Category: B2B and social media

Why “resonance” is the future of SEO

future of seo

One of the problems in the digital marketing world today is that leaders are using an outdated playbook — especially when it comes to Search Engine Optimization. I think the future of SEO is taking some pretty wild and unexpected turns right now so let’s explore that today.

Content as SEO fuel

The major innovation with SEO over the past few years is that it has largely become a content strategy. Beginning with the “inbound marketing” concept introduced by Hubspot in 2005 and growing into very sophisticated AI-driven techniques today, creating content that can auto-magically bring qualified leads to your site has been a reliable strategy.

But there are a few trends that are changing that and content certainly does not work for SEO like it used to. The future of SEO is moving in a dramatic new direction.

The changing search landscape

Let’s look at the future of SEO and content as it is unveiling itself through three significant trends.

First — voice search. When you search Alexa or Google home by verbalizing a question, you don’t get a list of content sugestions like blog posts or videos. You get an answer. So content has a much-diminished impact in the world of voice search.

It’s impossible to tell exactly how much of the total search pie is going to voice queries, but let’s be ultra-conservative and say 20 percent.

future of seo

When you ask Alexa or Siri to do something for you, you normally don’t get a list of blog posts or podcast episodes in the results. So the implication is that your content is potentially impacting much less of the search market than it did in the pre-voice days five years ago. But wait, it gets worse.

Trend number two — Last month, something very significant happened in the search world. For the first time, more than half (51 percent) of the search inquiries on Google were kept by Google. This means, Google kept the SEO “answers” away from businesses and content creators and directed them to their own knowledge panels, internal properties, and paid partnerships.

Will this continue to grow in the Google direction? The government will have some say over this. Google’s increasing dominance in this space is a subject of a Department of Justice probe. The company owns the dominant tool at every link in the complex chain between online publishers and advertisers, giving it unique power over the monetization of digital content.

So now we have a truer picture of the emerging search world. In the past five years, the majority of organic search traffic that was available to be attracted by your content has been in steady decline.

future of seo content in decline

The main idea here is, the available search inquiries that can be served by your SEO-oriented content has been evaporating over the past five years.

And when we look at the future of SEO … it gets even worse.

Trend three — While the piece of the pie available to organic search inquiries has been in rapid decline, the amount of content competing for that shrinking pie has literally exploded.

When you have more and more content competing for the same search traffic, eventually content marketing is not a sustainable strategy for some businesses. This is an idea I proposed some years ago called Content Shock.

future of seo content shock

This graph from WordPress shows the number of blog posts published each month since the beginning of the content marketing era. You don’t have to be a statistician to realize it’s harder to compete for attention in a world of 80 million blog posts every month compared to one million a month 10 years ago. In fact, your competition has increased by 8,000 percent in a few years. A tough world for an inbound marketer!

Of course, the same thing is happening on podcasts, visual content, and video (there are 300 hours of new video uploaded to YouTube every minute of the day!).

To break through in this environment, you need to either spend more money on quality to win the content arms race or spend more to promote your content. Either way, traditional content marketing becomes more expensive and less accessible for many businesses in this environment.

So is this the end of content marketing?

No.

We just need to think about content and its benefits in an entirely different way.

SEO and the junkyard dogs

I was recently hired by a company in Seattle to conduct a personal branding workshop based on my book KNOWN.

When you think about it, this was an extremely unlikely pairing. If you search for “personal branding consultant,” there are 40 million results. Even if you search for “personal branding consultant Seattle” there are 2.1 million results.

I am not in those top search results. Not even close.

This is not an unusual situation for a small business. I am NEVER going to be in the top search results. Really, the only thing that matters is the top three slots. The top three slots will be won by the biggest, meanest, richest SEO junkyard dogs.

It’s an expensive and never-ending battle that I will never win for terms like “digital marketing consultant,” “marketing strategy, “keynote speaker,” or any of the other jobs that I do.

Chances are, unless you’re the junkyard dog in your industry, you won’t win your SEO battle either. And yet, every company I know is pouring money into content trying to win the SEO battle!

This just makes no sense.

But here I was in Seattle, conducting an awesome workshop. How did my client find me in all this hopeless SEO mess? Through my content. But not through search.

The business case for resonance

The night before my workshop, I had a wonderful seafood dinner with my client. I asked my friend … “Why did you hire me?”

“Your content resonates with me,” he said without hesitation.

Isn’t that an interesting word … resonates.

My content was not at the top of an SEO stack for personal branding. I’m certainly not going to make the Alexa hit parade.

But a person who hired me for this important work chose me because there was an emotional connection that resonated with him on a personal and professional level.

This reveals a more practical and realistic value of content in this competitive environment, and a value that is almost entirely overlooked by marketers today.

At this point, I would like to interrupt myself. Whenever I write a mega-trend blog post like this, I am pointing out an idea that is very broad … and it may not apply to everybody. There certainly is still room today for SEO-driven content, and there always will be as far out into the future as I can see. The numbers I’ve presented here are high level. The true search volume for your industry could result in mostly organic results, especially in smaller niche markets.

The answer to every marketing question is, “it depends,” and that is certainly true here.

But overall, SEO-driven content is probably working less well for most businesses and content that attracts customers due to its authority is becoming more important.

Content and authority

So there are really two basic content strategies you can use to win new business: Content meant to win SEO and content meant to earn authority (content that resonates with readers). And of course, you can have overlap between these strategies:

future of seo

I won the business in Seattle — against all SEO odds — because I ignored SEO. I write for my readers. If I do that well and consistently, I’ll earn subscribers. Eventually, these subscribers will grow to know me, trust me and hire me. I think that is the future of SEO, which is really not SEO at all!

It’s a different way to look at content strategy but for 90 percent of the businesses out there who will never win the SEO battle, content built on authority might be the best and only strategic option.

I’m not creating content to trick you into clicking a link. I am creating content that consistently connects with your hopes and dreams and business needs. I’m building a long-term connection that resonates.

Make sense?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Unsplash.com. 

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The surprising math behind a growing social media community

growing social media community

I often get asked about the art and science of building a healthy and growing social media community and today I’d like to introduce an unusual concept — the surprising math behind building your online tribe.

Here’s an example to illustrate the lesson for today …

Let’s say you’re having wonderful success building a growing social media community, whether that means a blog, YouTube channel, or Facebook Group. You’re creating a safe and meaningful environment, adding unique value, and engaging with an active audience.

For argument’s sake, I’ll assume you’re doing so extremely well that you’re adding an average of 20 new members to your community every single day. Good for you!

Now comes the surprising part. Here is a chart that shows the expected total growth of your community over 600 days if you add an average of 20 new members every single day:

growing social media community

At this point, you might be thinking that I am really bad at math.

This is simple right? 600 days x 20 new people means you should have a total audience of 12,000 people, not 2,000!

How is it possible to have zero growth over time? This should be a straight line up into the atmosphere, right? You’re adding 20 people a day!

Well … yes and no.

The growing social media community

When forecasting your community growth, you have to consider a very sad fact of life. People leave the community.

growing social media community

My daily struggle!

It might not be your fault. People leave their jobs, move away, they become disinterested in your good work and move on to something else. There are a lot of reasons, but people come and go.

How many people can you expect to leave a community? As you know, the answer to every marketing question is “it depends!”

But for me, I average an audience loss of about three quarters of one percent, week in and week out. Let’s round up and call it 1 percent. So, for every 100 people active in my growing social media community, one of them leaves.

Here are the reasons I lose subscribers in a typical month:

growing social media community

UNSUBSCRIBE — Means people just don’t want my content any more. When people unsubscribe it might because the content is no longer relevant to their job or they are simply getting too many emails.

HARD BOUNCE — A hard bounce indicates that the subscriber’s email address is no longer any good. They may have changed email provider, switched jobs or moved.

PERSISTENTLY UNDELIVERABLE –These subscribers have been marked as undeliverable for at least two weeks and more than three delivery attempts. They appear to be unresponsive, unreachable or abandoned email accounts.

Like any proud papa, I hate it when people leave the tribe. But it’s a fact of life. You will keep gaining people, but you may also lose about 1 percent for whatever reason. On the first chart, we observed that once we hit about 2,000 people in our vibrant, growing social media community, we are also LOSING 20 people (20 is 1 percent of 2,000) every time we add 20 people.

So, at that community size, gaining 20 people per week or over whatever timeframe, means your growth had flatlined! There are weeks I get 70 new subscribers and have a net gain of one!

Building a buffer into your plans

To compensate for the natural attrition in your community or content audience, you actually have to set a target to grow your followers at an increasing rate.

In this example, when you reach 2,000 subscribers, to keep a growing social media community going at a steady pace you actually have to add 40 people, not 20!

The implication is, the more you grow, the more you have to grow.

The bigger your audience, the better you have to be just to stay even.

A common social media problem

Maybe you have not considered this little dilemma before, but when you think about it, it makes sense, right?

I see this dynamic happening all the time in my client work. They don’t understand why they are working so hard yet don’t seem to be getting anywhere.

The simple reason is, good enough today isn’t good enough tomorrow if you want to keep growing.

Make sense?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Unsplash.com. 

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Why there is no first mover advantage in social media

first mover advantage

One of my readers left this comment the other day as she advocated that you should establish a foothold in every emerging social media channel — a first mover advantage:

“If you’re among the first on a new social network, it will be easier for you to become big there, compared to arriving there after everyone else. Assuming the network survives, you’ll be set up for success.”

This seems to make sense, and we have certainly seen this “first mover advantage” play out in many marketing strategies over the years.

But today I will take a contrary position and offer a more realistic strategy when it comes to approaching social media channels.

The impossible risk of first mover advantage

Here’s the first challenge to a first mover strategy — finding the energy to do it all!

Here’s a popular chart that illustrates some of the most popular social media networks (please don’t strain your eyes!):

first mover advantage

Don’t even bother trying to read it or understand it. I’m just making the point that there is a lot of stuff out there.

Trying to keep up with it all and place the right business bet is hazardous duty.

An example … One of my friends bet the ranch on a streaming video channel called Meerkat. He became an advocate and spoke at Meerkat events. He wore Meerkat t-shirts. He pushed tons of content on the platform and indeed became the undisputed Meerkat stud.

In less than a year, Meerkat was dead. His content went poof. His status evaporated. He had dedicated a good portion of his life to a social media channel that is now a memory.

There are not too many people (or businesses) that can afford to make that mistake over and over with every new platform that comes along.

No focus equals no excellence

Challenge number two: If you’re trying to be everywhere, you will be great nowhere.

There is only one way to stand out on any social media channel — earn an audience through consistently valuable and entertaining content.

Unless you have a huge team of people working on that for you, there is simply no practical way to maintain an excellent presence everywhere.

A better strategy is to be superior in one or two carefully-selected places.

Nobody cares

Eventually, the best content wins, not the person who was there first.

Let’s look at TikTok as an example. This is the social media rage right now. Simply being first means nothing if you’re not relevant, interesting, entertaining and superior according to the high school kids who love it there.

Nobody cares that you were there first. Why would they?

Be a fast follower

Here’s a better strategy: Let other people be the pioneers and figure things out. Then, be a fast follower.

In the history of business, the first movers almost never win.

One small example — the Apple iPod.

The iPod was one of the most successful product introductions in history but it wasn’t the first portable MP3 player in the market, or even the second or third. Apple let the others make mistakes and build a market and then came in with something that was more relevant and superior.

I think this same philosophy works in the social media space, too.

Being a first mover and maintaing a presence everywhere on social media sounds like a good strategy, but honestly, I can’t think of any practical reason to do that.

Think of that Meerkat example — It would have been a lot smarter to wait to see if it actually worked out before going all-in!

So when it comes to social media, take the first mover advantage advice with a grain of salt. Be patient and place your bets in the channels that emerge as important and relevant to your customers. The fast follower wins.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy of Unsplash.com

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What is the current state of content distribution? The answer is “who”

content distribution

I was recently in a lively discussion about the state of content distribution and it reminded me that this is a topic I haven’t covered in a long time. This was a dominant theme for me when I was working on the 2015 book The Content Code and it’s time to take a fresh look at things. So let’s dig in.

Content shock is alive and well

We are approaching the fifth anniversary of the most popular blog post I’ve written — Content Shock. It went viral because it pricked at the pomposity of the content marketing gurus and proclaimed that the popular notion of inbound marketing just doesn’t work like it used to.

And … it doesn’t.

There’s no denying that my prediction came true. As niches swelled with meaningful, helpful content, it became more difficult and expensive to compete. Social sharing and page views declined and our collective ability to stand out was muted by this hurricane of content competitors.

This suggested that content alone could no longer be the answer to the marketer’s dilemma. Creating more content just added to the problem. We needed our content to move. It had to be seen, it had to be shared. It had to be ignited.

Content ignition — that is the true source of content marketing value! There is no economic value to publishing content unless that content is seen and shared.

So how do we ignite our content? Let’s look at the state of the nation.

First — A caveat. There is no cookie-cutter solution or idea in the marketing world. Every industry, business, and product is complex. So, there are lots of exceptions. Today I am presenting high-level ideas, not specific solutions.

Search engine optimization

For nearly three decades, SEO has been the go-to strategy for content distribution. There is no more intoxicating marketing idea than having high potential customers auto-magically find our content organically through that little search box.

That is the heart of the idea behind inbound marketing, a concept that is much less relevant today than it was five years ago.

SEO is important, and it always will be, but my view it is far less important to most businesses than they think, for a simple reason. To win at SEO, you have to own one of the top search results. So in this never-ending battle for SEO supremacy, there can only be one or two winners in an entire product category.

In essence, SEO is like two big, mean junkyard dogs fighting over the same bone, week after week, year after year. Unless you’re one of those top dogs, SEO can be an expensive way to achieve endless frustration. Another option for content ignition — and probably a better option for most businesses — is to develop content that builds authority.

Authority-based content is produced for the customer, not a search engine, and wins the distribution war if it is good enough to earn customer subscriptions and organic advocacy.

If you want to dive into this idea more deeply, here are resources that can help. In another blog post, I explain the junkyard dog idea and in a second post I break down the two most likely content marketing strategies, including authority.

Promotions and advertising

If we can’t organically earn our way into the attention span of our customers, can we buy our way in through ads that boost our content? That is also getting more difficult.

Here’s a sign of the advertising apocalypse before us. One of the themes at the last Cannes Lions Festival was the desperate push from agencies to get Netflix to show ads. This sad and ridiculous strategy is coming about because of a couple of megatrends.

First, at an increasing rate, content being consumed today does not feature ads. Netflix. Amazon Prime. Spotify. Audiobooks. None of them show ads. Why? Consumers hate ads and consumers always win. Traditional advertising as we know it is dying.

Second, the only place where advertising is growing — digital — is filling up. As the ad inventory declines, the prices rise, making digital ads less accessible for some businesses, or products with slim margins.

Advertising is still a relevant content distribution strategy in some places of course, but it is also a victim of Content Shock — as the competition to standout increases, the cost to compete and distribute that content rises until some businesses will simply have to drop out.

The importance of WHO

So in this weird and noisy world, how do we get our message through? I think the future of content marketing and distribution is found in the word WHO.

Content distribution is a real mess compared to a few years ago. It’s harder to get our content seen and shared and even when we boost it with an ad, people probably still don’t see it or believe it. In fact, trust in businesses, brands, and ads have declined 10 years in a row, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Who do people trust? Each other! We trust people like …

  • Friends and neighbors
  • Business leaders
  • Technical experts
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Influencers and celebrities

I believe completely that this simple fact will dictate the future of content marketing and content distribution.

The key idea is that yes, the WHAT of our story is important, but perhaps even more important is the WHO — WHO IS TELLING THE STORY?

If your company is telling the story through your content, it’s less likely that it will be seen, believed, and shared. But if people I trust are telling me this story, the content becomes internalized and actionable. The content ignites in the very best way — from people we trust.

Content ignition through trusted audiences is the true state of the art in content distribution. If you want to dive into this a little more, in another post I describe how this is an ongoing process of being invited on to the customer “islands.”

The future of content distribution

Marketing success in this new environment means adopting an entirely new mindset. We do not control the message, the pipeline, or the customer journey. The customer is the marketer. How do we help them do the job?

This is a scary and unfamiliar concept. It’s going to be hard to explain to a boss who is still entrenched in 2013. Content marketing success is going to be harder to measure. It’s going to take some bold leadership to accomplish.

But in this world of rapid change and uncertainty, this is one thing I know: We don’t have a choice but to keep moving ahead. We have to pivot and accept these new marketing realities.

The future of content distribution will rely on us creating stories and experiences that are so unmissable and conversational that the customers become the marketing department.

The key to our future success isn’t necessarily the story. It’s who is telling it.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Unsplash.com

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If marketing is essential, why are marketing jobs going away?

marketing jobs

Marketing jobs are in decline and, on the surface, it might be hard to understand why.

I studied for three years under the famous management guru Peter Drucker and one of his most beloved quotes is:

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.”

I happen to believe Dr. Drucker and I believe in this vision.

If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business. If you don’t have innovation, you can’t retain those customers.

So, if marketing is “the distinguishing, unique function of the business,” why are so many important marketing jobs going away?

Marketing jobs in decline

In a new report, Forrester reports that the CMO position is under attack.

In an annual forecast, the consulting firm points to the elimination of the CMO position at dozens of high-profile brands, including Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg’s, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Netflix, and Walmart. It also cites the 20-year-old transition to digital as the key force behind the transformation of marketing jobs from brand-builders to data-focused, short-term revenue drivers.

  • Following the elimination of the CMO role at a number of large organizations this year, the remaining marketing chiefs will find themselves in a “desperate fight for survival.” The key to survival will be establishing control over the customer experience in order to provide short-term value.
  • Successful CMOs will no longer be exclusively focused on marketing but will be centrally responsible for “customer obsession” by expanding their control to customer experience, company values, brand innovation, and employee experience.
  • The key marketing task, says the report, is aligning resources so that brand value can be generated and delivered quickly to customers.

What’s going on here?

There are lots of factors behind this “desperate fight for survival,” but chief among them is a disconnect between the traditional expectations of marketing and the new reality.

This is precisely the chasm I described in my Marketing Rebellion book. At most companies, the vision for marketing is completely out of whack with the consumer reality. This is not an easy problem to solve.

The C-suite leaders at most companies are asleep and they don’t know they’re asleep. In fact, most companies are going through a “transformation” on every piece of their business except marketing. The marketing transformation is NOT going to come from buying more technology. It will come as a mindset change and a realization that the customers are in control — the customer is the marketing department.

Businesses must eventually replace their ideas of what drives consumer action with a new and expanded view of their customer expectations, taking into account how the media environment has changed those expectations as well as the value consumers now seek from brands (transparency, purpose, alignment with values).

Marketing must transition from being the “creators of messages” to the “owners and sustainers of the experience.” This requires decoupling marketing from the product (gasp!) and viewing its function as a  long-term pathway to growth, not just a mechanism to boost quarterly sales.

Let’s talk about marketing jobs …

In the new episode of The Marketing Companion, Brooke Sellas and I explore this vital issue. If marketing leaders are in a desperate fight for survival, what can be done about it?

We discuss the megatrends that present an existential crisis for the marketing function:

  • Working toward short-term quarterly goals instead of long-term brand-building
  • Focus on messaging instead of experiences
  • Lack of awareness of fundamental consumer shifts (or an unwillingness to address them)
  • A preoccupation with recession preparedness that may hurt marketing
  • An unmet need to consolidate all customer experiences behind the marketing function

This is one of our most interesting episodes ever!. And it gets even better when we blow the top off this new influencer trend of “sad fishing.” Since when is “anxiety” an engagement strategy? You have to hear this one!

And it all starts with a click:

Click on this link to listen to Episode 176

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