Content matters for B2B customers

Content remains a critical tool for marketers. To help you understand which content can help you sell to your customers, we distilled key learnings from some recent surveys and studies on business-to-business (B2B) content.

Content matters in the sales cycle

Customers see your content long before they talk to you. Only 25 percent of buyers revealed their interest in a product or service to the vendor early in the sales cycle. More than half of the respondents in one survey said that they viewed at least three pieces of content before talking with a salesperson.

Savvy marketers have a strategy for producing content that targets specific phases in the sales cycle.

Customers prefer certain B2B content types

The studies we looked at included a variety of content types, from white papers and case studies to podcasts and webinars. Customers have their own preferences, so most content types are beneficial to some portion of your audience. But marketing budgets are limited. To get the most bang for your buck, studies show that you should focus on these types of content:

  • Blog posts
  • White papers
  • E-books
  • Product and datasheets
  • Infographics
  • Webinars
  • Videos
  • Interactive tools

Blog posts and white papers are widely read and frequently shared. Business customers report reading white papers frequently and at more points in the sales cycle. In a 2015 study, 83 percent of business buyers reported reading a white paper in the last year. Webinars took second place, followed by e-books, which 68 percent of buyers read.

Choosing the right content type is half the battle. It’s equally important to present each type of content when it’s most valuable.

When is B2B content consumed during the sales cycle?

Not all content is not effective at every point in the customer journey. The studies clearly show customer preference for different types of content at different stages. Based on our review, here’s when you should use each type of content:

Content type for each stage of the B2B customer journey

Like all of us, your customers are inundated with content and have limited time. So keep it short, especially in the earlier phases. The further that customers move down the funnel, the more time they are willing to invest in content. Mid-size business and enterprise customers consume more content than do small business customers, and decision-makers spend more time with content than do influencers.

How do people find and share B2B content?

Most business customers find content through search. If you want to make it to the consideration phase with your business customers, search engine optimization (SEO) is critical.

Sharing is also a powerful tool. If your content is compelling, readers share it through email and, less often, on social media. LinkedIn is the top social media site for content sharing, followed by Twitter. Provide an easy way for customers to share blog posts and other content using all three methods.

Interactive content is increasingly important

More and more companies are creating interactive content, such as SlideShares, calculators, and assessments, among others. Interactive content takes more time and money to develop, but it also helps you stand out from the crowd: customers perceive it as more valuable. According to the B2B Technology Content Survey Report, “Seventy-three percent say a high level of interactivity somewhat or greatly increases the influence of content.” And, according to the Demand Gen Report’s 2014 B2B Content Preferences Survey, “Buyers are increasingly relying on infographics, videos and other interactive content, such as ROI calculators and assessments, as they make their buying decisions.” Maybe that’s why marketers report moderate or high conversion rates for interactive content 70 percent of the time, versus only 36 percent of the time for passive content.

In the first two phases of the customer journey, you can use interactive content to help customers understand that they have a problem and that your product or service can be the solution. The key is to keep interactive tools general and helpful, while making customers aware of your product or solution. Also, give them a clear next step in their journey. Expect to see increasing uses of interactive content—and increased competition to develop new, more engaging and informative formats.

Most of all, be useful

Buyers want useful information that’s pertinent to their phase in the customer journey. In the early stages of the journey, they continue to report that too much content is marketing-focused and product-oriented, rather than general and helpful. Even further down the funnel, it’s important that your content stays informative and appropriately biased. Nobody expects a company to talk about its products or services without highlighting the strengths—but a pure marketing pitch is a big turn-off.

Not surprisingly, 97 percent of buyers gave more credence to peer reviews and user-generated content. Barring that, in the early stages, buyers prefer content that is backed up by research. So in the early stages, provide valuable information in a short, easy-to-digest manner. Keep it informative and useful, as you help prospects move through the sales cycle, increasing the product focus and level of detail at each stage.

And if you want help developing content or a content strategy for your company, reach out to us.

Better SEOThe search engine optimization (SEO) process helps to ensure that your content is accessible to search engines and that your topics match your audience’s search terms. Having someone available, whether a consultant or a staff member, to advocate for SEO as part of your production process will reap rewards such as more visits to your website from people actually interested in your products, services, or organization.

Search problem

The marketing manager for a product at global technology company, henceforth referred to as Brand X, engaged with Resources Online to improve the product’s visibility in Google search results for very competitive terms and to increase the percentage of traffic coming from organic search. (Organic search is the results the search engine delivers based on relevance versus results listed because they were paid for, i.e. ads. Users trust organic search results more than paid results.)  The company’s content development processes at that time did not include SEO considerations. Content was marketing-driven and lacked keywords. The details of basic on-page optimization—including metadata, image optimization, and other considerations—were left up to the developers who didn’t have SEO training or, worse, to nobody. The company’s website structure was also not search-engine friendly.

SEO approach

Resources Online started off by conducting keyword research on the product to understand how customers were searching for similar products and services, using generic terms, synonyms, and related terms. We then updated the webpages to include the most popular terms. This helped to ensure that the actual page content matched searchers’ queries. Throughout the process, our SEO specialists educated the Brand X marketing team about what search engines look for in terms of content length, topics, and substance, and we explored how to best meet those needs.

With a scheduled site redesign in the works, we also took the time to remove spider barriers and to make the site search-engine friendly. Spiders are code the search engines use to check pages on a website and identify and pull information that is then used by the search engine algorithms to deliver search results. If the spiders can’t effectively crawl your website and find key information, it negatively affects your site’s rankings.

Search engine results

Ranking. By knowing which high-volume keywords were important to track, we were able to refine and re-focus tracking of search rank. Year over year, the number of tracked business-critical generic keywords showed improvement in Google search results as follows:

  • 100%: The number of keywords in position #1 doubled.
  • 39%: Keywords on page 1
  • 35%: Keywords on pages 1 and 2
  • 20%: Average position of all tracked keywords

Number of keywords on page

Organic traffic. By revising metadata to make it more compelling and user-focused and by adding keywords, Brand X experienced the following traffic improvements:

  • 30%: The number of sessions from organic search engines
  • 25%: The number of new users coming to the site

Conversions. Better keyword targeting brought more qualified searchers to the site:

  • 54%: Purchase page clicks
  • 98%: Product trial sign-up page completions
  • 150%: Demo sign-up completions from organic

Configuration. We worked with the development team to:

  • Ensure that international content was delivered to the correct country or region, by applying hreflang tags.
  • Eliminate duplicate content, through the use of canonical URLs.
  • Capture link equity, by converting unnecessary 302 redirects to 301s.

Indexation. We added sitemap.xml files and removed spider barriers, thus allowing more pages to be indexed and found through search.

Number of pages indexed by SEO spiders

Building a strong SEO foundation and doing the ongoing SEO work takes time, persistence, and education, but the impact on traffic, discoverability, and conversions can be enormous. Ultimately drawing the right traffic to your site can result in the downloads or sales that directly impact your bottom line.

Posted in SEO.

Protecting your wordpress site from hackers

If you’re hosting a WordPress site, you’re likely already aware of the need for security. But you may not know just how complicated it is to set up and maintain a really secure website. It can be even more complex than designing the site itself or developing the content.

This articles covers a number of steps Resources Online routinely takes to make websites secure. It assumes a basic familiarity with WordPress, but not much more. To get technical details on the recommended solutions, do a quick online search.

Keep WordPress and your plugins up to date

This is the single most important thing you can do. Because WordPress is so widely used, when vulnerabilities are discovered, attackers know that there are many susceptible websites. There were six WordPress core security updates last year alone, along with many more plugin updates.

It’s critical that you continually monitor and patch your site.

The WordPress core application has the ability to automatically update whenever a new version is released. Automatic updates are also available for certain plugins. If your website is not that complex and you’re comfortable with code changes to your site without a thorough review, turn on automatic updates. In new installations of WordPress, this is on by default. Follow WordPress instructions to manually turn on automatic updates.

If your website is complex or you’re worried that an automatic update may break it, set up a testing environment and manually update WordPress. Modern versions of WordPress actually make this quite simple. The Updates page on your WordPress site shows a list of all available releases. You can install them individually or all at once with just a few mouse clicks.

If you have a lot of plugins, consider updating them a few at a time and, as you go, verify that the website still functions properly. This way, you can isolate the source of any potential problems caused during the update process. After you’ve made all the updates and verified the site functionality in your testing environment, follow the same process on the production site.

Note for developers: obviously, modifying WordPress core code or plugin code makes it very difficult to update plugins and stay secure. Use care!

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Maintain good login security

Having secure code doesn’t help if you leave the front door open. One of the most common causes of WordPress site outages is the brute force login attack. That’s where an attacker writes code that repeatedly tries different passwords to log in to your site.

Take these steps to defend against this type of attack:

  • Always use strong passwords.
  • Disable the default admin account (a common target of attacks).
  • Limit user roles to only specific, required functions. For example, don’t make everyone an admin.
  • Rename the login page to something non-standard, so attackers can’t find the page. We have had good success with the Rename wp-login.php plugin.
  • Install a plugin to limit brute force attacks, force strong passwords, and force password expiration. If you are not installing a more comprehensive security plugin, try this Login Security Solution from WordPress.

Pick your plugins carefully

Every plugin you install on your site potentially contains vulnerable code. Virtually anyone can write and offer a plugin. Look for plugins that:

  • Are highly rated.
  • Have a large numbers of installs.
  • Are offered by reliable sources.
  • Have good user reviews.
  • Show frequent updates (indicating they are being maintained).
  • Are available on WordPress.org.

Some plugins have write access to your WordPress files and directories. A malicious or vulnerable plugin with that kind of access has complete control over your site. Be very cautious with these. And, in general, limit your plugins to only those you need, delete any unused plugins, and carefully consider the trade-offs when adding new ones.

Install a good WordPress security plugin

There are dozens of different steps and techniques available to properly secure a WordPress site. Installing a WordPress security plugin simplifies this process for developers and for less technical users. Security plugins can conflict with one another, so if you install more than one, be careful to select compatible plugins. Our favorite security plugins include:

BulletProof security, which provides more of a firewall, detecting and blocking malicious traffic before it gets to your WordPress installation. It does this through a series of rules defined in the Apache .htaccess file. Installation is simple: use the setup wizard, and select the options you prefer. The plugin generates and saves the correct .htaccess file to your web server.

Wordfence, which provides security from within WordPress itself. It not only provides basic firewall-level intrusion prevention, but also it:

  • Scans for infected files.
  • Compares all of your core and plugin files against the original versions.
  • Shows you real-time traffic to your site, which can allow you to detect and troubleshoot attacks.
  • Protects against brute force attacks.
  • Monitors disk space.
  • Logs traffic, allowing you to investigate issues.

We like using BulletProof security and Wordfence together because of their complementary features.

Back up your site!

Disasters, such as site corruption or hacker-caused data loss, are a lot easier to deal with if you know that you have a good backup of all of your code and content. Install a plugin to make daily backups of your website, including the code and database. Make sure to back up your server, as well. And test your backup to make certain it that can actually be restored.

Our favorite free backup plugin is UpdraftPlus. It supports automated backups, prunes old backups, does remote storage to Dropbox, and will even automatically back up your site and database at the moment you are installing new plugins, allowing for an easy rollback if something breaks. The paid plugin BackupBuddy is also an alternative to consider.

Monitor and maintain

Your site won’t stay secure on its own. You need to monitor your security logs, apply regular updates, look for suspicious or abnormal activity, verify that your backups are still working, and keep an eye on your database size and available disk space.

Your security plugin helps by notifying you of issues via email, but there’s no substitute for periodically logging in and checking things out.

For more information

Here’s to keeping your site safe and secure!

Brick LayerIf you’re even slightly familiar with search engine optimization (SEO), you know that SEO requires constant and steady work, like laying bricks, to drive and keep your page high in search results. It takes time and consistent effort to rise in the rankings and to stay there. You also understand the importance of creating good content focused on the right topics and keywords, plus the need to acquire authoritative backlinks.

Build a well-structured site

For a site to be found in search, the search engine’s online robots must first crawl it—that means the robot walks through all of your site pages to create a map, and it categorizes the contents of each page. Your site structure and form can make this much easier:

  • Create discrete pages, each focused on a single, specific topic that corresponds to users’ specific keywords/searches. This allows the engines to clearly know which pages should surface for which keyword search.
  • Use a broad-to-narrow approach, if necessary (that is, a broad topic page that links to pages on narrower sub-topics).
  • Avoid creating more than two levels of folder structure. Instead, keep the site structure as you flat as you can, placing the most important pages closer to the root.
  • Create a clear navigation structure. This is better for usability anyway. Basically, if showed your menu structure as an outline, would a random person be able to understand it? If so, chances are that the search engines will, too.
  • Make it easy for engines to map your site by providing an actual map for them. See http://www.sitemaps.org/ for information about sitemaps.
  • Consider also using the schema element to tell search engines about your site structure. For example, if you run a restaurant, your schema would have sections for menu, hours of operation, location, reviews, and reservations. If you use the correct schema elements, search engines can actually display all of these items right on the search results page.

Use correct semantic structure

In addition to creating a logical site structure, make sure that you use the correct technical tagging and methods. To some extent, your site needs to speak the language of the search engines. Be sure to:

  • Use clear page-naming conventions. Pick your structure, and stick with it. Make sure that you use real-language URLs, even if they are wordy. Someone reading the last part of your URL should know what the page is about, such as /creating-videos-with-adobe-premiere-on-mac.
  • Include any blog or related assets as a subfolder or subdomain, so that they accrue SEO benefits to the home domain. For example, our blog uses www.ronline.com/blog, accruing SEO benefits to the main site at ronline.com.
  • Use valid, semantically correct HTML. Errors in HTML can cause the engines to bypass a page or to lower its ranking. For example, all headers should use header tags (such as H1, H2, or H3). The engines look for these tags and check the keywords in them to help determine the main topics on the page.
  • Where you use images, always add alt text. Since they can’t read images, the engines use the text as a proxy to determine what the image is about.
  • Include a Title and Description metadata tag on every page. They are critical to search results.

Keep important content visible on the page

Images, videos, widgets—we pack a lot into our websites. But not all of these are visible to search engines. Problems result when key information—information that could help with your ranking—is buried in a format that search engines can’t plumb. Here’s how you can avoid problems:

  • Don’t embed text in images. For example, if you have a header with your tagline, and the header is an image, Google and Bing can’t read the text in the image. So, the tagline is lost to them.
  • Similarly, don’t bury important information in Flash, Silverlight, or videos.
  • If you use widgets to pull in content, try to ensure that the content is considered “on the page” rather than embedded. For example, JavaScript-dependent content can’t be indexed. If the content is not in the page’s raw HTML as served up by the server itself, that phantom content won’t accrue SEO benefits to your page.
  • If you have dynamic content or links that are accessed via JavaScript, provide an alternative HTML structure just for search engines that allows them to find your content without executing JavaScript.

Build for measurement

As you know, SEO is an ongoing activity, and you need to be able to track how you’re doing and to make improvements where necessary. To get basic reporting, add analytics to your site:

  • Properly install Google analytics and/or another analytics package on the site and its pages.
  • Set up goals in Google Analytics, based on your business needs and site design. You might want to measure, for instance, how many sign-ups happened on forms and to track the paths the users followed before completing that action. Goals help you do this.
  • If you’re redesigning an existing website, gather any baseline data from previous versions of the site, for comparison purposes.
  • Make sure assets on subdomains or folders use the same analytics code, so you can trace traffic from them.
  • Set up regular reports that you can analyze at least quarterly.

Put the user and content first

SEO is important, but all of Google’s and Bing’s search algorithms are designed to surface the right content at the right time. That means that, first and foremost, you need to provide good content on specific topics. Most of us can’t sacrifice usability for SEO:

  • Include pages that cover specific topics and questions that your target customers will search for, within contexts relevant to your business goals. For example, if your customers will be asking “How do I?” questions for which your product or service is a solution, add pages for those questions.
  • Write helpful content, and write it well. The search engines penalize pages with typos and poor grammar. Guess what? So do users.
  • Make sure the structure supports copious cross-site links. Cross-links (links between pages on your site) are good for SEO and, when chosen well, they also support the readers’ search for additional or related information.
  • Design the site for regular—preferably frequent—content updates. The search engines credit websites that are kept up-to-date. When you update your website with current content, you also increase the chances that people searching for the latest info will come to you.
  • Provide and share content that others want to link to. This gets to the backlink issue. Ideally, you want pages on your website that provide information or entertainment valuable enough that other authoritative websites or bloggers link to them. That will greatly help your ranking.
  • Practice good, audience-focused writing techniques. Write for your audience, using the terms they understand. If you’re doing that right, your pages have a better chance of appearing when the right keywords are searched. If you need some help, you can also use Google’s tools to research keywords for your industry.

To achieve high SEO, there is a lot required on the content side of the equation. Build that content on a solid foundation using these basic steps and watch as, over time, your site gains authority and improved ranking in search.