What to Look for and Avoid When Hiring a Content Writer

Content is really the driving force behind most forms of marketing tactics including SEO, social media, and email marketing. It also is what leads to high converting web pages and helps define your brand. Content that answers the questions your audience is asking in their minds (or out loud). Content that informs and educates, so the audience feels that their time reading it was well spent. Content that tells a story, exudes candor and authenticity, and is ultimately captivating. However, the thought of constantly creating high quality content can be daunting to many business owners and even marketing departments who are pressed for time, or even experiencing writer’s block. And hiring a full time staff-writer often isn’t practical. Luckily, there are some great freelance writers that can help fill or supplement your ongoing need for great content. But how do you find a great content writer who can match the tone of your brand and deliver thought-leadership level quality pieces?

blog_2

I was recently interviewed by marketing software comparison company Software Advice on the topic of “How to Hire the Right Freelance Writers for Content Marketing.” This piece goes into great detail about what to look for and what to avoid when it comes to hiring a content writer and is worth reading in full. However, I’ll summarize a few key takeaways:

What to Look For

Find writers who have some familiarity with the subject matter, or who have experience writing at a high level on a variety of subjects. My tip was that if you’re on a tight budget or pressed for time, it helps to find someone who has at least some familiarity with the industry or concept. If you need content on topics that appeals to teenage girls, even a highly capable writer might find it difficult to accurately fit the tone and write authoritatively on the subject if they only have experience writing government policy pieces. Ideally, the content writer should be adaptable and able to cover a variety of topics in a persuasive and compelling way, so that you don’t have to look for different writers when you have new topics to cover. A great content writer should also understand the fundamental marketing and business concepts behind content marketing. They should have a strong grasp of how content is distributed and consumed online, how to craft engaging titles and copy and how to align the content with your specific business goals.

Red Flags

There are some telltale signs that you don’t have the right fit as well. A red flag is when there are spelling or grammatical mistakes in direct correspondence, or if they can’t put together a coherent thought. Additionally, like when hiring any freelancer, they should be highly responsive. If you have an ongoing need for content, you don’t want to be constantly chasing after your content writer as your brand suffers. And lastly, I discussed how it’s important to ensure they are not plagiarizing any of the content using simple tools like Google or Copyscape. While it’s perfectly acceptable and recommended to conduct research and reference facts and sources, it’s not acceptable to copy entire thoughts or sections verbatim from another article without attribution. If discovered, this not only damages your brand and credibility, but Google doesn’t give you any love for doing it, either. 

Getting Started

Whether you’ve selected a content writer or are still deciding between a few candidates, provide a couple options that can serve as test articles to do a final evaluation of their performance before committing to a longer term engagement. It’s important to communicate with your content writer because you know your business and the tone of your brand better than anyone. So don’t just hand them a topic and ask them to start writing. Clearly articulate the style and purpose so that the writer can understand the context and your expectations.

With content playing such an important role in your overall marketing strategy, finding a capable freelance content writer to support your efforts will allow you to increase engagement with your customers and potential customers, help define and elevate the authority of your brand, and ultimately should help you grow your business.

 

 

How to Set Up Google Analytics Goal Tracking

I’ve often written about the critical importance of goal tracking as it pertains to measuring and optimizing your website conversion rate. A goal is whatever action you are trying to get the website visitor to take on a page, I.E. submit a form, click a link, complete a purchase, or even stay on a page for a certain amount of time. By setting goals for your site and measuring them in Google Analytics, you can establish a baseline to iterate against, as well as measure the effectiveness of each source of traffic in achieving those goals. So you can gain insight into how your organic search traffic performs compared to your paid search, or how each email or social media post contributes to your goals. You can get very granular in how you segment this data and better understand where to focus your efforts.

So how do you actually set up Google Analytics goal tracking for your site?

To start:

  1. Go to Google Analytics
  2. Click on the “Admin” button in the top right
  3. Click on “Goals”
  4. From one of the Goal sets, click “+ Goal”

Then you have to decide what type of goal you want to measure. Google provides a few sample ideas of goals, but essentially they are just named variations of the 4 types:

 

Type

Description

Example

Destination

A specific location loads

Thank you for registering! web page or app screen (I.E. thanks.html)

Duration

Sessions that lasts a specific amount of time or longer

10 minutes of longer spent on a support site

Pages/Screens per session

A user views a specific number of pages or screens

5 pages or screens have been loaded

Event

An action defined as an Event is triggered

Social recommendation, video play, ad click, link click

 

Destination Goal

Google Analytics Destination Goal

Click to Enlarge

A destination goal is useful for tracking an objective that requires a specific page to load and one of the most commonly used types of goal tracking since it is often used for major activities like tracking leads generated or orders placed. .

Ex. If you would like to track the number of ‘contact us’ form fill-outs, you could use a URL destination goal to track the number of times the ‘thank you for contacting us’ page is loaded. Or if you’re tracking the number of orders placed, you can track the “order complete” page.

Funnel
Goal funnels allow you to see exactly how many people move through each step of the goal conversion process. For example, if your checkout process is split up into 3 pages (cart, shipping/payment details, and confirmation) you can add each of these URLs as steps in the  process. You will then be able to measure where visitors fall off once they start the process, if they do not complete it.

 

Duration Goal

A duration goal is used to track the amount of time that a user spends on your website.

Google Analytics Duration Goal

Click to Enlarge

Ex. If you would like to know when a user is engaged with your site and spends 3 minutes or more on your website, you could use a visit duration goal to track instances where this happens. If you have a customer support related site, perhaps you want to measure if visitors are easily finding what they need within 3 minutes of landing at your page. You can use duration goals to track this metric as well.

Pages per Visit Goal

The pages per visit goal is ideal for when you want to track a certain number of pageviews in a single visit.

Google Analytics Pages Goal

Click to Enlarge

Ex. If you would like to know when a user visits 5 pages or less in a single visit.

Similar to visit duration goals, instead of tracking how much time people spend on your site, this goal tracks the number of pages each visitor sees before they leave.

Event Goal

An event goal uses an event (clicking a link, playing a video, etc.) as the basis for a conversion

Google Analytics Event Goal

Click to Enlarge

Ex. An event goal is ideal for tracking conversions around objectives that require the user to take a specific action on the page.

Event goals are a little bit more complicated because you have to set up the events and you have to add a bit of JavaScript code to the element that you want to track. This tells Google Analytics when an event has occurred. For more details on how to do this, please refer to The Google Analytics Event Tracking Guide.

Goal Values

Wouldn’t you like to know how much money you make from organic search? Or the ROI of your individual marketing campaigns? Google Analytics Goals does a great job at telling you where customers came from but they don’t immediately calculate the value of that traffic.

Goal values allows you to define the worth for each of our goals and then cross references that data within your traffic reports so you can determine your sources of revenue. If you have an average value per lead or a single product website, it’s easy to plug in that amount as a goal conversion value. The exception is if you have a multi-product ecommerce retail site, there are dynamic ecommerce conversion and revenue tracking options that are much more suitable. I’ll explain those in a separate post. Remember to keep your goal values current based on your internal metrics.

By now it should be abundantly clear that goal tracking is essential to understanding how your website and marketing is performing. What goals are you tracking on your site? Tell me in the comments!

 

Top online marketing myths

Top 5 Online Marketing Myths

Jumping into online marketing with unrealistic expectations or a misunderstanding of what is required to position yourself for success is a surefire way to waste both time and money. So, I put together the top 5 online marketing myths and misconceptions that I’ve heard from friends and clients:

Online Marketing Myth #1:

My product is so good, I don’t need marketing

This is probably the #1 online marketing myth that many business owners and entrepreneurs still believe. “All I need to do is post my idea on social media, and it’s definitely going to go viral!” While the internet offers a great and (sometimes) inexpensive medium to get the word out about your company to a potentially large audience, you’re competing with the millions of other companies and websites all vying for attention, mind-share, and wallet-share. So while it absolutely helps to have an exceptional product/service and can even be critical to the long term success of your business, you still need to get the word out and then convert visitors into customers once they are at your site. Apple spent millions (and later billions) advertising the iPhone even though it was a game-changing product. And while it’s great to have viral, easily share-able elements in your marketing, the expectation of your business going viral, or even a reliance on that happening is simply not a marketing plan.

Online Marketing Myth #2:

People will buy my product because it’s cheaper than the competition

First, people have to actually know you exist. Offering a cheaper price than your big name competition doesn’t do any good if no one knows about you. Some of the products I offered through my sites were cheaper than what Amazon.com sold them for. Yet Amazon probably sold 10 times the amount of that product than my company did, because Amazon has far more customers and greater awareness. Cheap prices don’t automatically translate into massive word of mouth, PR and market share. You still have to create awareness using fundamental online marketing tactics and still have to convey a sense of trust and value that goes beyond just offering similar features to a competitor at a lower price. Incidentally, it’s wise to consider if can you still offer such low pricing once you factor in the time and expense associated with creating awareness for your site.

Second, the problem with focusing on price is that it leads to you getting the type of customer you’re asking for: price shoppers. [Tweet “Focusing on price gets you the type of customer you’re asking for: price shoppers.”] Alex Turbull from Groove (a customer service SAAS product) puts it well:

[Price shoppers are] higher maintenance, far less loyal, and gone at the drop of a hat when a cheaper option comes along. Plus, if you try to compete for customers on price, a bigger player can always lower their prices to bleed you out of business. We learned that we had to compete on other differentiators. Ones that actually made people want to do business with us because we were the best choice for them, not because we were the cheapest. We needed customers who were motivated by more than price.

Tony Hsieh, founder and CEO of Zappos.com has said the same and even stopped offering to price match competitors for these same reasons.

Online Marketing Myth #3:

I want the most traffic possible to my website

There is a big difference between attracting traffic and the right kind of traffic.  Getting 100 highly qualified prospects to your website of which 15 become leads or customers is better than 1000 visitors of which 10 become leads or customers. The online marketing myth that says your goal should be to get as many eyeballs as possible on your site is simply not accurate. That’s likely to be expensive and ultimately unproductive. You goal is to create content that has value and appeals to your target audience to attract them to your site and to focus on marketing through channels that you believe will produce relevant prospects.

Online Marketing Myth #4:

I created a great site, so my work is done

You’ve hired great designers to create a beautiful website. Spent hours coming up with the copy for each page. It’s gone live and your friends and employees you showed it to think it looks great. You’re all set, right? Not even close. If you aren’t expecting to have to consistently create great content and find ways to engage your customer through a variety of channels outside of your site to build an audience, your investment in your attractive new site could be for nothing. It’s a lengthy, time consuming process to start generating meaningful traffic. Make sure you have allocated the time and budget to execute an ongoing online marketing plan. Your great new site will hopefully help convert those visitors into leads and customers, but even the site itself is always a work in progress.

Online Marketing Myth #5:

I don’t sell products online, so I don’t really need to do internet marketing

At the very least have a presence on the web so that customers, business partners and even potential employees can quickly and easily find out more about your business and the products or services you offer. Ensuring that your presence accurately and reflects your brand can help your business build a relationship with your customers that extends offline. Furthermore, it makes your brand more memorable next time they are in the market for your product or service or passing by your location. Even using your site for non-transactional purposes such as to generate leads or cultivate a mailing list allows you to locate customers online and drive them to your offline business. Finding new customers and engaging existing customers through online channels even for an offline business is critical to the success and growth of your business.

What others can you think of? Be sure to leave it in the comments!

Split Testing

What is Split Testing?

Split Testing Overview

Split testing (also referred to as A/B testing or multivariate testing) is a method of conducting automated and random experiments with the goal of improving a predetermined website metric, such as number of clicks on a specific element (I.E. add to cart button, register button, play a video, click for more info), form completions (I.E. registrations, opt-ins, contact requests), or purchases. Incoming traffic to the website is distributed between the original (control) and one or more variations. This is transparent to the visitor, who does not know they are part of an experiment. You, the tester, waits for a statistically significant difference in behavior to emerge. The more traffic the page gets, the faster you can obtain statistically relevant results. The results from each variation are then compared to determine which version showed the greatest improvement. If it is determined that there is a clear winner, you would likely update your site to incorporate the elements from your winning experiment. (And then start a new experiment to improve it further!)

What Types of Elements Can Be Split Tested?

Nearly any element can be varied for a split test. For example:

  • Visual elements: pictures, videos, and colors (Does a photo of a smiling man help convert better than a serious man? Does an orange button convert better than a green one?)
  • Text: headlines, calls to action, and page copy (Does “Get Your Free Quote” convert better than “Receive an Instant Quote?” Do bullet points convert better than a paragraph? Does adding a customer testimonial help increase conversions?)
  • Layout: arrangement and size of buttons, menus, and forms (Does a form with 3 fields convert better than one with 5? Does a register button on the left convert better than having it on the right?)
  • Traffic flow: how a user gets from point A to B (Does a 2 page checkout convert better than a 3 page checkout? Do more people sign up for a free trial on page 3 after visiting page 1, then 2, then 3? Or Page 1, then 4, then 3?)

ab split testing

Split Testing Email

Split testing isn’t only used for testing webpages. It can be very useful for testing your emails as well. You can answer questions such as, What’s the best day to send your email marketing campaign?  What time? What kind of subject line works best? Something promotional? (Save 10% on Widgets Today Only!) Or something more subtle and informative? (Find Out How Our New Widget Can Save You Time.) You can set goals such as opens, clicks, or ROI for each email variation. First, make sure you integrated analytics into your emails. Many email service providers such as Mailchimp and Aweber can do this for you automatically and also offer certain reporting capabilities such as the number of opens and clicks directly in their system. You can then set up segments of your email list, perhaps sending one version of an email to 10% of your list and then 10% to another version (or the same version, but at a different time.) You can then see which performed better and send the remaining 80% out using the winning version, or at the winning time.

A/B Split Testing

(Courtesy: Mailchimp.com)

Some Split Testing Best Practices

  • Simplify: generally, fewer page elements create less distractions from the conversion goal.
  • Don’t forget about the overall business goals: test with the overarching goal of the website in mind, not just the goals of individual pages. For example, one page might generate more clicks, but fewer checkout completions. Or, one version of an email might generate more opens, but less sales.
  • Test one element at a time: Testing one element at a time is called A/B testing, while testing multiple elements on a single page is called multivariate testing. Unless you have a testing tool capable of interpreting more complex multivariate results, it’s important to test one element at a time (although you can have multiple variations of this one element.) For example, just change the call to action, or an image on the page, or the position of your testimonials. Otherwise you can’t be sure which element had an impact, and by how much. If you test two elements and one results in an increase on performance of 10%, while the other results in a decrease of 10%, you might assume that the net benefit of your changes is zero; that there was no difference in page performance. In reality, if you only added the positive performing element, you would have seen a 10% increase which could be a big win.
  • It’s not all about drastic changes: Don’t be seduced by the idea that all variations in an A/B test have to be huge, obvious transformations. Even subtle changes can have a demonstrable effect, such as slightly editing a list of product features to persuade users to request more information, or phrasing a call to action differently to drive user engagement. It’s a gradual, granular process. Keep iterating until your conversion rate for that page is maxed out.
  • Don’t make assumptions: Just like a scientist tests a hypothesis, that should be your approach to split testing. Use hard A/B test data to make informed business decisions – no matter how much it surprises you.
  • Resist the temptation to jump to a conclusion: Even if you’re getting strong initial results, let the test run it’s course.  Economists and data scientists rely on a principle known as statistical significance to ensure that the data has a high probability of accuracy and this relies on a large data sample. Without it, you run the risk of making business decisions based on bad data.

Split testing doesn’t have to be complicated. Services such as Visual Website Optimizer, AB Tasty and Optimizely offer interfaces that allow you to create page variations without touching your website code. Conversion Rate Experts has a great breakdownof the numerous split testing tools and platforms that are available. With easy ways to do split testing of your website and emails, there is no excuse for settling for the status quo. There is always room for improvement throughout your site. So once you find improvements, don’t stop there. Keep testing!

Brand Storytelling

Online Brand Storytelling – Why Creating a Narrative is Critical

Nearly 15 years ago, when I started a company out of my college dorm room at 21 years old  (before upgrading to the basement of a townhouse), one of the first things I did was Photoshop our logo onto a stock photo of a big, fancy office building and stick that image on the “About Us” page of the website. The internet, and particularly ecommerce was still new and a bit scary, and most customers sure weren’t interested in handing their personal info over to a website run by some kid out of his apartment.

How things have changed. As the internet and its users (including myself) matured, I came to the realization that truth should be the cornerstone of your content. Customers are smart (not to mention resourceful) enough to sniff out a brand that doesn’t exude genuine authenticity, and relate more to ones that do. Furthermore, especially these days, the story of a lean start-up with humble beginnings run by young entrepreneurs can be on full display like a badge of honor. It was part of the history and identity of my brand. Every startup and small business has a story to tell; something that will connect potential customers to your brand. It helps create a relationship with your brand, expresses your core values, and makes you distinctive and  memorable…basically  the definition of branding.  Or as marketing guru Seth Godin puts it, “Brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”

Many entrepreneurs are so enthusiastic about their company, or are so close to it that they assume their audience understands it like they do and is just as interested as they are. Focusing on specifications or a “corporate” descriptions of what you do will be lost on most of your audience, not to mention can come off as self-indulgent and flat-out boring. On the other hand, a compelling and inspiring narrative about what you do, why you do it, and how it will make something better will help attract, captivate and motivate people.

What’s Your Story?

How is your product being created? What defines your corporate culture? Why do you do what you do? You’re looking for the things that your organization truly cares about and makes you unique and valuable to the world around you. If you’re having trouble figuring this out, get some insight from your employees and customers. These people interact with your brand; learning what makes your employees value your company and culture and what makes your customers value your products and brand can help you understand how your brand is positioned.

If Your Brand Was a Person, Who Would it Be?

Once you know why you matter and how to describe your value, you can create a persona that exemplifies this.  If your business was a human being, who would it be, how would it speak, and what would it care about? Are you quirky? Rugged? Analytical? That clarity leads to a real and relatable persona and humanized brand that helps you build a loyal customer base. This authenticity also helps convey openness, integrity and honesty; attributes that can pay big dividends for your business.

The tone your brand uses should reflect this persona and be consistent across all customer touch points. Some of these touch points include:

  • Your website
  • All social media channels
  • Your blog
  • Your newsletter
  • Videos
  • All transaction and service related inquiries

So it’s critical that all of your staff, particularly those that touch the customer, understand this persona and can accurately match the tone. If you have a strong company culture that is consistent with your brand, this persona should already resonate with the inherent personalities of your staff.

Take a hard look at your current content. Then think about how you can pull stories out of your organization and weave them into your content in a way that relates to your customer and ultimately builds your brand.

[button size=”extra-large” color=”mystic-red” url=”www.getonlinewithme.com/contact”]Help Me Tell My Story[/button]

Page 4 of 6« First...23456