5 Tips for Working with Stakeholders

Stakeholders are a necessary component of nearly every content project. Without their unique perspectives, even the most talented writers and strategists would fall short of creating the best, most customized product possible.

As a result, they are incredibly important and impactful players– and not only because of their unmatched expertise and invaluable feedback. Stakeholders have the ability to:

  • Delay or halt projects
  • Change direction or process
  • Impact budget or scope
  • Approve the final product or …
  • Send everything back to the drawing board

You can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them. That’s why all marketers should follow this advice: When it comes to stakeholders, handle with care.

Common Stakeholder Problems

Whether you are a client working with internal stakeholders or a marketer who regularly manages them, the challenges are the same. You may have encountered setbacks or challenges from any of these common personalities:

  • The Break Pad: These stakeholders have jam-packed schedules and may be repeat “no-shows” for interviews. They sit on content for weeks past deadline, holding the review process hostage. It’s a common situation because the most valuable stakeholders often hold very senior positions and are legitimately busy.
  • The Charlie Brown: Everybody on the project wants these people to weigh in, but they do not understand their value. Interviews are challenging because they don’t provide clear, direct answers or often defer to other people, who may or may not be stakeholders. As a result, their feedback is light on the key details you need.
  • The Expert: While all stakeholders are experts in their areas, this stakeholder is also an expert in your job – whether it’s writing content, developing an SEO strategy or designing a webpage. It may be hard to convince this stakeholder of well-accepted industry best practices if he or she disagrees. Prepare for intense edits and feedback.
  • The Monday Morning Quarterback: The no. 1 reason for project delays? Either the Charlie Brown or The Expert can morph into this stakeholder in the final stages. They see the first draft and disagree with its direction, possibly even contradicting their own input. Be aware: It’s very common for stakeholders to change their mind or be surprised when they see their words spun into something more tangible like a webpage or blog.

Best Practices for Managing Stakeholder Relationships

The best way to work with stakeholders is a very proactive approach. We have compiled our best practices for interviewing and managing stakeholders to help avoid those frustrating project delays and setbacks:

  • Establish a clear process from Day 1: Put yourself in the uninformed stakeholder’s shoes: They do an interview with you or your team, you disappear for weeks, then re-emerge with a sudden need for feedback and approval at a time that may not be convenient. You would be annoyed, too, right? Take a few minutes during your stakeholder call to walk them through the process, timeline and what you will need from them so they are prepared.
  • Don’t be afraid to over-prepare: If you want to get the most out of your stakeholder interview, do not show up as a blank slate. Do your homework by researching as much as you can about the subject matter, client, competitors and even the stakeholder ahead of the interview. Asking basic questions is the best way to waste an interview. Instead, use your time to delve deeper and get into messaging, differentiators and help with more complex topics.
  • Communicate key dates and repeat, repeat, repeat: Stakeholders are very busy. They will quickly scan your email, so make it easy for them: Clearly state your time frame in bold font. At your interview, remind them at the start and end when they will receive a draft for review. Follow up with an email reminding them of this date and how much time they will have for feedback. Send reminders ahead of the deadline.
  • Avoid sending a list of questions in advance: It may sound counter-intuitive. But if you want the most out of your discussion, don’t fence yourself in with a script. When given a list of questions, stakeholders tend to offer stiff, careful answers. You miss out on the rich details that a more organic conversation can uncover. Instead, provide an overview of topics and write a few short sentences describing your goals for the interview.
  • Control the review process: Lay the groundwork for a clear review process before scheduling the first stakeholder call. If you are working with multiple stakeholders, it’s a good idea to establish the following:
    • Which stakeholders need to review/approve the final product, and whether anyone’s feedback is more authoritative or should be last
    • How many rounds of revisions are included within project scope
    • Whether stakeholders are editing for content, accuracy, messaging, or all of the above
    • A process for ensuring consolidated feedback so you don’t get back conflicting feedback and direction
    • A clear timeline and how feedback delays will affect project completion

 

Interested in learning more about content marketing? Check out Charles River Interactive’s blog View from the Charles:

7 Email Marketing Best Practices
How to Write Strategic Calls to Action
5 Tips for Writing for Mobile

Want more information? Get more details on Charles River Interactive’s SEO and PPC service offerings or contact us today.

 

Why Your Digital Marketing Strategy Isn’t Working

You follow the top marketing blogs. You’re on top of the latest digital trends. You work tirelessly on your brand’s marketing initiatives, and yet you’re still not getting the results you want.

What are you doing wrong? We’ve compiled the top 5 easy mistakes even experienced marketers make that could be holding you back.

5 Common Digital Strategy Mistakes

Confusing tactics with marketing strategy:

As a marketer, you may manage social media channels and post blogs, invest in paid search, optimize your website or launch brand awareness campaigns. These are all incredibly important, but none of them is your strategy. They are tactics that execute your strategy.

Still confused? Here’s an example: When Facebook announced it would become a mobile-first company, that was the strategy. All of the social giant’s activities that support that goal – including, most recently, telling advertisers Facebook will favor faster-loading ads – are the tactics.

Even nationally known thought leaders often refer to tactics as strategies, so it’s no wonder so many marketers follow their example. If you’re guilty as charged, it’s never too late to define clear business objectives to guide your strategy.

Executing without clear goals:

Your digital strategy marries two elements – your marketing goals and business objectives – to create a clear game plan. You need both. Don’t be tempted to jump on the latest marketing fads and trends without a solid reason why they benefit your brand. Remember: You want to act, but always with intention.

A good example of a clear marketing goal is increasing traffic to your blog by 10,000 visitors in one year. This goal is stronger when it also supports a business objective. If your brand’s goal is simply to increase sales, you need to prove how investing money and manpower into more blog traffic will help.

Making decisions without data:

At Charles River Interactive, this is one of the most important beliefs we hold dear: You must base your decisions on real, hard, up-to-date data. The best results come from combining out-of-the-box creative thinking with the power of data-driven decisions. Understanding your web analytics is the key to making smarter decisions that reach the right people.

For example, before you decide to re-write even one webpage, you should be able to answer questions such as:

  • How many users visited this page over the previous six months? (traffic)
  • How much time did they spend on the page? (bounce rate)
  • How did they find this content?

The answers tell you what to change about the page and inform why and even how you should do it.

Implementing best practices without a plan:

So you’re following best practices for SEO and implemented title tags, Meta descriptions, and H1s to improve on-page optimization. But you’re still not getting the results you want. Success in the organic results is no longer about implementing best practices; instead it’s about the overarching strategy behind it. Take the time to think about what content will resonate with your target audience and build your on-page elements around those. We work with many clients to develop on-page optimization efforts based around a strategic plan.

Basing audience on assumptions:

One of the most important questions we ask clients is, Who is your target audience? If you don’t know – or if your answer isn’t specific enough – it can delay or derail successful marketing initiatives. If you’re speaking to a general audience, or even targeting a pool that’s too small, it may be time to invest in marketing research to understand your key demographic.

Why is this important? It saves you from investing in Twitter campaigns or Facebook ads only to find out your core consumers aren’t heavy users of these platforms. Knowing your target audience helps you reach the right people, where they are, with the right message.

Interested in learning more about marketing trends? Check out Charles River Interactive’s blog View from the Charles:
Mobile First Strategy: What You Need to Know
7 Email Marketing Best Practices
Why Brand Advocacy Matters

Want more information? Get more details on Charles River Interactive’s SEO and PPC service offerings or contact us today.

 

Mobile First Strategy: What You Need to Know

Is your brand’s digital strategy truly “mobile first?” This term has led discussions around the future of digital marketing for the past five years, but it easily confuses even savvy marketers who make a common mistake: They confuse mobile friendly with mobile first.

There’s no better time than now to understand the important distinction between the two – and evaluate your brand’s strategy to make sure your organization is poised for success.

Facebook, Google and Mobile First Thinking

Recently, Facebook joined Google in telling advertisers they need to make their ads load faster. Consider this compelling stat from Facebook: 40 percent of users click away if a page takes more than 3 seconds to load.

Facebook is so determined to improve its users’ experiences with ads that it has decided to factor page loading speed into its delivery system. In other words, if your ads are too slow and not optimized for mobile, your ad may not even show up.

Loading time is already one of the biggest concerns in mobile advertising. But it would be shortsighted to think about this problem in a digital vacuum. It’s only the latest example of web giants like Facebook and Google signaling to us that our strategies must prioritize the needs of mobile users. That’s the essence of mobile first.

What is Mobile First?

If you spend 8-plus hours at work typing and browsing on a desktop or laptop computer, it is easy to forget how dominant mobile usage is outside your office.

Two-thirds of all Americans own a smartphone, according to the latest mobile use stats from the Pew Research Center. That figure is significant because it almost doubled in only four years – from 35 percent in 2011 to 64 percent in 2015. People use their phones – and even their watches – to get directions, stream TV shows and movies, do online shopping, browse social sites and read the news.

Increasingly, people rely on mobile devices to run their daily lives – at home, at work and on the go. Their ability to quickly access and easily digest online content on a small screen can make or break a site’s success. (Read Google’s take on how important these so-called micro-moments are to the mobile consumer experience.)

That’s where mobile first thinking comes in. It’s not just about decreasing loading times, launching a mobile-friendly design or offering mobile apps. It’s about doing all of these things and more to create a comprehensive mobile strategy that – yes – puts the needs of mobile users before anyone else.

Elements of Mobile First Strategy

At Charles River Interactive, mobile is always present in our thinking and incorporated into our recommendations.

Starting in 2015, Google changed its algorithm to boost rankings for mobile-friendly sites. As a digital marketing firm that specializes in SEO, understanding these changes is core to our approach.

We believe a strong mobile first strategy should incorporate the following:

  • Mobile SEO solutions: Coding is very important here. We look at factors like site configuration and dynamic serving. Our team knows how to optimize page titles, URLs and meta descriptions for optimal performance. For clients who depend on reaching a local audience, we take into account local search intent when formatting meta data.
  • Mobile friendly content: The way you write your content significantly improves the mobile user experience. Read our 5 Tips for Mobile Content to learn more about how we recommend keeping users engaged.
  • Responsive design: The days of creating a mobile version of websites are quickly fading away. We recommend clients consider a responsive design, which responds to users’ behavior based on what device they are using. For example, if you swap from a desktop to a smartphone, the site automatically adjusts for resolution, screen size, etc.
  • Loading times: It’s true that incorporating graphic design elements and video on your pages can increase user engagement and boost rankings. But if they take too long to load, your business is in danger of losing potential customers who won’t wait around for the content they wanted. The key is working with an expert team to help you find the right balance.

Interested in learning more about improving your mobile website? Check out Charles River Interactive’s blog View from the Charles:
The 2nd Phase of Google’s “Mobilegeddon” Has Been Officially Released
Mobile Search Updates: Why You Need a Mobile Website
5 Tips for Writing for Mobile

Want more information? Get more details on Charles River Interactive’s SEO and PPC service offerings or contact us today.

How to Write Effective Meta Descriptions

The well-written meta description: It’s one of those oft-forgotten but incredibly important digital writing and SEO tools that can make your brand’s content look polished, professional and complete.  How can a single sentence hold so much power? Let’s discuss the meta description and how it can help you attract user click-throughs to your page.

What is a Meta Description?

A meta description is a sentence – no longer than 155 characters – that appears in search engine result pages (SERPs) under the title and URL of your web content. Take a look at how it appears in Google when you search for “Charles River Interactive”:

Charles River Interactive Meta Description Example

Why are Meta Descriptions Important?

It’s an over-used cliché to describe websites as the virtual front door to your company or organization. But if we piggyback on this metaphor, a well-written meta description is part of the on-page optimization package that forms your attractive façade or catchy signage.

Key points to keep in mind:

Meta descriptions improve site visits
The meta description tells users what content they will find on your page, and whether it is worth their time to click. Most importantly, they persuade users to choose your page over your SERP competitors.

Because many sites still neglect to write meta descriptions – or write sloppy, keyword-stuffed versions that make them look desperate for clicks – a strong, clean meta description can improve click-throughs to your copy.

Meta descriptions and social sharing
Many social sites – such as Facebook – also pull the meta description to auto-fill comment fields when users share your content. If you don’t have one, they will grab the first text they find.

Tips for Writing Meta Descriptions

  1. Size matters: Google will cut you at approximately 155 characters (letters, symbols, numbers, punctuation AND spaces). If you go over, you’ll have a dangling fragment that may not make sense.
  2. Be in control: If you don’t write a meta description, this space won’t go blank. Search engines will pick text – typically the first 160 characters that appear on your page – and it could appear as a mangled string of page title, section head and sentence fragment.
  3. Don’t take liberties: Accurately describe the content on your page. Don’t overstate or mislead users. This technique can actually negatively impact your bounce rate by leading to frustrating users.
  4. Use call to actions: It’s always a good approach to talk TO your audience, not about them. “Learn more about …” or “Find out why …” are examples of strong call-to-action language that invites users to click through.
  5. Keywords still count: They may not directly affect rankings, but incorporating relevant keywords is important for two reasons:

• They appear in bold in SERPs
• They communicate relevance of page to search query

Interested in learning more about trends and developments with Google? Read more from our blog, View from the Charles:

What You Need to Know about Google Symptom Search
Make Google Alerts Work for You
The 2nd Phase of Google’s “Mobilegeddon” Has Been Officially Released

How to Write Strategic Calls to Action

You already know that hyperlinks and call-to-action links are an important part of the content strategy formula. But it’s not enough to simply insert as many as you can, with the hopes of scoring SEO points and potentially overwhelming people reading your content. A linking strategy should define where you place them, which words you hyperlink and which pages you link to.

Why are Hyperlinks Important?

Let’s pretend you’re not a marketing manager, but the owner of a small shop that relies on street traffic. Your first priority is getting shoppers in the door. (You could compare your window display and signage to the type of SEO work we do to attract organic traffic to your site.)

Once inside, you want them to explore past the first rack, to browse your shelves, examine items of interest and even step into a dressing room. Your ultimate goal – your call to action – is for them to make a purchase.

In this hypothetical store, the details matter: how you arrange your shelves, where top-selling merchandise goes and where you post eye-catching ‘clearance’ signs.

Web content works the same way. Strategic linking assures users don’t stop at the front door (your homepage). Instead, they click further into your site, visiting multiple pages to browse, and interacting with your content (sign up for newsletters, request an appointment, follow you on social media, etc.)

One of the key ways we can facilitate this user journey is how we utilize hyperlinks.

Hyperlink vs. Call to Action Link

There are two ways to include links in your content. Both have a place, but there are key differences:

  • A hyperlink is more passive: Waltham-based Charles River Interactive is a full-service digital marketing firm.
  • The call to action link – or CTA – invites the user to take action and keep reading: Waltham-based CRI is a full-service digital marketing firm. Learn more about Charles River Interactive.

Which strategy do you think would get more clicks?

With a passive hyperlink, the link to the company website is there as a ‘soft sell,’ much like the end cap in your store. If this sentence appeared in the content at a place where you definitely want interested users to visit this page, you want to use a call to action link instead.

Web Writing Best Practices for Hyperlinks

  • Formatting: It may sound like common sense, but make sure your links appear with unique formatting: a different color is typical, but you may also bold or underline linked text.
  • Internal vs. external links: Use links that take users away from your site as little as possible. Why send away your traffic? If it’s necessary, make sure these links open in a new tab.
  • Never, ever say ‘click here’: Make it your golden rule. Yes, the goal of a call to action link is to encourage the user to take action. But think about it as being helpful, not demanding. Phrases like ‘Read more about …’ or ‘Learn more about …” let the user feel like they have more control, and as a result, they are more effective.
  • Anticipate action: Web users hate surprises – especially when pages and files pop open unexpectedly. Don’t risk visitors closing out your site. Just be courteous and help them understand what happens if they click a link: ‘Download our information packet’ or ‘Watch our how-to video’ tells the user that a file will open and a video clip is about to play.
  • Match pages with links: The hyperlinked text should match the page title – or H1 – of the page to which you are linking. Don’t just link random text and expect users to know where it goes; they are unlikely to take that leap of faith, and may be confused when they arrive there.
  • Put a CTA on every page: Don’t get stuck with a ‘dead-end page’ that leaves users with nowhere to go. Every single page on your site should include a call to action link, and be rich with hyperlinks. This even includes your 404 redirect page. Remember: When you stop giving users something to do, they stop interacting with your site.

Interested in learning more about content development? Read more from our blog, View from the Charles:

5 Tips for Writing for Mobile
10 Tips for Effective Content Marketing on Twitter