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7 Steps to Creating a Content Marketing Plan That Maximizes Results

7 Steps to Creating a Content Marketing Plan That Maximizes Results

In recent years, content marketing has become the go-to strategy for generating a positive ROI. Why? It (usually) requires a modest budget, and yields significant results. But as the sheer volume of online content continues to blow up, businesses are looking for ways to find an edge with their content marketing strategies.

Don’t get us wrong: the demand for quality content remains high and the value of a lead primed for a sale insurmountable. But a robust content marketing strategy should make the most of every piece of content — heck, even every word. Check out seven steps, based on loads of my own successes and failures, to ensure you maximize results and keep readers eager to consume your output.

1. Research Your Audience

Researching your audience is a solid first step, no matter the type of marketing effort. Take a look at the type of people buying products from you. Who’s joining your email list? Reading your blog? Where do they live? How old are they? The most common way to go about this is to develop customer avatars or buyer personas. Using analytics and survey results, you can define  your typical customer — and then move onto how to attract more of them with your content.

2. Analyze What Is Working

It’s 2019. Data is everywhere. Rather than just relying on a gut feeling, look at what your competitors are currently doing. You can utilize a number of tools that will highlight the most popular content in a certain niche, for a particular keyword, or on a specific platform (this Moz, Google Trends, scraping tools, etc.). This research will often signal what content is working, while also indicating areas that don’t get high levels of engagement.

3. Build Your Content Plan

Planning ahead ensures you have a long-term schedule for content creation and distribution — and holds you accountable for hitting firm deadlines. Whether you’re working with a team or with freelancers, a content calendar will keep everyone working in sync.

4. Determine Your Primary Content Channels

With any well thought-out content plan, comes a well thought-out distribution plan. Different types of content will suit different platforms by nature, so some concepts may need to be tweaked and adapted for a particular site. You may, for example, have a concept that can be adapted for text or video and plan to distribute via YouTube and the blog. Your earlier research will also help you decide which platforms will get the best results, using factors like shares, comments, and likes to determine best practices.

5. Create the Content

While you may occasionally have a totally unique piece of content in mind, most niches have a number of broad concepts that are discussed. Thus, your approach is what will make you stand out. If you are trying to rank on Google, start by looking at the top results for your target search terms and brainstorm how to improve on the existing offerings. Search engines generally want to offer the best quality content to users, whether that involves more detail, an engaging point of view, a combination of media types, or an updated take based on current news.

6. Publish and Promote

Content marketing is most effective when you publish the right type of content, in the right place, at the right time. When you hit all three points, consumers should be easily primed to take the next step towards a sale. This requires you to develop a network for promotion, including a number of social media sites and a number of partners to promote your posts.

7. Assess Results and Optimize for Future Campaigns

Content marketing is an ongoing process, with each campaign helping to grow your data and knowledge. Have a number of goals in mind before you even start so you can consistently track results against them as you go. You may consider goals like social likes and shares, website visitors, and new leads or sales.

So why go to all the trouble to launch a content marketing strategy? Engaging potential customers with content gives them the chance to get to know your brand before purchasing, inevitably making them more likely to make that purchase. While many other forms of advertising are struggling, with online consumers reluctant to engage with ads, quality content continues to work. If you can develop a system to ensure your content is top-notch and distributed in places where people pay attention, you can expect a high ROI on your marketing spend.

Need help with your content marketing strategy? StackMedia is your solution. Find out more here.

Commerce Imagery 101: Our Unofficial Guide to Choosing Product Photos for Native Articles

Commerce Imagery 101: Our Unofficial Guide to Choosing Product Photos for Native Articles

Quick: How long do you think it took your brain to form an opinion about this webpage?

If you guessed less than two-tenths of a second, please come collect your prize. That’s according to researchers at the Missouri Institute of Science and Technology, who evaluated users’ rapid-fire first impressions and found that they’re often the determining factors in a site’s overall favorability (or lack thereof).

Let’s think about these findings in terms of commerce content. If you want your readers to stick around in the hopes of getting them to make a purchase, there needs to be something on your page that hooks them in immediately — something like a decent product image.

We could write an Odyssey-sized book on all the reasons why it’s important to prioritize strong imagery as part of your native commerce strategy: Compared to its text-only counterpart, visual content is easier for our brains to process, helps viewers better remember your message, and receives tons more views. (In the most basic sense, it’s just more interesting to look at.) But what separates a bad product image from a good one, or a good one from a great one?

We’re glad you asked. Here’s a brief primer on choosing photos for native articles that answers that question and more:

First off, what differentiates commercial versus editorial imagery?

The key distinction between the two lies in their subject matter, as well as the ways in which they treat these subjects. Visuals that have been taken for editorial purposes feature real-life people, events, or places, which are typically newsworthy. Their subjects are captured in a truthful, unbiased manner in order to tell or give context to a story.

On the flip side, commercial photos are designed to promote a business or sell something, and typically spotlight recognizable logos and brands.

So then what’s product photography?

Product photography is a subtype of commercial photography in which specific goods and services are modeled and/or demonstrated in an appealing way for the purpose of being sold. Basically, it shows customers what exactly it is they’re buying — what a product looks like, what it’s made of, how it works, etc.

What are some different kinds of product photography?

There are two main styles you need to know, the first being white background product photography. This is exactly what it sounds like: An image of a product, taken in a studio, that’s sitting or floating on a plain white background.

On-white photography

The second kind of product photography is known as a lifestyle shot, or a photo that shows a product in the context of its intended use. This type of imagery shows potential customers what they could be doing if they owned the featured product.

Lifestyle photography

Which style of product photography is better for native commerce?

Both have their pros and cons, but generally, lifestyle shots lend themselves better to native commerce. Sure, those white-background photos are clean and easy to shoot, but they look really advertorial, which sort of defeats the purpose of a native article that’s supposed to blend seamlessly with the rest of your editorial content.

How can you tell a good product image from a bad one?

No matter their style, good product visuals are always high quality (i.e, they aren’t blurry or pixelated). We’ll let eCommerce guru Gregory Beyrouti explain: “With HD images, website visitors get to see the quality and details of the product in full,” he told a product photography firm last year. “It reassures them and might convince them to make the purchase. By contrast, a low-quality image looks amateurish and makes it much harder to get conversions when your competitors are doing a better job.”

Furthermore, a good product image will always jive with a publisher’s brand. For example: If you’re a luggage company that’s promoting your newest suitcase model on Mashable, you’ll want to use a lead image that features a young, hip person using said suitcase.

Want to learn more about honing your native commerce strategy, or how you can promote your products with StackCommerce? Click here to get in touch with our team.

4 Common Mistakes Publishers Make With Native Commerce (And How to Avoid Them)

4 Common Mistakes Publishers Make With Native Commerce (And How to Avoid Them)

In a perfect world, everyone would love native commerce as much as we do — and for the most part, that’s true. (Just ask our partners!) But occasionally, this increasingly popular approach to content marketing doesn’t work as planned.

Think about it: native commerce works because it allows publishers to recommend relevant, niche products to their readers on the comfort of their favorite sites, sans disruptions. This tactic relies heavily upon the idea that a sense of trust has already been established between the brand and the reader, who looks to the former as a source of authentic endorsements. So if those product recommendations don’t effectively mingle with other content in some way or another, it simply doesn’t work.

It should come as no surprise that our modus operandi here at StackCommerce is to help you avoid such blunders so both you and your readers get the most out of your native commerce strategy. With that in mind, let’s go over four trust-eroding mistakes publishers commonly make, and how to avoid them so that your deals thrive alongside the rest of your site:

Mistake #1: Offering the reader a discount and nothing more.

Your commerce content should provide value to the reader beyond saving them money on an interesting item or service. That way, they won’t see it as a one-sided deal strictly for advertising purposes in which only the publisher benefits. Add an intriguing statistic or two, a compelling anecdote, or other useful information to your narratives to make your product recommendations just as enjoyable to read as your editorial content.

Mistake #2: Displaying your commerce content in special fonts and colors.

It might be tempting to make your commerce offerings pop with flashy formatting and whatnot, but if the content is visibly different from the flow of your site, it’s going to seem distracting. By keeping all of your content looking stylistically similar, your user experience is going to be far more seamless.

Mistake #3: Not clearly labeling your commerce content as such.

It’s a problem that’s also encountered quite frequently within the realm of sponsored content, and one that got the Kardashian-Jenners in trouble a couple years back: Failing to disclose the fact that copy is, in fact, promoting a product can be misleading and confusing to readers. (It’s also a pretty unethical choice on the publisher’s part, but you already knew that, right?) Even just a simple, one- or two-sentence disclosure before or after your posts can provide the transparency you need to maintain your credibility as a resource.

Mistake #4: Recommending products that aren’t aligned with your brand.

We touched on this briefly in our guide to Valentine’s Day commerce, but the idea applies to virtually any deal: Implementing a successful native commerce strategy starts with choosing deals that complement your brand — deals that you yourself would take advantage of. They shouldn’t seem intrusive; rather, they should be extra perks that double-down on the same perspective or mission that brought readers to your site in the first place.

Want even more tips on how to hone your approach to native commerce? Click here to find out how you can partner with StackCommerce.

We wouldn’t be here without our creator community of publishers and brands — and nothing makes us more proud than hearing of their experiences. Here are some highlights from our top partners:

“StackCommerce is a great revenue partner for us. From their quality content and product selection to their super responsive team members, working with them is a seamless and enjoyable process.” Amy Schellenbaum, Online Director of Popular Science at Bonnier Corp “StackCommerce’s Brand Studio consistently delivers quality, well-written content that speaks directly to our readers. Their full-service content solution lessens the time and manpower typically required by a commerce program, and allows us to focus our team’s efforts elsewhere.” Justin Wohl, Director of Operations at Salon.com “StackCommerce’s Brand Studio delivers consistently high quality content that both fits our editorial voice and drives meaningful revenue.” Baybars Umur, Head of Sales + Marketing at Interesting Engineering

“Rosetta Stone has partnered with Stack Commerce since 2016 on a regular basis.  We have enjoyed some spectacular results as well as seen some some “test and learn” opportunities.  We continue to work together to build promotional opportunities that work for both of us. Thanks for the business!” Andy Mead, BD Director at Rosetta Stone “We work with about a dozen partners, and Stack is our favorite! Perhaps more than any other partner, Stack lives up to that term: engages with us on a constant basis, listens to us and talks to us, helps with content ideation, getting a feel for audience tastes, and also gets us great exposure. It’s an absolute pleasure working with Stack!” Janani Ravi of Loony Corn “We are thrilled about our partnership with StackCommerce. It brought us an additional unexpectedly high revenue that revealed a new market vision for us and opened new horizons for development.” Vasiliy Ivanov, CEO at KeepSolid “StackCommerce has been an integral part of our distribution and PR strategy for Aura. Not only do they make it easy to get the word out, but they also provide a great revenue stream with minimal effort on our end.” Daniel Lee, Aura Health “StackCommerce has not only helped us to sell a lot of our Infinity Blankets, but more importantly raise awareness for the Yaasa brand. We have had many people ask for the product even months after the deal launched on Stack Commerce and continue to do so. Doing business with StackCommerce is easy and straightforward and I really enjoy the can-do mentality. We are looking forward to many more events with Stack this year.” Johannes Sauer, CEO at Yaasa Studios “When we started exploring partnering opportunities with StackCommerce in early 2016, we were skeptical to work with them. The facts and figures they presented to us seemed too good to be true, but we decided to give it a shot. Within two months they not only met the expectations they had set, but they exceeded them! More than 2 years later, our synergistic relationship is stronger than ever.” Jan of iCollege
How to Win Valentine’s Day with Commerce Content

How to Win Valentine’s Day with Commerce Content

As Valentine’s Day 2019 approaches, love may be in the air, but so are plenty of questions surrounding your approach to a relevant content marketing strategy.

Let’s face it: This is one divisive holiday. Some of us see it as an opportunity to splurge on elaborate romantic gestures for a partner — but plenty others brush it off as a tacky, singlehood-snubbing affair that’s commercialism at its worst.

No matter which of those viewpoints you ascribe to, the statistics don’t lie: Valentine’s Day spending is projected to surpass $20 billion this year, with participatory buyers expected to plunk down an average of $162 apiece — up nearly 13% from last year. What’s more, today’s consumers are looking beyond their significant others while they’re shopping, with gifts for non-romantic recipients (i.e., friends, family, co-workers, classmates, and even pets) on the rise. And among younger consumers, the holiday presents a perfect opportunity to treat themselves to something special, whether it be a physical gift or some much-needed self care.

Moral of the story: Contentious as it may be, people are still willing to spend, spend, spend for the Valentine’s Day experience of their choosing. With that in mind, here are five tips on how to craft an effective native commerce strategy for the holiday that both you and your audience adore.

1. Stay true to your brand.

Say you’re a publisher that covers the latest in tech. Would you run a Valentine’s Day special for artisanal candles that smell like conversation hearts? No. No you would not.

That’s an extreme example, but the message holds: Make sure your festive sales don’t seem out of place among the rest of your content. That way, your native commerce offerings can live happily next to editorial content without distracting or alienating any readers, creating a seamless user experience.

Image via Good Housekeeping

2. Give roundups a try.

Consumers may know who they’re shopping for, but they don’t always know *what* they’re shopping for. Give them a few ideas by throwing together a roundup or two that’s personalized for a specific recipient.

This approach works especially well if you want to optimize your content for SEO, because it’s easy to toss in themed keywords throughout your copy without them seeming forced. (Pro tip: “Gifts for [her, boyfriend, husband etc.]” searches are ridiculously popular ‘round this time of year.)

3. Beat the competition.

Spoiler alert: Everyone else is offering some pretty great deals, too. Up your game to stand out by offering limited-time perks, like free shipping or two-for-one bargains. Consumers have a *lot* of Valentine’s Day ads to wade through, so you need to go the extra mile to get them to care about your sales.

4. Make single shoppers feel included.

… Because even though they’re not buying for a significant other, they’re still buying. The National Retail Federation reports that about one in four people who aren’t technically celebrating the holiday still plan on picking up a little something special for themselves, celebrating with their fellow singles, or hunting down an “anti-Valentine’s Day” gift. (Millennials and Gen Zers are huge fans of this approach.)

Another popular purchase among singles this V-Day? Gifts for their pets. With a quarter of consumers under the age of 35 planning on buying a festive present for their animal companions, literal millions of dollars will be spent on Fluffy and Fido come February 14. See if you can scrounge up some deals just for them, whether it’s a pet camera, a dog DNA test, or a powerful new vacuum to combat all that hair.

Image via Mashable

5. Be aware that timing really is everything.

Research has shown that most shoppers wait ‘til the very last minute to get their online Valentine’s Day shopping done (especially when it comes to flower purchases), with web traffic peaking on February 12 and 13. As such, you’ll want to organize your promotions accordingly by pacing deals to increase in quality and quantity as the holiday approaches.

Now, this isn’t a free pass to put off planning your Valentine’s Day strategy to the last minute. (You know better than that.) But as far as deals go, feel free to plan those babies out well through the big day.

Want even more tips on how to get the most out of Valentine’s Day marketing strategy? Click here to partner with StackCommerce and let us source amazing deals that fit your audience.

StackCommerce Hosts 2nd Annual Publisher Commerce Event

StackCommerce Hosts 2nd Annual Publisher Commerce Event

A major company highlight of 2018 was StackCommerce’s 2nd Annual Publisher Commerce Roundtable, an event that brought together an inspiring group of leaders in the publisher commerce space. Despite it being a rainy November evening in New York City, the energetic group gathered to mingle, discuss the latest trends, and share ideas around the future of the industry.

As we saw commerce monetization shift from small side project to core revenue stream, we also became aware of an increased demand for industry events that enable key stakeholders – from commerce editors to partnerships professionals to sales leads – to get together in a focused environment. This event spoke to that industry gap and featured the perspectives of some of the brightest minds in commerce.

The panel discussion was moderated by Digiday’s Max Willens, a leading journalistic voice whose pieces shed light on the trends and business models publishers are employing to generate commerce revenue. He led a vibrant panel with commerce leads from CNN, Hearst Digital, NBC, and Gizmodo Media Group, who each brought a unique perspective to the conversation. Here are some stand-out moments and learnings:

CNN entered the commerce arena in late 2017 with a stand-alone brand known as CNN Underscored. It has since launched a successful eCommerce shop powered by StackCommerce. Based on CNN’s perspective and experience, Max helped the panelists develop a point-of-view on when it might be appropriate for publishers to build up commerce brands distinct from their core businesses, and when they might be better served by keeping their content unified under their main brand.

NBCUniversal offered a totally different perspective regarding their robust commerce strategy and growing team, which includes affiliate commerce posts across The Today Show (which features an impressive TV deal segment business), NBC News, and other properties. We discussed ways in which publishers can scale up their commerce content, use paid social to increase their distribution, and explore a host of new product categories across a unique array of owned brands.

Next, the head of Hearst Media’s commerce efforts shared insights about how they manage the content generation process across several very distinct properties – from Popular Mechanics to Cosmopolitan – and use commerce data to inform other areas of their business such as direct ad sales and product development. This is best exemplified by their recent launch of a private label yoga mat, which was an idea sparked by strong affiliate sales in that category.

And finally, Gizmodo Media Group, one of the first publishers to develop a robust commerce strategy, shared insights from its successful Kinja Deals brand. Their Partnerships Lead offered interesting thoughts about how publishers should handle Amazon, the industry’s “800 lb gorilla” – i.e. when it makes to send their users to Amazon vs. establishing direct deals and working with partners such as StackCommerce.

Other topics of conversation included:

  • How to stand out from the noise: creating a viable strategy in light of how crowded publisher commerce has become (since “everyone’s doing it”). It’s a challenge and having a real brand helps.
  • Best practices for expanding your commerce content reach through social and other channels.
  • StackCommerce’s expansion into StackMedia: producing sponsored posts for advertising partners paid on a CPC basis rather than conversion.
  • Top sellers this year: DNA kits, robot vacuums, CBD gummies, and Bluetooth earbuds.

It was a fantastic event that provided a needed forum for commerce professionals in New York to get to know each other, talk shop, and learn new strategies. We’re looking forward to hosting an even bigger event again next year – and hope to see you there!