One of the basic rules of branding is built on the principle of positioning, and media monitoring can go a long way in helping you understand your market position. I’ve talked about positioning in past blog posts, and for other related links, see the end of this blog. The key principle regarding positioning that most companies and brand marketers get wrong is where the central point of influence in a brand or product’s position is. How many meetings have you been in where someone says, “We need to position this new product as … [fill in the blank with your favorite buzz-worthy promise here].
The problem with this thinking centers around the principle that companies don’t position products and services, people do. In other words, what the market — in aggregate — says about your product or service is your position, not what your marketing team or communications efforts say it is.
So that begs the question: how do we know what the market — in aggregate — says about or thinks about our product or brand? Glad you asked! Because I’m going to spend the rest of this blog post giving you tips on how to figure this puzzle out, with relative ease and at little to no cost.
The key trick to knowing what the market is saying about your product or service is based on good old-fashioned market research, and the good news is that with many of the online digital tools and services available today, it’s easier, and more efficient than ever to monitor the world wide web for words, topics, names … anything … that matters the most to you.
There is a wide range of tools available to do monitoring, and I’m not going to cover all of them in this blog post. See this link for a reference to some of the tools — both free and paid — available for online monitoring.
While the tool you use can make a big difference in the effectiveness of your monitoring efforts, the most important step is deciding what you are going to monitor. And that strategic decision starts with a high-level structural view of the categories or classes of keywords you want to monitor.
I’m going to recommend those categories be Brand, People, Campaigns, Sector and Pages. I’ll go into a little detail on each below.
Media Monitoring – Brand
It seems obvious that a company would track online mentions of its own brand, but in my experience with companies big and small over thirty plus years is that this is often not the case. Even before the Google’s of the world brought real-time search and monitoring to the marketing environment, companies had access to clip services, which did that – manually read through thousands of magazines, newspapers, journals, etc. monthly looking for keywords buried in stories or feature articles. Today, that process is so automated and fast in the online world, it’s essentially a must-do if you are to stay aware of how your brand is being talked about online. And remember, the places where your brand is being talked about are the places impacting your company’s position. So, step one, add your brand name to the list of keywords that you are tracking.
By the way, since your position is essentially what the market in aggregate says about you — versus your competitors — you need to be monitoring mentions of competitive brands as well. Especially take note of any mentions that appear which include your brand along with your competitive brand (sometimes referred to as “roundup” coverage). Especially if it’s an influential outlet or website with lots of visitors, this third-party coverage could have a significant impact on your overall positioning.
Media Monitoring – People
Okay, let’s give a handful of companies props for taking the first steps into monitoring and keeping track of online brand mentions. But that’s no reason to stop there — especially if your monitoring service gives you the ability to track multiple keywords at once (which almost all do … free and paid tools included).
Going back to the principle of positioning which says that companies don’t position products, people do, it only makes sense that you would also track comments from key people in your brand circle of influence. This could be a wide range of people, from your CEO (or anyone in the C-Suite), Director of Marketing or even someone in HR (who might be quoted in an article on tips that top companies are looking for in when hiring). Or, a spokesperson for a competitive brand or product who may be quoted in an article.
Also, another key step (but admittedly one that doesn’t apply to every company) is to track any comments from your designated key spokesperson or spokespeople. Particularly in sectors where endorsees are key influences (such as in athletic shoe marketing or musical instruments), tracking those names can help you discover if your key brand messaging points are being conveyed through your influencer marketing efforts, and whether the dollars you are putting to influencer marketing are helping or hurting your efforts.
I’ve personally been involved in situations where our marketing team realized that a brand ambassador or influencer was straying off of or diluting, key messaging points in interviews, and since your agreements with these spokespersons should include some sort of messaging training and preparation, it’s better to nip this in the bud sooner than later.
Media Monitoring – Campaigns
The word “campaigns” has become commonplace across digital media boundaries. Historically, it referred to paid advertising programs. And that is largely still the case — most campaigns fit in the “Paid” category, and Facebook has even gone as far as designating the “Campaign” as the highest level of setup and management in the Facebook marketing and re-marketing arena.
Tracking paid campaigns such as Facebook marketing and Google Adwords is a bit beyond the scope of this post on organic tracking, but for more on the steps in tracking paid campaigns, see this blog post on Facebook analytics.
One new trend in the approach to campaign tracking is keeping tabs on editorial campaigns. Centered around what I call a Content Distribution Ecosystem, a series of connected editorial elements are crafted around a singular message or key communication point and tactically distributed, i.e. within a close window of each other for maximum impact.
These elements can include a wide range of owned content pieces, from press releases, to blog posts, podcasts, video podcasts, infographics, email newsletters, online presentations and webinars and social media posts. For tracking, use a tool like Bit.ly to create custom URLs for the placed components such as blog posts, press releases. You can track activity via the Bit.ly link to gauge ROI.
Audio and video podcast downloads can be tracked a number of ways (including using Bit.ly links). Using a service such as Libsyn, you can track downloads of an audio podcast, time engaged per listening session, etc. Soundcloud offers another free way to host audio podcasts and track activity.
Video podcasts can be tracked using a service like YouTube, or for really robust metrics — such as time viewed, most popular sections, etc, use a service like Wistia (note: Wistia is a paid service but has a very basic free trial that you can use to track up to three videos.
And for landing pages and email newsletters, use a service like Leadpages to track landing page views and conversions and Drip! to build automated email campaigns that can be tracked over time to keep interest levels high in your original content.
Media Monitoring – Sector
Using your media monitoring service, don’t forget to track the generic terms for your industry or sector. When it comes to understanding patterns and positioning shifts, its best done in the context of the overall market. So, if you marketing a revolutionary new portable bicycle pump targeting mountain bike enthusiasts, monitor trends in the mountain biking sector to see what consistent themes are popping up.
The great thing about many of the media monitoring services is that they also crawl user forums, so when there is a relevant mention of your brand, product or industry sector in one of these grassroots forums, you’ll be able to pick up on the thread and glean real-world insight as to what your specific target is saying, feeling or planning to do in your market sector.
Media Monitoring – Pages
Finally, when it comes to analyzing how all of the content is working together. there is no greater tool than Google Analytics. This is especially true if, like most online content marketing programs, the ultimate goal is to build or raise awareness, and assuming you’ve put time into designing your website for this purpose, ultimately any and all interested parties are going to go to your home URL.
So having Google Analytics tracking capabilities on your site is a must if you want to get a macro view of how your content campaigns are impacting your high-level strategic goals.
To wrap it up, monitoring and measuring success in content marketing today is not only easier than its ever been thanks to a wide range of tools, but it’s pretty much become a standard baseline practice when it comes to digital marketing. This is because the web, as an intensely dynamic publishing platform, shifts quickly based on consumer habits and input. Having the ability to measure and monitor that activity, and respond to it, in real time is essential in creating a successful content marketing program today.
Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, a content digital marketing and public relations advisory based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications specializes in content ecosystem campaigns, also known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing and other content marketing components for systematic distribution and measurable results.
Ranking high in search can sometimes feel like a game of numbers, and to the search engines and bots, that really is true. But that said, Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a strategic component of an overall marketing program that is best pursued with a commitment to critical thinking and application of insights that come from analytics.
Put another way, while Google and other search engines and bots crunch data to display results, SEO success comes from a dedicated personal commitment to analyzing and interpreting what telling data is telling you, and then knowing how to apply those insights to create a better web experience for your customers.
In this blog post, I’m going to go over a number small but integral steps you can take to improve your SEO rankings. Keep in mind that SEO in and of itself has little value outside of the context of an integrated marketing communications effort, which I refer to a Content Distribution Ecosystem.
Listen to the audio version of this blog post on my iTunes podcast, “All Things Marketing.” Click here.
Step One: Perform a Check-Up
The first step is to do a health check on your website to gauge how well the site is working to achieve the goals you’ve set. In order to know what you need to do to improve, you need to be able to benchmark where you are in terms of your website’s efficiency at giving visitors what they want, within a short time span. Some questions you want to ask include: How and where is my site appearing in search rankings currently? How easy is it for my target customer to find me? What messaging or structural issues are impeding the customer journey?
A great way to accomplish this health check is by use of tools that are available. Some are free, and some are paid, and it’s probably a best practice to look at using a mix of both. Some paid tools include Raven Tools, Moz, and SEM Rush. One thing to keep in mind: while these tools can really help you optimize, they can be intimidating and time-consuming to learn. So consider the learning curve timing or outsourcing the health check process to a consultant who is already familiar with the tools for greater efficiency.
Step Two: Go For the Goal
The second step is to use your Google Analytics account to set up goal values. The reason for doing this is tied to the urban principle of “if you don’t know where you’re going, every road will lead you there.” Setting up goal values in Google Analytics let you measure and track your success based on what you define as success.
For example, if a website goal is 20 new leads per month, then, once set up, your results tracking in Google Analytics will provide you with a real-time reference point as to the level of success towards that goal. The goal tracking process will let you analyze the customer journey and correct spots along that path that are inefficient. Using goal values in Google Analytics is a great way to put an ROI measurement on your marketing activities. (And CEOs – those who sign the checks -love ROI!)
Step Three: Reduce Load Times
The third step has to do with the time it takes your page or your site to load. Google, in its ever-evolving search engine optimization algorithm, has increasingly placed weight on page load times with regards to ranking status. Google’s thinking here is that the more efficient the page loads, the more it is optimized for a great user experience, which is what Google is constantly searching to improve.
Current best practices state that the optimal site speed load time should be less than 1.5 seconds. Even delays as small as one second can have a significant impact on the ranking value you get from Google search. There are several steps you can take to help ensure that your pages will load optimally. These include:
- Reducing the server response time (AMP) for all blog posts
- Separating mobile and desktop URLs
- Making sure your website is responsive design ready (meaning the site adapts in size and layout based on where it is being viewed – mobile, tablet or desktop)
- Removing pop-up ads or any visual overlay that disrupts the user experience
As a final check, you can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to test the user experience from a mobile perspective.
Step Four: Use Structured Data
The next step is with regards to using structured data, which is an on-page markup system that allows search engines to understand how your website should appear to visitors. It’s essentially a method to help ensure that all metadata, micro data and markup data are set up for optimized search engine optimization. An efficient structured data set up on your website will help will position you for high-value placement in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). The goal of this effort is to increase click-through rates while reducing bounce rates (which refers to the percentage of people who click away from your website before consuming any content).
Step Five: Keyword Optimization
Next, you should look to keyword optimization to help improve the viability of your site and improve your competitive rankings against larger and more established companies. A great deal of competition existes for high-value keywords in most sectors, and all too often companies with deep pockets have up-bid desirable keywords in their PPC (Pay-Per-Click) efforts, which makes it hard to compete on the basis of desirable keywords alone.
That said, tools mentioned earlier such as Moz and SEM Rush that can help you identify what are known as “long-tail keywords.” These are keywords that are related to your business or business category but are not ranked as costly, high-value keywords because they are underutilized. Using these tools, you can analyze the keyword landscape and find those keywords that still have high relevance and lower cost. Note that the strategy works well for organic search as well as PPC.
Step Six: Reduce 404 Errors and Duplicate Content
Two other vital steps you need to take with regards to your SEO efforts is to fix what are known as 404 Errors and remove pages with duplicate content. 404 Errors refer to broken links within your website structure. These are typically pages that have been removed from the content structure at some point but still have links referencing them from other places within your website. Using a tool like SEM Rush or Moz, you can identify these 404 errors and remove the pages from your reference links.
Duplicate content errors come when the same exact content appears on more than one page. Google sees this duplicate content as spam and will rank your website lower because of it. If you decide that you have several pages that need to have the same content, it’s best to slightly modify content on the duplicate page.
Step Seven: Optimize Your Content
The next step you can take with regards to improving your SEO is to update those pages on your site that are performing optimally. Too often we forget that the web is a dynamic publishing platform meaning that just because a page is published once doesn’t mean it can be modified.
When you discover a page on your site that is performing well (by reviewing data in your Google Analytics reports), update it with CTA (Call To Action) links and fresh new related content that can help even further improve ranking value. One note of caution with this approach: resist the urge to tap into the value of the page because of its current ranking and dilute it with new content that has no relevance or value to the subject at hand. This is a surefire way to kill what was once a strong page asset and turn it into a liability.
In summary, a few basic SEO steps as those listed here can go a long way in helping your website become an authoritative source for your business sector or product group. It’s important to remember that SEO is a long-term commitment and not something you should expect quick short fixes from. Remembering to put in a little bit of time on a consistent basis with regards to your SEO efforts will go a long way in keeping your search engine ranking up in your quality scores high with regards to Google and other search engines.
Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, a content digital marketing and public relations advisory based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications specializes in content ecosystem campaigns that integrate PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video and Email Marketing components.