Sunday, February 11, 2024

Ten Obvious Tips for SaaS Marketing

Standing out among a rapidly swelling and roiling sea of SaaS offerings, fulfilling every software niche from AI podcast managers to ML behavioral baselining solutions (or whatever) is going to require an innovative strategy and (likely) a deeper understanding of your audience and the ongoing friendship of your resident Product Marketing Manager. 


However, there are similarities and basic principles we can explore as a foundation for some good working strategies. By way of bullet points (and rocket science, it ain't), the notes for this post were corralled together as part of my visiting lecturer series at Nottingham Trent University in 2013, basically the same but now fluffed a little for 2024. Software as a Service (SaaS) is a cloud-based service model that allows users to access and use software applications over the internet, typically on a subscription basis. In 2013, it was a moderately cutting-edge and a mildly revolutionary thing where I wanted to show that core marketing theories, with a twist, still apply. I’ll leave you to expand on these bullets yourself, but trust me, if it was difficult, I wouldn’t do it for a living.


1.  Audience Understanding

Success begins with knowing your audience inside out. Use analytics, surveys, and direct engagement to uncover their needs, preferences, and pain points. Create buyer personas. Tailoring your marketing efforts to address these specific prospects and their genuine needs and cares can seriously increase any product's appeal and customer satisfaction. What boxes does your SaaS product tick for prospects?


2.   Sell Solutions, Not Features

It’s a classic. No one wants to buy an electric drill; they probably just want a perfect hole. Customers are looking for solutions, not just software. Sell them the perfect hole. Highlight how your SaaS solves problems or improves their life or business. Transform features into benefits in your messaging, making it more relatable and compelling. 

 

3.   Content Rules

Create valuable content that prospects will give a damn about that educates, entertains, and engages your target audience. Blogs, eBooks, webinars, sales support with solution briefs, and videos that address cover the challenges or questions position a brand as a thought leader and build trust with potential patrons.

 

4.   SEO: Your Best Ally 

Visibility is gold, and organic SEO is still an important factor for any content marketing efforts. Bootstrap your site for mobile. Do some keyword research and lovingly roll content in relevant keywords. Use H tags, internal cross-linking, meta descriptions, and court high-quality inbound links with guest-posting and digital PR to increase rankings. For more in-depth advice on this, see my post on SEO in 2024.

 

5.   Harness Social Proof
Testimonials, reviews, and case studies are gold in establishing credibility. The SaaS audience also traditionally loves things like the Garner Magic Quadrant and (sponsored) brand placement in Forrester Reports etc. If you can afford to take part, it’s also good for decent inbound links from reputable and decent PageRank sites.

We can showcase customer success stories and ratings on our website and across social media to build trust and encourage conversions. If you’re one of those industries, like microsegmentation tools, where getting clients to take part in case studies is as rare as rocking horse do-do, get creative with something like this (which I made last year).

 

6.   Prioritize Customer Success 

Beyond acquisition, focus on retaining customers through exceptional support and success programs. Happy customers are more likely to become brand advocates and contribute to organic growth through word-of-mouth. The importance of keeping punters happy and keeping them renewing can’t be overstated for SaaS products.

 

7.   Free Trials and Demos

Offering free trials or product demos lowers the barrier to entry, allowing potential customers to experience the value of your SaaS firsthand. Show ‘em it’s good and get ‘em hooked—if it works from drug dealers in 80s cop shows, it can work for us. Make sure the trial/demo process is straightforward and supported by sales engineers to make the most of conversion opportunities.

 

8.   Pricing Strategy

How is this the job of marketing? A pricing strategy can make or break a SaaS product, trust me. It needs to reflect the value you provide while remaining competitive. It's too expensive; there are plenty of alternatives. If it is too cheap, our skeptical online audience won’t see the value. How about flexible pricing tiers to cater to different customer segments or needs? Be transparent with the cost, and clearly show the ROI. Marketing absolutely should have a say here. Do some competitor research and come to the pricing meeting armed with the facts and a solid solution. 

 

9.   Build a Community
Fostering a community around a product encourages engagement, feedback, and loyalty. Make the most of your own technical/community forums, social media groups, or user events/webinars to create a space for patrons to connect, share experiences, and provide valuable insights for product improvement. Do not underestimate content and community marketing for renewals, as well as new business; this is where we give away our swag and make our evangelists.

 

10. Be Data-Driven
Make the most of analytics to track the performance of marketing efforts—continuously. If you’re not data-driven, even casually, you were dead in 2013, and you’ll be doubly so today. Know what you want to achieve; qualified leads, demo requests, installation documentation downloads, whatever, and measure it religiously. Understanding what works and what doesn't lets us iterate and adapt strategies quickly, meaning our marketing remains effective, agile, and ROI-positive. 

 

By way of inspiration, dive into these tips, and you can not only attract but also retain customers, which is absolutely death-row serious for safeguarding any long-term success for any SaaS business. Who’s demoing the new features and getting the existing customers talking? Who’s answering the FAQs? How are you teasing the next release? How’s the community using the software already?

 

Now, SaaS marketing is an admittedly evolving field that requires a blend of creativity, analytics, and customer-centric strategies—and far more in-depth than the bullets above. This, however, is a starting point and will hopefully get the creative neurons firing. Stay agile, keep learning, and always put your customers at the heart of your marketing labors. 


If anyone wants to buy me a coffee, I’ll be in the refectory.

Saturday, January 06, 2024

Has Using AI Made Me a Better Writer?

Unexpectedly, yes. I think it has.

As I’ve said, many a time and oft, I’m not a trained writer nor hold any formal degree in copy creation beyond a module in scriptwriting when completing my MA. And, for the record, I don’t use AI to write things for my blog. I have been doing this for over 30 years, however, and do use Artificial Intelligence (AI) regularly for work (check out my interview w/ Skedler) and in creating imagery and copy for RP games and personal projects—daily.


AI has been a massive disruptor over the past year, revolutionizing fields including (but not limited to) brand journalism, marketing, and copy/design creation. As a writer, though I hate to leverage the title, integrating AI into my workflow has undoubtedly enhanced my efficiency and, surprisingly, sharpened my skills, making me a better wordsmith in directions I’d have never anticipated when I penned my initial feelings less than 12 months ago.


Here are a bunch of ways I’ve found that using AI has made me a better scribe, specifically within the arena of daily copy creation, as a hobbyist RPG writer, and as a head content marketer for the world’s leading zero-day protection solution.


Research


At advantage one, AI tools have drastically improved my research capabilities. I mean, DRASTICALLY.

AI has access to vast databases of content and can process information rapidly, meaning I can gather and sort relevant information quickly, providing a solid foundation and helpful reassurance for my daily output. I don’t have to constantly be hassling people for general facts, explanations, and figures, asking, “Is this right,” and cruising the Interwebz for assorted fluff to inspire and pad out my copy. It’s all a (curious) prompt away, all backed by accurate and comprehensive data, seriously elevating the quality and the speed of publication for the bulk of the content I produce. I mean, sure, I still double-check anything I’m not 100% sure about, especially in relation to our specific product or in reference to the AIs knowledge cut-off date, but (certainly for mostly top-of-funnel things like blog posts) it’s a game changer.

It's worth browsing around and adding a few bolt-ons and specialist plugins. I use Chat GPT with Wolfram Alpha, AskYourPDF, Advanced Data Analytics (to give me insights into CSV files, etc), Show Me plugin, WebPilot (super handy for rewriting and translating), and others.

Google Scholar, boosted with AI capabilities, is a great one for casual researchers and scholars needing up-to-date academic research, including scholarly literature, articles, conference papers, and theses. With the traditional Google interface (so we don’t cut ourselves) and the painless ability to find elusive publications and citations, I’ve found it indispensable for more academic learning.

Scite, another academic research tool, uses natural language processing to analyze articles and find definitive references and sources, assessing the dependability and “impact” of references, and offering visualizations and metrics for those of us with a more visual appreciation of things—which is often inspiring.


Grammar and Style


AI writing tools are excellent for refining style and morphology, and I’m a big Grammerly fan-boy. They provide suggestions for syntax, word choice, and sentence structure, letting me polish my work to a more professional level, or not if that’s the voice I’m using, inline and as part of the process. This constant feedback loop has honed my understanding of grammar and style, undoubtedly making me a more proficient writer, with and without AI tools.


Learning and Improvement

Having used copy assistants like this for a while, it’s had a direct impact on my initial output, meaning I now rely on them a lot less, but having a copy editor in my pocket is a serious boon. Being able to specify brand traits for voice, as well as general assistance with clarity and form, is a constant teacher of the best form and a reminder of best practices. I don’t need to know all the in-depth punctuation and grammar rules when Grammarly has my back, but having a constant tutor has significantly upped my personal and professional growth as a writer and content creator, and this kind of feedback is far harder to get outside of an agency environment.


Writing for the Audience


AI's can review large sets of data and have empowered me to tailor my content to the preferences of my target audience more effectively. By understanding trends, industry terminology, reading patterns, and engagement metrics, I can subtly adapt my writing style, tone, and content to better resonate with my readers, a notoriously skeptical and specialist audience of CISO, network engineers, and the c-Suite, undoubtedly making my writing more impactful and relevant.


So, in case you didn’t realize, on this blog, I write like I speak. I’m happy with that here, and it's purposeful. It’s very useful for scripting explainers and VO, but it doesn’t translate well to the likes of technical documentation, and I have to cater my wording accordingly. I also write in other voices, as appropriate for the forum in which I'm writing or the brand style for whom I'm writing. It's like being a creative sociopath. Chat GPT, bless its little digital heart, gives me (with a consistent and well-tweaked prompt) a consistency and readability that has shown me how to better present data for maximum readability and understandability, tailored to a technical and professional audience into which, very often initially, I only have casual insight. As a content creator who’s worked on subjects as random as sustainable fisheries and kids' history education, this is pure fried gold.


Productivity 


The automation of repetitive tasks, such as formatting and even initial drafting, has freed up more time for the creative aspects of my writing and for further content creation. AI's efficiency has not only sped up the writing process but also allowed me to focus on brainstorming, structuring narratives, research, and refining arguments—leading to richer and more thought-out pieces, leading to better traction and distribution.


I’m not joking when I say that AI has given me around two extra hours a day to produce two extra hours of output. This, alone, makes AI a must-have for any marketing team and sets those of us who’ve adopted AI working practices as stand out assets to recruiters and CMOs.


Inspiration


Finding creative and relevant inspiration is a common challenge, and I wrote more about this last year in my post on Staying Creative as a Content Marketer, but AI has been a help f’sure. 


AI-powered writing assistants can suggest ideas and prompts and even draft small sections of more ‘explainer’ content, kickstarting the creative process. This not only saves me time but also keeps the creative juices flowing, promoting a steady stream of potential posts and topic ideas for a given target audience. Admittedly, it’s not where most of my inspiration comes from, but it can help.


AI has also pushed me to explore new genres and styles of writing. With AI-generated suggestions and examples, I've been able to venture out of my comfort zone a little more, experimenting with different formats, narratives, and themes, thereby expanding my creative horizons. This has been especially true in my personal work when penning scripts for my fan podcast or intros for RPG sessions.


Supporting SEO


For digital content, SEO is key. Check out my post on Why SEO is Still Important for Content Marketing in 2024.


AI tools have equipped me with the ability to optimize my content for search engines more effectively. While I don’t use AI for integrating the right keywords, creating H2/H3 titles, or for structure to improve online visibility, I believe you can. Using AI to write SEO copy, for me, is a bit like putting parking sensors on a Smart car, and if you need parking sensors to park a Smart car, you probably shouldn’t be driving in the first place. After decades of writing SEO, I don’t need it and actually find its input frustrating. However, it’s fantastic for shortening copy and writing to word (not character) length.

I do use ChatGPT to some degree when streamlining keyword research, putting target keywords into the chatbot, and requesting related suggestions before heading to Moz for confirmation and further insights.


Plagiarism


Ensuring originality in writing is crucial, and the AI plagiarism checker in Grammarly has been indispensable. It provides peace of mind by ensuring that my content is unique and free from unintentional penalties while maintaining the integrity and originality of my work.


In truth, I’ve never seen a notification from Google Search Console that I’ve been penalized for duplicate content; however, an absence of alerts doesn't necessarily imply that a website is free from penalties for hosting identical or similar content across various pages or multiple sites. Better safe than sorry, and it’s a piece of black forest gatteux with AI.


Always on 


Unlike human editors and collaborators, AI tools are available 24/7, always on, in my pocket, providing that assistance whenever inspiration strikes. Invaluable, when one works in a different time zone from 80% of one’s colleagues, and this round-the-clock sounding tool has undoubtedly made my writing process more flexible and less interrupted. 


So am I a better writer?


Yes.


AI has not just been a tool; it has been a genuinely transformative force in my career and content output. It has made me more efficient, creative, and adaptable, allowing me to consistently produce higher-quality work. I spell, punctuate, and structure content better—having been led by my learning from the copy I’ve created with AI collaboration.


As AI continues to evolve, I’m genuinely excited to see how it’ll further shape the future of content marketing and continue to improve my abilities as a writer. It's only been a year, and I look forward to the year to come.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Influencer Marketing in 2024

In the fine tradition of a yearly post on the future of our industry, here are a few thoughts about influencer marketing and the road ahead.

2023 was a disruptor for our industry, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) being at the forefront and influencer marketing still a pivotal force in teasing consumer behavior and brand perception. 

 

As we near 2024, digital marketing is set for yet another overhaul, fueled by technological advances, changing consumer preferences, and a drive for authenticity and the personal touch. Brands want to show they’re connected to an ever-increasingly skeptical customer base in an honest and approachable way. 



Only last week, I was propositioned by a company proposing advertising on my (sweary and somewhat profane) personal fan podcast, Dirty WHoers. “We’d love to send you samples and for you to create your own advert for us, in your style,” seriously? And they are offering serious money. Admittedly, we do get plenty of downloads by a very targeted and passionate audience, but if brands are considering promoting themselves through a medium like that and think an 18-rated Doctor Who podcast is the place to do it, the floodgates are wide open. 

 

Influencers are becoming central to brand strategies, moving way beyond the after-thought add-ons to other campaigns. I believe brands, especially B2C brands, are going to have to think more innovatively, promoting ‘a creator economy’ that needs to go beyond conventional collaboration models if they want to foster trust and get in front of their prospects.

 

The Rise of Micro and Nano Influencers 

 

The influencer marketing scene, traditionally dominated by macro-influencers with hefty follower numbers, is gradually recognizing the value of micro and nano influencers. 


These smaller-scale and specialist content creators, known for their highly engaged and loyal (nah, obsessive) followers, offer brands a more genuine connection and trust, which can be elusive with the larger influencers. They're also a lot cheaper than going for the traditional big fish. Going niche means solid targeting, and while it may be long-tail, that’s a good use of marketing spend.

 

AI-Powered Influencer Discovery and Matching 

 

AI is revolutionizing influencer marketing strategies. In the coming year, advanced AI tools for influencer discovery and matching will undoubtedly become more commonplace—trawling a wealth of data to match brands with influencers who share their values and ethos, with the aim of finding 'more meaningful' partnerships. I’ve not played with AI influencer analysis tools much, but there are a few good examples here, and the likes of podcasting platforms are already promoting them as a possible source of revenue.

 

New and Developing Mediums

 

The trend is shifting from static content to interactive and immersive experiences. Live streams through Twitch, interactive polls, and augmented reality (AR) content are becoming more popular, meaning influencers can create more engaging and dynamic content in a whole new space. Brands that embrace these formats can forge deeper consumer connections and stand out from the crowd at the same time without necessarily having to become experts on these new mediums themselves. Why would Karcher, for example, develop their own VR game about pressure-washing fire engines when there are streamers who already have a dedicated audience—yeah, that’s a thing.

Back in my days working in virtual worlds (notably Second Life), we created a campaign to carbon offset an avatar's virtual life and the spaces they owned by planting real word trees for the green news aggregation site (alas now defunct) Big Green Switch. We sponsored well-known SL creators to create virtual trees, environmentally aware household objects, and assorted giveaways. This led to the brand winning The New Statesman Campaign for Change Awards and a plethora of positive PR, and the assets from which continue to be shared in-world to this day.


The Rise of Virtual Influencers 

 

While somewhat alien to a lot of marketers, virtual influencers and computer-generated entities are carving an interesting place for themselves in influencer marketing. Names like Lu do MagaluLil Miquela, and Imma may be unknown to us Gen Xers, but for the right audience, they are household names. Admittedly used by the single brand Mattel and riding the coattails of her recent movie success, Barbie, however, should be no stranger to any of us.

 

Yes, it’s admittedly a wee bit bizarre, but they offer a unique and fresh approach to brand promotions, and as technology evolves, they will become more integrated into marketing strategies and shouldn’t be ignored. Aligning with a virtual influencer is, after all, still an indirect PR stunt in itself and well worthy of consideration, and one the marketing team has a degree of creative control over. 

 

Long-Term Partnerships for One-Time Campaigns 

 

The trend is noticeably moving from one-off campaigns to long-term influencer relationships. Sustained partnerships allow for non-intrusive and authentic storytelling and better brand integration, making for a consistent brand narrative over time, plus longevity of spend. 

Remember the YouTuber ‘Where the Hell is Matt?’? He was sponsored over a decade ago (long-term and subtly) by Stride Gum (Cadbury Adams USA), which still features to this day, proudly on his videos, now with 100s of millions of views.


Sustainable and Socially Conscious

 

Most businesses will create a Sustainability Report, something I particularly enjoy doing, but you can leverage a whole different audience with the right collaborations. 

 

More generally, as consumers grow more aware of their environmental and social impact, brands aligned with influencers who share the same concerns and ethics can boost their brand image and appeal to socially conscious consumers by tagging along with the right content producers. 

 

Adidas is doing good work in this area by stepping up as a surprising sustainability leader in fashion. They're visibly shifting their focus to create cool, eco-friendly stuff, like shoes made from ocean plastic. Teaming up with Parley for the Oceans, they've come up with sneakers made completely from recycled materials. They're also using their online clout with influencer campaigns to get the word out, which isn’t just great for their image; it's moving the goalposts by showing everyone how fashion doesn't have to be 'fast fashion' has the potential to be both trendy and good for the planet.

 

Ephemeral and Short-Form Content Dominance 

 

Ephemeral content, care of platforms like Snapchat and Instagram Stories, is still a growing trend. In 2024, influencers are expected to continue leveraging these fleeting formats to further instill a sense of urgency and exclusivity in their content, and effectively capturing their audience's attention. This content strategy, which emphasizes momentary engagement, appeals to the audience's fear of missing out (FOMO) and can drive more immediate responses. “Buy this awesome thing now, or lose out.”

 

General video content continues to evolve, with platforms like TikTok obviously leading the way and cross-posting being the norm. The rapid growth of TikTok highlights our audience's leaning towards short, engaging, easy-to-consume storytelling. Influencers are harnessing this trend, creating content that is not only visually appealing but also capable of conveying messages quickly and effectively—all be it with a lot of dancing. This ongoing shift is a reflection of changing consumer behaviors and offers an undeniable opportunity for the way the right brands and influencers can connect with our audiences.


It may not be for everyone, but even my work in cybersecurity is offering opportunities, with influencer opportunities growing in every field.

 

More of the Same

 

The 'creator economy' of 2024 is set to be marked by technology, authenticity, and social consciousness. If nothing else, it’s going to pay my podcast hosting fees and give me some pocket money—with very little effort on my behalf. Only a decade ago, I had to resort to spammy banner advertising to do this.

As marketers, we need to stay agile and innovative, open to new ideas, and understand the dynamic influencer-follower relationship to be an effective part of the ever-changing influencer marketing opportunities.

 

For brands, diving into this space opens up a world of possibilities, from reaching wider audiences to adding a personal touch to our marketing. Partnering with influencers can bring our brand story to life in the most relatable way. So, here's to making those connections.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Why SEO is Still Important for Content Marketing in 2024

Creating content without an eye for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is like having a brochure printed and leaving it in the stationary cupboard. Customers don’t read cold marketing emails, they go to a search engine when they have a genuine need. As we careen towards 2024, the relevance of SEO continues to be a vital part of the content marketing stack.

Apologies in advance, this is probably going to be a long one. Google will hate it. It hates my unoptimized Blogger blog anyway, which is ironic as Blogger is a Google service.

I started my digital career in SEO, back at the turn of the millennium. However, the modern digital world is in a state of perpetual disruption, and SEO practices are no exception. The algorithms that determine search engine rankings are becoming mind-bogglingly sophisticated, embracing the latest in artificial intelligence and machine learning, and this evolution calls for a more dynamic approach. Sympathetic table layout and getting a client on DMOZ just won’t cut it anymore. 

 

As a content marketer, it’s common sense for me to stay abreast of the latest trends and updates in search engine algorithms to maintain and improve online visibility for the sites I manage. While I work with a splendid agency (Bay Leaf Digital) specifically for SEO optimization and the bulk of link-building, it’s still a big part of my remit to get us seen and incorporate their research and on-page recommendations into my work. However, The focus has shifted from traditional keyword-centric strategies to a more holistic approach that prioritizes a solid user experience, mobile optimization, and (thankfully for my bank balance and mental health) high-quality content that addresses user intent. 

 

We need up-to-date strategies. Adapting to these changes is fundamental for organizations to be sure their online presence remains strong and that they continue to reach their target audience. In 2024, staying informed and agile in SEO strategy isn’t just beneficial; it's going to be essential for the win.

 

I’d grab a coffee if I were you. Here we go.

 

Understanding User Intent 

 

Stuff keyword stuffing. We need a much more nuanced understanding of what people actually want. 

Loading webpages with a bunch of relevant keywords was a common tactic to boost search rankings – and, shamefully, one I’ve used myself. Sure, we still need our keywords, but search engines have become more sophisticated, now “prioritizing the ‘relevance’ and ‘value’ of content to the user's search intent.” 



This means that effective SEO needs an understanding of what users (our customer personas) are searching for – their needs, questions, and the type of content they’ll find of actual value. This creates more engaging, useful, and informative content (Hurrah!) that resonates with an audience. It improves search engine rankings, sure, but it also enriches the overall user experience - hopefully leading to higher engagement, trust, and loyalty. This is a good thing. Understanding and catering to user intent is a clear commitment to providing value and relevance to an audience – of which I’ve always been an advocate.

 

Quality Content is Thankfully Still King 

 

The old adage 'content is king' holds more truth than ever, especially for SEO. Engaging, valuable content is totally essential for achieving and maintaining decent rankings. 


E-E-A-T: Google's ranking system leverages a ton of factors to rank high-quality content, loving content that's the most useful, as indicated by experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T). Trust is the cornerstone, with the other elements enhancing it, though not all are required for content to be considered valuable. For instance, content may be deemed helpful due to the author's experience or the expertise presented. 

 

While E-E-A-T is one of those annoyingly nebulous ’indirect’ ranking factors, it does “guide the system,” especially for the critical "Your Money or Your Life" (YMYL) topics affecting health, finances, (online) safety, or societal welfare.

 

I’m a big fan of creating assets that thoroughly answer user queries. This involves delving deep into topics, providing detailed explanations, and covering all the aspects and nuances that users might be interested in. I utilize keyword research to understand what our target audience is searching for and attempt to address those topics with depth and clarity. I also do my research and dive into the forums and specialist sites where our target audience is talking. You can also use the likes of ChatGPT to get some inspiration about your audience's biggest concerns. Knowledge is power.



I run the whole gamut of content formats, like blog copy, explainer videos, infographics, solution brief resources, and even podcasts, in an ongoing (but strategic) attempt to enhance engagement and cater to user preferences. Try our resources page for some examples. Content marketing is only dull if you’re doing it wrong.

I also update and tweak existing content fairly regularly to keep it current and relevant. Going back and cross-linking to newer posts to promote trawling, etc. Producing rich, informative assets that genuinely satisfy user queries and updating them with new info., adds to thought leadership creds and goes a long way to establishing any website as a trusted resource.

 

Video Content for Enhanced Engagement 

 

The growing power of video in SEO is a testament to changing user preferences and the engaging nature of visual content. 

 

Videos increase the time visitors spend on our website, known as ‘Page Dwell Time,’ but they also provide a dynamic way to present information and tell stories, which can be another boost to search engine rankings. To increase dwell time from a content perspective, in the past I’ve used audio recordings of the copy so visitors could play them without having to wade through posts that went beyond the fold. Page dwell time is accompanied by a new metric in GA4 called ‘engagement rate,’ which is essentially a bounce rate flipped on its head. It also factors in other shenanigans like the percentage of the page scrolled. This is all achievable with content, but a proper run-down would need to be a whole other blog post.

 

To optimize video content for search engines, I focus on metadata, including relevant keywords in the video title, description, and tags to improve its ‘discoverability.’ I usually repurpose any script to provide a transcript, as it generally makes the content more accessible to search engine crawlers, thereby improving the chances of ranking for those relevant keywords. 

 

By hosting videos on platforms like Vimeo and YouTube, and then embedding them on our site, we leverage YouTube or Vimeo’s high domain authority to boost visibility. They also appear on their own in Google search results.


Mobile-First Indexing 

 

With the majority of internet users accessing the web via mobile devices, some 60.73% in July 2022, it's now standard practice for websites to be optimized for mobile browsing to maintain and improve their search engine rankings. 

 

The big key to this optimization is responsive web design (RWD), which makes sure that any site is “visually and functionally compatible” across devices, giving a more seamless user experience whether on a smartphone, via tablet, or on our desktop. 

 

Page speed is a big one; mobile users invariably have less patience for slow-loading pages, I know I don’t, and search engines (like Google) factor load times into their rankings. It’s good practice to focus on optimizing images, leveraging browser caching, and minimizing code. Implementing Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) can also be a boon to load times, directly impacting a site's visibility and user engagement, which Google loves more than chocolate.

 

AI and Machine Learning 

 

The impact of AI and machine learning on SEO, particularly regarding Google's algorithms, has been somewhat transformative to say the least. It’s created a new playing field for search engine optimization and will be one to watch in 2024. 



Google's AI-driven algorithm, such as BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), focuses on understanding the context and nuances of user queries, moving way beyond just keyword matching. This disruptive change means that SEO strategies have to adapt to prioritize content quality and relevance. 

 

In an active attempt to align with advanced algorithms, once again I focus on writing for users first, keeping content natural and informative, and answering key questions. Embracing semantic search principles by including related keywords and topics that provide a comprehensive view of the subject matter is now part of the process. This takes into account factors like the searcher's location, search history, word variations, synonyms, and the relationships between words to provide more accurate and relevant search results. Basically, “semantic search aims to understand the searcher's intent and the contextual meaning of terms as they appear in the searchable dataspace, whether on a webpage or part of a user query,” to improve the accuracy of search results. This means a portion of my output must focus on creating content that answers questions and provides valuable information related to the topic rather than just the old-school targeting of specific keywords.

 

Try SEMrushAhrefsMoz ProMarketMuse, or Ubersuggest. I’m a big exponent of AI, and I believe that staying updated with the SEO tools that incorporate AI for keyword research and SEO analysis gives us something of a competitive edge. I’m also a fan of Yoast Pro, in Wordpress.

 

Local Search for Local People

 

Local SEO is fried-gold for businesses serving specific areas, meaning they can target their local audience. A big portion of searches have local intent, so having a presence in local search results is important. 



Businesses can make a start by optimizing their website for local keywords, and adding location-specific phrases that potential customers in the area are more likely to use. Claiming and optimizing a Google My Business (GMB) listing is standard. This involves providing accurate and updated business information, like the address, phone number, and hours of operation, as well as adding photos and responding to customer reviews. 

Encouraging customers to leave reviews, and then engaging with them afterward, can also be a plus. Finding local online directories and checking consistent NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) information across all listings will support any local visibility.

 

For more ideas, check out my post on How to use Google Shopping to get Local Sales.

 

Secure Websites Are a Must (HTTPS) 

 

A secure website is the new normal, serving as a foundation of trust between a user and any online presence. For visitors, a secure website - signified by HTTPS and a padlock icon in our address bar - signals a safe space where our data is encrypted and protected from interception or misuse. This level of security, usually provided by SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates, safeguards sensitive information and builds consumer confidence. 

 

Most search engines prioritize secure websites in their rankings, considering HTTPS as an important ranking signal. Implementing an SSL certificate, therefore, is a dual-faceted tool: it acts as “a guardian of data integrity and privacy” plus boosts search engine visibility. Website security is a necessity - trust me on this, I work in cybersecurity – to influence credibility, user experience, and search ranking. Go HTTPS or go home.

 

The Rise of Featured Snippets

 

Featured snippets have become a coveted feature in search result real estate, usually appearing at the very top of the page in the much sought-after "Position 0." These snippets give quick, direct answers to user queries and increase visibility and click-through rates. Happy days. Well, happy days if your customers are using desktop machines. This year, Google moved the goalpost once again and removed the ability to influence snippets on mobile using FAQ schema, so who knows where this is going in the future.

 

I don’t make every post optimized for snippets. When I do, in an attempt to increase the chances of our content being featured like this, I do so strategically. This includes directly answering questions in a clear, concise manner, ideally in the form of short paragraphs, bullet points, or numbered lists. 

Content that addresses common questions in a "how-to," "what is," or "why do" format seems particularly effective. I try to include a relevant question as a subheading, immediately following it up with a straightforward answer or definition. I also try to keep well-organized, using header tags (H1, H2, etc., still with relevant keywords) and adding custom-made (thank you MidJorney), 
consistently high-quality, and relevant images. I use clarity, brevity, and directness in my snippet copy, which so far appears to be working, but I do so sympathetically to the site and the content itself, and always consider where on the site that content is going to sit so it's still natural and doesn't come off like content spam. In my opinion, be it unofficial, overusing this tactic is a further kiss of SEO death.

 

Core Web Vitals and UX 

 

As a user, Google's introduction of Core Web Vitals as an SEO factor is a welcome shift towards prioritizing user experience as a part of the ranking process. Professionally, a bad UX makes my teeth itch. Core Web Vitals are a bunch of factors that Google considers important in a webpage's overall user experience, including loading performance, interactivity, and "visual stability." It’s basically good for everyone, especially the customer.

 

Step one, have a chat with your web developers to reduce load times - optimizing images, leveraging browser caching, minimizing JavaScript, etc. - improving server response times and reducing the impact of third-party scripts. 

 

Enhancing "visual stability" means making sure that elements on the page don’t shift around unexpectedly as the page loads – and honestly, that’s well above my pay grade. 

 

Regularly checking a website's performance with tools like Google's PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse can give me some idea of how well our site is performing and insights to drop into Jira for those who know more than I do.

 

Building Quality Backlinks 

  

Backlinks are links from one website to another and are of best value if they're one-way and not reciprocal. They can be a time vampire, but they’re still a cornerstone of SEO, acting as a key indicator of a website's authority and relevance to search engines. A solid backlink profile from reputable, high-authority websites is a thing of beauty. 


 

I can’t stress how important it is to avoid black-hat SEO tactics - like buying random low-quality links or taking part in dodgy link farms - as these will lead to ranking penalties. Just don't. The process of disavowing backlinks is another logistical headache that nobody needs.


To build backlinks ethically, I focus on creating valuable and polished content that naturally encourages other sites to link to it – check out the likes of ‘30 Sobering Cybersecurity Statistics for 2023,’ with over 200 social shares and a ton of blogs linking to it in just week one. I also offer my services on (reputable) sites for guest posting in exchange for inbound links. I started with industry partners and resellers, reaching out and suggesting I share any posts I write for them on our own social channels to grease the wheels and give them something in return. Adding RSS feeds to syndication sites is a simple win, see my copy on Security Boulevard as an example. Hitting up industry influencers and bloggers for collaborations, or to share our content, is time-consuming but has resulted in a few nice inbound opportunities.

 

Building relationships within your industry and actively participating in community discussions, forums, and social media can give organic linking opportunities, but again, there are only so many hours in the day, and we're usually not the experts. Most in-house or agency content creators aren't knowledgeable enough on a specific topic to have the critical and supportive conversations needed. I try to focus my efforts on quality over quantity, making sure backlinks are relevant and adding value to our audience by encouraging relationships with sites that discuss our industry issues - giving credence through context - which has the added bonus or reinforcing my own writing creds on any given subject.

 

The Role of Social Signals? 

 

The role of social signals in SEO is a heated topic of much debate among digital marketers, but when I see my own LinkedIn posts in search results, I’ve got to give the idea some props. 

 

‘Allegedly,’ social signals - likes, shares, comments on social media platforms, etc. - influence a website's search rankings. While Google has repeatedly said that “social signals are not a direct ranking factor,” the benefits to me appear to be very real. Social media can also boost brand visibility and drive traffic to a website, which are further components of SEO success. 

 

If nothing else, content that gets decent traction on social media can boost backlinks, as it gets noticed and shared by a wider audience, including bloggers and journalists who might link to it from their own websites, plus opens the doors to syndication.

 

Again, I focus on creating shareable, engaging content that resonates with our audience with good, custom-written social posts written for each asset. I encourage social sharing through the integration of social media buttons on our website, as standard, and actively engage with our followers and evangelists on platforms. By building a strong social media presence, you can enhance brand recognition, drive traffic, and (potentially) positively impact your site's SEO (all be it indirectly). 


While the ever-changing value of individual social channels is a whole other conversation - gee, thanks, Mr. Musk, for taking the Twitter [X] pipe away from Google - social still appears to be a part of the process.


Voice Search Optimization?

 

I have to mention voice search, or someone's bound to say, "What about voice search?" 



Voice searches have been ‘the big thing for next year’ for over half a decade, but honestly, all it really does is read snippets. Nobody is regularly optimizing for voice. So far, it seems to be "a goalless win." With any result, where's the click-through? Where's the transaction? Who's booking a demo through voice results? Where's the memorable experience? Where's the branding? Where's the awareness element? Yeah, it's happening, but it's not making sales - so far.


Voice search queries tend to be more conversational and longer than typical text-based searches. This means that if I am catering to them, I focus on optimizing for natural language and long-tail keywords that mirror how people speak in everyday life. I occasionally craft posts that incorporate question-based phrases and complete sentences into my copy, at least into my H2 copy, as these are seemingly more likely to align with voice queries. For instance, targeting phrases like "What are the best Chinese restaurants in the center of Liverpool?" would be better than just "Chinese restaurants Liverpool."


Even if it’s not a sales goal, I still try to make sure that my content gives clear, concise answers to potential questions, which can supposedly increase our chances of appearing in voice search results. However, that's just something I do for clarity rather than a conscious effort to court the likes of Alexa. At the start of 2023, structuring content in a Q&A format or including an FAQ section on a website page (like this one I wrote on mitigating zero-day attacks) was beneficial - and actually not as ‘grey hat’ as I initially thought - but now this doesn't show in mobile results. As a result, that's two days of writing fluff for FAQs I'll never get back.


Voice search optimization is still one to keep a casual (and critical) eye on, but I won't be making it a big priority until the algorithm and the outcome tell me otherwise.

 

SEO Analytics and Tools 

 

Analytics provide insights that are a goldmine for understanding the effectiveness of my efforts and for making informed decisions. It’s a dopamine fix when I’m proven right and helpful when I'm proven wrong.

Analytics tools let me monitor key metrics like conversion rate, organic traffic, bounce rate and 404s, keyword rankings, and page load times, and give me a clearer picture of overall performance. Google Analytics is the de facto tool, giving me data on website traffic and user behavior. Google Search Console gives me insights into search query data, website impressions, click-through rates, and the health of our website in terms of indexing and pesky crawl errors. Other tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Moz offer advanced features for keyword tracking, analyzing backlinks, and thought-provoking/content-inspiring competitor insights. 

 

Regularly reviewing the numbers helps me see the areas of success and highlights those much-needed improvements, allowing us to smooth overall SEO/content effectiveness and work better towards our business goals. I also like services like Tableau and Skedler for visualizing SEO report data, which gives my non-statistical brain that wee bit more clarity.

Getting SEO Ready for 2024

 

Sorry, I did say this was going to be a long one, but SEO is as crucial as ever heading into 2024.

 

As search algorithms evolve, with artificial intelligence and machine learning, an informed approach to SEO and content marketing is going to be a must. The narrative has shifted from the keyword-centric tactics of yesteryear to a holistic strategy that embraces user intent, new tools, visual storytelling using video and quality imagery, and mobile-first indexing, all underpinned by the timeless value of quality content. 

 

For success in the coming year, we content marketers need to stay as informed and agile as our specialist SEO comrades, adapting our content strategies to sophisticated, context-aware algorithms without resorting to content spam for the sake of it. A multifaceted content repertoire optimized for semantic search, mobile responsiveness, and AI tools, alongside ethical backlink practices and leveraging social media's indirect benefits, are going to be the backbone of growing (and keeping) a decent online presence. 

 

With Google's focus on Core Web Vitals enhancing user experience, and the potential of featured snippets to boost visibility, there’s an obvious call for continuous learning and adapting content marketing accordingly. It needs to be as much a part of the job as creating graphics and copy. Monitoring these efforts through accurate analytics means strategies can be data-driven and finely tuned to the whims of search engines. There are interesting times ahead.

 

After that, I’m going to go and have a little lie-down...