The Five Elements of a Perfect SaaS Support System

If you’re a SaaS business, chances are support is one area of your business that you want to be flawless. Providing great support is the key to your growth and success. According to an Oracle study, 9 out of 10 customers have abandoned a business because of a poor customer support experience. You don’t want to be that business, do you?

At the same time, customer support can be the most time-consuming (and expensive) activity in your business if it’s not handled correctly. Hence, the way you provide support can make or break your business. It’s not one of those things you can do “quick and dirty” at first and then improve later. Well, you could, but that would be a very risky decision.

I’ve been running SaaS companies for the last 15 years. In the early days, support meant email, and that was not very efficient. Then came the help desks, the chat solutions, the knowledge bases, and a lot of tools that made support optimization possible.

In 2015, it’s much easier to build a top-notch support system, but despite all the available solutions and content on the topic, I still stumble upon SaaS products that are not doing it right. I’d like to share my experience with you so you can optimize your support process, too!

1. First and Foremost: Make Support Easy to Find

When an app user needs support, she’s already entered into “frustration mode.” In most cases, she’s trying to figure out something or trying to do something with your app and cannot do it intuitively. Maybe your product is too complex to be 100% intuitive, or maybe certain features are not user friendly enough. She may have encountered a bug or is missing a feature that is key for her. Whatever the reason, as soon as she needs an answer, she tries to locate the “support” link. And if she can’t find it within 5 or 10 seconds, her frustration grows.

I’ve lost count of the number of SaaS apps I’ve used that have hidden access to their support resources so well that it took me a full website audit to find it! We use Recurly to handle our subscription payments; look how well they’ve hidden their support link in the footer, in small print:

1 - Recurly-support-link

If you use our app, on the other hand, the support tab is much more obvious. It’s right there under your eyes at all times:

Agorapulse-need-help

Hiding your support resources or, worse, contact channels is NOT the kind of mistake you want to make. And there are no excuses, as the solutions to fix the problem exist and are not difficult to implement.

Ideally, your support contact form and your support resources should all be accessible via one very visible support tab or link.

Products like Zendesk, UserVoice, or Support Hero will do that for you. That’s an easy win that won’t take more than five minutes in most cases.

2. Make Sure Your FAQ Does a Good Job Helping Your Users

I don’t know about you, but most of the time, when I have a question about a SaaS product I’m using, I’d much rather find the answer on my own, in five minutes, than have to send a support ticket and wait on an answer for two hours or, worse, two days!

I’m not the only one. A recent study recently conducted by Zendesk showed that 67% of users prefer self-service support over speaking to a company representative. And a whopping 91% said they would use a knowledge base if it met their needs. No wonder all the major help desks offer a knowledge base along with their ticket management system.

But here’s the problem: if you ask any support person if they know how well their knowledge base is working, the answer you’ll get every time will be, “I have no idea.” I used to have the same answer with our own knowledge base. We had one – it took us days to build – but still, we had no idea if our investment was paying off.

We tried to leverage the statistics provided by the tools we were using, but, at best, the only stats we got were the number of times FAQ articles were read and the keywords users entered when they searched for answers. That didn’t really help.

These are the insights we were looking for:

  • What keywords our users were searching for when looking for answers
  • Whether we had content matching those keywords
  • What content users read or watched after searching for keywords
  • Which queries were successful and which ones failed to provide the answer sought
  • What ticket was being sent after a “failed” search

The software we finally decided to use was Support Hero. It had the advantage of giving us the information we needed in order to understand how well our self-help knowledge base was working and how we could improve it!

Thanks to these insights, we reduced our incoming support tickets by an astounding 50%. As you can see on the graph from our Helpdesk’s statistics, below, our inbound support ticket volume was becoming unbearable despite the existence of a knowledge base (hosted on UserVoice at the time). We gathered insights about the performance of our knowledge base, and, after two months of fine-tuning, we got back to a level we could manage.

Helpscout-ticket-volume-annotated

Basically, if you want to better deflect support tickets with your self-help knowledge base, you have to understand how well it’s working and use that knowledge to improve it.

For example, we had a FAQ article explaining how to add other admins to an account on Agorapulse. That article referred to the word “admin.” But looking at the data we gathered through Support Hero, we quickly realized that our users were typing in a whole range of different words to search for this. For example, they used “team members,” “users,” or “managers.” For those three keywords, no article was showing up, leading to a support ticket every time. All we had to do was add those keywords to the FAQ as shown below and, presto, no more tickets on that feature!

add-team-member-faq

3. Understand Why You Get Support Requests, and Fix the Cause (When You Can)

Support requests usually fall into three major categories:

  • Bugs
  • Missing features
  • Confusing or hidden features

Bugs are the first problems you need to get rid of. But, honestly, having been in SaaS for years, I can tell you that you’ll always have bugs, especially if you’re building new features on a regular basis or making changes to your existing code. An optimized support process will not prevent bugs from happening, and the corresponding support tickets will come in. There isn’t much you can do here.

All SaaS products are, by definition, not finished. There’s no such thing as being done when you build a software application; there will always be features missing from your product. But if a missing feature keeps showing up in the support requests you get, adding that feature is probably not a bad idea. Not only will you receive fewer requests from your customers about it; but, more important, you’ll make them happier, and they’ll stick around longer.

If you decide that a feature should not be built (let’s say it doesn’t fit in your midterm roadmap), at least create a FAQ entry explaining why and offering alternative solutions. The last thing you want is a frustrated customer left wondering why you wouldn’t accommodate her.

But if you really want to get fewer support tickets, the category you need to pay the most attention to is the one of confusing or hidden features. A confusing feature is a feature your users were able to spot but couldn’t figure out. A hidden feature is a feature you actually have but users couldn’t find.

Both are problems, and they can be big problems. A good support system should help you quantify how bad the problems are.

Let me give you an example we experienced firsthand. We recently had an internal debate about how our team feature was working. We were not agreeing on whether we were doing a good job of letting users manage their social media accounts as teams. So I called our support data to the rescue! I looked at our most-read FAQs, and guess what? The articles on team features were among the ones most read by our users:

most-viewed-articles-faq

Let me put it this way: if one of your features requires your users to read your knowledge base every time they want to use it, it’s definitely not doing a good job. A great product should be intuitive. I don’t know of any perfect product, of course, but if you look at your support data and identify a feature that requires your users to check your knowledge base all the time or search for answers, then working on making that feature more intuitive will definitely help. You will get more users as well as fewer support requests. Win-win.

Some support tools will help you spot the most-read articles or the most common search queries. To name a few: Help Scout, Groove, and Support Hero.

4. Make Sure All Support Requests Go To One Place

These days, communication goes in all directions – email, chat, in-app messages, Twitter, Facebook, and so on.

Your users don’t care what channel you prefer for support; they’ll use whatever is easiest for them at the time. Since most questions will arise as people use your product, you need to make sure that the way to contact your support team is very easy to spot (see above).

But you’ll always get emails from your website, Facebook messages, tweets, and even chat messages if you’ve decided to respond to your users in real-time. It can be totally overwhelming. Things start slipping through the cracks, conversation history is lost, and the list goes on. This is not sustainable. What you really have to do is concentrate most, if not all, of your support conversations in one place.

To communicate with our users, we’re using five different channels:

  • Email
  • Chat (Olark)
  • In-app messages (Intercom)
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

I have to say it’s challenging. And while we haven’t found any solution that would centralize everything, at least most of it goes to one place.

Our tool of choice to group all support requests is Help Scout. Thanks to its third party integrations, we are able to get all the Olark chats forwarded to Help Scout, so if we need to follow up on a chat conversation later by email, Help Scout does the job.

Apps-used-Help-Scout

We receive very few support requests on Twitter, a few more on Facebook. But compared with the 20 or 25 requests we get daily by chat or email, the 4 or 5 requests we get every week on our social channels do not create a real problem. And we use our own tool to handle those social messages – “eat your own dog food,” as they say!

The main problem comes from the conversations we have via Intercom. Intercom is our tool of choice for in-app user communication. But Intercom is far from being as versatile and comprehensive a support tool as Help Scout. Ideally, we should switch everything to Intercom, but given the disruption this would create for our support process as of today and the fact that we’ve based that process on existing Help Scout features, it’s a hard move to make.

Now that Intercom provides real-time chat (it didn’t when we decided to start with Olark) and better support features (it was beyond poor two years ago when we started using it for in-app messages on top of Help Scout for support), if I were starting from scratch today, I would go all-in with Intercom and wouldn’t use Olark or Help Scout.

Help Scout and Olark both offer features that we like very much and would miss, but having discussions with users across several channels is a bigger problem. And we could replace Help Scout and Olark with Intercom, but not the other way around.

However, Intercom is missing a key feature when it comes to providing top-notch support: a knowledge base! Without a knowledge base, my support team would end up in the nuthouse! Fortunately, the solution we use for that, Support Hero, has an API connection with Intercom, and using both together does a perfect job.

5. View Support Differently in Your App and On Your Website

Most SaaS CEOs think about product/technical support when they think about their support framework. They see support as a way to help current users understand how their product works and to help them solve bugs and technical issues.

It’s true that support in SaaS has always been primarily focused on helping current users of our products. But, limiting your support efforts to your current users is a big mistake.

There is actually a much larger population that expects support from you, and it’s a critical population for your business – your prospects. Actually, you probably have more prospects (i.e., website visitors) than current users, and ignoring them can be a very bad idea.

Your prospects will visit your website and check a couple of pages to get a general idea of your product. Maybe they’ll watch your video. If you’ve done a good job with your website, they’ll probably start becoming interested. But that’s also when they’ll start having questions pop up in their minds: Does your product connect with Salesforce? Is it available in Italian? Can we export our data in .csv? Is there a discount for nonprofits?

Most of the time, the answers to these questions will not be on your website. The goal of a website is not to address every potential question a prospective user has about how your product functions; its only goal is to sell the unique value proposition to convince them it’s worth their time digging around.

If you’ve succeeded in capturing the interest of prospects with your big value proposition, kudos to you. But don’t stop there; make sure they can also easily find all the cool features you have to offer.

To give you an example of that, I was recently looking for a new application to run NPS with our users. After a bunch of research on Google, I identified two potential solutions: SatisMeter and Promoter.io. They both had well-designed websites that conveyed their value proposition clearly.

But I needed answers to two important questions before making a decision:

  • Which one(s) will allow me to run a survey “in-app” instead of by email?
  • Which one(s) will connect to Intercom (my CRM of choice) to make sure I can correctly record the responses and leverage them?

Guess what? After scouting the two websites, I couldn’t find my answers. If the one(s) that were offering these features had allowed me to figure this out very quickly via a knowledge base, things would have been much easier and faster. Even more important, I would probably have ignored the competing solutions that were not responding to my questions!

Most important of all, I decided to eat my own dog food a couple of weeks ago and installed the Support Hero knowledge base widget on our website. So I verified all of the above: prospects are not looking for the same answers as current users; their questions will relate to your pricing, the languages you offer in your app, and all the nitty gritty options that you may or may not have (and, of course, which they badly need).

Now look at the screenshot below. Five users wondered if we had a white-label option. We actually do, but as you can see, no content was showing for those requests. I probably lost five customers because I didn’t do my job properly.

Support-on-the-website

Key Takeaways To Make Your Support Work For You (And Not the Other Way Around!)

First, you need to accept that support is not a “set it and forget it” kind of thing. Like everything else in SaaS, you’ll need to constantly iterate, analyze and improve. You’re being lean about your marketing? Your product development? Your pricing? Support is no different.

Second, make sure it’s easy to find support. This really is the most common mistake and it’s easy to fix.

Then, invest in self help support and keep in mind that more than two users out of three will rather find her answer on her own rather than contacting support. There’s a common misconception among startup founders that they need to talk to customers and support is a good way to do that. It’s actually not. When users get frustrated enough to contact your support, knowing that they’ll have to wait more than they’d like to get the help they’re looking for, they won’t be in the right mood to chat with you. Yes, it is a good thing to talk to customers. But it’s not a good thing to force them to do so by not providing them with self help answers.

Finally, understand that support is not a stand-alone activity, it is deeply entangled with everything else you’re doing: product design, missing or messed-up features, marketing and customer success. Make sure you include what you learn from support in everything else you do for your SaaS business.

Your turn. What’s your experience with support? What have you learned that I’ve missed in this post? I’d love to benefit from your experience too!

About the Author: Emeric is the CEO and co-founder of agorapulse, a Paris and San Francisco based Social Media Management Software launched in 2011. Agorapulse is currently being used by more than 5,000 businesses across 180 countries. He is a regular speaker at Facebook Marketing conferences such as the AllFacebook Marketing Conference, Facebook Success Summit, iStrategy and the Online Marketing Institute.

Join Me and Adrian Grenier, Aaron Levie, Aaron Ross + More at Salesforce Start-Up Summit

If you are in SaaS you should go to Dreamforce.  The simple reason is it’s the largest SaaS gathering on the planet.  The SaaStr Annual will be a distant second in ’16 (and the largest non-vendor gathering).  But you need to go to Dreamforce if you can.

There are a couple of ways to do it, including one new one:

  • There’s a full ticket, where you get to go to all the sessions.  Worth it, especially if you are in Salesforce ecosystem or might be.
  • There’s a free Expo pass, and this is the most amazing deal in SaaS, especially if you work in the Bay Area.  Yes, you get to go to basically no sessions.  But you can go to every booth and learn and see every major vendor in SaaS.  And you can see what it’s like running your own A+ event.  And you can meet amazing people.  And sneak into parties.   It’s FREE.  Do it.  Even if you never plan to do a Salesforce integration or care.  Because Salesforce is the largest SaaS company on the planet.   By far.  So — copy what works!

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 3.23.24 PM

It’s the first year but it looks pretty awesome and I’ll be speaking and there all day, the speakers are A+, and first time events are always interesting and fun.  More on the event here.

Please come — and come by.

The Beginner’s Guide to Technical SEO

Did that title scare you?

I’m not sure what it is, but as soon as people see the word “technical,” they start to get squeamish.

In this case, technical SEO just refers to any SEO work that is done aside from the content. Essentially, it’s laying a strong foundation to give your content the best chance it can have to rank for relevant keywords and phrases.

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Just like they have for on-page SEO, technical aspects of SEO have changed as search engines have become more sophisticated.

While there isn’t much you can do to “game” search engines from a technical standpoint, there are some new factors in 2015 that you need to consider if you want to improve your or your clients’ rankings.

If I were to cover this subject in depth, I would have to create another advanced guide.

Instead, I’ll go over the most important aspects of technical SEO from a beginner’s perspective as well as give you a few specific tactics and next steps to fix common problems in each area. 

To get fast rankings, you need a fast site

This fact isn’t new: if your website loads slowly, a large portion of visitors will quickly leave.

What you need to know from an SEO standpoint is that a slow website can harm you in two ways.

First, site speed is one of Google’s ranking factors. First announced in 2010, it started to affect a small number of rankings at that point. We now know, the “time-to-first-byte” (TTFB) correlates highly with rankings.

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TTFB is exactly what the name suggests: the amount of time needed for a browser to load the first byte of your web page’s data.

If that was the whole story, we’d only focus on improving TTFB. But there’s more.

We also know that 40% of people will close a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. Further, 47% of polled consumers expect a page to load within 2 seconds.

Google may not take total page speed into account, but users do. Even if your TTFB is good, if it takes 3-4 seconds for your full page to load, many visitors will leave without waiting.

The worst part is that they’ll click the “back” button and choose a different search result.

This is known as “pogo-sticking,” and it’s one of the most important signs that a user isn’t satisfied.

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If it happens too often, your rankings will drop in favor of a competing search result that doesn’t have the same issues.

Finally, while it isn’t a strictly SEO point, consider that just a one-second delay in loading time can cause conversions to drop by 7%. Even if site speed didn’t affect search rankings, you’d still want to optimize it.

Not all site speed problems are of equal importance: While there are hundreds of factors that affect site speed, some are much more common than others.

Zoompf analyzed the top 1,000 Alexa-ranked sites for site speed and found that the following four problems were the most common (in order from most to least):

  1. unoptimized images
  2. content served without HTTP compression
  3. too many CSS image requests (not using sprites)
  4. no caching information (expires header)

Keep in mind that the sites in that analysis were some of the best on the web. They fixed many basic problems that may affect you, especially if you use WordPress:

  • excessive plugin use
  • not using a CDN for static files
  • a slow web host

Don’t guess your site speed problems; diagnose: You very well may have one of those issues that I just listed, but first, you need to confirm them.

There are a lot of great tools out there, but I always recommend starting with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. Enter a URL, and let the tool do its thing:

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Any score above 80 is decent. That being said, higher is better, and improving Quick Sprout’s speed is on my long list of things to do.

If you’d like a second opinion, use a tool such as GTmetrix.

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Notice that some tools will give you different scores. That’s because they weigh problems differently.

The following are the two most important things you need to ensure: that (1) your page loads quickly (under 2 seconds) and (2) your page is as small as possible with the least number of requests.

The Google tool is the simplest and a good place to start. It will give you the most important issues to fix (in red). Fix the orange ones if possible, but they don’t usually cause too much of a slowdown in your loading speed.

I do recommend using another tool to get more details. With GTmetrix as an example, you can click on the “waterfall” tab to see the exact amount of time each request took to fulfill.

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This lets you see if your hosting isn’t up to par (a lot of waiting) or if one request on your page is taking way longer than another.

Once you know what your problems are, fix them. As I said before, there’s no way I can go into everything in this guide, but I’ll show you what to do if you have some common problems.

Start with your images: If you do nothing else, compress them. Most types of images have unnecessary metadata that take up space, which can be deleted without causing any harm.

Use a tool such as Optimizilla to compress pictures beforehand, or use a plugin such as WP Smush to compress any pictures you upload to WordPress automatically.

In addition, pick your file size carefully. JPEG files are usually smaller once compressed although not as high quality as PNG files. If possible, use vector images (SVG is the most popular format), which can scale to any dimension with no loss of quality.

Next up: Combine images into sprites.

A “sprite” is simply an image file that contains many small images. Instead of having to make a separate request for each image, you only have to get the one. Then, you use CSS to tell the browser which area of that image to use.

Sprites should include often used images such as navigation icons and logos.

Here is a complete guide to CSS sprites if you’d like to do it manually.

An easier way to accomplish this is to use an online sprite creator. Here is how to use it: create a new sprite, then drag as many appropriate pictures as you can onto the canvas:

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Next, download your sprite (button at the top), and upload it to your site. It’s much easier than coding it from scratch.

I’ve also collected some of the best guides to other common problems:

You don’t have to fix 100% of the problems that tools highlight, but be careful when you ignore one. Just because one page may have a fast loading speed doesn’t mean that all your pages do.

I suggest testing at least 10 pages across your site, preferably the ones that are the longest or largest (with the most images usually).

How do mobile visitors see your site?

The biggest recent changes to technical SEO have revolved around increasing the importance of mobile friendliness.

On April 21, 2015, Google released the “mobilegeddon” update. While it was hyped up as a huge update, it only had a slightly higher impact on rankings than normal:

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But don’t dismiss it: Google has made its opinion on the importance of mobile-friendly content very clear. And this is just the first update of more to come; think of it as a warning shot.

The good news is that even if you lose some rankings, it’s not a permanent or even long-term penalty once you fix it:

“If your site’s pages aren’t mobile-friendly, there may be a significant decrease in mobile traffic from Google Search. But have no fear, once your site becomes mobile-friendly, we will automatically re-process (i.e., crawl and index) your pages.”

Test your website’s mobile friendliness: The first and last place you need to test your site is on Google’s mobile friendly checker tool. Enter your URL, and the tool will show you exactly what Google thinks of your page:

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Additionally, you can check all the pages of a verified website in Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) by navigating to “Search Traffic > Mobile Usability.”

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In a perfect world, you’ll have no errors either way.

However, most sites do have mobile issues. In fact, 44% of Fortune 500 company websites are not mobile-friendly.

So if your site is not currently mobile-friendly, you are not alone. But, it’s something you should fix as soon as possible.

To start with, you can choose from three different approaches to mobile-friendly design.

Approach #1 – Responsive design: This is the best option in the vast majority of cases. A responsive design shrinks and expands according to the visitor’s device.

Instead of setting widths for elements, you set a percentage.

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For example, this is non-responsive CSS:

#body {

width: 600px;

}

It could be rewritten for a responsive site as:

#body {

width: 50%;

}

With this responsive code, the body section will always take up half of the visitor’s screen, regardless whether they use a phone or laptop.

Although those simple changes solve most of the problems, there is more to mobile design.

You can also use media queries so that you have different CSS values, depending on the screen size.

For example:

@media screen and (min-width: 600px) { CSS code here… }

The CSS you enter there will only be active when the screen is at least 600 pixels wide.

To learn more, read this guide on responsive design.

Approach #2 – Separate URLs for desktop and mobile visitors: This method has mostly died out in favor of responsive design.

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This approach involves creating at least two different versions of each page of your website: a mobile one and a non-mobile one.

If the functionality of your website changes a lot depending on the size of the screen, this can be a good option.

But for most sites, it doesn’t make sense. Not only do you have twice as many web pages to update but you also face so many sizes of phones, tablets, and laptops that responsive design usually makes more sense.

Approach # 3 – Serve different content based on the visitor’s device: Finally, you can have a single URL for each page, but first check for a mobile user agent. If a visitor is on a mobile device, you can load a specific page, but if they aren’t, you can load the default page.

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It’s similar to Approach #2 in that you’ll have to code for two different pages. The one upside is that all backlinks will point to a single URL, which will help content rank better.

Common mobile design mistakes: Making a site mobile-friendly really isn’t that hard. In most cases, it’s much easier than optimizing page load speed.

That being said, there are seven fairly common mistakes to keep an eye out for:

  1. Blocked JavaScript, CSS, and image files: access is controlled by your robots.txt file (more on that later).
  2. Unplayable content: don’t use flash videos, which aren’t playable on many mobile devices. HTML5 videos are a better option.
  3. Faulty redirects: don’t just redirect mobile users to your home page. Redirect them to an equivalent page they were looking for.

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4. Mobile-only 404s: if you’re serving dynamic (separate) URLs, make sure they both work.

5. Avoid interstitials and pop-ups: Pop-ups are always a controversial subject. While they’re annoying to some on desktops/laptops, they are much more annoying and often difficult to close on mobile. If you can, don’t have anything that blocks your content on a mobile device:

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6. Irrelevant cross-links: If you have a separate mobile version of your site, always link within that. Don’t make the mistake of linking to a desktop site page from the mobile site.

7. Slow mobile pages: Remember that most mobile users are on a slower connection than desktop users. This makes optimizing your load speed crucial (see above section).

A strong site architecture will get you noticed

Google sends its search spiders to almost every website on a regular basis. However, the spiders need help to discover new pages or updated pages.

Having a clear and simple site architecture will help your pages get indexed and ranked faster. This isn’t new. All the rules and best practices in 2015 are the same as they have been for years. However, this is really important, so don’t skip it just because you haven’t heard news of a new algorithm.

There are four main components to creating a site that Google loves to crawl:

Step 1 – Create HTML and XML sitemaps: It starts with a sitemap that lists URLs on your site. This is the most basic way to direct spiders.

There are two types of sitemaps: HTML and XML.

HTML sitemaps are designed for humans, but search spiders can also use them to find pages on your site. These are typically linked to in the footer of your website, so the links don’t have to be prominent.

An XML sitemap, on the other hand, is essentially a text file with one URL per link. Humans shouldn’t see this—only search spiders. If you have an especially large site, you’ll need more than one XML sitemap. A single sitemap can’t be more than 50,000 URLs of 50MB.

You can (and should) also make separate sitemaps for each type of content (video, images, articles, etc.).

While you can have both, you need at least an XML sitemap. It will serve as the starting point for most spiders.

You have a few options to create your sitemap. First, you can use the Bing plugin to generate a server side sitemap.

The most popular option is to use a WordPress plugin to automatically create and update your sitemap. You can either use a specialized plugin like Google XML sitemap or use Yoast’s all-in-one SEO plugin, which has the option to create a sitemap.

Next, submit your sitemap in both Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.

In Google Search Console, go to “Crawl > Sitemaps,” and add all your sitemaps (one at a time), using the “Add/Test Sitemap” button in the top right.

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Similarly, in Bing, go to the “Sitemaps” navigation section, and enter your sitemap(s):

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Here’s the part that most site owners forget: you also have to add sitemap locations to your robots.txt file. This tells other spiders where to check. Plus, Google would check there if for some reason it had problems with your submission.

Your robots.txt file should include a section like this, with a line for each sitemap:

User-agent: *

Sitemap: http://website.com/my-sitemap1.xml

Sitemap: http://website.com/my-sitemap2.xml

You can even look at Google’s own robots.txt to see its sitemaps:

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Step 2 – Silo content as much as possible: Another major way Google uses to crawl sites is to follow internal links. In addition, this is partly how it assigns relevance to a page and website.

Siloing involves breaking up your content into different categories. For example, since the Crazy Egg blog covers conversion optimization, email marketing, etc., there are different categories for each:

  • http://blog.crazyegg.com/category/conversion-optimization/
  • http://blog.crazyegg.com/category/email-marketing/
  • http://blog.crazyegg.com/category/blogging-for-business/
  • http://blog.crazyegg.com/category/ecommerce/

Each category page links to the posts in that category. The point of this is so that Google’s spiders could land on the homepage (or any post), navigate to a category, and then visit all the most recent posts on the category page.

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Because of this, no post is more than a few clicks away.

Of course, there’s a problem when your site gets too big or you sell too many products as you can only fit so many per page.

You still want all parts of your website to be within 3-4 clicks of each other to ensure they get crawled. The most popular option is faceted navigation, which lets you filter results:

image18

The right filters can take millions of results down to several in just a few clicks.

I also talked about one other bonus of having a simple site architecture. With a silo structure, it’s clearer to search engines what your site is about.

Instead of having a bunch of posts and pages on your website in no particular order, arrange them all in categories to make it clear to search spiders which content goes together:

image20

One of Google’s main goals is to provide the most relevant results. The easier it can determine the topics you write about, the more search traffic you will get.

Step 3 – Get rid of crawl errors: The final part of optimizing your site for crawling is to get rid of anything that prevents Google from identifying or crawling your website.

Head over to Search Console, and navigate to “Crawl > Crawl errors”.

image03

If you have a large site, you might see thousands of errors if you haven’t addressed them. That’s okay—you can often fix large batches at the same time. Here is a complete guide to fixing common crawl errors.

Stop confusing search engines

Redirects are necessary to keep any site up to date, but you need to do it the right way.

Use the wrong codes, and it will not only hurt your visitors but also affect your search engine rankings. I’ll explain how in a moment.

A brief overview of page redirects: There are many good reasons to redirect a page. It’s usually because there is an updated version of it or you no longer cover that exact topic but would like to preserve some “link juice.”

There are two popular types of redirects:

  • 301: a permanent redirect
  • 302: a temporary redirect

When you tell a search engine that a page has permanently been moved to a new URL (301), it will transfer most of the old page’s authority to the new one (90-99%).

However, if you do a 302 redirect, the search engine knows that the redirect will be gone soon and won’t transfer the authority of the original page over. If the redirect stays in place long enough, you will lose at least part of your traffic (usually).

Simple rule: If you no longer need a page, create a 301 redirect to an updated page.

The file not found page (404 error): Another common browser code is the 404 code, which means the page could not be found.

It’s important to create a custom 404 page even if it’s simple. If not, it’ll look like this to your visitors:

image16

Most visitors will obviously close the page or return back to where they were.

Instead, creating a custom 404 page, like this one on Quick Sprout, can invite a lost visitor in:

image28

Just below that llama, there are two clear links to important parts of the site. While some visitors will still leave, many will explore, which is great.

There are a few different situations where a 404 error will come up:

  • You moved a page: You should 301 redirect the old page to the new one (it’s easy to forget).
  • Someone linked to an incorrect URL: Either 301 redirect that URL to the correct one (if the link is strong), or create a custom 404 page.
  • You deleted a page: Redirect it if it has links pointing to it (or significant traffic) and you have another highly relevant page to redirect to. Or just have it go to your custom 404 page.

The easiest way to find 404 pages on your site is with Search Console.

Once in your Search Console, navigate to “Crawl > Crawl Errors.”

This time, we’re specifically looking for “not found” pages:

image03

The most useful thing here is that you can click any of these individual URLs. When you do, a pop-up will appear with more details. There’s also a “linked from” tab so you can see which pages link to it (you could correct any incorrect internal links).

image23

Fix the link on those pages, and then mark the problem as fixed.

Another option is to use Ahrefs to find broken links. This is probably the best tool you can use for this in order to correct off-page links (controlled by someone else).

Type in your site in the search bar, then highlight the “Inbound Links” dropdown menu, and click on “Broken Backlinks.”

image05

You’ll get a list of all the sites linking to your main domain, but with links that result in a 404 error. Usually this is because the other party made a typo.

If the link is strong enough, you can go to the linking page, find contact information, and give them the correct URL to replace it with.

Or, as I said earlier, you can 301 redirect the broken URL to the right one, which will preserve some link juice.

Get rid of thin or duplicate content

Pandas aren’t just adorable animals—they are also one of Google’s most famous algorithm updates.

The first Panda update was in 2011, which affected 11.8% of queries (huge). After that, there were a total of 26 more Panda updates in the following three years.

The Panda update was targeting low quality or duplicate content. Sites that had big issues were punished severely.

Curiously, there hasn’t been a Panda update since September 23, 2014 (as of July 2015). I’m not sure if we’ll ever see one again.

Why? Recently, Google released a “phantom” update. This update involved Google changing its core quality algorithm. There’s a chance that it incorporates part or all of Panda. After all, Panda was a filter that had to be run periodically. Google would rather be able to monitor quality constantly.

So that’s where we are now: Google is getting better and better at detecting duplicate content, and you will lose search traffic if you have a significant amount of it.

Duplicate content is bad for visitors, which is why search engines don’t like it. In addition, it can confuse search engines because they don’t know which page is most relevant.

Note: Even if you don’t get a penalty, you can still lose traffic.

Luckily, it’s pretty easy to take action to protect yourself against being penalized for duplicate content.

Step 1 – Find duplicate content: It’s pretty simple to find any pages with duplicate content. As is often the case, Google Search Console is the best place to start. Go to “Search appearance > HTML improvements” to see if you have any issues:

image25

Click the number to see specific cases of duplicate content.

Alternatively, you can use a tool such as Siteliner. Enter your domain, and the tool will find any duplicate content, plus sort it by percent match:

image14

Note that the free version only covers 250 URLs, so large sites will have to either upgrade or rely on Google Search Console.

Step 2 – Get rid of duplicate content issues: There are three main ways in which you can solve your problems:

  1. Delete the duplicate content
  2. Add a canonical URL to each version
  3. Reduce the amount of duplicate content

The first solution is trivial—implement it if you can.

Mostly, duplicate content issues are caused by URL parameters. For example, visitors could get to the exact same page with the following URLs:

  • http://www.quicksprout.com/2015/07/06/the-100000-challenge-june-update/
  • http://www.quicksprout.com/2015/07/06/the-100000-challenge-june-update?source=organic/
  • http://www.quicksprout.com/2015/07/06/the-100000-challenge-june-update?ref=email/

If all pages are indexed, they will be considered duplicate content. Your only option here is to include a canonical link on the page, if you haven’t already.

A canonical link tells Google that you realize there are similar pages on your site, but there is one preferred version that is the best version for readers to go to.

image10

On this page, I have a canonical link to the original URL. Even if a visitor comes to the page with the parameters in their link, that same canonical will tell Google what it needs to know.

Finally, if you’re getting duplicate content errors because of your “read more” descriptions, you can reduce the number of words you show on your blog and category pages. Alternatively, write a custom description for each.

Describe your content like a pro with structured data

Modern search engines are pretty good at putting together what your page is about just by looking at the on-page content. However, you can make it even easier for them by using structured data markup.

While there are multiple libraries you can use, stick to schema.org, which is a project created by all the major search engines.

Structured data isn’t new, but it’s still heavily underutilized. Usually, it’s because an SEO hears the term and gets squeamish, just like with “technical” SEO.

It’s actually really simple, and I’ll show you how to use it for your site in this section.

What schema is – the simple version: The schema vocabulary is just a way of describing content to search engines. You can insert schema terms into your existing HTML.

While Google doesn’t use schema markup as a direct ranking factor, it can use it to help categorize a page and to create rich snippets.

Rich snippets are those things you see in certain searches, e.g., star ratings, pictures, and anything else besides the plain text:

Rich snippets can affect your search rankings. They almost always the increase click through rate, which could tell Google that your page is more important than the surrounding results, leading to more traffic and better rankings.

image21

You can add schema terms to existing HTML code to describe a section of content. For example, the following common term—“itemscope”—tells search engines that the entire “div” section is about the same topic:

<div itemscope>

<h1>Avatar</h1>

<span>Director: James Cameron (born August 16, 1954) </span>

<span>Science fiction</span>

<a href=”../movies/avatar-theatrical-trailer.html”>Trailer</a>

</div>

But there are thousands of other terms you can use. Here’s the full list.

Knowing which ones you’ll use most often takes time to learn. Instead of looking through that colossal list, you can use Google’s markup helper. It takes you through the process step-by-step for the URL you enter. You simply highlight text on the page, which will automatically open a small menu, and then pick which attribute the text describes:

image30

There are only a few steps to the process. At the end, you can view the structured data incorporated into your page’s source code with the changes highlighted:

image02

From there, you can either manually copy and paste the changes onto your page or click the download button to download the entire page code.

If you’re using WordPress, you could also use the Schema Creator plugin by Raven. It allows you to type in a limited number of important schema values into the WordPress page editor.

image11

Whether or not your code is generated by Google, it’s still a good idea to test the code. Copy the entire code into the structured data testing tool, and click “validate” to see if there are any errors:

image27

Conclusion

Ever wonder how some SEOs charge tens of thousands of dollars per month for their services?

This is why. Consider that this is just a beginner’s guide to technical SEO, and we haven’t really scratched the surface.

Expert SEOs learn as much as they can about all these individual elements and practice their skills for years to master them.

For now, you don’t need to do that. Instead, pick one or two of these technical SEO aspects. Then, see how they apply to your site, and fix any errors. Track your work and the results so you can quantify how much the mistakes hurt you.

I realize that there are some fairly complicated topics in this article, so if you need any clarification or you have some experience with technical SEO that you’d like to share, leave a comment below.

How, Exactly, Am I Supposed to Make Something People Want? (FS121)

It’s stupid how simple it should be. If you want a successful business, make something people want enough to pay you money for it.

Duh, right?

In practice, however, it is dubious and complex, requiring enough art, science and faith that we might as well call it alchemy.

Here’s a 45 minute conversation about that very topic. If you listen to it, you’ll know how, exactly, you’re supposed to make something people want. Enjoy!

It’s better to listen on the go!    Subscribe on iTunes 


For anyone who’s ever thought ‘how, exactly, am I supposed to makes something people want?’


Paul Graham on the very best startup ideas:

“The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they’re something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing. Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook all began this way.”

Paul Graham


What we’ve seen is this: blazing your own trail as an entrepreneur requires a lot of faith in yourself, and sometimes that faith backfires.

We get tunnel vision, we get precious about our ideas, we stop letting in the feedback of the world out of a need to protect ourselves and our idea.

It’s true that starting an independent business requires a ton of self confidence, but the lesson here is that you can’t get stuck too deep inside your head.

You’ve got to make sure there’s actually a market for your idea. Don’t make the mistake of getting stuck too far inside your own head; make something people want.


blazing your own trail as an entrepreneur requires a lot of faith in yourself, and sometimes that faith backfires.


Show Notes

Entrepreneur on Fire with Stephanie Crowder — (Be sure to check out the other Fizzler episodes of EOF from last week: Chase, Barrett, Abby, Andrea and Andy.

Smeagolling.biz — Preciousize It™

Friday Q & A: Do You Need to Own the .com for Your Startup’s Name, Should a Remote Team Hire Full-time Employees or Contractors, and Should You Pitch Guest Posts to Big General Publications or Smaller, More Targeted Ones?

Every Friday, we’re answering your questions about business, startups, customer success and more.

Happy Friday!

In our new Groove Friday Q & A segment, we’re answering any questions that you have about, well, anything.

A huge thank you to Mike Laha, Lincoln Parks and Yakov Karda for this week’s questions.

Check out this week’s answers below, and jump in with your own thoughts in the comments!

Do You Need to Own the .Com for Your Startup’s Name?

In my experience, this matters a lot less than people think.

Companies that didn’t own the .com for their name for quite some time after they launched include Dropbox, Grasshopper, Buffer, Basecamp and Bitly.

The litmus test used to be that someone should be able to remember your URL when they hear it so that they can remember it and visit your site later. But for many markets now, URL’s are shared less and less through actual conversations and more and more via email, social media, SMS and other channels where there’s nothing to remember.

So being a .co or a .net (or appending an HQ at the end of your URL) isn’t nearly as much of a handicap as it once was.

If you have a name that works fine with a URL that isn’t too clunky, I’d forget about renaming and focus on building a sticky, shareable product, and then buying the .com when you can afford it.

In the Beginning, Should a Remote Team Hire Full-time Employees or Contractors?

I actually did neither when I first started Groove. I hired an agency to build the first iteration of the product.

After that, I began building out our own team. First with part-time contractors, and then I hired those that fit best as full-time employees.

The answer to this question isn’t really one-size-fits-all; it’s more about what you can afford, and who you can find.

If, at the very beginning, you find an amazing developer who’s only willing to work on a project basis, you might consider hiring them to build your product.

If you can’t swing a full-time salary just yet, then obviously you only have the contractor option available to you.

If you have the luxury of being able to choose one or the other, I’ll say that I prefer the trial-to-full-time model, where a new employee does a trial project with us for a couple of weeks (or a bit longer if they’re already employed and need to do the trial project on nights and weekends), and if they’re a fit, we bring them on full-time.

Ultimately, I’m not sure there’s a right or wrong answer here in the beginning. Once your business is validated and you begin to build your team, then culture begins to play an important role in your team structure, and I think full-time is the way to go. You can’t grow a successful and sustainable long-term business with a team of mercenaries. Not that I’ve seen, anyway.

Should You Pitch Guest Posts to Big General Publications or Smaller, More Targeted Ones?

I’d encourage you to narrow down your target market from “SMB’s and startups,” of which there are 76 million around the world.

Rather than thinking about the entire market of companies that could get value from your product, think about who, specifically, will your product be the most amazing solution ever for? For whom will it be a complete no-brainer to buy?

Get as specific as you can with the challenges they have, the experience they have, their backgrounds, ages, genders, etc…

That’s your target market.

A lot of this insight comes from doing customer development and seeing trends in who your most rabid fans are.

Once you have that, it’s a lot easier to target the exact publications those people read.

So, to answer the question, especially in the early days of your content strategy, I’d target much smaller publications with more active, engaged readers who will be a better fit for your product.

You may have to do a lot more posting to find the perfect audience, but it’s worth it; you’ll learn a lot about which messages work on which people, and what your real audience actually wants.

Send me weekly updates about Groove’s Friday Q&A

Thank you for subscribing!

Your Turn: Ask Groove Anything

I’d love for this new weekly segment to be successful, and provide a valuable repository of answers from our entire community for entrepreneurs everywhere.

To do that, I need your help.

Here’s what you can do to get involved:

  1. Ask questions. Post them in the comments of this post, or Tweet them to us at @Groove.
  2. Answer questions. Every Friday, we’ll post a new Q&A segment. If you have anything to add or share regarding any of the questions asked, jump in! Many of you are far more qualified than I to speak on some of the topics that people ask me about.

The Top 3 Ways to Get Your SaaS Customers to Open Your Emails

Quick poll question: How many of you have signed up for a free software trial and then cancelled it after getting the welcome email?

Most people have at least once. Mainly because the welcome email was just so awful that there’s no way the software could have been good, right? For SaaS companies, this can be a big problem. Emails are the lifeblood of many SaaS providers, so losing subscribers (and by extension leads and customers) can be the difference between hitting a sales target and not.

Let’s take a look at the top 3 ways you can craft better welcome emails for your SaaS customers.

1. Clear & Tidy Headlines

Recipients know what they’re getting, so don’t worry about cluttering up the headline of the email. It sets up the expectation with customers that you’ll give them what you say you’re giving them. The welcome email is truly a welcome email, no more, no less.

What to try: A simple “Welcome to [company name]”.

Example: Vero

Vero, an email marketing software company, does exactly that in their first email after signing up to their blog. The subject line is “Welcome to the Vero blog!” Recipients are reminded about what they signed up for (updates from the blog), who it’s from (Vero), and that it’s the first email from Vero (the “welcome” is a pretty big sign.)

vero-welcome-email

Source

2. Clear CTAs Throughout the Email

Many welcome emails just repeat information or contain so many links that readers stop reading after the first couple of lines.

What to try: A single CTA in your welcome email.

Next time, try adding a link for readers to log in to their new account, or a reminder about a feature that solves a pain point for the reader, just keep it simple.

For example, if it’s a free trial of collaboration SaaS software, a CTA to “add coworkers to your account” may suffice.

Example: Vero

You may have noticed that Vero’s welcome email goes against this idea and has a few CTAs in it. But they’re all very simple ones that readers can choose to see or ignore.

  1. The first CTA is a link to Vero’s About Us page. It’s hyperlinked so readers can check out the page, or continue reading.
  2. The second CTA is a list of some of the blog’s more practical posts. Again, they’re linked very simply, and the reader can choose to read them now or save them for later.
  3. The third and final CTA is a set of email addresses readers can send messages to if they have immediate feedback.

Sure, there are three CTAs in the single email, but they’re all pretty simple ones, which is the key thing to keep in mind in your welcome emails.

vero-email-ctas

Source

Example: Tictail

Here’s a better example of the one CTA per welcome email – It’s from Tictail, another ecommerce software solution. After signing up , readers are invited to visit their dashboard right away. Simple and clean, with good visuals to invite readers to click it.

tictail-welcome-emails

Source

3. Consistent Look and Feel

To avoid the spam filter of today’s email accounts, it’s important to craft a welcome email that doesn’t look like spam. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore your current branding to the point that the recipient doesn’t know who you are and why you’re in their inbox.

What to do: Colors, logos, fonts, company name, etc. all should reflect what’s on your website right now. Ensure that someone’s always looking at your emails whenever you change your branding.

Example: Buffer

Buffer does a great job in their welcome email, using their logo, font, and colors really well.
Here’s their main website:

buffer-homepage

And here’s their welcome email:

buffer-welcome-email

Source

Example: Shopify

Shopify’s welcome email does the same as Buffer, but also includes their quirky, casual tone they use with their audience, who are mainly entrepreneurs.

Here’s their main website:

shopify-homepage-2015

And here’s their welcome email:

shopify-welcome-email

Bonus Tip: Delay Sending That First Email

You’ve probably got your email signup form hooked into software that sends out responses as soon as someone signs up, right? You want to make sure that the lead doesn’t go cold. Yet doing so gives off a negative impression of your SaaS company.

Why? Because it just screams “automated email”. Especially if you’re located in a different time zone. There’s just no way that you’d be sending a personalized email at 3am your time.

What to try/do: Send out a quick email right away that acknowledges the signup and that’s it. Just a short “Thanks for subscribing. Look for our welcome email in your inbox shortly” kind of message. Then, send your welcome message during YOUR business hours [Author’s note: link this to the other article I submitted on personalizing emails], regardless of where the customer is located.

You’ll give the appearance of having someone manually composing and/or sending the email to the customer, even though it’s another automated email. Your SaaS customer’s perception of you goes up, increasing their chances of converting into a long-term paying customer. (Even if they really know that the welcome email is coming from an automated system, it gives the appearance that it’s not, which they like – actually, we all like it. That’s why personalized emails do better than generic ones.)

Conclusion

Welcome emails are a tricky thing to do well. Some SaaS companies cram them so full of information that customers run away immediately. The successful companies welcome them simply and directly, and keep them as customers by sending out a well -written and –timed email that provides useful information to them.

Use these four tips to set up better welcome emails for your SaaS customers. You’ll look more professional, appear more successful, and earn a spot on their vendor shortlist more often.

About the Author: Julia Borgini helps Geeks sell their stuff. A self-proclaimed Geek & writer, she works with B2B technology & sports companies, creating helpful content & copy for their lead generation and content marketing programs. Follow her on Twitter @spacebarpress to see what she’s writing about now.

My 5 Favorite Business Blogs

Reading good blog posts is one of my favorite ways to learn about business.

There’s a lot of noise out there, lots of blogs are not worth reading. When your time is limited, it’s important you get to the good stuff quickly.

Here are the blogs I get solid, actionable business advice from consistently.

Groove

Groove blog

The Groove blog is written personally by a successful founder, my favorite kind.

Alex Turnbull got my attention with their Journey to $100K/mo. Groove is support desk software, and they have since surpassed $100k/mo and changed the goal to $500k/mo. They say their blog is their #1 customer acquisition channel, so along with great information, it’s a study in content marketing itself.

Alex has done an incredible job releasing great content consistently, and he is also a master promoter. There is a ton to learn, I would recommend starting at the beginning of their Journey to $100K a month, and going from there. (Their newer posts are good, but not as good as those)

A Smart Bear

A Smart Bear

Jason Cohen is the founder of WP Engine, and definitely a smart one.

He’s built more than one business successfully, and he has a lot of great insight on scaling, hiring, SaaS, and more. He hasn’t been keeping very current on this blog, but it’s got a treasure trove of posts that are well worth your time. Here are some of my favorites:

Quick Sprout

Quick Sprout

Quick Sprout is a blog by Neil Patel, a content marketing genius.

I’ve learned a ton about how to write great content, promote it, and get more traffic. This post, for example, is a gem. There are also amazing guides for pretty much everything, like this Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking.

Some internet marketers are full of hot air, but Neil is the real deal. He’s built Crazy Egg and Kissmetrics to multi-millions mostly using content marketing. He walks the walk, and tells you how to do the same.

Baremetrics

Baremetrics

Baremetrics is a new startup that focuses on Stripe analytics for SaaS businesses.

It’s a cool product, and the reason I like this blog is because it’s not by a multi-million dollar company. Josh Pigford, the founder, takes you on his journey building his business. For example, this post on Maker to Manager: what a startup founder does was especially inspiring to me.

They also provide some practical examples, like this one on how they reduced churn. It’s a good blog to keep an eye on.

Moz

Moz

Moz is the best SEO blog you’ll ever read.

They are always on the cutting edge (which is super important for SEO), transparent, and even entertaining. I don’t keep up with SEO as much as I used to, but Rand’s Whiteboard Friday videos are my favorite way to keep up with the latest news.

If you don’t know much about SEO, their Beginner’s Guide is a great place to start.

What are your favorite business blogs?

Reading great blogs is an excellent way to absorb information from smart, successful people. These are some of my favorite blogs, but what about yours? Let me know in the comments.

The post My 5 Favorite Business Blogs appeared first on Scott Bolinger.

Are You Ready for the Future of Adaptive Content?

A startling 94% of companies claim that personalization is a key component of their success. Meanwhile, 56% of consumers would happily purchase from a company that provides a good – not even great – personalized experience.

Those kinds of statistics aren’t just impressive, they’re actually driving a new form of content development: adaptive content.

This idea is the new kid on the block. For the purpose of this post, we’ll look at it from a twofold perspective. Adaptive content is a combination of:

  • Using personalization to enhance the customer experience, and
  • Preparing content for delivery across multiple platforms.

These two facets of the term work together to create a complete, well-rounded experience. By implementing it in your content strategy, you’ll turbo-charge your ability to build awareness, trust and engagement with prospects and existing customers.

Adaptive Content Provides a Personalized Experience

Every channel, device and scenario serve as puzzle pieces that make up the consumer journey. If you look at the hundreds of pieces individually, they don’t make much sense. But if you join them together, you can see the whole image clearly.

In content marketing, it’s time that we start looking at the big picture.

This happens through the development and implementation of a comprehensive content strategy. Your strategy should provide enough insight into the mind of the customer that you’re able to determine a clear direction for personalization.

The 5 Elements of Adaptive Content

Before we get any further into the nitty-gritty of adaptive content strategy, I want to talk about the elements you’ll want to look for during the initiative.

Karen McGrane is a superhero on this topic. If you haven’t read her book or heard her speak, you’re missing out on some really great information.

She outlines five elements of adaptive content that are critical to your success. Let’s talk about each of them briefly.

  1. Reusable Content – Develop content that you can use on multiple platforms. You also want the ability to create similar content in different formats to reach a wider variety of prospective customers.
  2. Structured Content – Create small chunks of content that can easily be consumed on multiple devices, regardless of their size.
  3. Presentation-Independent Content – This is the bare bones of your piece. It’s the raw content without ornate or ostentatious formatting.
  4. Meaningful Metadata – This hidden data quickly describes the purpose and intent of the content. This helps for easy interpretation by your viewers, as well as enhanced parsing by the search engines.
  5. Usable CMS Interfaces – Ultimately, you want a simple, functioning system that makes the delivery of all of the above elements possible.

Although I love the elements Karen uses, I think we can simplify it even more. I like to think of it in terms of the common phrase Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

  1. Reduce the amount of work by systemizing your workflows and processes.
  2. Reuse content on multiple platforms and broadcast your message on every channel.
  3. Recycle (or, repurpose) the published work into different formats to get the most out of it.

repurposing-content

Source

Once you understand what adaptive content looks like, it’s time to create a stellar strategy…

Build a Strategy for Personalization

To begin, we need to first understand the five Ws. You probably remember them from grade school: who, what, when, where and why. By defining the project’s purpose this way, we’ll be better prepared to understand personalization from a strategic perspective.

1. Create Personas for Your Ideal Audience

Who is your audience?

It’s one of the first questions any content developer should ask themselves. Building a strong persona helps you properly cater to them. And that kind of attention can transform the casual visitor into a brand ambassador.

Before you can create effective adaptive content, you must understand your audience.

Step 1: Delve into an analysis of their goals, challenges and pain points. This will help you determine how to best distribute your content. Check out this overview of the 5 Rings of Buying Insight.

Step 2: Create complex, situational overviews of their needs. Get started by answering these questions about each type of audience member.

  • Who does the audience currently go to to consume a similar product or service?
  • Who would refer them to you?
  • Who do they speak to that may also express interest in your brand?
  • What kind of mood are they in when they find your company?
  • What devices are they using?
  • What interests do they have?
  • Why should they use your brand at all?

Step 3: Conduct primary research that brings even deeper insight. You can gather deeper information through things like:

Ultimately, the research you’ll conduct depends on your specific situation. Focus your efforts on creating a unique approach based on your audience, their needs and the type of business you run.

But one thing is the same, regardless: You must understand the who before you take any further steps.

2. Determine the Best Type of Content

What content best supports the audience?

Too many people have a narrow mindset when it comes to content. They only think of it in terms of written messages or multimedia assets. And while both of those are important components, adaptive content comes from a much higher level of thinking.

where-content-can-appear-internet

Source

To understand what type of content works best, you’ll develop a distinct four-step workflow. These steps take you through research, architecture, development, testing, optimization and a high-powered launch. Once you’ve accomplished it, you’ll know what kind of content works:

  • Create in-depth personas and use cases.
  • Model functions and features to support user goals.
  • Nurture the relationship with the consumer.
  • Strategically launch, debug and refine the content.

Sound complex? Welcome to the future.

3. Establish Your Adaptive Characteristics

When should you actually adapt content?

By its very nature, adaptive content must adapt. That means, it needs to change based on certain characteristics of the individual audience member.

Step 1: Select the characteristics you’ll use to trigger adaptive content. A few options include:

  • Their current physical location.
  • The date or time of day.
  • What channel brought them to your content.
  • Recent purchase history from your company.
  • Where they’re at in the buying cycle.
  • Micro-conversions they’ve taken through the website.

Step 2: Create adaptive rules that trigger adaptive content based on what you’ve defined.

For example, let’s say you run a digital marketing agency. You could create the following piece of personalized, adaptive content:

  • When the home page is loaded by a user in a specific city, display: “We want to help a business in [city] grow through digital marketing. Will it be yours?”

Here’s an example of what that type of rule might look like in practice:

chelsei-adaptive-content

This kind of execution is intrinsic to adaptive content. Personalization happens through small pieces of content delivered in the appropriate context. When done well, it creates the kind of unique experience that users want.

4. Consider the Challenges of Different Devices

Where will you display the content?

Determine how you will visually represent your content, and what effect this will have on your content across different devices.
What looks good on a desktop can cause an unfavorable experience in mobile. With the rise of responsive web design, marketers are seeing the harsh reality of poor strategic presentation.

content-marketing-ensemble

Source

You need to consider the big picture. Truly adaptive content can serve the audience through quality publishing, regardless of the device used. To make this a reality, you’ll need to look at your publishing strategy from a few different angles.

  1. Consider current devices that will consume your content.
  2. Prepare for display challenges for each major device.
  3. Create intelligent content that can handle the quirks of each medium.
  4. Keep new & developing technology in mind for future adaptations (e.g. Google Glass)

Ultimately, you deliver a great experience to every user. That can’t happen with static content that only serves one device. Using these steps helps you focus on the dynamic possibilities.

5. Define Your Reason for Investment

Why are you investing in adaptive content.

You need to build a strong business case for adaptive content. It requires a vast investment of time and resources, so it’s important to understand and apply customer research data.

Build a business case for the executives involved in the decision-making process. You have to justify its benefit for your organization’s specific needs and goals, as well as show how adaptive content truly connects all the pieces of the marketing puzzle together.

adaptive-content-visualization

Source

Take small steps to start implementing personalized adaptive content if you’re not ready to give it a 100% investment. Even small changes can yield long-term rewards. Start with the training wheels on and make small adaptations that will lead to larger ones down the road.

This is the future of content, and you need to jump on board now before it’s too late.

We’ve talked a lot about high-level complexities today. I’d love to hear your thoughts on adaptive content and how it will shape the future of our content marketing efforts. Share your ideas by leaving a comment below.

About the Author: Aaron Agius is an experienced search, content and social marketer. He has worked with some of the world’s largest and most recognized brands to build their online presence. See more from Aaron at Louder Online, their Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

New Venue, New Speaker (Conversocial) + More Room!! SaaStr London Social with Dawn Capital – 80 More Spaces!!

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Good news!

With 100 on the waitlist already, Dawn Capital has moved the SaaStr London Summer Social next Wednesday to a new, larger venue.  We’ll be at the America Square Conference Center now:

And now we can fit another 80 or so.

Even better, we can fit in another A+ speaker, Joshua March, CEO of Conversocial, who will talk with me and Teddy from Dawn Capital about lessons learned scaling to $10m ARR.   That plus PJ from Showpad on Selling to the Enterprise on Two Continents with Two Headquarters will be pretty solid content.

The only hitch is with the new caterer, we’ve lost the hard alcohol options, but it’s a net gain, as we gain more wine and beer, and heartier snacks and food.

If you were on the waitlist before you may still be able to use that, but Eventbrite has some spam filter challenges, so feel free to also buy a Late Bird ticket instead.

See you Wednesday at 5:30pm ‘Merican time, 17:30 BST!!

>> SIGN UP HERE << or below

It will sell out again!

 

 

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A Few Good Links – Why you need them and how to get them

link buildingIn this guest post Christoph Engelhardt talks about why link building is an important part of online marketing and the most effective ways to do it.

When you are promoting your product online, there is a myriad of different ways to do it: Display Ads, Google Adwords, Facebook Ads, Social Media, Email Marketing, Online PR, and SEO – to just name a few.

Deciding on the right method for your business can be tricky. They are all so different. Some of those methods can be turned on and off like a faucet; others are more like a flywheel that need a lot of pushing to get going, but will keep delivering results after you’ve stopped.

Hopefully you’re in it for the long haul, so I’m going to talk about a strategy that is more of a flywheel: link building. Building links on the internet is a long-term strategy that factors into multiple traction channels.

Inside this article you will learn:

  • How to supercharge your PR, SEO, and Content Marketing with outreach marketing.
  • How you can get more links to your website without angering the Google gods.
  • At least 3 different ways to find high-quality outreach and link building opportunities.
  • The secret to drafting the perfect outreach email.

I’ve been in online business for more than a decade now. I’ve been struggling with moonlighting multiple products to profitability, online marketing and SEO long enough to call myself “somewhat of an expert” on those topics. ;-)

I want to share with you what I have learned in those years to help you avoid making the same mistakes I made.

Let’s get started.

SEO and link building in particular are often seen as scammy online marketing tactics and I won’t deny that there is some merit to that argument. SEO for the first 10 years has been a lot like the Wild West – minus the random killings. There was no one to effectively enforce the “law of the land” and spammers thrived.

Yes, you could cheat your way to the top of Google’s search results in the past. BUT, it is getting harder and harder with every passing day. Getting to #1 on Google today means you have to “dot the i’s and cross the t’s” in technical SEO (more on what this is later) and get some buzz going for your product – i.e. build some links.

“Link building” as a term is loathed by white-hat SEOs, as it implies spamming comment sections on random blogs and free web directories. They would much rather talk about “earning links” through “Content Marketing” and “Social Amplification”. That’s fine by me, but make no mistake: Having a rich and diverse link profile for your website is still THE major ranking factor for Google’s search results.

Spreading your links around the world wide web isn’t a problem per se. Links are what make the world wide web a WEB in the first place. But the way you do it makes all the difference: If you’re leaving useless comments on unrelated blogs, you’ll do more harm than good. If you get your product reviewed (without paying for it) on a major website where your target audience hangs out, the value gained can hardly be put into words.

Fundamentally, whenever you do any sort of online marketing you are building links. Sharing your content on social media? You’re sharing a link back to your content, because you want people to click that link. Buying Adwords? You’re buying links right on Google’s website. Sharing your news release in a PR campaign? You’re spreading your links.

This means that, if you have a website, you’ve probably started building links without thinking too much about it. All you need to do is be more intentional and active in your efforts.

Why you should include outreach marketing in your marketing mix

Building links helps you in two distinct ways: a) you’re getting referral traffic directly via the links you get, b) the links you get improve your rankings in the search engines, bringing you additional organic SEO traffic.

In the long term, the SEO benefits will often have a greater effect on your traffic than the referral traffic you receive through the links. This is because a great link profile will lift your website to the top of Google across 100’s or 1000’s of keywords (all other things being equal)! That is why link building is related to SEO in most people’s minds. Traditionally it was done almost exclusively to get that sweet #1 spot on Google.

However, you should not neglect the sheer amount of traffic you can get from a well-placed link. Depending on where you get that link from (and we will talk about this in a minute) a single link can send you 1000’s of visitors.

In fact, I advise everyone to completely neglect the SEO benefits when they think about where to get a link from. When you try to get a link from another website, here are the questions you should ask yourself:

  • Is this a trusted website in your niche?
  • Does that website have a big enough audience to send you meaningful traffic?
  • Is that website’s audience interested in your product at all?

You don’t want to get a link from a website outside your niche – especially not from a 3P-website (porn, poker, pay-day loans), no matter how good their SEO metrics are. Similarly, getting a link from Joan Doe’s blog that has two readers (her mom and her dog). Finally, you shouldn’t chase after getting featured on TechCrunch, even if they are a big ass website and you’re doing something in tech, because their readers are most likely not interested in what you have to offer. They are killing their time with their butts firmly planted in an office chair and are not looking to buy stuff.

See how I don’t even mention SEO in there? Focus on getting your links in front of your target audience. If you focus your outreach marketing on having a direct ROI from the referral traffic you get, you will be taking good care of the SEO-side of things automatically.

Calculating the ROI of outreach marketing

I hope that I have convinced you by now that outreach marketing is not a scam and you can do it without causing harm to your website or your brand (assuming you do it right).

But before you rush off to get your outreach marketing going, we need to talk ROI. You’d be ill-advised jumping into anything without at least computing the possible ROI before you do it. After all, you might have other (more valuable) options to spend what limited time you have.

First you need to know how much you’re going to invest into getting one link. Say you’re investing two hours to write a guest post and an additional half-hour for outreach and administrative work related to getting that link and you value your time at $50 per hour. This means you’re investing (roughly) $125 into getting this single link.

This number obviously depends on the website we’re talking about: Some websites like directories or profile pages won’t take you more than 10 minutes to get a link from (and links from them are worth less to you), while getting featured on a popular website in your niche might costs you an arm and a leg (but it might be worth it).

Now we know the costs, but how do we calculate (well… guesstimate) the value of one link?

There are two ways you can do so, let’s explore them – assuming we want to get a link from this blog: www.successfulsoftware.net .

  1. Go to www.opensiteexplorer.org
  2. Enter the URL of the website you’re trying to get a link from into the box (i.e. www.successfulsoftware.net) and hit RETURN.
  3. Search for the “Domain Authority” value (45).
  4. Multiply that value by $2.5 (Read my full research here).

03_checking-da-with-opensiteexplorer

03a_highlighted-domain-authority-in-opensiteexplorer

This gives you a rough guesstimate of the dollar value of any link on the web – in the case of Andy’s website that’s roughly $110. It’s a great rule of thumb for small and medium sized websites. The problem with this method is, that Domain Authority is capped at 100 – so no link can be worth more than $250 with this method. But clearly, getting featured on the White house website or Google’s blog will have a slightly (!) higher value than that.

The second approach is more complicated, but it takes into account the specifics of your business. We are going to work our way backwards from the sale for this one.

  1. We need your customer lifetime value (LTV – say $200) and your conversion rate from visitor to sale (CR – say 1%)
  2. Multiplying LTV * CR we get the average value per visitor (VPV – that’s 0.01 * $200 = $2) for your business
  3. Dividing the cost for the link by the value per visitor (cost / VPV) we get: $125 / $2 = 62.5

This tells you, that you need to get at least 63 visitors from the link to break even on your time investment. That isn’t too big a number and it can be even lower, if you have a higher LTV or when you get the link in front of just the right audience (which will increase the conversion rate for that cohort).

The only question that remains – and that I sadly can’t answer for you – is this: Will you get 63 people to click on that link on that website? If you can answer this question with a “Yes”, I think you should chase that link down.

Lastly, remember that we don’t take SEO into account here at all. It is hard to measure the effect of a single link, so consider it gravy on top.

Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals, it is time to talk a bit more in-depth about where to get links from and which websites you should definitely avoid.

As mentioned before, you don’t want to get any links from websites in dubious niches like poker, porn and payday loans. These are not good company for a respectable website. You also don’t want to have too many incoming links from the 1000’s of free web directories (startup directories anyone?) out there as it may harm your standing with the SEO gods. Having a few (high-quality, say ProductHunt) directories link to you isn’t a problem, but having 100’s or 1000’s certainly is.

The same goes for comment spamming random blogs around the internet, creating dozens of free blogs on WordPress.com or Tumblr, and poorly written, mass-produced guest posts all across the web. Just don’t. That’s not to say that blog comments or guest posts don’t have value. You just need to do it right. If it can be automated (or outsourced for $0.50/hour to developing countries), you’re doing it wrong. The rule of thumb is to get links that take significant work to acquire. This will keep you in good standing with the SEO gods.

The way to go about link building/link earning/outreach marketing today is to find suitable websites, find a contact there, develop a relationship and eventually you will get a link from it. Case in point: Andy and I go back well over a year. We’ve been to conferences, chatted a lot, he gave me advice on discuss.bootstrapped.fm, we even had lunch together when I visited his home town. NB: I wasn’t after getting a link from Andy – in this case it just happened – but building a relationship always comes before building a link. [Editor’s note: I approached Christoph to write an article for this blog]

Here are some ideas where you can get your links placed:

Website content (blog posts, news articles, etc) usually results in a spike of traffic and then it slows down to a crawl. Lists and partner directories on the other hand will give you a more constant flow of traffic.

Just look at these two images below: One is from LinksSpy getting published on ProductHunt – and the other is the traffic from when someone included LinksSpy on their ProductHunt list (with a small spike in the middle when that list was itself mentioned on a newsletter).

01_traffic-spike-producthunt

02_constant-flow-producthunt

Finding Outreach Opportunities

But how does one find these websites? I’m quite sure you could name a few websites in your niche off the top of your head, but that will ultimately give you maybe one or two links – which won’t turn you into an overnight success. You need more; you want more.

Option A is to just Google for it. Use terms like “best $PRODUCT_NICHE in 2015″ or “$NICHE blog”. If you want to get really smart(-y) you can use one of the tips from Ann Smarty and search for “blog for us $PRODUCT_NICHE”. You can also use blog directories like AllTop and look for opportunities there. Here’s a quick link you can use: Google search for blogging opportunities (Replace “NICHE” with your own niche after the page loads)

Option B is to use MyBlogU, where people are constantly searching for industry experts to do interview round-ups. Just search through the list and see if you can make a meaningful contribution to any of the interviews. You’ll usually get a nice mention in the process. (Bonus for content marketers: You can post your own interview questions and convert the answers into a blog post with built-in content promotion – all the experts will want to share it)

Option C is a bit more involved. Using OpenSiteExplorer and the URLs of your competitors you can find the places where they get their links from. Knowing where they got their links from allows you to contact the very same websites and get the same links.

This list isn’t complete – there are way more ways to find outreach opportunities. But these three will allow you to find the first few, get your feet wet and experience the success that comes with building links. You can always go deeper later on.

Options A and B are pretty much straight-forward, but you’re likely wondering by now “why would I want to get the same links my competitors already have?”

Well, there’s a reason your competitors are ranking ahead of you in Google’s search results. Aside from them nailing technical/on-site SEO (Read my blog post on bare minimum SEO for designers where I describe the basics), they have more and better links than you have. A little spying on your competition to see what works can’t hurt.

Secondly, getting links from the same websites as your competition will (theoretically) put you on par with them. In reality you won’t be able to replicate the link profile of another website and you wouldn’t want to either, as they might have a bunch of dodgy links. What you can do is combine the best links from a number of competitors, effectively giving you a better link profile than any of your competitors.

When I say “competitor” I use that term loosely. It can be either an actual competitor, another website that ranks ahead of you in the search results, a website in your industry or any number of things. You can use all of them to find valuable link opportunities.

How to Find Websites Linking to your Competition

There is a number of websites that show you the backlink profile of any given website. There is Moz’s OpenSiteExplorer (Which I have mentioned above), then there is MajesticSEO, OpenLinkProfiler, and Ahrefs. They all give you information which websites link to the website (your competitor’s website) under scrutiny, but with varying levels of detail. I generally found Ahrefs to be most accurate, but OpenLinkProfiler and Moz are free(-mium), so we will just use those for now.

Here are the steps you need to take in OpenSiteExplorer to get the valuable links for your competitors:

  1. Open OpenSiteExplorer in your browser
  2. Enter your competitor URL in the form field. e.g.: “www.softwarebyrob.com
  3. Set the following parameters:
    • Target: this root domain
    • Link Source: only external
    • Link Type: link equity
    • select “Group by subdomain & show social/contact links”
  4. This will give you the following search results

04_competitive-analysis-settings-for-opensiteexplorerThis list groups the incoming, external links by the domain they originate from. Additionally links that do not pass SEO juice are filtered out.

Looking through this list you will find some interesting websites you can ask for links. You can also see where the links were published (e.g. blog posts, partner lists). Repeat the process for as many competitors as you like.

When you examine multiple competitors make a special note for each website that links to more than one competitor. For example rachelandrew.co.uk links to the following “competitors” for Andy’s website:

These websites (the ones that link to many competitors) are often a good selection for your first batch of outreach targets. They have given links freely in the past and they have talked about your competition, which suggests they will be open to a cooperation with you. Incidentally, LinksSpy was built to find these websites.

Caveat: You still need to apply sound judgement whether you want a link from a given website or not. Some websites might be ‘dodgy’ and you would risk getting slapped by Google if you get a link from them. Or maybe they are really great websites and you would love to get a link from them, but you know that you won’t get a link from the New York Times a week after launching with six active users.

Putting the “Outreach” into “Outreach Marketing”

By now you should have a list of at least a hundred outreach targets. There are two more steps remaining on your way to making millions of dollars, getting world-famous, and saving the planet. That’s your plan – right?

As a first step you need to find contact details (i.e. the email address) of an author on that website. A few ways to find the right email address:

  • Look around for a “Contact Us” page.
  • Check if the author’s name is a link (if so check that page for his email address).
  • Check the author’s social media profiles.
  • Try to guess the right email address (e.g. firstname@mydomain.com will often work – Rapportive works great for this!).

If all else fails, you can always try your luck with “contact@mydomain.com” or “support@mydomain.com“.

Drafting the Perfect Outreach Email

Lastly, you (just) need to send the actual outreach email. If you’re cold emailing someone, it is best to not ask for favours/links right in the first email. What I recommend instead is to ask for their expert’s opinion on an article you have written. Everyone likes to be seen as an expert and to be asked for their opinion – as long as the topic interests them. Five out of ten times they will – at least – share your article. At this point you’ll be off to a good start: You’ve already got some value (social media mention!) and started to built a relationship that might end in a link for you.

So here are a few tips on how to write a great first outreach email:

  • Include the person’s name in the salutation (“Hi Andy” beats the hell out of “Hi/Hi there/Hiya!”).
  • Keep it short.
  • Do some research. It is really annoying to get emails from people who obviously haven’t bothered to find out what your blog/website is about and who the audience is.
  • Find something you genuinely appreciate about them/their work and mention it.
  • Be sincere. Don’t write something if you don’t mean it.
  • Don’t ask for a link. Repeat: DO NOT ASK FOR A LINK.
  • Keep. It. Short.

Motivational tip: When doing outreach marketing, always set your goal as “send X emails per day”. Don’t focus on “get X positive replies per day” as this is demotivating. “Send X emails per day” makes every email sent a small success, whereas with “get X positive replies” every email sent (without a reply) is a small defeat.

Get started with Outreach Marketing now

Wow. That certainly was a LOT to swallow. So here’s a short recap for you:

  1. Link building/outreach marketing is a long-term strategy that boosts your SEO and PR efforts.
  2. You can do it in an ethical way without spamming blogs/people.
  3. Searching for “$NICHE write for us” on Google and competitive link analysis as described above are excellent ways to find outreach opportunities.
  4. Drafting a good outreach email involves research and the email should be focused around the person you’re contacting.
  5. The immediate goal of outreach marketing is not to get a link, it is to build a relationship. Links and social shares will follow.

You’ve got all the information you need:

  • You have a big list of outreach opportunities now.
  • You have the contact details for each opportunity.
  • You know how to craft an outreach email.

All that is left now, is for you to go out and hit those contacts. Build relationships and you’ll get links.

Christoph Engelhardt is the founder of LinksSpy.com – a SaaS application built to help SEO and PR agencies dig up the most valuable outreach opportunities for their clients’ websites.


Filed under: article, guest posts, marketing, software Tagged: backlinks, link building, LinksSpy, online marketing, outreach emails, SEO