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Cloudy With a Chance of White Papers

30 Sep
cloud softwareI remember when Salesforce launched at the turn of the century. Okay, it was the early 2000s, but saying “turn of the century” makes it sound a lot cooler.
A publishing business I was working for at the time adopted Salesforce as its new CRM. We had a really young MBA for a CEO and he was always willing to try new things.
Salesforce was one of the earliest SaaS success stories. I recall that switching to Salesforce from our old, custom-built database required a steep learning curve for many of the sales personnel. This was back in the day before clean, user-friendly, WYSIWYG-packed applications were the norm. Workers were not yet hard-wired to navigate a cloud interface.
Switching to a new CRM also likely involved a lengthy contract obligation and manually migrating information from our outdated system. At the time, I’ll bet our CEO read quite a few Salesforce white papers and technical backgrounders to determine if the CRM would be a good fit.

Now My Head Is In the Clouds

Fast forward to 2013.  How many new cloud-based services do you sign up for each month? How many free SaaS demos do you try? As an online marketer involved in SEO, paid advertising, and social media, I’d estimate that I create about five new accounts monthly. Last week alone, I signed up for Trello, Triberr and a silly wedding planning app that shall remain nameless (I am getting hitched in a few months!)
The SaaS model is now ubiquitous. Anyone can demo a complex software solution in minutes for free or a low cost and with very little risk.  User-friendly dashboards and universal design best practices, make it quick and easy to learn how to use new software. In addition, many APIs play nicely with one another. This makes it easy for a Salesforce user to integrate other favorite tools like MailChimp or Google Apps.

So, let me get to the point and ask a few marketing questions:

Are traditional white papers still relevant marketing tools for selling SaaS products? Have free trials and monthly plans significantly lowered the risk of trying new cloud applications?  How have these changes impacted the B2B sales cycle?

White Papers vs. Ebooks and Numbered Lists

Gordon Graham, a.k.a. “That White Paper Guy,” recently authored “White Papers for Dummies,” a thorough guide to writing long form B2B content. In this book, Graham describes traditional white papers, such as technical backgrounders for CTOs or CIOs and Problem/Solution papers for executives. Along with those two styles of white papers, Graham also recommends an ebook, or numbered list paper. This is a more informal document that reads like a magazine article or an extended blog post.
There are still many B2B situations where a white paper makes sense. However, I think that many SaaS providers today, especially smaller startups, may benefit from a numbered list or ebook more than a more traditional white paper. 
Today you can demo a SaaS product, try it out for a month, and then cancel or sign up. In the digital marketing space, I see a ton of software startups with small teams and budgets selling services to other small and medium-sized organizations. In this space, the numbered list has several benefits:
1. Numbered lists are scannable and easy to read and contain actionable advice that will make the reader’s life easier. This will appeal to small business owners, who are pressed for time and always looking for ways to streamline and improve operations.
2.  The soft-sell approach of an ebook or numbered list advances the customers who are already in your sales pipeline. An ebook also works to attract new leads by addressing important industry questions or universal concerns. This is a big plus for startups who are trying to get their name out there and spread brand awareness.
3. Unlike a white paper, an ebook is not an obvious sales tool.  This makes ebooks and numbered lists more sharable and easier to promote on social media.  When you download a white paper, you know you’ll be getting a call from a sales person. A numbered list or ebook does not have the same “salesy” reputation (yet . . .).
What do you think about using ebooks and numbered list content in lieu of more formal white papers? Please share any thoughts or reactions in the comments below!
Photo credit: jojo nicdao

Where Did You Get That Stat? The Nebulous Vortex of Sourcing Online Statistics

30 Mar

online researchOne recent morning, a client contacted me and asked me to find a widely cited statistic that supported the use of behavioral job interview techniques.

The client needed to show that behavioral interviews resulted in lower overall hiring costs, lower turnover rates or increased productivity. They needed the statistic within two hours for use in an important piece of long form content.

I didn’t have access to any paid research resources like JSTOR or a real library. I just had the internet. Sounds easy right?

Wrong.

One hour later I had located about twenty different human resources and hiring blogs all citing the same figure. Yet not one of these blogs or websites provided the source for this statistic:

Behavioral interviewing is said to be 55 percent predictive of future on-the-job behavior, while traditional interviewing is only 10 percent predictive.

This is exactly the kind of statistic that the client wanted. But without a citation, this information was completely unfounded and useless. The closest I eventually got to locating a source for this statistic was a citation I found buried in a document from Google Scholar search:

1997 by Salgado, J.F. in “Personnel Selection Methods” – in C.L. Cooper and I.T. Robinson, International Review of Industrial Organizational Psychology New York: Wiley – it was shown that behavioral interviewing can increase by nearly 50 percent your chances of hiring the right employee.

Even the above citation does not help to ground the initial statistic in reality, especially because the citation was related to a 50 percent improvement in hire quality, while the other widely used but un-cited statistic claimed a 55 percent increase in hire quality. I also could not find this exact publication anywhere online. Ultimately, I came up empty-handed and recommended the client include a generalized statement such as, “Leading human resource experts believe behavioral interviewing may increase hire quality by more than 50 percent,” or avoid using a statistic altogether.

As a content marketer, I am always backing up my white papers, ebooks and blogs with powerful statistics and research that tell a story.  I’ve spent many hours combing through a network of poorly cited website and blog statistics hunting for the original source. However, this was the first  time I was completely unable to find a well-cited data point.

The Marketing Takeaways

Even from this negative experience, where I was unable to find a statistic, I learned something new about content marketing: the value of well-cited data online. Below are some content marketing takeaways that explain more about how businesses can use statistics and the absence of online citation to improve SEO and increase sales:

1. Create an online landing page filled with properly cited statistics for your industry or area of expertise.

Here is an example of a software provider in the hiring and background check industry with a static page sharing facts and statistics. In conducting research for this industry, I’ve used this page to find original sources and have seen countless other human resources and hiring blogs cite, copy, link to and borrow stats from this page. Using SEOMoz’s Open Site Explorer, you can see that this page has a total of 725 backlinks pointing to it, which is a huge SEO signal to Google that this page is authoritative and relevant for key hiring and human resources topics and keywords.

2. Better yet, make your list of facts tweetable or easy to share.

HubSpot frequently posts blogs like this one, “The Ultimate List of 2012 Email Marketing Stats.”  Not only does HubSpot share stats and cite the sources, it also provides “Tweet This Stat” links that allow readers to instantly share the stat with their followers. This sharing functionality provides amazing word-of-mouth for HubSpot and generates social signals like Tweets and Retweets pointing back to HubSpot. (SEOs believe that Google is now factoring social signals into search results). Below is a screenshot of the tweet generated when you click “Tweet This Stat” on HubSpot’s blog:

Screen shot 2013-03-30 at 12.56.16 PM

The Marketing Benefits of  A Citation Heavy, Fact-Filled Landing Page

1. More Backlinks for SEO

A landing page full of cited facts and statistics can  help your business to generate more inbound backlinks. Other bloggers and website owners will link back to your page as a resource or as a source for their own writing.

2. Increased Conversions

With the right statistics, you can even tell a story that helps to convert more website visitors into leads or customers. For example, a plumbing company website could post a page full of statistics showing how much a homeowner can save on utility bills with a tankless water heater or low-flow toilet. A list of persuasive statistics  may convince a greater number of website visitors to call the plumbing company and get those money-saving fixtures installed.

Even though I did not find the stat I was looking for, this experience helped to identify an easy-to-implement SEO and marketing tactic for businesses. Now I have to work on posting my own “fast facts” page about how blogging and content marketing can increase leads and revenue for businesses! Stay tuned!

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan

An Infographic About The Old Pueblo (Tucson, AZ)

8 Mar

How cool is this infographic about Tucson? Love it! Check out more on the Student Experts blog: http://studentexperts.com/stexblog. There’s also a good post on using infographics as an online marketing tactic. They build links, stoke social media engagement and help with SEO.

Student Experts Infographic Marketing
Student Experts Infographic Marketing

Graph Search on Facebook is Here, But Is the Revolution Here?

1 Feb
Graph Search on Facebook.

Options to refine a Facebook Graph Search.

The revolution will not be televised … it will be on Facebook. Ugh.

Today I received access to Facebook’s Graph Search in Beta. Even the tour that walked me through Graph Search was personalized! This creepy new search functionality already has  users in a tailspin about privacy.  Here’s a look at what Graph search does and how it may prove revolutionary for the Facebook empire.

What does Graph Search do?

Instead of limiting Facebook search to the structure of the site (i.e. pages, people, places, interests), Graph Search enables users to uncover connections between people, places and things. Formerly you could do keyword-esque searches to turn up people, business pages, community pages, places and interests. Now you can search your network for very specific interactions and interests.

A Sample Search: “My friends who like Radiohead”

For example, I ran a search for “My friends who like Radiohead” and Facebook returned a results page listing my connections who like this band. The results were not in alphabetical order. I think the results were organized by how recently and frequently I’ve engaged with each friend. To the right of the results, Facebook provided a panel where I could refine my search by gender, relationship, employer, age and more. I could also extend this search to see more content from the people who like Radiohead, such as their other interests, photos, places visited, and so on. I might look at the other bands this groups “likes” to discover new music or find out what restaurants this crowd has visited lately.

Future Potential for Graph Search

Marketers, small business owners, non-profits, and recruiters should all be watching this space closely.  Improved social search functionality  can ignite word-of-mouth, showing Facebook users the stores, restaurants, brands, products, and causes their network is engaging with. With a much larger user base than LinkedIn, job searchers and recruiters alike will be able to search Facebook connections by education, location, and current employers to network with a targeted group of users.

Read More about Facebook’s New Search Capabilities

To learn more, check out these articles about the impact of Facebook’s Graph Search: