Uncommon Sense about Web Content

<img src="ken.jpg" alt="Ken Wells" />
Ken Wells
A recent introduction to online marketer Ken Wells turned into a captivating telephone interview on Web content. After some thinking and a bit of research, I decided our discussion was good educational material and worth publishing. I’ve added some background info and a few insights to round it out.

<img src="ied.jpg" alt="IED Web Marketing" />Ken is president of IED Web Marketing and he’s been involved in online marketing for about 10 years. His company offers a full range of digital marketing services to small and medium businesses in the Richmond Hill, Newmarket and Vaughan areas.

Digital Marketers: “They’re on the endangered list. There’s far fewer of them this year than last. Why? “So-called search engine optimization “experts” have realized that Google’s updates have more to do with social proof and especially content.”

Social proof is a validation of one’s website, a web page or blog post from others through recognized channels, such as:

  • Recommendations – on Linked In and other industry networks
  • Testimonials on Google Plus, Yelp, etc.
  • Ratings and reviews on company sites from satisfied or ecstatic customers
  • Social shares (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) of well received web pages or blog posts

This type of evidence is powerful because it equates to consensus from unrelated parties. Just as people check out comparative software reviews, social proof can sway others if they’re unsure about an impending decision.

Ken Wells: “If yours is a legitimate site, you will likely have social media (social proof) connections: a Twitter profile, be on Linked In, have a blog, be on Facebook and have a Pinterest account.” Standalone sites, however, with no connections are likely spammy ones.”

Spammy Websites & An Example
First, what is a spammy website? Primarily, they’re commercial-advertising sites for doubtful products like sort of-legal services or get-rich-quick schemes. Their sole purpose is to steal personal information like name, address, city, country, credit card/driver’s license numbers and email addresses.

Why? identity theft and email lists which turn into spam emails.

<img src="blackhat.jpg" alt="Black hat SEO" />Before 2011, spam sites used to be frequent entries on 1st pages of the search results due to “black hat” search engine optimization (SEO) tactics. Black hat techniques focused only on fooling the search engines and ignoring human audiences.

<img src="google-spam.jpg" alt="Example of spammy site" />
Spammy site rejected by Google

In Google’s words: “These websites look Ok except that they use hidden text, cloaking (words in black text on black backgrounds), stolen (scraped) text from other sites, and gibberish text not visible to website visitors.” Read the rest of this intriguing article, “Google shows live examples of web spam,” on SEOProfiler Blog.

<img src="panda.jpg" alt="Google Panda update" />It was Google’s Panda update in 2011 that first took site quality and Web content seriously. Here’s a few relevant passages:

  • When looking objectively at the site, is the primary focus the user need or the business goal?
  • If it’s the business goal, than the site could just be a promotional spammy site

  • If some of the pages on the site are high-quality and engaging, are other pages on the site not as high quality? (Google has stated that enough low quality Web content on a site can reduce the entire site’s rankings, not just the low quality pages.)
  • Websites with a real-life purpose will have strong Web content on every page to convince readers to stay on-site and soak up their marketing messages

Ken: “Before those updates, fly-by-night sites served as units in link farms (sites that are linked to each other in little networks) to boost other sites in the rankings. Now they need strong Web content to do so. That takes work, a search for writers, money to pay writers and a legitimate purpose so as to attract readers who might buy what the site markets.”

Content is where it’s at: Now, and in the Future
Producing informative Web content aimed at your customers’ interests and priorities is a necessity, not an option. Regardless of how or where you meet a new contact, they’re going right to your website to check your company out.

When they get there, they’ll be scouting around scanning text as they go. The more interesting things there are to read, look at or watch, providing you’re covering interesting topics in an interesting way, the longer they’ll remain on your site: absorbing your marketing messages and developing trust in you.

Web Content as Currency
<img src="w20.jpg" alt="W20 Group" />Back in 2009, I was fortunate to hear Bob Pearson (@bobpearson1845), now president of Atlanta-based public relations firm W20 Group, speak at Toronto’s Third Tuesday social media Meetup. His words were prophetic:

<img src="image.gif" alt="Bob Pearson on Web Content" />
Bob Pearson
“As the digital revolution accelerates, everything will speed up and there will be less time to evaluate companies as partners, customers or vendors. For companies of all sizes, content will become the new currency of communications.”

Content communicates your understanding of your customer’s problems, expectations and what the Hubspot folks say delights them. It demonstrates your company’s values, expertise, service and grasp of your customer’s experience.

Educational Web Content
Content, in whatever form it appears, must be educational and customer-centric. Educating involves deciding what topics or aspects to address and communicating their features and benefits succinctly.

A sales or marketing background helps because with all the practice and trial and error involved, lessons are internalized. This is especially important for video where you have only seconds to make a good impression.

Finally, if Web content is being expressed in words, they must be well-written, meaningful and be engaging – to the point that people are compelled to share them. That would a social share, of course.

Video is the New Black
Ken does a lot of video for his clients and notes that it’s the future of marketing. “People would rather watch than read but the words are necessary to frame the video and words do wonders for SEO for videos.”

His perspective parallels what was said in a TechCrunch May 8, 2016 article, “The Information Age is over; welcome to The Experience Age.”

“The central idea of the Experience Age is this: I’ll show you my point of view, you give me your attention. I hear you yelling, “That’s always been the story of social! And it has. But what’s changed is that the stories we tell each other now begin and end visually, making the narrative more literal (factual) than ever.“

But here’s an startling fact: 70% of Ken’s clients aren’t comfortable in front of the camera. This includes people in such public occupations as lawyers who work in courtrooms. “People say their voices sound foreign to them because they’ve never had an opportunity to listen to their recorded voice.”

I piped in: If people are anxious in front of cameras, their business capabilities may be not be as trusted because video is equated with real-life. Hiring actors might be a better idea as they won’t be self conscious. The business owner, in turn, would receive a professional corporate video. Ken agreed, adding that this practice is very popular in Australia

Uncommon Sense Makes Sense
Near the end of our phone discussion, Ken shared a question he asks every Web content writer: “Do you have uncommon sense?”

“Good one,” I replied

I knew where he was going with this. It goes further than the old chestnut, “Can you think out of the box?” Common sense only exists among people with common traits, cultures, and backgrounds which gives them a shared perspective.

Uncommon sense as it relates to writing means:

  • Being an adaptable thinker
  • Seeing other possibilities within a story and possible tributaries extending from the first one
  • Understanding how one theme might be related or linked to another, technology and-or application
  • Being creative, curious, ingenious
  • Reaching out and asking to speak with people: influencers, if you like
  • If you feel your vocabulary could be stronger, you become a fan of Dictionary.com

Uncommon sense is based on uncommon thinking which challenges customary ways of perceiving, analyzing, and creating. Uncommon sense is derived from resourceful, creative, limitless, unconventional, lateral, relational, linear, logical, critical, abstract, and unusual thinking.

The type of thinking that created new technologies like:

  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Wearable technology
  • Virtual/augmented reality, and
  • Further advancements in wireless technologies

<img src="rain.jpg" alt="Rain Callahan" />
Rain Callahan
The transition from the Information to the Experience Age will require uncommon sense and thinking to be able to originate uncommon solutions to complex problems. Courtesy of a Twitter contact Rain_Callahan
here’s a top 10 list of skills projected to be important in 2020:

<img src="top10.jpg" alt="Top 10 2020 Skill sets" />

It appears, we’re all going to need uncommon sense to remain employable and vital human beings.

Digital Marketing: Advantages & Challenges

Up until the mid to late-2000s, traditional marketing methods still directed the promotional affairs of business.

These included: direct mail and area mail drops to neighborhoods, trade shows, press releases, advertorials in newspapers, telemarketing, newspapers themselves and so on.

In the majority of cases, it wasn’t possible to track responses accurately so formulas and generally accepted guesstimates developed.

For example:

  • Direct mail had its accepted response rate – to be identified later in this article
  • Stats-based call tracking for telemarketing began in the mid-80s, and
  • TV had the Broadcast Bureau of Measurement (BBM) estimating viewer shares
<img src="john-wanamaker-1.jpg" alt="U.S. department store magnate John Wanamaker." />
Only 50% effective

How far back in time has this been a problem? U.S. department store merchant John Wanamaker (1838-1922) once opined: “Half the money I spend on advertising (marketing) is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

This means that billion$ have been wasted throwing the equivalent of high-quality spaghetti at the wall – and seeing if it would stick.

Setting the marketing time machine for 2012, we emerge to discover:

  • High-speed broadband lines crisscross the continent, enabling sophisticated digital marketing services
  • Exponential growth of network computing has given us Big Data and a wealth of accurate data
  • Digital marketing software addresses all phases of a marketing process – tracking user actions, behavior and conversions

In short, the primary advantage of digital marketing is accountability as every action taken by visitors or recipients can be tracked and analyzed.

One of my earlier website writing clients told me he’d mailed out 2000 brochures in 2003, then endured a zero response rate. Contrast: his optimized website attracts new customers from across the country and a referral program encourages existing clients to help others.

Secondary advantage of digital marketing: If the target audience’s desired actions fail to meet expectations, testing can be conducted and the results integrated into updated content, strategies and campaigns.

The Challenge for Traditional Marketers

For those steeped in, and trusting of, traditional marketing methods, accepting-adapting to marketing done in a digital world can be difficult.

Case in point:
A former 15-year VP of marketing for a national car rental corporation, now running his own company, website freshly completed, expressed misgivings about the effectiveness of blogging.

<img src="Mailbox-1.jpg" alt="Old fashioned marketing" />
In days of old

“When are the leads coming in?” was a reference to his direct mail experience where high volumes of offers, based on purchased or accumulated mailing lists, were mailed out. Its response rate was “1%-3%” which wasn’t his old company’s rate; it was an accepted industry one referred to earlier. If 10,000 pieces went out, between 100 to 300 sales might result. (In some cases, direct mail remains useful.)

Overall, though, there was no way of tracking how many mailed offers resulted in sales or if the conversion rate varied between industries; in addition, each letter was unexpected by the recipient so who knows what happened to them.

I explained that blogging had a different purpose than direct mail; its role was to:

  • Establish his subject domain authority by demonstrating knowledge and wisdom
  • Develop trust
  • Strengthen his online-offline reputation, and
  • Increase his company’s local and regional visibility

I pointed out that his Google Analytics’ indicated: 1) Page views & time-on-site were up 30% (to 5 minutes+) from the time before the site was finished, 2) Returning visitors had increased by 10%-15% and, 3) The bounce rate (people landing on site and leaving immediately) in his target areas had reduced to 20% – and people were reading my 2 blog posts. What about incoming phone calls? Up as well, and from first-time callers.

However, his direct mail paradigm made him pause and blogging ceased. Since that time, “the numbers” noted steadily declined. Understanding the damaging effects of a discontinued blog on a company’s brand, I kept in touch with him by forwarding his latest stats, blog post ideas and even roughed out a content strategy.

Last week, he called to express his concern about a competitive threat in his local market. Specifics: he bought his business from a man who decided retirement didn’t suit him and who had recently re-entered the market with a similarly named venture.

To create some distance in the search engine rankings between my client and his rival, I reviewed some knowledge picked up in Search Engine Journal seminar on local SEO link building – and revisited blogging. He didn’t go for it. I don’t think he trusts social media and sees my blogging fee as an unnecessary expense.

A recently made Twitter contact, Katie Mullins (@KatieMuffins), experienced something similar and I replied in kind:

<img src="twitterkatie.jpeg" alt="Marketing from now on" />
Twitter exchange of note

This quiet revolution is based on a power shift favoring the buying customer. This will be the subject of my next post.