is the Recast.ai Bot Connector. It’s integrated with a number of apps, including Kik, Messenger, and Slack. It’s open source and free — check out the instructions for getting started here.

7) Test and train with a beta group.

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve finished a project of which I’m particularly proud, I’m impatient to share it with the world. But as much as we want to get our work out into the hands of the adoring masses, it’s imperative to make sure it works — especially with something as highly customer-facing and interacting as a chatbot.

That’s why we recommend forming a beta group to test the bot before it’s launched for public consumption. That can be internal or external — here at HubSpot, for example, we often test new products and features by sharing them with our colleagues and asking them to check for functionality, quality, and bugs.

But whoever you choose to test your chatbot, make sure they’re not afraid to give you their honest feedback. In order to fix a mistake, it needs to be unabashedly pointed out to you first.

8) Promote your chatbot.

Once your chatbot has been thoroughly QA’d and de-bugged, it’s time to release it to the public — and, of course, promote it.

There are several ways to go about the latter, but for the sake of keeping your strategy focused, we recommend the following steps to get started.

Add it to chatbot directories and catalogs.

Not every app will have a listing like this, but if you’re using one that does, make sure your app is included. (For example, here’s Slack’s.) Otherwise, look to third-party directories like BotList or Bot Finder for such listings.

Create a dedicated, SEO-friendly landing page.

For us, there’s often nothing more frustrating than catching wind of a great chatbot and being unable to find a dedicated website for it. That’s why we encourage you to create a dedicated, central page to explain the purpose, features, and where to find/install your chatbot to avoid any difficulty finding it, or other confusion.

TOPBOTS marketing and strategy specialist Adelyn Zhou emphasizes the importance of such a page. “A dedicated landing page for your bot gives users the option to first read and understand your distinct value add,” she writes on Medium. “Without the introduction, you’re leaving them to deduce your functionality by themselves.”

Include a messaging option in your emails.

Many emails include CTAs and icons for the reader to follow the sender on social media. Now, you can also add an option for your audience to engage with you via chatbot, by including icons for Messenger and Slack, for example.

Continuing the Conversation

Before you begin, remember: The hardest part of this process is not building your chatbot.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but if you re-read the steps above, you’ll see that while the actual bot buildout isn’t without its challenges, it doesn’t present the most difficulty. Rather, the hardest part is improving your conversational strategy over time — based on how actual humans are interacting with it.

Even after you’ve completed the steps we’ve outlined, your work won’t be completely done. You’ll want to see how users are engaging with your chatbot, and if they’re not, what might be the cause of it. Is it truly addressing the problem it was built to solve? Has it turned out that your audience has other issues it wishes to resolve with a bot?

Think about these different factors once your chatbot goes live, and the various ways you can continue to make it even better.

HubSpot Marketing Free

5 Tips to Help Show ROI from Local SEO

Posted by JoyHawkins

Earlier this year, when I was first writing my advanced local SEO training, I reached out to some users who work for local SEO agencies and asked them what they’d like more training on. The biggest topic I got as a result was related to tracking and reporting value to small business owners.

My clients will often forward me reports from their prior SEO company, expressing that they have no idea what they were getting for their money. Some of the most common complaints I see with these reports are:

  • Too much use of marketing lingo (“Bounce Rate,” “CTR,” etc.)
  • Way too much data
  • No representation of what impact the work done had on the business itself (did it get them more customers?)

If a small business owner is giving you hundreds or thousands of dollars every month, how do you prove to them they’re getting value from it? There’s a lot to dig into with this topic — I included a full six pages on it in my training. Today I wanted to share some of the most successful tips that I use with my own clients.


1. Stop sending automated Google Analytics reports

If the goal is to show the customer what they’re getting from their investment, you probably won’t achieve it by simply sending them an Analytics report each month. Google Analytics is a powerful tool, but it only looks awesome to you because you’re a marketer. Over the past year, I’ve looked at many monthly reports that made my head spin — it’s just too much data. The average SMB isn’t going to be able to look at those reports and figure out how their bounce rate decreasing somehow means you’re doing a great job at SEO.

2. Make conversions the focus of your report

What does the business owner care about? Hint: it’s not how you increased the ranking for one of their 50 tracked keywords this month. No, what they care about is how much additional business you drove to their business. This should be the focus of the report you send them. Small business call conversions

3. Use dynamic number insertion to track calls

If you’re not already doing this, you’re really killing your ability to show value. I don’t have a single SEO or SEM client that isn’t using call tracking. I use Call Tracking Metrics, but CallRail is another one that works well, too. This allows you to see the sources of incoming calls. Unlike slapping a call tracking number on your website, dynamic number insertion won’t mess up NAP consistency.

The bonus here is that you can set up these calls as goals in Google Analytics. Using the Landing Page report, you can see which pages on the site were responsible for getting that call. Instead of saying, “Hey customer, a few months ago I created this awesome page of content for you,” you can say “Hey customer, a few months ago, I added this page to your site and as a result, it’s got you 5 more calls.”
Conversion goal completion in Google Analytics

4. Estimate revenue

I remember sitting in a session a couple years ago when Dev Basu from Powered by Search told me about this tactic. I had a lightbulb moment, wondering why the heck I didn’t think to do this before.

The concept is simple: Ask the client what the average lifetime value of their customer is. Next, ask them what their average closing ratio is on Internet leads. Take those numbers and, based on the number of conversions, you can calculate their estimated revenue.

Formula: Lifetime Value of a Customer x Closing Ratio (%) x Number of Conversions = Estimated Revenue

Bonus tip: Take this a step further and show them that for every dollar they pay you, you make them $X. Obviously, if the lifetime value of the customer is high, these numbers look a lot better. For example, an attorney could look like this:Example monthly ROI for an attorneyWhereas an insurance agent would look like this:
Example monthly ROI for an insurance agent

5. Show before/after screenshots, not a ranking tracker.

I seriously love ranking trackers. I spend a ton of time every week looking at reports in Bright Local for my clients. However, I really believe ranking trackers are best used for marketers, not business owners. How many times have you had a client call you freaking out because they noticed a drop in ranking for one keyword? I chose to help stop this trend by not including ranking reports in my monthly reporting and have never regretted that decision.

Instead, if I want to highlight a significant ranking increase that happened as a result of SEO, I can do that by showing the business owner a visual — something they will actually understand. This is where I use Bright Local’s screenshots; I can see historically how a SERP used to look versus how it looks now.


At the end of the day, to show ROI you need to think like a business owner, not a marketer. If your goals match the goals of the business owner (which is usually to increase calls), make sure that’s what you’re conveying in your monthly reporting.

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How Push Notifications Can Increase User Engagement (With Examples)

It’s hard to imagine going anywhere without your mobile device these days. From kids tethered to their phones, to grandmas Facetiming with their grandkids, our smartphones have become as much a part of our lives as our opposing thumbs.

But just how do companies get those opposing thumbs tapping when you’re not in store, checking your email, or browsing on social media? They do it through push notifications.

Breathing New Life Into “Old” Technology

Mobile phones have been around since 1973, but shockingly, they were only used to make or take calls (and they were bulky and expensive too). It wasn’t until 2001 that Research In Motion (RIM), the company behind Blackberry, changed how we communicated on our mobile phones, paving the way for what we now know as push notifications.

Back then, if you got a new email, you’d never know it until you went to physically check your messages. This involved sending a request to the server, waiting for it to download your recent messages, and then waiting even longer for it to notify you. Because of all this traffic going to and from the server, there were limits on how many times you could do this.

With Push, RIM and Blackberry made it so that emails and updates could be received instantaneously. Blackberry devices flew off the shelves. Even the iPhone, which we typically associate with being the real game-changer on the mobile device landscape, wouldn’t be released until six years later.

But Apple was watching – and in 2009, with its iOS 3.0 update, it introduced the Apple Push Notification Service, APNS, to the world. This system was further built upon and refined in subsequent years – making it a mainstay for the way we communicate with the mobile world around us.

What Push Notifications Are and Are Not

Like a gentle tap on the shoulder from an old friend, push notifications are friendly, helpful and inviting. They are not an excuse to spam or bombard your users with irrelevant news and details. Because Push Notifications are designed to be timely, many of them revolve around actions that the consumer initiated first, such as watching a series on Netflix or booking a flight.

KAYAK notifies users if the price on a flight they’re considering has dropped. (Image Source)

Netflix sends targeted push notifications to users to entice them to watch a series, or even a trailer:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Some, like Waze, simply work as timely reminders, even if you haven’t opted in to receive notifications, but still use the app.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

But how can marketers use push notifications to engage with their users in a way that’s not intrusive, but welcomed and encouraged? Below, we’ll take a look at several examples that showcase best practices for messaging — but first, you may be wondering:

Why Bother with Push Notifications At All?

New research suggests that up to 68% of users have enabled push notification for their apps, and marketers enjoy 50% higher open rates on push notifications compared to emails. If you have a mobile app, analysis from Urban Airship has shown that mobile app retention rates are up to 10 times greater the more frequently those users receive messages.

Like email, push notifications are a signal of user interest and some degree of trust, so keep the following strategies in mind when creating a push notification campaign your users will welcome.

Let Users Determine When, Where and How You’ll Contact Them

Starbucks Rewards has a preferences center where users can manage where and when they receive push notifications. (Image Source)

Giving the user a greater degree of control over where, when, and how they receive notifications demonstrates that you’re not only respective of their time, but are keenly interested in their business as well. This push notification doubles as a welcome message and a surprise coupon for users who sign up for Starbucks’ rewards program.

The customizability of notifications is so versatile, for example, that users can block out certain days when they don’t want to receive push notifications (such as weekends) as well as the days when they wouldn’t mind an extra caffeinated jolt (like Mondays).

Create a Rich Push Notification for Greater Engagement

A rich push notification is one that contains relevant calls-to-action, such as “shop now” or “browse”. Take a look at this example from Urban Airship which shows a push notification without and with rich media added in the form of shop and share buttons:

An example of a rich push notification with call to action buttons.
Learn how to create these types of notifications for Apple and Android devices.
(Image Source)

Even if you’d rather not go quite that far with your notifications, simply piquing your users’ curiosity with emojis can help your message stand out, like this example from online shopping store Wanelo:

An example of a curious push notification with an emoji for flair. (Image Source)

Go Beyond Merely “Checking In”

Most push notifications are designed to encourage you to check back in with the app and start using it again. But what if you could do more? Here’s an example from Swarm, a mobile app that lets users share their location with people on their social network. The user in this example screenshot has just checked into a sandwich shop:

The Swarm app lets users notify their social networks when checking in to different places. (Image Source)

Not only has the app bolded the friend and the location, but uses relevant icons to share where and what it is. From here, you have the opportunity to “like” their check in or comment (perhaps on a particular flavor they should try), which in turn encourages even greater engagement.

Follow-Up Based on Previous Purchase History

You’re likely using email marketing for a great deal of order follow-ups, but what about push notifications? This example, from H&M, sends notifications out to users based on what they’ve bought previously:

(Image Source)

You can also do this with abandoned cart notifications as well to encourage users to come back to your site and complete their order, or add accessories or other products based on their prior purchases – the possibilities are just about as unlimited as those offered with email — and because push notifications are always on, you’ll have a direct line to your customer’s attention, anytime and anywhere.

Now It’s Your Turn…

Have you used similar strategies in your own push notifications? Or are you just getting started and looking for a little inspiration? Share your success stories and triumphs with us in the comments below!

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