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3 Events that are Shaping Content Marketing in 2011

Content marketing is about creating and distributing informative content that will help to convert prospects into customers and customers into repeat buyers. The goal is to gain opt-in permission from relevant target audiences to continually deliver content via email or other social media channels. Ongoing exposure fosters a relationship that provides multiple opportunities for conversion versus the “one-shot” all-or-nothing approach of traditional outbound marketing practices (such as, online ads, tradeshows or cold calling). Ultimately, the success of your content marketing plan hinges upon your ability to deliver content with independent value that builds trust, credibility and authority for your business.

If you don’t have a robust content marketing plan in place, now is the time to get one. Recent changes to the Google algorithm along with announcements that YouTube is entering the content creation game and Gmail’s addition of Smart Labels, which automatically sort out any kind of mass mailings highlight the fact that a sound content marketing plan has shifted from a “nice-to-have” to marketing essential in 2011.

  1. Google Dings Low-Quality Content Sites Although Google regularly changes its search algorithm with little recognition, the February 2011 change has definitely caught some companies off guard, devastating some websites’ rankings – and thus their traffic. Google made changes to reduce the high rankings of sites with duplicate content and low quality content (i.e., content farms with a low ratio of content to ads) on the search engine result pages. Companies with websites that had learned how to manipulate Google rankings (and were good at it) took a big hit. Google said the update was designed to provide better rankings for high-quality sites, those with “original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, and thoughtful analysis.”
  2. YouTube Becomes a Creator of Content If the changes to the Google algorithm isn’t enough to convince you that content will rule supreme in 2011 and beyond, then perhaps you will be impressed by the fact that YouTube has allocated $100 million to pay for the development of its own original content. This is no small bet. While the move was surely motivated by a desire to generate more profits from ad dollars, the interesting takeaway for B2B marketers is that online consumption of content is increasing and the playing field is leveling as consumers move away from traditional media outlets to whatever sources provide the best content.
  3. Gmail Allows Users to Give Email Marketers the Slip Google’s move to allow Gmail users to automatically filter out all bulk mailings (classified as any kind of mass mailing, including newsletters and promotions) emphasizes the fact that consumers are growing tired of the deluge of email. After years of spam and over zealous email marketing programs, consumers are looking for ways to reclaim control of their inboxes. Employing tricks to avoid the spam filters will no longer be sufficient. Moving forward, email marketers are going to have to earn their keep in the inbox or risk automatic exile into the dreaded bulk folder.

2011 Content Marketing Essentials

Search Engine Optimization
If you care about search engine rankings, Google has sent the message loud and clear, you better start paying attention to the quality of your online content. Sites that specialize in quality niche content (original and in-depth information on a focused topic) now rank better than sites with broad content on hundreds of different topics. This provides a great opportunity for B2B marketers. To capitalize on this shift, first consider what keywords define your business, then carefully evaluate every page on your site and get rid of the junk. Low-quality pages will hurt you – no matter what’s on the rest of your site. Next, focus on developing targeted content that is useful (let your keywords be your guide as to what is useful) and well written from top to bottom. If you can’t write great content yourself, hire someone who can.

Web Presence
The corporate website is often a company’s most tangible and visible face to the world. When properly executed, a website can become a powerful marketing tool that not only serves the needs of existing customers, but also provides an opportunity to capture new customers. To support your content marketing strategy (which relies on opt-in permission) your website must effectively engage visitors. Ask yourself the following questions: Are users encouraged to opt-in to marketing programs? Is a clear call-to-action present on every page? Is there sufficient incentive to opt-in? Remember, incentive is driven by the value of the content presented and trust in your ability to continue to deliver value. If possible allow users to select topics of interest and frequency of communications as part of your lead capture process. Finally, bypass bulk mail filters by reminding users to add your distribution email addresses to address books.

Marketing Automation
Once granted permission to engage prospects via email or other social media channels, be sure not to disappoint. Continue to provide relevant and meaningful content on a regular basis. Marketing automation tools help you categorize leads based on interests and actions so that you can continually provide targeted and relevant content. A “one-size fits all” approach can hurt your content marketing efforts and increase opt-out rates. Marketing automation tools offer you a wealth of information on demographics and response rates that should be used to guide your content development and distribution strategy. Pay specific attention to which types of content and topics perform well for each list segment so that you can adjust your strategy accordingly.

Social Media
A solid PR strategy that includes traditional and expanded social media engagement practices can help extend your reach. Remember that the purpose of content marketing is to engage prospects. PR announcements and media coverage can be used to create awareness and start the dialogue, but two-directional social media communications should be used to further develop the relationship. As Lorraine emphasized previously in her “Thought Leadership 101” blog post – to maintain the relationship, you must continually demonstrate understanding of the key issues, challenges, needs and requirements that truly concern your prospects versus spout off about your latest products functions and features. Use your SEO keywords as a guide on which social network conversations to join.

The Bottomline
Times have changed and so must you. Now more than ever, it’s time to re-evaluate your content marketing strategy and make a plan that will ensure favorable results based on solid content and intelligent strategy.

B2B Inbound Marketing Quick Start Guide

We’re several years into the era of “Marketing 2.0” and I’m still surprised at the number of B2B technology companies that have not modernized their marketing approach. Just take a look at the websites of so many technology companies, small and large, and it clearly looks like they are stuck in the early 2000’s – or even (gasp)… the 90s.

While I don’t believe in doing trendy things just for the sake of doing trendy things (a.k.a. keeping up with the Jones’), I do believe it’s prudent to take stock of the most current marketing tactics – learn what’s working for companies in the same industries you serve – and implement the most impactful changes.

For decades now, marketers have been focused on traditional “outbound” marketing programs such as television and radio advertising, trade shows, direct mail, online banner displays, pop-up ads, email blasts and the dreaded telemarketing, to name a few.

However with the advent of social media marketing and the social web, a dramatic shift has occurred. Today’s customer no longer wants to be “sold” – instead they prefer to find products and services online on their own or through friendly referrals. This shift is called “inbound marketing” and focuses efforts on web optimization, content marketing, social media optimization and customer referral programs.

Here are some basic tips that should help bring you up to speed on 2011 marketing must-haves and provide a solid foundation for inbound marketing success.

#1 Web Optimization (including SEO)
The corporate website is often a company’s most tangible and visible face to the world. When properly executed, a website can become a powerful marketing tool that not only serves the needs of existing clients, but also provides an opportunity to capture new customers. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of making sure your business website is properly categorized in the search engines (especially Google) and comes up high in the search results. Another big ingredient of SEO is link building, or getting other relevant sites to link to yours. Although it has been around for years, SEO is still critical in making your business more findable on the Web. It is a long-term strategy, however, and the results may take time to kick in.

#2 Content Marketing
We’ve said it before but “Content is King”. Content marketing is about creating demand through compelling, highly relevant content. This is includes white papers, strategy guides, blogging, infographics, contributed articles, podcasts, videos, data surveys, news articles — anything that offers value to your target customer and helps differentiate you in the marketplace. This content, especially blog posts, gets picked up by the search engines and can help fuel your social media strategy.

#3 Social Media Optimization
Social media sites and associated spam are growing in volume every day as new-bees jump on the social networking bandwagon in hopes of growing their network and making a splash – or at least being heard. The key to successfully leveraging social media is to define the most appropriate channels and best ways to engage key audiences in the right environments, at the right time, with the right messages. This may include the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn); specialty networks, such as Biznik; local directories, such as MojoPages.com and Kudzu.com; social bookmarking sites; video platforms; article directories and blog and forum comments.

#4 Customer Reference Programs
Word-of-mouth marketing is arguably the most powerful way to market your product or services. As discussed in a previous blog post, customer testimonials can greatly enhance the credibility of a company and result in increased sales, media coverage or add the fire to your viral social media campaigns. When customers talk favorably of your product or service, they send a free, credible and targeted marketing message. Customer endorsements can be used in one or more of the following marketing mediums: media/analyst outreach, collateral, social media and/or inclusion on the website.

It’s 2011 and marketing has changed, even in the world of B2B technology. Your customers have different expectations about how they want to find, buy and validate products. If your marketing tactics haven’t kept with the times, you may be missing out on lucrative sales opportunities. The good news is… it’s not too late to adopt an inbound marketing game plan to extend your marketing reach and win more business.