Facebook Advertising Advice: 10 Tips From Experts at Trello, WeWork & More

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Facebook started as a way for college classmates to communicate, and it’s since evolved into a hub for content creation, sharing, and advertising.

Over one billion active users engage on Facebook every day, which represents a tremendous opportunity for advertisers to leverage their content in front of potential customers.

The variety of targeting options available allow marketers to get the greatest value out of each ad dollar spent on this vast network, making it an ideal place to drive conversions, downloads, and lead generation. In fact, Social Media Examiner found that 55% of social media marketers use Facebook as their primary platform, and eMarketer learned that nearly 68% of all social media ad spending is on Facebook Ads. Download this free guide for data-backed tips on creating the optimal Facebook  Ad.

We decided to consult with a variety of successful social media marketers to learn more about their strategies for Facebook Ad targeting. Whether you’ve been advertising on Facebook for years or are just starting out, check out these lessons from the pros to maximize your social media advertising ROI.

10 Strategies for Facebook Advertising

1) Keep track of qualitative metrics.

Matt Diederichs, Social Marketing Lead at Hootsuite:

We focused on two metrics [in our Facebook Ads campaign] -- video views and offer redemptions. Video views are primarily an efficiency spend, looking at the gross number of video views we can get for our investment, at the lowest possible CPV (cost per view). In the offer redemption area, we can go a bit deeper and also calculate our CPA (cost per acquisition) for each person who redeems the offer. These help us to understand whether it's worth our investment to pay for direct customer acquisition.

Through all of this, we [also] look really hard at qualitative feedback. Facebook's Reactions allow us to see not only how many people 'like' our content, but also when people 'love' or uh ... [don’t] love our content. We also aspire for our content to be shareable, so we look for post shares and for comments on Ads. To us, that's a leading indicator of content resonation.”

2) Take advantage of Facebook's precise Ad targeting.

Shari Medini, Co-Host of the Push Pull Sales & Marketing Podcast:

You can target any audience [using Facebook Ads]. Almost everyone is on Facebook, and we all share incredible amounts of information about ourselves. Facebook compiles and organizes all of that data for their Ads platform so that marketers can go as broad or as narrow as they’d like. You want to target moms of young children in a 15-mile radius from a [children’s] clothing consignment store? Facebook lets you do that. You want to get young men in the sales profession between the ages of 30 and 35 to click through to your site? Facebook lets you do that.”

Andy Odom, Digital Marketing Director at Santander Consumer USA

Use the Audience Insights feature in your Ads Account to research all of Facebook, fans of your Page, or people in any custom audience to gain better insights into who they are and how to target them. You can upload [an email list] as a custom audience and serve special ads just to them.”

 Haidi Zhu, Head of Performance Marketing at WeWork:

[With Facebook Ads,] we start by analyzing the demographics of our current members to better understand who they are based on location, interests, industry, and more. We use this data to develop audiences to identify potential members and further segment down to deliver ads that feature the WeWork offerings, locations, and services that we strongly believe will benefit them most.”

3) Test different creative assets for best results.

Frank Emanuele, Co-Host of The Marketers Next Door Podcast:

Always A/B test your creative [assets]. It's easy to think you know what will capture your audience's attention, but you'll be surprised when you actually test it. I always compare at least two options and track their performance carefully. Then I put my spend toward the top performer to get the most bang for my buck. I often find that the creative I liked best actually isn't my top performer."

4) Pay attention to what visitors do after they click.

Alicia Palmieri, Senior Social Media & Content Specialist at 2U:

2U uses the "Learn More" call-to-action because it performs well with the type of thought leadership [education] content we share.

Our end goal when advertising on Facebook is to get people to view longform, data-rich content. Since we host most of this on our website, we work with our web analytics team to track behavior of people coming from our Ads. This helps us ensure that we’re targeting the right people and providing engaging content that they will enjoy.”

5) Don’t force new trends into your Ad strategy.

Rachael Samuels, Social Media Specialist at Sprout Social:  

The social landscape is constantly evolving, and our social team is constantly adapting to meet the needs of our community and stay authentic in our social presence. It's great to be aware of trends, but you shouldn't force a trend or new network if it's not the right fit for your brand. You have to determine a trend's genuine value offer before diving in headfirst. If something isn't resonating with your audience, there's no reason to continue chasing the hype just to be seen doing it -- your audience could see that as a major turnoff."

Aaron Moreno, Digital Advertising Specialist at Sprout Social:  

It's important to have a clear objective for your ads, clear KPIs and a desired cost-per-conversion. Identifying these metrics, setting up proper tracking and keeping a pulse on performance is key to determining ROI from social advertising."

Chelsea Hunersen, Social Media Manager at HubSpot:

The principles of creating a good post and grabbing attention are the same no matter what the medium. For example, providing clear value and connecting about [your audience’s] real needs is something I always try to do. I'm less concerned about using a new medium like video or canvas just to use it, but I will try it if the technology gives us a better way to reach our audience.”

6) Find inspiration from your competition.

Rebecca White, Community Manager at TrackMaven:

Being able to tell what your competitors are promoting on social is invaluable. Comparing our Facebook spend with that of our competitors gives us a level playing field on which to evaluate the impact of our content."

7) Publish videos that are short and sweet.

Erica Moss, Community Manager at Trello:

Because [Facebook offers] such a small amount of real estate, it's important to get to the point quickly with one specific call-to-action, whether it's a discount to redeem, an event to attend or a prompt to learn more about your product or service. Avoid lofty or flowery language.

When considering images, faces and bright colors pop more (high-res only), and video can be super impactful for ads when kept to 30 seconds or less. Bonus points if your video has closed captioning so that users don't need audio to consume your message.”

8) Don't fixate on vanity metrics alone.

Jenna Dutcher, Content Marketing Manager at Localist.com:

Facebook Ads can be a valuable tool, but only if you put effort into actually optimizing and measuring them. We’re big fans of A/B testing here at Localist, and always have at least two iterations of an ad running, sometimes 10-20 versions, where we’ll test things as small as capitalization, imagery, headlines, and CTAs.

You also need to be mindful of what you’re measuring. Success can’t just be based on how many people click or view an ad -- what does 500 clickthroughs to a post mean to you and your company?  Be sure to tie superficial metrics like this to an acquisition goal or metric that you actually value, like cost-per-download or cost-per-lead.

9) Focus on the mobile experience.

Jason Myers, Social Media Manager at The Content Factory:

Try composing, or at least previewing, your Ad on a mobile device. Most people view Ads on a phone screen which is why those with stark, text-free images and simple messages get more engagement.”

10) Experiment with video.

Ben Kessler, Director of Marketing at WeWork

We are always eager to test new products and the latest betas to innovate with our marketing. This includes 360” video, renderings, and more, all developed by our in-house team. Because WeWork is truly something you need to experience in person, we’ve seen a lot of success with video to convey our brand and message within Facebook.”

Learn From the Pros

Now that you’ve learned different strategies for successful Facebook Advertising, apply them to your next campaign. A common thread among the responses we received for this article was the importance of constantly testing and evaluating results.

Don’t hesitate to change tactics midway through a campaign to drive greater value and conversions from your Ads. If you’re unsure where to begin with launching an Ads campaign, we have a step-by-step guide to start you off on the right foot.

What advice would you give for Facebook Advertising best practices? Share with us in the comments below.

free guide to facebook advertising

Proven Tips for a Top-Notch Alumni Engagement Program

gradcapz.jpgYou know it's bad when they start making parody videos about the horrors of alumni fundraising campaigns. Nothing can sap alumni energy for your school like getting donation calls again and again and again… But you need your alumni engaged to maintain your school's relationship with them. You want them to be motivated to act on behalf of your institution and yes, donate, at the times and ways they're able.  

 Alumni involvement may have its most valuable payoff through alumni's power to connect with potential students with an authenticity no one else can match. Alumni can give your prospects a view into life at your school and what life might look like for them once they have a degree from your institution. 

The best way to get alumni to engage with your school is when interactions with them have nothing to do with asking for money. Here are some proven tips how to inspire engagement from alumni: 

Alumni Respond to Personalized Emails

People won't bother with emails that don't hit on their personalized interests and concerns. Use everything you know about each alum to tailor email content based on their unique history with your school — both off and online. Customize content based on data points such as their graduation date, program, and their preferred social media platforms. 

An email with a subject line "Join us for an alumni lunch" isn't terribly inviting. Try an email with the subject line "Nursing program alumni lunch – come network!" instead. Now that's a subject line that makes it clear why this email is directed to the recipient and what she'll gain by reading it.

You need a rocking subject line to get alumni to open your emails, but don't let the personalization stop there. Send happy birthday and graduation anniversary emails. If the career center is organizing a job fair for graphic arts students, invite recent graduates as well as current students. 

For more on email marketing for schools, check out this free resource >> 

Continue the Conversation via Social Media

Social media is the most effective option for the "little" yet highly impactful conversations you can have with alumni. Keep track of how their social media preferences change over time. 

For nearly all alumni, regardless of graduation year, LinkedIn is one of the most important platforms for career networking. LinkedIn's Alumni Tool is a valuable tool helping people find and connect with fellow alums, but by itself, it won't spark conversation or motivate action. Having a LinkedIn group for alumni can do that. 

If your school hasn't already set up an alumni group, chances are good one of your alumni has. You don't want competing groups. You can always ask the group owner for someone on your team to be added as a group administrator. Either way, your social media specialist should be an active presence in the group connecting people, sharing school updates, and asking for alumni feedback on relevant issues. 

Personalization works well in the LinkedIn group too. You can have multiple sub-groups. Create sub-groups based on different programs or industries where alumni can target their job and business networking efforts.

Use other social media platforms, like Instagram and Facebook, to promote more social activities and interactions. Having alumni-specific accounts on social media provide a space where alumni interests are front and center. Social media is also the ideal channel for encouraging and sharing alumni generated content (AGC). 

Alumni Generated Content, You Say

Alumni are rich sources for your content machine. Whether they're posting career or personal updates, sharing stories about their time at your school, or attending school events – alumni always have entertaining or informative content of interest to prospective students, current students, and other alumni.

Use your social media accounts to solicit their stories and posts. Ask specific questions, such as "Tell us three things you wish you knew by the time you graduated?" Then curate the most interesting responses. You can drop these into emails, reports, and your website.

Asking alumni to contribute an article for a school newsletter or a blog post. Or to be interviewed in a webinar, is another useful way to source content. In fact, don't be surprised if alumni are just waiting to be asked to write something. Alumni want to give, but they can't always give money. Especially recent grads still paying off school loans. Inviting them to engage with your school by providing content is valuable way they can donate rather than hitting the "donate" link.

In-Person Engagement Still Matters

Attending or speaking at in-person events is another opportunity for alumni to give back without opening their wallets. In-person events are spring-boards for interesting AGC, as well as ways to connect potential students with alumni. Invite alumni to speak at regional open house events for prospects or make themselves available for applicants to contact with questions. 

Active regional and national alumni groups can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to having a full calendar of alumni events. As with your social media alumni accounts, people on your team should be actively involved in giving them event ideas and being an extra pair of hands promoting the event. Using the information you have about alumni in your database, you may well be able to uncover alumni who'd be interested in specific events that the local association doesn't know about.

If you want lifelong engagement from your alumni, market to them based on their specific interests and concerns as intently as you do in your search for new students. Alumni are the core of your school. The number of active students can only grow by so much, but your alumni pool is an ever-growing resource. If you want alumni engagement, you need to engage with them first.

Efficient Education Marketing Machine - Free Ebook

Planning Social Media Content? Ask Yourself These 9 Questions

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It's no mystery that social media is a crucial part of any marketing strategy -- regardless of industry, company size, product, or service.

We've all been there. Back in the day, I had to make the case for some businesses to even have a social media presence in the first place. But finally -- finally! -- it seems like folks are catching on. After all, 69% of marketers are using social media to build a following.

Now that most marketers really do understand that social media is a strategic must-have, how can we make it more manageable? Like many other things in life and in business, planning ahead is the way to go. Manage and plan your social media content with the help of this free calendar  template.

To avoid becoming one of those brands whose Facebook page hasn't been updated in months -- and we've all seen them -- learning to plan and schedule your social media posts in advance is key. But how? We've outlined nine crucial questions to ask when you start this planning process, along with some helpful tools and resources to help along the way.

9 Questions About Planning and Scheduling Social Media

1) What are you promoting?

Part of planning your social media presence is knowing what you’re there to talk about. Maybe you have a looming product launch to promote, a holiday special, or a particular piece of content to get in front of the public eye.

In any case, knowing what you’re promoting should run in tandem with your social media schedule. Do you have multiple product or content launches taking place over the course of the year? That’s where a calendar is particularly useful -- not only to announce the launches themselves, but to drop “teasers” leading up to them.

That’s also a good place to plan other pieces of your online presence, like your blog, around these launches -- especially considering that 84% of marketers integrate social media with their overall marketing plans.

Let’s say you’re launching an annual report, and you want to use social media to push a high number of downloads. In the days leading up to it, your blog can feature smaller pieces of content pertaining to the different findings within that report. That creates a top-of-mind presence of your brand and your content, among your audience -- just in time for the big launch.

2) What are your goals?

In 2015, Google did a study of Digital Leaders -- the folks who have seen success with digital marketing -- versus Digital Learners -- those who have not. Out of the two, a whopping 92% of Leaders had clear digital marketing goals, compared to only 69% of Learners.

Those numbers illustrate the importance of outlining goals when planning social media posts and campaigns. That doesn’t mean they have to be dry or boring -- it just means that even funny or out-of-the box posts still need to be aligned with what you’re trying to accomplish.

Just have a look at this collection of Twitter success stories, and the subhead introducing them: "Learn how businesses from around the world achieved their goals with Twitter."

In the Greenhouse software case study, for example, there’s a very clear objective stated: “The marketing team at Greenhouse was focused on acquiring new subscribers for their weekly newsletter," which was "focused on increasing brand awareness and purchase consideration."

Notice how there are three pieces to the Greenhouse goal:

Increase awareness → newsletter subscription → purchase consideration

In addition to overall greater brand awareness, Greenhouse experienced 15% increase in newsletter subscribers within one short month. But remember -- it was a two-pronged approach. In order to drive purchases, Greenhouse knew that its digital marketing would first have to aim for brand awareness, which would drive newsletter subscriptions.

Think about your ultimate goal -- be it sales, downloads, or event attendance -- and consider the smaller pieces that will lead to it. Then, shape and schedule your social media presence around those variables. Social Media Conten Template

3) Who is your target audience?

Here at HubSpot, we’re big on buyer personas -- the semi-fictional “characters” that encompass the qualities of who you’re trying to reach.

Outlining your personas is a vital part of planning your social media presence. It’s one of the best ways to determine the needs, goals, and behavior of your potential customers, which can dictate how you digitally convey a product or service. In turn, that can help you understand the voice to use when trying to reach that audience. It works -- 82% of companies with better value propositions also use buyer personas.

When you plan and schedule your social media, think about your personas. What are they looking for? What motivates them? What’s going to help them? How are they going to feel at a given time of year? Answering those questions can help determine what kind of media your personas are consuming. To get started, check out HubSpot’s MakeMyPersona tool.

4) What can your audience do with what you’re promoting?

Earlier, when asking about your personas, I posed the question: “What’s going to help them?”

That’s part of the reason why it’s so important to know who your personas are -- to make sure that they can actually do something with the content you’re posting on social media. When you plan or schedule a social media post, ask yourself if it’s going to interest, benefit, or ultimately delight your target audience. If the answer is “no,” reconsider sharing it.

Also consider what’s wrong with it. Is there something specific that’s making your social media posts less sharable or engaging? Even the network you’re using can have an impact, since different types of content have varying results, depending on the platform.

Which brings us to our next question ...

5) Are you planning accordingly for each network?

Not all social media is created equal. Different platforms attract different audiences. Plus, each one has its own “secret sauce” of when to post, and how often -- check out the best times to post to each network.

Remember your buyer personas? As you figure out who they are, it’s also important to determine where they “live” online, and what kind of media they’re consuming -- that will help you plan your social media presence for each individual network. It might be helpful to review the Pew Research Center’s Demographics of Social Media Users, which profiles the users of five major social media platforms -- Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

While you’re at it, have a look at HubSpot’s Social Media Content Calendar. With a tab for each social network, it’s easy to plan posts by month, week, or even day. That’s an asset when it comes to the networks that require multiple posts per day, and can aid in planning for seasonality.

And speaking of seasonality ...

6) Are you promoting seasonal content?

I don’t know about you, but I love the holidays. But I also like them with the right timing -- in other words, I don't get excited when I hear carols and bells in October. Too soon, right?

That said, it’s still a good idea to start planning your social media holiday presence early on. And, it’s important to understand how your personas behave during certain times of the year -- there’s a big difference, for example, between B2B and B2C audience behavior during the holidays.

For B2C, it’s a bit more clear-cut. Brands see more first-time buyers during the holidays than they do during the rest of the year, when shoppers are “more influenced by brand allegiance,” writes SocialTimes’ Kimberlee Morrison.

For that reason, it’s important to use a calendar to schedule posts that will both engage potential first-time buyers, and keep them coming back after the holidays. That’s called reactivation -- and according to Monetate, it's imperative if you don't want to your first-time customers to be part of the 86% of them who never come back.

In the B2B sector, it’s less about influencing purchases and more about increasing brand awareness. Around the holidays, for example, B2B companies are encouraged to promote sharable content that’s both seasonally-oriented and branded. That’s especially true on Facebook, which people browse 4.2X as much as they do search engines before shopping. So while you might not be offering a holiday promotion, you’re still aligning with the mood of your buyers -- and keeping your brand at the top of their minds.

7) Are your posts agile enough to be replaced or rescheduled on short notice?

Despite our best planning efforts, unexpected things still come up. The world keeps turning, despite what our social media schedule dictates -- which is why it’s important to keep it flexible.

When you plan your social media presence, it’s generally a best practice to leave open slots for things like breaking news or the content that you develop around unexpected current events.

My colleague, Susannah Morris, uses HubSpot’s Social Inbox app to flexibly plan social media this way. “I schedule out evergreen content and curate it as I go,” she says, “leaving slots to fill in with new content, newsjacking, or other interesting things closer to the time.”

In other words -- things come up, so be sure to allow for them as you plan your posts ahead of time. But make sure you have a back-up plan, too, and a backlog of timely, sharable content to use as an alternative.

8) What’s performed well on your social networks in the past?

There’s a reason why 72% of marketers analyze their social media activity -- they want to see what's working.

But conversely, only 42% of marketers believe they can do such an analysis. Measuring the ROI of social media is known for being a bit tricky. Which network performs best? What kind of posts? What time of day? It’s answering all of the questions we’ve posed so far, and finding out if your answers to them are effective. And that data on what's working -- as well as what isn't -- will ultimately influence your future social media posts.

Digging into that data doesn’t have to be so complex, and there are quite a few resources that can help. Some social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, have their own analytic tools that provide some insights into post performance. And in your HubSpot software, you can use the Sources report to measure the ROI of your marketing campaigns, including details on how social media is driving traffic to your site -- those are things like visits from links clicked on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more.

But in the case that you also have to illustrate the effectiveness of your social media -- especially when using that data to plan and schedule future posts -- it can be helpful to compile a monthly report that can shed detailed light on performance. Not sure what kind of data to include? Check out our ebook on how to present and prove your social media ROI -- it comes with some templates to help you get started.

9) Have you identified influencers?

When it comes to genuinely reaching your audience, trust is huge. That’s why so many of us seek the advice of friends and family in choosing a product or service -- 83% of people trust their recommendations more than anyone else’s.

But then, there are influencers -- people considered to be leaders and trendsetters in their respective niches (think: bloggers). Many times, brands partner with influencers because the public listens to what they have to say. In fact, 49% of Twitter users say they count on recommendations from influencers first.

There’s a reason why it’s called social media. We've come to think of contacts on these networks as reliable acquaintances, even if we’ve never met them in real life. That’s why people like influencers have earned a so much consumer trust, and why marketers are partnering with them.

In fact, many businesses say that they earn $6.50 for every $1 they invest in partnerships with influencers. That’s because influencer campaigns are a bit like economical celebrity endorsements -- people have come to recognize, follow, and trust what they have to say.

But many marketers say that finding the right influencers to work with can be challenge. For that, we recommend following a process similar to identifying your buyer personas, to make sure the influencers are aligned with what your brand represents, as well as your goals. And be sure that it’s a mutually beneficial partnership -- much like a co-branding agreement, it’s important to determine what you can offer an influencer in return.

Ready to start planning?

With the right tools, managing social media isn’t so overwhelming. And planning ahead can help to create that peace of mind, especially when you allow for the flexibility we discussed earlier.

But make sure you’re not overdoing it. The amount of time spent on social media can vary from marketer to marketer, and can even depend on your industry. Answering these questions and following the right steps accordingly will help determine what works for you.

And as social media continues to evolve, we’ll be here to let you know about it, and what it means for you.

How do you plan and schedule social media? Let us know in the comments.

free social media content calendar template

  free social media content calendar template

The Ultimate List of 250+ Marketing Statistics [New Data]

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We've all been there ... the wild goose chase of finding the perfect statistic.

You're writing a blog post on the importance of using video in your social media strategy, for instance. As you crank through your outline, suddenly you pause. If only I had a stat to insert here.

First you come across a research report, but it requires a hefty membership fee. For your next data point, you follow the trail of links from one article to the next, only to find that the original source is 404-ed. When you finally think you've found the perfect social video statistic, you realize it was published during the days "poking" someone on Facebook was still socially acceptable. 

Let's stop chasing after stats. For your researching ease, we've gathered all the top marketing and sales data in one place. So when you need a stat on the rise of video, we've got you covered. In fact, did you know 43% of consumers want to see more video content from marketers in the future? 

In our Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics, you'll find over 250 data points on search engine optimization, content marketing, email optimization, sales and marketing alignment, and more. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Content consumption on Facebook has increased 57% in the past two years.
  • 65% of marketers say generating traffic and leads is their top challenge.
  • 82% of marketers with a service-level agreement think their marketing strategy is effective.

Bookmark our Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics today to spend less time scouring the internet for numbers and more time creating great content.

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How Outsourcing Creativity Can Save Your Agency From Burnout

"Creativity is an advertising agency's most valuable asset, because it is the rarest." - Jef I. Richards

Whether you are in advertising, content marketing, or any other marketing service, one of the greatest values you can bring your clients is creativity.

Compared with 2016, 70% of B2B organizations say they will produce more content in 2017. That means more and more businesses will be looking to agencies and freelancers to create an increasingly diverse spectrum of quality content.

When clients enlist your agency to develop fresh content, it usually means their own team is running out of new ways to engage their audience. At the outset of your agency's relationship with a client, the new content ideas will likely flow easily. To learn how to develop your agency's org structure, download our free guide  here.

But as clients continually demand new ideas to meet their content goals, your team might need to introduce some fresh minds to the account. If you see your internal team as the only source creative ideas, you could be setting your agency up for creative burnout and stagnant growth.

If you work with freelance writers, you already have a team itching to provide you with creative assistance. The use of freelancers offers you a community of writers and with key experience in your clients' industries, providing your team with a steady supply of creativity.

Far too often, freelancers are primarily used when your agency's "to-do" list is overflowing. They are seen as a tactical resource, when they should instead be viewed as a creative and strategic resource.

So why don't agencies see freelancers as capable of contributing to the creative talent pool? The big problem is that agencies are generally not great at enabling freelancers to do their best work.

Here we'll explore some tips to get freelancers more effectively involved in the creative process at your agency -- and why their participation is necessary for business growth, client satisfaction, and preventing burnout in your creative department.

How to Outsource Creativity at Your Agency

Give Freelancers the Tools They Need

The most obvious objection to using freelancers to come up with creative ideas for your clients is that they just don’t know your clients well enough. To effectively create a content calendar for your clients, your team likely spends a lot of time carefully researching past content, discussing goals over the phone and in-person, and eventually agreeing on a tone and strategy that suit the client's unique needs and goals.

The question is, after your team has gone through all of this work, why aren’t you sharing it with your freelancers?

Your freelancers need the necessary tools to make informed decisions about the content they're creating. Like your own team, freelancers are concerned with developing a better understanding of their audience, and learning what types of content this audience likes to consume. Make sure you answer these questions in advance by providing your freelance writers with:

  • Your client's buyer personas: This will help your freelancers better understand your client's audience. If your client doesn't have buyer personas, consider helping them set some up.
  • The stage of the buyer's journey they'll be creating content for: Content needs to be optimized for the stage of the buyer's journey your client wants to target.
  • Relevant keyword research: Use a keyword research tool to inform the specific keywords ideas should be optimized for.
  • Content analytics on how past content has performed: A record of your past successes and failures will inform your freelancers what ideas perform best.

Make your Content Calendar Accessible

By opening up the floodgates to allow freelancers to send you content ideas, you're going to end up with plenty of high quality content pitches that fit your client’s audience. But how can you be sure they'll fit the content strategy you've laid out?

Whether you employ freelancers or not, using a content calendar to manage your client’s content creation is the best way to organize the delivery and publishing schedules of everything you’re producing. While you don’t need to fill this content calendar out 100% for the next year, it absolutely pays to plan ahead. Click here to download a free editorial calendar template for Google Calendar.

By sketching out at least a rough outline of your content strategy for the next 6-12 months, you'll be much better equipped to request and accept content pitches from your freelance community. Organize your calendar around larger content pieces such as whitepapers and webinars in addition to any events your client will participate in or products they'll be launching.

When you inform your freelancers of your long-term goals, they can pitch you content ideas that fit your current goals. Plus, if they send an idea that won't fit for another 2 months, you're able to save it instead of rejecting it outright.

Provide Clear Feedback

As a chance to earn more work, your freelancers will jump at the chance to pitch you their own content ideas. However, if the response is poor or if there is little feedback, they could easily get discouraged.

Just as it took time for your agency to figure out the right content to send your clients, it will take your freelancers time to get the hang of pitching you valuable content ideas. This process can be sped up considerably if you are open and clear about what pitches are worthwhile and why.

While there are always more freelance writers who are willing to pitch your business, the real value is in building a content community of writers whose ideas will continue to get better as the relationship matures. View this small group of freelancers as internal employees, nurture their creativity, and you will end up with a much larger pool of creative ideas to provide your clients with.

Don't Underestimate the Value of Good Freelance Talent

Companies that foster creativity are three times more likely to see 10% growth in revenue year to year compared to companies that do not.

If your agency is valued for its creativity, it's your job to put processes in place to ensure creativity can be sustained. Don't disregard your greatest source of potential content ideas: freelancers. Instead, give your freelance writers the tools, information and feedback they need to provide a much larger contribution to your business. Your clients, your freelancers, and your agency will thank you for it.

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Eerily predictive review spreads online after Dreamworld accident

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Following the shocking death of four people at Dreamworld this week, an eery Facebook post condemning the Australian theme park's safety has been spreading online.

The post, written a few weeks before Tuesday's accident on the Thunder Rover Rapids ride Queensland tourist attraction, ended with the chilling line, "someone could get seriously injured or killed one day!"

The post, written by visitor Tracey Christensen on Oct. 10, has been shared by hundreds of people. The post has since been made private or deleted, according to Facebook. Read more...

More about Review, Facebook, Australia, Queensland, and Tragedy

Deep learning tool lets you pick your pastiche: Mostly Monet, a dab of Doré and a pinch of Picasso

brad_pitt_neural For years we’ve been skeptical, and rightly so, of the “art filters” you can put on your photos, webcam videos and so on. But Google may have made them relevant again — or at the very least, interesting — by letting you mix and match them in real time using a single specialized neural network. Read More

Facebook to celebs: Play by the rules when promoting products

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Prepare to start seeing more celebrity-endorsed ads on Facebook.

The social network is now extending its rules about how verified profiles can share branded posts, officially letting stars and influential personalities monetize their Facebook audiences — something that was already happening but wasn't allowed.

While celebrities have always used Facebook as a soapbox to push the brands that sponsor them, the company's rules had technically banned profiles from such practices in an attempt to curb aggressive marketing and keep ads within its own sales arm. 

More about Best Actor, Mark Zuckerberg, Influencer Marketing, Facebook, and Business

Those Facebook lives from space are not what they seem

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A Facebook Live video allegedly showing a live feed of the International Space Station (ISS) is going viral on social media though there are several doubts on its authenticity.  

The alleged live footage was posted by several media outlets and pages, including UNILAD, Viral USA and INTERESTINATE, gathering an insane amount of views and likes. 

The video on Viral USA's Facebook page has been going on for three hours and has got more than 2 million likes, 400k shares and 280k views. High figures were also recorded by UNILAD, which tagged the International Space Station in the caption. 

However, there is no mention of a Facebook live from the ISS on the official NASA website or Facebook page.  Read more...

More about Spacewalks, Facebook, Tech, Science, and Space

A Brief History of Search & SEO

history of seo.png

Tracing the history of SEO is kind of like trying to trace the history of the handshake. We all know it exists, and we know it’s an important part of business. But we don’t spend a ton of time thinking about its origins -- we’re mostly concerned with how we use it day-to-day.

But unlike the handshake, SEO is fairly young, and changes frequently. Quite appropriately, it appears to be a millennial -- its birth is predicted to fall somewhere around 1991.

And in its relatively short life, it’s matured and evolved rather quickly -- just look at how many changes Google’s algorithm alone has gone through. Download our free planner to learn how to step up your SEO traffic in just 30  days.

So where did SEO begin, and how did it become so darn important? Join us, as we step back in time and try to figure this out -- as it turns out, it’s quite a story.

But First, a Look Back at Search Engines

Google Beta

Source: Wayback Machine

The first idea for creating a common archive for all the world’s data came to fruition in 1945. That July, Dr. Vannevar Bush -- then director of the now-defunct Office of Scientific Research and Development -- published a piece in The Atlantic proposing a “collection of data and observations, the extraction of parallel material from the existing record, and the final insertion of new material into the general body of the common record.” In other words, we believe, today’s Google.

Several decades later, in 1990, McGill University student Alan Emtage created Archie, which some say was the very first search engine -- though that remains up for debate, according to research from Bill Slawski, president and founder of SEO by the Sea. However, Archie was what Slawski called the “best way to find information from other servers around the internet at the time,” and is actually still (very primitive) operation.

The next decade saw several pivotal developments, with the more commercial versions of search engines we might recognize today taking shape.

  • February 1993: Six Stanford students create Architext, which would later become the search engine Excite. Some, like Search Engine Land (SEL), say that Excite “revolutionized how information was cataloged,” making it easier to find information “by sorting results based on keywords found within content and backend optimization.”
  • June 1993: Matthew Gray debuts World Wide Web Wanderer, which later became known as Wandex.
  • October 1993: Martijn Koster introduces ALIWEB, which allows site owners to submit their own pages (unbeknownst, sadly, to many site owners).
  • December 1993: At least three “bot-fed” search engines exist -- JumpStation, RBSE spider and World Wide Web Worm -- which likely means they were powered by web robots to crawl both servers and site content to produce results.
  • 1994: Alta Vista, Infoseek, Lycos, and Yahoo search engines all come to fruition.
  • 1996: Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin begin building a search engine that they initially call BackRub.
  • April 1997: AskJeeves is introduced, later becoming Ask.com.
  • September 1997: Google.com is registered as a domain name.

It’s worth noting that nearly twelve years later, in June 2009, Microsoft released Bing -- its previous editions were also known as Live Search, Windows Live Search, and MSN Search.

But here’s where SEO itself comes in. As search engines became more mainstream and widely used, site owners started to get wise. As SEO community Moz puts it, “It was discovered that by taking some rather simple actions, search engine results could be manipulated and money could be made from the internet.”

Those results, though, weren’t exactly quality ones. And that, dear readers, is where the SEO story begins.

A Brief History of Search & SEO

The ‘90s

90s Internet

Source: The Daily Dot

With search engines becoming household names and more families becoming connected to the Internet, finding information came with greater ease. The problem, as noted above, was the quality of that information.

While search engine results matched words from user queries, it was usually limited to just that, as an overwhelming amount of site owners took to keyword stuffing -- repeating keywords over and over again in the text -- to improve rankings (for which there was no criteria), drive traffic to their pages and produce attractive numbers for potential advertisers.

There was also a bit of collusion going on. In addition to the keyword stuffing, people were using excessive and “spammy backlinks,” according to SEL, to improve their authorities. Not only were there no ranking criteria at the time -- but by the time search engines fixed algorithms accordingly, there were already new black hat SEO practices taking place that the fixes didn’t address.

But then, two kids at Stanford got an idea.

Google_Founders.png

Source: Stanford InfoLab

When Page and Brin set out to create Google, that was one of the problems they wanted to solve. In 1998, the pair published a paper at Stanford titled “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine,” where they wrote:

...the predominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users.”

It was in that same paper that Page and Brin first mentioned PageRank, the technology that Google uses to help rank search results based on quality, and not keywords alone. Some might say that thesis cleared the path for SEO as we know it today.

The Early 2000s

Early 2000s

Source: Wayback Machine

The early 2000s saw the beginning of the Google takeover. In the process of making search engine technology less advertising-centric, Google began to provide guidelines for white hat SEO -- the kind that the “good guys” stick to -- to help webmasters rank without any of the common fishy behavior from the 90s.

2000-2002

But according to Moz, the guidelines didn’t yet have an actual impact on ranking, so people didn’t bother following them. That’s partially because PageRank was based on the number of inbound links to a given page -- the more of those, the higher the ranking. But there wasn’t yet a way to measure the authenticity of those links -- for the early part of the 2000s, Marketing Technology Blog says it was still possible to use these backlinking techniques to rank pages that weren't even related to search criteria.

But in 2001, Brin and Page appeared on "Charlie Rose," when the host asked them, "Why does it work so well?" As part of his answer, Brin emphasized that -- at the time -- Google was a search engine and nothing else, and was looking at "the web as a whole, and not just which words occur on each page." It set the tone for some of the initial major algorithm updates that would begin to more closely examine those words. Have a look at the full interview:

 

 

Source: Charlie Rose

2003-2004

This approach to the web being about more than just words really began taking shape in November 2003, with the “Florida” update to Google’s algorithm. Enough sites lost their ranking for Search Engine Watch to call the response to Florida a massive “outcry,” but careful to note that many sites benefitted from the change, too. It was the first major instance of sites receiving penalties for things like keyword stuffing, signaling Google’s emphasis on solving for the user first -- mainly with quality content.

In 2004, one of the more primitive versions of Google's voice search existed, in what the New York Times called a half-finished experiment. And while the technology was somewhat infantile at the time -- just check out what the instructions looked like at first -- it was also a signal to the future importance of mobile in SEO. (Stay tuned -- more on that later.)

Google Voice primitive

Source: Wayback Machine

 

2005: A big year for SEO

One of the biggest years in the search engine world was 2005. That January, Google united with Yahoo and MSN for the Nofollow Attribute, which was created in part to decrease the amount of spammy links and comments on websites, especially blogs. Then, in June, Google debuted personalized search, which used someone’s search and browsing history to make results more relevant.

That November, Google Analytics launched, which is still used today to measure traffic and campaign ROI. Check out its baby photo:

Screen Shot 2016-10-25 at 11.35.29 AM.png

Source: Wayback Machine

2009: SEO shakeups

In 2009, the search engine world saw a bit of a shakeup. Bing premiered that June, with Microsoft aggressively marketing it as the search engine that would produce noticeably better results than Google. But as SEL predicted, it was no “Google-killer,” nor did its advice for optimizing content significantly contrast Google’s. In fact, according to Search Engine Journal, the only noticeable difference was Bing’s tendency to give priority to keywords in URLs, as well as favoring capitalized words and “pages from large sites.”

That same year, in August, Google provided a preview of the Caffeine algorithm change, requesting the public’s help to test the “next-generation infrastructure” that Moz says was “designed to speed crawling, expand the index, and integrate indexation and ranking in nearly real-time.”

Caffeine wasn’t fully introduced until nearly a year later -- when it also improved the search engine’s speed -- but in December of 2009, a tangible real-time search was released, with Google search results including things like tweets and breaking news. It was a move that confirmed SEO wasn’t just for webmasters anymore -- from that moment forward, journalists, web copywriters and even social community managers would have to optimize content for search engines.

Here's Matt Cutts, Google's head of webspam, discussing Caffeine in August 2009:

 

 

Source: Wayback Machine // WebProNews

2010-Present

Google_Logo_History.png

Source:Wayback Machine // Google

When you’re typing in a search query into Google, it’s kind of fun to see what its suggestions are. That’s thanks to the Google Instant technology, which rolled out in September 2010. At first, Moz says, it made SEOs “combust,” until they realized that it didn’t really have any result on ranking.

But Google Instant, along with the evolution of SEO from 2010 on, was just another phase of the search engine’s mission to solve for the user -- despite some controversy along the way around pages whose rankings were actually improved by negative online reviews. The algorithm, Google said, was eventually adjusted to penalize sites using such tactics.

More on Google Instant, circa 2010:

 

 

That year also saw a growing importance of social media content in SEO. In December 2010, both Google and Bing added "social signals," which first displayed any written Facebook posts, for example, from your own network that matched your query. But it also began to give PageRank to Twitter profiles that were linked to with some frequency. The importance of Twitter in SEO didn't end there -- stay tuned.

2011: The year of the panda

The trend of punishing sites for unfairly gaming Google’s algorithm would continue. Some of these incidents were more public than others, including one with Overstock.com in 2011. At the time, according to Wall Street Journal, domains ending with .edu generally had a higher authority in Google’s eyes. Overstock used that to its advantage by asking educational institutions to link to its site -- and use keywords like “vacuum cleaners” and “bunk beds” -- offering discounts for students and faculty in return. Those inbound links would improve Overstock’s rankings for queries with such keywords, until Overstock discontinued the practice in 2011 and Google penalizing them soon after.

It was also the year of Panda, which first rolled out that February -- the algorithm update that cracked down on content farms. Those were sites with huge quantities of frequently updated, low-quality content that was written with the sole purpose of driving search engine results. They also tend to have a high ad-to-content ratios, which Panda was trained to sniff out.

Panda itself has undergone several updates -- so many that in its timeline of changes to Google’s algorithm, Moz declined to list any that weren’t major after 2011. Even with that exclusion, the timeline still lists twenty-eight panda updates -- for most of which the impact was difficult to measure -- through July of 2015.

2012: Along came a penguin

In April 2012, Google took what it called “another step to reward high-quality sites” with the first of many Penguin updates -- and, in the process of announcing it, acknowledged Bing’s month-earlier blog post on the changing face of SEO. Penguin targeted sites that more subtly used non-white hat SEO tactics; for example, those with content that might be mostly informative, but was also sprinkled with spammy hyperlinks that had nothing to do with the page’s H1, like in this example:

Google_Logo_History.png

Source: Google

It's worth noting that 2012 also saw a throwback to Google's original anti-ad-heavy thesis with the "Above The Fold" update, which began to lower the rankings of sites with heavy ad-space above the "fold," or the top half of the page.

Eventually, Google would go beyond targeting spammy content itself. The Payday Loan algorithm update -- which was hinted at in June 2013 and officially rolled out the following May -- actually focused more on queries that were more likely to produce spammy results. Those were typically searches for things like, well, payday loans, and other things that might make your mother blush. Google adjusted its ranking system to help keep spam out of those results, and while it didn’t necessarily impact the SEO efforts of legitimate sites, it displayed efforts to keep search results authentic.

Google goes local

Keeping with the tradition of animal-named algorithm updates, Google released "Pigeon" (dubbed so by SEL) in 2014, which carried quite an impact on local search results. At the time, it seems to have been designed to improve Maps queries, which began to be treated with some of the same technology that was applied to its other search functions, like "Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms". Local searches were going to become a big deal -- and it will only continue to do so, as you'll see in a bit.

Then, in 2015...

The biggest post-2010 SEO announcement might have been Google’s mobile update of April 2015, when non-mobile-friendly websites would start getting lower rankings. That meant SEO was no longer about keywords and content -- responsive design mattered, too.

Google announced that change in advance, in February 2015, with a mobile-friendly test that allowed webmasters to view potential issues and make changes before the rollout. It wasn’t the last of Google’s mobile updates -- in August 2016, it announced a crackdown on mobile pop-ups.

What’s Next?

It might be hard to believe, but it looks like even more change is on the horizon.

To mobile and beyond

As mobile usage is on the rise -- 51% percent of digital media is consumed that way, versus 42% on desktop -- it makes sense that SEO will continue leaning in that direction.

That's already apparent with Google’s favorability toward a mobile-friendly user experience. We predict that a future wave of SEO will largely pertain to voice search. That has its own complex history and is on the rise -- 20% of Google searches are currently done by voice, as are 25% of Bing’s. And it's compounded by the rise of such voice-powered digital personal assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa.

While there might not be a clear-cut way to optimize for voice search yet -- largely due to a lack of analytics in that area -- we anticipate that those resources will become available, creating yet another critical pillar of SEO.

Going local

But that brings up the issue of localization in SEO, and optimizing results to be regionally relevant. That’s especially true in the realm of voice search -- Yelp and other business aggregators are used to answer voice queries about what’s nearby, for example. That’s an SEO opportunity for local businesses, by making sure their listings are “comprehensive, accurate and optimized to be referenced” on a third party site.

Getting Social

While the 2009 introduction of Google's real-time search had some social ramifications, social media is becoming a more pivotal piece of SEO strategy. When the search engine began indexing tweets in 2011, for example, it hinted toward a future in which users seek information on social media in the same way that they do via search. In fact, this indexing might be Google's version of future-proofing -- if you can imagine it -- for a time when people no longer use search engines the way we do now.

For example, type in the name of any celebrity -- say, Charlie Rose, whose video we shared earlier. The first page of search results for his name includes his Facebook and Twitter profiles. Plus, check out the biographical sidebar to the right -- there are social icons with links to his various networks there, too. When users search for a person, that's one of the first things they want to see.

Charlie Rose google search

Source: Google

In any case, it’s clear why SEO has become a full-time job. Its history will only continue evolving. Executing it well requires a high level of skill, ethics, and upkeep on technology.

But we know that, sometimes, it’s not possible to have a single person dedicated to it, which is why we continue to create the best SEO learning resources we can. Check out some of our favorites:

What are your favorite pieces of SEO history? Let us know in the comments.

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