How’s your marketing going these days? If you’re like most firms, you probably feel it could be going better, that you could and maybe should be doing more to get your firm out there in front of the right audience. Marketing your agency has always been hard. The fact that the best practices of effective digital marketing (generating real interest from great prospects) are always evolving doesn’t make things any easier. In this article, we’re going to cover one of the most important changes that has taken place in content marketing in at least five years. The way your firm adapts to this change, both for yourselves and your clients, could mean the difference between your marketing actually working, and wasting a lot of precious time and energy creating reams of content no one will ever see. There are more agencies seeing more success from their marketing than ever before. Here are some perspectives and techniques they use to succeed across their websites and content
What is a website really for?
I audit dozens of agency websites each year, and though each one is unique in some way, they all tend to have one surprising thing in common: they're built to support the existence of marketing content but not the experience of it.
An agency's website does not exist to visually represent the agency’s uniqueness or its output. While that's an important aspect of how prospects evaluate an agency—on the basis of, say, a shared aesthetic sensibility or an impressive campaign—an agency's website must transcend what the agency believes about itself and better represent what its prospects believe about themselves. Clients want a unique and informed point of view on the challenges they face. For them, that is the meaning of expertise: not just how to do what needs to be done, but a perspective on what should be done and how that differentiates from what the competition is doing. An agency's website must be a hub for activity, generated by and around documented expertise.
Activity is where most agency websites fall short. Even when they have a blog—and even when that blog includes good writing and great ideas—the engagement isn't there. Prospects aren't finding the content, and the content isn't helping nurture them along a path to becoming clients. Why? Because it's not designed to do that.
Designing for Prospect Experience
User Experience Design (UX) should enhance user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility and pleasure of interacting with a product or interface. In other words, it's a matter of making it easy for users to perceive and make choices. But, good user experience alone doesn’t guarantee a successful website; remember, the website's job is to serve its firm by attracting likely future clients, it needs to show results! That means that we need to fine tune our approach to UX in a way that gives us more control over the audience we attract and the choices they make.
A good agency website is designed for a very specific audience and enables them to make very specific and measurable choices. It filters an audience of likely prospects down to likely clients.
I call this Prospect Experience Design (PX). PX is about making it easy for prospects to do what an agency wants them to do.
Limiting Options Leads to Better Actions
There are many elements that make PX work, but the most important one is that which facilitates conversions.
I encourage agencies to identify the one thing they want prospects to do on every single page of their website and make it clear to prospects, visually and functionally. That means thinking deeply about the nature of the content on each page and what the prospect should do next. No other actions should distract from that one thing. That means fewer calls to action, fewer buttons, fewer boxes and fewer lists of related content on every page of the website.
This tends to be the most controversial recommendation I make, because it feels so risky. I often hear, "But, what if we don't know what a user wants to do next?" My answer is always the same: If you're confident enough to create the content, you should also know exactly what you want the result to be. Anything else is irrelevant.
For example, if a page describing a service is written and designed well, it should motivate prospects to want to understand how that service is applied to the challenges they face. So the best next step for them is to read about that in a case study. The service page should emphasize that next step, rather than a variety of alternate paths, all of which look of equal value. With one primary action on a page like this, an agency can better nurture a website visitor on a predictable path toward becoming a prospect and client.
I mentioned earlier that PX should apply to every page on a website. That includes every article an agency produces, no matter what form it takes: blog posts, gated content, podcasts, webinars, etc. Each one should have a primary action associated with it, and those actions should be thoughtfully connected to the content and to the visitor's experience so far on the website. Here, the idea of the conversion gets much more complicated. Rather than being a single possible action, like filling out a form to set up a meeting, it could actually be a variety of possible actions depending upon what a prospect has seen or done already.
This is where current thought on content marketing strategy is focused—on how to best inform the right audience and meaningfully increase conversion activity in a way that actually nurtures them. It’s about balancing volume and value.
The Best Way to Drive Conversions Through Your Content
Historically, designing an effective digital content strategy first required firms to prioritize one of two primary marketing objectives. Either, you’re interested in boosting traffic to your site and, therefore, the bulk of your efforts would be put toward creating search engine-friendly, indexable content like blog posts; or, you’re more interested in driving conversions on the site, in which case you might spend more of your time producing “gated content” or content that’s only accessible through a form submission.
Both objectives are critically important. If you’re not receiving traffic to your website, incorporating a smart conversion strategy on the site won’t have much of an impact because no one is showing up to submit forms in the first place. However, if you prioritize all of your marketing efforts toward producing indexable content, there will not be enough ways for prospects to engage with your brand once they arrive at the site. And because the conversion gives you, the marketer, the most insight into the headspace of your prospect and their readiness to enter into a sales conversation with you, few conversion points on the site also means few follow-up sales opportunities.
This reality leaves firms in the difficult position of trying to prioritize both an indexable and a gated content strategy amidst incredibly busy work schedules.
And this is why most content plans fail.
It’s not a lack of desire to market effectively. It’s not a lack of commitment to the process. It’s simply the lack of time to do this well. Most firms just don’t have resources and bandwidth to properly produce content that both drives traffic to the site and engages that traffic once it arrives.
The New Gated Content
What comes to mind when you think of “gated content?” Thorough, verbose, text-based pieces of content that require many hours to produce? Hour-long presentations with follow-up Q&A sessions? Perhaps weeks or months of preliminary research to support the asset that dares to ask for a form submission before it’s accessible?
Whatever the format, for most of us, gated content likely involves investing significant time in documenting our smartest thinking, placing that thinking behind a form and convincing prospects to access it.
For many firms, the problem with this approach is they haven’t built up enough credibility with their audiences to request form submissions before proving their expertise. Prospects don’t know what’s behind that form and if you haven’t yet established yourself as a credible, authoritative source of information, they aren’t likely to stick around long enough to find out.
People have grown accustomed to accessing information quickly. We have very few barriers to information today. Our online searching behaviors are evolving. When we ask Google a question, we expect it to be answered immediately, yet thoroughly, with no form submission needed.
As our search behaviors evolve, so too does the gated content marketing landscape. Today, the most effective way to drive traffic to your website and engage that traffic through conversions is through content upgrades.
You can think of content upgrades as bonus content that’s attached to a well-written, indexable blog on your website. A content upgrade significantly increases the conversion rate of the blog post upon which it is promoted. Upgrades are very tightly related to the topic of the indexable blog post. If a reader finds herself interested in the topic of the blog post, it’s likely she’ll find the associated content upgrade of equal relevance and interest.
For example, let’s say I write a blog titled, “How and Why to Perform a Content Audit.” This content is completely indexable, therefore easily accessible to both readers and search engines. Somewhere in this blog post, though, I include a call-to-action that promotes a “Content Audit Template” available for download.
The reader of this content is presumably interested in understanding more about content audits. And, if that’s true, it’s plausible this person will also be interested in performing one for her organization. As the writer, I’ve already demonstrated generous expertise by publishing a thorough, non-gated article on this subject. But if the reader wants to go deeper and apply this thinking to her business, all she has to do is submit a form to access the content upgrade.
Why Content Upgrades Work
There are three big benefits to incorporating content upgrades into your content strategy.
1. You no longer have to choose between marketing objectives.
The great thing about incorporating content upgrades into your content plan is that they support both your indexable and your gated content strategies. Your indexable blog is still the best vehicle at your disposal to drive organic traffic to your website, a critical objective of any content marketing strategy. The problem with other forms of gated content is that they take your smartest thinking and make it inaccessible to the masses and to Google. The content upgrade strategy reverses this approach. Take your smartest thinking and leave it open to be indexed and read by all. Prove your credibility as a thought leader. Then include a highly-actionable, interesting piece of bonus content so that readers can learn more. The indexable blog post drives the organic traffic; the content upgrade drives the conversion.
2. Content upgrades have a higher conversion rate.
Unlike traditional white papers, webinars, e-books, research reports, etc…, which are typically promoted across the entire website, content upgrades are only promoted on the blog detail page to which they are related. In the example above, I wouldn’t promote the content audit template in a sidebar CTA across the entire site. It would only ever be displayed on pages related to content audits. Because this asset is so tightly focused on the topic of the blog, it’s likely to enjoy a higher rate of conversion than traditional gated assets that are promoted on similar pages but have less relevance to the subject at hand.
3. Content upgrades take less time to produce.
With this strategy, the meat of the expertise is shared through the indexable blog post. The content upgrade is intended to be a small piece of bonus content. It’s likely inspired by a tool, worksheet or asset you already use in your day-to-day work. Because content upgrades take a fraction of the time to produce than the blog post itself, it’s wise to try to include them on nearly every blog you write. That way, you include a conversion point on your website with every blog post you publish.
Communicating your firm’s expertise has always been the most effective form of marketing. If you adopt this perspective of the role your website plays in prospect engagement and put yourself in the absolute best position to have your expert content seen by as many prospects as possible, you can rest easy knowing you’re doing your part to responsibly market your firm. If you’re ready to optimize content strategy, drive better engagement and more conversions we’d be happy to talk through any of these concepts, feel free to contact Newfangled and we’d be happy to help.
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