Why You Need a Style Guide and How to Make One

Marketing is about clear communication and consequent engagement. Bad grammar, embarrassing misspellings and careless typos all erode credibility and even damage brand reputation.

Unfortunately, another enemy of effective communication often goes overlooked: inconsistency. Just as a brand needs consistency in terms of messaging, look and feel, written words – the “voice” of an organization – need to be presented in a uniform manner.

In many cases, the organization may have certain ways web and published copy is written. And a lot of the time, only the primary communicators know those styles. It’s something they keep in their heads.

Just like the copy itself, these style guidelines need to be written down.

Not only does it keep the entire staff in the know, it also helps to have a reference readily available to the main authors within the organization.

There’s no need for anything fancy: A simple Word doc should do. But, it does need to be carefully followed to ensure your voice consistently comes through no matter who has the proverbial microphone.

So, where to start?

First, familiarize yourself with the AP Stylebook, which is essentially the media industry’s bible. Organized by words and topics A-Z, it’s the spiral-bound standby for a surprisingly wide number of inquiries.

Because it is so widely accepted – most prominently by newspapers and sites – it’s a good foundation for consistency.

From there, you can dig into those quirks and preferences for your organization.

Start with Your Own Name

When crafting style guides for clients, we often start here. How will you refer to yourself on first reference? Is it a Co., Inc., or LLC? Do you tend to keep that off? And what about subsequent references? Will you always spell it out or just use the one word after the first reference? Any kind of inconsistency will disrupt your reader, so decide how you want to do it and get it on paper.

Trademarks

If your products or services are trademarked, create a rule for when those little ™s and ®s will be used. Will you use it in every reference? Only the first? What about headlines? As with all these self-determined rules, there’s no right or wrong way. It’s just important to pick a direction and stick with it.

Industry Terms

Do you spell out acronyms on first reference or are they widely known by your audience? Are there certain terms that are universally or nearly always capped? Identify what those words are and get them down.

Commas

Yes, commas. There’s the Oxford camp and everyone else. Choose a side.

Format

The most common is time/date/place. Or is it place/date/time? This is one of those style gray areas where there is no established format, but you should have one. Same goes for headlines or titles: some capitalize every word, some ignore articles and/or prepositions, some lowercase two-letter words. There’s no official rule, so go with what you’re comfortable with.

Caps

Often times this will relate to job titles. Is Chief Officer always capitalized, or only before a name? If there’s no name at all, is it still capped? Do you always capitalize a certain service or department from within your organization?

Tags

This is an important place to be consistent in terms of SEO and the style guide is a great place to put them so they are always at the ready for blogs and YouTube videos. Get together a list of the keywords relevant to your business or product and create an entry in the guide. Tip: If you put these in sentence form using one long list with commas, you can cut and paste right into the post or video description!

These are just a few of many considerations to get the consistency wheels turning. Style guides are living documents that can be added to as issues arise (or before they do). Does your organization have a style guide? Any basic entries I missed? Oxford comma or no? Weigh in with a comment below!


Your Website May Be Killing Your Sales! Is It Time for a Website Redesign?

website redesign - signs it is time

Think about it. Your website may be your largest marketing opportunity. Whether you are B2C or B2B, your website is the place to show off your brand, speak to the right audience, create interest in your products, attract leads and earn more business. That means your website design is vital. That leads to the question you need to ask yourself periodically. Are you ready for a website redesign?

Here are some questions to ask yourself to see if you need a website redesign.

Has It Been Two Years? You’re Already Behind!

Has it been a couple years since your lat website redesign? If you answered yes, schedule some time to start planning a redesign … now.

It may seem like yesterday, but too much changes for you to not make website design a high priority. We see changes in business, marketing, technology and user habits happening regularly. You don’t want to risk becoming ineffective, unattractive, outdated or irrelevant. If it’s been a couple years, chances are yours is one or more of the above.

Mobile Use Continues to Evolve and Grow. Is Your Competition Stealing Your Traffic?

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Mobile use is growing. It’s that simple. More people are using their mobile devices to view websites. Just look at this fact: as of October 2016, mobile represented 51.3 percent of all Internet use.

Expectations are changing. People expect a simple, intuitive mobile experience. Consider this: People on a mobile device may be more likely to want to see certain parts of your website. The intent of their visit might be completely different than a desktop user. Are they looking for directions? Do they want to see a menu? Do they want to know how to quickly access pricing? Your design is key in serving mobile users.

In fact, many are adopting a mobile-first approach to web design knowing the trend for site use has moved to mobile.

SEO Is Changing. Dated Web Design Can Stifle SEO Results!

dated website design

If there is one constant in web marketing … people still want their website to be highly visible in search engines. Optimizing for search engine visibility is changing because Google and other search engines are changing. Constantly.

Google has continued making changes to help serve quality results for people’s queries. Google wants to send people to quality websites that will serve them information quickly and effectively.

Not only has Google made it clear that mobile is important, they are considering other factors that affect your website’s success.

Google has invested in AI with RankBrain. RankBrain is designed to allow Google to better understand the context of user intent and helps match the right websites with that intent. As we move forward, Google will be considering user behavior in the overall equation.

When a person views your page, do they immediately hit the back button? Do they spend a good amount of time on a page? Do they make that next logical click? These signals will help Google determine if your website should be in the top results for a query. Your design is about more than looks: It can help or hurt you in these areas.

Does Your Website Convert? Is Your Site Bleeding Money?

website conversion

It’s nice that people visit your website. Even if people enjoy their user experience, your goals are to create interest and action from the right audience. You want people to convert.

Are people calling? Are they filling out forms and signing up for your email list? Are you getting leads and sales? Or are they abandoning your site before taking action? Website design plays a big part in conversion optimization.

Is Your Site a Chore? Are You Optimized for User Experience?

website layout

To a user, it’s all about the user. That means user experience should be just as important to you. Design goes beyond look and feel. The design of your website plays a major part in user experience.

Can your site be navigated smoothly and quickly? Are people finding what they need? Do they know how to sign up? Is the buying process easy and intuitive? Do they understand your business from a brief scan of your homepage? These are all questions you should ask to help decide if you need a website redesign.

Is Your Creative Stale? You Could Be Boring Them Away!

Times change. People change. Tastes change. Are your design and creative fresh?

The creative that caught people’s attention and created interest last year might not be doing it anymore. Maybe you need to focus more on a different product or highlight a certain benefit in a new and creative way.

Stuck in the Past? Is Your Brand Staying Up to Date?

website branding, creative

Your website is where your brand lives online. Does your website exemplify your brand as it is today? When people visit your website, are they seeing the best and most recent version of your company? If someone who is unfamiliar with your organization gets to your website from a search engine, are they seeing your brand in its best light?

A strong website creates trust in a brand. When people see a web design that’s professional and up to date, it builds confidence and authority for your brand.

Is Your Website Unsafe? Security Is Vital.

website security

How secure is your website? If you are unsure, you may want to find out as soon as you’re done reading this. Don’t assume. Being up to date in this area be the difference between peace of mind and total anxiety.

Make sure you’re staying up with best practices. Do you have an SSL certificate (https vs. http)?

That’s just one quick thing to check.

The SSL certificate is not only more secure, but search engines are starting to consider it when evaluating websites. Not only are you and your users safer, you might get an SEO bump to boot.

Everyone sees the news. Websites that are exploited cause huge headaches for businesses and their customers. That can be a huge ding to your reputation and brand.

It’s Gut-Check Time! Do You Need a Website Redesign?

Let’s face it. Time flies. Things change quickly. Your website design needs to keep up with the changes.

That doesn’t simply mean changing some elements to catch more eyes. Your website design needs to be functional and effective to fulfill its role in marketing.

Website design needs to be intuitive, professional, attractive, user friendly, search friendly, mobile friendly and conversion friendly! If your design isn’t helping you in these areas, it may be holding your back or hindering your results.

Ask yourself all the questions above and decide whether it’s the time for a website redesign.


Content Marketing World 2016: Valuable Insights to Boost Results

Convention Center - Content Marketing World

Content Marketing World 2016 was packed with amazing insights from all kinds of experts and brilliant marketers. Between the workshops, breakout sessions, keynotes, and lunch & learns, you get an entire day of valuable knowledge to take with you, your organization and your clients.

It’s nearly impossible to share every valuable nugget from Content Marketing World without writing a small book. So, here’s some of the takeaways from Content Marketing World 2016 that you should really think about …

Quality Trumps Quantity

Generally speaking, people think more is better. What’s more, people think more should be done faster and faster. Throughout Content Marketing World, a common theme was that quality beats quantity. People like Andy Crestodina, Ann Handley and tons of others focused on the importance of quality to the success of content marketing. Plus, many, including Handley, stressed the need to slow down and be more thoughtful, researched and deliberate to provide unique value to audiences and reap more meaningful business benefits.

Research Is a Key Part of Content Marketing

Content Marketing World - Expo Floor

If there is one theme that was almost universal at Content Marketing World, it is that marketing whims should die. The role of research in content marketing is vital. In fact, it’s essential. Research helps provide the who, what, when, where and why of your content marketing. It helps with topics, platforms, distribution methods, timing and so much more.

Take Margaret Magnarelli (@mmagnarelli),  Managing Editor at Monster.  She emphasized research and information gathering for optimizing effectiveness when implementing brand journalism for your organization. Without research, you are limiting your marketing decisions in a big way. This leads to the next takeaway.

Data-Driven Decisions

The data you get from various sources is incredibly valuable to your content marketing. With data, you can make smarter marketing decisions in so many areas. For instance, Igor Bielobradeck (@b2bmarketing_pl), head of digital marketing for Deloitte in Poland, pointed out how data and research improves creating editorial calendars and managing content, especially in complex organizations.

Andrew Davis, CEO of Monumental Shift and author at Brandscaping, explained how the continuous data you receive can be used to better report content marketing ROI in a simple way. This in turn helps you understand how to change to improve ROI over time. Data can help drive decisions, even those that affect creativity.

Intentional Creativity

Content Marketing World - Session Drawings

Creative genius is reserved for those special gifted few, right? Not so fast. Allen Gannet (@Allen), CEO of Track Maven, has discovered otherwise.  He shared this insight: “The things we perceive as creative brilliance are often the product of a system.” He calls it intentional creativity.

When you really look into it, your research, data, systems and formulas are used to improve creativity and content.

The winning recipe is data + people = success.

Machine Learning Is Upon Us and Ready to Take Off

When you talk about machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), you often hear references to Skynet (“Terminator” movies) or some other science fiction. Some are a little scared of it. The fact is that machine learning is here to stay and it really isn’t scary. Google uses it to help serve search results with RankBrain. In fact, while it was once used only on new search queries, it’s now being used for all queries and has become an important factor in ranking.

Paul Roetzer (@PaulRoetzer) talked about content marketing in the machine age. A key point is that machine learning and AI help take mundane, manual, labor-intensive and time-consuming tasks and replace them with high-value tasks and actions. With machine learning marketing automation, audience insights, modeling, predictions, and even content creation is taken to a different level. It elevates the role of content marketer to one that focuses on continuous enhancement instead of manual tasks. Articles are now being produced using machine learning technology. The possibilities are expanding all the time.

Social Media Business Strategy for Across Your Organization

Hollywood Squares - Content Marketing World

When content marketers think of social media, they think of using social platforms for promotion, engaging their audience, distributing content and so on. Why not implement a total social media business strategy instead? This is what Travis Wright (@TeeDubya), CMO at CCP Digital, recommends.

Use social media to get results across your organization.

We use social media to enhance the customer experience and customer service. Why not use social media for recruitment of talent? There are top prospects that are not on job boards. You can target them well at a relatively low cost and save time. Start asking how you can use social media across your organization as a social media business strategy.

SEO Trends: Intent, AI, Engagement, SERPS and Valuable Content

Let’s not forget SEO. Rand Fishkin (@RandFish), Wizard of Moz, covered seven of the latest trends in SEO that are important in 2016 and going forward. There’s a whole lot to cover. Here’s just some of it:

It’s no surprise, but Google is still the 800-pound gorilla of search. However, as Fishkin pointed out, that doesn’t mean you should ignore other search engines. YouTube is the second largest search engine. Watch for Facebook and Amazon. Take a look at DuckDuckGo. It’s experiencing fast growth. All that said, it’s important to know what’s going on with Google. They have been mixing it up with a few things.

As mentioned before, AI is here.Google has said AI and engagement are the future for them. They are becoming very good at understanding the intent of search queries and understanding when varying queries should have similar results. The better Google understands intent, the better you need to match your content to user intent. It will help your visibility and traffic.

Not only that, but Google is looking at user engagement more closely to determine if content is a good search result. Do users quickly bounce from your page after clicking on a top result? It might not be a top result for long.  All of this means that SEO and valuable content are more important than ever.

Understand How People Think to Make Content Effective

At the root of content marketing, we try to create interest and get people to take action. We want people who consume our content or visit our website to subscribe, become a member, request a quote or make a purchase.  What better way to improve your content marketing across the board than to understand how the human brain works and how people think? Tim Ash (@Tim_Ash) shared eye-opening information about how the brain works and why it doesn’t make sense to sell to the  logical brain. In short, the human brain is comprised of three parts. It’s wired to first react, then feel, then reason (conscious thinking).

About 95 percent of all thought is pre-conscious. Therefore, selling to the logical brain isn’t effective. It’s a fascinating subject that content marketers should learn.

Relevance Is the Name of the Game

Content Marketing World - Scott Stratten

Scott Stratten (@unmarketing) of UNmarketing offered his unique take on content marketing. Although he had a lot of great thoughts to offer, the underlying theme was relevance. It’s not just about your topic. Relevance goes well beyond that. Are the platforms you are using relevant to your specific audience? Are you using the latest platform because it’s the latest shiny object? Stop.

He called out live video. People feel compelled to do it, but is that platform relevant? He said that it was highly relevant to stream a musical performance, but, for many, live video is just another opportunity to make an unneeded mistake that will reflect on the brand poorly. Relevance goes deeper than most think. And it starts with getting down to the fundamentals. In a funny moment, he said that people feel like they have to do everything new in 2016, but he’d love to see people get 2003 stuff right first. Marketers really think about relevance. Are you relevant to your audience from moment they are introduced to your content through to the customer experience?

The Takeaway on Content Marketing World Takeaways

These takeaways are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much to learn at Content Marketing World. It was a great event with a ton of nonstop information that leaves you excited to put it into action.


Google’s RankBrain Makes Smart Content Strategy and SEO Even More Valuable

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Brain vector designed by Freepik

In the past month or so there’s been talk in SEO and digital marketing circles about RankBrain. It kind of sounds a bit sci-fi, right? What’s that about?

Like anything new in the world of marketing, there is a bit of a hype phase. Now that the hype has settled some, let’s take a look at RankBrain like rational marketers. After all, we are not interested in hype. Instead, let’s see what RankBrain is, how it works and whether or not you can make it work for you.

What is RankBrain?

RankBrain is the name of a machine learning program Google is using to help produce results for its search engine. That’s right. Google is using machine learning.

Machine learning is when a computer or machine learns from itself instead of relying solely on human programming. Don’t worry. There’s no need to call up Emilio Estevez to stop the machines from taking over (classic ’80s reference).

While not a pure form of artificial intelligence (AI), this is a significant point in SEO and digital marketing because it marks a real change in how search engine results are delivered.

How does RankBrain work?

OK, that’s what RankBrain is. However, for people trying to engage a target audience, it might be more important to understand what RankBrain really does.

“RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities – called vectors – that the computer can understand. If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the result accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries”.

– Greg Corrado, Google Senior Research Scientist

Has Google has turned over search engine results (and your organization’s SEO destiny) to machine learning?

Not exactly. Google is only using it in a limited way at this point.

  • RankBrain is used as just part of their results algorithm, which Google says has more than 200 ranking factors.
  • RankBrain is being used for a certain subset of search queries.

However, Google is excited at the results so far and anticipates machine learning to be an increasingly important part of their overall business.

How is RankBrain used?

RankBrain is implemented to address unique search queries Google has never seen before.

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While that might not sound like much, you might be surprised. Brand new searches are up to 15 percent of search queries in a given day. For those of you keeping score at home, that equates to 450 million searches in a day.

Based on how RankBrain works and how it is being implemented to more intelligently and efficiently handle new search queries, one can speculate that Google is using RankBrain to improve understanding of the context and intent of new searches, and categorize them. It may improve the quality of search results by putting new searches through RankBrain to make its determinations and then work in conjunction with already existing aspects of the algorithm.

Over time, as RankBrain continues to improve, it will potentially build on its learning abilities and increase its ability to handle new queries in a meaningful way.

How does RankBrain affect SEO?

That depends. If you are the kind that doesn’t think creating content for your audience matters and try to get by on technical aspects of SEO or driving a ton of links to a limited set of mediocre content, then you should be concerned. Then again, you should have been concerned long before RankBrain. But, that’s another topic.

If you are the kind who has truly invested in providing high quality content to your audience in a strategic way, then RankBrain may potentially affect your SEO in a beneficial way.

The simple fact that Google created RankBrain should tell you some things:

  1. Good content is important.
  2. New, fresh content is important.
  3. Relevant content to your audience is important.
  4. The intent of your content is important.
  5. Understanding content is a huge priority for Google.
  6. Google is constantly working on building a better set of brains to understand content for serving search results.

What does this all mean?

Smart content strategy is really important for SEO!

Can you make RankBrain work for you?

Look at the bigger picture. Google is not going to stop its effort to create a better set of brains to understand websites and the content on its pages. They will not stop at trying to learn and detect tactics people use to game the system and take shortcuts to “trick” Google into ranking content. Google’s goal will continue to be ranking valuable, credible, relevant and authoritative websites and content.

If you can understand and embrace these things, you can make RankBrain work for you.

The big digital marketing and SEO lesson …

Here’s the simple, yet incredibly important, marketing lesson that RankBrain offers:

Provide great value to people who are most likely to be interested in buying your products or services.

Underlying all of the intricacies of digital marketing and SEO are fundamental principles of human nature and marketing.

If you invest and make a real commitment to providing authentic, high-quality content for your website’s audience and combine it with an intelligent SEO approach that puts users first, you will increase your chances of reaping a ton of benefits.


5 Things that Should Scare the S!@# Out of Marketing Executives

‘Tis the season of boogiemen and things that go bump in the night. While those may be figments of imagination, there are many marketing monsters that are very real.

Marketing managers and marketing professionals of all kinds have a lot to think about and sometimes it can seem overwhelming or downright scary. Although we’d like to say there is no reason to be scared, some people should be. While there is a lot of really effective marketing out there, there is a whole lot of marketing that is not effective at all. That said, there are some scary things in marketing that you should be watching out for. So…

Here’s a list of 5 serious problems that should frighten marketing managers.

Brand unawareness

blueguyEvery marketing manager dreams of gigantic brand awareness. They have visions of people talking about their brand and having such strong love for the brand that it becomes a staple of everyday life. On the other hand, a marketing manager’s worst nightmare is that after all of their hard work and planning, when a person hears their brand they say, “Who?”.

There are plenty of reasons that brand unawareness can happen.

  • Not really knowing your audience
  • Not appealing to your audience
  • Fractured messaging
  • Lackluster creative
  • No differentiation
  • Spreading your budget too thin

Don’t let brand unawareness happen to you. Nobody wants you to be losing sleep. Be proactive and really think about your brand, the right target market, points of differentiation, and the best way to communicate that message to your audience.

Not being found

Even if you have amazing creative, strong products and services, awesome messaging and compelling offers, it won’t matter if nobody can find you. You don’t want to be the best business that nobody can find. That’s kind of frightening. Plus, it would just be a shame.

One place companies and organizations are not being found is online. Everyone knows the Internet is part of our lives. Just think of how much people use the Web to find what they want, communicate with others, share information, watch videos, get entertained and make purchases.

The biggest reason for companies not being found online is a lack of commitment and investment in digital marketing and SEO. There’s really not an excuse for this. Are you one of the people who think SEO is dead or not really valuable?

Go ask the people with consistent rankings for profitable keywords on the first page of Google, and see if they think if SEO is dead. See if they think there is no value to attracting relevant traffic through search engines.

Digital marketing is a huge opportunity for just about every organization. You should be using SEO, content marketing, video, social media and email in a strategic way to build long-term results.

Your competition being found

If there’s one thing that makes not being found even scarier, it’s your competition being consistently found. Guess what? That’s what is going to happen if you don’t develop a quality marketing strategy that includes digital marketing.

Just think about it: Right now there might be someone who could be your customer finding your competition.

You hear that? That’s the sound of your competition’s cash register ringing. Scary isn’t it?

Ineffective website

Know what else is scary? It’s 2015, and way too many people have ineffective websites. Your website is the face of your organization online. It’s important. There are several ways that websites can be ineffective.

  • Websites that simply look awful and scare people away.
  • Websites so fancy and complicated that people have no idea how to use it
  • The bells and whistles steal the show: all sizzle, no steak.
  • Websites that look great, but has no solid way to generate leads or customers

Effective website design and development is attractive, professional, intuitive, search engine friendly and valuable to users. You want your website to be one of your strongest marketing assets. You want your website to be an inbound marketing hub.

If you have an ineffective website, you are most likely missing out on a lot of opportunities. If you think creating a quality website is too expensive, just think about all the opportunities you might be missing with an ineffective website.

Being part of the white noise

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Halloween vector designed by Freepik

As stated earlier, the Internet is part of daily life. It’s here to stay. With everyone being online and everyone trying to get noticed, there is a lot of white noise out there.

Let’s face it. There’s also a lot of bad content out there. There’s a lot of fluff and hype. There are a lot of headlines that grab your attention only to leave you disappointed by the article.

It’s scary to think that the content you’re creating is blending into the white noise.

There’s only so much time, and you are trying to earn the attention of your target audience. And what if you aren’t one of the “big boys” in your industry? How do you cut through the white noise and stand out?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is my content valuable?
  • Does my content help people or provide something of value?
  • Am I solving problems?
  • Am I talking to the right audience with the right information?
  • Does my content try to reach too many people?
  • Am I combining quality content with SEO and smart digital marketing?
  • Would I share my content on social media?

To stand out from the white noise, you need to be providing something of value to people who care. You have to serve your audience.

If you take the time to really understand your audience and its concerns, you can become a credible resource they turn to when they have a question.

Do some homework. Think about their lives and what’s important to them. Peel back the layers of the onion and you will likely find that you can work smarter instead of harder.