The Shift from Visual Appeal to Content Marketing

I feel like I’ll be stating the obvious with this particular article. However, I still think there are a lot of business owners—and even some marketing companies—who haven’t quite grasped this concept completely.

The Shift Has Already Happened

The point is that in the world of online marketing, things have shifted dramatically in the past 5-10 years. Websites used to be about visual appeal. Fancy graphics, animated elements, complex designs—it was all about catching the visitor’s attention and making your company stand out amongst the sea of competitors online all trying to vie for the same customer’s business.

This is simply not the approach of online marketing anymore. Now, good content is more important. Sure, you want your site to look sharp. You want it to catch people’s attention and build value for your brand.

Modern Design Approach

However, design nowadays is more perfunctory. The most important thing now is to have a site that is mobile-friendly, with a format that is automatically adaptable to be viewed on different web browsers and different devices (desktop, laptop, tablets, phones, TVs, gaming systems, etc.). This goal naturally hinders how “fancy” you can get with your graphics and visual elements, which is why you see a lot of template-type sites. Developers like WordPress make it easy to build your own site. Or, secondary developers piggyback on these platforms to repackage and resell templates designed for specific industries.

I’m helping one of my clients right now get started with a home investment company and, of course, there are many companies out there with plug-and-play mobile-friendly websites that are pre-built with all the SEO keywords, content, etc. I’ve gone into customize the content and make it more unique to my client’s business, but otherwise most of the heavy lifting was already done and the site was ready to launch minutes after my client signed up for their hosting package.

Content is King

The point is who ever builds and/or hosts your site, the “look” of the site is only a small part of the battle now. The way to grow your business is through content marketing. We’re talking about the content on the site itself, targeted community or landing pages, SEO tags and keywords and business blogs. When you have a lot of content that is relevant to your customer’s interests, of high quality and is added frequently, you will boost your organic search engine rankings.

Heck, look at the world’s leading search engine site. Google’s design is as plain as it gets. Sure, the point of their site is finding information. And yes, they do change the header logo every day to something clever. Honestly, I’ve always assumed that their graphics department got bored one day and started doing those headers—just for something to do.

Look at Apple’s website, as well. It is ultra clean and simple. It’s all about the products and content. It makes you want to shell out your money to buy the latest Apple technology. I am not immune, as I just picked up my new iPhone 8 last week!

Put Your Focus on Content

If you are going to be successful in online marketing, you need to make sure the majority of your focus is on the content side of things. Nice visual elements are great and not to be overlooked, but content is king and it will be for the foreseeable future.

To learn more about content marketing and business blogging, schedule a free consultation with me. Contact me at NextGear Marketing today.

Why You Should Be Using Instagram for Business Marketing

Instagram is one of today’s premier social media channels. What started as a way to share photos has quickly evolved into something much, much more. Businesses can now advertise and promote posts, which is just one way they are leveraging Instagram to generate a consumer following.

Let’s face it. Some businesses will have an easier time using the Instagram format. When you run a lifestyle business, clothing line, car dealership, sporting goods store or restaurant, you can easily feature products and services that will have the necessary visual appeal to stand out on Instagram. If you rent out port-a-potties, your visual content may not be as interesting or attractive. However, there is always a way to take advantage of any social media opportunity, and Instagram is no exception.

What You Should Post

I work with a lot of automotive repair shops at NextGear Marketing, and it takes some convincing of my clients to get them to use Instagram. Greasy auto parts and mechanics aren’t that exciting to see on an Instagram feed, so they have to be a bit more creative with what they post.

With Instagram especially, I always recommend my clients post photos and stories that showcase the “personality” of their business. Even if your products or services aren’t that attractive to look at, you can still get a lot out of Instagram. In the case of automotive repair, you can showcase a before/after montage or story of a major repair. You can show your team at work or just having fun around the shop. You can show the service team interacting with customers (be sure and ask for permission from the customer before posting a photo of them). If you do body/paint work or custom work, then you should have some cool car pictures you can post.

If the customer posts a positive online review, post that quote on Instagram and see if the customer will let you take a photo of them alongside their car. Even a somewhat generic image with a good customer quote can be effective.

Remember that Instagram posts don’t necessarily have to be directly about your business. Show the style of your workplace and the personalities of the people who work there. Instagram is not about being too serious and making direct sales. It is about building a positive brand identity and giving followers a good feeling about your company, your products and your people.

How Often to Post

A good Instagrammer should aim to post once a day, but not more than once a day. People don’t like to be too bombarded on their IG feeds, so once a day or once every other day is a good plan. You may experiment with posting at different times of day to see which posts get the most likes and comments. Obviously, studying the feedback will also help you hone in on what types of photos/posts will get the best response.

Remember you cannot include links in Instagram posts, but you can hint for them to click on your profile to find the web link. You can easily change that link if you have a specific landing page or promotion you want to drive them to. Just remember to change it back when the promotion is ended.

Targeted Messages

Don’t forget hashtags and username tags. There is no character limit with Instagram posts and tags are huge in attracting followers. Let’s say you own an auto shop in San Francisco and you post a before/after shot of a classic Chevy Camaro. Here are some tags you might use: #sanfrancisco #california #chevrolet #chevycamaro #classiccars #musclecars #bayarea #marincounty #joesautoshop #autorepair #mechanic #autoshop. You get the idea, go broad, get specific and feel free to go nuts with hashtags in order to reach the most people interested in a variety of subjects.

Now, you can also run targeted ads and promoted posts/stories on Instagram like you can on most other social media platforms. Advertising is quickly growing on this platform and you can take advantage before it is oversaturated. Rampant advertising is one reason why social media channels become out of fashion as fresh ones are developed with little-to-no advertising options. Compared to Facebook, Instagram is still fairly unsaturated with advertising, but it will only get more prevalent as time goes on and money corrupts the system. You’ll be better off in the early stages of this trend than if you wait to jump on board later.

Whether you do advertising or just want to build your brand identity through regular posts on a free account, Instagram is a social media channel you should be using for your business. To learn more about social media marketing and web content, contact NextGear Marketing today.

Should You Write Your Business Blog in First or Third Person?

This is a very common question when it comes to business blogging, and it’s a good one. The answer may depend on your type of business or your specific blogging goals. In most cases, it comes down to simple personal preference.

Why I Like First Person

For me personally, I prefer writing blogs from a first-person perspective. I’m not just talking about my own blog articles, but also ones I write for clients of NextGear Marketing. I always ask each client at the beginning of the process whether they want their blog articles written from a first-person perspective or as a third-person narrative. If no preference is given, I will default to a first-person voice. But why? Let’s take a look.

Now, remember we are primarily just talking about blogs here. Most standard web content is presented in the third person, but I do see more and more that is written in first person and it can certainly be done. Print marketing is almost always in third person. Press releases should always be in third person!

On the positive side, first-person blog articles are more engaging to readers because they offer a little bit of personality. Blogs should inject some personal flavor. Unless you happen to have a business that is 100% one-of-a-kind, your blog will likely feature plenty of topics and information that can be found elsewhere online. Having your own voice to frame the content will help set it apart and build your brand message. If readers like the way you say things, they will be more drawn to your business and the information you are sharing on your blog.

How to Do It Right

On the negative side, writing effectively in first person is actually more challenging. It seems easy and natural to write in your own voice. Some content may come across as bragging and credibility is harder to establish. Oftentimes, using “we” and “us” as opposed to “I” and “me” is one simple way to soften the language. In this case, you are speaking for the whole company rather than just yourself as a lone representative of the company. At NextGear Marketing, we recommend first person, but it takes some skill and effort to get it to come across right.

Some larger companies prefer to have a more clinical approach to their blog content and may opt for a third-person voice. They want to deliver news, ideas and information in a direct manner. That’s perfectly fine. The larger the company, the more likely this is to be true. For smaller companies, however, establishing a rapport with readers is usually a priority. Therefore, a first-person approach may be more effective.

What About Second-Person Perspective?

Now, I don’t want to neglect the importance of second-person writing because it should be universal. Whether your primary voice is first- or third-person, you will always want to put some attention on the readers themselves. Address their questions, wants and needs with the strategic use of “you” and “your” in the content. Use metaphors and examples that they can relate to. In other words, deciding between first vs. third person is in reference to the general framework of the article, but the ultimate point is speaking directly to the reader and that will help keep them engaged.

Above All Else, Be Consistent

Whatever approach you take with your writing voice, it’s important to stay consistent. Trying to change perspectives based on different articles or topics can be tricky and you will lose voice consistency. You want to write as if the same people are reading your blog articles every week, even if that’s not really the case. You will build a regular following if you are engaging enough, but you will also get people who find specific articles through searches or social media links and that’s all they see. You still want everybody to feel like part of the target audience, no matter how they come across your blog.

To learn more about business blogging or to get started with a custom blog campaign for your business, contact NextGear Marketing today for a free consultation.

Business Blogging Basics: Salient vs. Sales

If you’ve been following the NextGear Marketing Blog, you will have seen the Business Blogging Basics series of articles. In most, I recommend a healthy blend of the different approaches being discussed. In this article, things might be a little different.

Salient vs. Sales

For the purpose of this article, “salient” represents the useful information, ideas and insight being shared in your business blog articles. Whether someone finds your article through a search or they are a regular follower, they are typically reading what you have written to find out more information on a specific topic. Let’s say you sell appliances and you write an article about how to pick out the right dishwasher. Someone is seeking out your article that will include salient points to help them make a dishwasher buying decision. They may be doing this to avoid going into an appliance store and being accosted by a salesperson right when they walk in the door.

“Sales,” on the other hand, is just that. It is the activity of using your blog articles to generate leads or create sales of specific products or services that your company offers. After you’ve given someone the information they sought out, what consumer actions do you want them to take next? You told them how to find the right washing machine, now you want to sell them that washing machine at your appliance store. Working sales messages into an article, though, is a bit like walking a tightrope.

What’s the Right Balance?

There could be some debate on this subject as to what the balance between salient information and sales tactics should be on a business blog. It may depend somewhat on your industry. Some businesses can get away with being more salesy than others. A tax consultant will be different than a used car dealership, for instance.

In general, professional bloggers will heavily slant toward the salient side of things. Having a lot of relevant information on different topics is good for SEO and the sooner someone feels like they are being “sold” in an article, the less credible the information in it will seem.

Calls to Action

That said, pretty much every blog article you post should include some clear call to action at the end. You want the reader to take the next step to explore more information on your website, call, subscribe to an email list, etc.

The call to action should be short, simple, clear and direct. Make it no more than a couple sentences in a separated paragraph at the very end of the article. You’ve given them the information they wanted to find. Now you can spin it back around to your company and make a quick and harmless sales pitch.

Subtle Sales Approaches

In many cases, a call to action at the end will be all the sales you’ll want to incorporate into your articles. However, there are subtle ways to sell your products/services throughout the article. In the information you are providing, you can build value for yourself. The article itself will naturally give you more credibility in the eyes of the reader. Then, you can also work in subtle references to your brand and your products/services.

Let’s say you are a tax preparation company. Write an article providing “10 Tips for Preparing Your Small Business Taxes.” Make one of those tips “Hire a Professional.” It’s actually a wise tip and it will build value for your service without shoving a sales message down the reader’s throat.

There are other subtle sales tactics you can use, including testimonials and case studies. Use third party stories and customer quotes to sell your business. You’re not the one saying great things about yourself. That’s a turn-off. However, when someone else says nice things in a review or case study, it’s so much more credible. Here’s an example of a customer testimonial story I wrote for one of my clients, Ralph’s Transmission.

Direct Sales Articles

In some cases, it makes perfect sense to have a whole article that is a bit more salesy than others. If you want to feature specific products or services, you can’t help but be a little more direct with your sales messages and calls to action. That’s just fine when the situation demands it. I wouldn’t make every article on your blog super salesy, but it’s okay from time to time.

In conclusion, you will typically want to skew much more toward “salient” information compared to “sales” messages when writing a business blog. However, you can work in a little sales so that the reader can take the next steps.

For instance…

For more information about business blogging and custom web content for your company, contact NextGear Marketing today for a free marketing consultation.



7 SEO Benefits of Blogging

Blogging is not only a good way to stay engaged with your customers and social media followers. In fact, you could say its biggest benefit is helping with search engine optimization (SEO). Your business blog will give you a way to add lots of targeted, relevant content to your site on a regular basis.

Let’s look at some of the specific SEO benefits of blogging:

1. Quantity of Content

There’s no doubt that the quantity of content you have on your website will boost SEO appeal. Doing regular blog posts will increase the amount of good content that you have without it seeming like too much all at once.

2. Quality of Content

The quality of writing and the relevance of the content on your site is becoming more and more important when it comes to SEO rankings. Search engine algorithms get more sophisticated with each passing day. When you have well-written blog content, it will improve your organic reach.

3. Frequency of Content

It is better to regularly add new content to your site compared to putting it all up at once. You may see a spike in your rankings if you upload a ton of content at the same time, but then it becomes stagnant and your rankings will ultimately tumble. Your blog allows you to continually add new, fresh content and that’s great for SEO.

4. Titles, Tags and Descriptions

Most blog editors will allow you to add search tags, custom titles, custom URLs and meta descriptions. This will enable you to incorporate a lot of back-end SEO elements without detracting from the quality of the actual blog articles.

5. Relevant Information and Topics

One great thing about blogging is you can focus each article on specific topics, news or information relating to different parts of your business. People may be searching for specific information and they will likely find your article if it is relevant to their search.

6. Links

Be sure and include links within each blog article. You can use internal links to other pages/articles on your site. You can incorporate external links to source articles and information. Lastly, you can put links to your article on all your social media channels. All of these links will boost your SEO.

7. Social Media Integration

Your blog articles should be shared and discussed on all of your social media channels. This kind of activity will also improve your SEO.

These are just some of the advantages of blogging specifically related to your SEO rankings. There are many other benefits and reasons why you should have a regular blog for your business. To learn more about business blogging with NextGear Marketing, contact us today.

Video Killed the Blogging Star

Actually, the title couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s just a clever headline that takes me back to my 80s childhood. In fact, videos are a great enhancement to your business blog. A well-done video can really spice up your content and engage viewers on a much higher level than plain text. However, there are some caveats to consider.

There are a couple ways to look at utilizing videos in relation to blogging:

Video Blog (aka “Vlogging”)

Some individual bloggers and businesses will do their blogging entirely in video form. This can be a powerful way of communicating ideas, information and branding messages to target consumers through social media. When done right, it adds a lot of personality and character and it is ideal for today’s on-the-go consumers with short attentions spans as a result of the social media driven world we now live in.

Vlogging is very effective when you already have a strong following on social media and a lot of regular visitors of your YouTube channel. Where you lose a little bit is in terms of SEO and organic website draw. Even if you embed your videos on your website, a relevant search will likely take the person to your YouTube page. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because everybody loves YouTube, but most people aren’t going to take the extra step to click through and get to your actual website unless the call to action in the video is extremely compelling.

In most cases, people will get stuck in what I call a “Tubehole,” which is the wormhole of YouTube where you end up watching about a dozen more videos on the side and you get far away from the original video that brought you there. Someone may end up watching several of your videos in the process, which is great, but odds are they won’t end up still on your channel.

SEO in Videos

In terms of SEO, you can incorporate targeted tags, titles and descriptions when posting the video on YouTube and/or directly on your site. These are great, but you won’t have the full depth of searchable content compared to a text-based blog.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not disparaging video blogging in any way. It is an excellent strategy that you should want to utilize, especially when you have a strong social media following.

The Right Balance

If you follow my blog, you will notice I use the word “balance” an awful lot. That’s because an effective blog will have a good balance of different strategies. The same is true when comparing video to standard text-based blogging. Both are great and both will be very effective in different ways.

You might consider doing some written blogs and some video blogs in a healthy mix. Or, an even better plan is to add relevant videos to your written blog articles, and then you get the best of both worlds. Some people will be more drawn to the written information. Others will be inclined to watch the video first. Both will have strong SEO, so you get the tagged, embedded video in addition to the depth of searchable content in the text portion of blog. It’s a win-win situation!

If you are blogging for your business, consider taking advantage of the power of videos in conjunction with your regular written blog articles. You will find the right balance and combination of the two strategies will attract new consumers and engage existing followers at the same time.

To learn more about blogging for your business, contact NextGear Marketing today.



Is Direct Mail Dead?

Obviously, most of my articles center around web content and blogging, but NextGear Marketing does marketing and advertising of all types. In fact, my marketing career began at a company that specialized in direct mail campaigns, so it is a subject I am very familiar with.

For some companies, the concept of direct mail has become obsolete thanks to social media, emails, landing pages and blogs, which are all generally cheaper to utilize and offer many powerful benefits in today’s consumer market. However, direct mail is still a very viable strategy for some businesses, and it can be a part of your overall marketing strategy if done right.

Who is Your Target Audience?

First, you have to consider who your target audience is. Will direct mail reach them and pique their interest? If your ideal consumer is in an older age range, then direct mail can be quite powerful. If you are primarily going after millennials, then you may want to keep your focus more on digital avenues.

I am personally in the Generation X age range, which means I fall somewhere in between. I get a lot of direct mail and some of it will catch my eye. I also spend my fair share of time on social media, as well as other online sources to make my consumer decisions. The more research you do, the more you’ll probably discover that most of today’s consumers will respond to all types of marketing. And that’s why you want your marketing strategy to incorporate a decent blend of approaches, possibly including direct mail.

What Are You Selling?

Next, you have to consider the products or services you are trying to sell. What is the best way to communicate their benefits to your target audience? What will generate the most response? Social media advertising and targeted email campaigns are essentially the same idea as a direct mail campaign. You narrow your focus and send messages that you hope will generate a direct response from the people who see/receive them.

When it comes to direct mail, most people will still pay more attention to your message when they are physically holding something in their hands (i.e. your direct mail postcard, flyer, pamphlet or letter). It’s human nature. Emails are easy to ignore or filter out as spam. Social media ads are often overlooked amidst so many other things happening in someone’s feed.

It’s true that 99.9% of all direct mail pieces will end up in the trash or shredder, but you can still make an impression on the way from the mailbox to the garbage can. It could just be furthering your brand message in that consumer’s mind as they see your mailers time after time, or the offer may catch their attention just enough for them to take action. Either way, there is some impact that you may not get through digital channels.

Is Direct Mail Right for You?

If it makes sense for your business and your consumer audience, you can still utilize direct mail (as part of a balanced marketing campaign) for great results. Just look in your own mailbox every week. The shear volume of “junk mail” shows that it is far from dead as an effective marketing strategy.

The one big downside of direct mail is that it is not cheap, especially if you compare the costs of printing and postage against social media marketing, blogging, SEO and other digital strategies. It’s all about finding enough return on investment. If your direct mail campaign isn’t generating enough business to pay for itself, then you need to focus your budget elsewhere or rethink your direct mail approach. The medium may not be the problem. It could be your designs, messages or mailing lists that need to be rethought.

Direct mail is just one medium to consider when developing a comprehensive marketing campaign for your business. For more information and a free marketing consultation, contact NextGear Marketing today.