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Get Your Startup on the Map with Content Marketing

When you’re the new kid in the startup world with a great product but limited resources, content creation should be the key to your marketing strategy. Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as a “marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” Essentially, what this means for you is to create a way to reach your customers without pitching your products or services.

Remember these three C’s in your content strategy: Conversation, Contribution, and Convenience

Conversation: When potential and existing customers visit your blog, or your social media profiles, they should be able to engage with you. What good is a blog if the comments are closed to discussion? Conversation is key to engagement, and engagement will lead to your customers coming back for more.

Contribution: Don’t be the company standing in the corner with your sales pitch without any real contribution to the conversation. As a content provider, your contribution to the industry should be long-term. If you have a company blog, keep your current and future readers in mind. If someone googles a key term in your industry five months down the line, will they come across your blog?

Convenience: You have great content but is it convenient for your customers? Don’t bury your blog, or your social media presence, on your website. It should be conveniently located so your customers can find it easily to engage with you. Your website and blog should be mobile-friendly so that they can be easily accessed on-the-go.

With a solid content marketing plan, your company will go from being just a service provider to a content provider in the long-term. Potential consumers will want to know what you can provide to them besides just a great product. With the great content you create in addition to your product, you will break through the noise and begin building awareness, as well as an audience. A great content marketing strategy will help you become a thought leader in your industry.

Before you begin creating, do a little research. Check out your competitors, including the big names, in your industry. What’s the key component in their content strategy? They’re getting their consumers to come back and engage with content marketing. Study their strengths, as well as their weaknesses, and incorporate both to your own content marketing strategy.

Incredible Headlines – 7 Examples Worthy of Study

There’s a real art to crafting a headline that stands out. Every word is vital and a lackluster headline is like a death sentence than can ruin an otherwise commendable piece of writing.

As somewhat of a thought experiment and to scratch the itch, I took a look at a handful of popular articles over the past month in terms of virality (Facebook likes, Tweets, shares via Instapaper), and separated the memorable headlines from the mundane.

Some questions used in the analysis:

What makes this headline incredible?
What was the writer thinking?

What’s the appeal for the reader? 

Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? - Stephen Marche, The Atlantic

Why it works: This was one of the most popular articles of the past month and for good reason, apart from hitting a lot of hot buttons and the extent of how well it was researched, the title alone just yells controversy. It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree that Facebook makes us lonely, the headline is put in the form of a question, leaving the reader left to develop their own conclusion based on the evidence presented.

How Geniuses Think – Michael Michalko, The Creativity Post

Why it works:  This is a great example, because it’s brief and cuts to the point. Very few of us are geniuses, but it’s still something many of us would like to be, and thus the reason why the headline is so relevant. Everyone can relate.

I’m Leaving the Internet for a Year - Paul Miller, The Verge

Why it works: Paul at The Verge has made the brave choice to abandon the internet for year, a decision that would seem rather insane for a tech journalist. Why would someone want to leave the internet? How will he do it? Does this include email? This headline works in many different ways and being in the form of a declarative statement only adds to its appeal.

Simplicity Isn’t Simple – Francisco Inchauste, getfinch.com

Why it works: Short headlines, 3 words in this case, usually don’t work as well as longer ones, but here’s an exception. I like how the author uses a play on words and leaves room for speculation. Is this article about design? Is it about education? Is it about politics? It could be a number of things, but I won’t find out without actually taking time to read the article.

The Crisis in American Walking - Tom Vanderbilt, Slate

Why it works: Wait… there’s a crisis in walking, and I don’t even know about it? I must stop what I’m doing and read this immediately.

Behind Instagrams Success, Networking the Old Way - Somini Sengupta, NY Times

Why it works: When Facebook acquired Instagram there was a barrage of opinion based articles that followed shortly after. Some were great and some were not so great, but the ones that stood out were the ones in which the writer dissected what made Instagram so successful and why the acquisition was warranted. An amateur would have likely stopped at Behind Instagrams Success, but the extra bit, Networking the Old Way, makes the headline enticing to a larger audience.

This $20 Trillion Rock Could Turn a Startup Into Earth’s Richest Company - Chris Taylor, Mashable

Why it works: You don’t have to enjoy science, startups, or business to appreciate this headline. The writer does an excellent job of mixing two over the top claims ($20 Trillion and Earth’s Richest Company) in hopes of encouraging the reader to click through. A similar article that was published a day earlier, and likely derived from the same source material, was stated as: Here’s How a Startup Plans to Extract Gold from Asteroids. Sure It’s an OK headline, but it pales in comparison to what Mashable did. It’s the same information, just stated differently, and a prime example of why the extra effort is usually worth it when it comes to getting the headline perfect.

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After Almost a Decade, WordPress Still the Undisputed King of Blogging Platforms


Tumblr, Blogger, TypePad, and Posterous; sure they’re cute for their own reasons, but make no mistake, they just can’t touch WordPress. A study by Pingdom recently found that WordPress is dominating the competition, where 48 out of the world’s top 100 blogs and 51% of all blogs are currently using it as their blogging platform of choice. Started nearly 9 years ago, WordPress has become more than just another tool, it’s become a staple for designers and site owners worldwide.

Why WordPress?

1. Ease of use

With its 5 minute install process, anyone can set up a self-hosted WordPress site with minimum or no previous experience.

2. Themes

Unlike some of the other options, WordPress has a vast collection of themes. Even the most acclaimed themes typically cost under $100, while many are free. With most themes, little or no design experience is required (although it does help). The Thesis and Headway themes are a great place to start.

3. Plugins

WordPress has a strong developer network and thus has a constant and competitive stream of plugins to choose from. The plugins can range from SEO (Yoast, All in One SEO Pack), to comments (Disqus, Livefyre), to social sharing (Digg Digg, Sharebar), to almost anything else you can think of. If you’ve seen it on a blog before, chances are there’s a plugin for it.

4. Support

Because WordPress has been on the block for a while, it’s built up an enthusiastic fan base of users who’ve created countless sites and articles on how to work with and tweak WordPress to make it your own. The amount of how to information and free advice for the taking is staggering.

5. Dependability

WordPress is here to stay and should only continue to get better. With each new version, WordPress becomes more competitive and accessible to even the most casual of bloggers. There’s good reason why half of the top blogs use it. Other platforms can get the job done and work fine, but it’s proven that professionals trust WordPress. For the time being, there’s nothing quite like it.

Content Curation and Why Ethics Matter


David Carr, a prominent journalist for The New York Times, reported at SXSW this past week about a new standard for attribution aimed specifically at web content publishers called the Curators Code. At best it’s a complete game changer, but in all likelihood will stand as just another cute example of good intent left to run amuck. Nonetheless, it’s a meaningful step in the right direction; and while the discussion of the implications of a universally accepted norm for web journalism is certainly compelling (and for the record I’m still skeptical that the Curators Code is the exact answer to the problem), I do inevitably agree that it’s high time for writers of all sorts to cut the BS and start giving credit where credit is due. Although Carr spoke in a context aimed specifically at a growing guild of new media journalists, the topic of what curation is and what it means to the future of the web should still prove to be painfully relevant for those who create content on a regular basis.

It doesn’t take much effort to realize that dirty curation and outright plagiarism has become rampant. Untied to the prestige of journalistic integrity or a big name media outlet, there’s a large number of internet marketers (SEO and social media practitioners included), who regularly opt to take unethical shortcuts in the pursuit of traffic.

Content scraping = theft

One trick that’s been widely used is the concept of scraping, which in simple terms is the act of taking an article and more or less reproducing it in hopes of a generating a quick and easy piece of content. Content farms have been busted in the past for using computer programs to automate this process, however doing so manually can also be considered as equally unethical. It’s not as detectable or dubious as an outright copy and paste, however in terms of sleaziness it’s mighty close.

Not giving credit = theft

There’s a smart way and a careless way to aggregate information. Using an original source for reference and choosing not to link to it demonstrates bad taste. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Pulitzer winning reporter, or a kid with a WordPress blog, if any person has spent the time and effort to create original material and you decide to use it without giving credit, you’re a thief and a coward. There isn’t much grey area and little excuse for not abiding by the common standards of attribution.

Some rules to live by

1. Be generous when citing sources.
2. Always give credit to original material in the form of a link
3. Stay conscious of copyright and trademark law
4. Accuracy, honesty, and getting it right the first time are all still a big deal
5. Theft is theft. If you’re in doubt, don’t do it.

Image credit: Thomas Forsyth 

How to Make Content Writing a Regular Habit


November is National Write a Novel Month and is as good time as any to sit down and do some writing. For an internet marketer writing is a valuable skill that constantly needs to be refined and improved on. It doesn’t matter if you’ve published 10 books or have absolutely no writing experience outside of high school; it’s never too late or impossible to sharpen your skills.

Writing, like all art, takes patience, practice, and repetition. Here are some tips to get started:

Set defined goals

Everyone has goals, such as creating more blog content, writing an eBook, or starting an email newsletter, but without specificity goals are more difficult to grasp and accomplish. Set a defined goal that sits just out of your perceived comfort zone; something that’s obtainable, yet still challenging.

Maybe it’s to write 3 blog posts a week for an entire month or to write a 20 page eBook in 2 weeks. Choose goals that push your writing to new levels.

Commit to a scheduled routine

When do you write? Is it whenever you have a moment of free time or only when inspiration strikes? The problem with not having a set writing schedule is that writing tends to fall to the wayside and never happens.

Choose days and times that fit within your schedule

Every morning at 9am.
Monday through Friday, just before leaving the office.
Every Sunday for 3 hours between 12pm and 3pm.

Pick a topic that resonates

If content writing feels like a chore as opposed to a passion, it’ll always be a struggle to keep from falling off the wagon. Only write about topics that are of interest and only write in a manner that will stay true to your ideals. If your company specializes in niche B2B technology products and the idea of writing a 5000+ word eBook sounds like a college essay assignment nightmare, why not change the angle of the story and instead write a compelling case study about how one of your customers found success using the product. Tell the story of how customer A was able to double revenue almost overnight or how customer B was able to make a big impact changing employee productivity using your product. Find a topic that people actually want to read.

Create the perfect work environment

The perfect writing environment looks a little different for each of us depending on preference. Maybe yours is a clutter free desk, in a still and silent room, with no outside distractions or browser windows open. Maybe it’s working directly across from a group of people for quick feedback or sitting next to a stash of notes and a pile of books for reference.

Music on or off?
Coffee shop, office, or home?
Crowded or secluded?

Find what works best for you.

I recommend trying out OmmWriter for minimal and distraction free text editing.  

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In Defense of Blog Commenting


Is blog commenting dead, on the decline, or a waste of time? I for one certainly don’t think so and although I’m biased when it comes to my views towards interacting with blogs, there seems to be little or no evidence to support these claims.

A couple of days ago avid tech pundit Robert Scoble wrote on his Google+ page that blog comments are dead, as in absent from major tech and news blogs. Using recent Facebook news as a reference point, Scoble pointed out that articles posted via The New York Times, Inside Facebook, Search Engine Land, and Gigaom amongst others were void of any activity. Not a single comment.

Why is this so?

An initial hunch is that maybe *just maybe* an article about Facebook, especially regarding privacy, isn’t really anything to get excited about.  Facebook and privacy news is a broken record. One is tempted to yawn just thinking about it. The reality is that blog commenting is alive and healthy. On the opposite end of the spectrum, recent articles about Steve Jobs and the earthquake on the east coast have warranted healthy amounts of commenting.

Here’s the big question in all of this: why should marketers comment on other blogs?
More specifically, can blog commenting still drive traffic and build relationships?

Gini Dietrich recently argued that blog commenting is part of the secret sauce of online community building and greatly increased traffic to her blog over time. Commenting on other blogs, especially those within your niche, is an easy (not to mention free) way of earning the attention of others. Comments that fit within the context of a blog post and add to the discussion are almost guaranteed to get noticed. Tacking on a short “great post” or “I agree” comment probably won’t do much good, but insightful commentary and questions are welcomed on almost any blog. Comments show that you’re listening and want to contribute to the discussion.

It doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming

If you read something online and strongly agree, disagree, or have any type of educated opinion regarding what the writer is trying to communicate, let them know by leaving a comment. Use Twitter or Google Blog Search to find relevant blogs/articles and make commenting a regular habit. Writers and frequent readers will appreciate the input. Not only does it help with blogger relations, but it also proves that you’re serious about building community around a topic, industry, or ideal.

Blog commenting isn’t dead, but consider the mere thought as an extra potent incentive to keep readers and writers active.

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Top 3 Blog Commenting Platforms Reviewed

Is it time for a new blog commenting platform? WordPress, Tumblr, and other theme heavy blogging platforms often offer users the ability to change the default commenting system and if you’ve yet to do so it’s probably a wise move worth making. A robust commenting system should make commenting on a blog easy, intuitive, and encouraging. Here are the top 3 options worth considering:

Disqus


According to a company blog post from this year, Disqus is used by an astonishing 75% of blogs who rely on a third party commenting or discussion system. It’s an impressive number and only validates the wide adoption of Disqus. As a commenting system Disqus offers numerous ways to sign in, social media sharing, strong spam filters, user profiles, and mobile applications. It also includes the ability to embed video within a comment, a nice addition that’s uncommon among most other options.

Facebook


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Facebook is always looking for new opportunities to expand across the web, so when the comments plugin was released this past March its arrival came as no big surprise. For better or worse and much unlike the other two comment platforms, Facebook comments is all about Facebook. This is both advantageous and problematic. The good news is that Facebook is the worlds most popular social network and we’re reaching a point where just about everyone in the developed world has an account. The downside is that anyone who leaves a comment is at the mercy of the Facebook commenting system. There’s little room for anonymity (which is both an advantage and disadvantage), unless a commenter opts to go with the optional Yahoo, AOL, or Hotmail sign in. There’s also the annoying lack of what can be called staggered comments, in which a user can’t directly comment under a 2nd tiered comment. It’s a small fault that’s difficult to overlook.

LiveFyre


Livefyre is younger than Disqus by several years, but in 2011 it’s been able to gain notoriety and has become a worthy competitor. Livefyre has everything one would want out of a commenting platform such as an easy signup process, multiple ways to log in, user profiles, spam filtering, comment voting, and user ratings. Two features that really stand out are the dead simple way of tagging other commenters within a comment and a live listener count feature that lets you know an exact count of how many people are viewing a page in real time. Livefyre has a beyond helpful staff and have built a feature rich platform that’s hard not to like.

Understanding the Value of Long Tail Blog Outreach


When it comes to public relations, plenty of us will opt to go after big name traditional news outlets such as newspapers, magazines, TV stations, and syndicated radio programs, without understanding the value of the digital space. Even worse, some companies focus exclusively on digital properties, but shoot for the moon by going after highly competitive outlets such as The New York Times blog, The Huffington Post, or TechCrunch. While coverage on one of these top blogs will yield favorable amounts of attention, it’s a mistake to ignore the long tail of blogging. A well rounded blog outreach campaign should pay a considerable amount of attention towards the long tail, as in blogs that aren’t household names, but still have a niche following.

According to BlogPulse as of February 2011 there are over 156 million public facing blogs on the web. That’s 156 million different opportunities. 99.9% of them are blogs that you and I have never heard of, but are still being read.

When developing a strategy for long tail blog outreach, keep the following criteria in mind:

By Industry

It may seem assumed that there should be some type of connection between the pitch and the topics that the blog covers, but you’d be surprised after seeing some of the requests for coverage that have landed in my inbox. Only seek out blogs that cover the product, service, or idea that you’re trying to pitch. If you’re releasing a technology product, don’t bother going after food bloggers unless there’s some type of food related spin to your product.

By Location

If you’re located in a big metropolitan area, try going after blogs that are local to you. Some blogs such as GeekWire in Seattle or Gothamist in New York devote a large portion of their coverage towards local news and business. Use Google Blog Search to search for blogs by location.

By Relevancy

Some bloggers will write about anything, but most have a consistent theme to their blogs. BlogDash is a great tool for narrowing in on exactly what bloggers will and won’t write about. It’s useful in that when signing up for the service, bloggers list their preferences as to exactly what they’re looking for in terms of topic.

Instead of trying to convince high profile blog to cover what your company, next time aim for the long tail. You may be surprised how open other bloggers are when contacted in a professional manner.

Image via Tim Wilson

Before you Blog: a 6 Step Pre Launch Checklist


Getting ready to start a blog?

Although it may be tempting to jump right in, there are certain items that are best taken care of before the first post sees the light of day.

Here are 6 steps to help ensure a smooth and successful launch:

Step 1: Choose the right platform

WordPress or Tumblr?
Custom design or predesigned template?

The design choices you make will largely hinge on budget, comfort level with HTML/CSS and familiarity with the platform. Hiring a professional designer to build your blog from the ground up is always a wise investment.

A Comparison of the Most Popular Blogging Platforms

Step 2: Prioritize SEO objectives

Before you start blogging, make a clear list of your SEO goals. What keywords are you trying to rank for? What’s your plan for on page SEO? Just like design, start thinking about SEO before you launch and it’ll prevent future headaches down the road.

Planning SEO for Local Startups and New Businesses

Step 3: Setup Google Analytics

This one is an absolute must. Google Analytics is free, powerful, and the insights it provides are incredibly valuable. It’s easy to use and getting started is relatively simple.

An Overview of Google Analytics

Step 4: Optimize for social sharing

Optimizing a blog for social media has becoming increasingly important over the past couple of years. The easier it is for visitors to share, ReTweet, and “like” your content, the more they’ll end up doing so. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Digg, and StumleUpon all have share buttons. AddThis and ShareThis are two of the more popular sharing services.

Step 5: Define your content niche

This is a big, yet often overlooked step. Before publishing your first post, you’ll need to determine what type of content you’ll produce and what type of material will most resonate with your audience.

Are you going to focus on product reviews?
Will you blog about news within your industry?
How about interviews or case studies?

The more targeted your plan is from the beginning, the easier it’ll be to stick with for the long term.

Step 6: Create an editorial calendar

An editorial calendar helps organize ideas, encourages consistency, and will put everyone on the same page if there happens to be multiple people contributing. It’s smart to start one sooner rather than later.

Make Content Distribution Easy With An Editorial Calendar

What do you think?
Leave a comment if you have any additional  steps to add to this list.

Photo credit: Steven Depolo

Jason mKey is the senior manager of social media marketing at Sparkplug Digital.
Email: jason@sparkplugdigital.com
Twitter: @Jasonmkey

Why Blogging is A Great Opportunity for Small Businesses

I thinkSeattle business blog that blogging provides a great opportunity to increase sales for almost any business.

I recently wrote about the 10+ Reasons Why Every Business Should Blog. The most important reason to blog is that it will increase the amount of traffic coming to your business website. It will also increase the traffic from people who are specifically looking for something you provide.

One easy way to get started is to answer common customer questions each day. People often search for the answer of a question like: “What are best neighborhoods in Seattle for young kids?”. If you are a real estate agent and provide a blog post that describes the top 10 neighborhoods in Seattle for young kids, you could get a ton of search traffic from people looking to buy a house to accommodate their new kids.

The mistake that a lot of businesses make is that they stop updating their blog with new content. The blog becomes stale and neglected. Many bloggers lose their enthusiasm and their business blog hasn’t had a new blog post for months. This presents a great opportunity for those small business owners who are willing to take on “The Dip”. “The Dip” is an analogy that Seth Godin uses to describe the obstacles or barriers that prevent most people from becoming successful. Those who are willing to work hard enough to get past the dip that causes most people to quit, can reap the rewards of success. There are relatively few blogs that have been able to produce enough content to reach a critical mass and explode. Gary Vaynerchuk is a great example. He used video blog, Wine Library TV, to lift his parents liquor and wine store from 4 million in annual sales to a $50 million in sales and became a web celebrity. It was not an overnight success. It took Gary many years of recording a new video almost every weekday to get his current level of popularity. If you are willing to do the work, you can set yourself apart from many other businesses that have a blog with a handful of posts. The rewards can include strong rankings for very important keywords in your industry or geographic area which will deliver a strong flow of qualified leads that can turn into customers.

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