How this guy with 6.871 followers on LinkedIn got 500,000 views with one single post

How this guy with 6.871 followers on LinkedIn got 500,000 views with one single post

Arne van Damme is the COO of Intuo, and a skilled LinkedIn self-marketer on top. 

In this interview, we discuss his best tactics for growing and engaging your audience on LinkedIn.

Listen and learn

  • How Arne has built niche communities in different cities and how he converted them into paying customers
  • The anatomy of one specific LinkedIn post that got him (with his 6,800 connections) 500,000 views, 1,800 comments and 6 qualified sales meetings, all from this one post
  • What he thinks of controversy and how to use it best
  • Which tool he uses for automation (it’s linkedhelper.com – but listen to HOW he uses it)
  • What his main 3 pieces of advice for growing your LinkedIn audience are

Run though the slide show below to get the gist of the advice in 2-3 minutes. 

 

New Field

New Field

How to amplify your content reach through guest posting

How to amplify your content reach through guest posting

Today we’ll talk about how to guest post in the right way in these post-Google-Penguin days.

If done correctly, guest posting is a great way to build relationships with other content creators in your space, and to get in front of a new audience, even if the gold rush days of SEO juice are gone.

But as with most other things in content marketing, it takes time, patience, and perseverance.

 

Before we get into specific how-tos, let’s first discuss the context of how guest blogging became controversial. If you’re not interested in the history, just skip down to the next headline.

Why Google doesn’t like guest posting

Guest posting or guest blogging was all the rage a few years ago. Conceptually, it makes a lot of sense: You have an audience, blogger Bob has a similar audience – you give Bob great content, he gives you more exposure plus a link back to your site. Great for SEO, more readers for you, everybody wins.

And then the spammers came. Content farms started churning out low value content and asked every media outlet in their space to appear on their site. Small publishers were excited about the attention. They felt honoured that a large player wanted to collaborate with them.

Only they didn’t know that they were part of a carpet bombing campaign. As Google’s distinguished engineer Matt Cutts once said about a blogger, “She thought that her small blog was being validated, when in fact it was being targeted.”

After this had been going on for a while, Google slammed the door shut on it in 2014.

Matt Cutts talks about Guest Posting

Cutts cuts off guest posting’s air supply

 

Google wasn’t specific on how they’d track and punish guest posting at scale, but everyone accepted that “scaled” guest posting was over. No more SEO juice. Penalties were looming. Google would downgrade both parties in the transaction: The publisher accepting low quality guest posts and the company doing the spamming.

And then came Penguin. This Google algorithm update, rolled out over various iterations, meant to enforce Google’s Quality Guidelines and stop the spam.

Up until Penguin, Google had penalized websites manually. A site owner would get notice that their site had violated the guidelines, and learn how they could redeem themselves.

But with Penguin, people started wondering if Google had moved beyond manual penalties and was now punishing guest posts at scale (which would make sense – but would also make false positives more likely: well-intentioned, value-adding guest posts getting caught erroneously in Google’s bear trap).

While there is no definitive proof for a guest posting penalty at scale yet, it pays to be vigilant and refrain from any potentially dodgy behaviour that could attract Google’s gaze.

The problem is: Google considers more things dodgy than you might assume.

 

The consensus about Google’s attitude towards guest posting

 

Specifically, these are the things to be a good boy or girl scout about:

    • Avoid linking to your site from the “About” bio. Because it was such a frequent ploy the spammers used, Google treats these links with a lot of suspicion.
    • More generally, links are tricky. You should not guest blog for the SEO benefits at all. Matt Cutts made it unambiguously clear by talking about the “fall of guest blogging for SEO”. If your goal is to get links, don’t bother.
      • But what does that mean? Are you supposed to just guest post on others’ sites without a link back? There’s two things you can do:
        • Either there is an unambiguously appropriate place in the post to place your link. Google has very strict criteria when evaluating which links add or don’t add value. But if the content really cries out for a link to your site and you can take the risk, then place the link. Worst case Google might just slap your wrist, ask you to get that link removed, and then you’re fine again.
        • Or you ask the site owner to only use <nofollow> links. (these links still link to your site, but Google doesn’t count them towards your page rank, i.e. they don’t confer SEO benefits to you). Some sites have implemented a wholesale <nofollow> link strategy for guest bloggers just to avoid the headache.
      • <Nofollow> links are particularly important in cases where you paid for the content to be placed. Google has ways of finding out if you paid. Believe me. Advertorials should never pass PageRank.
  • Therefore, guest post for branding and awareness reasons only. Not for SEO. Write consistently good content and publish some of it on other outlets to get additional audience. If you can, combine your quality content with an offer or another call to action that maximises traffic to your site. Optionally, retarget your website visitors with a custom message to bring them back.

 

Side note: there’s a counter-opinion to the idea that Google punishes for undesirable links. SEO expert Eric Enge says that recently, Google simple started to ignore undesirable links instead of punishing you for them.

But before this is commonly accepted wisdom, I would suggest, that you don’t take this as gospel – I think it’d be too risky a strategy.

(Kontent360 is monitoring this area closely, so if you subscribe to our newsletter you’ll be the first to know.)

 

So what does that mean for guest blogging these days?

Here’s how to do it:

1. Compile a list of publications you would like to appear on

This can be popular blogs in your niche, online trade journals and other expert online media.

I like to compile my publications in a spreadsheet with the following headers:

  • Name
  • Domain
  • Summary of their content angle
  • Which of my client segments they might be addressing
  • Site quality indicators
    • Share of traffic from desired geography (source: SimilarWeb)
    • Traffic volume (same)
    • Page rank (you can check it here)
    • MOZ Domain Authority (you can check it here)
    • Overall content quality perception on a scale of 1-5
    • # of new posts in the past 30 days. The more the better
    • Combined social media followership, by social channel
    • An overall subjective quality verdict on them on a scale of 1-10.
  • Do they mention any guest posting guidelines?
  • If yes, what are the rules
    • About content
    • About the process
  • Any names mentioned on their site that we should contact? If so
    • Name
    • Contact details
    • Linkedin profile (check if you have a connection to them – it will come handy when the official channel fails you)

 

2. Prioritise the sites along your most important criteria

Traffic volume isn’t always the most important factor. If a site gives me the sense that they are exactly hitting a sweet spot in terms of target audience and tone of voice, I’d rather work with them than with a larger, but bland generalist site.

Based on the above, I prioritise the publications. I don’t have a ruthless algorithmic scoring method, it’s a judgment call.

A key decision criterion is whether they invite guest posts and have an editorial policy. (Check the “About us” section or search for a link like “write for us” or “guest authors”.)

Let’s break the question down:

  1. Do they invite guest posts?
  2. Do they have an editorial policy, i.e. formal guidelines on what and how to write?

→ If yes on both – that’s good news.

→ If (1) is yes but (2) is no, it’s tricky: If anyone can post anything, it means that they don’t have high standards. If they accept all kinds of guest posts without control, they are unlikely to attract the audience you’re after. You might be throwing pearls before swine. Check the quality of the site’s content. If it’s good, go for it.

→ If both (1) and (2) are no, it might take you longer to elicit a response from them. If they don’t do guest posts on a regular basis, it’s more likely you’ll get ignored or asked to pay up (more on this later). But don’t dismiss this possibility out of hand. I have had several instances where a publication responded and took my content despite not having anything to that effect on their website. 

 

3. Pitch them with new and unique content

Yea, here’s the bad news: If you want to get featured, you’ll have to create new content for them.

Google doesn’t like article marketing – shopping around previously published content to different outlets. And while in the past all you needed to do was to change a word here or there, that game is over now. With their army of human and artificial engineers, Google will eat your rephrasing for breakfast.

Does this mean you should custom-tailor articles to a particular site’s audience?

The following is the most efficient approach:

1. Consider who this publication’s audience is exactly

2. Think of a content idea

  1. Look for ideas for upcoming content in your calendar. Is there one that would be great for exactly this audience?
  2. Is there a post you posted in the past that you could give a new angle? For example: You wrote about how to train disobedient dogs. The potential host blog is about living with pets and children. You can rewrite your content and write about how to involve your children in training disobedient dogs.
  3. (Can you use the same idea for different outlets? I do it – but not too much. Given that not everyone will respond positively, I reuse the same content idea 3-4 times)
  4. By the way – keep the best content ideas for yourself. Your marquee content belongs on your site.

3. Pitch them

  1. Explain your idea in 3-4 bullet points.
  2. In which section of their site it should go? (this shows you’ve done your homework)
  3. Whip out all your credentials of what an amazing company you are.
  4. Don’t make it about yourself. It’s not about widening your appeal and authority. Instead, speak about how your insights could add value to their audience.

They will either ignore you, ask you to pay, reject you, ask for the full content before committing, or commit right away.

Your results will depend on how well known your company already is. If they ignore you or reject the pitch, keep trying with new ideas around once a week.

After 4-5 unsuccessful attempts, I’d stop trying.

 

Final thought – Should you pay?

Some companies will respond to your guest post request by suggesting an advertorial (= paid post)

In some cases, this might make sense for you, especially if it’s an outlet with a good reputation and you will likely reach a large audience.

If you have the budget to pay, ask them the following questions

  • Do they have demographic data on your audience? How much does their audience overlap with yours?
  • Ask where their audience is located (and cross-check their data with public data from Similarweb)
  • Ask for expected page views on your content and calculate an expected Cost Per View. This can result in large differences across providers. In one recent outreach I did on behalf of a client, one outlet quoted me £0.60 per view, another one £4.50. If you’re in a combative mood, ask them for a minimum amount of page views, below which you will pay less.
  • Ask for ROI figures – have any of their content advertisers reported back to them with results? (You usually won’t get a good answer, but the question sends the message that you won’t be messed with.)

Don’t be tempted to write a pure advertising piece. Your impulse might be “well I’m paying for it so I’ll just create a straight up sales article.” This can backfire because no one likes being sold to, especially when they haven’t asked for it. Your number of views and full reads will be low.

The best solution is to still provide some helpful content or an engaging storyline but then close with a stronger call to action and an offer, more than you would do in a purely editorial piece.

Make sure the company implements all links as <nofollow>. As I mentioned above, Google may punish you for SEO relevant links if you paid someone for publishing your content.

 

I think you’re good to go!

Please let me know how this works for you – Either in the comment section below or by tweeting at us.

Also get in touch if you have other thoughts to share on this.

More reading / watching on this topic

  • Rand Fishkin’s video on guest posting – he’s doing a great job laying out how it can be a slippery slope. As always – quality rules.
  • TheNextWeb article on guest posting – key takeaway: Google is easily triggered and won’t give you benefit of the doubt.
  • No one should have a full-time job of guest blogging (Matt Cutts said so)

 

Image credits: Jesse Collins at Unsplash, Twitter, Mark Armstrong, Navigation Points

 

How a swimming pool installation company in rural Virginia saved their business with content marketing

How a swimming pool installation company in rural Virginia saved their business with content marketing

A spectacular turnaround story, River Pools and Spas (RPS) in Warsaw, VA (USA) is a thing of legends in the Content Marketing community, not least because of how unlikely it sounds: A company digging holes and installing swimming pools as the shining example of writing blog posts and e-books, written about in the New York Times and profiled in books about content marketing? Go on – tell me more.

In 2009, during the Great Recession, swimming pools were one of the first things that affluent American homeowners cut back on.

But not only was demand for new pools tanking, customers even wanted their deposits returned – i.e. business that the company had thought to be “in the bag” suddenly vanished retroactively! This suffocated the company of cash.

At $4 million annual revenue, River Pools and Spas were spending $250k per year on outbound marketing. Out of four competitors in the region, they were the smallest.

The only way to stay afloat in a shrinking market is to steal market share. But how to do that with a dwindling cash balance? CEO Marcus Sheridan discovered content marketing (he prefers the term “inbound marketing” – I’m discussing here why I prefer “content”). He read the success stories (unsuspecting that one day he would become one of the most famous ones) and decided he would give it a try. He started a blog on the company website which previously had served merely as a virtual shop front.

Marcus Sheridan, then CEO of River Pools and Spas

Just don’t take the laptop into the pool. (Source: NY Times)

Blogging, Sheridan thought, would kill not two but three birds with one stone:

    1) It’s free, and if it worked he would be able cut back on his marketing spend
    2) It would differentiate him from his competitors
    3) It would make use of his spare time given flagging demand

But what to write about?
It soon became clear that the best topic to cover would be all the questions people had about swimming pools. And there were many. A swimming pool is a huge expenditure and buyers have a lot of questions before committing: What are the pros and cons of fiberglass pools? What is the installation process? How do fiberglass pools stack up against concrete pools? What is the yearly maintenance cost of a swimming pool?

Sheridan simply started writing answers to the most frequent questions that customers asked him on a regular basis. He thought: “If they ask me in person, they’ll also be googling it.” And at the time, there was no other company that publicly answered customers’ questions on these topics. Either they didn’t think it was important enough or they considered this information to be too valuable to simply give away.

Only Marcus Sheridan wasn’t simply “giving” his information “away”.
He collected readers’ email addresses, observed which of his emails his subscribers were reading, optimised email subject lines to grow email open rates, alternated content emails with salesy ones … and started counting as the dollar bills were piling up. By 2011, two years after his decision to go all out on content marketing, River Pool and Spas was selling more fiberglass pools than any other company in North America. And yes, you read that right.

These days, the company continues doing well and has a readership of 200,000 monthly visits during the summer months – truly extraordinary for what used to be a mere shopfront of a high-end product company.

What lessons can we learn from this story?

1. Evergreen content wins
Questions around swimming pools don’t change much over the years. Barring some high-tech breakthroughs that make pools magically install and fill themselves, people will still be asking about pros and cons, cost, duration etc. Answer their questions and you’re half-way there. Evergreen content is also one of the secrets behind Tim Ferriss’ huge success as a blogger and even more so as a podcaster.

2. Giving is receiving
Sheridan made great use of one of the cornerstones of persuasion: Reciprocity. Robert Cialdini describes in his seminal book Influence how Hare Krishna followers soliciting donations in an airport dramatically improved their results by giving strangers a flower first. Even if it was unsolicited, value had been transferred, people’s urge to reciprocate kicked in and off they went and handed over a few dollars (in this case, surely not without a dash of resentment).

In his e-book, Sheridan recounts a story of a customer who had been reading his blog and, while in his office, said that she would now check out competitors’ offers. Ever the sales shark, Sheridan told her that she could of course do that. But given that he had been giving her (as she herself said) trustworthy information on the topic of pool installation, would she be able to trust his competitors as much as him? The customer turned on a dime and signed on the dotted line. Sometimes reciprocity needs a little nudge.

When people receive value from you, they remember. Like with the friend on Facebook who regularly posts interesting observations or links to thoughtful articles, we accumulate molecules of gratitude which end up amounting to an overall positive feeling about that person. In contrast, all the image-building, humblebragging, selfie-posting bores slowly develop into full-blown morons in our mind’s eye.

In business, it works the same way. If you are genuinely helpful, and what you write is well thought through, people will remember and recommend you, even if they aren’t customers themselves. And if, one day, they do become interested in buying your product… guess which provider they will see in a more favourable light? The company whose ads clutter their Facebook feed and keep them from watching YouTube clips? Or the company that generously gave them free advice in their area of expertise?

3. Talk about competitors and products you don’t offer
Sheridan advocates reviewing one’s competitors which is something that most other companies would balk at and would consider crazy: Why draw attention to competitors?
Well, it’s an easy decision if your mindset is to give customers what they want. And customers want to see comparisons between companies. Do you really think that customers buying a swimming pool would not look at alternative offers? Customers are well informed. And you show that you have their best interest in mind by giving them what they want. Because they will remember they got this information from you.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to convert readers into customers. Go ahead, show them all the email harvesting pop-overs you want and send them finely targeted conversion emails. But banking on customers’ ignorance about your competitors is not a viable long-term strategy.

This philosophy is also why Amazon shows links to competitors’ sites at the end of their product listings:
amazon-image
Why would they do this? Well, if you arrive at the end of the page and indicate that you didn’t find what you were looking for – how likely are you going to convert with Amazon? Most likely you are on your way out. So Amazon collects a little token from another seller for passing you on to them.

“Well, at least they make money from passing the buyer on!” you may say. This is true. Marcus Sheridan could as well plant some affiliate links in his competitors’ reviews. But this is not how the swimming pool industry works, so in the meantime he’s not making any currency off his competitor reviews other than readers’ goodwill. And that’s worth money in the long run.

The Upshot and the Inspiration

Marcus Sheridan’s story was one of my earliest inspirations to get into Content Marketing. His radical approach to honesty towards customers and long-term thinking are at the core of the Kontent360 business philosophy.

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Further sources:
Joe Pulizzi: Epic Content Marketing

Check out a 4 minute video to learn more about the turnaround story of the company

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