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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Switching to a new CRM also likely involved a lengthy contract obligation and manually migrating information from our outdated system.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

How Mozy Online Backup Compares with On-Site Backup

15 Oct

Businesses and organizations today are working with and storing more data than ever before.  Whether you are in education, healthcare, retail or professional services, every step of your workflow may now involve a digital component.

So, how does your organization protect critical documents, sensitive customer information, and valuable intellectual property? Businesses that backup on-site on a server or hard drive risk devastating data loss due to regular occurrences, such as hardware malfunctions, natural disasters, or human error. Organizations that suffer data loss are exposed to operational, financial, regulatory, and even legal problems.

To reduce these risks and realize greater data security, businesses are increasingly turning to online backup services like Mozy. Below are some of the main benefits of replacing a manual backup process with Mozy online backup:

1. Save Time

Implementing Mozy is a quick and easy way to reduce data security costs, whereas conducting on-site backup involves an initial hardware investment and ongoing maintenance. With on-site backup, there is also an opportunity cost of allocating employee time to performing backup duties. On a per gigabyte basis, using a third-party cloud provider such as Mozy is more cost effective, since cloud providers realize extensive savings due to redundancies in technology and staffing.

2. Increase Security

As a small- or medium-sized business, it is nearly impossible to realize the same high security standards that a leading provider like Mozy can offer. Backing up online with Mozy means your sensitive information is transmitted using encryption and housed in secure state-of the-art facilities. Mozy will continuously detect new files and automatically back them up. Managing backup online with a leading online provider decreases the risk of data loss due to human error and equipment malfunctions.

3. Promote Productivity

Mozy is easy to implement on any computer, tablet, or mobile device in your organization. Once installed, the software will automatically back up sensitive data, saving your business valuable time.  Web-based administrative tools allow any member of your team to retrieve data or install Mozy software to a new device. The entire system is accessible online and features robust search functions, so employees can locate and restore data to a device via any secure internet connection. Your employees will always have access to the files and information they need to get the job done.

4. Stay Current and Compliant

Industries such as health care and financial services, and any business conducting financial transactions, must follow regulatory guidelines for data transmission and storage. Those managing backup on-site need to stay current with constantly changing industry and government regulations. Failure to meet regulatory guidelines can result in crippling penalties and steep fines. An online backup provider like Mozy will provide regulatory expertise and the right technology to keep your organization compliant.

What are your organization’s biggest data security and backup challenges? Please share any questions or thoughts about switching to an online backup provider in the comments!

Infographics, Pandas + Bikes!

25 Jul

Panda on Bike

  • Check out the latest Student Experts blog post about marketing with infographics.
  • I am staying tuned to Twitter to find out how SEOs may have been affected by Panda 3.9. Google reportedly rolled out changes last night.
  • Finally, my bike died after 15+ years of commuting to school, work, and running errands! Now I am looking for a new commuter bike and considering Jamis, Specialized or Torker bikes.

Photo credit: jimw