Don't Wait for Permission

Article originally posted on LinkedIn.

"Don't wait for permission."

That’s a piece of free career advice for today’s working woman from Arizona Board of Regents President, Eileen Klein. And when it comes to taking charge of your career goals, I couldn’t agree more.

Statistics show just 23 Fortune 500 companies are led by women. According to a CNNMoney analysis, women occupy only 14.2% of the top five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500. 

I had never met Eileen Klein before, and knew nothing about her. But when I sent her a thoughtful email inviting her to be the first guest at Insight's Women in Leadership speaker series, she almost instantaneously replied with a resounding “yes!” (Who says cold emails don’t work?)

As I arrived to attend, I immediately recognized her. Not because I had seen a photo of her, but because of her aura. She was confident, professional and poised; a woman walking with a mission. Her “brand” was evident from the moment I saw her.

Over 160 women across Insight joined us over WebEx and in person for this special event.

To start, Eileen praised Arizona as a place that has led the way with women leaders. She affirmed that you can absolutely make your mark if you have something positive to contribute — no matter your background or gender. And she’s certainly no stranger to making a contribution. 

Eileen currently oversees a $4B (yes, billion with a “b”) budget for the Arizona public university enterprise — Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona. Eileen said her career has more often than not been compelled by problems the government was trying to solve, and she knew she could make a difference. Much like Insight's teammates, who demonstrate Insight’s value of hunger in their everyday work, she’s a problem-solver, and it’s served her career well. So she encouraged the crowd to look for problems to solve as they look to grow and expand their careers, helping them learn to be an active part of the solution.

Eileen shared key insights into how women are more capable and educated than ever before, but the C-suite and boardroom numbers don’t reflect this trend. So what’s holding women back? She encouraged the women of Insight to think about how they manage their personal brand. It’s very important that women continue to articulate not only their brand, but also their worth. CEOs who know how to show shareholder value(and not just stock value) earn more than those who do not. Are you driving shareholder value? And not in the traditional sense. Who are your shareholders? Our clients? Other teammates? Are you adding value each and every day? She talked about personal development and the importance of always focusing on growing your skills … always a way to add shareholder value.

Eileen also encouraged the group to always make sure to choose the moment — don't let the moment choose you. Or, as the Rolling Stones so beautifully sang, “I'm gonna walk before they make me run.” Strategically think about your career path, be it upward or sideways, and when you reach the position you were seeking, be confident that you deserve that position. Make sure to remind yourself whenever you feel doubt that you do in fact deserve to be there. “They” put you in that position for a reason. So believe in yourself. 

Eileen, in a closing yet transparent moment, reminded us of the most important leadership concept: When you are in a position of authority, think about how we use it. Wield power wisely. Think about how you treat people. Always be engaged with people as people. When you are leaving a position or a company, you will be remembered most for how you treated people. 

Finally, I’ll close it out with one of my favorite quotes of her session: "You don't want to be the woman in the room because you're a woman. You want to be there because you're the best."

 

Get Your Grit on with SEO

Page 1 of Google: the holy grail of SEO success.

The process behind SEO success, while doable, is not easy. You need to have grit and patience to achieve—and to maintain—a Page 1 ranking for competitive keywords.

With 81% of shoppers conducting online research before they make a purchase, SEO rankings are more important than ever. If you’re willing to put in the work and go the extra mile though, the long, grueling road to SEO success is not crowded.

Here are three grit-filled steps to achieve SEO success:

Study and know your keywords, rankings, and the current Google Page 1 results.

Do your homework. Step one of the SEO improvement process is to know the ins and outs of how things stand right now. It's not glamorous, but this initial phased-research approach is critical to not only determine where your organization stands now, but also what would be feasible short and long-term goals.

First, find out what keywords are currently driving traffic to your website. Google Analytics can provide this information. Compare those results with the keywords you want to be driving traffic to your website. Do they align? If not, decide which keywords would be best to go after from a return on investment stand point. Start small. Select 3-5 important keywords to kick-off your SEO improvement process. Generally, the longer the keyword phrase, the easier it will be to improve your rankings. Two or three word phrases will always be harder to get and keep high search engine rankings. HitTail is an affordable option for keyword discovery and prioritization. Subscription services, like Moz.com and Serps.com, provide a more detailed option for the best SEO strategy.

With a small set of keywords in hand, take a look at where you currently rank for those keywords. Capture your present rankings so you can monitor any changes or improvements over the next six to nine months. Don’t expect overnight results. SEO success is a marathon not a sprint. It takes a few months of hard work and lots of new content before you will see your keywords start to improve.

Next, take a look at what (and who) is on Page 1 of Google for those 3-5 keywords. What types of content are ranking on Page 1? Blogs? White Papers? Who is on Page 1? Are your competitors there? Is it authority sites that will be much harder to pass? Take a realistic assessment of the keywords that are very competitive and try to save those for when your site has improved in page ranking and domain authority.

Finally, you’ll want to look at the word count of the top ranking posts. The length of Page 1 posts is important. In order to move past the top rankings, you’ll need to develop new content that is longer and more in-depth. This is commonly referred to as the “Skyscraper Method” in the SEO world. Build it bigger and better right next door.

Write researched, grammatically correct, thought-provoking, and engaging content.

Good writing never goes out of style. The same rings true for SEO success.

Now that you’ve identified 3-5 keywords you want to target for your business, it’s time to research and develop excellent, thought-provoking, and engaging content. Think of Google as the world’s best editor. It can tell the good from the bad writing—and will adjust rankings based on its assessment.

A simple first step in this process is to find great content that touches on the same topic you want to write on. Keep a log of these articles in a file (I use Excel). Use those key data points or interesting quotes where appropriate in your future content. Remember the 80-20 rule. Your new content will need to be 80% original content and 20% or less of existing content (statistics, quotes, etc.). Be sure to hyperlink any existing content that you leverage in your new piece. You generally want to find authority websites to reference. Government sites, scholarly articles, scientific studies, and other high-ranking news sites will let Google know that you are using authority sources to back up your arguments.

Once written, find team members to review the new content for grammatical errors, improvements, and feedback. It’s amazing how many times another set of eyes will find simple mistakes you read over multiple times. Keep a copy of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White handy at all times. You’ll need it. Now complete, put your new and exciting content on your website. Work closely with your website team to ensure the proper meta tags and URL formations are added. It is generally best to use a custom URL for each new article that includes the keyword you are targeting. 

You’re not done yet though. To gain more exposure for your new piece of content, you’ll need to develop a set of two to three new 500-700 word blogs to be placed on third-party websites. These “side blogs” should include a hyperlink back to the new piece of content you just wrote. Do not reuse any of part of the content you developed. All side blogs need to be original content. Yes, it’s time-consuming, but copy and pasted content will hurt your SEO results. Google absolutely marks you down for duplicate content.

Quality link building with original content, like the side blog strategy, can also be done by getting other high ranking sites to include quotes or links to your new articles. The basic idea is get as many inbound links from quality sites as possible. This can be done by reaching out to different sites for guest blogging opportunities or by simply purchasing quality links one by one. You want to avoid the temptation to outsource your link building to those companies that build spam links in bulk. Google has improved their ability to recognize links from spammy sites and will mark you down significantly for this practice. You can use services like Moz to track your inbound links and disavow those that come from spam or low-ranking sites.

Monitor results. Rinse and repeat.

Your new piece of writing is live now. Your side blogs are done and posted on third-party sites to build quality links into your new content. The work is all done, right?

Not at all! The fun is just beginning.

Rinse and repeat step two for all 3-5 keywords you selected. Depending on resource availability, determine the feasible number of keywords you can focus on every week. The ideal goal is at least one keyword per week. Build out an editorial roadmap for which keywords you are going to focus on for which weeks along with the specific types of content you want to develop.

Once you’ve completed the steps for all 3-5 keywords, build a new roadmap for another 3-5 keywords. The SEO process is ongoing and always evolving.

***

A Page 1 ranking on Google is a marketer’s dream. It can mean a lifetime of organic web traffic and customers without any acquisition cost. Perseverance and passion for long-term success is an indispensable part of getting to those lucrative top rankings. It won’t be easy. It won’t be painless. However, when you search for a keyword, your business pops up on Page 1, and new customers and clients start finding you every day, it will absolutely be worth it.

Rank This: 5 SEO Trends to Follow into 2017

Article originally posted on LinkedIn.

To say search engine optimization (SEO) is a hot topic right now would be an understatement. It's normally the first topic of conversation whenever I chat about marketing. SEO is the latest buzz for good reasons, though. This rigorous practice, if done successfully, lists your website in the top-ten listings on major search engines, namely Google, which increases traffic and drives more conversions. A lot of people wonder, though, how does SEO work? While it’s not some mythical, secret formula, it can be puzzling.

Many experienced SEO experts are hesitant to divulge their knowledge, and others consider it a refined art that takes years to master. Needless to say, this doesn’t mean there are not plenty of players in this game that are willing to share their secret sauce. 

In a nutshell, SEO mostly involves content, and lots of it. Not just any content, though. Quality long-form content is the best way to feed the Google beast, and as such has earned the first slot in the respective list of SEO trends to follow into 2017. 

The following are SEO trendsetters that won’t be going anywhere, anytime soon. 

Long-form content

Long-form content is content that spans great length. Typically, minimal content comprises 300 or so words in the body of the content. But long-form content usually expands to at least 750 words or longer. Generally speaking, you’ll want at least 1,000 words of great content to have any hopes of gaining traction in the cluttered Google universe. Here's one we did for Insight that's just over 1200 words.

As the experts at KissMetrics shared, long-form content can even surpass as much as 4,000 words. Yes, with three zeros. Baulking aside, this would more often be found in an e-book or a lengthy guide. And you can bet (everything you have) it would rank, easily, on most major search engines after being indexed. 

Of the most popular online marketing trends to follow into 2017, long-form content tops the cake. Since it has to be relevant and quality content, it helps preserve the candidness and efficacy of the top search engine results. It also empowers the search engine algorithms to find and list the relevant feeds and equals the mix of branded results (companies and marketing based pages) with newsfeeds, Wiki entries and scholarly articles. 

Trust-based link building

While linking is not the only aspect of SEO, it derives a great portion of it, as Mozexplains. But trends have shifted, in alignment with Google’s never-ending stream of algorithm updates that are intended to curb spam and black hat (banned) search engine marketing practices. 

For instance, SEO experts used to gain cheap back links from issuing press releases, something Google stamped out because they were being abused to create black hat back links; a process that’s further clarified by Search Engine Land

Similarly, guest blogging was another cheap and effective outlet for earning back links, a practice that Google banned when Google executive Matt Cutts oh-so-eloquently hissed, “Stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done.”

But, link building is still valuable. Trusted link building is the trend you will see cross over into 2017. Where sites and businesses, many times blogs, that trust each other send links to one another to earn more trust. This is a great trend, as it will serve to weed out spam-like practices and force SEOs to really think about who they link to and who they accept links from, lest they enjoy a good blacklisting from major search engine results. 

Video-enhanced landing pages

Visually enhanced content is another of the most popular SEO trends you will see continue into 2017. Aside from helping you gain social traction from shares, likes and comments, videos do a lot for your landing pages, too. Plus, who doesn’t love a good video (especially tearjerkers with heroic firefighters and a kitten)?

Video-enhanced landing pages give you a higher SEO score because the video adds more clout and meaningfulness to the landing page’s overall quality and trust score. But they also help increase your conversion rates, too. According to Tubular Insights, landing pages that have videos on them have been shown to increase conversion rates by as much as 80%. And to that, I say, “All day, every day!”

Social sharing and logins

Social sharing is an enormous part of SEO. The primary reason is that it increases the popularity of the page. The more popular a particular page is, the more Google deems it relevant. One trend that we will see continue is the social login trend. Not only do social logins increase your follower base, as Social Media Examiner advises, but they also do a lot of good for your SEO as well. 

This is because social logins also feed some of the best back links to your landing pages: social links. These links hold high credence in Google’s eyes, and they are easy and nearly free to build. What’s more, socially enhanced landing pages have been found to convert a significantly higher rate than pages that lack social sharing options. 

Mobile optimization

Last, but certainly not least, mobile optimization is a huge trend that will assuredly take center stage in 2017. Earlier this year, Google announced that sites that did not optimize for mobile and follow a stringent checklist would not be favored in search engine results (on mobile devices). With nearly half the internet using world accessing the web from mobile devices, this makes perfect sense. 

 

According to the Wall Street Journal, sites that did not optimize for mobile search saw traffic drops as high as 46%. Meanwhile, sites that did follow the rules enjoyed traffic gains that were as high as 30%. Needless to say, this one is a no-brainer. 

***

Over the months to come, consider these SEO trends the next time you land on a page that you clicked over to from an online search. You may be surprised at how many of them you consistently identify. No doubt, there are plenty of other trends to watch out for but remember: Whatever the Google beast wants, the Google beast gets. And these fab five comprise the most wanted of the bunch.

Why You Need a Little Elbow Grease When You Use Marketing Automation

Don't let the name fool you. Marketing automation is not completely automated.

With the rapid adoption of marketing automation technology, almost 11 times more B2B organizations used marketing automation in 2014 than in 2011, marketers often believe that marketing automation is the be-all, end-all to any marketing problem. Some think that marketing automation will effortlessly bring in a steady stream of leads and automatically move those leads to paying customer status.

Although this funneling process sounds wonderful, the real world doesn't work so effortlessly.

The Benefits of Marketing Automation

Marketing automation can empower marketers to better understand buyer behavior and to provide the experiences that today's customers demand... but the people behind the tool ultimately unleash that empowerment similarly to how a trampoline increases the apex of a jump. 

However, with the right people, marketing automation helps organizations reach many different channels with the right message at the right time.

Great marketers know to discard the "set it and forget it" mentality.

Here are key three reasons why marketing automation is not automated.

1. Informed buyers are drawn to informed marketers

Today's buyers are more informed than ever. Buyers are educated and have access to a vast amount of information. With this deep level of knowledge, buyers want, and deserve, value-based interactions throughout the buying journey. 

Marketers must not forget that they're dealing with human beings at the end of any marketing automation campaign. Yes, marketing automation enables you to better segment your markets and deliver targeted messages, but without personalized and appropriate interactions, many targeting efforts can prove worthless. 

Finally, if automated marketing efforts start to sound robotic and mass-produced, prospects will lose interest and move on.

Netflix does a great job of personalizing its emails. The company sends simple emails with recommended movies and TV shows. I know Netflix is paying attention to my viewing habits after every email. Netflix is an informed marketer. Additionally, I'm only one click away from adding these recommendations to "My List" on Netflix, which saves me time when I'm in the mood for a Netflix binge—a win-win situation!

2. Data without insights is…. well, just data

Marketing automation gives you plenty of data. What is done with that data, though, is what matters. 

Pure data is like an uncooked steak, pretty unappealing to anyone except a wild animal. Insights are the perfectly cooked steaks, finally in a functional form, and ready to be devoured (sorry, vegetarians!). Marketers must think strategically and analytically to provide their customers and potential customers with the right insights. A marketing automation platform is never going to slog through data to find insights.

My team recently ran a six-email drip campaign for one of our product lines. The campaign targeted a set of approximately 3,000 leads in the nurture stage (not ready to be sent to our lead qualification team). We worked hard crafting the subject lines, body copy, and hyperlinked content within the email. 

After setting up the campaign in our marketing automation tool, we closely monitored the performance. After every email, we went through a detailed and thorough step-by-step analysis to keep learning and changing the next email in the series for the better. It took a lot of work, but the results were worth it.

3. Experimentation matters

Today's top marketers think like scientists. They test, test again, and then test some more.

Experimentation is a prerequisite to delivering value-based interactions with prospects and customers. Something as simple as A/B testing can help you determine the most effective subject lines, content forms, messaging, channels, email templates, email images, etc. 

After every experiment, marketing automation tools provide marketers with performance metrics, but those are not enough. Great marketers take it one step further and turn those performance metrics into actionable improvements.

* * * 

Marketing automation is the current thing; however, like many other automated tools, it only takes you as far as the people behind it.

Today's effective and disciplined marketers realize a human being is at the end of every marketing campaign. Successful marketers understand that taking an insightful look at the data, from the customer's perspective, helps deliver value-based experiences that today's buyers want and deserve.