Engage Your Audience. That's What We’re Here For.

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Why exhibiting at trade shows is a waste of money

Posted by Michael Reynolds

Apr 22, 2014 10:00:00 AM

Trade shows can be fun, right? You find a conference related to your target market, purchase booth space, and go "network" with all the attendees in the hopes of getting some leads. Trade shows can be fun and "feel" like good marketing activity but are they really worth it?

I would argue that it's usually not.

Before you get your pitchforks and torches out, let's analyze the trade show process starting with your audience.

tradeshow

At a trade show, your maximum reach is limited to those in attendance, and in reality, limited to those that walk by your booth. At a larger show, this could be a few thousand and a smaller show might be in the hundreds. Not a lot of people. Even if it's one of the massive shows with tens of thousands of people there is a limit to how many of them you can talk to during the show.

Next, let's think about where these people are in their buying cycle. Some of them might be close to making a purchase of a product or service like yours. Others might just be "tire kickers" and might not have any intention of doing business with you. Others may not even be decision makers or influencers.

Finally, let's look at how you interact. At most trade shows, exhibitors tend to stand at their tables, give away pens and other trinkets, and just network. This may have some value but in general you're just hanging out at the bottom of the inbound marketing funnel. While some attendees might be ready to engage at the bottom of the funnel, the majority are likely not ready which leaves them without too many other options beyond taking a pen and walking away.

Even if you get their contact information all you can really do is "follow up" and see if they want to jump into your sales cycle.

So to recap, the elements of a trade show are:

  • Maximum reach limited to subset of attendees (usually a few hundred to a few thousand)
  • No specific ways to filter audience by buying cycle or interest
  • No real value offered to leads and no way to create a marketing process from it
  • Trade show campaigns are limited to one-time event

In contrast, Inbound Marketing offers the following elements:

  • Maximum reach is limited only to entire target market (huge)
  • Inbound Marketing is ongoing and has no campaign end date
  • Scalable, adpatable, and process-driven
  • Filtering, scoring, and reacting to buying cycles and interests of leads

So why would you choose a tradeshow?

Often, trade shows (and other "offline" marketing campaigns) simply feel good because of the hype that comes with it. There is lots of activity involved in setting up for a show so it seems valuable. However, when you look at the numbers and the scalability of exhibiting, it just doesn't add up.

Are there ways to make a tradeshow pay off? Absolutely. For example, SpinWeb is exhibiting at the Go Inbound Marketing Conference in Indianapolis and we are putting together a combined inbound + offline campaign that is process-driven, unique, and measurable. You'll want to register and attend the event to see it!

So if you can't get your organization to stop doing trade shows, at least create a unique campaign that ties into your Inbound Marketing system. Set up targeted landing pages. Gather blog subscribers. Run a contest (something more exciting than drawing for an iPad). Do something different.

Side note: for some ideas on how to make the most of your booth, you might want to listen to "Are Tradeshows Still Worth It?" by Scott Stratten and Alison Kramer over at the UnPodcast.

Can you get value from a trade show? Perhaps. But you're typically working a lot harder at it when compared to the scalability and ROI of Inbound Marketing.

What's your take on trade shows. Good for business or waste of time? Let us know in the comments.

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Topics: inbound marketing

This is not the SEO you're looking for [Webinar]

Posted by Michael Reynolds

Apr 21, 2014 10:00:00 AM

SEO is a powerful, effective, and misunderstood element of marketing. It seems that everyone wants to "sprinkle some SEO" on their website and instantly rank for big, relevant keywords.

Well, in the immortal words of Obi-Wan, "this is not the SEO you're looking for" (or was that droids?)

There are some fundamental rules, truths, and myths behind SEO today that you need to know before engaging in this tactic as part of your marketing strategy. In this webinar we'll cover:

  • Some of the lies that you are hearing about SEO
  • Why you're probably targeting the wrong keywords
  • How to spot (and avoid) agencies that do SEO from 5 years ago
  • How to choose keywords and do the proper research
  • What it takes to win at SEO
  • How Google's updates affect your business
  • How to turn all that traffic into real sales

Following this webinar, you will have a solid understanding of what it takes to win at SEO today.

Allison: Good afternoon, this is Allison Gibbs, strategist with SpinWeb. Welcome to our webinar this afternoon, This is Not The SEO You're Looking For. If you have any questions throughout the presentation, please don't hesitate to type it in the questions area. We love to answer questions throughout and as always, we'll have a Q&A session at the end. With that, I'm going to turn it over to SpinWeb’s President and CEO Michael Reynolds.

Michael: Thanks Allison. Thanks everybody for joining. I'm glad you're here, obviously the discussion at hand is around SEO, search engine optimization specifically. 

If you're a developer, this is not necessarily for you, this is more for a business level conceptual conversation, so just keep that in mind. Those of you who aren't familiar with SpinWeb, we are a digital agency. We deliver inbound marketing, website design and app development, so we do a lot of things centered around SEO to bring increased traffic and leads to our clients as well as helping them with their website home base. A little bit about me, I'm the CEO here at SpinWeb. I play the cello. I love sushi. I play lots of tennis, and obviously I'm a marketing and tech nerd. If you like to learn more about us online, we are online at SpinWeb.net. 

Let's start with the reason for this particular topic. A lot of people have some very good intentions about why they want to perform better on search, but there are still some leftover misconceptions that go with that. Some of the requests we're still getting are things like, “Hey, we want to rank for a big fancy search term that is very relevant to a product we sell.” Some people are finding they’re losing search rankings because of a recent Google update. They used to rank well for certain keywords and now their rankings have plummeted.

Others are saying, we need to “Optimize our website for SEO.” A lot of people have the idea that you can basically do some tweaking on your website or change some things around and your website will automatically just be set up for SEO or they are talking about keywords or they are talking about very specific search terms that are very competitive and they want to be found for those search terms when people type them in. These are very common requests we get, very well-intentioned obviously, but there are some issues that we need to address. 

Let's start by just looking at what I call the good ol' days of SEO. I'm not sure how good they were because in reality, this is back in the day when Google behaved differently and wasn't quite as intelligent as it is today. That means that back in the day, you could get away with some things that don't work anymore. For example, the technique of keyword stuffing, keyword stuffing is basically taking a keyword that you want to be ranking for and sprinkling it throughout your site and stuffing into as much content as possible on your site, hoping they’ll rank for it. Also, lots of technical optimization, going through the site structure and doing all sorts of code specific technical things that could have an impact a while back.

Getting lots of inbound links, people used to have these links farms set up, the more inbound links you got basically, the more votes you got and the better you ranked. Same thing with awkwardly hacking up title tags to stuff keywords in there and really overall this concept of doing SEO is not really relevant anymore. It used to be back in the days these things that worked, you could do SEO to some extent, you could go through some tactics and go through some mechanics and get some results from it. Nowadays, as we’ll see a little bit later here, SEO is more of a state of mind than it is a thing you do. SEO is something that you really want to bake into everything that you're doing throughout your marketing campaigns and we'll see what that means here shortly.

With that we still have some myths that are getting told today about search that I want to clear up. For one thing, SEO used to mean basically picking a big fancy keyword and ranking for it, so if you sold widgets for example, if you wanted to get found for the search term widgets that would be the one you went after. Nowadays, it's not quite the same, you don't want to focus so heavily on these big product specific search terms as much. You can actually get a lot better result and a lot more wins by going after some of the smaller long tail keywords, which we’ll talk about in just a minute. It's not so much about tuning your website anymore. You do want to make sure your website is structured properly, but once you've done that it takes more to get there, than just tuning your website.

Look-for

A big myth that I really like to focus on here is the IT myth. I love IT people, I'm a technology nerd, so IT people are great. However, that is not the department that should be handling SEO. SEO is very content driven and for organizations that hand off SEO to the IT department that's really going to have very limited functionality and limited results. Really, the biggest misconception is that SEO is a project that once your site is optimized, you’re done. That's a big misconception, it's really an ongoing process that we have to nurture overtime. 

Let's take a look at how Google really works. Now, again my disclaimer here is that no one outside of Google really knows every single detail about how Google works. Google is kind of a black box. They keep their algorithm secret for good reason, a lot of intellectual property there. But, Google also does a very good job of coaching us on how they view the world and how they view their end user, which is the searcher. From that and from data that we and other companies have gathered, we can get a pretty decent idea of what the rules of the game are. One of the rules of the game is to understand how Google works. You really need to have your mind in the place where you can picture how Google views the search user, the person typing in the search term.

The primary objective is to really serve the best content to that end user. Google's customers are the people searching. Some people think it’s Adwords customers, but not quite, it's really the end user because the better the experience you can provide to the end user who searches, the more value Adwords customers are going to get anyway. If you're focusing on things like all the technical stuff and trying to figure out the tricks and tactics and the back doors to getting into, ranking well in Google that's really the wrong path to be going down. The path to be looking at is really to be figuring out how you can optimize the experience for the person searching for relevant content that you can help with. That's really what it comes down to.

A lot of times, I feel like I'm oversimplifying SEO by saying that but in a way it really is that simple because you really want to authentically and sincerely provide content that solves problems and that's really where you're going to win the search. Lot of you probably heard about Hummingbird. Hummingbird is Google's most recent algorithm update. This is the big one recently that really made some sweeping changes to how search works. The Hummingbird update really did a lot of things, but one of the primary changes are that it helps Google focus more on the meaning of phrases as opposed to the specific literal phrase. Instead of focusing so much on the exact words in a certain sequence, we now are able to have focus on intent and focusing on what the words mean and what the concepts are and Google figures out the rest through its algorithm. 

We don't have to be quite as literal anymore. Hummingbird really did a lot of good and a lot of harm to some sites. For us, for example, Hummingbird was awesome for us because we have been following the right rules for years and years and Google Hummingbird update helped those who were following the rules, win even better and so now we're ranking on some amazing terms that we never thought possible and they're really paying off for us. Other sites, they're finding that they were using some of the old school techniques and their search rankings are plummeting as a result because this update is really favoring sites that again do it right and focus on the right content.

Let’s take a look at really some of the simple tactics that you want to look at when you're approaching modern SEO. I call this modern SEO tactics for that reason. You'll be surprised how non-technical some of these are. The first one you want to do is get into the head of your buyers, so whoever your target audience is, whether you’re business to consumer, business to business, you still sell to people. At some point, there is still a person buying your product or service and that person is who you want to start targeting with search. You want to build profiles, we call them buyer personas. You want to build profiles of those people, kind of figure out what their attributes are, their habits, their challenges, things they research, where they hang out, where they read.

All these kinds of things will help you build a profile on your ideal target person, a job title is included obviously and that helps you figure out realistic keywords that you can target. Instead of focusing on a big broad term, like the product or service you're selling, you can start to focus on terms that your buyer personas care about. A lot of times, you're going to have a much easier time ranking for those terms and you're going to get much more traffic from it as a result. Here’s an example, I just picked one example out of a lot here, which is HR consulting. This is an HR consulting firm and what we're finding here is that instead of searching for HR consulting, you’re trying to rank for the term HR consulting or something like that. 

We can win on lots of other terms like employee motivation ideas and variations of that, staff motivation ideas. This is just one small subset. If you notice, you'll see that there is a good number of searches per month on each of these variations and rankings are number one, which is outstanding obviously. It's the best you can do. Difficulty varies across the board there, from 0 to 100, but as you start to win on the intent behind these search terms, you'll find that you can bring in people that are searching for things other than the brand or the product or service you sell, but can still come to your website, find solutions they need and become clients based on those search terms.

Buyer personas will help you figure out lots of variations through keyword research on what those people are searching on and you can start to build lots and lots of traffic generating terms that you’re winning on and get a lot more traffic and have an easier time doing it. That's one thing you can do to help. Once you've done that your keyword research on the topics you generate, like the examples we just looked at, will help you create the right content. Really, this is also fairly simple in concept, the actual practice is difficult because it takes a lot of time and effort, but the concept is very simple.

You consistently produce and publish extremely sincere content that solves problems and I put a bunch of reallys in there because I want to really emphasize the word sincere because a lot of times when people are doing SEO at work and they're producing content, they make the mistake of producing content that is so awkwardly structured for search that it doesn't sound like a human wrote it and that's going to hurt you. If you're writing contest strictly just to win on keywords, Google figures that out and it's not going to help you. Instead, you basically want to, for a moment, throw SEO out of the window and pick your topic. 

In the previous example, let's say, it’s employee motivation ideas and write the very very best blog post you can possibly write about that topic or the best e-book you can write about that topic or the best three-part article series about that topic. That is what's going to win over all the technical tricks you can introduce into that content. Instead, forget about the keywords, just write something in such a way that it's authentic that it's well-written that it’s as if you're talking to a friend over dinner about the concept. That's really what's going to help and make sure it solves problems, make sure it's not just surface fluffy content, make sure it actually goes deep and really provides a good resource for the reader.

Make sure it provides something that is going to help them and really truly dig in and solve that problem for them. That's going to help. Some examples are, blogging is a great keystone that we use for search, also downloadable content like e-books, the landing pages we build have content that that also helps. Other forms of content like video can also help, but really blogging we find is a really really good keystone of any search strategy. Blogging once a week is the minimum, we actually blog twice a week here at SpinWeb and we'd like to do more, we may end up doing more at some point, but that really is a good core component of your search strategy.

Again when you write blog posts, make sure they’re sincere, authentic. Throw all the keyword stuffing concepts out the window, focus on the topic at hand and make it outstanding. 

Next, number three, let's take a look at social. A lot of people are still wondering how social fits in. There's no secret that Google Plus is Google’s own social network, which has a lot to weight toward search. Pay attention to Google Plus, it’s not the most exciting, it’s not Facebook, you’re not going to find cat videos on Google Plus as much, but it's going to most likely continue its momentum and have some impact on searcher going forward. It's not just Google Plus, other networks play a part as well, but you should not be leaving out Google Plus and more importantly, you want to make sure you're setting up authorship properly on your blog and we'll see what that means here in just a second. 

But also, make sure, you’re networking from a personal standpoint. A lot of companies, I wouldn't call a mistake, but they have a short-sighted vision, in which they publish a Facebook page for their brand, they might publish a Twitter account for their brand, but none of their employees or team members or key people are actually interacting. They're all hiding, they're not really saying or doing much on social media, they're hiding behind the brand and that's going to have a limited effect. It's much more effective if you encourage and allow the people in your company to develop their own profiles and encourage them to really interact and network online.

Google is starting to put more and more weight on personal networks and tying that to search results, so the more you can get your employees to interact and be present on social networks, including Google Plus, the more that has potential to help you. If you haven’t setup authorship, here's an example, when you have a blog post published, you want to make sure that you have the author clearly listed there as a byline below the title. What that means is that's going to help Google tie that content to that author and then it's also going to take a look at that author and start to add weight based on how active that author is on social networks. At the same time, in your Google Plus profile, you want to make sure that you list sites that you publish on, in that contributor section.

If you'll notice, obviously I contribute to the SpinWeb blog and some other marketing related blogs, as you can see down the line there, so I have put guest post on those blog sites. Those are all site I contribute to and that helps Google kind of tie my personal profile to that content and that really completes the puzzler there. If your blog is not set up for authorship that's something you want to take a look at. Let’s take a look at some, just quickly run through myths and dispel some of the other ones as we wrap up here. This, I don't think is too common anymore, but a lot of people still think that you have to submit websites to Google or submit them to indexes, don't have to do it, Google is going to find you, don't worry about it, just publish.

Next again, inbound links, we talked about this. Inbound links that happen organically, meaning if they happen on their own that's good, you want that. If you try to getting inbound links in an awkward kind of contrived fashion that's not likely to help you, so don't worry so much about saying, “Hey, I'm going to go try to get some inbound links.” Worry instead about creating content that people naturally want to share and link to and create partnerships with other organizations that naturally will share your content on their site because you have a relationship, not because you're trying to buy links or force likes to happen. Don't try to game it, let links happen naturally because of the quality of your content.

Meta tags, I love this one, forget about meta, now don't forget about it, let me take that back. Forget about it when it comes to rankings. Back in 2009, Google explained very clearly, spelled it out and said, “Hey, your meta descriptions and keywords have no bearing on search.” What does matter is that your meta description is well structured, well-thought-out, relevant and helps people figure out what your content is about when they do search because when people search and find a list of results, you want your meta description to show up and be compelling enough that it cause them to click on your search result. It has no bearing in search rankings, but it does have a bearing in click-through rate, so keep that in mind, but don't get hung up on meta for search.

Again, SEO is not a project. Going back to the idea that some people think you can set up a website or tune it or change some things around and make your website magically SEO ready or SEO optimized or magically winning on search terms as a result. Doesn't really happen so much anymore. It's an ongoing program, you want to view that holistically and again as I said before, you want to bake SEO as a mindset into everything you do. That comes from your keyword research, you want to find the right keywords that are aligned with your buyer personas. Write and create great content that focuses on those topics and solves problems and do that over and over and over and then you've got a search program, as opposed to a project.

The exact search term myth, again forget about exact search terms, look for intent. Don't try to structure your content so awkwardly that it's obviously trying to weigh on a specific literal term, just focus on the topic, speak conversationally, write conversationally and that's what's going to help more than anything. Again, forget about homepage keywords. Most traffic we find in working with our clients, when we do inbound marketing programs for them, which include search, we find that most traffic comes in through their blog and through other content-rich elements of their site, not through the homepage. The homepage will win as a result of the other stuff happening, but you should not be starting with your homepage as your search focus. 

You should be starting with dynamic content elements and your homepage as a result will win as well. Design with usability in mind, not keyword. Make sure it's easy to navigate, easy to get around on, answers questions. That’s what you should be thinking of your homepage. 

Micro sites, again this goes back to inbound links. Forget about micro site unless they’re marketing relevant. If you have a reason to set up a micro-site, like a new product launch or something that's fine, no problem at all. But if you're trying to set up a microsite with inbound links as an SEO tactic, not going to help, don't bother. 

The speed myth, SEO does not happen fast. Now, the caveat here is if you have a really big major media site, like let's say CNN.com or something, you can post an article and then start ranking within minutes for that article. That's because you have such weight and such rich content behind your site already and it's so popular that that will happen. The average business site, however, you're not going to see that kind of speed. It’s going to take months and months to really start to see the payoff from your efforts, so be patient. SEO is typically a marathon, not a sprint, so hang in there and you'll see that it starts to happen over time. 

Some of the technical stuff that you do want to pay attention to is in your title tags, make sure you go for relevance instead of keywords, so don't worry so much about trying to stuff keywords in your title tags. Make sure that the title is relevant to the page itself, just focus on that and you'll be fine. On usability side, make sure you do have alt tags and the right meta description for content or for conversion optimization, but you don't want to worry about meta so much for search. Alt tags, you do want to focus on for search because Google indexes alt tags and cannot index images the same way, so that helps Google figure out what the image itself is about. 

You want to make sure your website is responsive. If your website is not a fully responsive that means it's not going to be comfortable viewing experience on mobile, like a smartphone or a tablet. For usability reasons alone, your site should be responsive, but for search also, Google puts more weight on sites that are fully responsive because again going back to the user experience, Google benefits when it delivers a search result that result in the user having a good experience as they follow that link. If a user performs a search, clicks on a search result, goes to your website on their mobile device and they find they can't get around easily, it's not mobile optimized, they have to pinch and zoom and scroll around. 

That’s a bad user experience and Google has not done its job by delivering the best possible experience in that point. If Google sees your website as responsive, it has the ability then to trust that when it sends traffic to your site, it's going to be a good user experience for their customer, which is the end-user, searcher. Keep that in mind, make sure your site is responsive. Also subdomains are fine, a lot of people still get hung up on this idea of instead of having blog.SpinWeb.net, now you’re supposed to SpinWeb.net/blog, doesn't matter anymore. Google has told us flat-out in plain English that that does not matter. Subdomains are fine as long as the content is there and relevant, you can have a subdomain like blog. SpinWeb.net for example and it'll be seen as part of the parent domain.

Allison: Hey Michael, can I jump in with a request? We got a question from Ellen. She would like an example of relevance in titles.

Michael: Yeah, that’s good question. Let’s see if I can think of something and Allison, maybe you can help me out. I'll use our website as an example, so on our website, there is a page I believe called app development because we also develop apps. If we look at that page on our website and we want to make sure it's relevant and clean and the right title tag, we would probably put app development on there. Now if we wanted to be very kind of search tricky and try to stuff a bunch of keywords in there, we would probably say, iPhone app development, Android app development, all sorts of other keywords, they are already s kind of stuffed in the title and that would make it really long and awkward because we're trying to fit in a bunch of very specific keywords to cover all the bases.

Instead, we really want to just say app development because the rest of the content will support what it's about and the other stuff we publish will also tell Google what we generally talk about when we mean app development and that's what we want to do, so that's a great question. I hope that helps, thank you. 

Just wrapping up, the results will vary when you're doing search well. This is more of a long-term result, over a couple of years here. You'll see that this is a particular example in which the program was slow paced, started off fairly slow, ramped up a little bit, then ended up almost doubling website traffic over the course of a couple of years. That's a slow-paced ramp up if you're using these techniques and this mindset moderately.

Another example, I am going a little bit faster. This is really more content, the more content you produce and the better it is, the faster you go. Again, here is an example of almost tripling website traffic over the course of, looks like about a year. Again, another example, I am going even faster, over the course of a couple years here, a dramatic increase because of the amount of content being produced with these concepts in mind. Finally, really I want to make the point that SEO is really becoming inbound marketing and a lot of you have heard the term inbound marketing and it’s this idea of building a marketing funnel that draws people in to convert to a sale as an end result.

Search is really a component of that but as I said before, search is really baked into everything. Instead of just trying to win on search terms that's one to one tactic that gets people on our site, but then you want to think about what happens next? Do they just read about your company and maybe call you later or do they come to your website, click on something, download a resource that solves a problem, get into your database, get some more emails later, come back and download something else, learn more about you, learn to trust you, attend a webinar, read your blog post and eventually because they've learned so much about your company along the way and they trust you at some point. That completes the process between that initial search and that end result, which is a potential sale.

When you're thinking of SEO, you want to think of it as a component of your entire inbound marketing strategy, which starts with search and social media at the top. This is what generates traffic and then in between, you want to have tactics like landing pages, email plays a part, integration with your sales process, work flows, optimizing conversions, really helping people get to the point where they are ready to open that conversation with you and potentially become a client or customer. When you hear SEO or when you're thinking about SEO, think of it as a mindset that applies to a bigger inbound marketing strategy. 

I'd love to hear your questions, so we can address those as well.

Allison: Yeah, we’ve got several questions from the crowd, we've got one from Paul. He asked what is lead scoring, can you give a quick definition of that?

Michael: Sure, lead scoring is when you start to build a timeline on people who are visiting your website and interacting. For example, if someone comes to our website and they download one thing and read two blog posts. Next month, they come back and they click on a Twitter posts and read something else. That's a certain level of activity. If person B comes to our website, downloads something, reads every blog post we produce, clicks on a bunch of Twitter things that we post, downloads three other things next month. That person is going to be identified as more engaged and they're going to be identified as potentially a warmer prospect than the first person, just because we understand that they’re doing much more research, they’re much more active. 

It helps us know that who might be first on our list to reach out to and start a conversation with. That’s a great question, thanks for asking, appreciate it.

Allison: We’ve had this question from several members of the crowd, what are some of your favorite tools or platforms you recommend for analyzing SEO or inbound marketing?

Michael: Awesome question, I'm a software tool junkie. I love experimenting with lots of different things. We use HubSpot here at SpinWeb as our primary tool. HubSpot is a great way to do keyword research. Also, we have a Moz account. It used to be called SEOmoz. Now, it’s just Moz.com. That’s a great tool for analyzing search activity, like keywords, like traffic, like your analytics in general. Yeah, definitely check out Moz.com, it’s $99 a month. HubSpot is more expensive, but it's a full-fledged inbound marketing system, so it's going to have other things with it. Those are my two favorite tools. I know that some other agencies use Raven Tools and they also like that. You might check out Raven Tools and then from a free standpoint, you can use Google's Keyword Planner, you can use Google Trends also to do keyword research and look at data.

Ubersuggest is probably my favorite free research tool because you can type in search terms into Ubersuggest and you can get lots of variations of long tail keywords that are more specific and less competitive and plug those into your system and analyze. Allison, you might be plugging those into the chat window for reference as well. Those are the tools I like, anything to add Allison?

Allison: No, you covered all of them.

Michael: Awesome, thank you, great question, I appreciate it.

Allison: Another question, when does it make sense to use Adwords?

Michael: Good one, Adwords, those who don’t know Adwords are, Adwords is paid search. If you're searching and you see those paid results on the top and the side, those are Adwords. I think it makes sense sometimes to use Adwords when you would like to see quicker results than organic search will give you and you're willing to invest a little bit more up front to get there and then eventually perhaps complement Adwords with more organic search or even taper it off.

Let's say, you’ve got a big campaign in three months and you want to really drive a lot of traffic to a specific landing page or a microsite or a product page, Adwords makes a lot of sense because you're probably not going to get a lot of momentum in three months organically, but with Adwords, you can basically just pay for every click that comes over and you can basically itemize exactly how much traffic you want. That's one example where I think Adwords can make sense. Also, another example would be, if you want to grow your database and boost your efforts to grow your database, instead of setting up Adwords just for your main company site and trying to get just a quick sale that way, instead you're probably going to payless if you go after terms that are more specific to content.

Like for example, we have an e-book on Google Hangouts, so if we do some Adwords campaigns about Google Hangouts, when people search for information on how to run a Google hangout, we could promote our a book on Google Hangouts, they could download it. Then they’re in our database, then we could talk to them about other things later and perhaps develop a deeper relationship, but it's going to cost us less to promote an Adwords e-book than it would be to promote our main site. That's one thing you can think about as well. Appreciate the question, thank you.

Allison: We have a question from Jeff and his question revolves around, does Google distinguish between customized websites and template-driven websites like WordPress or Godaddy.

Michael: That’s a great question. I will admit, I actually don't know definitively. It depends more on the quality of the site from both the coding and a content standpoint, mainly content. I don't have any indication and in my research, nothing really indicates that Google prefers one platform over another. It's more about how it's built, how it's structured and what the content is. I don’t think I can definitely answer that one extremely thoroughly, but I personally would focus on, again, the quality of the content first and then making sure it’s fully response. I don’t see any problem with WordPress.com site as long as that you have you own domain name.

Now, if you don't have your own domain name that's going to be potentially a problem, so if your site is at mycompany.WordPress.com, that's potentially a problem. Instead you want to make sure that it's mycompany.com.

Allison: Just to close it out, what are some resources, blogs, books, e-books that you recommend Michael to keep up and learn more on SEO and best practices?

Michael: You mean besides subscribing to SpinWeb’s blog?

Allison: Correct.

Michael: Well, besides that obviously, we do have an e-book on SEO as well, as well as inbound marketing, so if you go to our resources page on SpinWeb.net, you’ll find quite a bit there. Also Moz.com has a great blog. I would venture to say and this is just my opinion, but I venture to say that the Moz blog is probably the definitive resource on SEO. If you would just subscribe to the Moz blog and read their posts, watch their whiteboard videos. That is probably going to be the definitive source. That's my primary recommendation. Allison, any recommendations from you?

Allison: No, you covered them. All right, well, thank you guys again so much for your time, we appreciate it and we look forward to hopefully hearing from you very soon, questions.

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Topics: adwords, google, seo

How to make a monthly Inbound Marketing report for your CEO (or board)

Posted by Stephanie Fisher

Apr 17, 2014 10:00:00 AM

inbound-marketing-report

Each month we meet with our marketing clients and present a slide deck called the Inbound Marketing Monthly Report.

It's a simple, powerful way to show what we (their digital agency) have been working on, the progress we've made together, and to review the metrics that we track to see if our efforts are getting results for our clients.

What are the metrics you should be tracking? What does your CEO or board really care to see from the marketing department each month? How can you demonstrate that Inbound Marketing really is bringing in the leads and sales each month?

To answer these questions, I will take you step-by-step through the process of putting together a kick-ass monthly marketing report. Prepare to impress your CEO.

1. Design a Presentation Template

We present our monthly reports in a Keynote presentation (which can be made into a PDF for sharing). You can use PowerPoint if you like. Creating a well-designed presentation gives your report some professional flair and a standard template for plugging in all the necessary data each month. It can be as simple as your organization's logo in the footer and a matching color scheme for the heading text. Keep it clean, with a white background and nothing too distracting. In your report cover, include the date and agenda items, as well as who will be presenting the report. Remember, you may not need every item that I present here. This is just the way SpinWeb does it, and you can use our formula as a starting point.

Report-page1.001

2. The Agenda

The Agenda lists the main points you'll cover each month in your report. They may change slightly some months, but you should have at least 3-4 basic agenda items that stay the same from month to month.

Our agenda items are typically the following: monthly progress review, monthly performance report, and discussion items. I will now cover all of these items in detail.

3. Monthly Progress Review

The progress review section of the report, for us, is typically a list of all our completed tasks or projects for the month. We also include upcoming projects and "To-do" items for our clients. In your case, you might include your upcoming projects and any items you need from your CEO or board before you can complete a project. Go through each item in detail to show what you've completed for the month and your goals for the next month. This section includes:

  • Monthly projects and tasks completed
  • Upcoming projects, campaigns
  • To-do's for your CEO or board members

Here's an example of what page one of your progress review might look like: 

report-progress.001

4. Performance Report

Now that you've shown your CEO all the "stuff" you've been working on this month, it's time to show the results. This is where you can really prove the value of Inbound Marketing.

If you are using HubSpot, like we do, the next section will be pretty simple. HubSpot allows you to generate a really nice report with bar charts and graphs.

If you don't have HubSpot, you can pull much of this data from your Google Analytics dashboard, in addition to other database reports you might have.

What does the performance report include? I'll give you a list of all the metrics we follow. Your own might vary depending on what your CEO wants to see, but these are some of the most important metrics to follow in order to see how your Inbound Marketing is working. I'll list them first, then show a few example slides below.

We like to look at trends, so our charts always show the last 12 months so we get the big picure view. I've bolded the big three metrics (Visits, Leads, Customers).

  • Visits: Monthly trend
  • Organic Search Traffic (bar chart and list of top keywords)
  • Social Media Traffic
  • Referral Traffic
  • Email Traffic
  • Direct Traffic
  • Leads: Monthly trend
  • Customers: Monthly trend
  • Blog performance
  • Landing page performance
report-visits
report-organic
report-leads

Leads
are the contacts that come into your database through your landing pages. These leads are either downloading a case study or an ebook, or filling out a contact form on your website. 

report-customers

Your "customers" might be new members, patrons, clients. Can you track where new customers come from? If you can tie them directly to your inbound marketing activities, that is golden. In the above chart from HubSpot, we can tell which customers came in through social media, email campaigns, organic search, direct traffic, etc. That's what the color codes are all about.

In the example above, the teal color bar in the middle represents social media. This client is getting lots of their customers directly from social media! Imagine showing that to your CEO.)

SpinWeb_Marketing_Report_March_2014.001

Your CEO might not particularly care about how many new blog subscribers you got this month, or which blog post performed the best. But these are important data points to look at, at least within the marketing department to evaluate how effective your blog posts are. 

When we present this data to our clients, we look at three main big picture points:

Visits  ----->  Leads  ----->  Customers

The bottom line is always, "did we get new customers?" More traffic, means more leads, and more leads turn into more customers. Period. Follow that line and you'll be able to show your CEO that your Inbound Marketing work is effective in bringing in new business.

5. Discussion Items

The final slide in your presentation should be discussion items. List out all of the things you need to discuss with the CEO or board, or any questions they might have sent to you throughout the month that haven't been addressed.

Our monthly Inbound Marketing reports tend to be about 10-20 pages long. Sometimes we breeze through some of the performance pages, and spend extra time on the Upcoming Projects at the beginning, or perhaps the discussion items at the end might take the most time. The main thing is that we have consistent data to review each month to evaluate our Inbound Marketing activities. When trends start going in the downward trajectory, SpinWebbers are not happy campers. When we don't see those bar charts going UP, then we know it's time to rethink strategy or switch tactics.

How do you generate your monthly marketing reports? Do you look at these same metrics, or do you go about it in a completely different way? I'd love to hear your thoughts on how to present a marketing report to your CEO or board! Please share in the comments below.

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Topics: inbound marketing

4 Common mistakes that can derail your blogging strategy [Interview]

Posted by Michael Reynolds

Apr 15, 2014 10:30:00 AM

Blogging is often the cornerstone of a great inbound marketing strategy. So why are so many people so bad at it? 

In this episode of The Digital Exec, we sit down with Marisa Smith, Head Brainiac of The Whole Brain Group, to discuss some of the biggest blogging faux pas people make. If you want to improve your blogging strategy, then this episode is for you.

We'll cover topics like the four biggest mistakes in blogging, what to do about them, and how to fall in love with your corporate blog again. If you want to learn how to turn your blog into a lead generation tool, then you'll want to listen!

If you're a visual person, you can watch the video of our Hangout. Or if you'd prefer the audio version, it's available here. You won't want to miss this opportunity to be entertained by two professionals while learning how to improve your corporate blog. 

Screen_Shot_2014-03-20_at_11.26.17_AM 

Michael Reynolds: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Digital Exec, a marketing and technology insights show for business leaders in the digital age. I'm Michael Reynolds, President/CEO of Spin Web, and your host today. We're online at Spin Web.net, and of course this show is online over at SpinWeb.TV.

I'm thrilled to be here today with Marisa Smith. Marisa is an inbound marketing certified expert and Head Braniac - I love that title -  Head Braniac at The Whole Brain Group. Marisa, how are you today?

Marisa Smith: Great. Thank you for having me.

Michael Reynolds: Awesome. Glad you're here. What is a Head Braniac?

Marisa Smith: (Laughs) Well, it's our fun term for the CEO, I suppose. Essentially, I'm in charge of running the agency. We have 12 people here, 12 Whole Braniacs who work for the company, and we're dedicated to helping growing companies with figuring how to generate leads and sales online, all that good stuff.

Michael Reynolds: Sounds good. You're an agency like us. We do similar things. Now, where are you located? 

Marisa Smith: We're in Ann Arbor, Michigan, so it is negative eight degrees, I think. Wind chill factor today. 

Michael Reynolds: I have spent a time in Ann Harbor. It's a great town. I'm glad you're here. I love our topic today, because I am a blogger. I love blogging. I love to write. I love the concept teaching via your blog. I love the topic we have today, which is four common mistakes that can derail your blogging strategy.

I just love digging into this, because I see so many companies make an effort to introduce blogging into their inbound marketing strategy. Some succeed, but some have failed miserably at it, because of these mistakes among others. We might get these matters to beyond just these four, but I love these four because they're very common. They're easy to fix, which is the good news, but not everybody really understands why they're problems, and how to fix them.

We'll start with the first one here: not creating a communication strategy surrounding your blog. What is that mean to not create a communication strategy?

Marisa Smith: A lot of people just dive in and start writing about whatever comes to mind without really thinking about who their target audience is and what kind of information they really need to know about in order to make a decision to buy from them. We find that a lot that people come in, and they're using it as news post or announcements about the conference they're attending. That has a place on your website, but really blogging is supposed to be about educating your ideal customer either so that they can make a buying decision more easily, or so that you can establish that leadership and expertise in your field. A lot of people just kind of dive in without any thought about what do you want people to do next after they read your blog post, what topics should you be writing about, what is your lead generation strategy, how are you going to circulate the content after you write your blog post.

There's a lot that goes into it beyond just putting 500 words down and chopping it up on your website. You can start that way to begin a good habit, but long-term, in order to make that blog work for you, you really need to think about focusing your blogging efforts, so that you don't spend a lot. Because blogging can be very time consuming. You could spend a lot of time writing without really getting an end results.

Michael Reynolds:  Wait. You're saying your blog is not a place to push your products, and services, and sale?

Marisa Smith: No. 

Michael Reynolds: What? Crazy talk. I want to hover on this topic for just a moment. How much does keyword research come into play when generating blog topics? I know with us, at SpinWeb, we do a lot of keyword research, and we generate lots of variations that lead us into really interesting topics. This seem work for you as well?

Marisa Smith: Yeah, we do that as well. We are HubSpot certified, so one of the things that we use is their blog topic generator. Sometimes we have our clients use that if they're having trouble coming up with topics to blog about. Obviously using all the keyword research that we've done is part of the strategy for them is really important to go after the longer tail key words, the things that you don't have a lot of competition for, picking a topic, and then making sure that you sprinkle those keywords in the key places throughout the blog. A lot of people don't even have their blog structured in a way that takes advantage of the SEO benefits of blogging. They don't put meta descriptions, for example, into their blogs when they post them. They don't use hashtags with a keyword in them.

It's really important to make sure that you know your blog is structured in a way that will take advantage of the SEO benefits that you can get once you start doing it properly.

Michael Reynolds: Yeah. We're HubSpot partners, as well. We love the tools offered. The new blog topic generator is actually pretty interesting. 

Marisa Smith: Right. The blog tool itself, some of our clients are using Wordpress for their blogs and others are using the HubSpot CMS. The thing we love about the HubSpot is that it will highlight for you when you forgotten to put a keyword in, or I will show you how many keywords you've been putting in your post. It's got this nice little interface for reminding you that that is one of the points of what you're doing. 

Michael Reynolds:  Right. Thinking of the points of what you're doing that's a good segue into the next point, which I love as well, is not inviting the readers to connect.

I've seen amount of blogs that they might have some decent content, but at the end of the article there's no links in it, there's no 'call to action,' there's nothing to do. Okay, great post. I'm going to go somewhere else now, and you've missed some opportunities. Tell me a little bit about what it means to invite readers to connect with your blog.

Marisa Smith: You're right. A lot of people think when they think about how people arrive at a blog post, they're thinking, well, they're going to come to my homepage, and they're going to see the list of blog post, they're going to read a blog post, they're going to go up to the navigation. They're thinking about people coming in from the front door, but in fact so many people come into your blog because they have searched on Google for a particular, you know, the answer to a question, and they find your blog. If you don't tell them that there's other stuff on your website, they won't go and look at it.

One thing that we always encourage people to do is to make sure that there are next steps at the bottom of the blog post that tell people straight out what you want them to do next, so you know, "Read this other blog post that we wrote," or "Download this e-book that we've written," making sure that you're using that opportunity to point people in the right direction of what you want them to do next. Sometimes, again, people are really busy when they're reading your blog, so you have to tell them straight out, "Hey. If you found this interesting, please share it with a friend," and people will look at that and say, "Oh Gosh. I could click share up there."  

It's kind of stating the obvious. It seems kind of silly, but we've found that when you do those things that it really does encourage engagement, if you remind people to leave a comment, as they what they think, it really does get people to engage with you a little bit more.

The second piece of that really is just thinking about blogging as a lead generation strategy. If you are subscribing to the inbound methodology, you would have a 'call to action' at the bottom of your blog poster on the side bar of your blog that would have content offers that are related to the blog post topic that you've got.

For example, our blog about common blogging mistakes to avoid, at the bottom of that we've got next steps to download our blogging checklist, which takes you to a landing page with a form. What we're doing there is we're getting people who are reading our blog to actually become contacts in our database, so we can continue to communicate with them moving forward, versus they come in, read your blog post, and close the window, and then you have no opportunity to engage with them moving forward.

Michael Reynolds: I'm such a nerd that I just gotten to a point where it just kills my soul every time I see a blog post with no 'call to action. It makes me feel, like, "Oh no!," if you're missing such opportunity.

Marisa Smith: Exactly.A lot of people don't put even sharing icons on their blog post that allow people to share those post really easily on Facebook and Twitter. It's such a simple thing, but people don't do it. Then they say, "Gosh. We spent all this time writing blog post and we only got five views." Maybe it's because nobody's telling anybody about your great content.

Michael Reynolds: Leaving these simple things out really hurt your chances of getting more visibility.

Marisa Smith: Exactly.

Michael Reynolds: It's definitely no brainer, so those are very good points. I love this next point because you talked about sounding like a robot. Now, I encounter this all the time. I encounter blogs that it's a corporation, a business that is attempting to generate traffic and awareness through a blogging strategy, but every blog post they write is just you can tell it's for SEO, you can tell it's just cranked out by some offshore content farm or something or someone with no heart or really inspiration behind it, but just kind of cranking out content. It sounds very weak, very surface, and that kills my soul, too. What is it that causes these companies to generate robotic sounding blog post, and how can we fix that?

Marisa Smith: You hit the nail on the head that a lot of times people, they take the advice about SEO too strongly, and then they end up with things that are four common blogging mistakes to avoid when blogging on your corporate blog, and they're trying to still kind of keyword stuffing, but in the wrong way. They're aiming to please the search engine versus aiming to make the blog post to actually helpful and useful to a real person.

Michael Reynolds: Right.

Marisa Smith: Really keeping in mind that who ... Again, I go back to who's your target audience, what is their paying, what information are they looking for? If your target audience is scientists, you may not want to use the word "dude" in your blog post.

Your tone and voice needs to match with your target audience. It also needs to match who you are as a company, particularly in service companies where what they're selling is their team or their expertise. We frequently find that people are trying to pun on errors maybe. Their content comes off as being stuffy or super professional, and then in person they're more casual people and they've attracted kind of the wrong folks that will be a good fit for their company. It's really a combination of making sure you're being authentic in your tone and voice, and then making sure that you're tailoring it to who you're trying to attract as well. You got to have both sides of the coin. 

Michael Reynolds: I could not agree more. A lot of times this comes from a place where a lot of people don't understand. They really get inbound marketing and the content strategy, and so they say things like blogging is just basically throwing a bunch of keywords out there, and getting SEO, and it's not really valuable stuff, and they just don't get it.

Marisa Smith: Right.

Michael Reynolds: To me, when I write a blog post, I'm not even thinking about SEO, I'm not thinking about the sales and marketing part of it. I have to get in the mindset of teaching a concept that I want my audience to get because I want to help them. If you make that your primary focus when you're writing a blog post, it's going to be great. Because it's just as if you're sitting across the table from a client, and they've asked you a question, and you are giving them consulting.

Marisa Smith: Exactly.

Michael Reynolds: That's really what a blog post should be in my opinion. Would you agree?

Marisa Smith:  I would totally agree with you. Yep. I think the other piece of I that I was thinking about in terms of the robot piece is that, sometimes in companies they've got more than one person trying to blog. They're trying to figure out what the tone of voice should be, and so instead of letting different people's personalities come out, they dell it down to the lowest common denominator, and then nobody's got any personality, whatsoever.

Like you said, thinking about yourself as a teacher, and using words that a normal person would understand, making sure it's readable to eighth grade level or below, not using a lot of jargon. All of those things are really important when you're thinking about, "What if I were trying to explain this to my fifth grader," for example. Thinking about the fact that your audience may know absolutely nothing about what you're trying to teach them, and you have to maybe go back to the fundamentals in some cases. I think that's really important to think about what mindset is the person going to be and who's reading the post, so that you can explain the right information. 

Michael Reynolds: Yeah. This actually brings us to the point of being bored with your blog.nYou also mentioned here when you wrote about this. What causes people to be bored with your blog, and how do they overcome this?

Marisa Smith: I think especially for people who've been blogging for a couple of years. You start to feel ... At the beginning there's so much that you could educate people about. You can basically do a big brainstorming exercise and think about whether they frequently ask questions that we get, whether you wish people knew about us. You have a standard set of brainstorming questions that we use with our customers to get them to think about potential  blog posts. Once you've hit all those topics, you can start to get tired of hearing yourself talk. At that point we frequently will recommend get a guest blogger that come in, or maybe get somebody else on your team to ... You could interview them. If they're not a good writer, start mixing it up with the podcast, or something like, just to mix up the topics that you’re writing about, and maybe that it's time to do another brainstorming exercise.

Maybe you've run all of those topics that you came up about a year ago, but maybe there’s new stuff that you should be talking about. A lot of times, we recommend this that people bring their sales team in at that point, because it’s frequently kind of the marketing team is working on their own silo, and the sales team's working over on the other side. You can get people on the same room and ask the sales team, "What is it that you find yourself explaining over, and over, and over again? What do you wish people would ask you about our company, or about our industry, or about our products and services? What are the common misconceptions that you run into that we could clear up with a few blog post? That can help get some fresh ideas into the funnel, and make it so that you're not a stale, I guess.

Michael Reynolds: Obviously, we're missed if I didn’t mention that somebody, these people say, "I don't want to spend all my time blogging. Can I outsource it?" Yes. You and I both have companies that we can do this for them as well. That is an option. I just want to mention that. For those who are blogging internally themselves, these are really good points to pay attention to, and really be aware of.

Is there anything else that you've seen in corporate blogging strategies that just, like I said, kills your soul, just make you, you know, crinkle up your nose and say, "Oh. Stop it. Fix this thing." If there's one thing that you’re going to fix, what's that going to be?

Marisa Smith: I mentioned that at the very beginning of where people think of their blog as just a mouthpiece for announcement and news. Again, I think there’s a place to sprinkle that in here and there, but if all people see on your blog is, "Hey. We’re going to be at this conference," and "Hey. We just won this award," and, "Hey. This is the exciting stuff going on in our company."

Michael Reynolds: Yeah. Nobody cares.

Marisa Smith: Nobody cares. Nobody’s coming back to your website going, "Gosh. I wonder what’s new at XYZ company." What they're looking for is, "I need to understand why I should buy this widget," or, "How do I choose between widget A and widget B." They’re looking to be educated. I do think why some of that stuff happens is because when people first started doing internet marketing, there was a different philosophy about how to use the internet to promote your company.

Now, with this inbound methodology of education, and attracting like-minded people, and all that, you really have to be more comfortable with sharing more information and not worried about the transparency that you’re putting out there by sharing this information. I do think that people sometimes, they get a little too protective, I guess, of their own information, and so you know you get to a blog, and it’s just kind of scans the surface. If they're not just talking about their news and announcements, they've got kind of fluff, I guess I would say, on the blog. A little bit of information, but not enough that you could actually do anything useful with it.

Michael Reynolds: Yeah. There's no meat to it.

Marisa Smith: There’s no meat to it, exactly. Sometimes it feels like a book report. Like they've gone out and done research on other people’s websites, and they’re just coming back and reporting bullet points of what they found versus actually showing their expertise, and showing that they understand the pain of the person who’s sitting on the other side of the monitor.

Michael Reynolds: You're not giving away all your corporate secrets. You can be copied when it's just marketing process or whatever content you’re putting out there. You can copy that, but you can’t copy innovation.  You can’t copy what makes the company innovative,You can’t copy their culture. 

I wish more organizations would let go of their fear and understand that, and really commit to either doing it themselves or allowing us for them to unlock all that knowledge they have, and share it. Because that’s really what generates leads and customers, because that brings them closer to your organization, while the other guys are, they’re keeping their stuff a secret, and you can’t get to know them.

Marisa Smith: People sometimes get really worried, too, about being too perfect, too. So on the other side of the coin, some people who are just skimming the surface and not really giving you any meat. The other side of the coin, you've got people who are writing pages, and pages of content, but it takes them three months to get one blog post written because everybody in the company has an opinion. It's got to be fact checked.

They maybe have four blog posts done, because it's been this gargantuan effort. It’s how to find that happy medium where you can churn out contents that's high quality enough that you may showcase your expertise, but without it turning into the seminal work on you know ... You're not going for a Nobel prize here.

Michael Reynolds: Exactly.

Marisa Smith: That happy medium I think is the toughest thing for people who don't do this all the time. 

Michael Reynolds: Right. I agree completely. 

Michael Reynolds:  Well, this has been a real pleasure. Like I said, blogging is a source of great interest and inspiration to me. I think it's the keystone of many inbound marketing strategies. I'm glad we have a chance to talk today. I know that you and I are in similar businesses. We're both digital agencies. We both do similar things, so I guess we're competitors, but that's okay. Because there's plenty of room for both of us to help our clients, and actually we're going to be in the conference together coming up with all of other competitors as well.

Marisa Smith: That's right.

Michael Reynolds:  I certainly don't mind hearing more about what you do in your company, who you help, who your target markets are. Tell me a little bit more about Whole Brain Group.

Marisa Smith: Our company has been around for 12 years now. We actually started off as a custom software development company way back in the day it was my spin out, out of the University of Michigan when I first got started. I did a lot of database programming, web programming, and what not. My passion for doing things efficiency and using electronic tools to help businesses work more efficiently and grow. Got translated into  developing a couple of products, which then I got interested in Marketing. It evolved over the years.

Just in the last four or five years we've really shifted our focus into web marketing and website design. We do a lot of Wordpress development, inbound marketing support. We do some application design a little bit still, but primarily we work with growing companies who are kind of in that we're at second stage where they've set ambitious revenue goals, and they're trying to figure out, okay, I want to double my revenue in the next three years. How do I do that? How do I get the leads and sales that I need to take it to the next level?

A lot of times we find along with just the normal inbound marketing strategy that people really struggle with the sales process, too. They don't have a CRM. They've got the owner who's been doing the all the sales. There's no process. Nothing's documented. Everything is in his or her head. We really like to work with businesses like that who are trying to figure out the business process that goes underneath the achievement of those goals. We use a process called "traction" with our customers that helps them identify what their priorities are, and set goals, and get traction basically.

Michael Reynolds:  Was that based on the book "Traction?"

Marisa Smith: Yes, it is.

Michael Reynolds:  Very good.

Marisa Smith: Yeah. We use that book in our own company, and then we've actually translated that same system into our work with our marketing and sales customers as well. We use the exact same methodology, and it really is helpful to have a structure around our work with them, because otherwise you've got this bright shinny object syndrome that you were mentioning before we got started.

Michael Reynolds: (Laughs) Right.

Marisa Smith: By using a system like that you can say, "Look. We know you have this vision of where you want your company to be, but you can't have it by Friday, so let's prioritize everything that you want to get done. Let's work backwards, and pick three or four things that we're going to focus on every quarter. Check them off. Move on to the next set of things. When you get to the end of the year, and suddenly you've got a beautiful new website, and 55 blog posts, and a downloadable resource center, and all of this great stuff that you couldn't have dreamed of getting accomplished at the beginning of the year."

Michael Reynolds: A real pleasure speaking with you, Marisa. Thank you so much.

Marisa Smith: Thank you.            

Michael Reynolds: Okay. This has been a lot of good information on blogging. I know they'll help our readers to have great ... Readers ... (Laughs) ... Help our listeners, and watchers, viewers a great deal. Whether you're viewing or listening in your podcast as you workout or drive, I know it's been very helpful. Marisa, thank you so much. I appreciate your time.

Marisa Smith: Thank you. 

Michael Reynolds: Thanks everyone for joining us. Have a great day.

Tune in next time for our next installment of The Digital Exec, your source for becoming an expert in the latest and greatest technology. 

 

 

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Topics: blogging

7 Lessons from HubSpot and inbound marketing agency culture

Posted by Stephanie Fisher

Apr 10, 2014 12:54:23 PM

PartnerDayWhat happens when some of the most innovative inbound marketing agencies gather in one place? This week I found out.

[Get our free Inbound Marketing Executive Summary if you want the low-down on inbound.]

I traveled with my co-workers, Allison and Michael, to Boston for HubSpot Partner Day earlier this week. HubSpot is the powerful marketing software platform that we use along with our clients. HubSpot goes above and beyond to educate, support, and collaborate with their users. In this case, they invited their platinum and gold partners like SpinWeb to their offices for a two-day event called Partner Day.

I found that this group of professionals, the inbound marketing industry, is unique. We learned several lessons from this group, from HubSpot and their culture, that we're excited about.

Here are the lessons we learned:

1. We're not just selling software.

HubSpot's business model isn't just about selling their software or retainer services, and neither is ours. The bigger goal is changing the way marketing is done and getting amazing results for our clients. To serve this goal, we believe in educating the customer, giving away the information you need, and being there when you're ready to invest in the process. And by the way, it's a process that works ... which leads to my next point.

2. Inbound marketing works.

Collaborating with your competitors may sound counterintuitive, but it's the kind of culture we found at HubSpot. This is the new landscape of marketing, where agencies come together and share their stories and experience. We learned from our peers that not only is inbound working for our clients and for SpinWeb, it's working for others who are doing it right. We learned that we're doing things right and it was great to share those stories of success, as well as learn lessons about how to improve and innovate.

On the topic of collaboration, Allison said, "A lot of times marketing agencies have a cut throat mentality and they are out to get each other. Really, we're all doing something well and we can learn from each other to improve. This industry changes so fast; by utilizing these opportunities to collaborate it helps all of our clients, and therefore all of our businesses. We're able to stay ahead of the game."

3. Listen to the customer.

It was amazing to see the way HubSpot valued and craved feedback from their customers and partners. We work with a lot of software vendors and I can tell you, their model is very different. We can all learn a valuable lesson from it. 

How are we listening to our customers and using that feedback to get better and better? Do you have a process for it? Do you have ideas for how we at SpinWeb can listen to you and serve you better? If so, speak up in the comments or email me.

steph-michael-allisonLeft to right: Steph, Michael and Allison at HubSpot Partner Day

 

4. Share the knowledge.

Not only did we learn new techniques, processes, and ideas from our peers in the industry, we got to look under the hood of Hubspot. We saw some of the new features coming out and got pretty excited. I signed up to be in an elite Beta group to test some of the new features that haven't been released yet. I'm really excited to see how the new features work, and provide feedback on how to improve the software.

Every part of the software comes back to the same thing: How will this help our clients grow their business and get the results they want? How can we connect all the dots and makes things easier for the user?These websites are powerful tools, not just to look pretty but to get you leads and customers! That gets us excited, can you tell?

5. Transparency is key.

Allison said it best after the conference, when we were discussing HubSpot's culture: "When there's an issue they recognize it. They're the first to admit when there's a problem. Hubspot is incredibly transparent, and so we can be transparent with our clients in return."

6. Jump in feet first.

Brian Halligan, HubSpot's CEO, shared with the group the history and vision of the company and it was super inspiring. Michael said this was one of the highlights of Partner Day for him, "Halligan's presentation was all about transparency and I got really excited about the innovation in their platform. Their database makes relational databases look like the Model T." Which translates to: HubSpot is on the frontlines of this industry. We feel 100% confident that this is what we want for our clients, and what will help you succeed in your business goals.

7. We all have a place at the table.

It's thrilling to see our clients succeed. We have the case studies to prove inbound marketing on the HubSpot platform works for our clients, and so do others in the profession. We have the support from HubSpot to be the best inbound marketing agency we can be, and because we have that place at the table, we're able to turn around and give our clients a seat, too. In your business or nonprofit organization, are you finding ways to bring your clients and members to the table? How can you provide that support and leadership for them?

These were the lessons I learned from HubSpot Partner day, and from other inbound marketing agencies.

As a content developer, I came away with new ideas for collaborating with my clients and coworkers to create amazing, effective content to convert leads to customers.

Allison was inspired to jump feet first into embracing the new COS (HubSpot's Content Optimization System, which is their new website platform).

Michael was excited about some of the new features and changes coming to Signals, HubSpot's integrated sales tool, how it can help our clients take their inbound marketing efforts and follow it through to the sales process.

Oh, and one last thing: we were inspired to have more candy at the office!

hubspot-candy-bar

How do you and your organization learn from peers, from other professionals, and the service providers you rely on? Share your stories in the comments below!

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Topics: inbound marketing

How long does it take to see results from Inbound Marketing?

Posted by Michael Reynolds

Apr 10, 2014 10:00:00 AM

Unless you spend a lot on ad buys or get featured on Ellen, there are very few quick fixes or "overnight success" tactics in marketing. To really succeed it takes time, effort, funding, and consistency.

Inbound Marketing is no exception. To really see the long-term benefits from Inbound Marketing it takes time. How much time? Like many things, the short answer is "it depends."

runner

Inbound Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes months of foundational work and strategy to plant the right seeds and get your return on investment. Let's look at some examples.

Below is an example of website traffic analytics for a manufacturing company doing Inbound Marketing. As you can see the increase has been slow and steady over time but has resulted in a 2x increase in website traffic over 24 months.

manufacturing-traffic

There are a lot of factors to consider here. In this particular case, this company was blogging about every week and generating content at a fairly slow pace. However, they are still seeing strong lead generation and enjoying good ROI from these efforts. By increasing the pace of content generation, they would begin to see even faster results.

In this next example, we look at a software company. In this snapshot of one year, we can see that they have enjoyed a dramatic increase in website traffic, up to 14x or 1400%.

software-traffic

What did they do differently? This company invested in an Inbound Marketing program that included weekly blogging and a more aggressive content generation schedule. They have offers going out every other month at minimum and as a result they are seeing faster results that are much more dramatic.

In addition to traffic, they have also grown their customer base by over 1,000 users in one year. In this example, a faster content schedule leads to faster results.

Let's look at one more example from a training company. In this example, we'll just narrow it down to SEO specifically since that was their primary concern. As you see, within 6 months of starting an Inbound Marketing program, they began to see a dramatic increase in traffic from search.

training-seo

Again, this is the result of weekly blogging, regular content publishing, and a strategy that includes social media and other components. Results in this case were seen pretty quickly also due to the type of audience they were targeting and the level of (or lack of) competition in the marketplace.

Moz also has a nice explanation of the time investment required for SEO in their article titled "Surviving the SEO Slog" and illustrated in this chart:

seo-slog

"The Slog" is that period of time when the powers that be (clients, bosses, boards of directors) are sweating and wondering where the ROI is. Getting to the point where you see returns from your efforts takes time.

So what does this mean for your organization? The bottom line is, the more you invest the faster you go. Some general guidelines are:

  • Expect at least one year before momentum starts to kick in
  • Stay the course and understand the long-term benefits
  • Work with your agency to get content approved and published quickly or your results can be stifled
  • Understand that there are always exceptions

Have other questions about what to expect when investing in an Inbound Marketing program? Leave your comments below!

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Topics: inbound marketing

Hey, marketing directors: agencies are not after your job

Posted by Michael Reynolds

Apr 8, 2014 10:00:00 AM

We love marketing directors. There, I said it.

Really, we love all marketing pros, from directors to coordinators and managers and anyone who loves great marketing as much as we do.

We love creating and executing amazing inbound marketing campaigns and strategies and when we work with a great company that has a great marketing lead... wow, we can really produce some amazing results.

However, we sometimes find that some marketing directors don't love digital agencies like us. We get it. You have a tough job to do.

scared

Your day-to-day schedule includes overseeing marketing campaigns, managing social media properties, figuring out how to generate leads, fighting with the sales team, and begging for a budget, all the while trying to convince your boss or board that what you do is valuable.

Being a marketing director is tough. We understand because many of us were once (or more than once) marketing directors at various organizations before joining an agency. We feel your pain and share in your successes. We understand your world.

It seems that sometimes you are resistant to talking to an agency because it might be a sign of weakness or that we will threaten your job. Perhaps you're worried that if your company hires an agency like us they won't need you anymore.

Perhaps you feel like you already have everything figured out and that you're good to go.

While all of these notions are understandable, we want to encourage you to think differently about it.

Our most successful relationships are built around a scenario in which we are working directly with a marketing director (or coordinator/manager). Why? Because you can do things that we can't and we can do things that you can't and together we make a great team.

So what are some areas that you are great at?

Internal Research and Buy-in

Great inbound marketing is made better when the company culture supports it. Sure, as an agency we can write great content and generate leads for you but the real magic happens when we can get inside the heads of your sales people, your customer service team, and your CEO. As an agency team, we don't really have direct access to those people on a daily basis.

However, you (as the marketing director) work with these professionals every day and can extract the knowledge, expertise, and topics that help us do our jobs even better.

When you lead weekly marketing/sales integration meetings to stay in sync with the pulse of sales, this gives us the fuel we need to accelerate your results. When you poll the customer service team to gather the top questions that your customers ask over and over, this gives us a gold mine of content that helps us produce the right content for your audience.

Big-picture Organizational Strategy

As your digital agency, we are focused on a very specific agenda: growing your website traffic, generating leads, and filling your sales pipeline. However, we do not develop your strategic vision or set financial objectives for you. We don't do your person-to-person networking for you.

These are things that you, as the marketing lead, are great at. While we run your inbound marketing program, you can focus on the big picture. How much growth do you want to see next year? What strategic partnerships make sense to pursue? What support can you give to sales? These are places where you can really shine and are areas that we are not focused.

Thought Leadership

While inbound marketing enhances thought leadership for your company, there is something magical about having a "face" and a "voice" of the company's marketing.

We love to see marketing directors giving presentations, doing interviews, and doing social media community management. These are all areas that are best handled by you. What we do supports your efforts and your thought leadership can really push the program further.

So what can we do that helps you?

Diversity in Skill Set

Go out and try to hire someone who is an SEO expert, social media marketer, a great writer, an analytics pro, a creative strategist, a designer, a developer, and a technical manager and see who you can find. Still searching?

You're not going to find one person who can do all that. While you may have some of these skills, it really makes more sense to partner with an agency that has a team of people to do all this at the fraction of what it cost to hire all those skills in-house.

Innovation and Trend Analysis

You are (for the most part) solely focused on your own company... as you should be. However, we are working with lots of different organizations across different industries. We are also attending conferences and engaging in lots of professional development that keeps us abreast of trends and best practices in marketing.

This means we can bring you fresh perspective. We can bring ideas to you that come from outside your daily world and can be a powerful supplement to your big-picture strategies as well as your inbound marketing program.

Accountability and Results

Would it be nice to have a whole team of marketing pros working for you, driving results, and making you look like a hero? That's us!

Your agency should support your vision, prove results, and make you look great. Even when you get busy and pulled into other things going on in your company, we're always executing the program and reporting results. This frees you up for the other 17 things that inevitably pop up every day demanding your attention.

So what you can see is...

We are not after your job. We want to partner with you. We want to support your vision and create a great inbound marketing program together.

Marketing is often (unfortunately) de-valued and under-funded but in reality it is an incredibly important component of your business.

So to all the hardworking marketing pros out there, we love working with you and salute your commitment to creating great marketing. Thank you for all you do.

Oh, and when things get too stressful, don't forget the emergency kittens.

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Topics: inbound marketing, collaboration

10 minor tweaks to immediately improve your social media experience

Posted by Michael Reynolds

Apr 3, 2014 10:00:00 AM

While social media is a part of our agency culture here at SpinWeb, we understand that everyone has different priorities and job descriptions.

However, no matter what you do professionally chances are you are using social media to some extent. Maybe you just use Facebook to keep in touch with friends or maybe you do research on Twitter to stay current on industry trends.

Or maybe you're like me and you are connected to thousands of people from all over the world and social media is simply part of your communication habits.

However you use social media, I'm guessing you encounter daily annoyances. Sometimes you just get tired of seeing certain things people post on Facebook (i.e. politics, religion, cat videos). Other times you just feel lost and don't seem to be enjoying social media as much as you used to because of all the noise.

Not to worry. There are some ways that you can instantly "optimize" your social media experience through some apps, tactics, and methods that we'll cover here.

The following is a look into specific ways to improve your experience grouped by social network.

Facebook

If you're not on Facebook, you're probably not really using social media at all and we're amazed you even found this blog. Stop reading now and enjoy your day! For everyone else, let's dig into the cocktail party that is Facebook to see how we can improve our experience.

The "unfollow" option is your friend. Do you often see posts by people on Facebook that annoy you? Of course you do. However, if you don't want to blatantly un-friend them (which is so aggressive!) all you have to do is "unfollow them" and you'll stop seeing their updates. You'll remain friends and they'll never know but your news feed will become more interesting and pleasant.

To unfollow someone, just click the little down-arrow to the right of their name and choose "Unfollow [NAME]" and they will no longer appear in your news feed.

Facebook-unfollow

By the way, you should most definitely not unfollow Rocky Walls. He's awesome. And hilarious. Actually, go follow him now while I wait.

Unfollowing is nice because you still get to be Facebook friends but your news feed improves and makes room for people who actually post things that interest you. As you do this more and more your Facebook experience will start to get better each time.

Unsubscribe from Facebook emails. If you find yourself getting inundated with emails from Facebook every time someone comments on something or messages you, go to your account settings and turn all email notifications off.

Facebook-emails

This ensures that your inbox stays clean and that you will only see notifications upon logging into Facebook.

Twitter

Twitter is a fire hose of information and can wear down the best of us. It can take steely nerves to keep up with all the chatter but there are some ways to make Twitter much more useful.

Create Twitter lists. Once you start to follow more than a few hundred people on Twitter, it can get hard to keep up. To help keep things organized, group your followers into lists. For example, if you are interested in football, science, and marketing, you might create a list for each of these interests and then assign people to the appropriate list.

Neil deGrasse Tyson would go into your "science" list, while SpinWeb would go into your "marketing" list. See what I did there? Of course all football-related accounts would also be grouped accordngly. So now, when you want to catch up on marketing-related information you can simply click on that list to see it all in one place.

Twitter-lists

Use Tweetbot to filter and mute. If you still find yourself overwhelmed or annoyed by people posting things you don't want but you don't want to unfollow them because they still sometimes post good stuff, try Tweetbot. This app (iPhone only) will let you "mute" certain types of posts.

You can mute certain hashtags, posts from certain Twitter clients that schedule stuff (like Buffer) and even all those "My run time was 12 minutes and 47 seconds... I'm a superstar!" posts by your over-ambitious athletic friends who connect their running hardware to their Twitter accounts (we get it... you're fast).

By muting the stuff that you don't want, you can enjoy a much cleaner Twitter stream and get more value from it.

Pinterest

I'll admit it... I really like Pinterest. It's the one social media site that is 100% fun and not work-related. Pinterest is pretty pleasant to use already but I didn't "get" it for a while until I figure out how to make it fit into my life by doing this...

Treat Pinterest like a "dream board" or a lifestyle encyclopedia. If you treat Pinterest like Facebook or Twitter, you'll get frustrated because it doesn't push information or updates at you like other networks. It doesn't keep you up to date on what your friends are doing. It just is.

So with that in mind, it makes sense to use Pinterest more like an information repository. For example, I set up boards on Pinterest that I can just dump information into and then forget about until I need it.

I have a "Dream Vacation" board so that whenever I read about a place I want to travel, I just pin it to that board knowing I can reference it later when it comes time to plan a vacation. I have a "Home Ideas" board for stuff related to home projects I want to do. I have holiday boards so that I am not scrambling for holiday ideas at the end of every year. A (private) board for gift ideas is also handy... maybe even organize it by friends and family members.

Pinterest-boards

Now, I don't really think about Pinterest too much but it comes in really handy in two main situations. 1) when I see some information I want to keep and don't know where to put it and 2) when I want to travel, work on a project, or otherwise plan something and I need ideas and inspiration. Thanks, Pinterest!

LinkedIn

I love LinkedIn. Yes, it's true... I'm all about business so it's no surprise. However, a lot of people never log into LinkedIn because they don't really know what to do with it. We happen to have an entire ebook on LinkedIn if you want a more in-depth look but here are some immediate tactics that will improve your experience.

Join a few (not too many) groups. LinkedIn groups are one of the best parts of this network. The problem most people have is that they either don't join any groups, or they join too many or the wrong groups.

Try to pick 3-5 groups that you are really interested in. Don't just randomly join groups that sort of align wth your business, pick stuff that is really exciting to you. LinkedIn has a directory of popular groups you can start with. Once you join, make sure you opt in to getting discussions emailed to you (opposite of Facebook) so that you can stay connected to discussions that interest you. For more active groups, a daily or even weekly digest will be more appropriate.

Use the LinkedIn iPad app for daily news. The LinkedIn iPad app is absolutely beautiful. If you treat it like a daily newspaper and customize it with your interests and preferences, you will find yourself enjoying LinkedIn more and more. Additionally, if you connect it with your Google Calendar, it will give you intelligence on who you're meeting with.

Google+

Google+ is newer and hasn't really caught on yet in some circles (no pun intended... or was it?) but it is showing promise and has some really nice features. Here are some ways to make it work better for you.

Segment ruthessly. Remember Twitter lists? Google+ is all about circles. You can assign people into circles to segment them by labels, interests, and categories. Then, you can quickly jump to the circle you want to get information from as needed.

Use Google+ as your photo sharing site. You can share photos on Facebook and other sites but Google+ treats your photos with loving care. While other sites degrade quality and convert your photos to low-res versions, Google+ displays beautiful high-res photos that you can easily share. It also lets you link your smart phone to your profile so that all your photos are automaticallty backed up.

Follow only really really smart people. Obvious? Maybe. However, I've noticed that a lot of people treat Google+ like Facebook and just accept everyone. However, I'm finding that by being super-picky I'm getting a lot of value from Google+. Aside from close friends and family, I only circle people I know personally, or that are extreme thought leaders.

Since I'm a marketing nerd, this includes people like Chris Brogan and Christopher Penn. Find the thought leaders in your industry and circle them. Then be really picky about adding anyone else.

Tune Your Social Media Experience

As you can see, your social media experience is what you make of it. Some people complain that they don't "get" certain networks or that there is "too much noise" but don't forget that you're in control. There are plenty of apps, settings, and tactics that can help you improve your social media experience.

What are some of your favorite hacks, tactics, or tools for optimizing your social media experience? Share your feedback below!

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Topics: social media

How much does inbound marketing cost?

Posted by Michael Reynolds

Apr 1, 2014 10:00:00 AM

Inbound Marketing works. There is undeniable proof of that through case studies, stories, and real-world results.

However, one concern many people have is "how much does it cost?"

I always like to say "it's free!" and while it's said partially in jest, I also happen to believe it's true. Here's why.

ipad-charts

Inbound Marketing is not an expense. It's an investment. And not in the sleazy, salesy way of saying "remember, buddy... this new car is in investment in your lifestyle!"

Inbound marketing is a serious, legitimate investment in your business and like all investements it should generate a return.

So before we get more into that, let's look at the numbers. To create and execute a successful Inbound Marketing program with an agency, you need to be prepared to spend about $60,000/year + software expenses. This is an estimate. Sometimes you can spend a little less and get decent results. Other times bigger companies see value in spending $100,000 or more per year to achieve faster results.

So why would a company spend so much money on Inbound Marketing? Because (when done correctly) it can generate a tremendous return.

Before we get too deep, we need to understand what type of business Inbound Marketing is (and is not) a good fit for. Inbound Marketing works very well for organizations that sell a high-value service or collect a high dollar amount per sale. It can also be great for scalable organizations that can do lots of volume, like a software company.

Some examples include manufacturing companies, professional services firms, software companies, financial services, real estate, and even non-profits (what's a large donor or sponsor worth?).

Industries that may have more of a challenge justifying Inbound Marketing might include local restaurants or other small businesses with a limited audience and limited ability to scale. The revenue per customer just can't sustain the investment in Inbound Marketing.

So if we go back to the industries that work well, the return on investment of an Inbound Marketing program can make a lot of sense. We'll use a consulting firm as an example. It could be a law firm, engineering firm, or financial services firm but we'll just say "consulting firm" to keep it simple. Let's say that the average revenue from a single engagement is $15,000. If an investment in Inbound Marketing results in over 4 new clients that year (assuming a $60,000 investment) then we can see that the program has paid off.

In a scalable business like a software company, we look more at volume. Since there is little to no overhead in signing on a new customer, a software company can scale very quickly. Even if a subscription is $99/month, it would take less than 1,000 new customers in a year to justify an Inbound Marketing program. Fore more expensive B2B software apps, the numbers become even more favorable.

Not to leave out the non-profits, if your target is $10,000 donors and sponsors, you can begin to see how things can add up.

So why do I say that an Inbound Marketing program is free? Do the math.

The caveat to all this is that there are no guarantees in marketing, ever. No matter what type of marketing you do, there is always a risk. Anything in life that involves getting a return on investment involves some risk. This is true for your mutual funds, your home, your employees, and it's true for your marketing program. However, the advantage of Inbound Marketing is that it's measurable, it's agile, and it has a proven track record.

Another thing to consider is the idea that a healthy marketing spend is at least 5% of revenue. Some companies spend more but you don't want to dip too far below 5% or you start to under invest in the lifeblood of your business. In a recent podcast episode, financial expert Greg Crabtree goes into detail about how to set a marketing budget.

So, to recap:

  • Be prepard to spend around $60,000 - $100,000/year (plus or minus) on Inbound Marketing
  • Look at your program as a long-term investment
  • Do the math to see how well it makes sense for your business
  • At least 5% of revenue is a healthy marketing spend
  • Be prepared to take a risk (like all marketing is) but understand that it's a well-managed risk

Have other questions about Inbound Marketing? Post your comments below!

 

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Topics: financial, inbound marketing

Expand your conference room with Chromebox for Meetings

Posted by Michael Reynolds

Mar 27, 2014 10:01:00 AM

If your organization is a ROWE like SpinWeb is, you probably have some team members that work remotely at least some of the time. Whether it be from home, from a coffee shop, or while traveling, we all know that work can happen anywhere.

Or maybe you are a multi-location company with team members all over the state or the country and you need an easy way to collaborate as a group. Sure, you can use Skype or Google Hangouts to meet 1-2-1 but what if you have a group meeting with more than a few people?

Until now, you had to rely on awkwardly placing laptops at the end of conference tables, messing with clunky speakerphones, or spending a lot of money on fancy video conferencing equipment.

However, Google has a great new product that we could not resist trying out here at SpinWeb. It's called the Chromebox for Meetings.

It's basically a hardware kit that is integrated into Google Hangouts. I got mine from my buddy Alan Cook at CDW and he did an awesome job of speeding things along and getting the license provisioned so we could start using it right away. If you want to get one for your office (or if you have any other tech supply needs), give Alan a shout at AlanCoo@cdw.com or 877.325.6618 and he will hook you up with amazing customer service.

When I first received the Chromebox for Meetings, it looked a little bit intimidating since there were quite a few parts to configure but it ended up being no big deal once I got things unpacked.

The Chromebox for Meetings consists mainly of these components: webcam, speaker/mic, hardware box, cables, and remote. The main unit is a small box a little bigger than a ROKU or Apple TV.

chromebox

It has USB and HMDI ports so you can connect it to your TV as well as plug in a keyboard (in addition to the webcam and speaker/mic).

The webcam is your basic Logitech webcam that is designed to perch on top of the TV. I don't know if there is anything unique about it specific to the Chromebox for Meetings but it looks pretty standard.

chromebox-webcam

It's really easy to adjust and sits nicely atop the TV screen.

Next, I plugged in the speaker/mic, which is the most useful and significant element in the system. I say that because audio quality is usually the problem when conducting remote meetings.

chromebox-speaker-mic

The speaker and microphone are combined into one small unit that sits on the table and connects to the Chromebox for Meetings unit via USB cable. And holy cow... it sounds great! As we tested the audio with remote team members, the feedback was that sound quality was excellent. Even when we compared sound by sitting at different parts of the conference table (both near the unit and farther away) there was no degradation in sound quality.

After plugging everything in, the next step was to enroll the device. Upon startup, we had to set a few preferences and then sign in with a Google Apps account. I got stuck here because the device was not yet provisioned by Google and CDW so I gave Alan a shout and he sped things along for me (thanks, Alan!) and the next morning I was all set. I signed in, configured a few more settings, and then the final step was to connect a resource to the Chromebox for Meetings.

We had a resource already set up in our Google Apps account "Conference Table" so I connected this resource to the Chromebox for Meetings (this is all done on the web via your Google Apps admin interface). What this means is that now all we need to do is add the Conference Table resource to any meeting and it automatically creates a Google Hangout that anyone on the invitation can join.

For example, we have a weekly team meeting called "Team Huddle" on our calendars. I added the "Conference Table" resource to the appointment which means that anyone who is remote can jump into the meeting by clicking the link on their calendars and they are connected via the Chromebox for Meetings.

The user interface is pretty nice. When no meeting is in progress it displays the next upcoming meeting on the display (if there is one scheduled soon).

chromebox-creen

All you need to do is select the meeting and start the Hangout with the included remote. All set! The video quality from an attendee standpoint is crystal clear. The reports we got during testing were that is the was the best audio/video quality we've ever seen.

The webcam view is wide enough that it shows pretty much everyone at the meeting with room to spare.

chromebox-table

So what make the Chromebox for Meetings to unique and useful when compared to just using a laptop to conference people in?

For one thing, the audio and video quality make a huge difference. When you're not worrying about dropped phrases and choppy video, it makes collaboration much easier. It feels more like you're actually there. Because the speaker/mic are one unit, there is no echo and it sounds clear and natural.

Next, the ease of setting up meetings is awesome. Before, we would have to say "can someone Skype in so-and-so" and we would perch a laptop at the end of the table and try to make it work with limited success. Now, we can just click a button on a remote and start the Hangout.

Another thing that helps is that it makes remote team members "life sized" because they show up on the TV screen which makes it feel more like they are in the room.

chromebox-chris

So in all, we're very pleased with Chromebox for Meetings. The total cost is about $1500 which is much lower than "big company" video conferencing systems.

What do I love about it most? It reduces the friction between in-office meetings and remote team members. Anything that streamlines collaboration leads to better results and I would say this device is well worth the investment.

Are you using Chromebox for Meetings? What has been your experience?

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Topics: google, rowe