How to Make an iPhone Video: A Step-by-Step Guide

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You might know that video is important, that your audience wants to see it, and you might even want to make it a part of your strategy. But you’re still asking the big question:

“How?”

If you aren’t producing video content because you don’t think you have the ability, time, or resources to do it, we have some good news: Your answer to the video content question could be sitting in your pants pocket. (Hint: It’s your iPhone.)Check outour interactive guide tocreating high-quality videos for social media here.

You or a member of your team most likely already owns a great video camera — one that’s easier to use than a traditional, high-tech setup. In this post, we’ll walk you through our tips and best practices for filming high-quality marketing and social media videos with your handy iPhone and a just a few other tools. And if you don’t have time to read them all, we’ve demonstrated how to do it in the video below.

P.S. We filmed it with an iPhone.

How to Shoot Videos with an iPhone

1) Find a quiet place to film.

This might seem obvious, but if you’re filming at work or out in public, the sight of a phone might not tip people off to keep the volume down if they’re nearby. If possible, book a conference space, hang signs telling people to steer clear of where you’re shooting, or bring a coworker with you to block off the area where you plan to film.

2) Make sure your iPhone has enough storage space.

Have you ever experienced the dreaded moment when you were unable to capture a video because you got this pop-up notification?

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If this notification pops up while you’re filming a video, your phone will stop recording, and you’ll have to start over. To prevent this, make sure you have enough space before pressing “record.” Delete as many unnecessary files and apps as you can, and if needed, purchase iCloud storage for files to free up more space on your device itself.

To do this, navigate to “Settings,” select “General,” “Storage & iCloud Usage,” and tap “Manage Storage” to buy more space for as little as $0.99 per month.

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3) Turn off notifications.

Another distracting iPhone feature that could interrupt your filming is how frequently your device receives notifications. Before you start filming, set your iPhone to Do Not Disturb mode to keep notifications going in the background so you can film uninterrupted.

Swipe up on your phone and tap the crescent moon icon to put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode, and tap it again when you’re done to return your phone to normal settings.

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Pro tip:Do Not Disturb is a great way to watch YouTube videos, play games, and sleep uninterrupted, too.

4) Use a tripod.

I don’t care how steady you think your hands are — they probably aren’t steady enough to film a video.

Now, it’s one thing if you’re scrappily putting together a Snapchat Story, but if you’re filming a video for your brand — especially one that will live permanently on your blog, YouTube channel, or other social media assets — you’ll need the help of a tripod to keep the video steady and clear.

You can purchase full tripods, or smaller versions for your desk on Amazon, at Best Buy, or other vendors.

5) Light your video.

This point is especially important if you’re filming in an office building with lots of overhead lighting. You don’t need to buy anything fancy for this step — in fact, our friends at Wistia put together this guide to a DIY lighting setup. You need enough light to give the impression of natural light, which means it’s coming from a variety of different light sources, and not just directly overhead.

If you don’t have the time or budget to purchase a lighting setup, find a room or location with plenty of natural light — and remember to turn off the overhead lights — to keep your video subject looking good.

6) Use a microphone.

Make sure you use some sort of microphone to minimize the impact of distracting ambient noise. The expression “the silence is deafening” is real — especially when it comes to video production.

You don’t need a fancy microphone and boom setup like in the movies, although those would bea great investment to make if you plan to film a lot of videos. You can use something as simple as a microphone that plugs into your iPhone’s headphone input to get great audio for your videos — and you can buy one here.

7) Film horizontally.

When people view videos on mobile devices, the video automatically rotates according to the orientation of the device it’s being viewed on. So, it makes more sense to film horizontally so your video can be viewed if the user rotates his or her phone, or is watching on a large tablet or computer screen. If you film vertically and the viewer’s screen is rotated, the video will appear more constricted.

There are exceptions to this, of course — if you’re filming a video specifically for Snapchat or Instagram, for example, you should film your video vertically on your iPhone, because that’s how the videos will be consumed. But if you’re filming for Facebook, YouTube, or another video hosting site, film horizontally to help viewers get the best possible viewing experience, no matter what device they press play on.

8) Don’t use the iPhone’s zoom capability.

Simply put, iPhone’s zoom will most likely make your video look bad.

We’ll elaborate: Unless you have the ultra-fancy iPhone 7 Plus camera, zooming in on an iPhone will simply enlarge the image — it won’t get you closer to what you’re filming — so it’ll make your final video pixellated and blurry-looking.

Instead, physically move your filming setup closer to your subject to eliminate the need to zoom in.

9) Lock your exposure.

The iPhone does a fantastic job of finding the subject to focus your camera’s exposure — which is great for taking a photo. But when it comes to filming a video, its super-powered exposure will continue adjusting and readjusting according to movement — leaving your final video occasionally blurry and out of focus.

You can solve this problem by locking the exposure while you’re filming. Before you press record, hold down your finger on the subject of your video until a yellow box appears around the person or object and the words “AE/AF Lock” appear:

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10) Edit on a computer.

Once you’ve filmed your video, you need to edit it and get it ready for publication. And although the iPhone offers a lot of visual editing tools within its interface, it’s best to use editing software on your computer to fine-tune the images. Software like iMovie and Adobe Premiere Pro let you add sound, captions, and adjust filtering to make your video look (and sound) as professional as possible.

Lights, Camera, Action

You don’t need a ton of expensive equipment to film and edit engaging videos — you just need to follow the steps above to film something that looks professional with the help of your handy iPhone. If you don’t have an iPhone, never fear — we’ll create some guidance for Android devices soon. In the meantime, download our guides to creating videos for social mediato get started distributing your content today.

What are your tips for filming videos on the iPhone? Share with us in the comments below.

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The Greatest Marketing Growth Hack of All Time (Hint: Cupcakes)

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A few years ago my team at RJMetrics was launching a short survey over the holidays. It’s a tough time of the year to get attention, especially when you’re a B2B SaaS company. At some point, someone suggested a cupcake giveaway.

So we did.

Ten participants were randomly chosen to receive a dozen cupcakes, and people LOVED it.

  • They sent email responses to the request saying they hoped they got the cupcakes.
  • They tweeted delighted responses about the campaign.
  • When we delivered them, they tweeted pictures of them and their co-workers enjoying the cupcakes.

The response to the cupcake campaign was completely out of proportion to the $50 cost to us.

So we decided to make cupcakes a bigger part of some other marketing initiatives. Prior to this first cupcake encounter, we would use iPads as an incentive to promote our webinars. You know, that post-registration page that says Tell your friends you’re joining us for a chance to win! We decided to scrap the iPad in lieu of cupcakesand our conversion rate skyrocketed.

No joke.

People would rather receive a dozen cupcakes than an iPad.

And inevitably we would ship the cupcakes and see a cupcake photo plus a tweet like: RJMetrics has the best webinars, and you might win cupcakes!

So there it is, the greatest marketing growth hack of all time. The next time you’re trying to motivate people to do something for you, offer the chance to win some cupcakes.

The Psychology of Cupcakes

Now, let’s talk a little bit about what’s happening here. There are a few good theories. I first shared a version of this post over on ThinkGrowth.org and the responses there aligned pretty closely to what I hear whenever I share this story.

Cupcakes seem like a more achievable prize.

In the case of the survey, the odds of winning cupcakes were actually better than the odds of winning an iPad — we were choosing 10 winners instead of 1. But for webinars, the odds were exactly the same — only 1 winner. Still, there’s something about a dozen cupcakes that just seems more possible.

One commenter summed it up perfectly:

The Lake Wobegon Effect

As in Lake Wobegon of Prairie Home Companion.This theory was presented by HubSpot’s co-founder and CTO, Dharmesh Shah and is a variation on cupcakes seeming more achievable, but with a little more detail on the psychology of why they feel more achievable:

Valuing Experiences Over Things

Another theory on why this is so effective is that people actually want the experience of winning cupcakes more than they want the experience of winning an iPad. Winning an iPad is kind of a lonely experience, tell your co-workers and they’ll probably feel bored or jealous.

But winning cupcakes? That’s a community experience. You can gather your co-workers around to share in your success, eat cupcakes together, take a picture. And maybe on some sub-conscious level we all just want that feeling of community more than we want an iPad.

My hunch is that if you ask someone outright, they will always tell you they would prefer to win an iPad, but actual behavior reveals we might want something a little more meaningful.

The Element of Surprise

This is a less popular theory, but personally, I think it carries a lot of weight. In marketing, all strategies erode over time. Andrew Chen calls this The Law of Shitty Click-Throughs. He uses the example of the internet’s first banner ad:

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But by 2011, Facebook ads were converting at .05%.

And we see this play out again and again in marketing. As more businesses adopt a tactic, the better people become at tuning it out, and the effectiveness of that tactic wears off:

We’re just not used to seeing cupcakes show up in marketing. It surprises us, forces us to pause and pay attention. And attention, after all, is what marketers are always chasing.

If the surprise theory is true, this holds implications beyond cupcakes. It means there’s an enormous edge given to marketers who can navigate the balance of being familiar enough that people feel comfortable, but surprising enough that people actually pay attention.

I’ve recently fallen in love with CBInsights newsletter. The author of the newsletter and founder of the company, Anand Sanwal, has an amazing sense of humor and I’ve found myself hooked on his storylines. Here’s one of this latest newsletters:

How many business communications lead with I love you? Or talk about bromances in a way that makes you want to keep reading?

And you actually want to read the copy because Anand is constantly dropping little remarks like a not very useful graph that are so refreshingly honest about the things marketers are often trying to hype. I mean this graph is interesting, but he’s right, it’s not very useful

How to Write Catchy Headlines and Blog Titles Your Readers Can’t Resist

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It’s one thing to write great content, but it’s another thing to get it read and ranked — which is where nailing the title comes in.

Titles are what sell the content. They represent it in search engines, in email, and on social media. It’s no surprise, then, that some of the most common questions we get concern crafting titles.Ready to take your blog to the next level? Take our free inbound marketing certification course here.

How long should my headline be? What words should I use? What words should I avoid? Should I optimize it for search, or for social? Or both?

Luckily, we’ve come up with a simple formula for writing catchy headlines and blog titles that you can reference from here on out. So let’s just dive right in, shall we?

A Foolproof Method for How to Write Catchy Headlines and Titles

1) Start with a working title.

Before you get into the nitty-gritty of coming up with a perfect title, start with a rough draft: your working title.What is that, exactly? A lot of people confuse working titles with topics. Let’s clear that up:

Topics are very general and could yield several different blog posts. Think “raising healthy kids,” or “kitchen storage.” A writer might look at either of those topics and choose to take them in very, very different directions.

A working title, on the other hand, is very specific and guides the creation of a single blog post. For example, from the topic “raising healthy kids,” you could derive the following working titles:

  • “How the Right Nutrition Can Strengthen Your Kids’ Bones”
  • “A Parent’s Guide to Promoting Your Child’s Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Well-Being”
  • “X Recipes for Quick & Healthy Dinners Your Teenagers Will Gobble Up”

See how different and specific each of those is? That’s what makes them working titles, instead of overarching topics. It’s also worth noting that none of those titles are perfect — they should just be specific enough to guide your blog post. (We’ll worry about making it clickable and search-friendly later.)

2) Stay accurate.

Accuracy is critical when trying to finesse a title, because it sets clear expectations for your readers. While I’m sure lots of people would love to click into a post that said “10 B2B Companies Killing Facebook So Freaking Hard They Don’t Need Any Other Marketing Channel” … it’s a little bombastic, no?

Unless, of course, you truly did find 10 B2B companies rocking Facebook that hard, and you could confirm that all 10 of them had stopped using other marketing channels. First and foremost, your title needs to accurately reflect the content that follows.

One way to ensure accuracy? Add bracketed clarification to your headline, like we did in this blog post:

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In a study of over 3.3 million paid link headlines, we found that headlines with this type of clarification — [Interview], [Podcast], [Infographic], etc. — performed 38% better than headlines without clarification. Again, it’s all about setting clear expectations. Thanks to the brackets, these readers knew exactly what they were getting themselves into before they even clicked.

So if you remember nothing else from this blog post, let it be this: The most important rule of titles is to respect the reader experience.If you set high expectations in your title that you can’t fulfill in the content, you’ll lose readers’ trust.

Accuracy encompasses more than just hyperbole, though. With the example working title above, you’d also want to confirm all of the examples are, indeed, B2B. Or even that they’re all companies — instead of, say, individual bloggers that target B2B audiences. See what I mean?

3) Make it sexy.

Just because you have to be accurate doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to make your title pop. There are a lot of ways to make a title sexier.

Of course, all of this hinges on understanding your core buyer persona. You need to find language that resonates with them, and know what they find valuable. (Haven’t created or refined your buyer personas yet? Download this free template to create your own buyer personas for your business.)

Once you’re armed with knowledge of your buyer persona’s preferred style, try testing out some of these tips for making your headlines a little sexier:

  • Have some fun with alliteration. The title and header in this blog post, for instance, play with alliteration: “Foolproof Formula.” It’s a device that makes something a little lovelier to read, and that can have a subtle but strong impact on your reader.
  • Use strong language. Strong phrases (and, frankly, often negative ones) like “Things People Hate,” or “Brilliant” pack quite a punch. However, these must be used in moderation. As one of my coworkers likes to say, “If everything is bold, nothing is bold.”
  • Make the value clear. As we mentioned above, presenting the format and/or contents to a reader helps make your content a little sexier. According to our research, templates tend to be particularly powerful for CTR: We found that adding “[Template]” to our titles got the most average views of all bracketed terms.
  • Make it visual. Is there an opportunity to include visuals within your post? Make that clear in the title. Our research revealed that headlines featuring the word “photo(s)” performed 37% better than headlines without this word.
  • Focus on the “whos,” not the “whys”. Want to intrigue your audience? Focus on the “who”: Headlines including the word “who” generated a 22% higher CTR than headlines without it.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a post titled, “15 of Our Favorite Brands on Snapchat.” How might we punch up our accurate-but-boring working title? Here are some options:

  • 15 Brilliant Brands Who Are Killing It on Snapchat
  • Snapchat Success: 15 Inspiring Brands Who Just Get It
  • 15 Must-Follow Brands That Are Seeing Snapchat Success

4) Keep it short.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how long or short your title should be. It depends what your goals are, and where your headline will appear.

Do you want this post to rank really well in search? Focus on keeping the title under 70 characters so it doesn’t get cut off in search engine results.

Are you trying to optimize your title for social sharing? According to our own analysis at HubSpot, headlines between 812 words in length got the most Twitter shares on average. As for Facebook, headlines with either 12 or 14 words received the most Likes.

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Additionally, headlines with eight words had a 21% higher clickthrough rate than the average title, according to the folks at Outbrain.

The lesson? It’s always a good idea to run a few tests to see what works best for your particular audience.

Let’s say I was writing this blog post: “Think Social Media Is Just for Kids? Here Are 10 Statistics Guaranteed to Prove You Wrong.” To shorten it, I would simply try to rephrase it and cut out extraneous words. For instance, I might do something like this:

  • Before: Think Social Media Is Just for Kids? Here Are 10 Statistics Guaranteed to Prove You Wrong
  • After: 10 Stats That Prove Social Media Isn’t Just for Kids

See? It’s that easy. Try sounding out the title in your head to make sure it’s easily digestible for your readers. The less of a mouthful you can make your titles, the better.

5) Try to optimize for search and social.

I say “try” because, sometimes, trying too hard to optimize for these things can make your title sound strange. Remember: You want to optimize your title for your audience above all else, but if you can optimize for both search and social, that’s great.

The secret to thinking about all three at once? Focus on keywords that you know your audience is already searching for, then look into the search volume for those keywords.

Once you have a keyword in mind, you’ll want to be sure to place it as closely as possible to the beginning of your headline to catch your reader’s attention. (Again, you should keep your headline under 70 characters so it doesn’t get cut off in search engine results.)

Another important consideration? Make sure your headlines are tweetable: “The 120-130-character range is the sweet spot for high clickthrough rate, according to an analysis of 200,000 tweets with links,”explains my colleague, Senior Marketing Manager Lindsay Kolowich.“This leaves enough space for people to include a short comment if they choose to manually retweet and cite you.”

Here’s an example: Let’s say I’m writing a post titled, “X B2B Companies Using Facebook in Cool Ways.” Looks like there’s some wiggle room to optimize it without compromising clarity, right?

If the goal is to rank for the term, “Facebook Marketing,” I’d recommend something like this:

“New to Facebook Marketing? Here Are 10 B2B Companies Doing It Right”

This new title works for a few reasons:

  • It’s 56 characters long. This means that it’s short enough to not be cut off in search engines and it’s short enough to be retweeted.
  • The keyword is in the beginning. By moving “Facebook Marketing” to the beginning of the title, we’re ultimately increasing the odds that we’ll grab our audience’s attention.
  • It’s human. I wasn’t kidding when I said you should focus on optimizing for your audience first. This title presents both a pain point and a solution all wrapped up in one.

(Download this ebook for more data-backed SEO strategies we recommend.)

6) Brainstorm with someone else.

Once you’ve refined your title using the tips above, it’s time to come up for air and connect with another human. Title brainstorming is an essential part of the process.

Here at HubSpot, we spend a decent amount of time and brainpower coming up with our titles. The final step before scheduling a blog post is pulling another member of our team into a back-and-forth title brainstorm in a chat room. One member of the duo will post the title they recommend into the chat pane window. The other person will then refine that title even further, or suggest other angles. After several back-and-forths, the duo will agree on the title that’s accurate, sexy, concise, and SEO-friendly.

Only when both parties agree on a title do we schedule our post for publishing — which can take as little as five seconds and as long as ten or so minutes. While that seems like a long time, it’s essential to put our best feet forward with each post we publish.

What’s your process for crafting titles? Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2013 and has been updated and for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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Does Influencer Marketing Actually Work? A HubSpot Blog Experiment

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I ran my first experiment in influencer marketing in middle school. My mom had bought me a pair of practical (her words) but hideous (my words) sneakers — and insisted I wear them to gym class.

Believing — maybe rightfully — that my reputation hinged on having cool footwear, I convinced my mom to buy a second pair as a gift for my friend Kelly’s birthday. Kelly was the coolest girl in sixth grade. Everything she did turned into a trend.

Kelly wore her sneakers to gym, probably at behest of her mom. Next thing I knew, everyone was rocking my ugly shoes. I was trendy, not lame. The experiment was a total success.

I didn’t think about influencer marketing again until I joined HubSpot. On the blog team, we’re always looking for ways to scale traffic — which gets continually harder as your audience grows. We’ve already captured much of the “low-hanging fruit.” Partnering with influencers could help us reach new readers while bringing our current ones fresh insights and promoting worthy thought leaders. Win-win-win.

When I started experimenting with influencer marketing strategies for the HubSpot Sales Blog seven months ago, I was operating under a few key assumptions:

  1. If one influencer is good, 23 is better.
  2. A huge name on a standard quality blog post is better than an unknown name on a great quality post.
  3. Partnering with influencers is an efficient and scalable way to grow traffic.

Turns out, those assumptions were mostly — even completely — false.

Experiment #1: Is Influencer Marketing a Silver Bullet?

Let’s go back to November 2016, when I set out to create a blog post that received 10,000 views or more in its first 30 days.

For context, average views per Sales Blog post for November was 3,180.

I decided to create an influencer round-up (a type of post gathers quotes from multiple influencers on a single theme or topic). Harnessing the reach of some of the biggest names in sales through their social shares would surely push the post over the 10K line.

Since there are relatively few sales influencers, and their expertise is pretty varied, I chose a broad theme for the round-up post: How to Have Your Best Sales Year Yet. Each month received its own section and covered a different aspect of selling, from qualifying to giving demos.

Then it was time to get the influencers on board. First, I identified 30 sales experts and thought leaders, and wrote a personalized email to each one.

Twenty-three influencers agreed to participate. That’s approximately 77% of the 30 I approached — a great response rate that was likely bolstered by the personalized emails.

Next, I wrote custom questions for each influencer based on their area of expertise. I collected their interview answers for the post through a combination of phone and email interviews. I also asked each influencer to commit to promoting the post on LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as their email newsletter if they had one.

After the post went live, I created custom tracking URLs for each influencer to use for their share(s). This step allowed me to see exactly how much traffic every individual was responsible for. I also created a custom image for social media each influencer with a quote from their interview:

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From start to finish, the entire post took me roughly 18 hours. A standard, non-influencer post takes me 45 minutes to an hour. That’s a big difference in time.

The Results:

The post ended up getting around 9,100 views in the first 30 days. The influencers were responsible for 4,143 of those views — each sharing their link on Facebook and Twitter within three days of the launch date, with several sharing the link on LinkedIn as well.

Sounds like our influencer strategy worked, right? Well, not quite.

When I dug deeper, I discovered the influencer traffic wasn’t distributed evenly. In fact, one person was responsible for 77% of all influencer traffic.

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Some influencers drove less than 20 views each.

These results killed my first assumption: If one influencer is good, 23 is better.

Experiment #2: Is TargetedInfluencer Marketing a Silver Bullet?

With this in mind, I had two goals for the next post in my influencer marketing experiment:

  • Feature as many “heavy hitters” as possible.
  • Feature the influencers’ products — giving them a clear incentive to promote the piece beyond being quoted as a thought leader.

I chose The 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time as the theme, since it would enable me to satisfy both criteria. I sent an email to each author with a custom URL and a polite request for them to share it.

The Results:

All in all, the influencers drove around 5,700 views. Guess who was responsible for 60% of those views? The same influencer who was responsible for 77% of the traffic for the first post.

It’s not surprising this influencer is such a reliable source of traffic. He has more than 1.7 million Facebook fans. A mere 0.002% of them clicked on the link to the HubSpot Sales Blog.

What is surprising is that the other influencers are driving such little traffic. It takes roughly the same amount of time to get a quote from the other influencers as this superstar one, but the results are completely disproportional.

Experiment #3: Looking for a Scalable Solution

Is the solution to concentrate solely on massive influencers? Unfortunately, there aren’t enough out there in the sales space.

What if we skipped the time-consuming process of picking a theme, finding experts, reaching out to them, developing questions, transcribing and editing their answers, and putting everything together into a post? What if I started with content that already existed, cutting out the creation process entirely?

I started handpicking influencers based on their network size and asking to publish their original content and/or repurpose some of their existing content — along with a social share, of course.

This strategy requires much less time. Each post would receive fewer page views, but I’d be able to produce more in the same amount of time — meaning we’d drive more overall traffic.

It’s also great for the influencers. They’ve already done the hard work of content creation; now they can sit back and enjoy its amplification. We send their posts out to our 50,000-plus email subscribers and give them the option of adding in-line links and a CTA to their website or virtual offers.

I started this experiment with an excerpt of a book from a well-known author, who has a sizable audience.

The Results:

The post got 2,143 views — and 1,200 of those came from the HubSpot Sales Blog email subscribers. Because the author didn’t use the tracking URL I sent her, I can’t say definitively how many views her Facebook and LinkedIn posts generated, although it’s likely around 300. Not that impressive.

We see similar results whenever we publish posts for “the name” versus the content. If the writing isn’t relevant, insightful, or helpful, it doesn’t seem to matter who’s got the byline — the post tends to strike out.

There goes my second assumption: A huge name on a standard quality blog post is better than an unknown name on a great quality post.

Experiment #4: Content First, Influencer Second

With that in mind, I decided to focus on content first, influencer second. I looked for sales experts with unique perspectives and ideas and largely ignored the size of their audience.

A sales leader I found on LinkedIn is a perfect example. He’s not a recognizable name, but he’s built a solid following (almost 10,000 followers) by consistently posting entertaining, helpful articles on LinkedIn.

His posts we’ve published get an average of 4,600 views.

Tom Niesen, CEO of Acuity Training, belongs in this category as well. He wrote apost about upfront contracts that generated roughly 6,000 views before Sandler Training shared it on social and drove 1,000 more.

These partnerships might not create one massive traffic spike, but they’re lightweight for me to manage, generate content I’d be happy to share with our readers no matter who wrote it, and are a scalable way to work with influencers to produce content that consistently performs above average.

My third assumption: Partnering with influencers is an efficient and scalable way to grow traffic — still true, if it’s the right influencer.

3 Influencer Marketing Takeaways

It turns out influencer marketing has gotten a bit more complex since middle school. After running these four experiments, here are my three main takeaways.

1) If you’re trying to drive traffic, use your time and energy to get one major influencer on board rather than five to 10 mid-level ones.

An influencer’s impact depends on both their audience size and engagement — you can get similar results from an influencer with tons of followers and low engagement and one with a medium following but crazy-high engagement.

I recommend looking at the influencer’s average Facebook post performance. If they’re receiving 600-1000+ reactions and 500+ shares on any given post, they’re probably a major influencer. Validate this by giving them a dedicated tracking URL to share and seeing how much traffic they drive.

2) That being said, quality still matters.

Weak content rarely performs well even with a “big name.”

When evaluating content for the Sales Blog, I ask myself these questions:

  • Are the ideas relevant?
  • Have we covered this material in other posts?
  • Does the author give enough explanation, detail, and instruction that the reader can immediately apply the concepts?
  • If they make a controversial argument, do they sufficiently back it up with research?
  • Is the post engaging from beginning to end?

If the answers aren’t all “yes,” then I’ll ask the author to edit the piece.

3) Prioritizing content leads to posts that get traffic on their own merits.

I’m proud of our readers. They’re not star-struck — if a post is great, they read it and share it, regardless of the byline.

Ultimately, our best “hack” for growing traffic? Publishing great content. That’s an assumption I’m happy to operate under.

How does your content team approach influencer marketing? Let us know in the comments.

HubSp

Want to Learn Graphic Design? 8 Tips & Tricks for Beginners

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For many of us, the thought of high school conjures memories of ample notebook doodles. Hand-drawn bubble letters, pictograms, and stick-figures would decorate homework, tests, and papers — and teachers, of course, were constantly asking us to knock it off.

And so, most of us did, perhaps because we figured out that we just weren’t that good at drawing on paper. But when some of us were in high school, we didn’t yet have the numerous digital options for “drawing” our ideas. But now, machines can help us bring them to life — and it’s become a career path for many people.

Graphic design is something that marketers can always benefit from learning, even without a formal education. In those cases, we enter a world of do-it-yourself education, with repeated recommendations like, “learn Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign,” or, “read a book about basic design principles.” And as much as those help, learning fundamentals, navigating new tools, and developing a personal style make for a tricky balancing act. Download our full collection of blog design examples here to inspire your own blog design.

That’s why we put together this list of tips that we wish we had received at the onset of our respective DIY graphic design journeys, along with some tools that can help you with them.

8 Tips for Learning Graphic Design

1) Always keep an ear to the ground.

As marketers, we already know how much there is to learn from influencers. After all, 49% of folks trust the people they know above anyone else for product or service recommendations, and in the digital age, that includes influencers.

Influencers — who according to NeoReach are individual[s] with an online presence who … influence the opinions and behaviors of your target audience — are often willing to share the secrets to their success in their content. If you make a point to listen to and engage with them, you’ll become more familiar with the online design world, which can help you discover more tips from other industry experts, become comfortable with relevant terminology, and stay on top of trends.

Wondering how to engage? Turn to Twitter or Instagram as a place to start conversations with these influencers. You never know who might respond to your questions — and any positive connection you make can only help you learn more. Following along and joining the exchange can naturally lead you to become a part of a design community that will support you throughout your journey.

What to Do Right Now

Create a targeted list of influential designers on Twitter, so you can follow their daily insights without having to pick out their tweets from a sea of friends, coworkers, and news sources. You can use the Social Monitoring tool in your HubSpot software to do this by following the people on this list, specifically as they discuss topics that matter to you.

Add a variety of influencers to this list — a mix of those who are well-known among most designers, those that personally inspire you, and those whose work you do not enjoy. That last point may seem counterintuitive, but consistently observing the work of that group can help you understand why you don’t like it, which is a key part of understanding design.

If you’re not sure how to discover designers to follow, try 365 Awesome Designers, which features the work of one designer each day.

2) Collect inspirational work.

Once you decide to learn design, start building a catalog of work you think is successful. That can be as simple as bookmarking images in your web browser, making a Pinterest board, or saving items to a folder on your computer. Like a list of influencers, a catalog of inspiring work will help you to identify trends — both past and present — in design as you begin to recognize patterns in the work of others. You’ll also start to understand your own personal style preferences and interests. If you find yourself continually saving infographics, for example, you might start looking into specific resources to learn how to create them.

Your catalog will also serve to inspire designs you create in the future, which is underscored by the idea that “all creative work builds on what came before” — a line from Austin Kleon’s TEDx talk. If you can reference items in your catalog quickly, you’ll be better equipped to begin your own projects.

What to Do Right Now

Get acquainted with leading designer portfolio sites like Dribbble and Behance. These platforms showcase an abundance of high-quality work from leading designers across the spectrum — everyone from web and UX designers, to graphic designers and typographers. The designers on these sites often provide insight into their design processes, which will be key as you start your own creations.

Setting aside time in your day to review these sites might be hard on top of your workload. One way to naturally work it into your day is to use the app Panda, which replaces your “New Tab” in Chrome with an aggregated stream of content from various sources, including Dribbble. Each time you open a new tab, you can discover and save something that catches your eye. Fair warning, though: An application like this might be distracting to some.

3) Dissect the process.

One of the most pivotal moments in my design journey was when I recognized that every single illustration, infographic, and icon I had ever ogled over was the product of someone mastering how to combine shapes and lines. That’s not to say that other factors don’t play a role — just wait until you try and learn meshes in Illustrator — but fundamentally, these designs were built up from simple shapes.

Analyzing the process behind a design will allow you to understand the steps required to produce a piece of work. Depending on your current skill level, you may have a leg up in knowing which tools were used, or which aspect was created first. But don’t let that stop you — examining the construction of a design will let you flex your creative muscle. Educated guesses will do far more to teach you than doing nothing at all. Plus, you’ll likely find that:

  1. You know more than you think you do.
  2. When you identify holes in that knowledge, you’ll know what techniques or concepts you need to explore to narrow the gap.
  3. There’s more than one way to achieve a desired result.

What to Do Right Now

A quick way to expedite the learning curve when dissecting a design is to download a free vector or PSD design resource, and dig through the layers to see how the designer constructed the object — you can find a number of those files here.

Once you pick your file, open it in Photoshop, then open the Layers Panel (which you can learn to use here) and un-collapse some of the folders, so that you can see the layers contained within them.

By simply changing the visibility of the layers, you can begin to see how the designer used each shape to build upon one another. You can also begin to understand how to use Photoshop Effects, like drop shadows and strokes.

4) Get specific with your online search queries.

As you begin creating your own designs, you’ll likely hit an obstacle where you think to yourself, “Hmm. How the heck do I do that?” Chances are, others have wondered the same thing. Like many self-taught disciplines these days, the majority of my own technical design knowledge was gained by watching a YouTube tutorial while I actively followed along.

The key is to be really specific with your searches, so you can find a highly relevant tutorial. Searching for something like “how to create an icon” might deliver really broad search results. Instead, type in exactly what you want to learn, like, “how to create a flat icon with a long shadow.” Boom.

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What to Do Right Now

Browse a design terminology glossary to find the specific terms for techniques you’re trying to learn. That can help you find what you’re looking for online much more easily, in addition to helping you familiarize yourself with the language.

5) Reproduce your favorite work.

Let me be clear: Under no circumstances should you infringe on anyone’s copyrighted work. Never reproduce someone else’s work and try to pass it off as your own.

That said, re-creating a design you like — without advertising it as your own work — will help you gain a deeper understanding of design technique. As with dissecting a design, it’ll help you learn new technical skills that’ll come in handy when you’re creating your own designs.

You’ll have to get creative with the method you choose to recreate the design, so this exercise will utilize both the left and right sides of your brain. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t duplicate a design exactly — remember, the process is more important than the result.

What to Do Right Now

Find a design piece you think is successful — which should be easy if you’ve created an inspiration catalog — and use your preferred piece of software to recreate it, whether that’s Photoshop, Illustrator, or another software. It’s really up to you to choose how you go about actually creating it. Use specific search queries and tap into your design community relationships as resources.

6) Embrace negative space.

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Source: Apptension

The proper use of negative space is often overlooked by beginner and advanced designers alike. What is negative space (or “white space”)? It’s the space in your design that’s not occupied by any visual or written element. A design piece that doesn’t incorporate enough negative space is like a sentence with no spaces – itisdifficulttocomprehend.

Jan Tischold, one the most influential typographers in history, stresses this importance: White space is to be regarded as an active element, not a passive background. The effective use of negative space is just as crucial as the design itself. Don’t believe me? It’s scientifically proven that white space improves legibility and comprehension.

What to Do Right Now

Learning to effectively use white space won’t happen overnight. You’ll have to try out different options to find what works for each design. First, I’d recommend reading some of the articles on this list, compiled by David Kadavy, author of Design for Hackers: Reverse Engineering Beauty. Then, try to put some of these theories into action.

Remember, there’s no hard-and-fast rule to using white space. It takes practice. Eventually, you’ll find that exercises in resizing elements of your composition and changing the layout will lead to a natural understanding of the amount of breathing room required.

7) Don’t be afraid to get feedback.

On some level, everyone is afraid of criticism. We’re afraid our ideas will get shot down and we’ll be sent back to square one. Learning to accept constructive criticism is no easy task, but it’s key to becoming a better designer.

Paul Arden, who was the creative force behind Saatchi & Saatchi at a pinnacle of its success, wrote this in his best-selling book, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be:

If, instead of seeking approval, you ask, ‘What’s wrong with it? How can I make it better?’, you are more likely to get a truthful, critical answer. You may even get an improvement on your idea. And you are still in a position to reject the criticism if you think it is wrong. Can you find fault with this?”

The takeaway: Design critics allow us to incorporate others’ viewpoints into our work and improve upon our ideas. You always have the option to reject the feedback — but considering it in the first place is what’s important. Design is subjective in nature, and just because someone else has a different opinion doesn’t mean you’re wrong. In fact, trusting your intuition is equally important. Just make sure you have the means to back up your design decisions.

What to Do Right Now

The best way to get feedback is to have a one-on-one conversation with an experienced designer. If you don’t know anyone in the design world, that can be difficult. Fortunately, the internet is filled with communities of designers eager to give feedback — that’s why we suggested finding influencers and peers to engage with.

If you haven’t had time to become a part of a community, now’s the time to step outside of your comfort zone and take action. Inbound.org offers a great feedback center where viewers can comment directly on your design. Other great forums include The Crit Prit, and Reddit’s Design Critiques.

8) Pick a passion project.

If you only listen to one piece of advice from this post, let it be this one.

We all know how hard it is to work on something you don’t want to. It just plain sucks. Picking a project that you aren’t passionate about will likely lead to frustration, as you’ll likely feel reluctant to devote the time and effort necessary to complete the project. And you would be remiss to ignore the fact that, at some point in your career, you’ll have to design something you may feel less than thrilled about.

But that likely won’t occur until you’ve learned a thing or two and have advanced your design skills. In the beginning, it’s OK to focus on passion projects.

When you’re taking the time to teach yourself graphic design and the consequences — like money lost on a wasted design class — are minimal, passion is a major motivator. When you pick something you care about, you’ll compel yourself to work through the frustration that comes with the sometimes tedious nature of design.

It’ll also provide direction. Time and time again, the hardest part of learning design is not knowing what to design. Be decisive and choose something you can work on for a length of time.

What to Do Right Now

Align your interests or current situation with your projects. If you’re a blogger, try creating the header image for your next post. Voice your willingness to work on an offer with your content team. Looking for a job? Redesign your resume and try to further your personal brand by creating a logo. There’s a number of ways to work design into your day, but it’s up to you to pick something that matters to you — don’t design something simply because you think you should.

And Above All

It’s important just to get started. It’s easy to be intimidated by the sheer amount of learning associated with graphic design, but remind yourself that even the most talented designers were newbies once, too.

What makes the creative field so special is that everyone’s journey is unique — there’s no one way to approach DIY design. You’ll find your own means to discern what you want and need to learn.

Design is an iterative process, so keep reworking your ideas and projects. As you progress, you’ll develop your own workflow and one day that design that took you all day will only take you an hour. Trust me, I’m living proof.

What other tips do you have for self-taught designers? Let us know in the comments.

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The Best of B2B Marketing Content: 9 Examples

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Here at HubSpot, some of the most awe-inspiring moments take place when we get to take new products and features for a test drive. We transform, if it’s even imaginable, into even bigger geeks than we normally are, squealing with the excitement typically reserved for iPhone launches and new seasons of Netflix series. But alas — this glee is caused by software we use every day at work, and will eventually get to share with other marketers.

Many B2B marketers have seen B2C content at least once and asked, “Why do they get to have all the fun?” But the moments like the one we described above are the ones that remind us: B2C companies haven’t locked down all of the truly interesting marketing angles. We’re passionate about our product — and that means our audience can be, too.

And for every B2B product, there are even more B2B users out there looking for information, inspiration, and knowledge — whether it’s from their peers, or from the organizations looking to provide them with solutions. The point? No marketing, including content, is uninteresting if you look at it the right way. New Call-to-action

Done right, B2B content marketing can certainly match — and sometimes, maybe even rival — the creativity and appeal of the best B2C ones. And we want to recognize the brands that are breaking that mold and creating great content that grows fervent, dedicated audiences. Below, you’ll find a few of our favorites.

9 Exceptional B2B Content Marketing Examples

1) CB Insights: Newsletter

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What It Does Well

There are two things I love about the CB Insights newsletter. First, it’s surprisingly funny (the subject lines alone make it worth it). Second, you learn a lot just by reading the newsletter, no need to click through a bunch of links.

Janessa Lantz, HubSpot Senior Marketing Manager

We love how this newsletterillustrates the willingness of CB Insights to not take itself too seriously. Yes, it shares some of the finest insights on technology, venture capital (VC), and emerging businesses, but it does so with fun images that ultimately relate back to the subject — e.g., the above photo of Oprah that’s been adapted as a meme, since, well, that was the topic of the newsletter.

But the messaging remains relevant, even among the hint of silliness. After all, CB Insights designs technology for people in the VC space, so it’s tasked with creating content that will appeal to a broad audience: customers, prospective customers, tech enthusiasts, and investors. And so, under such subject lines as so sad: tough to have a VC dad, it includes relevant data. Yes, gifs are hilarious — but in some contexts, they’re also worth $147 million.

Takeaway for Marketers

When you’re dying to create truly unique, cutting-edge content, it’s easy to stray from your organization’s mission and focus. So while it’s great to think outside of the box, use clever subject lines, or even write every email with an overarching humorous tone — keep it relevant and include the information that the people reading it signed up to receive in the first place. Then, keep it human.

2) Mattermark: Raise the Bar

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What It Does Well

Raise the Bar rounds up the best stories about a variety of different industries, giving me a great snapshot of trends to watch and news stories to follow without having to search for them myself.”

Sophia Bernazzani, Staff Writer, HubSpot Marketing Blog

One of the best things about well-curated content — especially the kind that pertains to your line of work — is that it eliminates a lot of work. Keeping up with news and trends is never easy when you’ve already got a full plate, so when someone else is able to hand-pick the things you need to know, it can feel like you’ve struck gold.

That’s what Raise the Bar does, by compiling a daily digest of timely, must-read posts on sales, marketing and growth engineering. And, that was the intent all along. In a 2016 blog post announcing the launch of the newsletter, Mattermark’s Co-founder and CEO, Danielle Morrill, wrote, We’re turning our focus toward sifting through the mountains of content out there around sales, marketing, and growth to help the community of DOERS who grow companies.

Takeaway for Marketers

Think about the problems that your product or service already aims to solve for customers. Then, turn that into relevant content that’s going to both save time for and inform your audience — and make it easy for them to access it.

3) MYOB: End of Financial Year

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What It Does Well

MYOB, a provider of business management solutions in Australia and New Zealand, helps companies manage their finances, in part by connecting them with bookkeepers and financial services professionals. It has two main audiences:

  1. Small businesses that are just learning the ropes
  2. More established companies that need greater insight into all facets of their operations.

Each audience has its own set of concerns and corresponding hub of information on MYOB.com — and MYOB has built a content strategy for each one that shows how much it understands its customers.

MYOB recognizes that many businesses are figuring out accounting and financial decisions as they grow, so it’s created content that positions the brand as a go-to resource to help those businesses navigate each stage of their development. The End of Financial Year center, for example, is angled to fit the needs of each customer group, providing tips for those just starting out, and guides for breaking through new stages of development.

Takeaway for Marketers

When you begin to brainstorm and map out ideas for content, ask yourself, Do I really understand my audience? If you have any doubts as to how the idea will benefit or be useful to your audience, the answer might be no — and that’s okay. Like everything else, audiences (and people) evolve, so it’s okay to go back to the drawing board in instances like these for a refresh.

4) Unbounce: Page Fights (R.I.P.)

What It Does Well

If you’ve ever seen a growth marketer on the heels of a successful optimization experiment, you know that her energy is electric. Unbounce, a landing page software company based in Vancouver, understands that excitement and decided to leverage it to create an engaging microsite, Page Fights, in collaboration with optimization company Conversion XL.

The project came to a close after one year, but during its existence, Page Fights contained live streams of marketing optimization expert panels who critiqued landing pages in real time. It was content that expanded far beyond the written word — and that was one thing that made it so great.

Sure, Unbounce has a successful blog, but it saw Page Fights as an opportunity to expand beyond that copy. It knew that the web — especially within marketing and web design — was becoming increasingly crowded with content. To address that, it diversified the format of its expertise, to keep its audience engaged and learning.

Takeaway for Marketers

The internet is only going to become more crowded. And as the human attention span dwindles, that makes it even more important to create content that engages and maintains your audience’s attention.

So while we don’t recommend abandoning blogs completely — after all, written content is still vital to SEO — we do emphasize the importance of diversifying content formats. Marketers who incorporate video into their content strategies, for example, have seen 49% faster revenue growth than those who don’t. And remember that tip to keep it human we mentioned earlier? That’s a great thing about live video in particular — it can help portray brands (and their people) as candid and genuine.

5) Deloitte University Press

B2B marketing DU Press

What It Does Well

Deloitte is a professional services company specializing in consulting, tech, auditing, and more. It works with a massive cross-section of industries, from government agencies to life sciences — and that broad range of knowledge is a major selling point. That’s why creating informed, useful content for individual, specialized audiences is core to its marketing strategy.

But Deloitte has also used that wealth of knowledge to position itself as a resource for those who want to know what it knows. So among its specialized hubs are educational content centers, including Deloitte University Press. Much like some of the other remarkable B2B content we’ve come across, it curates not only different pieces of highly helpful content — but also curates a variety of content formats. From blog posts, to webcasts, to podcasts, Deloitte University Press has a bit of everything for those who want to learn about its specialties and the industries it works with.

Takeaway for Marketers

Creating a content strategy to please a wide-scale audience like Deloitte’s is challenging. It can quickly become unfocused. But if your company has a number of specialties, creating content microsites for each of them is one way to keep that information organized, discoverable, and easy to navigate. Plus, it can never hurt to establish your brand as a go-to resource, so as you create these content hubs, consider adding a knowledge center among them that’s dedicated to teaching your audience the valuable things it wants to learn.

6) First Round Magazines

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What It Does Well

Here’s another example of a brand that does a great job of leveraging different categories of knowledge. First Round, an early-stage VC company, recognized the knowledge among entrepreneurs and leaders that wasn’t being shared — knowledge that could be highly beneficial to their peers — and created the First Round Review as a place for it to be shared. It serves, reads the manifesto, to liberate the ideas and expertise that are trapped in other people’s heads.

But liberating that much-untapped knowledge can lead to the same problem we alluded to above — an unfocused mass of content that makes it difficult to discover exactly what you’re looking for. That’s why First Round organized the Review into a collection of nine online magazines, each specializing in a different aspect of building a business.

Takeaway for Marketers

If you’ve ever wondered how to leverage the wealth of knowledge outside of your organization — and inside your professional network — here’s a great example. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the entrepreneurs and leaders you’ve met, or simply just admire, to figure out how they can work with you to create content with teachable experiences that your audience will value. Sharing useful, relatable first-hand accounts conveys empathy, which helps to invoke trust among readers.

7) NextView Ventures: Startup Traction

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What It Does Well

We absolutely love stumbling across B2B companies with an active presence on Medium. A great example is Startup Traction by VC firm NextView Ventures: a Medium publication that focuses on tips & stories for seed-stage startups.

But why would NextView want to create an entirely separate blog that isn’t even on its website? Well, it’s an exercise in creating off-site content: the material you own but doesn’t live on your website. When executed correctly, it can give publishers a huge boost in discoverability, variety, and quality, especially when making use of a highly popular platform like Medium.

Because Startup Traction isn’t attached to the company’s main URL, it provides an opportunity for NextView to experiment with different tones, voices, and stories — all from a variety of experts that might already be using Medium to discover and contribute unique content. Plus, with Medium’s built-in ability for people to recommend, highlight, and search internally for relevant content, it makes the work published there that much more shareable.

Takeaway for Marketers

Take advantage of the availability of off-site content platforms. As my colleague, Sam Mallikarjunan, writes in Why Medium Works, it can take up to six months of consistent publishing on your company’s blog before it gains significant traction. (And we’re not discouraging that — stick with it, and find ways to supplement those efforts.) But off-site content diversifies your audience by engaging readers who might not have otherwise found your website. Medium, for example, connects your content with the people most likely to read it. Plus, you’re creating a publication on a platform that comes with a built-in audience of at least 6.3 million users.

8) Wistia: Instagram

What It Does Well

At risk of sounding like a broken record, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of B2B brands maintaining a human element. That’s why we like it when companies use social media channels to give audiences a look inside at the people who make the great products and services they love.

Wistia, a video hosting platform, does that particularly well by sharing visual content on Instagram that lifts the curtain on its people — and dogs. It not only aligns with its brand — after all, the company does provide technology to businesses that want hosting solutions for their visual content — but it’s also just smart. Among its other advantages, visual content can help boost a viewer’s retention of things like brand information.

Takeaway for Marketers

Please, please, please don’t neglect to incorporate visuals into your content strategy. Of course, having a presence on visually-focused channels like Instagram and YouTube is vital — but when it comes to your written content, don’t afraid to use visuals there, as well. After all, articles with an image once every 75-100 words got double the number of social shares than articles with fewer images.

But if you can also create content that aligns with the core of your product or service, that’s also great. As we mentioned before, Wistia creates visual content technology — so it makes sense that it would have unique visual content. Identify what your business does particularly well, and then make the most use of the channel that best aligns with your strengths.

9) Zendesk Engineering

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What It Does Well

Yes — more offsite content. This time, it’s from Zendesk, a maker of customer service software that’s done something unique with its Medium publication, Zendesk Engineering.

Zendesk might be an expert in the solutions provided by its product, but behind that product is a chorus of highly skilled experts — the people who build and engineer the software. The company realized that there’s an audience to be tapped that’s seeking insights and expertise on the technical side of the product, so it used that to build an entirely independent content property.

Takeaway for Marketers

Dig beneath the surface of the solutions your company provides. You offer solutions — but what is your process? What have you learned that makes you do what you do so well, and how did you get there?

Sure, topics like engineering might be traditionally unsexy. But when leveraged and communicated in a storytelling manner, they can make for remarkable content.

And the List Doesn’t End There

We’re optimistic that the digital realm is full of strong B2B content marketing efforts — and, we want to hear about them. But even more than that, we want to hear how these examples inspire you. As they show, there’s a world of content opportunities out there, just waiting for creative B2B marketers to take on.

What are your favorite examples of B2B marketing content? Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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Google Strikes Another Blow to Intrusive Ads: Here’s What You Need to Know

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We all know those moments when we stumble upon what looks like a golden piece of content. And just as you’re about to dive in — an ad appears.

You can’t just close it, either. Before you can get to what you visited that site to see, you have to wait, as a countdown clock in the corner of the ad taunts you with, Close this ad in 5 4 3

At this point, does anyone else just hit the back button with an angry mutter of, Nevermind, I’ll read something else? That’s because ads like these tarnish your online experience. They keep you from getting to the content you want to see. They’re intrusive. Google knows that — and now, it wants to prevent that from happening to Chrome users.New Call-to-action

Last Monday, Google announced that it would further crack down on websites that feature intrusive ads like these. And while that might sound great for many, what does it mean for content creators who rely on ad revenue? Don’t panic — you’re not doomed.

Below, we’ve broken down what marketers need to know about these new guidelines (spoiler alert: Google isn’t doing away with ads altogether), and what you can do to prepare for their rollout.

What’s New in Google Ad Blocking

A Better User Experience Without Revenue Loss

To repeat our earlier spoiler, it’s not Google’s intent to do away with ads completely. Rather, the goal appears to be for webmasters to move away from digital ads that interrupt a user’s content consumption — but not to lose critical ad revenue in the process.

The problem with intrusive ads, writes Google SVP of Ads & Commerce Sridhar Ramaswamy in the official announcement, is that they motivate users to install browser plugins that block ads altogether. And ultimately, that widespread blockage takes a big toll on the content creators, journalists, web developers, and videographers who depend on ads to fund their content creation.

Given Google’s algorithmic history, this announcement doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. It’s penalized sites with heavy above-the-fold ad content since 2012, and last year, it announced that mobile sites with intrusive pop-ups wouldn’t rank as well — both among consistent changes that, at least on the surface, appear to be motivated by an endless quest to improve user experience.

This particular move is largely the result of Google’s partnership with the Coalition for Better Ads, which recently developed Better Ads Standards — it appears that those standards serve as the foundation for Google’s new ad recommendations to content creators. Once publishers modify their ads to meet the new standards, they can then use Google’s Ad Experience Report to test if they’re in violation of the new standards.

The Penalty

But it’s not entirely clear how, in a broader sense, what the penalty will be for those in violation. The official announcement makes no mention of search ranking implications, though given the search engine’s history within this realm, we wouldn’t be surprised if websites in violation perform as well in search results.

What was clear in the announcement, however, is that within Google Chrome — which as of May 2017 had just over 63% of global desktop browser market share and 49% on mobile — the ads in violation of the new standards will be completely blocked. The browser already prevents pop-ups in new tabs based on the fact that they are annoying, Ramaswamy writes. Now, Google plans to have Chrome stop showing ads (including those owned or served by Google) on websites that are not compliant with the Better Ads Standards starting in early 2018.

The Criteria for “Bad Ads”

Using combined data from its own surveys and those conducted by The Coalition for Better Ads, Google outlined what constitutes a bad ad on its DoubleClick blog. Here’s a quick summary of the findings:

  • Ads that Interrupt. Remember those taunting countdowns we opened with? That counts as an ad that interrupts: one that forces you to wait 10 seconds before you can access the content you want. That’s especially true on mobile, where 74% of users would describe these ads as extremely or very annoying.
  • Ads that Distract. These are ads with ornate animation or that play loudly, automatically, as or after content loads. As one colleague said to me, speaking for many of us, Those scare the heck out of me.
  • Ads that Clutter. Many ads also cause a page’s load time to slow down. They’re what Google calls high-density displays, and they can make it even longer for users to get to the content they came to a site to see.

Google also created these handy images to show how much bad ads annoy mobile users:

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Source: Google

as well as those on desktop:

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Source: Google

3 Ways to Make Your Ads Better

Within the same DoubleClick post that outlines the worst practices for ad experiences, Google also lists three key elements of the best ones, which content creators can use to guide their revisions:

  1. Immediate. When ads themselves load quickly, and don’t slow a page’s load time, people tend to engage with them more. Using Google’s AMP framework for advertising can help — that’s what Time Inc. did, resulting in an increased clickthrough rate, among other measurables.
  2. Immersive. These are the ads that, in a way, assimilate with the content being viewed, making it less distracting and less likely to interrupt or interfere with the consumption experience. It’s part of what Google calls native advertising, in which ads are designed by the publisher of the site where they appear, and not by the advertiser. (Read more about that here.) That way, ads can more seamlessly fit in with your site’s format and purpose.
  3. Relevant. It’s never been easier to learn more about the people who are consuming your content, by tracking analytics or through simple research. Those are some of the things that comprise programmatic technology, Google says, and having that information can help content creators build ad experiences that are relevant to their users. And relevance, we’ve found, correlates with engagement — maybe that’s why 72% of marketers say creating relevant content was one of their most effective SEO strategies.

The 1 Thing You Should Do Right Now

Remember, Google says that these changes won’t fully take effect until early 2018. With that said, however, it’s never too early to start creating a better ad experience based on the criteria above, and using the tools provided by Google to determine if it meets the new standards.

And again — the official announcement may not have specifically stated any search ranking implications for those in violation of the new standards, but at risk of sounding like a broken record, Google’s algorithmic history has us suspecting that that could very well be the case.

When all else fails, put yourself in the shoes of a site visitor, and honestly determine if you have any of these responses to your own ad content:

  • I don’t care.
  • How do I make this go away?
  • No. Back to the search results.
  • GAH! That ad was LOUD!
  • I’m bored.

If any of those thoughts occur to you, then it’s probably time to revisit and re-strategize your ad experiences. We’ll be here to keep you posted on Google’s changes — and whatever implications come of them for marketers.

Will you change your ad experiences in response to the new standards? Let us know in the comments.

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