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Taking Local Inventory Online: An Interview with Pointy’s Mark Cummins

Posted by MiriamEllis

Let’s go back in time 20 years so I can ask you the question, “How often do you look at a paper map every month?”

Unless you were a cartographer or a frequent traveler, chances are good that your answer would be, “Hmm, maybe less than once a month. Maybe once or twice a year.”

But in 2019, I’d wager there’s scarcely a day that goes by without you using Google Maps when planning to eat out, find a service provider, or find something fun to do. That web-based map in your hand has become a given.

And yet, there’s one thing you’re still not using the Internet for. And it’s something you likely wonder about almost daily. It starts with the question,

“I wonder who around here carries X?”

A real-world anecdote

After the tragic fires we’ve had this year in California, I wanted to wet mop all the floors in my house instead of vacuuming them, due to my concerns about particulate pollution in the air. My mother recommended I buy a Swiffer. I needed to know where I could find one locally, but I didn’t turn to the Internet for this, because the Internet doesn’t tell me this. Or at least, it hasn’t done so until now. Few, if any, of the local hardware stores, pharmacies, or big box retailers have reliable, live online inventory. At the same time, calling these places is often a huge hassle because staff isn’t always sure what’s in stock.

And so I ended up going to 3 different shops in search of this particular product. It wasn’t a convenient experience, and it was an all-too-common one.

The next big thing in local already exists

My real-world anecdote about a wet mop is exactly why I’m so pleased to be interviewing Mark Cummins, CEO of Pointy. 90% of purchases still take place in physical stores and it’s Mark who has seen this gap in available online knowledge about offline inventory and has now set out to bridge it.

I predict that within a few years, you’ll be using the Internet to find local inventory as frequently and easily as you’ve come to use its mapping capabilities. This chat with Mark explains why.

The real-world roots of an existing local need

Miriam: Mark, I understand that you were formerly a Google Search Team member, with a background in machine learning, but that your journey with Pointy began by walking into retail shops and talking face-to-face with owners. What did these owners tell you about their challenges in relation to offline/online inventory? A memorable real-world anecdote would be great here.

Mark: I started thinking about this problem because of an experience just like your story about trying to find a Swiffer. I’d recently moved to a new country and I had to buy lots of things to set up a new apartment, so I had that kind of experience all the time. It felt like there was a huge gap there that search engines could help with, but they weren’t.

I had been working at Google developing what became Google Lens (Google’s image recognition search feature). It felt strange that Google could do something so advanced, yet couldn’t answer very basic questions about where to buy things locally.

So I started thinking about ways to fix that. Initially I would just walk into retailers and talk to them about how they managed their inventory. I was trying to figure out if there was some uniform way to bring the inventory information online. I quickly learned that it was going to be hard. Almost every retailer I spoke to had a different method of tracking it. Some kept records on paper. Some didn’t count their inventory at all.

My first idea was a little crazy — I wanted to build a robot for retailers that would drive around the store every night and photograph all the shelves, and use image recognition to figure out the inventory and the prices. I spent some time seriously thinking about that, but then landed on the idea of the Pointy box, which is a much simpler solution.

Miriam: Can you briefly describe what a typical Point of Sale system is like for retailers these days, in light of this being technology most retailers already have in place?

Mark: Well, I would almost say that there isn’t a typical Point of Sale system. The market is really fragmented, it sometimes feels like no two retailers have the same system. There’s a huge range, from the old-style systems that are essentially a glorified calculator with a cash drawer, up to modern cloud-connected systems like Clover, Square, or Lightspeed. It’s very disruptive for retailers to change their POS system, so older systems tend to stay in use for a long time. The systems also differ by vertical — there are specialized systems for pharmacies, liquor stores, etc. Dealing with all of that variation is what makes it so hard to get uniform local inventory data.

A simple inventory solution is born

Miriam: So, you spoke with retailers, listened to their challenges and saw that they already have Point of Sale systems in place. And Pointy was born! Please, describe exactly what a Pointy device is, how it solves the problems you learned about, and fits right in with existing Point of Sales technology.

Mark: Right! It was pretty clear that we needed to find a solution that worked with retailers’ existing systems. So we developed the Pointy box. The Pointy box is a small device that attaches to a retailer’s barcode scanner. Basically it links the barcode scanner to a website we create for the retailer. Whenever the retailer scans a product with their barcode scanner, we recognize the barcode, and list the product on the website. The end result is live website listing everything in the store — here’s an example for Talbot’s Toyland, a toy store in San Mateo. They have over ten thousand products listed on their site, without any manual work.

The experience is pretty much seamless — just plug in Pointy, and watch your store website build itself. The Pointy box connects directly via the cell phone network, so there’s really nothing to set up. Just plug it in and it starts working. New products automatically get added to your store page, old products get removed when you no longer sell them, item stock status syncs automatically. We did quite a bit of machine learning to make that all automatic. Once the site is live, we also have some SEO and SEM tools to help retailers drive search traffic for the products they sell.

Miriam: My understanding is that the Pointy Team had to do a ton of legwork to put together various product catalogues from which data is pulled each time a product is scanned so that its information can be displayed on the web. I’m not familiar with this concept of product catalogues. What are they, what types of information do they contain, and what did you have to do to pull all of this together? Also, is it true that your team hand-reviews all the product data?

Mark: If you’re working in shopping search, then product catalogs are really important. Every mass-market product has a unique barcode number, but unfortunately there’s no master database where you can enter a barcode number and get back the product’s name, image, etc. So basically every retailer has to solve this problem for themselves, laboriously entering the product details into their systems. Pointy helps eliminate that work for retailers.

There are some product catalogs you can license, but each one only covers a fraction of products, and errors are common. We built a big data pipeline to pull together all of this product data into a single catalog and clean it up. We automate a lot of the work, but if you want the highest quality then machine learning alone isn’t enough. So every single product we display also gets approved by a human reviewer, to make sure it’s accurate. We’ve processed millions of products like this. The end result for the retailer is that they just plug in a Pointy box, scan a product, and their website starts populating itself, no data entry required. It’s a pretty magical feeling the first time you see it. Especially if you’ve spent countless hours of your life doing it the old way!

Where real-time local inventory appears on the web

Miriam: So, then, the products the retailer scans create the brand’s own inventory catalogue, which appears on their Pointy page. What tips would you offer to business owners to best integrate their Pointy page with their brand website? Linking to it from the main menu of the website? Something else? And do these Pointy pages feature SEO basics? Please describe.

Mark: Some retailers use Pointy as their main website. Others have it as an additional profile, in the same way that they might have a Facebook page or a Yelp page. The main thing Pointy brings is the full live inventory of the store, which generally isn’t listed anywhere else. To integrate with their other web presences, most just link across from their main sites or social media profiles. A few also embed Pointy into their sites via an iframe.

We work a lot on making these pages as SEO-friendly as possible. The queries we focus on ranking for are things like “product name near me” or “product name, location.” For example, a query like “rubber piggy bank san mateo” currently has the Pointy page for Talbot’s Toyland in #1 position. We have an engineering team working on this all the time, and we’ve actually discovered a few interesting things.

Miriam: And how does this work when, for example, a product goes out of stock or goes on sale for a different price?

Mark: We keep that information updated live. The stock status is updated based on the information from the Pointy box. We also handle price data, though it depends on what features the retailers is using. Some retailers prefer not to display their prices online.

See What’s In Store: Google totally sees the opportunity

Miriam: I was fascinated to learn that Pointy is the launch partner for Google’s See What’s In Store feature, and readers can see an example of this with Talbot’s Toyland. Can you explain what’s involved for retailers who want their inventory to appear in the SWIS area of the Google Business Profile (aka “Knowledge Panel”) and why this represents such an important opportunity? Also, does the business have to pay a commission to Google for inclusion/impressions/clicks?

Mark: This is a pretty exciting feature. It lets retailers display their full product catalogue and live inventory information in the Business Profile on the Google search page. It’s also visible from Google Maps. I’m guessing Google will probably start to surface the information in more ways over time.

It’s completely free for retailers, which is pretty interesting. Google Shopping has always been a paid service, so it’s notable that Google is now offering some organic exposure with this new feature.

I think that this is going to become table stakes for retailers in the next year or two, in the same way that having your opening hours online is now. Consumers are simply going to expect the convenience of finding local product information online. I think that’s a good thing, because it will help local businesses win back customers that might otherwise have gone to Amazon.

We’ve worked a lot with Google to make the setup experience for local retailers very simple. You just link your Pointy account to Google, and your live inventory appears in the Google Business Profile. Behind the scenes we do a lot of technical work to make that happen (including creating Merchant Center accounts, setting up feeds, etc). But the user experience is just a few clicks. We’ve seen a lot of uptake from Pointy users, it’s been a very popular feature. We have a bit more detail on it here.

What about special retail scenarios?

Miriam: So, basically, Pointy makes getting real-world inventory online for small and independent retailers who just don’t have the time to deal with a complicated e-commerce system. I understand that you have some different approaches to offer larger enterprises, involving their existing IT systems. Can you talk a bit about that, please?

Mark: Yes, some larger retailers may be able to send us a direct feed from their inventory systems, rather than installing Pointy boxes at every POS location. We aim to support whatever is easiest for the retailer. We are also directly integrated into modern cloud POS systems like Clover, Square, Lightspeed, Vend, and others. Users of those systems can download a free Pointy app from their system’s app store and integrate with us that way. And for retailers not using those systems, they can use a Pointy box.

Miriam: And what about retailers whose products lack labels/barcodes? Let’s say, a farm stand with constantly-changing seasonal produce, or a clothing boutique with hand-knit sweaters? Is there a Pointy solution for them?

Mark: Unfortunately we’re not a great fit for those kind of retailers. We designed the experience for retailers who sell barcoded products.

Miriam: You’re a former Google staffer, Mark. In local search, Google has become aggressive in taking a cut of an increasing number of local consumer actions and this is particularly hard on small businesses. We’ve got Local Service Ads, paid ads in local packs, booking buttons, etc, all of which struggling independent businesses are having to pay Google for. Right now, these retailers are eager for a competitive edge. How can they differentiate themselves? Please, share tips.

Mark: It’s true, lots of channels that used to be purely organic now have a mix of organic and paid. I think ultimately the paid ads still have to be ROI-positive or nobody will use them, but it’s definitely no fun to pay for traffic you used to get for free.

On the positive side, there are still plenty of openings to reach customers organically. If small businesses invest in staying ahead of the game, they can do very well. Lots of local product searches essentially have no answer, because most retailers haven’t been able to get their inventory online yet. It’s easy to rank well for a query when you’re the only one with the answer. There’s definitely still an opening there for early adopters.

“Pointing” the way to the future

Miriam: Finally, Pointy has only been available in the US since 2016, and in that short amount of time, you’re already serving 1% of the country’s retailers. Congratulations! What does the near future look like to you for retailers and for Pointy? What do you see as Pointy’s mission?

Mark: We want to bring the world’s brick-and-mortar retailers online and give them the tools they need to thrive. More than 90% of retail goes through brick and mortar stores, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t have an amazing technology platform to help them. The fragmentation and difficulty of accessing data has held everyone back, but I think Pointy has a shot at fixing that.

Miriam: Thank you, Mark. I believe Pointy has what it takes to be successful, but I’m going to wish you good luck, anyway!

Summing up

In doing this interview, I learned a ton from Mark and I hope you did, too. If a local retailer you market is seeking a competitive advantage in 2019, I’d seriously be considering early adoption of Google’s See What’s In Store feature. It’s prime Google Business Profile (formerly Knowledge Panel) real estate, and so long as SWIS is free and Pointy is so affordable, there’s a pretty incredible opportunity to set yourself apart in these early days with a very modest investment.

I’m feeling confident about my prediction that we’re on the verge of a new threshold in user behavior, in terms of people using local search to find local inventory. We’ll all have the enjoyment of seeing how this plays out over the next couple of years. And if you heard it first at Moz, that will be extra fun!

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CMWorld Interview: Path to 1M Monthly Readers Has No Shortcuts, Says J.P. Medved

In her introduction to The Ultimate Guide to Conquering Content Marketing, Content Marketing Institute’s Cathy McPhillips draws several commonalities between content marketing and video games: the interactivity, the trial-and-error learnings, the camradery.

But, while many marketers have their own personal “cheat codes” that help them gain an edge, there are no true hacks in content. Certain video games allow you to tap in a series of commands and gain invincibility, or jump ahead to the next level. Content marketers, however, cannot magically produce an audience or monetization out of thin air.

As the Content Director for Capterra, and also an avowed lover of gaming, J.P. Medved understands this reality. His company’s industry-specific blogs have grown to 1 million monthly readers, and it wasn’t because of any secret elixir.

Instead, Capterra’s success owes to a proven, adoptable strategy tethered to the fundamentals of organization, goals, promotion, and experimentation. Medved will explain this formula in-depth during his Content Marketing World session, Better Than Hacks and Schemes: A Proven Approach to Building Your Audience, and was also kind enough to share some insights with us ahead of the September event.    

Medved has a reputation for being sharply honest and entertaining, and those traits definitely came through during our interview with him. Keep reading to find his thoughts on silent content, scalability, documenting strategies, and content marketing lessons learned from his experience writing fiction.

 

What does your role as Content Marketing Director at Capterra entail? What are your main areas of focus and key priorities?

My day-to-day as a Content Director involves a lot of email and meetings, at this point. We’ve grown to a team of nine writers, six of whom I manage directly, so a lot of my time is devoted to supporting them. I join monthly topic planning meetings with all of them, as well as frequent check-ins with the editors and the marketing folks that support the content we produce. I also now spend a fair amount of time in our analytics and various content management systems just checking in and tracking things.

As we’ve grown—and I suspect this is common in most roles—I’ve transitioned away from being a content producer, to being a content manager. I no longer write content myself, and we centralized editing early last year so I no longer edit individual pieces either. Instead I spend more time coordinating long-term content plans and calendars with other teams in the business, managing content experiments or helping new projects get off the ground, and working with the folks on my team to help advance their career goals.

 

Why should content marketers beware of “hacks” and shortcuts when it comes to growing their audience and impact?

The content marketing world, and the digital marketing space more generally, loves the idea of the Cinderella story. That blog that hits everything just right and experiences exponential, “hockey stick” growth and also there’s a royal wedding involved somehow. But our experience, and that of the vast majority of successful content marketing operations I’m aware of, is actually a lot more boring.

Jimmy Daley of the great animalz.co blog calls it “silent content;” that company that has just been plugging away and producing and refining great content for years, and grown a consistent, large audience and strong search position.  

With Capterra’s content, we’ve grown to a million readers a month, writing in an ostensibly boring, B2B software space, and we never had a breakout “viral” hit, or flashy media coverage, or exponential traffic growth (it’s all been linear). We’ve just been working away at it since 2013, publishing consistently and getting a little bit better each month.

I think if you waste all your time and energy chasing new “hacks” and shortcuts sold to you by whatever case study is making the rounds on YouMoz that week, you never get really good at the fundamentals of content marketing; the block-and-tackle of creating and promoting really great, helpful—if unassuming—content. As a result your growth, though it may experience the occasional spike, will actually slow and it’ll take you more time to build a sustainable traffic base in the long-run.


If you waste all your time and energy chasing new “hacks” & shortcuts, you never get really good at the fundamentals of content marketing. @rizzleJPizzle #CMWorld
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What are the most pivotal roles in developing an effective and scalable content strategy?

Scalability is still something we struggle with, having grown the team 6X in the last four years. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is actually to bring on/promote other managers earlier than you think you need it. Assuming an average writer production schedule of two, 1,500 word articles a week, a full-time manager can effectively manage and edit 3-4 writers. If they’re not editing (you bring in a centralized editing team, or use a round-robin method, or delegate to senior writers), that number goes up to 6-7.  

But you should have someone in place to help you well before you hit that number, not only to give them time to ramp-up and learn management skills, but also to allow you to plan effectively for new hires and content coverage growth.


The biggest lesson content I’ve learned is actually to bring on/promote other managers earlier than you think you need it. @rizzleJPizzle #CMWorld
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Why is experimentation so critical in the content creation process?

Most of our content fails. Like, over 90% of it. And that’s not at all uncommon in the content marketing world. If everyone knew the exact ingredients to a “viral” content piece, that’s all anyone would produce. But we don’t know. Pieces I think will do really well, more-often-than-not sink without a trace, and pieces that seem like throwaways can take off because they’ve tapped into some pent-up need in the marketplace of ideas.

So we try to test a lot. 50% or more of our content is trying out new topics or channels or formats, and the other 50% is either updating successful past content, or scaling up a content type that our previous testing has discovered works.

I differ here from the current received-wisdom in the content marketing industry. Right now it’s hip to say content marketers need to produce fewer pieces of longer, higher quality content. But I actually argue you should produce a higher volume of content (at least early on) to discover what “hits” with your particular audience, so you can scale that later.

Brian Dean of Backlinko is often the poster-child of the “publish less, publish higher-quality” model, and I love his content and he’s obviously been very successful. But might he have been more successful publishing weekly instead of monthly? Could he have sacrificed a little bit of length to experiment with a broader range of topic ideas earlier on before scaling the ones that worked? I think it’s possible.


You should produce a higher volume of content (at least early on) to discover what “hits” with your particular audience, so you can scale that later. @rizzleJPizzle #CMWorld
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What are the most common mistakes you see individuals and companies make when developing and launching a blog?

The biggest one is not taking content marketing seriously. That manifests itself in two major tactical mistakes: not hiring someone to do content full-time, and trying to squeeze direct revenue out of content in the first year.

If no one’s doing content full-time, then content just becomes a side project for someone at your company who may-or-may-not get to it once they finish their “real work” for the day. We tried this model for years and never got any traction with our content until someone owned it full-time and could devote themselves to thinking about it strategically and producing content consistently.

And you should not try to monetize your content in the first year. It will distort your writing, even if you think you can guard against it, and result in lower-quality, less helpful, more salesy content. Focus on creating content that is genuinely helpful for your audience first, and you will build reader trust for any kind of monetization scheme you want to implement later down the road.


If no one’s doing content full-time, then content just becomes a side project for someone at your company who may-or-may-not get to it once they finish their real work for the day. @rizzleJPizzle #CMWorld
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Why is it important for businesses to have a documented content strategy, as opposed to an intangible framework?

I think people get intimidated when you say, “You need to have a documented content strategy” because they envision this 30-page document written in corporate buzzwords that will take a month to create. But we literally started with nothing more than a two-page Word doc with some bullet points listing our short and long-term goals/metrics, the type of content we wanted to create, and who was responsible for what aspects.

The benefits to us of even something that basic have been huge. Actually writing it down forced us to think through the specifics and showed us where the gaps in our plan were, having agreed-upon goals and timelines upfront made for easier team and executive buy-in, and it gave us something to refer back to when we had questions about whether a new content idea fit our overall goals.

 

What have you learned in your ‘side hustle’ as a fiction novelist that applies to your day job as a content marketer?

For writing fiction I spent a lot of time studying story structure, and plot architecture, and all the elements that make a story really “flow” and feel effortless to people reading it. What struck me is how many of the same principles apply to a content piece.

You want to start off with a strong “hook” that introduces an element of mystery and makes the reader want to know more, your “climax” needs to deliver a memorable experience or information, and the dénouement has to be satisfying. A novel that doesn’t tie up loose ends in the last few chapters is as unsatisfying as a blog post that doesn’t include a concrete next step or call to action in the last few paragraphs.

 

Which speaker presentations are you looking forward to most at Content Marketing World 2018?

I love video games, so I’m excited to hear Jane Weedon of Twitch give her talk. I’ve also always been fascinated by the science behind online behavior, so Brian Massey’s talk on Behavioral Science for Content Marketers is high on my list as well.

Find Your Path to Content Marketing Greatness

Consistency, experimentation, and getting better each month: They might not be the stuff of Cinderella stories, but in the real world these techniques work and Medved’s team serves as living proof.

He is one of many CMWorld speakers who contributed to The Ultimate Guide to Conquering Content Marketing, so as we look forward to seeing them on stage in Cleveland, make sure to soak in all their awesome advice by clicking through the slides below:


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CMWorld Interview: Thinking Inside the (Answer) Box with Courtney Cox

In a digital marketing career that has spanned numerous roles, often with a heavy focus on SEO, Courtney Cox has watched plenty of trends come and go.

But like many of us, she’s convinced that answer boxes (or “featured snippets,” or “position zero,” as you will) hold the key to search success going forward.

Not only do these “best answer” results attain prime visibility on SERPs, but as voice search continues to grow more prominent, they are likely to become the only result for many user queries within a few years.

Recognizing the magnitude of this topic, Cox will dedicate her session at Content Marketing World to Position 0: Optimizing Your Content to Rank in Google’s Answer Boxes. Drawing from her experience at Children’s Health, where she’s tasked with helping modernize the digital experience in an industry that has been — by her own admission — a little behind the curve, she’ll offer up practical advice for claiming this crucial real estate.

As we eagerly await her afternoon session on September 5th in Cleveland, OH, we had a chance to ask Cox about some pertinent matters relating to her specialization. Here’s what she had to say about data-driven conversion rate optimization, strategizing through competitive analysis, speaking the language of coding as marketers, and more.


What does your role as Digital Marketing Manager at Children’s Health entail? What are your main areas of focus and key priorities?

I have a team of strategists and editors that manages the online experience for our patient families. This includes everything from the user experience of Childrens.com, SEO, paid search, and management of our local listings across the web.

We are currently in a major transition period. Our goal is to provide the best online experience of any pediatric healthcare system in the country. Healthcare as an industry is behind the times, and historically, we have been no exception. As the cost of healthcare goes up, our consumers place more scrutiny on the total value of their experience with our system.

We typically think of that experience beginning when patient families walk through our doors; however, the initial patient experience frequently begins online with a search and ends online with a review. It’s our job to use the digital experience to show the value of our clinical services, reduce the anxiety of our patient families, and provide them with the information they need to make the right decisions for their child.

This year, that means implementing rigorous user testing, redesigning nearly every template on Childrens.com, taking advantage of advanced search tactics such as structured data and accelerated mobile pages, and publishing reviews directly on our website.

 

What is one thing that most company websites could be doing better when it comes to driving sales and conversions?

Fair warning – I’m going to try not to get on my soapbox about this one, but it’s hard because I feel so passionately about it.

Digital marketers need to abandon the “gut feeling” approach to conversion rate optimization. In the days of expensive usability labs and split-testing software, businesses with limited budgets could be excused from making data-driven, customer-centered optimizations. Those days are over.

If you want to outperform your competitors, you must start listening to your customers and responding to their behavior. If you’re not using free tools like Google Optimize for split testing or one of the infinite number of inexpensive user testing options available, then I guarantee you are failing your customers in some way in which you’re currently unaware.


Digital marketers need to abandon the “gut feeling” approach to conversion rate optimization. @CourtEWakefield #CMWorld
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Moving on to your subject of focus at CMWorld: Aside from the obvious placement benefits, why is it so important to aim for ‘Position 0’ on Google search results?

‘Position 0’ results (aka ‘Featured Snippets’, aka ‘Answer Boxes’) are important for a number of reasons. As you mentioned, prominence at the top of the search engine results page positions your website for more engagement and clicks than a lower position, but that’s not all.

Voice platforms like Google Home rely heavily on the position 0 results to give answers to voice queries from their users. For example, if you ask Google Home, “why can’t my kid sleep?” you’ll get an excerpt from Childrens.com that shows in the Google answer box for the same query on Google.

It’s been predicted that by 2020, half of all searches will be done through voice, and most of those searches will be headless (on a screenless device like Amazon Alexa or Google Home). In those cases, position 0 is the only result. You want to own that space.

 

How can competitive analysis improve our efforts to land an Answer Box?

The best thing to start with is to take inventory of the websites populating the answer boxes for queries you want to dominate. Then go look at what they’re doing on their pages. Are they using natural language in their headlines? Do they have structured data? What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? Is there a theme across all the sites that you can mimic?

Then, you’ll want to match what they’re doing right and take advantage where they’re failing. In my experience, most websites are not well-optimized for the answer boxes, and they’re ranking through dumb luck. A little effort goes a long way.


In my experience, most websites are not well-optimized for the answer boxes, and they’re ranking through dumb luck. @CourtEWakefield #CMWorld
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When it comes to working toward Position 0, which optimization techniques pay dividends above and beyond the SEO impact?

Any time that you invest significant effort into providing quality content that answers your visitors’ questions in a well laid out and easy-to-digest format, you’re going to start seeing payoffs beyond rankings. I think most content marketing folks understand that.

To ensure our content is high quality and highly relevant to what our customers need, we’ve been using a new technique that starts with the “People Also Ask” questions on Google. Basically, we type in a query we want to rank for, take inventory of the “People Also Ask” questions that appear for that query, and answer those questions directly in our content with the question itself as an H2 on the page.

Google is giving us a gift; by revealing these questions to us, they give us a deeper look than ever into the aggregation and relation of their search data. We’d be foolish not to utilize this data to create the most relevant content for users and position ourselves as a valuable thought leader.


Any time that you invest significant effort into providing quality content that answers your visitors’ questions, you’re going to start seeing payoffs beyond rankings. @CourtEWakefield #CMWorld
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What does the emergence of the Answer Box tell us about how search engines are changing to serve the user experience? What do you foresee as the possible next step in that direction?

The demands on our time are greater every day, and folks’ attention spans are ever shorter. We want answers, and we want them now. Answer boxes are just a response to that.

I won’t be surprised if five or 10 years from now, Google has enough functionality and feature sets that the majority of small businesses won’t need their own websites. You’ve already seen less reliance on individual ecommerce sites with the emergence of Amazon and even Etsy. Google could make this possible for service-based businesses like barber shops and coffee shops.

People get kind of anxious about that, especially those in the web development business, but the commoditization of the web has always been a reality. Those of us in digital marketing must adapt or die. And, on the client side, if Google is sending the business, why wouldn’t you want to reduce the cost of doing business by eliminating web hosting fees?

 

How can content marketers work more smoothly and seamlessly with development teams to get things done efficiently? Where do you see the most common snags?

I’m so lucky at Children’s because we have a marketing technology team that sits with us, and they are some of the most talented and easy-to-work with folks I’ve known in my career.

But I know not everyone has that luxury. I think the thing that has helped me most in my career is that I’ve also been a developer. While not every content marketer can go out there and learn a coding language, they should really try to learn as much about that world as they can. It helps when you’re requesting the implementation of structured data or Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) that you understand the complexities or at least how much work it will take.

In my experience, developers really appreciate it when you consult with them about a request. “Have you heard about AMP? What do you think about it? I think it could really improve mobile traffic – does it have any downsides from your perspective?” That consultation goes a long way for buy in down the road.


While not every content marketer can go out there and learn a coding language, they should really try to learn as much about that world as they can. @CourtEWakefield #CMWorld
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Which speaker presentations are you looking forward to most at Content Marketing World 2018?

You mean besides Tina Fey?

I’m a real tech geek, so the “How to Use Artificial Intelligence to Build and Optimize Content” and “Let’s Chat: How Messaging Apps, Chatbots, and Voice Assistants Will Impact Your Business in the Next 3-5 Years” have really piqued my interest. These are the things I hope we can get ahead of the game on to become healthcare digital marketing leaders.

Unpack More Answers

We thank Courtney for her great answers, which were extremely enlightening even if they didn’t come in a box.

For more expert insights on all of your most pressing questions, dive into the Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing below!


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CMWorld Interview: Peter Krmpotic on Optimizing the Content Supply Chain

Content personalization is no longer a dream that marketers have for leveling up engagement with their audience, it’s become an essential combo for winning the content marketing game. Need proof? According to a study from Marketo, 79% of consumers say they are only likely to engage with an offer if it has been personalized. And Salesforce estimates that by 2020 51% of consumers will expect that companies will anticipate their needs and make suggestions, before contact.

But how can enterprise brands scale personalization efforts in a way that is efficient and effective?

Peter Krmpotic, Group Product Manager at Adobe, has focused heavily throughout his career on scaling personalization. He alo references the content supply chain (which is a framework for viewing content production, management and scalability) as a granular way to break down different structural elements and make them more manageable.

Applying personalization to an entire content marketing operation, especially at the enterprise level, might feel overwhelming. But applying it individually to different aspects of the process, piece by piece? This feels more feasible.

Peter will be joining other high-scoring content marketing experts at 2018’s Content Marketing World in Cleveland, OH this September. In anticipation of this awesome event, we sat down with Peter for the first interview in our series leading up to the event and asked him more about his role at Adobe, the importance of content personalization and the impact of technology on personalization.  

What does your role as Group Product Manager at Adobe entail? What are your main areas of focus and key priorities?

At Adobe, I focus on content marketing, digital asset management, and personalization at scale.

Throughout my career, I’ve developed a passion for customers, their use cases and building scalable software for them.

Specifically, my interests include next-generation technologies, evolving organizational structures, and industry best practices.

You’re a big believer in the importance of personalization. Where do you see the biggest opportunities for content marketers to improve in this regard?

First and foremost, personalization is a group effort which cuts across all functions of the content supply chain: strategy, planning, creation, assembly, and delivery.

Establishing and aligning these functions with each other is the first block in a strong foundation.

What we are doing here is leveraging the centuries-old concept of “divide and conquer,” where we break personalization down into manageable stages.

Once everything is in place, the biggest opportunity lies in providing relevant data that is actionable at each of the content supply chain functions.

While we all talk a lot about data-informed and data-driven content marketing, I still see addressing this data gap as the biggest opportunity by far.

Which prevalent pitfalls are preventing content from connecting with its audience, from your view?

We have the people, the data, and the tools to create engaging content at scale, yet we often jumpstart the process of creating content without the required thoughtfulness on the initial critical steps.

It is essential to be clear which audiences we are targeting and subsequently to define clear goals for the message we are creating.

To this day, most brands need to improve at this stage, otherwise the best content marketer in the world cannot create an effective piece of engaging content.

Developing scalable ways to create and personalize content has been a key area of emphasis in your career. How can marketers think differently about scaling for efficiency and impact?

Similar to what I said earlier of “divide and conquer,” break the problem into manageable pieces and thus build a content supply chain.

Then, optimize each piece of the supply chain as opposed to trying to improve the whole thing all at once.

Where do you see the biggest influences of technologies like machine learning and automation in the world of content?

Currently, many mundane tasks, such as gathering and analyzing data or making sure content is optimized for each channel, take up a lot of time and effort in content marketing, preventing us from doing what matters most.

Things that take weeks and months will gradually be performed in the background.

By eliminating these mundane tasks, the human capacity for creativity and intuition will be magnified and reach new levels that were unimaginable before.

Which aspects of marketing SaaS products and services could and should be instilled for pros in other verticals?

Marketing software has received the kind of attention and focus that very few verticals have ever received, and as a result, we now benefit from a variety of software options that is unparalleled. This has led to a lot of AI being developed for marketing first that will be deployed in other verticals later.

A result of this fierce competition is that marketing software tends to be the more flexible and user friendly than others, adapting to a multitude of use cases, which has set new standards across all verticals.

Lastly, even though software in general does not integrate well with each other, given its variety and busy ecosystem, marketing software has trail-blazed integration best practices, which other verticals will benefit from.

Looking back, is there a particular moment or juncture in your career that you view as transformative? What takeaways could other marketers learn and apply?

Joining Adobe was truly transformative, because it allowed me to engage with customers across the entire breadth and depth of digital marketing, as well as with colleagues across different products and solutions who are truly world-class at what they do.

My recommended takeaway is to look beyond your current scope of work — which is not necessarily easy — and to figure out ways to connect with people who can help you understand adjacent functions and disciplines.

Seeing the entire picture will help you with solving your current challenges in ways that you could not have imagined before.

Which speaker presentations are you looking forward to most at Content Marketing World 2018?

I’m looking forward to quite a few sessions, but here are 5 sessions I am particularly excited about:

  • Joe Pulizzi’s keynote on Tuesday. I am sure I am not the only one interested to hear his take on the industry and where it is headed.
  • Then Gartner’s Heather Pemberton Levy and her workshop on their branded content platform, Smarter With Gartner, which I am a big fan of.
  • Michael Brenner’s workshop on how to create a documented content marketing strategy, which I know a lot of brands struggle with.
  • And then two sessions that talk about leveraging data during content creation: Morgan Molnar and Brad Sanzenbacher on Wednesday, and Katie Pennell on Thursday.

Ready Player One

Big thanks to Peter for his enlightening insights. His final takeaway — “Seeing the entire picture will help you with solving your current challenges in ways that you could not have imagined before” — is at the heart of Content Marketing World, which will bring together a diverse set of voices and perspectives to broaden your view of this exciting yet challenging frontier.

Tap into some of the unique expertise offered by CMWorld speakers by checking out the Ultimate Guide to Conquering Content Marketing below:

 

The post CMWorld Interview: Peter Krmpotic on Optimizing the Content Supply Chain appeared first on Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

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How to Boost Bookings & Conversions with Google Posts: An Interview with Joel Headley

Posted by MiriamEllis

Have you been exploring all the ways you might use Google Posts to set and meet brand goals?

Chances are good you’ve heard of Google Posts by now: the micro-blogging Google My Business dashboard feature which instantly populates content to your Knowledge Panel and individual listing. We’re still only months into the release of this fascinating capability, use of which is theorized as having a potential impact on local pack rankings. When I recently listened to Joel Headley describing his incredibly creative use of Google Posts to increase healthcare provider bookings, it’s something I was excited to share with the Moz community here.


Joel Headley

Joel Headley worked for over a decade on local and web search at Google. He’s now the Director of Local SEO and Marketing at healthcare practice growth platform PatientPop. He’s graciously agreed to chat with me about how his company increased appointment bookings by about 11% for thousands of customer listings via Google Posts.

How PatientPop used Google Posts to increase bookings by 11%

Miriam: So, Joel, Google offers a formal booking feature within their own product, but it isn’t always easy to participate in that program, and it keeps users within “Google’s walled garden” instead of guiding them to brand-controlled assets. As I recently learned, PatientPop innovated almost instantly when Google Posts was rolled out in 2017. Can you summarize for me what your company put together for your customers as a booking vehicle that didn’t depend on Google’s booking program?

Joel: PatientPop wants to provide patients an opportunity to make appointments directly with their healthcare provider. In that way, we’re a white label service. Google has had a handful of booking products. In a prior iteration, there was a simpler product that was powered by schema and microforms, which could have scaled to anyone willing to add the schema.

Today, they are putting their effort behind Reserve with Google, which requires a much deeper API integration. While PatientPop would be happy to provide more services on Google, Reserve with Google doesn’t yet allow most of our customers, according to their own policies. (However, the reservation service is marketed through Google My Business to those categories, which is a bit confusing.)

Additionally, when you open the booking widget, you see two logos: G Pay and the booking software provider. I’d love to see a product that allows the healthcare provider to be front and center in the entire process. A patient-doctor relationship is personal, and we’d like to emphasize you’re booking your doctor, not PatientPop.

Because we can’t get the CTAs unique to Reserve with Google, we realized that Google Posts can be a great vehicle for us to essentially get the same result.

When Google Posts first launched, I tested a handful of practices. The interaction rate was low compared to other elements in the Google listing. But, given there was incremental gain in traffic, it seemed worthwhile, if we could scale the product. It seemed like a handy way to provide scheduling with Google without having to go through the hoops of the Maps Booking (reserve with) API.

Miriam: Makes sense! Now, I’ve created a fictitious example of what it looks like to use Google Posts to prompt bookings, following your recommendations to use a simple color as the image background and to make the image text quite visible. Does this look similar to what PatientPop is doing for its customers and can you provide recommendations for the image size and font size you’ve seen work best?

Joel: Yes, that’s pretty similar to the types of Posts we’re submitting to our customer listings. I tested a handful of image types, ones with providers, some with no text, and the less busy image with actionable text is what performed the best. I noticed that making the image look more like a button, with button-like text, improved click-through rates too — CTR doubled compared to images with no text.

The image size we use is 750×750 with 48-point font size. If one uses the API, the image must be square cropped when creating the post. Otherwise, Posts using the Google My Business interface will give you an option to crop. The only issue I have with the published version of the image: the cropping is uneven — sometimes it is center-cropped, but other times, the bottom is cut off. That makes it hard to predict when on-image text will appear. But we keep it in the center which generally works pretty well.

Miriam: And, when clicked on, the Google Post takes the user to the client’s own website, where PatientPop software is being used to manage appointments — is that right?

Joel: Yes, the site is built by PatientPop. When selecting Book, the patient is taken directly to the provider’s site where the booking widget is opened and an appointment can be selected from a calendar. These appointments can be synced back to the practice’s electronic records system.

Miriam: Very tidy! As I understand it, PatientPop manages thousands of client listings, necessitating the need to automate this use of Google Posts. Without giving any secrets away, can you share a link to the API you used and explain how you templatized the process of creating Posts at scale?

Joel: Sure! We were waiting for Google to provide Posts via the Google My Business API, because we wanted to scale. While I had a bit of a heads-up that the API was coming — Google shared this feature with their GMB Top Contributor group — we still had to wait for it to launch to see the documentation and try it out. So, when the launch announcement went out on October 11, with just a few developers, we were able to implement the solution for all of our practices the next evening. It was a fun, quick win for us, though it was a bit of a long day. :)

In order to get something out that quickly, we created templates that could use information from the listing itself like the business name, category, and location. That way, we were able to create a stand-alone Python script that grabbed listings from Google. When getting the listings, all the listing content comes along with it, including name, address, and category. These values are taken directly from the listing to create Posts and then are submitted to Google. We host the images on AWS and reuse them by submitting the image URL with the post. It’s a Python script which runs as a cron job on a regular schedule. If you’re new to the API, the real tricky part is authentication, but the GMB community can help answer questions there.

Miriam: Really admirable implementation! One question: Google Posts expire after 7 days unless they are events, so are you basically automating re-posting of the booking feature for each listing every seven days?

Joel: We create Posts every seven days for all our practices. That way, we can mix up the content and images used on any given practice. We’re also adding a second weekly post for practices that offer aesthetic services. We’ll be launching more Posts for specific practice types going forward, too.

Miriam: Now for the most exciting part, Joel! What can you tell me about the increase in appointments this use of Google Posts has delivered for your customers? And, can you also please explain what parameters and products you are using to track this growth?

Joel: To track clicks from listings on Google, we use UTM parameters. We can then track the authority page, the services (menu) URL, the appointment URL, and the Posts URL.

When I first did this analysis, I looked at the average of the last three weeks of appointments compared to the 4 days after launch. Over that period, I saw nearly an 8% increase in online bookings. I’ve since included the entire first week of launch. It shows an 11% average increase in online bookings.

Additionally, because we’re tracking each URL in the knowledge panel separately, I can confidently say there’s no cannibalization of clicks from other URLs as a result of adding Posts. While authority page CTR remained steady, services lost over 10% of the clicks and appointment URLs gained 10%. That indicates to me that not only are the Posts effective in driving appointments through the Posts CTA, it emphasizes the existing appointment CTA too. This was in the context of no additional product changes on our side.

Miriam: Right, so, some of our readers will be using Google’s Local Business URLs (frequently used for linking to menus) to add an “Appointments” link. One of the most exciting takeaways from your implementation is that using Google Posts to support bookings didn’t steal attention away from the appointment link, which appears higher up in the Knowledge Panel. Can you explain why you feel the Google Posts clicks have been additive instead of subtractive?

Joel: The “make appointment” link gets a higher CTR than Posts, so it shouldn’t be ignored. However, since
Posts include an image, I suspect it might be attracting a different kind of user, which is more primed to interact with images. And because we’re so specific on the type of interaction we want (appointment booking), both with the CTA and the image, it seems to convert well. And, as I stated above, it seems to help the appointment URLs too.

Miriam: I was honestly so impressed with your creativity in this, Joel. It’s just brilliant to look at something as simple as this little bit of Google screen real estate and ask, “Now, how could I use this to maximum effect?” Google Posts enables business owners to include links labeled Book, Order Online, Buy, Learn More, Sign Up, and Get Offer. The “Book” feature is obviously an ideal match for your company’s health care provider clients, but given your obvious talent for thinking outside the box, would you have any creative suggestions for other types of business models using the other pre-set link options?

Joel: I’m really excited about the events feature, actually. Because you can create a long-lived post while adding a sense of urgency by leveraging a time-bound context. Events can include limited-time offers, like a sale on a particular product, or signups for a newsletter that will include a coupon code. You can use all the link labels you’ve listed above for any given event. And, I think using the image-as-button philosophy can really drive results. I’d like to see an image with text Use coupon code XYZ546 now! with the Get Offer button. I imagine many business types, especially retail, can highlight their limited time deals without paying other companies to advertise your coupons and deals via Posts.

Miriam: Agreed, Joel, there are some really exciting opportunities for creative use here. Thank you so much for the inspiring knowledge you’ve shared with our community today!


Ready to get the most from Google Posts?

Reviews can be a challenge to manage. Google Q&A may be a mixed blessing. But as far as I can see, Posts are an unalloyed gift from Google. Here’s all you have to do to get started using them right now for a single location of your business:

  • Log into your Google My Business dashboard and click the “Posts” tab in the left menu.
  • Determine which of the options, labeled “Buttons,” is the right fit for your business. It could be “Book,” or it could be something else, like “Sign up” or “Buy.” Click the “Add a Button” option in the Google Posts wizard. Be sure the URL you enter includes a UTM parameter for tracking purposes.
  • Upload a 750×750 image. Joel recommends using a simple-colored background and highly visible 42-point font size for turning this image into a CTA button-style graphic. You may need to experiment with cropping the image.
  • Alternatively, you can create an event, which will cause your post to stay live through the date of the event.
  • Text has a minimum 100-character and maximum 300-character limit. I recommend writing something that would entice users to click to get beyond the cut-off point, especially because it appears to me that there are different display lengths on different devices. It’s also a good idea to bear in mind that Google Posts are indexed content. Initial testing is revealing that simply utilizing Posts may improve local pack rankings, but there is also an interesting hypothesis that they are a candidate for long-tail keyword optimization experiments. According to Mike Blumenthal:

“…If there are very long-tail phrases, where the ability to increase relevance isn’t up against so many headwinds, then this is a signal that Google might recognize and help lift the boat for that long-tail phrase. My experience with it was it didn’t work well on head phrases, and it may require some amount of interaction for it to really work well. In other words, I’m not sure just the phrase itself but the phrase with click-throughs on the Posts might be the actual trigger to this. It’s not totally clear yet.”

  • You can preview your post before you hit the publish button.
  • Your post will stay live for 7 days. After that, it will be time to post a new one.
  • If you need to implement at scale across multiple listings, re-read Joel’s description of the API and programming PatientPop is utilizing. It will take some doing, but an 11% increase in appointments may well make it worth the investment! And obviously, if you happen to be marketing health care providers, checking out PatientPop’s ready-made solution would be smart.

Nobody likes a ball-hog

I’m watching the development of Google Posts with rapt interest. Right now, they reside on Knowledge Panels and listings, but given that they are indexed, it’s not impossible that they could eventually end up in the organic SERPs. Whether or not that ever happens, what we have right now in this feature is something that offers instant publication to the consumer public in return for very modest effort.

Perhaps even more importantly, Posts offer a way to bring users from Google to your own website, where you have full control of messaging. That single accomplishment is becoming increasingly difficult as rich-feature SERPs (and even single results) keep searchers Google-bound. I wonder if school kids still shout “ball-hog” when a classmate refuses to relinquish ball control and be a team player. For now, for local businesses, Google Posts could be a precious chance for your brand to handle the ball.

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Ben Affleck Not Upset Over Jennifer Garner’s “Vanity Fair” Interview

Ben Affleck says he isn’t upset over Jennifer Garner’s Vanity Fair interview–the one during which she dished about the demise of their relationship.

During a recent interview with the New York Times, the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice star said, “She felt like she wanted to discuss it and get it out there and get it over with so she could say, ‘Look, I already talked about it—I don’t want to do it again.’”

“It’s fine,” he added. “She’s allowed to talk about it.”

Ben Affleck had some wonderful things to say about his ex-wife–the mother of his three children.

“Jen’s great. She’s a great person,” he said. “We’re on great terms. I just saw her this morning, so that’s the reality that I live in.”

Of course it’s likely much easier for Ben Affleck to compliment Jennifer Garner than for her to compliment him. After all, he is the one who allegedly cheated on his wife with nanny Christine Ouzounian. He wasn’t the one who was cheated on.

Affleck seems to think his work on the big screen is what people will remember him for, over his split from Jennifer Garner. Do you think that’s necessarily the case?

“Even in the tough spots, if your movies are good, people will see them. And if you’re not good, you can’t get away with it,” he said.

“Eventually it catches up with you,” he added. “Both ways, good and bad.”

Oh, it definitely caught up with Ben Affleck. Hopefully, for the sake of his children, things are as great between him and Jennifer Garner as he claims.

If you were Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck cheated on you with Christine Ouzounian, how would you feel?

Even Batman can’t get off scot-free from that one.


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SearchCap: New SEO Periodic Table, Bill Tancer Interview & More

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web. From Search Engine Land: The Periodic Table Of SEO Success Factors: 2015 Edition Now Released Three new elements join the table: Vertical Search, Direct Answers & HTTPS. Mobile &…



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Jessa Duggar References Kissing Advice from Sexual Molester Josh Duggar in Last Year’s ‘Cosmo’ Interview

Jessa Duggar is likely one of big brother Josh Duggar’s sexual molestation victims. The eldest of the 19 Kids and Counting siblings, word recently emerged about Josh Duggar sexually molesting five underage girls when he was a teenager–four of whom are his sisters. Since there were only five girls in the Duggar family during the years Josh was sexually abusing his sisters, it stands to reason that his victims include Jana Duggar, Jill Duggar Dillard, Jessa Duggar Seewald, and Jinger Duggar.

A little over a year ago, when the four older Duggar sisters–Jill, Jessa, Jinger, and Jana Duggar–wrote a book about growing up in the 19 Kids and Counting family. They were interviewed by Cosmopolitan during a press tour, and now something Jessa Duggar said during that interview is raising yet another red flag.

Hindsight has certainly proved crystal clear in many instances regarding the Duggar family, and this topic–kissing–is a bit cringeworthy, now that Josh Duggar’s cover has been blown.

Here’s what Jessa Duggar had to say in the interview.

So you’ve never kissed anyone?

Jessa Duggar: Nope–well, I mean my brothers! I think all of us girls have really purposed to save our first kiss for our wedding day.

Have you ever been curious about what it’s like?

Jessa Duggar: I can’t say I haven’t been, but it’s the anticipation, the suspense! It’s like Christmas morning, you know? Open this special package so it’ll be fun!

Are you going to ask anyone for advice?

Jessa Duggar: I’m sure I’ll be getting advice from people who are good kissers!

Like who?

Jessa Duggar: My parents are pretty good kissers! They very much like to show their kiss in public places, so they kiss in front of us all the time. [And I’d ask] my oldest brother. He’s been married for five years. And friends and people around me who I look up to. But I don’t think it’s too hard to figure out though.

In light of what everyone now know about Josh Duggar–combined with the fact that Jessa Duggar was likely one of his victims–what do you make of this notion of her asking him for kissing advice?

Jessa Duggar Seewald and sister Jill Duggar Dillard are under consideration for a 19 Kids and Counting spinoff to be called 2 Brides and Their Grooms. An attempt on behalf of TLC to salvage some of the Duggar family’s reputation, the spinoff would get rid of Josh Duggar and only use Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar sporadically. There is clearly some damage control to do on their behalf, too, for the way they initially handled the Josh Duggar molestation scandal.

With interviews like this Cosmo kissing advice circulating, can TLC possibly make a spinoff with the Duggar family work? Will advertisers buy into a family with such uncomfortable practices?


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Podcast Interview Best Practices from a Guy Who Publishes 3 Per Week

interview-best-practices

Jonny Nastor posts three new episodes of his interview show Hack the Entrepreneur each week. So he has learned a thing or two about conducting interviews.

We pick his brain in this episode of The Showrunner.

Among the topics discussed in this episode of The Showrunner:

  • How we plan to ensure that The Showrunner Podcasting Course does not overshadow The Showrunner Podcast
  • The single most important thing that Jonny does do (as an interviewer), that other people don’t do, that has led to his success with Hack the Entrepreneur
  • What Jonny does to prep for his interviews
  • A unique strategy for combatting the lack of connection we can all sometimes feel when conducting an audio-only interview
  • How Jonny combines set questions with a flexible mindset to direct the conversation in the best direction (and stay in control)
  • Jonny’s strategy for keeping his shows from being hijacked by guest pitches
  • Is Jerod a dog guy or a cat guy?
  • Listener question: What is the best way to address your audience to maximize connection?

Click Here to Listen to

The Showrunner on iTunes

Click Here to Listen on Rainmaker.FM

About the author

Rainmaker.FM

Rainmaker.FM is the premier digital marketing and sales podcast network. Get on-demand business advice from experts, whenever and wherever you want it.

The post Podcast Interview Best Practices from a Guy Who Publishes 3 Per Week appeared first on Copyblogger.


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Interview with Brian Clark: How Customer Experience Maps Help You Develop a Smarter Content Strategy

The Lede Podcast logo

Well isn’t this a pleasant surprise.

After we published the third installment of our three-part series on content strategy, Brian Clark informed me that he had the perfect follow-up topic for the next episode.

Sure, Mr. Clark, I think we can make room for you in the schedule. ;-)

Consider this a bonus fourth episode in the content strategy series — and it goes next-level.

Empathy is essential because it allows you to feel what your audience members feel, but what if you could get inside their hearts and walk a few steps in their shoes as well?

You can. Here’s how …

In this episode, Brian Clark, Demian Farnworth, and I discuss:

  • What is a customer experience map?
  • How customer experience maps and empathy maps help you develop an audience-first content marketing strategy
  • How to use a customer experience map if you have several customer personas
  • Getting started: Do you review the current customer journey or the ideal customer journey?
  • How do you get data to make a customer experience map meaningful?
  • The speaker lineup for the Authority Rainmaker 2015 conference
  • Why Henry Rollins is the perfect fit for the closing keynote at Authority Rainmaker 2015

Listen to The Lede …

To listen, you can either hit the flash audio player below, or browse the links to find your preferred format …

React to The Lede …

As always, we appreciate your reaction to episodes of The Lede and feedback about how we’re doing.

Send us a tweet with your thoughts anytime: @JerodMorris and @DemianFarnworth.

And please tell us the most important point you took away from this latest episode. Do so by joining the discussion over at Google+.

The Show Notes

The Transcript

Click here to read the transcript

Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

The Lede Podcast: Interview with Brian Clark: The Next Step After Empathy Maps

Jerod Morris: Welcome back to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media. I’m your host, Jerod Morris.

Over our last three episodes, Demian and I have been talking about content strategy. Specifically, we have discussed the importance of understanding your audience’s worldviews, mapping out a narrative with storyboarding, and using empathy maps to feel what your audience is feeling.

Consider today’s episode a bonus fourth installment of the content strategy series, and we have a special guest on hand to enhance the discussion. You may have heard of him. It’s Brian Clark.

All right, Brian. Welcome to The Lede. It’s always a pleasure to have you on the show, and even though neither Demian nor I have a voice with that voice-of-God quality like Robert Bruce, I hope you’ll still feel comfortable talking with us.

Brian Clark: You’re all right. Demian, I don’t know.

Demian Farnworth: I’m fired. (Laughter from everyone.)

Demian: I’m just here. I won’t go away.

What is a customer experience map?

Jerod: After our last episode on empathy maps, Brian, you told me that you had the perfect follow-up topic for us. So let’s dive in. What are customer experience maps, and how do they build upon empathy maps?

Brian: We’re a content-first, audience-first company, and a lot of people trying to get into content marketing have to reverse engineer that mindset. They have separate marketing teams, sales team, and then after the sale at the enterprise level, generally, they have a customer experience team.

The customer life cycle, here, is viewed from the brand’s perspective. What steps does the customer take in relation to the company?

It’s all completely disjointed, and the really forward-thinking CMOs right now at the enterprise level are trying to make it all customer experience.

A customer experience map is mapping segments of that whole life cycle, but it’s from the customer’s perspective, as it should be.

I got into this, and I found this really cool thing that customer experience people do when they’re trying to get marketing to use the same process, and we already kind of do this, but it’s a really interesting way to make it tangible for people.

I looked at a few examples of customer experience maps, and we’ll explain this a little bit more, but the first aspects that jumped out at me were “thinking, doing, and feeling.” They’re all the same elements of an empathy map.

Here’s an easy way to think about this: We talk about the buyer’s journey or the customer’s journey — they’re the hero. We’re the mentor. Our promise is to be helpful and to provide solutions. You empathy map in order to literally put yourself in their shoes.

And then a customer journey map is various segments of what people often do — from unaware potential customer to initial purchase. That could be one segment, an aspect of the overall life cycle or journey.

You understand what it’s like to be in their shoes from empathy mapping, and then from customer experience mapping, or customer journey mapping, you walk in their shoes, from their perspective, and understand the hurdles they face.

What challenges do they face? Where are points where they feel great, where you want to give them a good job, a high-five? All of those different phases.

How customer experience maps and empathy maps help you develop an audience-first content marketing strategy

We’ve been talking for years about buyer’s journeys, customer journeys — they’re the hero. We talk about Joseph Campbell and esoteric stuff that makes sense to us because we live it.

But the process of empathy mapping plus customer journey mapping is a process that allows you to make this very tangible and develop a content marketing strategy if you’re just getting started.

Remember that article Michael King wrote for us about filling the gaps in your content strategy?

He talks about customer experience maps in that article, and I went back to that after I kind of rediscovered the concept, and it’s solid. It really works.

Demian: In an article by Chris Risdon from Adaptive Path, he writes that the experience map is “an artifact that serves to illuminate the complete experience a person may have with a product or service.”

Now my question for you, Brian, is this: Why not a company? Why not a complete experience a person has with a company?

Brian: I think that’s the goal of the customer experience map, except that again, going back to this kind of enterprise terminology, which is weird for people to hear from us, but customer life cycle, again, is from the brand’s perspective. It’s the entire thing.

Instead of a funnel, the customer life cycle is what’s replacing the traditional sales funnel. Because it doesn’t end at the transaction. We know that. Remember how we represent our view of our audience with concentric circles?

Coldest, out there at the edge, is social media, all the way in to the red-hot center, which is customers. Repeat and recurring customers are at the very center. That’s how we view audience.

They don’t stop being our audience when they buy, right?

The audience-first mentality and the customer experience, holistic view of marketing all the way through customer service are completely congruent.

It’s just that we use content, when a lot of enterprise customer experience people do not. And I see it as a perfect match.

In customer experience, they talk about touch points and moments of truth, where you interact with the customer and you’re either going to fulfill your brand promise or you’re going to fail.

We do that with delivering our products, our services, and our support, but we also do it with content.

With the Rainmaker Platform, for example, when you complete the design phase of building your site, you’re congratulated with the affirmation, “Good job. Here’s what to do next.”

Or if you get hung up trying to build a membership site, then you’re prompted to go look at the membership site building guide. That’s within a SAS environment, and that’s customer success, which is a discipline that’s related.

But again, isn’t the success of our customers and clients the goal?

Whether we’re providing hands-on service, or we’re selling products and we want them to buy more, or we’re doing something recurring, customer success is the goal.

We’re going to talk more about this, and Demian, I want you to write the magic customer experience post that is better than the Adaptive Path post. Which is going to be tough, because that’s a great post.

Demian: It is a good post.

Brian: It really is.

How to use a customer experience map if you have different customer personas

Demian: What if you have more than one ideal customer? What if you have several persona profiles?

What if a customer first get exposed to us through social media. Then they go into the posts. They subscribe. They get a few e-mail newsletters, and they say, “Oh my gosh! This is a great little community here.”

Then they join Authority. Maybe they come to the Authority Rainmaker event, and they end up becoming a Rainmaker.

But then you have another type of customer — the StudioPress guy, who comes to it from a totally different path. If you have multiple persona profiles, how does somebody then go about with the experience map?

Brian: Well, that’s a good point because just within our company, our customers range from the StudioPress design-oriented person to the content marketing freelance writer, or someone who might go to our certification program versus maybe a pure entrepreneur.

But go back to the empathy mapping process. You have to look at those segments. Do you take it to buyer personas next?

You know who’s going on that particular journey, and if their experiences are that, the path is different for sure. We know that. But if the experience of the path is different based on who that person is, then I think you have to take that into account.

See how tangible that is compared with these very esoteric, philosophical principles? You really have to take it down and you go step-by-step, and you’re forced to think about what they’re thinking right now. What are they doing?

Is this a challenge? Is this a motivating moment, or is this a success moment already? How do we make them all into success moments?

Demian: Say someone has three ideal persona profiles, and they invest the time to create these experience maps.

How did someone make this experience map not philosophical and esoteric? In other words, what’s the take-away? Why invest all of this time into experience maps? What should they be walking away with?

Brian: I think when we talk to some people about The Hero’s Journey and the prospect as Luke Skywalker, you’re Obi-Wan. Some people get that right away. They just get it, and they run with it, and they start mapping.

They effectively do the same exercise on their own, and I think other people are like, “Okay, I get that conceptually, but what do I do with it now?”

I think we’re at that spot where people get it conceptually but they need a process.

And you know me, for years I’ve been trying to get people to do things like I do, and as Sonia likes to point out, I’m a big freak.

I do a lot of stuff in my head that other people don’t. Even when I write, I don’t really do the typical first draft.

I kick a lot of stuff around in my head, and then I come to you guys and I’m like, “Okay, here’s what we’re doing,” and you guys are like, “What?” (Laughs.)

So even in our case, this is a process where it’s a collaborative effort where we can all sit down together, and I might have gotten started, and we’ve got a rough outline, but then you fill in the gaps and you’ve got this very concrete process.

And I think any organization, from the single solo freelancer who does content marketing strategy and implementation all the way up to an agency, or a software company like us, can really get some serious insights by following these processes.

Empathy mapping came from the design world more than the marketing world, and customer journey mapping has been typically used after the sale instead of part of a holistic, integrated marketing experience.

What we bring to the table with our philosophy is this whole idea of “it’s an audience.”

Whether you’re a prospect, or you’re a customer — a transactional customer, a repeat customer, a recurring customer — you are all part of an audience.

It’s kind of like the group hug thing. The ones nearer to you are obviously more intimate, and the Twitter people out here, you’re like, “Come on in! Come on in!”

With the concentric circle approach, each step is an act of conversion — a greater degree of belief that you are the solution to the problem.

Getting started: Do you review the current customer journey or the ideal journey?

We did that short, little podcast with Tom about what belief really means and how it precedes trust. Both internally, but also from a teaching perspective, I think we’ve got processes now.

And it’s funny because we discovered empathy maps as a way to explain something important, and we’ve discovered customer experience maps as a way to make use of what we find out about people, and I think we will start using them in-house and get it out of my head.

Jerod: For people who want to take the next step and start doing this, specifically this journey mapping, where should people look first — what is the journey now or what the ideal journey is?

Do you need to have two of these different maps so you can see where you are, see where you want to go, and then obviously start to make the changes that you need to get there? Where is the first place you should look?

Brian: That’s an excellent question, because you have to be honest and see what the journey is from their perspective right now, and you may not like what you see. But if you don’t figure that out, how can you fix it?

Once you see it from their perspective, then you have the ability to fix it through content, through better customer service or product or service improvement. The initial map is designed to identify reality and then alter it to benefit them, which benefits you.

You don’t just map it out and that’s it, because often you’ll find that’s not the greatest experience for people.

Demian: What does that actually look like? Is it a drawing? Is it a story? Should they have a five-foot poster on their wall of this experience map? Is it design? Is it just words?

Brian: It’s a design. It’s a visual mapping strategy. Again, I confess that even when I get things out of my head, I do it in narrative format because that’s the way I think, and I’m not saying you can’t do it that way.

But it’s collaborative and a visual experience you get everyone to look at on a whiteboard. In the show notes, we’re going to have a couple of great examples that we found in the last few weeks.

They’re great examples of customer experience maps that actually worked in the real world, so people will understand.

But it’s striking that I’ve never seen anyone mention empathy maps used in conjunction with experience maps, and yet they are completely congruent. One is a person, and one is the path.

How do you get data to make a customer experience map meaningful?

Jerod: In Chris Risdon’s article, he mentions that you need both qualitative and quantitative information data for this map to truly be meaningful.

He uses the example of Rail Europe surveying 2,500 people. And for us at Copyblogger, we can do a big survey like that because we have a big audience. We have a survey coming out in a couple of weeks.

But for the single guy or the small agency that doesn’t have that built-in audience, it can be a little bit intimidating to think about the cost to do that research.

How can they get the quantitative data, then, that will help them make this journey map meaningful?

Brian: I think for the most part that’s going to be something you incorporate into your service offering, and then you tap into the client’s customer base. That’s typically how it works.

But you mention a pretty smart thing, because we’re talking about using this for your own marketing.

For example, for content marketing freelancers, consultants, or small agencies, what you do to get clients is exactly what you do for clients except, obviously, the context of the strategy changes from you to them.

When you don’t have that initial audience, you have to dig deeper.

The great thing about doing this type of work is even if you don’t have that direct access to an audience yet, you can still go out and research, and you almost have access to too much information.

Look at the work Lee Odden and Jay Baer have done, and they both have those business models. There’s a lot of best-of-breed information out there that you can extrapolate from, so that’s what I would do.

But once you get going and have direct contact with an audience, there is no better method than going directly to them.

And you know, we do a lot of listening more than we do asking because sometimes you can figure things out that you might not have found out if you asked.

Demian: And Brian, this is your case with Copyblogger.

Maybe it’s your story that is the customer experience, because a lot of the products we have built are because of your experience. If you’re just the solo freelancer or small business owner, you can start with your own story.

And that will mirror a lot of experiences already out there as far as that product, and that will resonate and attract that audience. So that’s a good place to start, too.

Brian: That’s an interesting point, because that’s another variation of The Hero’s Journey. You have the reluctant hero, which is you. “I learned this, and I didn’t really want to share it, but I felt like I should,” and then they become the hero and you become the mentor.

Look at the entire body of work of Star Wars, even though it’s painful to look at the prequels. Originally, Yoda was Obi-Wan, the mentor, and then Obi-Wan went on the journey, and then he became Skywalker’s mentor.

That’s a good point. It doesn’t apply in every context, though it happens to apply in ours.

Jerod: Well, as usual with these Lede conversations, the 20 minutes have absolutely flown by. Demian, I’ll actually give you the pleasure of asking the final question, if you’d like to.

Authority Rainmaker 2015

Demian: All right, so let me set this up.

In May 2015, we’ll have Authority Rainmaker 2015 — our second conference, our second live-gig public conference.

I think it’s safe to say the first one was a success. We sold out 400 tickets five months before the event. People who were there loved it. We loved it. So it was a good success.

My question for you is, last year’s keynote speaker was Seth Godin. This year’s closing keynote speaker, I think, is pretty peculiar. It’s this guy named Henry Rollins, right?

Can you explain why you chose Henry Rollins for this event? What does the spoken poet, punk rocker, aggressive, angry guy have to tell other content marketers and business owners?

Brian: Well, thanks for the question, Demian, because no people in the company who don’t know why Henry Rollins is there get to come. So we just saved ourselves a plane ticket right there. (Laughter from everyone.)

Demian: Can you explain the choice to the audience, then? I know. (Brian laughs.) Not only am I fired, but I’m prohibited from the conference now.

(Brian and Jerod laugh.) “Just write content for us, Demian, that’s all we really care about.”

Brian: It’s all working out perfectly. (Laughs.)

Demian: Yeah.

Brian: That’s actually a good question. So of course Henry is our closing keynote. He’s the guy who will kick you in the ass on the way out the door and make sure you go do the work, considering the things you’ve just learned.

We also have Daniel Pink, who will be our opening keynote, and Sally Hogshead, who has done amazing work with her fascination and positioning studies — all of these great things that are relevant to content marketing.

I wanted Henry to close, number one, because I’m a big fan, not just from his Black Flag days.

In the ’80s I heard Black Flag, and I was like, “Who are these angry people? I like this!”

But that was about it. I became a bigger fan later with the Rollins Band and then with his spoken word career, and when he started his own publishing company.

Black Flag basically produced their own records, put on their own shows, and went on their own tours. These were the original DIY media people. And that’s another way to think about content marketing.

You’re not getting a deal with a media company, you are a media company to the degree that you’re making and gauging content and building an audience.

Henry did all those different things pretty much on his own, and then he went to mainstream radio and television and film afterwards.

To me, he’s just the epitome of a guy who works hard — he’s generous, he’s true to himself, he’s the epitome of authenticity.

Who better to hear from after you’ve ingested all of this amazing information to make sure that you go off and do the work? And that’s really what we’re hoping for. But we’re just about to announce the full lineup.

We’ve got people like Danny Sullivan. Ann Handley is the only non-company person who’s returning because we’ve just got to have Ann. Bernadette Jiwa, Michael King, Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute are other speakers.

We’ve got a really strong show from the educational standpoint. We’ve got some really strong, on-point in the traditional sense, keynote speakers, and then we’ve got Henry, who will beat you up if you don’t go do it.

Demian: Is there any connection between the Black Flag logo and the Rainmaker logo?

Brian: I don’t know. You tell me, Demian. (Laughs.) We may have to do a visual demonstration of that at the conference.

It’ll be like a video introduction with the Rainmaker logo bars going down, and then it’ll shift to the Black Flag logo, and we’ll go, “coincidence?”

Now here is the actual, honest truth: I told Rafal, our brilliant designer, “Here’s the name, and I need a logo.” I did not tell him anything else.

Then he came back with that. And I sent him the Black Flag logo, and said, “Rafal, this is my favorite graphic design of all time, and you just made this.” And he was like, “I’m good.” (Laughter all around.)

He’s getting cocky! (Laughs.) Rafal’s been in America too long. He’s starting to get cocky. He’s been hanging out with you guys.

Jerod: Oh, that’s awesome.

Demian: Well, I’m looking forward to hearing about the event after it’s over.

Brian: (Laughs.) We’ll let you come, Demian.

Jerod: I’ll send you a postcard.

Brian: Don’t worry.

Demian: I’ll follow you guys on Twitter. (Brian laughs.)

Jerod: And for anyone else who is interested, Go to AuthorityRainmaker.com to get all the information about the conference.

The super early-bird price is still in effect, too. So I wouldn’t wait. Go check that out, and get all the details because it is going to be a great event.

Brian, thanks for coming on the show with us. We appreciate it, and hopefully we can have you on some future episodes as well.

Brian: Yeah, no problem at all, and we’ll be talking about customer mapping in a little bit more detail. If this didn’t make total sense, don’t worry, of course we will elaborate.

Jerod: Demian’s got a great post coming out on it soon.

Brian: Exactly.

Jerod: All right, everybody. Talk to you guys soon.

Brian: Bye.

Jerod: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Lede.

To get more information about Copyblogger’s 2015 conference, which features keynote speakers Henry Rollins, Daniel Pink, and Sally Hogshead, go to AuthorityRainmaker.com. The super early-bird pricing is still in effect, so don’t wait.

If you enjoyed this episode of The Lede, please consider giving the show a rating or a review on iTunes. We always appreciate it when you do.

And finally, since a few of you have asked me on Twitter, be sure to bookmark Copyblogger.com/lede to access new episodes every two weeks, plus the show notes and transcripts for each episode.

Demian and I will be back in two weeks with a new episode. Thanks for listening. Talk to you soon, everybody.

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*Credits: Both the intro (“Bridge to Nowhere” by Sam Roberts Band) and outro songs (“Down in the Valley” by The Head and the Heart) are graciously provided by express written consent from the rights owners.

About the author

Jerod Morris

Jerod Morris is the VP of Marketing for Copyblogger Media. Get more from him on Twitter or . Have you gotten your wristband yet?

The post Interview with Brian Clark: How Customer Experience Maps Help You Develop a Smarter Content Strategy appeared first on Copyblogger.

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