Should You Put Your Money on Video Marketing?

If your online marketing efforts don’t include video, you’re now in the minority. An estimated 87% of online marketers are using video content in some form, and advertisers are spending $10 million annually on digital videos. Of course, “everyone else is doing it” isn’t enough to justify using video for marketing. Let’s look at some of the advantages of video marketing that may help sway you if you’re still unsure where to allocate your digital marketing dollars.

Benefits of Video Marketing

Informative and entertaining online videos can provide a great return on investment for your business. Videos can:

  • Increase your links and brand visibility. That’s because 92% of mobile video consumers share videos with people in their network, according to Invodo. Having videos from your site shared doesn’t just increase your visibility, it also helps your search engine rankings.
  • Increase a web user’s average time on your site. Many web users prefer to consume information through videos rather than text; in fact, Diode Digital found that video promotion is 600% more effective than print and direct mail combined. Web users are more likely to engage with your site if they can watch a video. More time on your site means greater engagement and a boost in search engine rankings.
  • Help your potential customers make a purchase decision. 90% of web users say that watching a video about a product helps them decide whether or not they want to purchase it, according to Insivia.
  • Help your B2B company reach its audience. Insivia also reports that three-quarters of executives watch videos on relevant business websites on a weekly basis.
  • Boost your email engagement. Forrester found that adding video to a marketing email can increase the click-through rate by 200-300%.

Determining Your Online Video Costs

Filming Online Ad

It’s clear that there are numerous benefits of video marketing for your business, but can you afford the upfront costs? The good news is that the barrier to entry for video production is lower than you might think. You can even make company videos using a smartphone, some basic editing software (typically costing around $40-$100), and your in-house team. Of course, the quality of the video generally increases along with the budget. Marketing company Hinge estimates that a basic 1-2 minute video produced by a professional corporate team will cost about $5,000-$20,000, while a premium 1-2 minute video with top-level talent, high-end cameras, and a studio will cost $25,000-$50,000.

Free to $50,000 is obviously a pretty wide range, so if you’re thinking about using video for marketing, you’ll need to spend some time working out your own budget and determining if the cost is worth the benefits.

Your budget can be broken into three basic categories: time, labor, and equipment.

Time

If you’re making a simple explainer video with members of your in-house team, you might only need to set aside a few hours for shooting, but if you’re making a larger-scale video advertisement or case study, shooting might take a few days. In addition to actual filming time, you’ll need to account for pre-production planning, writing the script, traveling to and from the filming location, and editing. Remember that you’ll have to account for the time of everyone working on the project, so the more people you have, the more man-hours you’re likely to log.

Labor

Some companies are able to produce quality videos using employees as their actors, camera crew, and editors. However, if your in-house team has limited experience with video production, you may need to set aside part of your budget for hiring a professional videographer, editor, and/or spokesperson. The more experience these contract workers have, the more you can expect to pay.

Equipment

As previously mentioned, it is possible to make a DIY online video with a smartphone camera and basic editing software. However, for a more polished product, you may need to purchase (or rent) high-end cameras, multiple lenses, and sound and lighting equipment. Depending on the shots you have planned, you may also need specialty video production equipment such as a tripod, dolly or jib crane. Each of these items will add to the cost of the final product.

Investing in Video: Know What You Want to Achieve

Video Streaming

Before deciding exactly how much you want to spend on video marketing, it’s important to determine exactly what you’re trying to achieve. For example, are you trying to increase your brand visibility with top-of-the-sales-funnel advertising? Are you trying to show consumers who are at the decision-making stage how to use your product? Are you trying to establish yourself as an authority in your industry? Make sure the goal of your campaign remains top-of-mind with everyone working on the project so that your online videos have a significant impact.


Still unsure how much your company should invest in video marketing, or any other form of online marketing? Talk to our team at Leverage– we’ll be happy to help you come up with a strategy for success.

 

Why Your Site Needs More Than an Instant Audit

This blog post was written by social media intern Ali Flowers. Ali is a Senior at the University of Texas at Austin, where she studies Public Relations. Ali enjoys good food, good friends, and spending time with her family.


So you’ve decided your company needs to invest in digital marketing. Great! Every business or organization can benefit from actively promoting themselves online. You are on Google and you search for ‘digital marketing near me’. You’ll likely be served thousands of results and several top-of-the-page advertisements about digital marketers in your area. Regardless of what link or ad you click on, you will probably be offered an instant audit.

What’s an Instant Audit?

With an instant audit, a marketer (or marketing automation software) analyzes various aspects of your business or organization’s online presence so that they can then advise you on the efforts you should take to promote yourself online. Some agencies claim they can audit your site in minutes or even seconds.

This might leave you thinking: Great! I can get all of that information at the click of a button? Who knew! Well, yes, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Why are Instant Audits Risky?

Digital marketing is a huge investment in both time and money.  It ranges from things like search engine optimization to paid search and even social media, all of which can work together to increase your sales, and none of which are free. Would you really feel safe making such a big move for your company based off of such a quick assessment of your site? That would be kind of like buying a house immediately after seeing a few pictures of its exterior online.

So What Should You Do?

You do need an audit–but one that is done thoroughly. You need trained professionals to look at your previous marketing efforts and your competitors’ marketing efforts, find your strengths, identify your weaknesses, and then give you a full overview of your company’s situation. Your marketing agency should conduct interviews and create a report of your company’s digital marketing history so that you can identify specific areas for improvement. A real, fully-developed audit takes time, and you shouldn’t just settle for one that was given to you at the click of a button.

If you are ready to move your company into digital marketing, find a company that will provide you with a thorough audit. Look for a marketing partner who can accurately tell you where to invest and how to push your business forward. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your audit shouldn’t be either.


Check out our methodology page to learn about the in-depth analysis Leverage Marketing performs for prospective clients. If you’re ready to have us review your digital marketing opportunities, schedule a call.

What is Google’s Semantic Search?

Google’s semantic search attempts to improve on the search formula intended to produce relevant search results for web users by creating rules that define a searcher’s intent and the contextual meaning of search terms.

Every language harnesses the power of semantics to define, clarify, process, and change the meaning of words or words in combination. Since language is the tool that the everyday web user employs to scour the boundless frontier of sites and pages on the Internet, it only makes sense that Google’s inimitable search algorithm would begin to evolve just as language does.

So how does Google develop ways to emulate the intricacies of language? Most of what happens at Google offices is a closely guarded secret, but we can certainly make educated assumptions based on the state of current semantic search capabilities and how they fit into indexing and organizing the web.

What is Semantic Search Technology?

Google is not the only company working on a semantic search engine. Specialized database searches and site-search tools also take advantage of semantics to make sure they are operating at their optimal efficiency and customers don’t drop off when they can’t find what they’re looking for.

Semantics is born of thousands of minute neuro-processes that work in conjunction to create a final meaning. Fortunately, those innumerable processes fit fairly neatly into a few underlying concepts that developers use to create quantifiable semantics.

Complex Ideologies

These are features of our world that our brain processes instantly and without effort — which means we usually take them for granted. Computers have a harder time than we do nailing these down.

leverage monster demonstrating complex ideologies with green bookContext

There are relevant constraints that help us define a word, phrase, or sentence more narrowly so we can produce a reply that makes sense to our interlocutor. We call these restraints context. Search queries are no different – we expect a reply from the search engine that fits the context of the thing or idea we search for. To recreate context, engine developers rely on data and assumptions.

For example, a search for “virtual reality headset” is most likely submitted by a young person or a tech industry professional, an assumption we can make based on the demographics of searchers. A search for “Etta James” is likely submitted by someone older since we can harness data that says the height of the artist’s popularity occurred in the 1960s.

Search results from a semantic search engine can be refined based on these data and assumptions – as long as the search engine understands them. Marketers are already taking advantage of the importance of context in defining searches by focusing efforts on context marketing, wherein marketers match their target markets with demographics reflected by searches.

Intent

If you start talking about oil and how it affects the health of every nation, your conversation partner can probably assume that you mean crude oil. But when a search engine sees the keywords oil and health, it may think that you want to know about how olive oil affects your physical health.

An effective semantic search will strive to guess your intent. A successful system is already visible in countless Google SERPs. If you type “What is it called when you think you have a disease but you don’t?” into a search engine, you will get results for hypochondria. Even though keywords like disease are very ambiguous in this sentence, the engine is still able to parse your intent, among other remarkable things.

Variation

Variation in language use can be regional, age-specific, industry-specific, or rely on any number of demographics. Semantic search engines must be prepared for language variation and know how it fits into searches. They have to know that people searching for elevators likely live in North America, but those looking for information on lifts are probably looking for UK-related articles.

Location

From city size to climate, economics to local leadership, countless concepts can affect search results based on location. Google does a fantastic job of indexing and prioritizing business-related searches, and its deep integration with the Maps application is a prime example of how location fits into the semantics of a search.

Linguistic Considerations

Since we rely on typing queries into a search engine in our mother language rather than code, the semantic search engines have to translate what we say into a form it can understand, then produce results based on what it thinks we mean. There are a few phenomena of language used in our search queries that are difficult to reproduce outside of the human brain.

Synonyms

Search engines can make educated guesses about the user’s intent and offer synonyms for keywords, but subtle differences in meaning can produce irrelevant results. Engines must learn what nuances exist between synonyms and how SERPs should be adjusted to reflect those nuances.

Google semantic search understands that money is a broad concept of currency, even though we use it as an analogue to cash in everyday speech. But type cash into Google and you’ll find some handy places to get payday loans or turn your checks into hard currency. Google knows that while we use the terms interchangeably in everyday life, there’s a subtle but important difference when typing either term into a search engine.

Concept Matching

google concept matching with filmLike money, some keywords and queries represent large concepts with subcategories that can be rolled into one term. Searching for film will provide results based on movies because the Google semantic search formula understands that film is now a concept that is deeply intertwined with movies.

Search engines develop a notion of concept matching over time as their idea of relevance evolves. A user may become frustrated if searching for film directs him or her to a SERP that provides places to buy rolls of film, and semantic search engines must learn to anticipate such frustrations by matching concepts.

Natural Language

Long ago, AskJeeves attempted to simplify web searching by creating an algorithm that answered real questions written in natural language. As a focus, the concept never really caught on, but now more and more users are relying on natural language queries to find answers.

To tackle natural language queries, semantic search engines have to assign purpose not only to unusual terms like prepositions (in, on, around) and articles (a, an, the), but they have to learn how groups of words fit together to create abstract concepts. Observe the following natural language search queries:

  • A. I need a place to work out
  • B. I need a place to work out of

The only difference between these two queries is the word of. Because of is a preposition, it carries very little in the way of concrete meaning. However, it holds incredible influence over semantics.

Query A provides results for gyms and answer pages from users who have asked similar questions on forums.

Query B gets confused – it can’t really tell if you’re asking for a place to lift weights or a place at which you can perform your job. To us, the addition of the word of clarifies so much of the searcher’s intent, but to the search engine, of is just too abstract to be able to guess accurately what the user wants. You will still see occasional results for leasable office space, however.

Again, relevance will play a large role in helping define natural language searches. The more people search with natural language and click on what they want to find, the more narrowly semantic search engines will be able to define natural language.

Semantics in a Digital Landscape

Users and developers alike must remember that semantics as a digital feature is still very much in its infancy. It wasn’t long ago that all searches were keyword-based and keyword stuffing was a viable SEO option. However, semantic SEO is on the horizon, and smart inbound marketing teams are already ahead of the curve learning how to maximize research potential and produce quality, informative content in line with semantic goals.

Problems with Semantic Search

Semantic search is far from perfect, but it’s certainly not the fault of developers. The human brain is just too complex and powerful for us to understand its processes in full, so until we do, we can’t quantify what it does and turn it into a carbon copy artificial intelligence – which is a scary concept anyway.

Ambiguity

The problem of ambiguity, or flexible meaning in a single word, is also something second language learners struggle with. For instance, the word band can mean “a group of people,” “a strap or belt,” or “a frequency interval.” Even if Google semantic search is able to learn which is the most common meaning its searches are seeking, how can it make sure that those searching for other meanings are still able to discover relevant websites?

Content Saturation

The early days of Google search meant looking for new ways to game the system for Search Engine Optimization experts. Efforts to stuff keywords and appeal to the search algorithm caused a tidal wave of content to hit the Internet, and that content was hardly useful to users as an information source. Even worse, most of that leftover content still exists today.

Some SEOs are also still married to the idea of paying full attention to search engines rather than the user experience when developing content, so the modern algorithm that focuses on quality content marketing has to deal with old and new content that isn’t optimized for it. Data gets confused and relevance is not always clear, and it’s mostly because of the sheer volume of content available on the web.

Semantic search developers who want their engines to take the reins have to deal with confusion from content saturation. Old, poorly designed pages contain unreadable content from which search engines have to parse data. But those engines can’t learn semantics from content that has no meaning. Until semantic SEO catches on, semantic search technology will have to wade through a sea of content debris.

Answers to Personal Queries

an example of a personal query in the google search engineUntil artificial intelligence is so close to our own brain chemistry that it can simulate our senses and draw conclusions based on emotional input (which may or may not be impossible), even a semantic search engine won’t be able to answer questions that require thinking on a personal level. Ask Google What is my future like? and you’ll see an endless list of quizzes that “predict your future.”

The results are simultaneously a testament to Google’s ability to computationally understand language and proof that it’s still a robot. Still, the search engine is using semantics to try to guess what you want from it – just try to simplify the search to my future. Semantic search’s capacity to squeeze more meaning out of your search queries will only advance as search technology moves forward.

Is Semantic Search Worth It?

Yes, semantic search, once it has evolved, will provide a search experience not unlike having your own personal assistant. The search will be able to anticipate your needs based on ideologies and linguistic concepts that you harness in everyday life to gather information from human sources.

While a semantic search engine won’t ever be able to answer questions like “Where was that place I put that thing that time?” without invading your privacy, semantic search developers are working toward a concierge-style semantic search that can process more meaningful information in less time.

So keep searching knowing that each time you submit a query and find the result you need, you’re making a sound contribution to a 100% searchable Internet with semantic search.

10 Digital Marketing Resolutions You Can Actually Keep

Setting lofty self-improvement goals is a time-honored New Year’s tradition, as is breaking those resolutions partway through the year. While it might sound cynical to talk about broken resolutions when we’re only midway through January, it’s worth bringing the subject up so that we can all start thinking about how not to be in the 64% of people who fail to keep their resolutions for more than six months. If you’re setting digital marketing goals for 2016, it’s a good idea to make them tangible and specific. By setting smaller, manageable goals, you’ll be able to steadily work towards your larger goals without becoming overwhelmed. Help your marketing department get past the talking phase of goal-setting for 2016. Here are 10 actionable suggestions for digital marketing resolutions. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

1. Add social share buttons.

This resolution is for all the businesses that regularly post great original content on their site but fail to promote it. Your content may be amazing, but it’s not likely to attract much traffic unless you promote it. There are lots of strategies for promoting your content—Buffer has a list of 11 you can try—but one incredibly easy way to start is to add social share buttons to your blog. You can do this by using an app like ShareThis, which will give you a snippet of code to embed on your site so that visitors see buttons that allow them to share the content they like on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networks with one click.

2. Add calls-to-action and contact buttons.

In addition to adding social share buttons, try adding calls-to-action and contact buttons to relevant service pages and at the end of your most successful blog post. This makes it easy for site visitors to go to the next step of their research or purchasing process with minimal navigation around your site. If you regularly communicate with clients or customers over the phone, add a click-to-call button so that visitors who are looking at your site on their smartphone can call you instantly by pressing a phone icon.

3. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly.

In May of last year, Google rolled out their ominously nicknamed ‘Mobilegeddon’ update, which was designed to give a search engine rankings boost to sites that looked good and functioned well on all device types (desktop, tablet, smartphone, etc.). If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, you may be ranking lower on search engine results pages than competitors who have optimized your site for mobile. Not sure if your site is mobile-friendly? Try Google’s handy test. If your site isn’t up to date, it’s time to have a web designer make some changes.

4. Survey your new clients.

Resolve to make digital marketing decisions that are based on data, and start by surveying your clients or customers to get valuable feedback. Consider asking about how they found you, what they like about your process, and what part of your process they think needs improvement. Keep the survey short so that clients/customers know it will take very little time and energy to fill it out.

5. Join a LinkedIn group.

Joining a LinkedIn group relevant to your industry can help you expand your network and increase your authority, which is especially valuable if you’re a content marketer. You can start a discussion with members of your group to get ideas for new content, ask for feedback on an article you’re currently working on, and keep up with the industry news that other members are sharing, just to give you a few ideas. To get started, go to LinkedIn’s Group Directory and search for terms related to your industry or target audience. Once you’ve found at least one group that you like, set a goal to stay relatively active in discussions throughout the year (otherwise, you won’t get much out of the group).

6. Do a quick GA analysis.

If you’re still putting off going into Google Analytics to see how your site is performing, the time to stop is now. Anyone who has anything to do with a company’s online performance can benefit from taking a look at Google Analytics every now and then. Whether you’re a copywriter, designer, web developer, social media specialist, or a manager, owner or junior level employee

At the very least, go into the Behavior section of reporting and Check out the pages with the most pageviews, highest bounce rate and pages with the highest average time on page. This will give you an idea of which pages are performing the best and worst overall and then you can go about analyzing them and try to make the worst pages perform more like the high performing pages.

7. Audit your site’s page load speed.

Did you know around 25% of users leave a website if it takes more than 4 seconds to load? That number only gets lower as time goes on. Google provides a free page load speed tool for web developers to check the load speed of their company’s web pages. Use this free tool to check your website to see if there are any major improvements to be made. The Page Speed Insights tool will also let you know how your site performs on mobile, and it will tell you what changes to make to improve the overall speed of your website. Read more in our blog about improving your page load speed.

8. Audit your online listings.

Review your company location, name, address, hours, etc. online. Make a list of all the places your company’s basic information is listed such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Yelp and others. Be sure to do a search for your company and make sure that someone else hasn’t incorrectly posted your information. Make changes as needed. There’s nothing more frustrating for a customer or prospect trying to find you than calling a wrong number or showing up at the wrong location.

9. Check your site’s meta data.

Use a quick SEO tool like SEO Spider to pull up all the pages on your website and do a quick review of the title and meta description tags on all the pages. Ideally, your title tags shouldn’t be longer than 60 characters and your descriptions should be under 170 characters. Make sure the tags are giving the right message to your audience and to search engines. In other words, make sure appropriate keywords are included. If you have the time, look at your H1 tags as well.

10. Update your search ads.

Review and update any ads you may have running from last year. Make sure they are still relevant and linking to an appropriate landing page or web page. Nothing makes people bounce faster than landing on an irrelevant web page or clicking on an offer that has expired.

 

If you have a team to help you, these 10 resolutions can be taken care of in just a couple of days. If the overall state of your website and online presence aren’t so great, these could take a lot longer, but it is well worth the time to go through all of these and make sure your site and your company are ready for the year. Acting as the online marketing team for many of our clients, we go through at least these basic housekeeping points to get our partners started going in the right direction and to start the year off right, so should you.

 

Co-authored by Madeline Jacobson & Natalie Parra-Novosad

5 Ways Networking Can Improve Your Content Marketing

Content marketing isn’t something that happens in a vacuum. Inspiration and tips for your content marketing can come from unexpected places, including networking events. The next time you’re debating whether it’s worth going to that after-work professional get-together, consider these five ways networking can jumpstart your content marketing efforts.

Find New Ideas for Content

Sometimes when I’m trying to come up with new ideas for content, I’ll go to Quora, see what digital marketing-related questions are popular, and write a blog post addressing one of those questions. You can generate content the same way at networking events, with your fellow attendees in the place of Quora commenters.

Pay attention to the questions other attendees ask about your company or industry and the conversations that start as a result. Keep in mind that these are probably some of the same topics that interest your potential online customers. After the networking event, jot down some notes about questions that came up multiple times or particularly engaging conversations you had, and use these to fuel new content for your company.

Connect with Interview Subjects

You’ve probably met someone in your industry who has unplumbed depths of knowledge on a particular professional subject or a fascinating story about their journey down their career path. Why not follow up with them to see if you can interview them for a blog post, short video, or podcast episode? Interviewing leaders in your field is a great way to produce authoritative content and get new insights on industry topics. It’s also a good way to strengthen a professional connection—your interview subject is much more likely to remember you after you produce a piece of content around them than they would be if you only spoke briefly at a networking event.

Connect with People Who May Want to Share Your Content

If you’re dedicating time and energy to producing great content for your company, you should also be promoting that content to make sure the right audience discovers it. And content promotion is a lot easier if you have other industry bloggers and media connections in your corner. Get to know people who write for publications that frequently share the type of content you create, and they may share some of your highest-quality work with their audience—or even let you contribute an article to a high-traffic site.

As with all aspects of networking, remember that this should be a two-way street. Don’t ask for a social share or guest post just because it will help your company—show your peer how this kind of exchange can be mutually beneficial.

Leverage Live Events for Content

If you’re hosting or even just attending a large networking event, you’re sitting on a goldmine of potential marketing content. You can, at the very least, write a blog post or press release summarizing the most important takeaways from the event. If you’ve invited a speaker, or if someone from your company is leading a presentation or workshop, you can film or record their presentation and use it as a video or podcast. Need an example of how to create content around a live event? Check out Content Marketing Institute—they do a great job of crafting articles and press releases about their online Content Marketing World conference.

Learn Content Marketing Lessons While Networking

Content marketing and networking have a lot in common (check out this Small Business Trends article if you don’t believe me). One lesson from networking that I’ve found particularly useful in content marketing is that you should give to others, rather than just thinking, “What’s in it for me?” You won’t make too many meaningful professional connections if you open every conversation by asking for a favor. Similarly, if you try to use a “hard sell” approach in content targeted at people who are just beginning the research phase, you risk turning potential customers off.

Build a connection by offering your assistance first: for example, you could share a relevant blog post from someone you met at a networking event or write your own how-to guide to walk potential customers through a task that’s giving them trouble.  When you take the time to build trust with your network connections, they’re more likely to offer their help, and when you build trust with potential customers, they’re more likely to move past the research phase and make a purchase.

Want more tips on digital marketing strategies? Subscribe to our newsletter or contact us directly.

4 Texas Companies with Killer Unique Selling Propositions

No matter what products or services your company offers, you have competition. Even if you’re the first to market with, say, a unicorn that helps out with household chores, you’re bound to see other companies offering a similar product soon (let’s not get too caught up in the logistics of the unicorn business analogy). The only way to survive is to show that you are different and can deliver something to your customers that others cannot.

This is your unique selling proposition (USP), and it should clearly explain how you set yourself apart from your competition.

So what makes for a really, really good USP? Rather than trying to nail down a magic formula (there isn’t one), I’m going to share 4 examples of businesses that I think do a great job of connecting with customers on the basis of their USP. And, since Leverage is an Austin-based business, I’ve chosen to highlight 4 other companies headquartered in the Lone Star state.

Bunkhouse Group

Photo Credit: Todd Dwyer

 

Most vacation rental and hotel groups tend to focus on their properties’ modern amenities and nearby attractions. However, the Austin-based Bunkhouse Group has taken the opposite approach with their El Cosmico vacation rentals—they emphasize the lack of modern technology and nearby metro areas—and it’s working.

El Cosmico is a collection of tents, tepees, yurts, and trailers in sparse West Texas, near Marfa. Most rental units don’t have their own kitchens, but there is a communal cookhouse. Showers are outdoors. Cell phone reception is spotty. And somehow, Bunkhouse makes this seem amazing by tapping into a desire that many of us have to temporarily disconnect from the modern world. Check out their ‘Mananifesto’ to see how they really sell this concept.

Sometimes it pays to take the opposite approach of others in your industry. Tweet: Show how something that might be perceived as a weakness actually make you stronger and sets you apart.

Scrypt

Perform a Google search for ‘cloud faxing’ and you’ll find that there’s actually a pretty crowded field. Scrypt is one of many, but they manage to stand out by targeting a specific demographic: healthcare and insurance providers.

Scrypt’s cloud faxing system is HIPAA-compliant, meaning it adheres to strict regulations that have been established to keep patients’ personal healthcare information private. The average small business owner or freelancer might not need such a high level of security for their faxed documents, and as a result they probably won’t turn to Scrypt. However, Scrypt’s HIPAA-compliance standards are ideal for customers in healthcare—which is a $2.9 trillion dollar industry. Scrypt certainly isn’t hurting for having targeted its unique selling proposition to one vertical.

Don’t try to be all things to all people. Tweet: Hone in on a selling point that will appeal to a specific demographic whose needs aren’t being met by your competitors.

Fueld Films

Fueld Films specializes in turnkey video production (meaning that if you need to film a commercial production, they’ll source an entire production team and make it happen) and currently has offices in Austin, Denver, and Salt Lake City. There are plenty of other companies that have the resources and connections necessary to put together a production crew, but Fueld Films positions themselves as the company that really connects with their clients and understands creative industries. Here’s an excerpt from their ‘About Us’ page:

Our production team gets to know you, your client and your creative idiosyncrasies. We’re the best friend you can call in the middle of the night and we’ll show up with booze, or ice cream, or that extra camera no one thought you could afford.

I’m not currently planning a large-scale video production, so I haven’t tested Fueld on their middle-of-the-night promise, but I like that they take a friendly, offbeat approach to describing their services rather than simply saying something clichéd like “We go the extra mile”. They’re able to show off their dedication in a way that is likely to appeal to clients working in creative industries.

Tweet: Don’t be afraid to sound like a real person when sharing your unique selling proposition. You’re selling to humans, so connect with them by showing the human side of your company.

Vital Farms

Photo Credit: Vital Farms

Eggs may not be the easiest product to make unique, but Vital Farms has found their niche. They started as a single farm just outside of Austin, with 50 egg-laying hens roaming around plenty of open pasture space. The business now consists of about 90 family farms which collectively produce 1.5 million eggs every week. As the company has scaled, they have remained true to their original vision: they take a humane and ethical approach to chicken farming that yields high-quality eggs.

Vital Farms’ eggs aren’t cheap—a dozen typically costs between $4.99 and $8.99 at grocery stores. To be able to sell their product at such a high price point, Vital Farms has to work hard to show that the cost is worth it. Their website is full of valuable information about the benefits of pasture-raised eggs, and each carton of eggs comes with a mini-newspaper (The Vital Times) that cover topics related to sustainable agriculture and the hens raised by Vital Farms. Their significant growth in the past couple of years shows that the approach is working.

Tweet: Think about what motivates your customers. People are often willing to spend a little more for a cause they believe in.

Know of any other unique businesses in Texas, or anywhere else in the US? Let me know about them in the comments!

21 Resources to Improve Your Visual Content [UPDATED]

You’ve probably already figured out that visual content is valuable to marketing—it’s eye-catching, can be processed more quickly than text, and helps add variety to written content. But how do you choose the right images for your brand, avoid copyright infringement, or even create your own original visual content if you don’t have a design background? You’ll find the answers to these questions and more in the link roundup below.

Getting Started

The Science of Great Visuals

You shouldn’t have to wildly stab in the dark to come up with effective visuals for your website, blog, or social media channels. This post looks at design ideas such as the value of a simple layout, how fonts can match a brand message, and how certain colors evoke strong emotions and promote sharing.

How to Get More Engagement with Your Visual Content (Infographic)

After sharing some statistics on the value of visual content, this infographic dives into some actionable tips to help you create images that will make your audience take notice. One of the things I found most useful in this infographic was the breakdown of all the different image dimensions for the biggest social media platforms. Refer to this guide to avoid ever awkwardly cropping a social media photo again.

Want People to Share Your Visual Content? Avoid These 6 Common Mistakes

Sometimes the best way to learn how to do something is to see examples of what not to do. This article covers some of the most common mistakes brands make in visual content marketing, from using images that don’t fit the message to obscuring images with too much text.

Tips for Creating a Visual Content Marketing Strategy

This slide show put together by the Content Marketing Institute relays what classic children’s stories can teach us about visual content marketing and how to implement these ideas in our strategies.

Useful Tools

100 Brilliant Color Combinations and How to Apply Them to Your Designs

If you’re an aspiring graphic designer, or even if you’re a non-designer tasked with creating visuals for your company, you may want to bookmark this post and reference it whenever you need to create a colorful image. The 100 palettes shared here are helpfully broken down into 4 categories: nature-inspired, food and drink-inspired, travel-inspired, and everyday item-inspired.

7 Best Visual Marketing Apps to Create Social Media Graphics

I don’t have a background in design, so whenever I need to create or edit images, I rely on free, user-friendly tools like Canva and Pixlr. You can learn about these and 5 other handy online design tools in this post.

The Ultimate List of Visual Content Tools

While it’s generally better to use original images whenever possible, this post contains a good list of sites where you can find high-quality, free images to incorporate in your content. It also has a list of easy-to-use design tools, including tools you can use to create and edit images directly from your smartphone or tablet.

Going Beyond the Basics

Animate Your Social Media Marketing with GIFs

Have you ever considered using GIFs (short, looped animations, usually from TV shows or movies) to add some humor to your marketing? Check out this post to learn how to use GIFs well and avoid copyright issues. (Note: This post says that you can’t share GIFs on Facebook, but Facebook recently issued an update that allows for GIFs in status updates.)

How to Create a Cinemagraph in 7 Easy Steps

Cinemagraphs—still photos with subtle, looped animation added in—look pretty cool and can definitely help your images stand out on social media. If you have Photoshop and a little bit of time, use this step-by-step guide to learn how to make your own cinemagraphs.

This Is Your Brain on Emojis

Whether you’re a fan of the trend or not, it’s becoming more and more common for people to communicate using tiny smiley faces, palm trees, hearts, and other emojis. Check out some examples of brands that get emojis right and read through tips to use emojis in your marketing without being obnoxious.

The Power of Instagram

How to Promote Your Business with Instagram

Instagram can be a great place for brand exposure, as long as you don’t take an overly sales-oriented approach. This article has some useful tips for how to fit in on Instagram and even collaborate with social influencers to build your following.

How to Gain a Massive Following on Instagram

This Buffer blog post shares the value of posting on Instagram consistently, engaging with similar accounts, cross-promoting on other platforms, and more. And the nice thing about this guide is that all the tips are backed up by cold, hard research.

These Luxury Hotel Ads Use Instagram Shots Instead of Professional Photos

This is a great example of how user-generated photos can help build credibility. If you decide to go for this approach, just make sure you get permission to use the photos in your advertising!

Getting Social

How Much is Too Much Visual Content on Social Media?

It’s a question that’s worth thinking about before you start making every single social media update an animal meme. Marketing experts weigh in here, and the general conclusion seems to be that it’s important to have a variety of content types, and that images are appropriate as long as they are on-brand and do not distract from your message.

10 Simple Design Hacks to Increase Your Social Media Traffic with Visual Content

Some of my favorite tips from this Canva post are to think of your page headers as a billboard, make the most important terms biggest when using typography, and share visuals that encourage your audience to reply.

5 Visual Storytelling Tips to Power Your Content Marketing on Facebook

This post reminds us that videos on Facebook get twice the shares of text posts and links combined—so you’d better make sure you’re using images to tell compelling brand stories. You’ll get some helpful tips on how to do that here.

4 Visual Marketing Ideas to Boost Twitter Engagement

Twitter may not be as big on images as Instagram and Facebook, but you can still share images on the platform and should absolutely take advantage of that.

11 Killer Tips to Leverage SlideShare’s Power in Your Visual Content Marketing

SlideShare is often overlooked as a social platform, but with an average of 3 billion presentation views per month and more traffic from business owners than any other major social media site, it clearly has a lot of potential as a visual content marketing tool.

Top 5 SlideShare Marketing Tips

Want to learn how to generate leads from SlideShare? This is the article for you.

How to Get More from SlideShare

The advice in this post is worth listening to because it’s coming straight from the people behind SlideShare. This is a good place to start if you’re trying to figure out what kind of visual content does well on this platform.

Bonus Resource

70+ Free Image Sites to Make Your Content Dazzle

While I already shared SEMRush’s list of where to find free images online, I also wanted to share this even more expansive list. The more options you have for free images, the less likely you are to end up recycling the same overused stock photos in your online content. Just remember to review the licensing rules for each site and give credit where credit is due!

Know of any great articles on visual content that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

7 Ways To Conquer Summer Hospitality Marketing Online

School’s out, leisure travel’s up. If you work in the hospitality industry, summer is probably your busiest season. But are you getting as many visitors as you could from your online marketing efforts? If your online marketing went into hibernation this winter and failed to get a fresh start this spring, it’s especially important to make some changes now.

Here are 7 actionable tips to help travelers find your site when they’re booking their summer trip.

Update your website content to reflect the season.

As a hospitality business, failing to keep your website updated is kind of like leaving your Christmas lights up year round… only worse. Not only does an infrequently updated website look bad, it’s also likely to rank lower in the search engine results pages (SERPs) than sites that regularly add new, original content—and that means visitors are less likely to discover you organically.

Of course, SEO value isn’t the only good reason to add fresh summer content to your site. Chances are, visitors who land on your site are already contemplating a summer getaway, and having visual and written content that aligns with their wants will help convince them to book. Try adding bright outdoor photos taken on or around your property, and consider writing summer guides letting visitors know what there is to do in your area this time of year.

Make sure your site is optimized for mobile.

According to a recent update from Google, mobile searches have outpaced desktop searches in the US and 9 other countries. On top of that, sites that are mobile-friendly (i.e. are easy to read and navigate no matter what size screen they’re on) rank higher in the SERPs than those that are not optimized for mobile.

Even if they convert on a desktop computer, many of your prospective guests will begin their summer travel research on a phone or tablet, so you need to make sure your site utilizes responsive design and looks good on all screen sizes.

Pay attention to the window between booking and traveling.

Many hotels and vacation rental companies are discovering that the window between when a guest books a room and when they arrive has narrowed considerably in the last several years. To figure out when your PPC ads for summer travel will be most effective, you need to figure out the average window for your business. For example, if the 4th of July week is typically your busiest time of year, and you determine that your guests book 30 days out on average, you should start running PPC ads for this holiday weekend in early June.

So how do you find your business’s booking window? Look at historical data from recent summers, as well as emerging trends in your booking system. You should also pay attention to when competitors are increasing their PPC spend.

Spruce up your local SEO.

Location matters, online and off. When most vacation-goers start planning a trip, they search for some combination of a place name and a venue, such as “Las Vegas hotels” or “best restaurants Atlanta”, so you need to make sure your business is ranking for relevant local searches. Here are a few things you should be doing for local SEO to increase the return on your summer hospitality marketing campaigns:

  • Claim your business listing on as many relevant places as you can, including Google, Bing, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and UrbanSpoon (for restaurants)
  • Make sure your Google+ business page is completely filled in
  • Make sure your name, address, and phone number are structured as data on your site so that search engines can easily categorize them
  • Research keywords that have a relatively high volume of traffic but low competition from other area businesses (e.g. “Austin hotels” is a very broad search, while “Austin hotels near South Congress” is a more specific search that will likely have less competition)
  • Try to get your business listed in well-ranked niche and local directories

Target staycationers.

Don’t forget about local web users who aren’t traveling far but still want to take a mini-vacation. According to a 2015 Skift survey, 62% of Americans don’t plan to take a big summer vacation this year because they are too busy or can’t afford it, but 33% of Americans say they will still take short trips on the weekend.

Consider crafting PPC ads that are specifically targeted to people within your city or state. Use your site and social media to promote a special discount rate or package deal for locals. Add content to your blog that gives readers tips on how to be a tourist in their own city. There are great hospitality marketing opportunities for businesses even when travelers are sticking closer to home.

Use retargeting ads with compelling incentives.

Taking a summer vacation is a big decision, and most people don’t commit after just one short perusal of a hotel or vacation rental company’s website. Keep in mind that people who visit your site are likely in the research phase, and be ready to remind them about your accommodations as they move closer to the decision-making phase.

You can stay top of mind by retargeting ads to people who have visited your site without converting—just make sure the ads give them a good reason to choose you. For example, for people who looked at your ‘Rooms’ page, you might create an ad offering a one-week only discount on a standard room.

Invite summer visitors back again.

The end of this vacation season doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship with your summer guests. Encourage guests to follow you on social media or subscribe to your email newsletter (try offering an incentive, like a special discount for subscribers), and keep sharing engaging content about your facilities and region that will make them want to come back again next year.

It’s impossible to fit a complete guide to online seasonal hospitality marketing into one blog post. Want to learn more? Share your question or comment below, or contact us to start a conversation.

All You Need to Know About Native Advertising

You’ve seen labels like ‘Promoted’ and ‘Sponsored Content’ floating over certain headlines on sites like Slate, Buzzfeed, The Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic. Maybe you’ve checked out some of these native ads—which are structured to look and read like editorial content on the site—and wondered how well this approach works for the brands that use it, or how well it might work for your company.

To help you learn the ins and outs of native advertising (or even to just figure out a working definition for ‘native ad’), we’ve gathered up some of our favorite articles and infographics on the subject. Check out the links below.
 

What Is Native Advertising?

Time to Define Native Advertising

This post was written two years ago (an eon ago in internet years), but Josh Sternberg lays out examples for native advertising, sponsored content, and branded content that still hold up well today.

How Every Business—Including Small Local Players—Can Use Native Advertising

Although primarily aimed at small business owners, this is a good primer on native advertising for anyone.

The Shift to Native Advertising in Marketing (Infographic)

For those visual learners out there, here’s a pretty cool infographic that covers a lot of ground.

Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work (Native Advertising)

This is one of the most-frequently cited examples of native advertising done well. It fits with the format of The New York Times, it contains compelling research on the US prison system, and it clearly states the post is paid for by Netflix but does not overtly promote the video streaming company or its show, Orange Is the New Black.
 

What Does Your Audience Think of Native Advertising?

4 Things People Really Think about Native Advertising

You’ll hear plenty of praise for native advertising in marketing circles, but keep in mind it’s what your target audience thinks that matters. (Fortunately, not all the things people really think about native advertising are bad.)

What Millennials Want from Native Ad Content

It’s worth pointing out that this survey was conducted by a native ad platform company that has a stake in what people think about native advertising, but the trends it points to are still pretty interesting.
 

Best Practices

Success in Native Advertising Hinges on Preserving Best Practices

Let’s review some of these best practices so that we know how to preserve them.

7 Questions Marketers Should Ask About Native Content

There’s well-crafted, transparent native advertising, and then there’s the kind of nebulous, irrelevant native advertising that makes readers lose trust in a brand. Answering these 7 questions can help you steer clear of the latter category.

The Startup Marketer’s Guide to Sponsored Online Content

A basic roadmap for SMBs looking to jump into native advertising.

Despite What You Might Have Heard, Native Advertising Can Scale

A good read if you’ve launched your first native advertising campaign and are wondering what to do next.

Dell Shares Best Practices in Native Advertising

One of the best ways to learn more about a marketing strategy is to look at someone who is using that strategy successfully, and so far, Dell is doing native advertising well. Read an interview with Dell’s managing editor, Stephanie Losee.
 

Distribution Platforms/Channels

4 Tools and 5 Tips for Making the Most of Native Advertising

The 4 Tools section of this post nicely outlines the main distribution channels available for native content promotion.

Which Channels Are Best for Content Promotion? (Infographic)

A useful visual that breaks down owned, earned, and paid media channels.

6 Companies That Are Trying to Solve the Native Ad Scaling Issue

An overview of 6 companies that place native advertising content on publisher sites. The article was written in late 2013, and all 6 startups are still alive and well today (perhaps a testament to the demand for native ad placement).

The Complete Guide to LinkedIn Sponsored Updates

LinkedIn is turning into a powerful content distribution platform in its own right, and B2B owners might want to think about using it for their native advertising. Here writer Jeff Haden walks through the step-by-step process to start using LinkedIn Sponsored Updates.

7 Tips to Help Boost Your Content on LinkedIn

Learn how to get more eyes in front of your LinkedIn content, whether you spring for Sponsored Updates or not.
 

Measurement

Native Advertising is All Over the Map

This WSJ blog post points out the importance of coming up with standardized metrics for native advertising.

How Publishers and Brands Can Measure the Value of Native Advertising

If you’re not sure where to even begin with measuring the success of native advertising, start here. You’ll learn about attention minutes, social sharing, click-through rates, and conversions.

Eye-Tracking Study: Native Ads vs. Banners Ads

Ready to get a little more granular? This eye-tracking study shows how participants visually focused on native ads considerably more than banner ads.

Maximize ROI via Content Distribution Networks

This in-depth Moz post shows you how to use metrics to compare content distribution platforms so that you can stick with the one(s) that give you the best ROI.

The Reach, Engagement, and ROI of Content Marketing vs. Native Advertising

Here’s another very thorough Moz post, this time featuring original research on the ROI of content marketing compared to native advertising. It also includes a link to Fractl’s content ROI calculator to help you determine what’s best for your business.

 

GOING NATIVE WITH SPONSORED CONTENT

Describing Leverage Marketing – and digital marketing as a whole – has proven to be met with mixed responses over time.

 

A few weeks back, for example, my wife and I were at a school function for one of my daughters when we were introduced to a fellow classmate’s mother through a mutual friend. After some small talk (our kids, sports, weather, smelly gymnasium), the mother inquired to my profession.

 “Internet marketing? Is that where you sell ad space on the Internet?” she inquired.

 “No,” I replied. “What we do is…”

 “Are you the guys that put ads on Facebook?”

 “Well,” I started, “We …”

 “Do you know what I don’t like?” she interrupted, looking at my wife. “When I go on Facebook and I see ads there. I don’t go on Facebook to look for ads.”

Priss.

 

It’ll be probably to the chagrin of our mutual acquaintance, but promoted Facebook posts and other forms of native advertising are shaping up to be popular and valuable forms of digital advertising.

Sponsored post on Linkedin

 

This year, it is expected that the spend on native advertising will increase by more than a third compared to last year, according to an article on adage.com, with big names such as General Electric, Ford Motor Co. and Hewlitt Packard expected to be major players in this form of advertising that is expected to surpass $4.3 billion in spend this calendar year. By 2018, that figure is projected to double.

 

For those uninitiated, native advertising is a form of digital advertising whose design matches that of the natural content of the web page. Another way of putting it is sponsored content. Native advertising can be utilized in the form of articles, videos, music and other media to match the type of content the consumer might be browsing at the moment.

            

Social Media sites aren’t the only ones jumping onto the native advertising wagon. Click onto CNN, still a go-to for up-to-the-minute news for many online, or Rollingstone, once the great arbiter of all things musically hip, and it won’t take long to find an ad in between the headlines.

 

Native advertising on CNN

While this is proving to be a hit with many companies and websites, there are some out there, like our mutual acquaintance, that are taking issue with native advertising.

 

Last summer, comedian John Oliver, on his HBO series “Last Week Tonight,” lambasted native advertising in regard to its growing appearance on news sites in a lengthy segment.

 

“Ads are baked into content like chocolate chips into a cookie. Except, it’s actually more like raisins into a cookie—because nobody … wants them there,” was one of his more memorable quotes. “I like to think of news and advertising as the separation of guacamole and Twizzlers. Separately they’re good. But if you mix them together, somehow you make both of them really gross” is another.

 

I, though, like to think all parties – the companies buying the ads, the sites providing the space, and the readers on the web pages – are much smarter than Oliver and other native advertising critics will lead you to believe.

 

Despite their blending in with the sites design, it only takes a small modicum of common sense for readers to distinguish between what is news/content and what is an advertisement. Like the many choices of content/articles that are a click away on a news site’s page, readers can click on the ad if they want more information or simply leave it be. Additionally, content that is paid to be circulated by a company is often just as valuable to the reader as any other content on the page, when it’s done right. Paid content is researched and developed with the intent of informing its audience. Whether or not that audience wants to go on to browse products or make a purchase is entirely up to them.

 

Describing Internet marketing in a sentence or two may be confounding to some, but dealing with native ads is quite simple, if you ask me.