influencer blogger marketing travel industry

Influencer marketing: has the bubble burst?

This article was first published here on Travel Blather where there is a terrific discussion unfolding in the comments – go take a look.


 

This is a deeper dive on a presentation I gave at last week’s Travel Zoomconference. You can get the slides here.

Influencer marketing, aka blogger outreach – it’s the debate that keeps on giving.

My title comes from a recent comment about Phil Lee’s decision to stop financing blog trips during his time at Tourism Victoria; one among many in what seems like a wider pushback about the value of influencer marketing.

Phil’s is a common beef. ‘Influence’ gauged by “a number in the millions followed by a measure unique to a social media platform… A reach the size of a medium-sized nation-state.” Despite the astronomical numbers, he notes that“it’s rare to see a solid measure of effectiveness like sales, arrivals or even something vague but measurable like brand awareness or sentiment.”

You can see this in the case studies and conference talks from any of the professional blog collectives. The metrics show tens of thousands of individual posts creating millions of impressions or, lifting from the old advertising lexicon, “opportunities to see”.

The borrowing from old-school PR vocab doesn’t end there.

Another dinosaur doing the rounds is the Ad Value Equivalent (AVE) of those impressions; as though the old column inches concept that was barely plausible back in the analogue era can be used to assign $ value to impressions in today’s torrent of content, programmatic ad serving and an inventory landscape that is fragmented beyond all meaningful comparison.

Out of curiosity I requested the international visitor numbers to Costa Brava on either side of the 2012 TBEX event in Girona. Arrivals the following year werevirtually static: 2,953,097 in 2012 to 2,965,649 in 2013.

TBEX is the largest gathering of digital influencers in the travel space, which makes it (even if it’s not publicly billed as such) by far the biggest “blog trip”. Ready for those big numbers? The event generated 26,967 hashtagged tweets with just under 150,000,000 impressions on Twitter alone. (Google TBEX Girona for an entirely unscientific snapshot of its wider exposure.) So if not in visitor numbers how did Tourism Costa Brava gauge their returns? They told me that the event was considered a branding promotion and that they couldn’t segment or quantify the outcomes from their other digital promotions that year.

If the hosts of the world’s biggest blog trip have no hard ROI data, surely Phil and the growing number of his colleagues are right and there’s something fundamentally wrong with the entire concept?

They might be asking the right questions. But I think their response – which has been to chuck the baby out with the bathwater – is wrong.

We’ve been doing the wrong things and expecting the wrong results.

LET’S BE REALISTIC

Let’s look at influencer marketing for what it really is – online PR: investing in an activity to engage someone else’s audience. PR is usually about trying to influence people early on in the purchasing process. And travel blog audiences are typically people just browsing ideas – they’re a long way from being ready to buy anything. (In marketing speak we think of them as being right at the top of the marketing funnel.)

Travel is a complex product with pathways to purchase that can be exceptionally long and convoluted – among the longest for any consumer purchase. Yet we’ve been expecting influencer marketing to do it all – to move their audience all the way down the marketing funnel – from mild interest to final purchase. Build, engage and convert an audience all in one – as though it has some magical properties.

At the root is a problem consistently highlighted by Pam Mandel among others:the prevailing model for influencer marketing has turned professional influencers/audience-builders into unprofessional marketers.

Asking bloggers to be our marketers has created hyper-promotional and aggressively sales-oriented sponsored content that masquerades as independent writing. It has created blogger collectives that include “SEO content” and native advertising among their service items.

It has created a vociferous debate around ethics, disclosure and transparency too. I honestly wonder if we even know what “credibility” is anymore. Does plonking that standard disclaimer at the end of a post promising that “as ever all opinions are my own” really count? If so it’s a remarkable stroke of luck that bloggers never seem to have a shitty time when they’re travelling on someone else’s dime. Do we know what this is doing to the legitimacy of our messages, and therefore our potential to “influence” consumers in the first place?

But I don’t really blame the bloggers. I blame us, the marketers.

We’re the ones who let them do our jobs for us. This is the ecosystem that we helped to build and we need to take responsibility for fixing it.

FINDING THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE RIGHT JOB

What would a new model of influencer marketing look like?

The paradoxical first step would be for the influencers to stop doing the marketing and to go back to what they do best: building, engaging and educating their audiences.

Meanwhile we marketers need to reclaim responsibility for our own jobs and be more realistic about the role that influencers can play within wider content strategy.

A smarter approach would be for brands and bloggers/influencers to work more closely on the outcomes that actually make a measurable impact at the relevant stage of the marketing funnel: cooperating on audience data, sharing engaged users and bringing them in at the top of a brand’s funnel where we, the marketers, can focus on nurturing and converting them into prospects and sales.

There are mechanisms to make this happen: email, social media and retargeting all offer effective touchpoints for transferring audiences from blogger to brand and then into the brand’s lead-nurturing channels for progression through the funnel. This shifts the emphasis for influencer marketing away from bottom funnel, last-touch lead generation and into high funnel, first/assisted-touch territory where it belongs.

As we see time and again with our work, contextual email, paid social and well-segmented retargeting campaigns are enormously powerful channels for converting digital audiences into prospects, leads and sales. But to work, those audiences have to start out engaged, informed and qualified.

Travel blogs could be a uniquely valuable source of engaged audiences feeding the top of the funnel and into these channels. Partnerships that provide for shared access to user tracking, custom audience targeting and lookalike audiences, all based on qualified, engaged and segmented traffic could transform our approaches to influencer marketing.

Data access at this level would mean grown-up cooperation on multi-platform Terms of Service compliance, privacy regulations, analytics sharing and link tagging. This in turn demands trust, transparency and mutual respect – things that often seem thin on the ground. But the benefits would be immense: bloggers can revert to what they’re best at – providing honest, objective content that their readers can trust – and leave the marketing activities to the professionals.

Not only is this a more effective strategy, it is also eminently measurable.

Provided that links are properly parameter tagged within a consistent architecture we can easily segment first and assisted referral touches generated by influencer marketing activity at the top of the funnel and quantify how it contributes to later conversions via other channels further down the funnel.

We have everything we need to make real, accurate ROI calculations for assisted conversion paths throughout the entire funnel – but to make it happen we need to fundamentally redefine the relationship between the marketing professionals, our blogging colleagues and the audiences we’re trying to reach.

Leave a comment or get in touch if you’d like to learn more.

travel blogger outreach marketing case study

Case study: Blogger outreach that works

travel blogger outreach marketing case study

Not long ago I wrote a piece on influencer outreach exploring some of the most common hurdles to working with consumer influencers, and the problem of quantifying real impact on consumer purchase decisions (leads, bookings & revenue), as opposed to relying on indirect measures of audience engagement (followers, impressions, re-shares etc).

Although it certainly is possible for digital influencers to play an effective role in earned media strategies, getting it right is tricky and carries a lot of risk.

An example of a travel brand doing it well is G Adventures through their brand ambassador programme, Wanderers in Residence (WiR).

WiR is a partnership with some of the best-known travel bloggers including Gary Arndt, Daniel Noll & Audrey Scott, Jodi Ettenberg, Nellie Huang and, until fairly recently, Matt Kepnes.

The scheme is a classic example of converged media at work, bringing together owned and earned channels to generate a stream of content and exposure that is controlled by the brand, but distributed organically through this tight knit team of brand ambassadors to a wide audience across the web.

I connected with Sacha Mlynek, content marketing specialist at G Adventures, and Nellie Huang of Wild Junket, to get an insight on how the programme works.

MB: What types of roles do brand ambassadors play within G’s overall content strategy?

SM: Their work features prominently in our content strategy. They’re a voice for our brand and a connection to our consumer in one package. They produce a range of assets for use on our own platforms, including written stories, images, video etc, but at the same time they’re also advocating the G Adventures message on their own platforms, to their own audiences.

MB: What are the actual logistics of the programme – what does G provide and what does it get in return?

NH: The basic agreement is that G provides hosted trips plus expenses in return for contributions to their blog, The Looptail. They also offer some perks like free trips for giveaways and they run some paid advertising on my site.

SM: That’s in exchange for the actual content. In terms of the earned-exposure side of things, we’re more relaxed with that. They’re professional social media influencers, they know what works for their audiences and they know what we need. We don’t try to stipulate a pre-agreed volume of activity or anything like that. They are advocates for the brand and look for ways to converse about us in ways over and above a traditional post.

MB: What are the main benefits G sees from nurturing social media influencers as brand ambassadors?

SM: The benefits are huge. It’s a continuous opportunity for an organic connection with users. When you have great writers who produce excellent content and are able to distribute this widely across multiple channels, the chatter and connections you make is real and is very valuable.

MB: Do you know how this activity connects with G’s consumers at different stages of the customer journey? Do you find it’s mostly beneficial at the top of the funnel in terms of inspiring audiences or is it equally effective in driving actual conversions lower down the funnel?

SM: The sales funnel for booking adventure travel is special as it involves inspiration at multiple levels. At the top, we’re connecting with these very broad audiences at an educational level – showing what experiences are out there and what they can do with their vacation time, getting the G brand out there is almost an indirect benefit of that.

Once a customer gets closer to booking a trip we start to reach them on our owned channels, they’re coming to our blog and reading the Wanderers’ trip reports. But we’re still inspiring them with all this real-life content, we’re still challenging them to think about what they’re looking to get out of travel.

MB: Nellie, how does this all benefit your own audience? What feedback do you hear?

NH: My followers are largely in the age group of 25-45, young professionals who have money to spend and are seeking adventure in unusual parts of the world. This overlaps perfectly with G Adventures’ audience, so it’s a natural fit.

Sharing my personal experiences of travelling with G gives my audience a sense that they’re getting an in-depth, first hand review of what it’s like to travel with G, from someone they know and trust. We see plenty of interest whenever we organize giveaways and I get a lot of queries on my blog from travelers who are interested in the trips I’ve covered.

MB: Can you shine any light on how conversion rates are driven or assisted by this activity?

SM: The Wanderers offer content to two readerships — ours and theirs. This affords an opportunity to bring in new viewers that we might not otherwise have access to. We don’t segment traffic generated from their social activity but we obviously have a handle on referrals from their domains. In this case, the assisted conversions ratio exceeds that of most other referrals by a considerable margin.

Analysis & takeaways

For many travel brands the biggest takeaway is probably “well, lucky G Adventures” – not many firms have the budget or internal resources to manage a campaign of this scale. But that’s not to say there aren’t any transferable lessons here for others:

Manage costs (and risk): Influencer engagements don’t need to be open-ended, expensive campaigns involving comped travel, expenses, prizes etc. There are plenty more modest ways of partnering with consumer influencers, from having them promote a one-off contest to commissioning a single contribution to your blog or ebook. The action is irrelevant, it’s the desired outcome that matters.

Align audiences: WiR is a perfect overlap between G’s target market and the bloggers’ own audiences but brands in other segments might find more effective influencers outside the travel arena, for instance with family & parenting blogs, experience/activity-specific authorities, high-end lifestyle publications, and other non-travel verticals where building relationships with influencers can be much easier.

Respect & cherish independence: Typical arrangements, especially short-term deals, see marketers trying to micromanage engagements, from controlling the messaging right down to specifying the timing of each tweet, insisting on hashtags, and so on. This is just the same as paying a shill: influencers worth their salt won’t do it and even if they do, their audiences will quickly see through it and switch off.

It’s much more effective to respect their independence, allowing them free reign to connect with their audiences as they see fit. If it’s a relationship based on mutual respect and trust they’ll already have an interest in serving your needs as well as their audience’s.

Ethics & disclosure: It’s also important, for both ethical and practical reasons, to properly disclose the nature of the relationship in the content that is produced. In the long run audiences will appreciate your honesty and maintain trust in your brand.

Monitor outcomes: If you’re engaging influencers to help drive conversions it’s critical to segment and track your traffic and goals, and use assisted conversion reports to understand how each activity is contributing to the bottom line. See here for more details.

UPDATE some additional thoughts after an interesting follow-up discussion on Outbounding:

Calculating ROI: We didn’t get into any specific numbers on outcomes and ROI reporting as it’s pretty sensitive data but as the reactions in the Outbounding discussion show, there are considerable questions around the returns from work like this, and how they are calculated.

Returns from outreach campaigns have two main components: sales generated by direct clicks from the bloggers’ sites or social media activity (“last touch” conversions) and sales which are closed by one of G’s owned channels but instigated or assisted by the bloggers’ activity (“first touch” and “assisted” conversions).

Although we didn’t get into the details for this interview, I’d suspect the later outweigh the former by a considerable margin.  Blogger and other influencer outreach campaigns tend to be most effective at bringing qualified and engaged prospects in at the top of the funnel, and giving the brand multiple opportunities to connect and sell to them as the audience becomes more purchase-intent.

Conversion attribution models that take into account first touch and assisted conversions allow you to put a dollar value to those interactions and calculate with a reasonable degree of accuracy the bottom-line returns from top-funnel outreach and promotion.

For more info this article goes into some more detail on the process of segmenting and understanding multi-channel conversion paths.

travel content marketing - if you build it they will come

The biggest mistake in content marketing (and its very simple solution)

Of all the potential pitfalls and mistakes with content marketing, perhaps the most common is the assumption that “great content is all it takes.”

This is the belief that as soon as you’ve published your brand new, jaw-dropping content the audiences will immediately flock to your website, falling over themselves to subscribe to your blog and newsletter, follow your Facebook page and generally throw their cash at you.

As Rand Fishkin recently explained, this almost never happens. The reality, as many businesses quickly discover, is that even the best content can languish without a kickstart to push it in the right direction.

travel content marketing - if you build it they will come

PAID VS ORGANIC PROMOTION

That kickstart can come in two broad forms: earned and paid promotion. Earned promotion or influencer outreach (essentially online PR) is incredibly important – particularly if your content is truly as good as you think it is.  Finding journalists, publications, bloggers and other influencers to help promote your work can be an effective (and satisfying) way of getting content in front of its target audiences.

Earned promotion is also insanely difficult and time consuming. Influencers tend to be busy people and you’ll usually need a prior relationship to get even a reply to your email, let alone any concrete offers of help. They may expect payment, which blurs the lines between organic and paid promotion but is often a sensible route as without a solid and mutually beneficial agreement you’ll often find that the “buzz” around your content quickly plateaus once your influencers and their audiences move on to the next item of interest.

content amplification paid organic plan vs reality

Which one does your organic promotion most resemble?

The hard reality is that unless you’re Coke or Oreo the vast majority of content, no matter how good, is unlikely to gain the organic traction required to deliver a solid return on the campaign.

Fortunately paid promotion, or paid amplification, offers us an effective and affordable lifeline and there are a number of pay-to-play solutions that can give your content the boost it needs early on in its life cycle.

Facebook Newsfeed ads

paid content amplification with facebookFacebook has faced numerous complaints with the quality and usefulness of its ad services but the platform is undoubtedly effective in displaying content that is laser targeted to audience interests, locations and other important demographics.

Recently Facebook has simplified its ad options, and for content amplification you’ll be most interested in the ad type labeled “Clicks To Website”

Once you’ve determined your budget and targeting preferences you can set the location for your ads: Newsfeed, mobile Newsfeed, or the right hand column.  The newsfeed ad is by far the most prominent location which sits seamlessly inside each user’s feed and, with the right targeting, messaging and creatives, can be enormously effective at driving traffic to your new content.

Another important element to Facebook’s ad offerings are the Lookalike Audience tool – allowing you to target a much wider net of consumers with similar interest to your existing followers or website visitors.

Read more: Introduction to Facebook Lookalike Audiences

Promoted Tweets

Twitter is another vast social network that can be useful in getting content in front of your target audiences. Using their simple advertiser interface you can set up Promoted Tweets that will appear in prominent locations for the preferred audience. Like Facebook, Twitter allows some powerful targeting solutions, including targeting users who follow specific accounts.

Read more: How do Promoted Tweets work?

Paid discovery (Outbrain / Taboola)

A relatively new entrant is the “paid discovery” model currently dominated by two services, Outbrain and Taboola.

paid content amplification with outbrain

Someone clicks these? Yep, and in huge numbers too.

Paid discovery allows advertisers to place links to their content inside ad blocks on other publishers’ sites. The advertiser pays per click, which is split between the platform and the publisher.

Unlike regular PPC advertising, Outbrain and Taboola both focus on editorial content: you can’t use their networks to promote commercial pages or products, and they both enforce some degree of editorial oversight in order to maintain a baseline level of quality within their networks.

Both have signed an impressive stable of top-tier publishers into their networks, making it possible to drive huge amounts of traffic to your content, which at between .25 – .40 cents per click is far from prohibitive. The two systems are roughly equivalent, the major difference being that Taboola seems to emphasise entertainment and gossip content while Outbrain has more coverage of relatively higher-brow content and publishers.

The main drawback to these platforms is the lack of targeting options available. Outbrain claims that its algorithms determine the context of the content, its popularity and other factors and then recommend it to particular viewers based on their own browsing behaviour and interests. This is fine in theory but you have to take them on their word that the targeting algorithm is as good as they claim.

The other downside is that the platforms are still young and not particularly user-friendly. Getting a campaign up and running can take some time and navigating the admin dashboard isn’t hugely intuitive. It also takes a few days data collection before you can optimise your images and headlines.

Reddit ads

Compared to some of its younger and flashier rivals and despite its colossal traffic and loyalty figures, Reddit barely gets a look in for ad dollars. This is great for advertisers as it makes inventory insanely cheap and, because the site is organised into thousands of “subreddits” on virtually any subject, audience targeting comes as standard.

Unlike the cost-per-click models above, Reddit sells ad units on a CPM basis, i.e. for every 1,000 ad views. Advertisers use the simple self-serve interface to create their ads and decide which interest groups or subreddits they want to target.

Pricing is streamlined: targeting interest groups costs a uniform $0.75 per 1,000 views, or $1 per 1,000 views for specific subreddits.  For this you can buy a sponsored placement at the very top of your target page:

paid travel content promotion with reddit

Audience targeting the old fashioned way

With the right subreddit and some compelling ads, this is yet another simple and affordable way to drive significant volumes of targeted traffic to your new content. Detailed instructions are given here.

Extract full value

Before you spend a single cent on paid distribution you need to ensure you’re ready and prepared to extract full value and return on your investment. This spans all the way from your overarching content strategy right down to tactical-level implementation.

Start with an understanding of your audience, where they are in the customer journey and what the desired outcome is that you’re trying to achieve.  Few content campaigns lead to direct bookings, and neither will the traffic sources outlined above. The intention is to connect with people higher up the funnel, giving them a reason to engage with your brand and helping facilitate future bookings and revenue generation.

For that reason it’s essential you couple these traffic generation techniques with touchpoints for follow-up opportunities: resource downloads and email subscriptions, re-targeting campaigns, and so on. It is via these direct response channels that you’ll start to drive inquiries and bookings.

There are also a number of variables at the tactical level: you need to get your page layouts, headlines and images exactly right, and if you’re paying for high volumes of traffic it’s well worth A/B split testing those landing pages to understand where and how you’re losing valuable traffic.

It’s also critical to focus on the details behind the scenes, using all the available wiring and plumbing to optimise your content for search and social, including Schema.org markups to exploit rich snippets, optimised Open Graph and Twitter card tags to facilitate more effective social sharing and, most importantly of all, full goal and event tracking to monitor the exact outcomes and returns that your campaigns generate.

Getting this right can take time and effort, but compared to the difficulties, opportunity costs and uncertain outcomes of organic promotion and influencer engagement, paid amplification is often the simplest and fastest route to audience creation at scale.

Further reading:

Content Promotion: The Difference Between Brands with Fans & Anonymous Content

Maximize ROI via Content Distribution Networks

the rise and fall of authorship - travel content marketing

What does the rise & fall of Google Authorship mean for content marketing?

Google giveth and Google taketh away (usually to the sound of a million complaining SEOs) with the latest upset being the once hyped, now unceremoniously dumped Google Authorship.

the rise and fall of authorship - travel content marketing

Remember this?

Authorship was, in a nutshell, a mechanism to connect a piece of content with its author. Its most visible features were the thumbnail images and Google+ links you saw with increasing frequency alongside search results.

Authorship was the subject of much interest and speculation over recent years (including by yours truly) as it seemed to signify a major innovation to search and SEO: that individual authors might have a quantifiable authority which could help determine the credibility, and therefore search rankings, for content they had created – think AuthorRank in contrast to the long-established PageRank.

But recent developments hinted at a reversal to these ambitious plans. Back in December SEOs noticed a sudden drop in the number of Authorship photos shown in the results; in June they disappeared altogether leaving only the author’s Google+ byline which itself has now vanished without a trace. In an August 29 post, senior Googler John Mueller confirmed that Authorship was dead.

The initial reaction from the SEO community was mixed, ranging from anger to weary resignation to more than a few wry smiles among the savvier crowd.

google authorship travel content marketing

The fact is that Authorship was a flawed product, and for several reasons.  It was based on a clunky, unfriendly markup that only the more technically-minded bloggers ever bothered with, while major media outlets and other publishers of objectively high authority content rarely made the effort.

Search queries on SEO or online marketing were sure to yield ten results perfectly optimised for Authorship photos, but I doubt that many particle physicists bothered fiddling around with their Google+ profiles and coding the required rel=author markup onto their research papers.

It was suggested that the profile images were nothing more than an incentive to get people using Google+, and a great many users ended up just chasing the profile picture rather than thinking about what might actually enhance their authority or credibility – “Real Author Stuff” as Joel Klettke brilliantly called it, shortly before the feature was pulled.

Neither did it seem to work out too well for Google. Apparently its usefulness to their users didn’t justify the development time and computing resources it consumed and, as the more astute among us have suggested, higher click rates on organic results means lower click rates on paid Adwords listings, so feel free to connect those particular dots…

In short, Authorship was broken and was a prime candidate for the Google glue factory. But despite the inevitable upset from SEOs who had spent many hours getting their clients’ sites optimised, is Authorship’s demise really as significant as it seems?

Babies and bathwater

It’s important to make the distinction between Authorship and the concept of AuthorRank itself. The AgentRank patent predated Authorship by many years and although those little profile pictures have now vanished, the emphasis on authority remains: you can bet that Google is still deeply interested in understanding the credibility of individual authors.  As Danny Sullivan points out here, Google continues to talk about identifying subject-specific authorities, and is already promoting authority content creators in certain instances.

Of course killing off Authorship doesn’t mean that Google is chucking the AuthorRank baby out with the bathwater. It’s much more likely that they’ve developed better technologies to parse authors and algorithmically determine their authority in a particular field without relying on messy user opt-in and inconvenient markups.

Meanwhile all the original principles stand: credibility and authority remain absolutely central to SEO longevity. For content marketing this means a relentless focus on publishing material that is demonstrably high value: original, engaging and authentic. Not many brands have the internal resources to achieve this on their own, in which case build relationships and commission from the writers, bloggers and other content creators who have the legitimacy you’re seeking to project.

This goes way beyond the relatively narrow (and still largely hypothetical) subject of AuthorRank and into general best practices for effective content marketing: less focus on fads and gimmicks, more attention on providing authoritative content that audiences need and want.

travel content marketing confusion

Why small travel businesses fail at content marketing (and how they can succeed)

The theory of content marketing is straightforward enough: identify the information that is likely to engage your consumers and give it to them. This turns site visitors into audiences, builds your brand authority and gives you opportunities to sell to your audience with a relationship based on expertise and trustworthiness.

Your audiences may subscribe to your email list, they may follow you on social media, they may simply be so impressed that they return to your site for more over and over again. Each one of these touchpoints presents opportunities to market your brand and services.

As ever, things are much trickier in practice. Genuinely engaging content is, by definition, difficult and expensive to produce – consider for a moment the deafening noise of all the other competing content out there on the web; to succeed yours needs to outshine it all! This means hiring professional content creators or editors, which can get very expensive very quickly.

Then you need to find the right strategic approach: choosing what type of content to produce, figuring out how to promote it, at what volume and frequency, and how to do so in a way that is efficient at converting audiences into customers in sufficient numbers to deliver a return.

travel content marketing confusion

Does this sound like you?

It’s not surprising that most small travel brands’ content marketing efforts tend to revolve around posting a few articles each month on their blog, sharing them to their handful of social media followers and perhaps out via a monthly email to an equally modest subscription list.

Most hard-pressed and overworked business owners are unsure what impact this is having or how to measure it. But they’ve likely read that “content marketing is important” so they continue to spend a few hundred bucks per month commissioning articles and hoping that somewhere along the line it’s contributing something to their bottom line.

In 99% of cases it’s not, and the oft-presumed solution – more blog posts Scotty! – won’t help either. The fact is, as was argued persuasively by Mark Higginson on Travel Blather, churning out content at the quality and volume required to shift the ROI needle is simply not scalable or cost effective for many businesses.

That money and time could instead go into Adwords and send new leads like clockwork every month, all for a fraction of the effort.  And at our consultancy we’ve told more than a few small business owners that’d be the best direction to take.

This might seem like a strange thing for a content marketer to say, so here’s the inevitable but:

There are other content marketing strategies that are way more appropriate for SMBs.

The problem with most approaches to content marketing is the emphasis on publishing frequency, i.e. the belief that in order to and build and maintain audiences you need to be constantly pumping out new stuff to keep people engaged and the search engines interested.

Don’t even try. Leave this to large brands with larger content budgets. Online consumers have a finite attention span and you’ll always be upstaged and drowned out by the big boys with the resources to act like real publishers.

Instead of playing the (unwinnable) volume game, focus down at the other end of the spectrum. What are the handful of things that truly distinguish your brand and your expertise?  A single property hotel knows their neighbourhood better than anyone else. A local tour operator knows more about their destination than most guidebook writers. This unique expertise can be translated into highly effective content assets, and at relatively low cost – you already have the knowledge locked up in your business, all you have to do is convert that into digital content with the help of an editor or ghostwriter.

Content of this nature doesn’t need to be cranked out every day/week/month. A smaller amount of static “evergreen” content can be hugely effective into the long term, particularly if it’s properly optimised for organic search. Instead high frequency, focus on depth and detail. Create a content asset that makes a unique addition to the web, an authority resource that cannot be found anywhere else.

This is clearly a bigger undertaking than writing a blog post, but rather than trying to turn out ten (good) blog articles every month for uncertain returns, once this asset is done, your content creation worries are over for 6 months or longer.

Content Volume doesn’t matter, it’s how you use it that counts.

The critical step is to use and deploy your content in ways that will have an actual impact on your bottom line, with an understanding of how to measure the outcomes.

Simply chucking articles at a blog is not a content marketing strategy. Instead you need to understand how your content can be effective for people at the different stages of the customer journey, how they might engage with your content, and how you can maximise and benefit from those interactions.

Understand that consumers at the research/planning stage are not necessarily ready to make a booking, and informational content is unlikely to convert site visitors into customers, at least not on their first visit.

Instead focus on how you can capture an interaction and an opportunity to follow-up later. Think about ways you can continue the relationship, assisting people along the customer journey and eventually bring them back to your site to make a booking. Downloads & email list subscriptions, email autoresponders, effective content curation, remarketing campaigns and social media shares & follows are all useful touchpoints for follow-up marketing.

Optimising your content to facilitate these interactions and touchpoints requires a degree of background wiring and plumbing, but is essential for driving ROI.

If you build it, they probably won’t come.

Once your content is online and optimised you need to win the eyeballs and attentions that it deserves. Organic search is unlikely to suffice at this low publishing volume, and your content will likely need an extra boost – paid, earned or both.

Paid content amplification solutions include Outbrain, Facebook newsfeed ads, etc. The goal here is simply to put more people into the top end of your marketing funnel.  Audience targeting options vary by the platform, and again you’re unlikely to convert many sales direct from this traffic (but that’s not the point.) Instead you can use this initial paid traffic to kickstart your engagements and start following up with your new audiences as outlined above.

Earned promotion is essentially old-school PR in a digital context: reaching out to relevant bloggers, journalists, publications and other influencers and asking them to promote your content. Outcomes tend to be directly proportional to the quality of the content and its relevance to the individual influencer, and although you’re offering content that is of intrinsic value to their audiences, some will expect payment for promotion.

Measure and optimise

The final, but essential, piece of the puzzle is to monitor your content performance and understand how and where it is contributing to traffic growth, leads and bookings.  This breaks out into two broad categories: ROI monitoring and campaign performance.

Since the content itself isn’t driving conversions directly, accurate ROI monitoring requires an understanding of how the content and interactions have assisted bookings throughout the customer journey. A typical customer journey might look like:

Referral from a blog article to your content > Downloads your content asset > Sees your remarketing ads > 2 weeks later Googles your brand name to research your service > 1 week later visits your site directly and makes a booking.

Your analytics monitoring needs to reflect the complex nature of these assisted conversions to give a full picture of how your content and channels interact to lead to the eventual booking.

Campaign performance is more straightforward: you’re looking for metrics that indicate how well visitors engage with your content. While traditional analytics KPIs tend to focus on sessions and pageviews, content performance will also look at page dwell time, pageviews per session, social shares, return visitors, and other measures of audience engagement.

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Getting all this right is no easy task but compared to the black hole that is high frequency content marketing, a content strategy like this can deliver meaningful direct returns, while also contributing greatly to your brand’s authority and credibility.

Ready to start your brand’s content journey? Get in touch to discuss.