Author: Brian Wilkins

Brian is a content and SEO superstar who has written for brands like American Express, Cabela's, J.G. Wentworth, IBM, T-Mobile, and several major universities. He also makes great grilled buffalo wings.

Size matters: search engines, readers favor long-form content

(updated 8:42 PST) — The quantity vs. quality debate is perpetual in the worlds of digital marketing and SEO. But there’s one fact that cannot be denied when it comes to blogging: frequent publishing on company websites increases the chances of acquiring new customers.

All blog content is not created equal however. Its difficult to determine how many blog posts are published everyday in the world. WordPress powers 26% of the internet and holds a 59% market share for content management systems, according to W3 Techs. WordPress users publish 84 million new posts per month, or about 2.8 million per day and over one billion per year.

I’ve personally written well over 2,000 content marketing blog posts for various companies in the last seven years. At least 90% of them were between 550-800 words. The question “what would you say is a good average word count for a blog post” on Quora has a top answer that suggests 750 words is “ideal.” The next two answers say “500-750 words” and “300-400 words” respectively. Hubspot’s 2016 State of Inbound Marketing report found that roughly 80% of company blog posts are less than 1,000 words.

Publishing frequently on your company blog positively correlates with the number of leads that turn into paying customers, as referenced above. Quick, simple blog posts fill the quantity aspect of company blogging. But all those short posts are clumped together with billions of others trying to get recognition from Google and potential customers. Blog content requires more depth (i.e. more words) to stand out from the crowd and to establish your company as an industry authority.

Long-form content is king with Google

A 2012 study by serpIQ analyzed 20,000-plus keywords and found some telling trends regarding search engine rankings. The top five results for the keywords averaged over 2,300 words, and all of the top 10 results averaged over 2,000 words.

The age of domains also played a role in search rankings, with 55% of the top three results being on websites that were at least 10-years-old.  A more recent analysis by Hubspot found that blog posts between 2,250 and 2,500 words got five times more organic traffic than posts with 1,000 words or less.

Aesthetics are important too

Longer is better for SEO, but not necessarily for lead conversions. A 2013 experiment by MECLABS managing director Flint McGlaughlin ran a series of tests on lead conversions when readers are presented long-form versus shorter content. A key finding was that content presentation – the way its displayed on screen – played a role in conversion rates. When it came to landing pages, fewer words resulted in higher conversions for a company that offered free psychological evaluations.

Shorter copy was also effective for company landing pages asking for email addresses for subscriptions and to get discounts on certain products. But long copy was more effective when readers were asked to make more difficult decisions. A second test measuring conversions for a mental health and addiction center found that longer copy with the call-to-action at the bottom of the page had a conversion rate of 2.48% vs. .78% for the control (shorter, clumpier) copy: a 220% difference.

Dr. McGlaughlin concluded that decreased friction (anxiety) related to the decision, increased lead conversions.

Sequential, comprehensive , descriptive content soothed and supplemented the mental effort. Long-form copy for the mental health facility created a value proposition in the beginning and continued to carefully build trust and explain to readers the benefits all the way until the call-to-action. A decision to add your email address to a newsletter list is much easier than deciding whether to have a mental health facility contact you. Shorter copy is effective for lower anxiety decisions; while detailed, sequential copy works best for more complex, expensive buying decisions.

Constants in ever-changing Google algorithm

Its disingenuous for anyone not working in one of Google’s 68 office locations to claim expertise regarding the company’s search algorithm. Google literally makes changes to its algorithm everyday and rarely provides specifics as to what the changes entailed. Granted most of the changes are small tweaks that likely won’t negatively effect the current SERP (search engine results page) rankings of your blog. But you don’t have to be a mathematics and computer science nerd to understand Google’s ultimate goal.

For those unfamiliar, Google’s search algorithm is the sequence of calculations performed to determine hierarchy of search results for long-tail and single keywords. There have been several major updates to the algorithm in the last seven years. The Panda update (also known as the “Farmer update” to SEO folks) in February of 2011 was the first one to hit spammy, shallow websites hard. All those formerly high-ranking articles written by college students for $.01 per word were removed from first page results. Some of the reasons included, but were not limited to, grammatical and factual errors, one-sided opinion pieces, keyword stuffing and randomness of topics not relevant to the website itself.

The Penguin update in February 2012 took things a step further. It dinged websites that used blackhat SEO techniques to push themselves up Google rankings. A common SEO practice before Penguin was paying established websites to place links to your site in already-existing blog posts that ranked highly for certain keywords. The unnatural authority and credibility gained by these backlinks were considered violations of Google’s terms, resulting in numerous websites being de-indexed for varying amounts of time.

Google Hummingbird went live sometime in August of 2013. It was a complete overhaul of the old algorithm instead of just updating a few things. The general understanding is that Hummingbird wanted to better understand what exactly users were trying to find. Language recognition via verbal queries on smartphones, along with long-tail keywords becoming more common, motivated Google to understand the context of words instead of just knowing all possible synonyms.  Amit Singhal, former senior vice president of Google, told reporters at the official unveiling of Hummingbird in September 2013 that the new algorithm made it possible to find what you’re looking for without exact keywords. Search queries were getting longer and more ambiguous, and Hummingbird accommodated this new phenomenon.

Several more updates, including Pigeon, RankBrain and Possum, have been publicly acknowledged by Google since Hummingbird. These updates mostly focused on providing better localized searches, artificial intelligence to better understand user behavior, and diversity of results based on user location. “Fred,” launched in March of this year, is the most recent, confirmed update to Google’s algorithm. Google has not provided many specifics as to how Fred affects SERPs. But early tests have shown websites with low-quality content and posts meant solely to generate revenue are being dinged hard.

Though search algorithms are complicated to understand, there is a common theme with all Google updates. Seven years ago when I transitioned from broadcast and print journalism to content marketing, there was a lot to learn. Despite the continual algorithmic changes to search engines since 2010, one thing has remained constant as far as Google favorability: content quality.

I did a guest post back in August of 2010 entitled “Eleventh Amendment is Unconstitutional; Must be Repealed” for a very obscure, anti-government website. It took a few weeks, but the post quickly became the #1 result for the keywords “Eleventh Amendment Unconstitutional.” If you search those same keywords right now, that article is still #1 seven years later over well-respected articles by Cornell University, University of California-Berkeley and Justia. Why? Its very factual, has videos and diagrams, and is published on a website that covers that type of subject matter (relevance). It also has 1,557 words (not the traditional 550-800) and the domain is nine years old.

“Don’t count characters. Make your characters count.” Barry Feldman.

There are several considerations when deciding how long a blog post should be. Promoting your company’s forthcoming Memorial Day sale doesn’t require more than 550 words. But answering the question “how to buy and use bitcoins” likely requires a minimum of 2,000 words plus a lot of reassurance within the content to ease anxiety about a complicated subject matter.

A general rule of thumb for writers is to simply write until you’re finished. Predetermined, forced word counts lead to fluffy, empty copy that neither Google nor your readers will appreciate. Long-form content is favored by search engines and is shared more often on social media. Frequent publishing of blogs is also favored by Google and readers. A mix of content is best for overall effectiveness. If you’re publishing five times per week (as all companies should be doing), at least one of your post should be more than 1,200 words.

Writing long-form content is a daunting task for non-professional scribes, but a necessity for SEO and lead nurturing. Turn your content needs over to professional writers with good track records. Inbound marketing (blogging) cost much less than all outbound channels and yields three times more leads per dollar. Now is the time to address your marketing strategy and reap the benefits of both long-form and traditional content.

Ready to start publishing long-form, high-quality content on your company blog? Check out our content packages and make sure to sign-up for our monthly newsletter in the left sidebar.

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Will artificial intelligence render content writers obsolete?

A study released earlier this month by market research firm Forrester predicted that automation (robots) will kill 24.7 million U.S. jobs by 2027. The firm also concluded that 14.9 million new jobs will be created in that same time frame as a result of automation and other developing technologies; placing net job losses at 9.8%. Customer service, manual labor and complex calculation tasks are cited as the most at-risk.

Writing would seemingly be the last jobs robots could take over because of so-called “human exceptionalism.” Emotional nuances, cognizance and other human faculties associated with crafting words that resonate with people, are ostensibly unique to homo sapiens. “Star Wars” fans remember when Luke Skywalker first met C3PO. Luke asked his new droid to talk about some of the battles he’s seen between the Rebellion and the Empire. But because C3PO was programmed only to be a language interpreter, he did not have the functional capacity to tell a story.

There are already robots writing certain types of copy, and the practice is growing in scope. Daryl Plummer, managing vice president and chief researcher at Gartner, said at the company’s Symposium/ITxpo 2016 in Orlando that robots will author 20% of business content by 2018. Budget reports and quick recaps of sporting events are currently the most common types of content written by artificial intelligence (AI).

In the old days (meaning a few years ago), financial writers combed through reports that companies are required to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC): 10-K, 10-Q, annual and quarterly earnings. Some 10-K and 10-Q reports for large companies easily exceed 100 pages of headache-inducing cryptic blather. Weeks and sometimes months later, after making sense of it all, writers crafted stories about the reports that readers could understand.

The Associated Press (AP) reported in January of 2015 that it previously could only write about 300 articles per quarter about individual company’s corporate earnings because the task was so tedious. But in late 2014 the AP formed partnerships with Automated Insights, Inc. and Zacks Investment Research. Automated’s natural language generation platform called Wordsmith, combined with Zacks’ research and analytics, enabled the AP to published 3,000 such articles in one quarter, a ten-fold increase in production.

Automated Insights was purchased by venture capital firm Vista Equity Partners, which owns Stats LLC., in early 2015. Fantasy sports players recognize the name Stats LLC. as one of the industry leaders in providing real-time scoring for their leagues. The partnership has just started scratching the surface as to the types of sports-related content it will produce with Stats’ huge vault of sports data and Insights’ AI technology.

Scientists at the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in Hyderabad, India, also married sports and AI in late 2015. A robot “watched” hundreds of taped cricket matches on the ESPNcricinfo website and the Indian Premiere League channel on Youtube. It learned what words were associated with the corresponding actions and players on the screen based on the commentary from the announcers. The computer then taught itself an algorithm that allowed it to write its own real-time commentary during live games with 90% accuracy. Robots have also tried their hand at writing movie scripts, but the end results didn’t exactly impress the folks at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Top writers in the content marketing industry are perpetually adapting to the ever-changing landscape of SEO and content production. It comes with the territory for those who wish to remain in the industry.

The expansion of AI in content marketing is simply another challenge writers must accept.

Sports and financial writers’ jobs at risk?

Robots have the ability to look at NBA, NFL and NHL box scores and write intelligible summaries as to what happened in the game. Companies like Fox Sports and Yahoo have been generating this type of content with AI for several years now. Similarly Chicago-based Narrative Science is leasing its natural language generation platform called Quill to financial firms like Credit Suisse and T. Rowe Price to write performance reports on mutual funds, hedge funds, and stocks.

The days of sports writers sitting in press boxes, collecting stat sheets from team personnel and writing recaps after games are likely numbered because of AI. But robot commentators won’t be doing play-by-play for fast-paced sports like basketball, football and ice hockey anytime soon. Opinion journalism has become the norm in professional and amateur sports (and cable news), which gives writer an edge over machines.

Sports and financial writers have adapted to this reality not only for the sake of job security, but also for competitive reasons since everyone else is doing it. Financial writers tend to let the numbers speak for themselves in their content. But in the fast-paced 21st century, a human touch is essential to lessens the chance of jobs being overtaken by machines and to distinguish yourself from the crowd.

AI isn’t cheap

Automation is on many companies’ wish lists because of its potential to streamline workflows and significantly reduce the time it takes to complete certain tasks. The reality is that AI is cost prohibitive for most businesses.

The legal industry is particularly bullish on AI for its potential money and time saving capabilities. But Connie Brenton, chairman of the board at the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, told law publication Corporate Counsel in February that AI is not a “silver bullet” that is going to disrupt the legal profession overnight. Brenton elaborated at Legalweek: The Experience 2017 Conference. She said that beyond the initial costs that can potentially exceed six-figures, there is also a 5-6 month time investment before virtual assistants can actually be implemented into legal workflows. Firms would also need to hire multiple full-time administrators for the system and frequently consult with the AI vendor.

Seth Earley, CEO of Earley Information Science, agreed that cost and time investment eliminate AI as an option for most companies in the near term. Earley suggested in his Harvard Business Review article that the more realistic option for small and medium-sized companies that lack huge corporate budgets is what he termed “AI Lite” systems. These more simplified virtual helpers lack cognitive computing ability, and are programmed to complete only certain tasks. These systems would require additional coding to learn new tasks, but would provide a scalable AI foundation for companies as the technology becomes more affordable and accessible.

Breathe easy, writers

Financial writers had job security because relatively few people in the world can make enough sense of economic regulations, indexes and statistics to compose good stories. AI has already impacted that segment of writers. The journalistic aspect of financial writing, however, is still a human activity. Interviews with industry experts, CEOs, etc. still produce quotes that provide readers perspective. Human journalists already experience difficulty contacting sources on the phone and/or via email to get direct quotes. Its doubtful CEOs and market analysts would be more willingly to talk to robots on the phone or via email versus responding to another human being.

AI is everywhere in 2017. Whether humanity likes it or not, the trend is not slowing down. Robots are now driving people’s cars for them, but 75% of Americans and a majority of Europeans are scared of autonomous technology and would rather drive themselves. An Indiegogo virtual sex robot campaign had to be suspended because demand was so high. But most (normal) people still favor sex with another human as opposed to robots.

An experiment carried out in the 1940s before the United States had medical ethics also proved human touch is vital to human life. One group of caretakers was ordered to hold, look at, talk to, etc. a group of babies they would also feed, change diapers, etc. The other group only changed diapers, fed, etc. the babies while excluding all other physical contact, communication, etc. The experiment had to be stopped after four months because four of the babies that received no human contact died, and two more died months later even when given real parental care thereafter.

AI is presenting writers the opportunity to better themselves; to become subject matter experts in more industries and acquire new skills like graphic design, web design and/or SEO. Writing is innately a human form of communication that requires humans to craft and subsequently appreciate. Professional writers know the basics: always cite primary sources, use keywords in headlines, hit deadlines, etc. But most importantly in 2017, give your writing that human touch that only we as humans understand and appreciate.

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Facebook: the unnecessary nuisance for marketing departments

Facebook had 50 million active business pages as of December 2015, up from 40 million eight months earlier. Assuming sustained growth through today, there are upwards of 70 million active Facebook business pages in April 2017. It makes good business sense for small and medium-sized businesses to follow this trend when they glance at the numbers.

Facebook boasts an astounding 1.23 billion daily active users, and 1.86 billion monthly active users. Facebook is a theoretical must-have for all businesses due to the sheer number of potential customers that can be reached. Unfortunately great odds don’t necessarily translate to success.

Social media is an important part of all marketing strategies. Facebook marketing has taken on a life of its own in the last couple years. But the resources marketing departments are allocating to the world’s largest social network are better spent elsewhere.

Numbers perspective

Facebook’s 1.86 million active monthly users are nothing to sneeze at. That is a humongous potential profit pie for companies to explore. A more comprehensive look at the numbers tells a different story.

A vast majority of Facebook users, more than 85%, are located outside of the United States and Canada. China, the most populous country and fastest growing economy in the world after surpassing India last year, banned Facebook in 2009. Some Chinese people still access Facebook via VPN, but there’s no way of estimating how many.

Facebook’s first quarterly earnings report after its IPO in 2012 indicated that at least 8.7% of users were fake, meaning they were duplicates, “misclassified,” or “undesirable.” The company’s 2015 annual report put the number at about 7% fake accounts. Averaging those numbers out, upwards of 150 million Facebook profiles are fake.

Despite all the aforementioned, there are still millions of Facebook users who may be interested in your product or service. Now its just a matter of reaching them.

Facebook algorithm changes

Facebook Ads launched in November of 2007, with one of the features being that businesses could “build pages on Facebook to connect with their audiences.” This was only 28 months after the company acquired the domain Facebook.com for $200,000, so business (fan) pages have been around for most of the social network’s existence. The way these pages operate has changed dramatically since then.

When business and fan pages started, administrators enjoyed very high organic reach with its followers. Facebook was the go-to platform for major brands and small businesses to build large followings and post unlimited promotional and customer relations content 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Facebook’s initial public offering (IPO) in May of 2012 immediately changed how the platform worked. The company now had shareholders to satisfy. Its entire philosophy changed almost overnight, and made many influential people angry in the process.

George Takei, the long-time Star Trek actor, noticed the change in June that year and posted a not-so-subtle note to his two million followers about it.

A Facebook employee responded to Takei, saying the company had not changed anything about the way posts were disseminated. Instead, according to the employee, Facebook made the user experience better by making the content they see more relevant. But Takei was not satisfied with the explanation, as he posted a very similar note several months later.

Billionaire Mark Cuban, who owns the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, talked about the changes to Facebook business pages in November of 2012. The team posted a promo for an upcoming game on Facebook assuming it would reach a large percentage of its 2.3 million followers at the time. The post only reached 27,000 of the Mavericks’ followers organically (or about 1.1%). Cuban tweeted his assessment of Facebook, along with a screenshot of Facebook demanding $3,000 for the Mavericks to reach about half of their followers (NOTE: the tweet has since been deleted).

A few days later Cuban expanded on his tweet in a Huffington Post article. He was not recommending companies leave Facebook, but that they de-emphasize it in favor of Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and other social networks.

Post-IPO Facebook changed its news feed algorithm to reduce average organic reach by business pages to 16% of its followers, according to a 2014 white paper by Social@Ogilvy. Further, the more followers you had, the less your organic reach. By October of 2013, average organic reach dropped to 12%. Pages with more than 500,000 followers, however, dropped to an average of 4% organic reach. Four months later, in February 2014, average organic reach for all business pages dropped to 6.2%, and to 2.1% for pages with more than 500,000 followers. Facebook announced more changes to its algorithm in June of last year, leading to even lower organic reach.

There are things you can do on Facebook to increase organic reach of followers. As Mr. Takei suggested above, tell followers to prioritize your posts. Today this is done a little differently than he described in his 2012 post.

Facebook Live broadcasts and videos published on the native Facebook video platform (versus externally-linked videos) tend to get more interactions. The algorithm also recognizes quality content, which uses factor such as word frequency, choice and count. Its just another reason why company blogs with high-quality content are such valuable assets.

The only way businesses truly reap the benefits of Facebook is by paying for it. We recently tested out paid advertising on Facebook for a clients’ business page that sells encrypted email service. We authorized Facebook to take $50 from the clients’ credit card to “boost” a post about online privacy in the wake of Senate Joint Resolution 34 being signed into law earlier this month. The campaign was supposed to run for four days. Facebook ultimately took $30 from the client’s credit card and ended the campaign after three days for whatever reason. The client just joined Facebook that week, so only had five followers before the boosted post, which ultimately reached 1,266 news feeds (60 organically), got 110 total engagements, and only ONE click on the actual link.

Some data is excluded due to confidentiality agreements.

At that rate, you’re paying about $30 per click-through to your actual website, even when the audience is targeted by demographics and user habits. A higher budget will help, but that money is better spent investing in your own website, particularly on publishing daily, high-quality blog content and growing your email list.

Social vs. professional network

When you log into Facebook, you expect to see embarrassing breakups, what people are having for breakfast and the new sweater somebody bought their dog. Its nothing short of cringe-worthy when the same type of stuff shows up on LinkedIn. Jerome Knyszewski was the first to publish an article on LinkedIn about this, and there have since been several iterations by others.

Facebook specifically states on its homepage that it is a social network that helps you “connect with friends.” LinkedIn specifically states on its company page that it exists to “[connect] the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”

LinkedIn has a fraction of the active users of Facebook, with about 467 million registered users in 200 countries. The U.S. has the highest number of registered LinkedIn users by far with over 133 million. India comes in a distant second with 39 million. LinkedIn is the obvious priority for U.S.-based B2B companies’ social media investments. B2C companies have more opportunities to leverage Facebook in their favors, while LinkedIn provides a means of connecting with others in their respective industries.

The 2016 Hubspot “State of Inbound” marketing report proved two things: old school still works and investing in your own website instead of social media is smart. Whether sales teams increased or decreased in numbers, companies identified phone and email communications as the most successful channels for their salespeople to reach prospects.

Phone communications typically originated from email communications via prospects and leads contacting or subscribing to company blogs or websites. The report suggested that companies stop cold-calling and contact warm leads who responded to content on their websites. Growing your email list is thus more important than growing your number of Facebook followers.

Though there was no significant difference between Facebook and LinkedIn success rates for salespeople, the tiebreaker is organic reach. Last week on LinkedIn, I published an article on my personal account with only 225 connections. But as of publishing 110 people saw it, or about 49% of my followers. Further, big brands are using Twitter far more than they do all other social networks, according to Forrester Research.

Bottom line

If you’ve had a Facebook business page for years, and have over 1,000 followers, its unwise to just ditch it. Its best to learn more about your followers with Facebook Insights and try to figure out from the data the best approach to increase organic reach. Unless you’re willing to spend more money, time and effort to reach followers, its best to prioritize your own web properties.

A Facebook business page is good to have even if you don’t use it a lot. People may search for your company on the platform and find contact information. Even the largest, most successful brands in the world aren’t heavily active on Facebook because of the time and investment it takes to get even minimal returns. Coca Cola (102 million followers) and Starbucks (36 million followers) sometimes go weeks without posting anything, but they’re still on top of their respective industries. Both companies have very active blogs with great content.

All companies – small, medium and large; B2B and B2C – should have a Facebook page for SEO purposes and to have another means of communication with customers and leads. Investing a lot of time, money and effort into it takes away from investing in your own websites that you have 100% control over. Use Facebook to supplement your blogs and websites, not the other way around.

RELATED: How much should you pay for content marketing?

Are you ready to reap the benefits of publishing high-quality content on your company blog? Do you need to start a new blog from scratch? Read about Content Coup, check out pricing and contact us today. Cut out the middle man and join the revolution!

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5 company blogs that are doing it right

Successful company blogs typically have three things in common: consistent editorial calendars, high-quality content, and effective calls-to-action. They make mundane topics interesting and interesting topics fascinating. Companies that prioritize blogging quickly establish themselves as thought leaders in their respective industries, while being rewarded by Google’s ever-changing PageRank algorithms for regularly publishing new content.

Several companies are trendsetters and/or standard bearers when it comes to how a company blog should be ran. Here are five of the best company blogs in 2017.

Disney Parks

Whether you’re a baby-boomer who grew up loving Mickey Mouse, or a millennial who fell in love with Princess Jasmine from “Aladdin,” it seems everyone has a favorite Disney character. The parks are also pretty popular (understatement alert). Disney World in Florida attracts over 54 million visitors per year, while well over 700 million visitors have been to Disneyland in California since opening in 1955.

The Disney Parks blog provides a virtual ticket inside its properties right from your laptop or smartphone. It frequently publishes personal accounts of visitors’ experiences, including celebrities. The Disney Parks blog also displays photos of its regular authors within posts, giving it a more personal, human feel (those using WordPress can install a simple plugin to do the same on their blogs).

When readers visit the Disney Parks blog, they feel and experience the brand as one would expect: fun, professional and inspiring.

REI

Active, outdoorsy-types have likely stumbled across the REI blog while searching for the latest cycling, hiking or camping gear. Known as the “Co-Op Journal,” the REI blog conveniently displays all of its blog categories as a main menu across the top of every page.

REI’s content epitomizes balance. It educates readers while subtly plugging its products without sounding overly advertorial. For instance, the company offers advice on how to choose the right sleeping bag. Obviously REI hopes you choose one of their options, but provides objective, actionable tips and commentary to help you make an informed decision.

The “rate this story” feature gives the REI blog a social media feel on its own website. It also confirms that readers enjoy the content. All posts on the Co-Op Journal’s front page earned at least four evergreen trees out of five (as of April 21).

Southwest Airlines

The marketing team at Southwest Airlines gets kudos for creating one of the funniest, most clever advertising campaigns in history.

They also deserve credit for thinking outside the box when it comes to their blog. The “Nuts About Southwest” was launched in 2008. A group of employees post regular content relating to everything from TSA regulations to new planes joining Southwest fleet. But a majority of the content is posted by customers.

Southwest allows users to create profiles and post their questions, concerns and compliments as actual blog entries. Southwest employees sometimes respond directly to these posts, but typically other readers answer them first. One user recently posted a complaint about ambiguity in Southwest’s unaccompanied minor policy on international flights. Another reader posted the policy’s full text in the comments section, answering the questions at hand.

This type of setup isn’t ideal for every company, but it works well for a large airline with millions of customers.

Dollar Shave Club

There are some interesting and entertaining results when you enter “men hate shaving” in search engines. But two of the most consistent complaints are that razors are expensive and dull fast.

For those unfamiliar, the Dollar Shave Club is a mail order service that delivers customers a fresh supply of replaceable blades for its custom razor handles every month.

The company also sells a line of personal hygiene products, including shaving cream and after-shave. But few companies can pull off the edginess Dollar Shave Club does on its blog.

Most marketing executives would balk at the idea of a story entitled “Do I Need To Wipe If I’m About To Shower” being published on its company blog. But how many of you just clicked the aforementioned link out of total curiosity? Dollar Shave Club blog has perfected the art of writing catchy headlines and discussing intimate personal hygiene issues others would rather leave alone.

The blog is also a standard bearer for balancing quality and quantity. The company posts upwards of five new articles per day, but all of them are either educational, interesting or just down-right funny.

Bigelow Tea

Like our own Content Coup blog, Bigelow Tea shows that quality content is far more important than aesthetics when it comes to reader acquisition and retention. The company uses a very simple, no-frills theme that is not going to win any web design awards or even subtle praise. But when you get hundreds of “likes” and shares of your content, none of that matters.

Tea drinkers tend to be earthly, spiritual, healthy people. The Bigelow Tea blog caters to this demographic while subtly highlighting its products. A blog post about how to start an indoor garden gives instructions on how to plant seed that grow in tea bags.


The blog touches on subjects like what foods go best with different Bigelow teas, better snacking habits, and relaxation methods. It also keeps customers apprised on the company’s conservation efforts. The only glaring flaw on Bigelow’s blog is poor navigation. There is no “home” button at the top and clicking on the blog title takes you to the Bigelow website (away from the blog). But again, good content is the equilizer and keeps readers coming back for more.

Are you ready to add your company’s name to this list of impressive blogs? Contact us today at support@contentcoup.com. Check out our content packages and FAQ section. Cut out the middle man and join the revolution today!

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#Happy420: Is writing about cannabis on company blogs still taboo?

The United States is a much different place than it was when the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 first made cannabis illegal. The federal law required anyone who possessed or distributed marijuana to obtain and publicly display a federal tax stamp.


But the process of acquiring the tax stamp was viewed as an admission of criminal activity in a court of law since doctors and commercial hemp farmers were typically the only people issued tax stamps without much hassle. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional in 1969, ruling that it required defendants to incriminate themselves in violation of the Fifth Amendment. Congress quickly passed the Controlled Substances Act  months later to ensure possession and consumption of marijuana remained a federal offense.

The turn of the 21st century brought with it dramatic changes in attitudes towards cannabis. A 2015 Gallup poll found that 58% of Americans supported legalization of marijuana, a significant increase from the 36% that supported legalization 10 years earlier. Eight U.S. states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) have legalized marijuana for recreational in that same time frame, while 21 more states allow medicinal marijuana and/or have decriminalized the plant.

Despite changing attitudes, the legal conundrum between federal and state law enforcement officials complicates matters. A memo issued by the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this month indicated that it will be enforcing federal marijuana laws even in states that have legalized it for recreational use. Eleven U.S. Senators declared in March that they will oppose enforcement of federal marijuana laws in their respective states.

Personal attitudes and government squabbling aside, the cannabis industry has morphed into a powerful economic force. The state of Colorado hit the $1 billion mark in cannabis sale by itself in 2016. Total North American revenues for both recreational and medicinal marijuana, including edibles, reached $6.7 billion in 2016, a 30% increase from the previous year, according to data compiled by Arcview Market Research. Tom Adams, editor-in-chief for Arcview, told Forbes the only industries he’s ever seen experience that level of compound growth were post-dot-com era broadband sales and cable television subscriptions in the 1990s.

Recreational and medicinal cannabis retailers and growers obviously talk about their primary products on company blogs. But the economic and political landscape around cannabis still makes it a sensitive, albeit potentially popular, subject matter on company blogs in other industries. Here are a few things to consider before writing about cannabis on your company blog.

Location, Location

It would not be in the best interest of national and international companies to ever mention cannabis on their blog. But local and regional businesses with finite reach as far as customer base and physical presence have more freedom in this regard.

The above map from Governing.com show obvious geographic trends pertaining to marijuana attitudes across the country. Companies that are physically located in bright-green states, and have customer bases within said boundaries, should feel comfortable writing content about cannabis. All other should avoid it if possible.

Relevance equals legitimacy

Auto repair shops, toy stores and solar energy firms have no business even mentioning the subject of cannabis on their blogs. But yoga instructors and massage therapists may speak to the relaxation properties of certain cannabis strains. Personal trainers and fitness instructors helping people lose weight may want to discourage cannabis due to what known as cannabinoid-induced feeding, aka “munchies.” Travel blogs may want to provide maps and information on the best recreational cannabis shops in Colorado, Oregon and other legal states.

Companies with genuine, business-related reasons to discuss cannabis should feel comfortable doing so on their blogs.

Stick to the facts

Cannabis is a subject that triggers different emotions in different demographics. Most people have hard-wired viewpoints and are unlikely to be swayed by other’s opinions.

When writing anything about cannabis, always utilize original sources. Don’t make claims such as “marijuana cures cancer” without citing reputable, verifiable university and medical studies. The same approach is necessary when presenting seemingly negative information about cannabis, such as “it leads to other things.” Stating your opinion on any controversial subject, regardless of which side you’re on, alienates some of your reader base and completely derails the discussion. Stick to the indisputable facts and everything else will take care of itself.

Do you have white-glove type content ideas for your company blog that would be best produced by a professional content strategist and writer? Join the Content Coup today! Cut out the middle man and be a part of the revolution!

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How much should you pay for content marketing?

A vast majority of banner ads online are completely ignored by internet users. Despite this fact, marketing professionals still pay premium prices for them.

Small businesses that utilize PPC (pay-per-click) ads as their primary advertising source, spend $9,000 to $10,000 per month on Google AdWords campaigns, according to Google partner and PPC marketing firm Wordstream. Marketing directors are willing to pay this kind of money for the prestige and reach of Google (Alphabet) regardless of the well-known drawbacks associated with AdWords.

Data compiled by marketing blog Invesp found that 85% of clicks on PPC display ads come from only 8% of the global internet using population. These dart-throw-type odds for conversions and high prices related to PPC campaigns have not deterred small businesses and their large corporate counterparts. Google revenues rose to $89 billion in 2016, with more than 90% of that coming from advertising. Meanwhile blogging continues to be the most effective, efficient and relatively inexpensive inbound marketing solution that is still (inexplicably) ignored by many small and medium-sized businesses.

A 2015 study by market research firm Clutch found that nearly half of all small businesses don’t even have websites, let alone blogs. Only 36% of Fortune 500 companies have blogs. Many companies, both B2B and B2C, cited cost and time as the primary reasons for not having blogs. Despite the reluctance, more companies are now prioritizing inbound marketing, specifically blogging, because of the obvious benefits.

A company blog with high-quality content provides a 24/7/365 de-facto advertising and customer relations platform that helps grow your brand. Its simply a matter of coming up with a plan and executing it for your company to start reaping the benefits. Writing, like driving, is something pretty much anybody and everybody can do. But everyone cannot be on the NASCAR circuit competing with the best drivers on the planet. The same can be said when it comes to writing.

Companies of all sizes have three choices when deciding on how to handle their blogging needs:

1. Have existing employees write all the content

2. Hire a full-time, in-house content strategist/writer. The salary range for a full-time content strategist/writer is between $81,000 and $115,000, according to Robert Half.

3. Hire a professional freelancer or marketing agency.

The first option is the worst since you’ll be sacrificing the quality and SEO benefits professional content strategists and writers bring to the table. Its best to mix employee content with professional SEO content. The second option is good if your company can afford to bring on another full-time employee. The third option is the most cost-effective without sacrificing quality and SEO.

RELATED: Why choose Content Coup vs. marketing agency?

The 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America report by the Content Marketing Institute found that successful companies blogs with measurable ROI spent an average of 42% of their total marketing budget on content marketing. Using that statistic and the above salary numbers as reference points, here are a few things to consider when budgeting for content marketing.

You get what you pay for

Freelancers and marketing agencies charge widely different rates depending on reputation, writer quality, order size, etc. Compare pricing of different marketing agencies to get an idea of what you’ll get for your money.

Upwork places the cost per blog at $700 – $1,500. That amounts to about $2 per word. A Clearvoice survey found that 40% of freelancers charge anywhere from $100-$300 per article, while 20% charge $300 or more per article. Content Factory has a wide price range, charging anywhere from $80-$950 per article.

Marketing agencies also charge monthly access and retainer fees, which of course increases cost per article. The best freelance writers that demand fees on the higher end of the scale should have a lot of published work samples for you to read and evaluate. You should also connect with your potential writer on LinkedIn to see any/all past experience, recommendations, etc.

Be Prepared

A freelance writer or marketing agency provides professional writing, research and SEO experience when your content marketing endeavors begin. But you must inform them about the specific needs of your customers.

Why are your customers interested in your brand? What do they like best? What do they complain about most? What questions come up most from your customers? Your writer will read online reviews and social media comments about your company to get a broad feel for your brand. But your internal customer service and sales personnel have the most experience and insight with your most valuable assets. The writer and one of these individuals should have at least a one-hour conversation (whether by exchanging emails or by telephone) about your brand and company culture before the content creation process begins.

The more information writers have, the more targeted and relevant the content will be towards your customer base.

Measure ROI

Increasing web traffic, brand visibility and sales are the obvious goals of content marketing. But the money you invest in content marketing should provide noticeable differences to your online presence.

Quality content results in more social media engagement. Keep in mind Facebook algorithms have essentially eliminated organic reach for your posts and companies must now pay to get posts “boosted.” But you should still see increases in total engagements relative to your number of followers if the content is of high-quality. If one blog post gets more “likes,” shares and comments than your previous three posts combined, your investment is paying off. Writers also need to understand how to use hashtags on Twitter to maximize engagements there.

Another metric to monitor is direct engagements on your website and/or blog. Most people use social media to interact with companies. Effective content marketing should lead to more unique visitors to your website, direct comments, and newsletter subscriptions.

Leads and conversions are obviously the bottom line. But as long as your content is keeping your customers engaged and positioning your company as a thought leader in the industry, it is money well spent.

RELATED: Work Samples/FAQ

Join the Content Coup today! Check out Content Packages and get in contact. I’ll be in touch shortly.

 

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