New insights from Google Keyword Planner

When the Google Keyword Tool was removed and replaced with the Keyword Planner approximately a year ago, the ability for marketers to filter traffic estimates by device was lost. However, with the introduction of nine new features to the Google Keyword Planner Tool last month, users will now have greater insight into mobile device volumes, mobile trends, enhanced location breakdowns and how this data trends over time.

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on the mobile and location enhancements, which offer some really useful data and allows us to consider how we can optimise our sites more effectively for mobile and tablet searchers.

Contribution of search volume for keywords by device

From the nine new features Google have introduced, different businesses will gain something different from each of them. But one of the most exciting features that’s likely to interest both small and larger enterprises alike is the re-introduction of device search insights:

Breakdown by device - aggregate

This feature provides visual data to enable users to understand the expected search volume contribution from individual devices. As you can see from above, a group of keywords representing a particular theme or topic can be analysed to get an aggregate volume of searches, in total as well as broken down by device type.

This type of data allows one to see how people are searching online for particular terms and phrases. For example, if it’s clear that a relatively equal volume of searches is coming from tablet, mobile devices and desktop computers, the data could be useful for building a business case for SEO investment in a responsive or adaptive website.

Breakdown by device - individual

Alternatively, you can also analyse individual keywords to determine specifically how each of them is performing by device type. In the first image above, we could see that [isa] was driving 49,500 searches per month as part of the aggregate list, however we can also see how these 49,500 [isa] searches themselves are broken down by device type in the second image.

This is useful for understanding how keyword groups differ from one another and whether individual content sections or landing pages might need to be tailored for those searching on desktop, mobile or tablet computers.

Analysing mobile trends over time

In addition to looking at overall search volume trends over time for particular keywords, e.g.:

Overall search volume trends

… the Keyword Planner also allows users to see the mobile percentage of these search terms over a period of time:

Mobile search volume trends

This is particularly useful to see how consumer behaviour is changing in relation to how people are using mobile devices to search online:

Mobile search volume trends over time

For the term [weather] (used above), one can clearly see that the percentage of searches conducted on mobile devices has increased steadily over time, from 17.3% in May 2012 to 56.1% in April 2014.

Along with the contribution of search volume for keywords by device which we looked at in the previous section, this level of data allows marketers to look at how content is rendered on different devices, for either a particular search term or group of terms, and can inform how content can be tailored to create a more useful user experience across devices.

Get more accurate data by setting specific dates

In the example above, we looked at the term [isa]. The 49,500 searches per month is an average taken over the last 12 months. For other terms that are not as highly affected by seasonality (e.g. [bank accounts]), this annual average number is still quite useful. However, because an ISA is a very seasonal financial product, it’s worth considering how search volume and demand for this term varies over the course of the year:

Seasonal snapshot - ISA

The seasonal snapshot above shows that there’s a clear escalation in search volume for the term [isa] from January onwards, with a peak in March. It might therefore be worth looking at the average search volume for this term during both ‘ISA season’ (January – April) and the rest of the year:

Seasonal comparison - ISA

By selecting the dates we want to focus on using the ‘date range’ selector in the left-hand navigation, we can compare average monthly searches for two specific date ranges to see how they differ.

As you’ll see from the data above, the graph provides absolute and relative changes so we can see that there is nearly a +124% percentage change in searches for the term [isa] during ‘ISA season’ vs. the rest of the year. Armed with this information, content, SEO and paid search efforts can be prioritised during key times of the year in order to maximise the seasonal opportunities.

Another handy aspect of the date range feature is the ability to compare search volume year-on-year so that accurate comparisons can be made for search demand:

Comparison on last year

Understand how search trends differ by target locations

Another useful addition to the Keyword Planner is the ability to see a breakdown of search volumes by location:

Location breakdown

This feature allows marketers to analyse the differences in search volume by location and identify segmentation opportunities. For example, although Nottingham is the second largest city by population size from the sample used above, it’s driving the least number of searches. Perhaps there is an opportunity to improve content and messaging on the website or modify bids in paid search campaigns in relation to Nottingham.


5 top SEO insights from SMX 2014

SMX London 2014 Earlier this month I attended the search marketing event SMX in London, and as with last year, SMX 2014 offered a huge amount of knowledge and insights from a wide variety of speakers from agencies, search engines, bloggers and business leaders. There was a lot a take in over the two days so for this post I’ve decided to highlight five areas that really stood out:

1. Focus on UX and engagement as well as links

Whilst links are most certainly not dead, it’s clear that search engines like Google are attempting to look beyond links as a signal in order to determine the relevance and quality of a website or piece of content and therefore webmasters and marketers alike need to consider not only their thinking around link-building but other emerging ranking factors, too.

In a session on Long-Term SEO: How To Win For Years, Not Days, Tim Grice from Branded3 explained how engagement and popularity will become increasingly important ranking factors and the key to higher rankings. This is something I covered off in my post from April about maximising SEO benefit through engagement. In his presentation, Tim provided a case study that how a site hit by a Google penalty and suffered a drop in visibility was able to regain and visibility not by building links but through the creation of content as part of a hub to serve users and to engage an audience:

In order to provide genuinely useful and engaging audience:

  • Understand your customers. Who are they? What are their interests? What social sites are they connected to? What are they talking about?
  • Use consumer surveys and data from UX
  • Identify poor performance of existing content using:
    • Page views
    • Unique page views
    • Time on site
    • Bounce rate
  • Use Google Webmaster Tools to identify what search terms are driving traffic. Don’t be afraid of removing pages that are driving unnecessary traffic

2. Entities and the semantic search revolution

As search engines become increasingly sophisticated, we’re seeing the continuing emergence of semantic search and the move from keywords to entities. Or, as Google stated with the introduction of the Knowledge Graph in 2012, ‘strings, not things’. This is about search engines giving ‘things’ – or entities – an identity so that it knows more information about them as well as the connections and relationships between other identities. Justin Briggs explains that an entity is “anything, including real world objects, facts and concepts that has a number of documents associated with it”. Examples of entities include businesses, products, movies, authors, people, places, events, etc. By creating identities for entities, search engines can form a better understanding of user intent for ambiguous search queries, e.g. [that big clock in london]:

That big clock in london, i.e. Big Ben

The introduction of the Hummingbird algorithm is a demonstration of Google’s intent to move into semantic search and the Knowledge Graph is an example of entity search in action. It makes search results smarter, more relevant and informative and provides a more complete picture by harnessing the collective intelligence of the web.

How can we take advantage of entities and semantic search?

  • Use structured data, such as Schema.org to provide additional detail about an entity:

Gone with the Wind

  • Use entities in copy, e.g. ‘15 things you didn’t know about Emma Watson in Bling Ring’. This reinforces a connection between one entity (Emma Watson) and another (Bling Ring):

Emma Watson and Bling Ring

3. Semantic mark-up, Schema and rich snippets

If Schema.org is one of the keys to unlocking the potential of semantic search, then what is it and how does it work? And what are other forms of microdata and rich snippets? It could be suggested that search engines are still a little stupid and therefore require webmasters to provide more information about pages and content to make it clear how things are related. Semantic mark-up is therefore important because:

  • You can provide meaning
  • You can increase ‘maintainability’, e.g. focus on HTML for content and use CSS and JavaScript for layout
  • Semantic mark-up is quality

Click-through rate is influenced by much more than just position nowadays – site links, Universal Search results, authorship integration and videos snippets are just some of the factors that motivate CTR. So in the face of rich snippets, personalisation and geo-targeting, the traditional CTR distribution curve is becoming redundant:

CTR from SERPs

So why should we take advantage of semantic mark-up?

  • Schema.org can help sites exploit semantic search and the Knowledge Graph (see above)
  • Very few sites are making use of Schema.org:

Schema.org take-up in US There is therefore a massive opportunity to get ahead of the game!

4. Key SEO tools

There are so many SEO tools available it’s often difficult to decide on which ones to use and when. And of course, whilst some tools can be accessed for free, others can vary quite dramatically in price range. Depending on whether you’re client or agency-side, the type and breadth of tools will also vary and it’s also important to only use the tools you need to avoid ‘analysis paralysis’. Below is a list of a few tools for budding SEOs or experienced digital marketers to consider:

MajesticSEO

  • Searchmetrics – depending on budget, can be pricey, but offers lots of useful data and a ‘visibility’ metric (a combination of rankings and associated search volumes
  • Google Webmaster Tools – whilst link data will not be as up-to-date as other tools (e.g. MajesticSEO), it’s still a useful tool for assessing crawl stats, keywords and additional link data
  • Moz Algorithm History – great for checking traffic against Google algorithm changes
  • Screaming Frog – super tool for technical audits and conducting site crawls, e.g. for site maps

5. Top social tactics for the search marketer

With content being the foundation of good search and social marketing, there are inevitably a number of social tactics that can be used to help improve one’s search marketing efforts. Identify top domains

  • Look at what domains a company’s Twitter followers are following
  • What are the top social networks Twitter followers are following and talking about?
  • Compare interest across multiple sources:
  • Take backlink data from your company + two or three competitors
  • Take a list of all followers from each
  • Look for domains that exist within those data-sets that follow all the companies’ Twitter accounts but only link to your competitors. This provides an opportunity for outreach

Use social insights

  • Look at different post types and the engagement generated by each. What is it? Where are the opportunities that you can leverage?
  • Tool like Birdsong can be used to analyse different social accounts and the content being posted and what is working in terms of Likes, comments, traffic etc
  • Take advantage of YouTube and Facebook’s native analytics:

Facebook Insights

  • Explore new content formats, e.g. long-form content

Identifying top people and influencers

  • Pick a publisher or microsite (e.g. Guardian Data blog) and look at interesting data
    • Crawl blog
    • Scrape author names
    • Sort authors by social success and topical relevancy
    • Use this to what topics you can write and who to talk to and reach out to about it

Three free tools for content marketing analysis

Tools by Josep Ma. Rosell

Part of the process of defining a content strategy for your business will be to evaluate the performance of your competitors’ content marketing efforts. The insight you can glean from what both direct and indirect competitors are doing will allow you to build a picture of the type of content activity, strategies and tactics that are working for others in your industry and what, as a result, might best work for you. In short, a competitor analysis can tell you:

  • Key content trends
  • Content gaps in your plans
  • The content types getting most traction
  • What new ideas you might be missing
  • Competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities and threats from the wider market

3 free tools for analysing competitors’ content marketing

There are a number of helpful tools available, each with differing price ranges, pros and cons, to help you to analyse content from across the web. In this post we’re going to look at three free stand-out tools that you can start using today to begin assessing the content performance of your and competitors’ websites:

Socialcrawlytics.com

Overview

Socialcrawlytics allows you to analyse the social performance of any given URL. By evaluating how content has been shared across multiple social networks, you can begin to determine what content is getting the most traction on which social network and how it is performing versus objectives. This process enables you to see how competitor content is performing and how it’s being constructed in terms of keywords, themes, style and structure.

Although users have to sign up for Socialcrawlytics.com via their Twitter account, once in simply enter a URL you wish to analyse and Socialcrawlytics crawls the site and prepares a detailed report outlining how and where content has been shared:

Socialcrawlytics - overview

Key features:

- For any given URL, Socialcrawlytics provides an overview of shares across a range of social networks:

Sociacrawlytics - detailed page report analysis

- Provides a % breakdown of social performance by social network so you can easily see where a site is over or under-indexing
- Offers detailed, graphical detail of what sections, and associated content, is being shared:

Socialcrawlytics - Sunburst

- Easily compare the level of sharing between yours and competitors’ sites
- Export results and categorise by content to get practical ideas of type of posts you should be creating to engage your audience:

Socialcrawlytics - page level report

Drawbacks:

It would be good to see some information around backlinks to a URL so that comparisons can be made between social shares and links, as well as some additional detail on who is sharing what content the most.

Also, because the tool conducts an in-depth crawl of a site, it can sometimes take some time before full results are returned. If you’re looking for a quicker snapshot of results, the other tools reviewed here are probably a better bet.

However, as the saying goes: good things come to those who wait. And that’s definitely the case with Socialcrawlytics. The insight and level of detail this tool provides is excellent considering it’s free and can provide users with a wealth of knowledge about how a site is performing from a social media perspective.

Quick Sprout

Overview

As with many of the best tools available, Neil Patel’s Quick Sprout is an all-round website analysis solution but has a number of very useful features that provide useful insights into how content is performing.

Key features:

- Great tool for those new to SEO as well as more experienced users
- Clear, simple and succinct visuals
- Data can be downloaded as PDF and/or Excel files
- Provides a series of overview data that can be drilled down to find more detail, e.g.:

Quick Sprout - overview

- Content analysis covers:
- Speed test
- Top keywords and phrases
- Backlink counter

- Social media analysis offers a comprehensive evaluation of which pages have generated shares on key social networks, including Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn:

Quick Sprout - social media analysis 1

Quick Sprout - social media analysis 2

- The competitor analysis feature allows users to evaluate their website against up to three competitor sites:

Quick Sprout - competitor comparison

Drawbacks:

Because the tool provides a holistic view of a site, it’s not designed to specifically evaluate content and content marketing effectiveness alone unlike Socialcrawlytics and BuzzSumo, so some users could get over-awed by the amount of data Quick Sprout provides.

Nevertheless, besides some frustrating limitations with the competitor comparison analysis (which I found to work only intermittently), the fact that Quick Sprout does provide an overall website analysis will certainly be an advantage for those looking to make wider SEO and content changes to their websites.

To really understand how content is performing (beyond simply how much it’s being shared), users need to get a clear view as to how it is being rendered on different devices, how quickly pages are loading and where keywords are being neglected, all valuable data that Quick Sprout delivers.

BuzzSumo

Overview

Whilst BuzzSumo provides much of the functionality offered by Socialcrawlytics and Quick Sprout, the tool’s simplicity, ease of use and speedy performance means it still offers some really useful insights for those looking for a quick snapshot of how a website or web page’s content is performing across multiple social channels.

Key features:

- The opening page offers a really quick, handy guided tour of how the tool works
- Provides a clear, simple snapshot of social performance of different pages within a domain:

BuzzSumo overview

- Users can also search by topic
- Data is easily filtered by content type and date
- Provides detail about the Twitter users who have shared the content, all of whom can be sorted by page authority or followers, and filtered further by ‘bloggers’, ‘influencers’, ‘companies’, ‘journalists’ and ‘regular people’:

BuzzSumo - sharer detail

- Search for key influencers by topic or keyword:

BuzzSumo - influencer report

- Searched can be saved and data exported to CSV or Excel files

Drawbacks:

In comparison to Socialcrawlytics and Quick Sprout, BuzzSumo is limited in that it only offers users data for five social networks and doesn’t provide anywhere near the depth of insight that the other two tools offer. It would also be good to see BuzzSumo offer extra detail on who shared data from other social networks (although obviously this may be limited based on the each user and social network’s privacy settings).

However, the current benefits and features of BuzzSumo far outweigh the negatives and besides there’s a ‘pro’ version in the pipeline that may well solve some of the drawbacks referenced above.

Summary

It’s difficult to pick a ‘winner’ from each of the tools reviewed above. Whilst all being free, each also have their own distinct features and benefits and are useful for different reasons based on the level of insight you’re looking to get.

I would advise readers looking to analyse content, whether it be their own or their competitors’, to use a combination of all three tools. Whereas Quick Sprout can provide granular detail regarding on-page content factors such as keywords, page speed and meta data, BuzzSumo provides a great overview of where content is being shared (and by whom) and Socialcrawlytics offers an even greater level of detail, with clear percentage breakdowns all exportable so that data can be analysed further.

A version of this post was originally published on Smart Insights on 3rd May 2014. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure!


Maximising SEO benefit through engagement

It’s been interesting to see the changes and evolution of Google’s algorithm over the last few years. Ever since the introduction of the first Panda update just over three years ago, Google have continued to emphasise the need for websites to have original, useful, good quality content if they want to rank highly in the SERPS.

What is Google looking for?

In the presentation above from this year’s BrightonSEO event, Tim Grice from Branded3 outlines the importance of looking beyond ‘traditional’ SEO activities (such as keyword research, building links and actor text optimisation) to activity more focused around improving and maintaining an optimal user experience using comprehensive, targeted and relevant content for users.

Branded3 have demonstrated that by decreasing bounce rate and increasing time on site, websites can rank by focusing on great content and not by building links.

Content activity boosts search visibility

Although I doubt that this approach would work for every site on the web, it nevertheless provides some strong evidence that savvy digital marketers and SEOs now need to not only consider keywords, meta data and links, but also the variety, quality and type of content that works for their users.

Focus on engagement

Great content that’s creative, audience-led, insightful and useful provokes engagement, which is now more important than ever. And whilst I would disagree that traditional SEO activities (particularly link-building) are becoming redundant, it makes sense that Google will consider engagement metrics in addition to links in order to determine how users engage onsite once they click through from the search results.

At the end of Tim’s presentation it states: ’2014 – the year of building better websites’, and I think that sentiment sums up perfectly the approach digital marketers should continue to pursue. In order to maximise SEO in 2014 and beyond, we need to take a holistic view of the websites we’re producing and ensure that we create content that provokes engagement by meeting the needs of the visitor.


5 ways to integrate SEO and content marketing

Water Art: Liquid Flames

Although SEO and content marketing are often still managed separately, there are many activities that overlap between them and some would even argue that a large part of SEO and content marketing are the same. Although I would consider SEO and content marketing to be different disciplines (at least at this stage in their respective evolutions), the lines between both activities are becoming increasingly blurred and opportunities to integrate SEO and content marketing should always be considered.

When planning content marketing activity, you should always consider the organic search benefits great content can bring if executed correctly. These are give specific techniques you can use to help ensure that SEO is supporting your content marketing efforts and vice-versa:

1. Keyword research

Whilst I firmly believe that great content should not be driven solely by SEO objectives (there are so many other great benefits that good content can drive), the popularity and use of keywords from search engines provide a sound indication of the types of topics, questions, ideas and solutions that people are searching for online.

As part of your content planning process, ask yourself the following:

  • What personas/ audience type are you aiming to target?
  • What type of content are the personas/ target audience interested in?
  • What data does our keyword research indicate would make good content?

Keyword research takes time and effort as a key part of SEO planning and analysis and there are a number of advanced tools to assist with this process. But as a starting point consider these free tools to begin generating a top-level group of topics:

Google Trends – to identify interest in topics by category and geography over time
Google AdWords Keyword Planner – to get an idea of search volume for specific keywords and terms
Ubersuggest – generate key phrase ideas using a range of ‘root’ terms, e.g. ‘how to open a current account online’

2. Integrating long-term and campaign planning

Both SEO and content marketing require a certain amount of long-term planning to ensure that activity is aligned with peaks in interest at different times of the year. Although this will be different for everyone, there is likely to be seasonal consistencies across the industry, so along with any specific focuses for your business, together these should be built into your overarching content plan.

Editorial calendar

The keyword research we looked at above should give you a good indication of the top terms and phrases people are searching for throughout the year. These can be used to begin outlining high-level themes and topics as part of an editorial calendar which will give you:

- A framework and process to plan and manage the creation of content
– Consistency and quality in your content
– Ability to align your team’s SEO and content marketing efforts
– Accountability for who does what and when

3. Focus on quality rather than quantity

When Google released their Penguin algorithm update in 2011, it was another clear signal that quality wins over quantity when it comes to effective search engine optimisation.

If you’re creating content to support social media, lead generation and brand engagement activity in addition to your SEO objectives, quality will continue to be a very important consideration.

The days of being able to create large quantities of low-quality content to obtain backlinks are over.

To inspire engagement and action from humans, content must be useful, helpful, educational or informative, or preferably all of these at once. The key is to begin with the end in mind and focus on adding something of value for the user.

Great content comes in many different shapes, sizes and forms, so think about your audience, the message you’re trying to get across and the best types of content for content marketing that work for your audience and the business:

The Content Marketing Matrix

4. Consider content distribution opportunities

It’s one thing to have great quality content but unless you effectively market and promote what you have then how will anyone be able to find and use it?

Effective content distribution is a key SEO activity and one that all content marketers should focus on to get their content seen, heard and viewed by the audiences they’re intended for by ranking in the search results.

Some of the common activities to improve content distribution opportunities include:

  • Ensure content includes relevant keywords and phrases naturally within the copy and main on-page SEO factors
  • Include social sharing buttons to allow users to easily favourite, bookmark and share your content with their social graph.
  • Build your social media platforms and presence to create an engaged audience for your content.
  • Look for opportunities to connect with influencers, bloggers, journalists and fellow marketers within your industry.
  • Develop relationships with your media relations team and produce newsworthy content for key channels and publications.
  • Guest post and blog on related websites and publications.
  • Use your newsletter or email to syndicate a selection of your best content.

Many of the activities listed above will give you the ability to not only spread the word and raise awareness of your content but also generate inbound links to your site.

What used be called ‘link-building’ is now more a process of ‘link-earning’, and aligns very closely with influencer outreach or co-marketing with partners.

5. Reviewing content effectiveness

In order to review the effectiveness of your content, you’ll need to have a clear understanding of the metrics you’ll want to use to measure performance. There are many different KPIs for measuring content marketing, but it’s important to select the right ones for you based on your specific business goals and objectives.

Some common content marketing KPIs worth considering include:

  • Organic search rankings/ traffic for top keywords
  • Number and quality of inbound links
  • Referring traffic from key social media sites and networks
  • Social shares and bookmarks
  • Sentiment
  • Unique visits
  • Engagement (bounce rate; time on page; page views)

Organic search rankings and traffic for top keywords can provide a good indication of what type of content is proving valuable to people. If the content you’re producing is relevant, engaging and follows SEO best practices, there’s a good chance this will get liked, shared and linked to, all of which will increase the content’s authority and presence within the search results.

As a result of Google’s decision to begin encrypting all organic search traffic data, it’s now much more difficult to track keyword-level data from web analytics. Knowing what keywords people have used to find your content is an important piece of data as it allows you to identify what keywords are driving traffic to particular pages and understand how searchers perceive content.

However, there are strategies and tactics to get hold of keyword-level data by using tools such as Webmaster Tools to enable you to review the effectiveness of your SEO and content marketing efforts.

A version of this post was originally published on Smart Insights on 4th March 2014. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure!


Effective content marketing for financial services

Financial freedom by Morgan (meddygarnet) on Flickr

With all the research suggesting that 2014 will be another big year for content marketing, it’s important to review how content can be used effectively in your specific sector. In this article I will review content marketing approaches for financial services, a sector I’m involved with.

Each industry sector has its own unique traits and idiosyncrasies and financial services is certainly no different. In fact, due to the complex nature of many financial products, the challenges of creating engaging content and an increased focus on compliance and regulation, one can argue that content marketing for financial services companies is a particularly tricky discipline to master.

Nevertheless, despite the challenges that exist within financial services there are also considerable opportunities that content marketing can exploit if planned and executed effectively.

I would suggest that the steps for establishing a content marketing process is very much the same as it is for any other business but with a few exceptions in certain areas to support, and make the most of, the particular characteristics of a financial services organisation.

Start with strategy and planning

As a financial services organisation, it’s important to be clear from the outset as to how content and content marketing can and should be used at your business. Whilst there will always be an opportunity to be bold and imaginative, you’ll need to assess your company’s appetite for ‘risk’ and what you may/ may not be prepared to do. Start by answering the following questions:

  • What is content? And what does ‘content marketing’ mean to us?
  • Who is our audience?
  • What are our competitors doing?
  • How can content support our business and marketing goals?
  • How can content be integrated into other areas of marketing and the wider business?
  • How will content be sourced, managed and created?
  • How will content marketing efforts be measured?

One of the important, early steps in the content marketing process is to build a business case for investment. This will help not only help gain budget but also buy-in from various teams and departments from across the company.

Benefits of content marketing for financial services

The obvious, stand-out benefits of content marketing for financial services is consistent with the wider market and include:

  • Builds brand awareness and craft your brand ‘story’
  • Drives positive results from organic search rankings and traffic
  • Fuels social media marketing efforts
  • Supports advertising, PR and outreach
  • Drives purchases

Craft an outline framework for your content marketing strategy:

  • 1. Set your core goals and objectives
  • 2. Conduct a competitor analysis of direct and indirect competitors
  • 3. Define your audience and target markets
  • 4. Integration
  • 5. Policies and guidelines
  • 6. Content calendar

* This will be particularly important for reputation management and compliance purposes.

Content calendar

Once you’ve defined a clear strategy and formed an agreement on how content will be used to support your wider marketing and business goals, it’s time to begin creating your content calendar.

Map out broad themes

Start by considering the key financial trends throughout the year. As a rough guide, this could look like:

  • January – February – debt consolidation; winter holidays
  • March – April - ISA season; spring and Easter holidays
  • May – July - home improvements; wedding season; summer holidays
  • August – September - New car purchases; back to school
  • October – December – Christmas planning and spending

Drill down into the detail

By outlining the broad trends for the year, you can then start to drill down into more detail and define the various topics for each week and month of the year.

For example, for the month of January this could look like:

January:

Week 1:

  • New years resolutions – building better money habits
  • Pay off your debts vs. saving

Week 2:

  • What did the nation bought this Christmas?
  • How to improve your credit score

Week 3:

  • Best ways to manage your finances
  • Insuring against a cold snap

Week 4:

  • Money saving advice for winter breaks
  • Winter travel tips

Decide on the most appropriate content types

Once you have a good idea of the main themes and topics, it’s time to begin thinking about thetypes of content to be used.

It’s important to remember that the medium itself should never take the lead. For example, there’s been a wayward obsession with infographics for the past few years, with the flawed assumption that an infographic in itself will drive interest and engagement.

What gets attention is the combination of great data, design and story. An infographic may not always be the most effective type of content for the theme or topic you’re trying to talk about. It may instead be a video, article, case study or guide, so all option should be considered.

The key is to consider the message and target audience it’s aimed at and choose the most appropriate type of content to connect with them. Some of the most popular types of content for financial services include:

  • Written articles and blog posts
  • Tools and calculators
  • Videos
  • Guides and e-books
  • Infographics and data visualisations

Consider using something like this Content Matrix to generate content ideas based on:

  • 1. Where your target audience is in the user journey
  • 2. What are you trying to achieve as a business

Content Marketing Matrix by Smart Insights

Build your content hub

So, with all the new content you’re producing, where is it going to go?

When we consider the traditional marketing funnel, we can see that users/ buyers are likely to be in one of three different stages:

The marketing funnel

This means that content can be used across your website, as well at outposts, for example social media sites and blogs, depending on what stage the customer is likely to be in and the objective of the piece of content.

However, as a starting point I would always advocate the creation of a central, branded content hub within your website. This is a place where your audience can access and interact with your content and where you can integrate, syndicate and distribute the content to other areas of your website and beyond.

What is a content hub ?

A content hub can take on any number of different guises, including:

  • An online news section
  • A blog
  • A digital customer magazine
  • A resource centre

As a financial services organisation, it’s important to consider carefully the type of content hub you use. As with the individual pieces of content, your audience and objectives should lead your decision.

A number of different financial services organisations have approached the concept in a range of different, imaginative ways:

Case study – Sainsbury’s Money Matters

Sainsbury's Money Matters

Sainsbury’s have created a blog within their website with content providing tips, ideas and information on a range of relevant topics.

Key features:

  • Content is broken into six main categories to help users easily navigate to the most relevant content: Family, Home, Travel, Future, Tips and Competitions.
  • There is a range of content types, including articles, tools and data visualisations/infographics to help bring information to life.
  • Sainsbury’s have created a ‘Family Blogger Network’, enabling guest bloggers and writers to post content on Money Matters and generate both exposure for themselves and great content for Sainsbury’s Bank.

Case study – MoneySuperMarket’s News and Community

MoneySuperMarket News and Community

MoneySuperMarket have developed a vast news and community section with hundreds of articles, videos and podcasts on a diverse range of topics.

Key features:

  • Content is divided into a number of different areas, including News, Videos, Popular, Editor’s Choice and Press Releases. There is also a regular ‘Focus On’ section which MoneySuperMarket uses to take a look at a particular product or feature, for example a balance transfer deal or mortgage rate.
  • The content on the ‘News and Community’ section is geared towards seasonality. For example from February to April there’s a clear focus on ISAs.
  • Every article has a date, category and author associated with it and MoneySuperMarket have ensured that each author has a Google+ profile, enabling them to use Google’s authorship mark-up and enhance their present within organic search results.

MoneySuperMarket authorship mark-up search result

Managing compliance considerations

As alluded to earlier in the post, compliance and regulatory concerns are an important consideration for all financial services marketing, which includes organic and paid search, social media and content marketing.

Financial Conduct Authority

Every financial organisation will manage compliance in a different way and some may be stricter than others in their observation and interpretations of the guidance provided by the regulatory bodies. In the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)  regulates financial firms providing services to consumers, with their remit focused on maintaining the integrity of the UK’s financial markets and ensure that financial products and services meet consumers’ needs.

One of the potential stumbling blocks for many content marketers in financial services will be around the concept of financial promotions. This is defined by the FCA as:’An invitation or inducement to engage in investment activity’.

Whilst most content marketing activity may not be seen as a ‘financial promotion’ by the marketer, it’s important to understand and abide by the FCA’s definition of a ‘financial promotion’ and ensure that content is:

  • Stand-alone compliant - where a reference to a rate or deal is quoted, for example, you cannot expect the consumer to click a link to find out more information. This has to be clearly stated and referenced within the same web space or page.
  • Risk warnings are prominent- this might sometimes mean that the risk (e.g. ‘Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage’is as clear and prominent as any promotional message this relates to.
  • Not misleading- that messages are not false, overly ambiguous and relevant for the target market.

As part of any content production process, it’s therefore wise to keep the in-house or outsourced compliance team for your organisation on-side and give them the ability to review and feedback at various stages of the process. Whilst it may not be preferable to have compliance involved at the brainstorming stage, for example, it is recommended that compliance have sight of content:

  • Once initial ideas and topics have been decided to ensure that nothing causing a serious breach is being proposed.
  • Following input from wider stakeholder groups, e.g. product marketing, PR, social media and SEO
  • As a final sign-off prior to going live.

A version of this post was originally published on Smart Insights on 4th March 2014. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure!