AI and Big Data Are Changing Our Attention Spans

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What catches your attention?

The business of answering that question attracts hundreds of billions of dollars every year. As long as there have been things to buy, there’s been a market for human attention.

Long ago, capitalizing on human attention consisted of little more than the call of a street vendor over the din of a crowded village market.

Much later, the first one cent copies of The Sun hit the streets of New York, inspired by the realization of its editor that it was much more valuable to sell each reader’s attention to advertisers than to make money off newspaper sales directly.

Today, that concept has been taken to an extreme. Thousands of algorithms on millions of servers auction off your every click and tap, anticipating which emails you’ll open, which search results you’ll read, even how your eye might dart around the page.

Google and Facebook rely almost exclusively on directly reselling human attention. Machines are starting to help optimize email subject lines and article titles based on what might catch your eye. The playbook is simple: attract human attention with cheap or free stuff — cheap newspapers, Google search, interesting reading material — and optionally resell that attention to the highest bidder.

Where are we headed? In the face of this transformation, what can we expect? Answering these questions is hard. To go any further, it’s important to understand how attention works.

How Attention Works

Your attention is like a spotlight cast on a stage. You’re the spotlight operator. You can point the spotlight at specific things on stage, but you can’t control what actually appears on the stage.

The stage is your awareness, and it contains the sum total of information accessible to your mind at this moment. That includes the words on your screen, the sensation of pressure from your chair, and background noises in your environment, as well as the never-ending stream of random thoughts that pop up in your head.

As you read this, you are volitionally casting your spotlight on the words you’re reading. You’ll keep this up for a little while, but inevitably, the spotlight will move without your permission, attracted by an unexpected noise behind you, or someone walking into your field of view, or a stray thought about what you want for lunch.

This is the nature of attention. It darts around, scanning continuously for what’s interesting. This was an invaluable benefit in our ancestral environment. It was rare we might need to focus on one thing for more than a few moments at a time, but essential not to miss that snarling predator lurking in the bush.

As a result, if you try really hard to pay attention to only one thing, you’ll quickly find your attention elsewhere. In fact, usually, your brain decides to change the subject of your attention without your conscious input, much less your permission. You might have already drifted off into a different thought a few times as you read this. Your brain expects a little hit of feel-good neurotransmitter every time your attention jumps to something interesting. Novelty feels good.

This is precisely what makes it hard to reliably capture people’s attention. Generally, people themselves don’t understand what catches their attention or why. Most shifts in attention are unconscious, so it’s impossible for people to articulate why their attention does what it does. They only notice what it does after it has happened. Certain colors of call-to-action buttons work better on a landing page than others not due to any conscious decision by anyone, but due to the unconscious preferences of billions of brains.

Certainly, there are some things that work very well on all of us: bright colors, flashing objects, and attractive scantily clad people are all widely used to great effect. For a new parent, there’s nothing better than an iPad to quell a tantrum from a cranky toddler, and that’s because looking at colorful moving images feels good.

But beyond the obvious, the target of your attention is largely determined by neural mechanisms cultivated over decades of interacting with the world and anticipating the reward from different stimuli. Your brain is constantly moving about the spotlight of attention on the lookout for potential sources of pleasure and pain.

Attention in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

The best approach we’ve developed for understanding what captures people’s attention is empirical. We record as much as we can about what’s in their awareness — or what’s on stage. We then try to record where the spotlight is cast  — by recording a clicked link or opened email. Then, we look for patterns.

Each of those components is going to evolve dramatically over the next few years. The environments where we spend our time increasingly facilitate data collection. Algorithms for working with language, audio, and video are rapidly becoming more sophisticated. Hardware and cloud service improvements are accelerating research and discovery in artificial intelligence. There are several implications:

1) We’ll have more data on both attention and awareness.

Eye-tracking has long been used in psychology, marketing, and consumer research, in both academia and business. It works great for studying cognitive development in infants and can even be used to A/B test their preferences.

Shops already use realtime facial expression APIs to track ad viewers’ age, gender, mood, and interest level. Google’s Project Soli is a miniature solid state radar that can detect the movement of your hand and other objects near your phone. We appear comfortable with inviting Amazon Echo’s Orwellian always-on microphone into our homes.

How long before we see Amazon announce Prime Plus, requesting permission to occasionally activate your front-facing camera, Echo microphone, and motion tracker in exchange for free 30-minute drone delivery?

2) The arms race for attention will expand.

Attention is zero-sum, because every click your competitor gains, you lose. This accelerates competition. That’s why your email inbox is a battleground of people vying for your attention. So is the results page for every Google search. This will be increasingly true of everywhere you spend your attention.

3) Screens will remain the primary conduit of human attention.

Screens are everywhere. Not only did our glossy paranormal hand rectangles become globally ubiquitous in just 10 years, they’ve fundamentally transformed how humans interact with the world. While technology often advances unpredictably, screens are probably likely to persist for a while. That’s because out of the five senses you have — the five ways of putting information into awareness — vision has the highest throughput to the brain. We are multiple breakthroughs away from anything faster.

4) Humans will spend huge amounts of time in virtual worlds.

The $100 billion video game industry continues to boom. Games will become dramatically more immersive as virtual and augmented reality go mainstream. People will routinely spend time in deep and engaging virtual environments with limitless content to explore and hundreds of millions of other real and simulated people to interact with. That could transform how we spend our leisure time, how we learn, and how we meet other people.

Content in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Think of “content” as all things that attract human attention that can be represented as data. That includes almost anything online that humans make, from blog posts and dance music to short stories, video game livestreams, entertaining social media posts, and more. The more quality content you can produce, the more attention you can scoop up, continuing to sate our limitless thirst for customization and novelty.

1) Generative algorithms for text, images, sound, and video will improve dramatically.

Machine vision, automatic speech recognition, and natural language processing have made tremendous advancements in the past five years. Algorithms can already generate extremely convincing content from scratch.

The next generation of photo and video editing tools will make it trivial to rewrite any record of reality, replacing pixels using algorithms that are aware of what they’re looking at.

Adobe claims to be working on a Photoshop for audio, making it easy to generate an audio clip of anybody’s voice saying anything at all.

Today, you can ask a neural network to hallucinate arbitrarily many images of bedrooms or cats or sailboats, most of which look real enough to fool people. Or you could use a neural network to create a language snippet to insert into an email by reading a company’s website.

Eventually, you might ask a machine to produce a fantasy novel. Say you theme it similar to Harry Potter … but with a Game of Thrones flair. And let’s maybe have the bad guy win this time.

This is a very a long way off, past multiple breakthroughs in semantics and discourse, but current techniques can already generalize well enough to spit out a cohesive and useful paragraph of text.

2) Machines will help us produce content.

Machines will play a much bigger role in helping us produce the content that captures human attention. We’ll see a proliferation of collaborative agents in products that assist us in our workflows. Machines will suggest assets to include in the content you’re making, or subsets of content to include. Executive control will remain with creators, but the ideation and production process will become increasingly automated. Think Clippy the Microsoft Office Assistant, but with a much bigger brain. 

3) To cut through greater noise, humans will keep innovating.

Demonstrating that content was created by a human will become much harder. There’s no way you can imagine this article having been written by a machine, but one day, that won’t seem so ridiculous.

Machines are cheap, so as machines contribute more to creating content, the places where we consume content will be flooded. Early adopters of those techniques will benefits, but the late adopters will find that to stand out, they’ll have to produce content that is demonstrably beyond machines’ capabilities in an effort to keep attracting interest.

4) Machines will help us allocate our attention.

Work will become increasingly symbiotic. You’ll spend more of your time deciding among things and less collecting and preparing things. Machines will find relevant documents and emails, do Google searches in the background, and perform other functions that can be defined as a semi-structured set of tasks. As the deluge of content on our screens grows, tools will emerge to stem the flood. 

Broader Implications

Attention is an essential currency in the global transaction ecosystem. Understanding it is critical for anybody in sales and marketing. Despite the fact that attention is zero-sum in any given transaction, it’s important to remember that the pie is growing dramatically.

Leisure time has grown by seven hours per week since the 1960s, and we will unlock much more free time as we shift toward self-driving vehicles. Economists from the National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper suggesting that high-quality video games are contributing to an increase in unemployment among young men.

Uber, Upwork, and Crowdflower support the emergence of a global market for part-time, on-demand work at a variety of price points. Y Combinator and Elon Musk are calling for a universal basic income plan.

To connect these dots, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which wealthy corporations and governments support a basic minimum wage, and in return, people spend their time and attention generating training data and validating models. It would generally be simple tasks, easily performed on a phone, and would involve only skills or data that machines don’t have yet.

Data on human attention exposes the unconscious information locked away in our minds. That information is valuable and important, because in the aggregate, it is an encoding of everything humans want — not just of our buying preferences and creature comforts, but also of our ethics and values as a species. We want machines to understand us, and monitoring human attention may be a good way to collect the necessary data.

With the curtain pulled back on how powerless we are to control our attention and how valuable it is to everyone, perhaps we’ll all find ourselves being a bit more careful with how we spend our attention.

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The Best Time to Post on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+ [Infographic]

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Social media is one of the best ways to amplify your brand and the great content you’re creating. But it isn’t enough to just post content to social whenever you feel like it. Some times are better than others.

So, which one is best?

Unfortunately, there’s no perfect answer. Different businesses may find different days and times work best for them. In fact, timing often depends on the platform you’re using, how your target audience interacts with that platform, the regions and corresponding time zones you’re targeting, and your goals (e.g., clicks versus shares).

Learn how to use social media to amplify your content marketing by taking  HubSpot's free Inbound Certification course here. 

That said, there is ample data out there on the best times to post on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. Earlier this year, the great folks at CoSchedule looked at a combination of its own original data and more than a dozen studies on this very topic — from the likes of Buffer and Quintly, just to name a couple — and compiled it into the infographic below.

Bookmark this post as a go-to set of guidelines, and refer to it next time you need to find the optimal posting times for your business.

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The Best Times to Post on Social Media

With many businesses facing a growing global audience, varying time zones have become a growing concern, especially when it comes to the best times to post.

To start, let’s take a look at the U.S. About half of the country’s population is in the Eastern Time Zone, and combined with the Central Time Zone, that accounts for over 75% of the total U.S population.

Given that sizable share, if you’re targeting a U.S. audience, try alternating posting times in Eastern and Central Time Zones — we’ll get into those specific times in a bit.

If you’re targeting users outside of the U.S., conduct some research to find out where they live and which social media channels they’re using. That kind of data is available through studies like Smart Insights’ Global Social Media Research Summary, or We Are Social’s annual Digital Global Overview.

1) Best Time to Post on Instagram

Instagram is meant for use on mobile devices. Half of its U.S. users use the app daily, though it would appear that many engage with content more during off-work hours than during the workday.

  • In general, the best times to post on Instagram are on Monday and Thursday, at any time other than 3-4 p.m.
  • The best time to post videos is 9 p.m.-8 a.m., on any day.
  • Some outlets have reported success on Mondays between 8-9 a.m., correlating with the first morning commute of the week for many.

2) Best Times to Post on Facebook

People log in to Facebook on both mobile devices and desktop computers, both at work and at home. How it’s used depends heavily on the audience.

  • On average, the best time to post is 1-4 p.m., when clickthrough rates have shown to be at their highest.
  • Specifically, 12-1 p.m. is prime time on Saturday and Sunday.
  • During the week, the same goes for Wednesday at 3 p.m., as well as Thursday and Friday between 1-4 p.m.
  • The worst times are weekends before 8 a.m. and after 8 p.m.

3) Best Times to Post on Twitter

Like Facebook, people use Twitter on both mobile devices and desktop computers, both at work and at home. How it’s used also depends heavily on audience — but people often treat it like an RSS feed, and something to read during down times like commutes, breaks, and so on.

  • Good times to tweet average around 12–3 p.m., with an apex at 5 p.m. — which makes sense, given that it correlates with the evening commute.
  • Weekdays tend to show a stronger performance, though some niches might have more active audiences on the weekend.
  • If your goal is to maximize retweets and clickthroughs, aim for noon, 3 p.m., or 5–6 p.m.

4) Best Times to Post on LinkedIn

Roughly 25% of U.S. adults use LinkedIn, largely for professional purposes, during weekdays and the work hours. It’s used with slighly less frequency than some of the other channels on this list, with more than half of users visiting less than once a week

  • Aim to post toward the middle of the week, between Tuesday-Thursday.

  • When aiming for a high clickthrough rate, post on these days during times that correspond with the morning and evening commute — roughly 7:30-8:30 a.m. and 5-6 p.m. — as well as the lunch hour, around 12 p.m. 

  • Some have also seen a positive performance on Tuesdays, between 10–11 a.m.

5) Best Times to Post on Pinterest

Pinterest users skew heavily female, and 25% of users are active on this channel daily.

  • Interestingly enough, Saturday evenings are said to be the best time to reach users, especially between 8-11 p.m.
  • Some have also seen a strong performance on the later side of Friday afternoon, around 3 p.m. 
  • Contrasting many of the other channels we’ve listed here, evening commutes tend to be some of the worst times to post to Pinterest. That could be due to the fact that it’s not as “browseable,” with many pins requiring navigation away from the channel.

6) Best Time to Post on Google+

People love to debate whether or not Google+ is a social media channel worth investing in — though according to my colleague Chris Wilson, some marketers have experienced success with it.

But if you’re going to use it, you might as well do so effectively — which includes posting at the optimal times.

  • People seem to be most active on Google+ during the start of the workday, between 9-11 a.m.
  • That’s especially the case on Wednesdays, around 9 a.m.
  • Some marketers have also seen success during the lunch hour, posting between 12-1 p.m.

There you have it, folks. Happy posting, tweeting, and pinning.

What days and times have proven to be the most successful for your business? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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The New Type of Landing Page That Increased Our Contacts by 69%

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Welcome back. If you’re just tuning in, allow me to catch you up: This post is the second in a two-part series on our experiment to move gated offer content onto a site page, and test different conversion methods. If you missed Part I, check it out here.

Back in Part I, we saw significant increases in organic search traffic only on offers that already were performing well for search. Also, our Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) test failed. So in Part II, we turned our focus to running more CRO tests.

In order to avoid putting many more conversions at risk, we decided to test the offers we’d already experimented with to find a conversion method that worked well. We tested two of the three offers we experimented with in Part I, but this time, our approach was a bit different. New Call-to-action

Let’s walk through what we did for Part II of our CRO Test, followed by the results of both tests.

Does Un-gating Offers Improve Conversion Rate?

The Hypothesis and Objective

In Part I, we hypothesized that by partially gating the content on our newly-created HTML offer pages, we could provide a better user experience and still generate leads from it.

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Screen Shot 2017-02-16 at 2.32.27 PM-1.pngPartially un-gated offer/form

But in reality, page visitors:

  1. Decided the content was not valuable enough for them to exchange contact information to see the rest of it.
  2. Expected to be able to read the entire offer, and were put off by the experience of running into a form upon scrolling.

So, we took each of these findings and used them build two tests within Part II of the experiment, each with its own sub-hypothesis, but a shared objective: to increase net submission and contact numbers, so that they’ll surpass those of the original landing pages pointing to gated PDFs.

CRO Test #1

Hypothesis: By hiding all of the written content behind a partial gate template — with the blur effect pictured below — readers arriving at the site through search will be intrigued enough by the topic to convert on the page.

CRO Test #2

Hypothesis: By setting the expectation of a gated offer early on — by using a form that looks and reads just like our normal landing pages, but opens into an HTML page upon form submission instead of an offer download — more people will fill out the form.

The Experiment

With conversion rates way down on our previous CRO tests, we thought to ourselves, “If we want to get our conversion rates back to their original levels, let’s make the landing page look like it usually does, but with the organic gains of having the offer content on the page itself.”

So, we pitched the idea of a brand new, gated template that looks and reads just like our regular landing pages, with one key difference: When the user clicks the form submission button, the page opens into an HTML page, instead of leading to a thank-you page with a PDF download button.

My colleague, Patrick Wilver, built this template for us. Here’s a GIF of the template in action:

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You might be wondering, “But what about SEO? Can Google crawl and index that hidden content?”

The answer is a resounding, “Yes.”

While that HTML content exists behind a CSS layer initially blocked by the template, it turns out that Google is still able to successfully crawl and index it. Our theory was that, because Google has much more high-quality and optimized content to crawl on the landing page, organic traffic will still flow to the page. Plus, if you can increase organic traffic significantly to the landing page, while also retaining the high conversion rates of the original landing page design — jackpot.

The only other difference between this template and our normal landing pages is that this one uses a shorter version of our typical landing page lead generation form, requiring less information and investment from the user.

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The Results

CRO Test #1

While the submission rates for this variation were still much lower than those of the original landing page, they were slightly higher than those of our CRO tests from Part I. So when push comes to shove, it seems, the partially-gated template is simply not effective for lead generation.

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It was time to move onto Test #2.

CRO Test #2

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.

Using the new un-gated template, the two offers we tested both achieved significant increases in net organic submissions and contacts, compared with the original landing pages.

  • Organic submissions increased by 47.44% and 63.09%, respectively.
  • Organic contacts increased by 63.64% and 76.05%, respectively.

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In other words: The landing-page-style gated template is an effective one for lead generation.

By lifting conversions to their original rates — or better — while simultaneously getting that boost in organic traffic from the crawlable offer content, both offers achieved significant increases in net organic submissions and contacts.

What We Learned, and What’s Next

So … Is It Okay to Hide Content Like This?

We know that the offer content lives behind a layer of CSS, which blocks it from being shown to the user, but still makes it crawlable by search engines like Google. That’s clever and all, but as with every decision we make here at HubSpot, we had to ask: “Is this the right thing to do?”

We’ve mulled over this question, and we think the answer is, “Yes — it’s okay.” Here’s why.

1) We’re not tricking the search engine or the user.

There’s a black-hat SEO tactic that comes to mind here called “cloaking” — which refers to methods of manipulating SERP ranking, like hiding content written in white text with a white background, or serving different content to search engines than you do to your users.

But the key difference between cloaking and what we’re doing is that, once users actually open the gate, they seeing the exact same content the search engines see.

When you have a business need, we don’t discourage gating content — but we strongly advise against hiding in the ways we described above. However, content can still be gated in a way that provides a better user experience, which was part of the impetus behind this experiment.

2) Mobile favors hidden content, so Google has been relaxing its policies.

As web usage has shifted toward mobile, expandable and hidden content has become more acceptable. With more people searching on mobile devices than they do on desktops, Google has had to adjust its algorithm to accommodate the fact that mobile design actually favors hidden content. Better web designers hide content on mobile pages because it makes them look cleaner, and avoids bombarding visitors with masses of text, so that it’s easier for them to find what they’re looking for.

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For that reason, if Google were to penalize hidden content, they’d effectively be penalizing mobile. But if, somewhere down the line, Google decides to stop indexing the content on these pages, that would call for a modified template design.

Next Steps and Recommendations

In Part I, we learned — much to our chagrin — that we could increase organic traffic by putting offer content onto an HTML site page only for offers that were already receiving strong search traffic. That reinforces to the idea of historical optimization: If a page already performs well in organic traffic each month, and you increase the depth of that content and optimize it even further for search, then odds are, you’re going to see outside returns.

For that reason, we recommend focusing on transferring only the offers from PDF > HTML that are already generating high organic traffic, and have pre-existing search authority. To begin prioritizing, try pulling a list of your most popular offers, and rank them by organic traffic.

In the meantime, we’ll continue putting our findings into practice, and will keep you posted on anything valuable that we discover along the way.

Have you ever conducted similar tests? Comment below with your best experiment — and hey, we might even feature it on our blog.

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How to Start Using Video in Your Marketing

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Whenever a new app or technology is released, marketers are among the first to experiment with it — and to start creating new content with it.

That’s because marketers are constantly competing for their audience’s attention — and often by the most innovating and engaging means possible.

And right now, that means creating video content.

There’s no getting around it — marketers must create video content if they want to broaden their reach and connect with audiences across platforms — such as on blogs, YouTube, social media, and search engines. New Call-to-action

Video content isn’t up-and-coming anymore. Audiences want to see more video content, and other marketers and publishers are creating more videos in response. In our 2017 State of Inbound report, nearly half of marketers reported they’d be investing in creating YouTube and Facebook videos in the coming year. And according to Cisco, video content will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic by the end of this year.

Are you ready to start creating video content as part of your marketing strategy? We’ll give you some ideas for videos you can film and offer up some tips for integrating them into your marketing.

20 Video Marketing Ideas to Try

Many marketers know that they need to start using video, but when it comes time to sit down and create one, they’re lost for what to do. Here are a few ideas for both pre-recorded and live videos that your business could actually use.

Pre-Recorded Video Ideas

Beginner

  1. Create short “thank you” videos from your team to new customers or customers that you upsell.
  2. Film a screencast demo of your product.
  3. Create an animated GIF of how to perform a function of your tool.
  4. Film 15-second testimonials from real customers and evangelists.

Intermediate

  1. Film extended customer testimonials and user cases.
  2. Create longer product demonstrations and whiteboard-style instructional videos.
  3. Do a short introduction of the company, its mission, and vision.

Advanced

  1. Create a full product demo.
  2. Turn blog posts into short, how-to videos and summaries.
  3. Film longer interviews with key members of the company.
  4. Shoot live presentations performed by company members and add in their slides in post-production.
  5. Create videos for each of your calls-to-action (one for “call us,” one for “sign up for a free trial,” one for “tell your friends and get free credits,” etc.).

Live Video Ideas

Beginner

  1. Use Facebook Live or Twitter to broadcast from cool industry events you, your manager, or your CEO are attending.
  2. Use Google Hangouts or Skype as a way to thank customers on a special occasion (one year of working together, etc.).

Intermediate

  1. Hold a live Q&A / Ask Me Anything session with employees or visitors.
  2. Live stream a conversation with a thought leader or influencer who is relevant to your audience.
  3. Live stream relevant in-office events to showcase your company culture and thought leadership events.

Advanced

  1. Show a live demo with your sales reps and include an open Q&A.
  2. Film a live presentation with open Q&A.
  3. Stream a “day at the office” with a company executive.

How to Use Video into Your Marketing Strategy

So, now that you have the topics and the inspiration to create video content, you might be wondering where to use the videos. In some cases, the platform is self-evident — Facebook Live videos have to be shared on Facebook. But you can invite people to tune in on Facebook Live broadcasts in advance — and you can embed the recordings outside of the platform, too.

Here are a few ideas for where to use video content up and down the funnel:

1) Leverage user-generated content.

Marketers are great storytellers, but customers can sometimes be more effective. By showcasing how products can be used, user-generated content (UGC) can be more convincing — and powerful — than traditional marketing videos. Encourage customers and fans to create user-generated content by asking for it — by hosting contests, giveaways, or otherwise incentivizing participation.

In the case of GoPro, its evangelists used the product to capture the content to tell a tear-inducing story of a kitten rescue, but just because your brand doesn’t sell cameras doesn’t mean you can’t use UGC as well. Ask fans to take photos, videos, or share content on social media about how they use your products and why they love your brand — it’s more convincing than traditional advertising anyway. This content can be shared on social media platforms, on landing pages, and in marketing emails.

2) Tell customer stories.

Happy customers are your best advocates, and we use customer success stories to inspire video content here at HubSpot. Our audience learns about similar success they can achieve with our products, and we can share the content with prospects and leads in marketing emails and on our website to let our advocates speak for us.

3) Invite the online community to in-person events.

Try as we might, marketers simply can’t invite our entire audience to join us for a live, in-person event. And when that happens, live broadcasting options on YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram are great opportunities to invite a broader audience to participate in an event — virtually. Live streaming content and then reposting it on different channels is a way to make your audience happy — and to repurpose content, too. For example, The INBOUND Studio repurposed this Facebook Live interview with actor Jeffrey Tambor on Instagram and YouTube.

4) Share behind-the-scenes looks.

Going behind-the-scenes is a neat way to give loyal fans and audience members a unique perspective on your brand personality or product. You can do this live or with ephemeral messaging on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat, or you can create a pre-produced video like the one below that zeroes in on something audience members might not know much about. This content can make for great social media fodder, or you can use it to build rapport with leads and customers trying to learn more about your brand during the conversion and closing process. 

5) Explain concepts and products to your audience.

They say a picture says a thousand words, and sometimes, video is the best platform to explain a concept or define a term for your audience and users. Videos like these are helpful, easy to digest, and go a long way towards helping people succeed using your product or service. Videos like Asana’s below can be used on YouTube to capture search traffic there, or can live within blog posts or your company’s knowledge base to help out customers.

6) Say thank you.

Saying “thank you” can go a long way, and it can even make for compelling video content. In the short and simple video below, Warby Parker provides a personalized customer service experience that makes the customer feel special, acknowledges feedback, and serves as a mini-advertisement — since the employee is talking about making a customer happy. If you’re just getting started, filming short thank you videos can foster customer loyalty and build brand awareness on YouTube.

What marketing videos are you going to start making this year? Share with us in the comments below.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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How We Grew Our Organic Traffic 120% in 5 Months with 4 Simple Steps

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As a B2B texting software, one of our main goals at Text Request is maximizing value, both for ourselves and our users. That’s what led us to focusing on organic traffic.

Billions of people are looking for answers or solutions to their questions or problems, and we’re trying to add value. So we saw organic search as a symbiotic relationship we could tap into.

As the guy responsible for our content and SEO, I’ve only found one “secret” to growing organic traffic. I’ll share this secret in a bit, but first I’ll walk you through the steps we took to grow our organic traffic 120% in 5 months, and what we learned through it all.

Start With Small Changes

We started making changes at the end of December 2016, and the first step was making technical updates to our website.

  • We updated our International Targeting inside Search Console to focus on the U.S. (which is where our target audience lives).

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Image Credit: Think With Google

Then we adopted a new content strategy from Rand Fishkin (founder of Moz). The strategy is: find the best piece of content on your target keywords or topics, and create something 10X better.

So that’s what we did!

Starting in 2017, we looked at what content was available on our target search terms, and then created content we thought was 10X better. It worked! But the question we had to answer first was: What does 10X content look like for our market?

Create 10X Content

The most powerful pieces of content bring in traffic, leads, and backlinks. They’re normally what add the most value to everyone, and that became the essence of our content — add value to everyone.

We said, “Okay, everything needs to be 10X content, and that means it has to be valuable for three audiences.”

Me / Text Request

If this doesn’t add value to me, how can I expect it to add value to anyone else? It became important to make sure we could do two things with all new content:

  • Use it to inform and direct company discussions.
  • Link back to it in other relevant content on our site.

Our Targets

To bring in our targets, we had to provide something valuable, something that answered their questions and provided solutions to their problems.

An important piece in this: we had to know our targets’ wants and needs. Thankfully, our team has spent countless hours talking with and learning about our customers. Otherwise, this would have been much more difficult!

Our Competitors

Brands are always looking for information that validates and promotes their position. We thought if we created this content, our competitors would use it, and come to see us as leaders in the space.

This was a bit of a long shot, but it’s working! Nearly all of our competitors, and brands in similar niches, link to our content, which strengthens it and helps more of our targets find us.

If it sounds like this content takes a lot of time to create, it does. That’s why we only publish every other Tuesday. But we do publish high-quality content regularly, and it’s paying off!

The 80/20 Rule Still Applies

Even following these criteria, it’s been difficult to know exactly what will resonate with our audience before we publish it.

It doesn’t seem to matter how much keyword research and competitive mapping we do. The 80/20 rule still applies. If you’re not familiar, this means about 80% of our traffic comes from about 20% of our content.

I don’t think this means we should change our strategy, but that we have to keep producing to find what’s most helpful.

Revamping Existing Content

We’d made some technical updates to our site and started publishing 10X content, but we still had a bunch of older blog posts that needed help.

They weren’t 10X content, and my understanding of SEO had evolved a lot in the time since we started posting. So we saw revamping existing content as an important part of our SEO strategy.

I started asking myself questions as I reviewed each post, like:

  • Can I tell this story clearly with fewer words?
  • If I wrote this today, would I still feel comfortable publishing it?
  • What graphics would support this?
  • Is there any new research available on this topic?
  • What articles are related to this one? What can I link to?

Responding to questions like these kept me from just spot editing, and made sure each piece began adding real value to everyone.

Over the five month period, I was able to revamp 55-60 of our posts, and I’m confident that made a huge impact on our organic search traffic.

Getting Backlinks

Backlinks are one of the biggest ranking factors for organic traffic, so they had to be part of our plan. From December to May, we grew our total number of backlinks by about 60%, which, in addition to driving referral traffic, boosted our standing with search engines.

Our backlinks mostly came from 3 places:

  • HARO: About one in six pitches were published with a link to Text Request.
  • Guest Posts: We wrote for other publishers, and occasionally had a freelancer contribute on our behalf.
  • Earned Links: We used a lot of research in our content that other brands found valuable enough to link to. This was the biggest source of our backlinks, which I took to mean we were doing the right things.

Our Results

In December 2016, we had a total of 10,663 organic sessions. In May 2017, we had 23,483 organic sessions, meaning that our simple four-point strategy more than doubled our traffic in only 5 months!

I think it’s important to note, too, that our bounce rate and time-on-page both improved during this process. Clearly, if you create 10X content, everyone wins.

In poor practice, we didn’t set any goals or milestones before implementing our strategy. That’s something we could have done better. Although, we really didn’t know what would be realistic.

It’s safe to say, though, that these results exceeded my expectations, and I’ll be thrilled to keep them up moving forward!

What We Learned

It Takes Patience

Anyone in SEO will tell you results take time. As an agency friend of mine said, “The results of SEO work done today might not become apparent, and might not be discovered by search engines, for weeks or even months.”

I have to agree. In Search Console, I’ll regularly see where we finally “got credit” for a backlink months after it was published. I believe our record is a press release that took two years, four months to register.

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It’s possible — even likely — that a significant portion of our results came from things we did well before this case study. During the case study, our results still came in stages.

January’s organic traffic was 45% higher than December’s, but February had flat growth. March was up again, April was flat, and in May we peaked at 120.2% growth.

Then there were publishing cycles to deal with. Ours is three weeks, but guest posts could take anywhere from five days to two months! I felt like I was always waiting for something.

Sometimes you have to keep your head down and stick to your plan, even if you aren’t seeing immediate progress. It can take a lot of patience to grow organic traffic, but that patience pays off!

Our 1 “Secret” to “Hacking” Google

People, myself included, often get too caught up in the minutia of SEO to see the bigger picture.

SEO is commonly thought of as a set of technical laws. When you follow them, Google rewards you. When you disobey, you will be punished.

But every algorithm update focuses on one key concept: adding value to Google’s users.

Search engines care most about the people using their site to search. So when you add value to their users, you’re rewarded with traffic.

The thing is, value comes in many forms. Website speed adds value, especially since 40% of viewers leave a site if it doesn’t load within 3 seconds.

Page engagement adds value, particularly since most viewers spend less than 15 seconds viewing a webpage. If you give people a reason to stick around for longer, to keep scrolling, and to click through, Google will send more people your way.

When done right, 10X content is powered by this “secret.” If things are fast, engaging, helpful, and enjoyable, everyone wins. This is how we were able to quickly grow our organic traffic, and it’s how you’ll be able to grow yours, too!

 

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How to Get More Followers on Instagram: A Guide to Earning Your First 1,000 Followers

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You might already know that Instagram is a growing channel that lets individuals and businesses alike expand their brand. For businesses especially, it’s a way to humanize your brand, recruit future employees, showcase your product and company culture, delight customers, and generate new business.

But here’s the deal: Unless you’re famous, it’s really hard to amass a huge following on Instagram without some hard work.

For the average person or business, growing your following takes time and attention on a daily basis. Luckily, there are a few things you can do right away to collect at least 1,000 quality followers for your personal or professional Instagram account. It’s all about knowing where to invest your time and effort — by customizing your profile, curating excellent content, writing clever copy, using hashtags, and working with influencers and fans to incentivize engagement.

 Click here to learn about using social media in every stage of the funnel.

Let’s go through how to gain those first 1,000 followers, from creating a follow-worthy Instagram profile to using contests to staying true to your brand.

How to Get More Followers on Instagram

1) Create and optimize your profile.

2) Designate a content creator.

3) Brush up on your photography and editing skills.

4) Start posting.

5) Curate some of your content.

6) Write delightful, share-worthy captions.

7) Use relevant hashtags.

8) Interact with other users, including your followers.

9) Cross-promote with users who have audiences similar to your own.

10) Run Instagram contests.

11) Share Instagram Stories and live videos.

12) Make your profile easy to find and follow.

1) Create and optimize your profile.

First things first: Customize your Instagram profile to make it look good, tell your potential followers who you are, and give them a reason to follow you.

How? Start by making sure your username is recognizable and easily searchable — like your business name. If your business name is already taken, try keeping your business name as the first part of your username so that people searching for your business are more likely to come across you. For example, the Australian activewear line Lorna Jane uses the username @lornajaneactive.

(Note: Make sure to add your full business name to the “Name” field in the “Options” section — the gear button on iOS, or three dots on Android). This will appear under your profile picture and under your username in search.

Next, make sure your profile is public. To make your profile public, open Instagram, open “Options,” and make sure “Private Account” is turned off.

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Next, choose a profile picture that’s on-brand with your other social networks, like your company logo.

Then, fill your bio with delightful, actionable, and informative information about your brand. Information like this lets people know what you’re about and gives them a reason to follow you. Include who you are and what you do, and be sure to add a hint of personality. Here are a few examples for inspiration:

  • @WeWork: “Make a life, not just a living.”
  • @Oreo: “See the world through our OREO Wonderfilled lens.”
  • @CalifiaFarms: “Crafting, concocting and cold-brewing up a delicious, plant-based future.”
  • @Staples: “We make it easy to #MakeMoreHappen”

Next, add a link to your bio to make it easy for people to go straight from Instagram to your website if they want to. The space allotted for URLs is precious real estate because it’s the only place within Instagram where you can place a clickable link, so use it wisely. We recommend using a shortened, customized Bitly link to make it more clickable.

Finally, enable notifications so you can see when people share or comment on your photos. This’ll let you engage with them more quickly — just like a lot of companies do on Twitter. To enable notifications, go to “Options” and then “Push Notification Settings.” Select “From Everyone” for every category.

A word to the wise: We don’t recommend you link your Instagram account to Twitter and Facebook so your Instagram posts are automatically published on those other accounts. Post types are different.

2) Designate a content creator.

Just like there should be one (maybe two) people managing your other social media accounts, there should only be one or two people managing your Instagram account. If possible, choose someone who has experience using a personal Instagram account, and therefore “gets” the platform — and be sure they know all the handy features Instagram has to offer.

If you work for a large organization, you might find that a lot of people want to have a say in what’s posted. That’s when an organized request or guidelines document comes in hand. This document should inform people how to request a post on your Instagram account, when, the value of the post, and why.

3) Brush up on your photography and editing skills.

On Instagram, post quality matters. A lot. Your Twitter followers might forgive a few bad tweets, but a bad photo on Instagram is a big no-no. By no means do you have to take a photography course to be a good Instagram poster — nor do you have to practice for weeks before you start. But you should get familiar with basic photography tips and photo editing apps.

Photography Skills

Since Instagram is a mobile app, chances are, most of the photos you post to Instagram will be taken on your mobile device. That’s not just okay; it’s expected. While some brands use professional photography for their Instagram photos, most use smartphones — and that’s the vibe that Instagram is meant for, anyway.

Here are some highlights:

  • Focus on one subject at a time.
  • Embrace negative space.
  • Find interesting perspectives.
  • Look for symmetry.
  • Capture small details.
  • Make your followers laugh.

Photo Editing Skills

Instagram has some basic editing capabilities, but oftentimes, they aren’t adequate to make a picture really, really great. Most of your photos should go through at least one or two other photo editing apps on your mobile phone before you open them in Instagram for the first time.

4) Start posting.

Once you’ve created and optimized your profile, have someone manning it, and know a thing or two about phone photography and photo editing, it’s time to start posting. It’s a good idea to have a solid number of great posts up — maybe 15 or so — before you start really engaging people and working down this list. That way, when people visit your profile, they’ll see a full screen of photos instead of just a handful, so they know you’ll be posting great content regularly.

To start posting on Instagram, first download this social media content calendar template and start planning out your Instagram posts. Over time, you’ll want to build up a backlog of photos for times of need, like the weekends or when you go on vacation.

Keep your target persona in mind when you first start planning out your posting schedule, as that can drastically change your posting timing and frequency — especially if you’re targeting an audience in a different time zone. (Download this free template for creating buyer personas if you don’t have a few already.)

Optimizing your schedule for your specific audience might take time and experimentation. Our sources found that the very best times to post on Instagram were Mondays and Thursdays at any time except between 3:00–4:00 p.m. for the time zone of your target persona. (For a United States audience, your best bet is to combine Eastern and Central time zones, as they represent almost 80% of the U.S. population. For audiences located outside the U.S., use whichever time zones your target audience uses.)

However, because Instagram is primarily an app for use on mobile devices, users tend to use the network all the time, any time — although many users engage with content more during off-work hours than during the workday. Some businesses have also seen success with posting at 2:00 a.m., 5:00 p.m., and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m. Experiment with these to see if they work with your audience.

5) Curate some of your content.

Although it’s best to have only one or two people manning your account, one or two people can’t be everywhere at once taking photos. What about that fun sushi night the engineers had last night? Or the event your head of sales spoke at earlier this week? There’s a whole breadth of content you’ll want to post to Instagram, and more often than not, one person won’t be able to keep track of it all.

One solution? Create a system where you can curate photos and content from members of your team. There are a few ways to do this. One is to create a specific email address for employees to send their photos, short videos, memes, hyperlapses, and so on. Just encourage people to put a subject line on these emails so you can more easily sort through the photos they’re sending. While this doesn’t seem like the smoothest way to curate photos, it’s actually the easiest for the people sending you photos — and the easier you can make it for them to send content, the more content you’ll get.

If your team shares a Box or Dropbox account, you could also create a shared folder where people can automatically drop their photos and videos. This just makes a few more steps for the people sending you the content, and not everyone might have that app downloaded on their phones. 

6) Write delightful, share-worthy captions.

Photos and videos might be the most important part of your Instagram posts, but captions should never be an afterthought. They’re an essential part of your post — icing on the cake, if you will. Consistently great captions can do wonders for humanizing your brand, winning over followers, and making your content more shareable — thereby giving you more exposure.

My colleague Ryan Bonnici once told me, for example, that he loves Frank Bod’s Instagram account for their captions: “Their witty captions will be your new obsession.” On a photo of a gold necklace, @frank_bod’s caption read: “I can’t give you jewellery, but I can give you the smoothest décolletage to wear it on, babe. #letsbefrank.”

The voice is filled with personality — note the cheeky hashtag #letsbefrank, which often follows captions like this one. Fans of the Frank Bod use that hashtag to post photos of themselves covered in the product like the brand’s own models, which is a great way for them to interact with and feel close to the brand.

Another way to increase the shareability of your caption and engage your followers is to ask questions or have some sort of call-to-action in the captions of your photos. For example, you might say, “double-tap if you find this funny” or “share your story in the comments.” In the example below, we asked followers to share photos of their desk with the @HubSpot Instagram account for the chance to be featured.


7) Use relevant hashtags.

Let’s go back to hashtags for a second. On Instagram, a hashtag ties the conversations of different users who wouldn’t already be connected into a single stream. If you use relevant hashtags, your posts will get exposure to a wider audience than the people who already follow you or know about your brand.

The key to using hashtags effectively is to use them smartly and sparingly. Try to limit the number of hashtags per caption to around three. Similarly, don’t use “like for like” hashtags, like #like4like or #like4likes. This is a dirty tactic that’ll leave you with a whole bunch of low-quality followers.

To find the hashtags your audience might be using, do a little research on relevant hashtags in your niche or industry. The easiest way to do this research is in the Instagram app itself, in the “explore” tab (i.e. the magnifying glass icon). When you search for one hashtag, it’ll show you a list of related hashtags at the top of your screen. For example, when I search for #inboundmarketing on Instagram, it shows me relevant hashtags like #marketingdigital, #marketingtips, and so on.

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To help relate to your followers on a personal level, you might consider hopping on hashtag trends like #tbt (“Throwback Thursday”), #MotivationMonday, #TransformationTuesday, or hashtags that are trending at any given time. Here’s a post from @HubSpot’s account using the #MotivationMonday hashtag:


Once you build up a bit of a following, you can try creating your own hashtags — like your company name or a slogan that applies to a lot of your photos. This is a great way to build up your brand on the platform and build a more cohesive presence.

8) Interact with other users, including your followers.

Instagram is very much a community, and one great way to get involved in that community is to find people who post pictures that interest you, and follow their accounts and interact with their content. It’s the most natural way to draw attention to your own Instagram account while getting your foot in the door in the community, and getting inspiration from others’ content.

That does two things for you: For one, when they get the notification that you’ve followed them, they might check out your account and decide whether or not to follow you. (This is why it’s important to have some great content on there before you start reaching out to others.) Secondly, it means you’ll be seeing their recent posts in your feed, so you can Like and interact with them if you choose to.

As you build a following, celebrate your followers and show you appreciate them by responding to their comments, and even following them and engaging with their posts.

9) Cross-promote with users who have audiences similar to your own.

Once you build a solid relationship with some of the folks behind these accounts that have a similar audience to your own, you might ask to do some co-promotion on each others’ accounts. The more natural and less spammy you can make the content of these cross-promotions — especially the captions — the better. It also helps to be picky about them, and don’t do them very often.

Below is an example of what that looks like from food blogger @sprinklesforbreakfast and photographer @graymalin, who cross-promoted each others’ accounts at about the same time:



10) Run Instagram contests.

Another great way to expand your reach while increasing engagement on your photos is to publish a post promoting a contest, and then ask people to follow your account and Like or comment on the photo in order to enter.

You might add a UGC (User-Generated Content) element to the contest, too, where people post a photo of their own and use a specific hashtag along with following your account. Here’s an example of a post from Starbucks promoting a UGC contest on their Instagram account.

11) Share Instagram Stories and live videos.

Instagram has always offered the opportunity to post beautiful, curated photos to represent your brand. However, with the introduction of ephemeral Instagram Stories, brands can also share on-the-fly, behind-the-scenes looks for 24 hours that may not be as polished as a published photo, but give your brand more personality on the platform. One look at Snapchat’s explosion in popularity demonstrates that social media users are clearly responding positively to ephemeral photo and video sharing. Instagram Stories let brands engage with users in different ways to cultivate brand loyalty and appeal.

Instagram Stories also lets users share live videos, another content format that’s proven to be hugely popular on other social networks. What’s unique about live videos on Instagram? They disappear when users stop filming. This authentic, bi-directional experience lets brands share unscripted, raw moments with their audience to incorporate human elements into a social media platform that’s highly edited and polished in its traditional use.

How Brands Can Use Instagram Stories

We can’t include Instagram Stories in this article (they disappear after 24 hours), but here are a few brands we recommend following to see what they’re sharing:

Rachel Brathen (@yoga_girl) is a yoga teacher and entrepreneur in Aruba who uses Instagram Stories to document the behind-the-scenes action of building a yoga studio. While her Instagram portfolio features beautiful, professional photos and videos of her in yoga poses, her Stories feature her dog sitting in on staff meetings, her team unwrapping amethyst crystals to decorate her studio, and artists painting the walls. She uses Stories to showcase the other side of her brand to her 2 million followers in an authentic and unpolished way, and to keep her followers apprised of what she does every day (besides yoga, of course).

Dana Shultz (@miniamlistbaker) publishes easy vegan and gluten-free recipes on her blog. Her Stories feature neat how-to videos of her making breakfast and testing out new recipes in her kitchen. The behind-the-scenes aspect of her Stories provide a lot of human context for her blog’s brand, and everybody loves a good how-to video.

Casper (@casper) publishes quirky Instagram content to advertise their mattresses — without overtly doing so. The main theme of their content? Staying in is better than going out (because you can stay in and lay on a comfy Casper mattress, naturally). They’ve even created a gallery for followers to use as backdrops for their Snapchat and Instagram stories to make it look like they’re out at a party, when they’re really laying in bed. One of their latest Instagram Stories featured someone watching “The Sopranos” in bed, with the caption: “Who needs plans when you have five more seasons?” This video supports Casper’s campaign to stay in bed with a very real look at what millions of people do when they’re hanging out at home.

Here are our tips for using Instagram Stories for your brand:

  • Whether it’s funny, sad, or unique, be authentic. Your photo gallery is where content can be perfect and polished. Instagram Stories are for the raw, unscripted, and unretouched. Use Stories to share the other side of your brand that followers might not be able to glean elsewhere. Do you have a dog-friendly office? Is your team trying out the Mannequin Challenge? Start filming to showcase the more human side of your brand.
  • Go behind-the-scenes. These are by far our favorite type of content for ephemeral video sharing. Show your followers what goes into the planning of an event or the launching of a product, and make it fun. Your followers want to feel included and in-the-know, and you could use Stories to cultivate a brand loyalty program that only rewards people who check out your content.
  • Go live. Live video is a growing trend across a variety of social media platforms, so if something interesting is happening, start rolling. Whether it’s a team birthday party, a staff meeting, or a cute animal, your devoted followers want to see what you’re up to every day. Take Stories to the next level by sharing them as they happen (and promoting it on Twitter or Facebook to get followers to tune in). 

Experiment with sharing Stories and live, ephemeral content to attract new followers and to increase engagement with the ones you already have.

12) Make your profile easy to find and follow.

Place a follow button on your homepage, your “About Us” page, and various other places on your website. You can generate a “badge” button that links to your account on Instagram’s website here. Just make sure you’re logged into the right account when you create it. Here’s what one of the badge options looks like:

Instagram

If your brand has brick-and-mortar locations, put out a good ol’ print call-to-action letting people know you have an Instagram account and encouraging them to follow you.

Also, be sure to promote your Instagram account on your other social media accounts. Chances are, the folks who already follow you on Facebook and Twitter will also follow you on Instagram without much prodding. Let those followers know you’re on Instagram and encourage them to follow you there by including a link to your Instagram account in the bios and posts of those other social media accounts.

So give it a shot: Make a profile and start posting, testing, tweaking, and promoting your account. Garnering a following on Instagram won’t happen overnight, but the stronger of a foundation you create on your account in in your niche Instagram community, the higher quality your followers will be.

What other tips do you have for gaining followers and marketing on Instagram? Share with us in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

How to Use Social Media at Every Stage of the Funnel

 
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What Happens When You Make Gated Content Free?

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Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, chances are, you have an opinion about forms.

Trust us — they’re not evil. We still use them, and still believe that many marketers should continue to do so, too. But truth be told, the “Should we gate our content?” question has been flying around HubSpot for a few years now. We’ve looked at the topic through various lenses, from SEO, to lead generation, to channel-specific implications.

Click here to download our free guide on how to double your blog traffic and  leads.

After all, gated offers tend to provide fairly consistent lead volume and lead-to-customer conversion rates.  

But at the same time, it turned out that we had a lot of landing pages for our offers — the gates, if you will, that weren’t getting much organic search traffic. We might have been optimizing the landing pages for search, but we weren’t doing the same for the juicy, valuable, in-depth content inside the offer itself.

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We had a lot of questions. Among them:

  • Is locking all that valuable content behind a landing page and disallowing Google from ranking it ultimately hurting us from an SEO standpoint?
  • Are PDFs dying as a format?
  • Is there a way we can get people to convert on our offers when they live directly on a webpage?

Then, we thought, maybe we could find a best-of-both-worlds scenario. Maybe, if we took an SEO-heavy approach to un-gating our content, we would find ourselves with more keyword-optimized indexed pages that could appear in search engine results pages. The idea: a partially un-gated version of the page, where users could scroll to a certain point, and have to fill out a form to “unlock” the rest of the content. That would mean phasing out PDFs, and replacing them with new HTML site pages with offer content optimized for both search and conversions.

And so, we designed an experiment to answer the question: Will the combination of more organic traffic + smarter conversion assets on HTML pages lead to net better organic conversions?

We split this experiment into two parts. Below is an overview of Part I — stay tuned for Part II.

Does Un-gating Offers Improve SEO and Conversion Rate Optimization?

The Hypothesis and Objective

We hypothesized that, with these variations, Google would have enough content to crawl on these new HTML pages to give it a significant SEO boost — but that by partially gating the content, we could still generate leads from it.

We were interested to see how the lead volume would change here, which was easy to measure, but we also wanted to know would affect user experience — which was a little tougher to measure.

So, we had two pillars to the experiment, each with its own sub-hypothesis.

The SEO Test

Hypothesis: We have a lot of offer landing pages that aren’t getting much organic search traffic. By un-gating these offers, we’ll be able to increase organic search traffic.

Objective: Increase organic search traffic and Google search engine results page (SERP) ranking of offer content.

The Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) Test

Hypothesis: If we un-gate offer pages and then gate the content with a on-page form that triggers on scroll, the net conversions will exceed the PDF versions of the pages.

Objective: Increase organic traffic and conversion rate on new site pages to meet or surpass net conversions of original landing pages.

The Experiment

Choosing What to Un-gate

To start, we organized all of HubSpot’s current offers into broader topic categories. Then, we looked at data from each offer to see how much of the following it was generating:

  • Net-new leads
  • Opportunities
  • Customers

That helped us determine which of the offers (and overarching topics) had the greatest impact on revenue. From there, we were able to identify a list of between 20-30 offers that had the highest potential for adaptation from PDF to site pages, and prioritized them based according to SEO performance, SEO potential, and lead-to-customer ratios.

Based on the findings below, we determined that we’d start with the following four topics: blogging, buyer persona, case studies, and lead generation.

First Conversion Topic Cluser Organic Traffic Lead to Opp rate
Blogging HIGH 29%
Buyer Persona HIGH 81%
Case Studies LOW 59%
Lead Generation LOW 62%

We started with four offers:

  • Two with high organic traffic, but low-to-average conversion rates.
  • Two with high lead-to-customer rates and really great content, but that weren’t ranking well for search in their original form.

This may seem like too small of a sample for us to truly understand whether retiring PDFs works. That’s why we framed Part I as a “test to refine the test” — a test that would help us iron out the kinks in our logic before we scaled it.

For each one of these offers, we ran an A/B test.

  • Version A: A completely un-gated version of the page. In this version, there were other conversion opportunities sprinkled throughout the page, including an embedded form at the very bottom for a related offer.
  • Version B: A partially un-gated version of the page, where users start reading the offer, scrolling to a point on the page where the content blurs and they’re greeted with an interstitial form, which they’d have to fill out to continue reading the content on the page. Here’s what this ended up looking like:

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Moving From PDF to HTML

After we chose the list of offers to test, we moved the content of each of one from PDF to HTML. The steps we took were as follows:

  1. Assess which keyword(s) the offer’s landing page is currently ranking for.
  2. Update/re-write the offer’s PDF content so it is fully optimized for those keywords.
  3. Compress any images using TinyPNG to save on page load time (this is an important step for SEO).
  4. Place the optimized content onto a new site page.
  5. Create a new campaign for the site page, to which all URLs on the new page are linked to track clicks/conversions.
  6. Optimize the page for conversion by adding CTAs, with tracking URLs, that we felt fit into the context of what the site visitor is already doing.
  7. Create a B variant of the page, and create new tracking URLs for those site pages, so we could track conversions individually for both versions of the page later.
  8. Choose a secondary offer on a topic related to the one on the page that could be linked to via an embedded form at the very bottom of the fully un-gated page.
  9. Publish the page, and redirect this new URL to the original one to leverage any existing authority the author might have — then, submit the page to Google to re-crawl.
  10. Wait for statistically significant results.

The Results

The SEO Test

In the end, we were only able to increase organic search traffic and Google SERP ranking to the pages that were already performing well for organic search — and, therefore, had pre-existing search authority.

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Unfortunately, our fourth offer was redirected without our knowledge, so we weren’t able to collect results during the same time period. When we returned to the Lead Generation Process page results later, we found no positive impact on organic search traffic that we could attribute to un-gating the content.

The Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) Test

Truth time: We failed to optimize these pages for conversion to the point where they even came close to matching — much less surpassing — the net conversions of the original landing pages.

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What We Learned, and What’s Next

When it came to the SEO side of our experiment, it was surprising to us that we were only able to see organic traffic increases from offers that were already doing well in search. From an organic standpoint, then, one might conclude that we should focus on un-gating only the offers that are already generating significant organic traffic, and have pre-existing search authority.

As for the CRO site, clearly, the partial gating template didn’t work for conversions. We decided to apply a fun hashtag to the outcome — #FailFast — and conclude that it was time to experiment with other forms of gating and CRO.

Next steps? In order to avoid putting a lot of conversions at risk, the results indicated that we had to conduct our CRO tests on the offer landing pages that we already experimented with — until we found a conversion method that works well. Once that happened, we could replicate it on other, high-organic-traffic landing pages.

We also saw that, in order to warrant un-gating more pages, we’d have to run a series of CRO tests with the goal of increasing organic conversion rates significantly enough.

These are just some of the things that you can look forward to reading about in Part II — stay tuned.

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15 of the Best Email Marketing Campaign Examples You’ve Ever Seen

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On any given day, most of our email inboxes are flooded with a barrage of automated email newsletters that do little else besides giving us another task to do on our commutes to work — namely, marking them all as unread without reading, or unsubscribing altogether.

But every now and then, we get a newsletter that’s so good, not only do we read it, but we click it, share it, and recommend it to our friends.

Exceptional email marketing campaigns need to be cleverly written to attract attention in busy inboxes. Marketing emails also need to be personalized, filled with interesting graphics, and designed for desktop and mobile devices. And above all, emails must contain a meaningful call-to-action. After all, if brands are taking up subscribers’ time — and inbox space — with another email, every message must have a point to it.

Schedule time with a specialist to learn how to drive high-value leads through email.

You probably receive enough emails as it is, and it’s tough to know which newsletters are worth subscribing to, so we’ve curated a list of some of our favorite examples. Read on to discover some great email campaign examples and what makes them great — or just skip ahead to the brands you already know and love.

1) charity: water

2) BuzzFeed

3) Uber

4) TheSkimm

5) Mom and Dad Money

6) Poncho

7) Birchbox

8) Postmates

9) Dropbox

10) InVision App

11) Warby Parker

12) Cook Smarts

13) HireVue

14) Paperless Post

15) Stitcher

15 Examples of Effective Email Marketing

1) charity: water

When people talk about email marketing, lots of them forget to mention transactional emails. These are the automated emails you get in your inbox after taking a certain action on a website. This could be anything from filling out a form, to purchasing a product, to updating you on the progress of your order. Often, these are plain text emails that marketers set and forget.

Well, charity: water took an alternate route. Once someone donates to a charity: water project, her money takes a long journey. Most charities don’t tell you about that journey at all — charity: water uses automated emails to show donors how their money is making an impact over time. With the project timeline and accompanying table, you don’t even really need to read the email — you know immediately where you are in the whole process so you can move onto other things in your inbox.

charity-water-email-example

2) BuzzFeed

I already have a soft spot for BuzzFeed content (“21 Puppies so Cute You Will Literally Gasp and Then Probably Cry,” anyone?), but that isn’t the only reason I fell in love with its emails.

First of all, BuzzFeed has awesome subject lines and preview text. They are always short and punchy — which fits in perfectly with the rest of BuzzFeed’s content. I especially love how the preview text will accompany the subject line. For example, if the subject line is a question, the preview text is the answer. Or if the subject line is a command (like the one below), the preview text seems like the next logical thought right after it:

buzzfeed_inbox

Once you open up an email from BuzzFeed, the copy is equally awesome. Just take a look at that glorious alt text action happening where the images should be. The email still conveys what it is supposed to convey — and looks great — whether you use an image or not. That’s definitely something to admire.

Without images:

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With images:

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3) Uber

The beauty of Uber‘s emails is in their simplicity. Email subscribers are alerted to deals and promotions with emails like the one you see below. We love how brief the initial description is, paired with a very clear call-to-action — which is perfect for subscribers who are quickly skimming the email. For the people who want to learn more, these are followed by a more detailed (but still pleasingly simple), step-by-step explanation of how the deal works.

We also love how consistent the design of Uber’s emails is with its brand. Like its app, website, social media photos, and other parts of the visual branding, the emails are represented by bright colors and geometric patterns. All of its communications and marketing assets tell the brand’s story — and brand consistency is one tactic Uber’s nailed in order to gain brand loyalty.

Check out the clever copywriting and email design at work in this example:

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4) TheSkimm

We love TheSkimm’s daily newsletter — especially its clean design and its short, punchy paragraphs. But newsletters aren’t TheSkimm’s only strength when it comes to email. Check out its subscriber engagement email below, which rewarded fellow marketer Ginny Mineo for being subscribed for two years.

Emails triggered by milestones, like anniversaries and birthdays, are fun to get — who doesn’t like to celebrate a special occasion? The beauty of anniversary emails, in particular, is that they don’t require subscribers to input any extra data, and they can work for a variety of senders. Plus, the timeframe can be modified based on the business model.

Here, the folks at TheSkimm took it a step further by asking Mineo if she’d like to earn the title of brand ambassador as a loyal subscriber — which would require her to share the link with ten friends, of course.

the-skimm-email-example.png

5) Mom and Dad Money

Think you know all about the people who are reading your marketing emails? How much of what you “know” about them is based on assumptions? The strongest buyer personas are based on insights you gather from your actual readership, through surveys, interviews, and so on, in addition to the market research. That’s exactly what Matt Becker of Mom and Dad Money does — and he does it very, very well.

Here’s an example of an email I once received from this brand. Design-wise, it’s nothing special — but that’s the point. It reads just like an email from a friend or colleague asking for a quick favor.

Not only was this initial email great, but his response to my answers was even better: Within a few days of responding to the questionnaire, I received a long and detailed personal email from Matt thanking me for filling out the questionnaire and offering a ton of helpful advice and links to resources specifically catered to my answers. I was very impressed by his business acumen, communication skills, and obvious dedication to his readers.

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6) Poncho

Some of the best emails out there pair super simple design with brief, clever copy. When it comes down to it, my daily emails from Poncho — which sends me customizable weather forecasts each morning — takes the cake. They’re colorful, use delightful images and GIFs, and are very easy to scan. The copy is brief but clever with some great puns, and it aligns perfectly with the brand. Check out the copy near the bottom asking to “hang out outside of email.” Hats off to Poncho for using design to better communicate its message.

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7) Birchbox

The subject line of this email from beauty product subscription service Birchbox got my colleague Pam Vaughan clicking. It read: “We Forgot Something in Your February Box!” Of course, if you read the email copy below, Birchbox didn’t actually forget to put that discount code in her box — but it was certainly a clever way to get her attention.

As it turned out, the discount code was actually a bonus promo for Rent the Runway, a dress rental company that likely fits the interest profile of most Birchbox customers — which certainly didn’t disappoint. That’s a great co-marketing partnership right there.

birchbox-email-example

8) Postmates

I’ve gotta say, I’m a sucker for GIFs. They’re easy to consume, they catch your eye, and they have an emotional impact — like the fun GIF in one of Postmates‘ emails that’s not only delightful to watch, but also makes you crave some delicious Chipotle.

You too can use animated GIFs in your marketing to show a fun header, to draw people’s eyes to a certain part of the email, or to display your products and services in action. 

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9) Dropbox

You might think it’d be hard to love an email from a company whose product you haven’t been using. But Dropbox found a way to make its “come back to us!” email cute and funny, thanks to a pair of whimsical cartoons and an emoticon.

Plus, the email was kept short and sweet, to emphasize the message that Dropox didn’t want to intrude — it just wants to remind the recipient that the brand exists, and why it could be helpful. When sending these types of email, you might include an incentive for recipients to come back to using your service, like a limited-time coupon.

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10) InVision App

Every week, the folks at InVision send a roundup of their best blog content, their favorite design links from the week, and a new opportunity to win a free t-shirt. (Seriously. They give away a new design every week.) They also sometimes have fun survey questions where they crowdsource for their blog. This week’s, for example, asked subscribers what they would do if the internet didn’t exist.

Not only is InVision’s newsletter a great mix of content, but I also love the nice balance between images and text, making it really easy to read and mobile-friendly — which is especially important, because its newsletters are so long. (Below is just an excerpt, but you can read through the full email here.) We like the clever copy on the call-to-action buttons, too.

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11) Warby Parker

What goes better with a new prescription than a new pair of glasses? The folks at Warby Parker made that connection very clear in their email to a friend of mine back in 2014. It’s an older email, but it’s such a good example of personalized email marketing that I had to include it in here.

The subject line was: “Uh-oh, your prescription is expiring.” What a clever email trigger. And you’ve gotta love the reminder that your prescription needs updating.

Speaking of which, check out the clever co-marketing at the bottom of the email: If you don’t know where to go to renew your subscription, the information for an optometrist is right in the email. Now there’s no excuse not to shop for new glasses!

warby-parker-email-example

12) Cook Smarts

I’ve been a huge fan of Cook Smarts‘ “Weekly Eats” newsletter for a while. The company sends yummy recipes in the form of a meal plan to my inbox every week. But I didn’t just include it because of its delicious recipes — I’m truly a fan of its emails. I especially love the layout: Each email features three distinct sections (one for the menu, one for kitchen how-to’s, and one for the tips). That means you don’t have to go hunting to find the most interesting part of its blog posts — you know exactly where to look after an email or two.

I also love Cook Smarts’ “Forward to a Friend” call-to-action in the top-right of the email. Emails are super shareable over — you guessed it — email, so you should also think about reminding your subscribers to forward your emails to friends, family, or coworkers.

cooksmart-email-example

13) HireVue

“Saying goodbye is never easy to do… So, we thought we’d give you a chance to rethink things”. That was the subject of this automated unsubscribe email from HireVue. We love the simple, guilt-free messaging here, from the funny header images to the great call-to-action button copy.

Not only are the design and copy here top-notch, but we applaud the folks at HireVue for sending automated unsubscribe emails in the first place. It’s smart to purge your subscriber lists of folks who aren’t opening your email lists, because low open rates can seriously hurt email deliverability. 

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14) Paperless Post

When you think of “holiday email marketing,” your mind might jump straight to Christmas, but there are other holidays sprinkled throughout the rest of the year that you can create campaigns around. (Download these email marketing planning templates to keep yourself organized throughout the year.)

Take the email below from Paperless Post, for example. I love the header of this email: It provides a clear call-to-action that includes a sense of urgency. Then, the subheader asks a question that forces recipients to think to themselves, “Wait, when is Mother’s Day again? Did I buy Mom a card?” Below this copy, the simple grid design is both easy to scan and quite visually appealing. Each card picture is a CTA in and of itself — click on any one of them, and you’ll be taken to a purchase page.

paperless-post-email-example

15) Stitcher

As humans, we tend to crave personalized experiences. So when emails appear to be created especially for you, you feel special — you’re not just getting what everyone else is getting. You might even feel like the company sending you the email knows you in some way, and that it cares about your preferences and making you happy.

That’s why I love on-demand podcast/radio show app Stitcher‘s “Recommended For You” emails. I tend to listen to episodes from the same podcast instead of branching out to new ones. But Stitcher wants me to discover (and subscribe to) all the other awesome content it has — and I probably wouldn’t without this encouragement.

I think this email also makes quite a brilliant use of responsive design. The colors are bright, and it’s not too hard to scroll and click — notice the CTAs are large enough for me to hit with my thumbs. Also, the mobile email actually has features that make sense for recipients who are on their mobile device. Check out the CTA at the bottom of the email, for example: The “Open Stitcher Radio” button prompts the app to open on your phone.

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These are just some of our favorite emails. Don’t just follow best practice when it comes to your marketing emails. Every email you send from your work email address also can be optimized to convert. Try out our free email signature generator now, and check out some more of our favorite HubSpot marketing email examples.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2013 and has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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How Does a Brand Judge Your Pitch?

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May’s talk on #modernwaystogrowanagency came from Dave Parkinson – a 26 year veteran of Nissan and digital – from IT Manager to EMEA Head of Digital.  From managing a digital transformation to initiating the social media plan (and launching the Qashqai on the way) Dave knows the brand person’s world. So what are they really thinking at pitch time?

Since the word ‘digital’ crept into marketers vocabulary the gap between doing a digital project and actually becoming a digital business started to form, and brands and agencies have debated how business strategy can and should link to digital plans.  From inside and outside a brand it can be difficult to understand what the appetite and indeed capacity to be a fast paced digital business is. Ask yourself this, if your favourite retailer is so fast moving and digitally nimble – why don’t they have contactless payment in their shops yet?

Here are Dave’s key insights into how a brand person judges your pitch:

 Money

  • Brands have a 5 year plan but marketers have a 12 month budget. That budget is requested once a year and can be cut at any time.  Having an understanding of where a brand is in its cycle should guide your conversation. 

 People

  • It’s age old to say that ‘people buy people’ so appreciating both the business objectives and the personalities of the people in the room will contribute to the success of the conversation. Know about any highs or lows the company’s marketing team have had recently, but before telling them where they went wrong remember the people in the room probably signed off on what you’re about to rubbish.
  • Remember everyone in a brand moves role every 2 – 3 years so they’re generalists not specialists. Appreciate the knowledge they have across the board and bring them specialists who will impress.
  • Expect that they may have researched you too, does your digital profile stand up to the scrutiny of a digital marketer?

 Politics

  • Brands have a lot of politics. Right down to where people sit and who you have to ask to get something done. It’s always worth checking what politics might prevent the pitch you’ve been asked to take part in – are you really going to be allowed to beat their global incumbent however great your single market idea is.

 Timing

  • It’s not just budget that changes over the year, with so many job moves the team you’re working with/ pitching to/ have just been hired by, might change. Be prepared and ask the right questions to ensure you’re talking to the right people.

 Need

  • We, as agencies, need to fix brands problems. Often that’s a business problem, a specific long term objective, but it might be that your brand person needs a quick win to show their boss. Do what it takes, but be honest about why you’re all doing something.

So Dave, we’ve considered all that – what are your top tips for falling at the final hurdle, or getting this project over the line:

 Bad ideas

  • Putting the clients picture in an idea for an Instagram post
  • Free lunches 
  • Presents – most people can’t accept them anyway!

 Good tricks

  • Honesty – we’ve looked at what you asked for and we think you need this
  • Simplicity – this answers your need, and we can explain it succinctly
  • The right people – Don’t put a sales person in if they can’t bring something to the party
  • Practice – Know your pitch timings, who is saying what and when, and what’s the story, then prepare for questions

 Understand and remove the barriers to buying and your brand person will buy.

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Tracking and Tweaking the Critical KPIs of Marketing Agency Performance

Marketing Agency KPIs

The importance of revenue attribution is just one of a number of factors that marketing agencies need to track in order to measure their performance.  

Factors such as cost-per-lead, customer value, traffic-to-lead ratio, and others let marketing agencies know how they’re doing—and how to tweak their performance to become fine-tuned revenue generating machines.

How to Track Cost Per Lead

Leads aren’t an unmitigated good. Getting a new lead is good, but the goal is to get inexpensive leads that turn into lucrative opportunities. Doing this the wrong way around is a short path to insolvency.

HubSpot has already done a bit of helpful research that details the average cost of a lead by industry. The cheapest is media and publishing, with costs ranging from $11-$25 per lead, and the most expensive being financial services with costs of $51-$100.

Calculating your cost per lead is as easy as taking one month’s marketing spend and dividing it by one month’s new leads. If your cost per lead is wildly under or above the numbers in the linked chart, however, it’s not necessarily cause for either worry or celebration. Other corroborating factors will help determine whether there is a problem.

Corroborating Cost Per Lead with Customer Value

If you’re spending more on average for leads than is customary for your industry, you may also want to take a look at the value of your customers. After all, it may be worth spending more per lead if you’re also bringing in business with a higher than average lifetime value.

Again per Hubspot, calculating customer value is outwardly simple. At a minimum, you’ll know that it will be equal to the amount you charge per month, times the number of months in their contract, but there are other sub-factors that can make this much more accurate.

  • Modeling the behavior of similar customers will show how often they renew contracts
  • Add a shrinkage factor to understand how many customers will leave early
  • Project-based and contract-based clients will have slightly different equations

Upselling project-based clients and renewing contract-based clients is the best possible way to improve customer value. It’s worth paying more for leads that result in lucrative long-term customers.

Converting Leads with Your Site and Landing Pages

Leads cost money—and time is also money. If it takes a lot of time to generate leads relative to the number of people visiting your website – that can be a sign of a problem. Perking up your traffic-to-lead ratio may depend greatly on where your site’s visitors end up.

Marketing Agency Converting Leads

In one example, research shows that websites with up to 40 landing pages generate 7 times more leads than sites with just 1-5. You should find more ways to create offers, such as creating more gated content, more webinars, content kits, in-person events, and other media that would inspire someone to fill out a contact form.

On the other hand, your site’s architecture may be to blame. One of the most commonly cited statistics in marketing is that a delay of one second will push conversions down by 7%. Find ways to optimize your site with lightweight images, or invest in a CDN that can accelerate your loading times.

Buying Signs: Converting Leads to Customers

Generally, if a person has signed up for an event, requested to be contacted by a representative, or proactively contacted the business, that prospect is ready to be contacted directly by the sales department—they’re a sales qualified lead.

On the other hand, if they’ve completed a low-interaction process, such as downloading a white paper, the lead will probably need a few more touches before he or she becomes an opportunity. Marketing should coordinate with sales in order to determine how best to approach both kinds of leads, but they should be most concerned with the rate at which their MQLs convert.

Remember that your conversion rates are all part of a linked system. Converting leads to customers is essential, but it’s most important when those customers provide a high lifetime value. Similarly, it might make sense to scrutinize how much you pay per lead, but if those leads result in high-value customers, they could be worth the cost.

The thing to stress here is “could be.” The important part about tracking metrics isn’t the numbers themselves—it’s context.

In order to get the right context for your metrics, you need to keep a close eye on all of them. That’s the one surefire way for your marketing organization to become a successful business.

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