It’s that time of year again. Well, it was last week … but what can I say? In between all the turkey and gravy, it’s been tough to focus on ‘year end’ lists. But, I wanted to share some of the great content I’ve been reading this past year. In amongst the usual ’100 ways to rank number 1 in google’, and ‘grow your website audience by 10,000%’ articles, there’s been a lot of good stuff. So, let’s get started – I’ve split the list into 5 categories …

Content Marketing

The Advanced Guide to Content Marketing

Without doubt, the number one, flat-out, left everything else for dead, article that I’ve read on Content Marketing this year was Neil Patel’s definitive guide: ‘The Advanced Guide to Content Marketing’. It’s awesome. It’s long. It’s comprehensive. Neil has produced a few guides over the past year – each in the 50,000+ word range, which really makes them books rather than blog posts, but hell, we’ll take it. If you ever wondered what it takes to succeed online – you need to be checking out Neil’s work.

[content marketing] is a strategy of producing and publishing information that builds trust and authority among your ideal customers. It is a way to build relationships and community, so people feel loyal to you and your brand. It is a strategy for becoming recognized as a thought leader in your industry. It is a way to drive sales without traditional “hard sell” tactics. – Neil Patel’s Advanced Guide to Content Marketing

7 Content Marketing Tips: Your Audience Attention Cheat Sheet

Jeff Bullas is author of the book ‘Blogging The Smart Way’ and his blog covers a range of blogging / marketing topics – including content marketing. There’s been a ton of good stuff this year, but this one really stuck out for me. A guest post written by Pratik Dholakiya, it focuses on 7 great tips and tactics for content generation. A lot of people – myself included – can get distracted by the minutiae of content marketing when these tips and, if we implemented on a regular basis would get far greater results. I defy anyone to read through this and not end up with a renewed focus on what really works.


Exciting Content Marketing in a Boring Industry

There were a few articles on this topic this year (and one slideshow that got a lot of coverage) but this was the first I saw (back in January!) and really provided some in depth detail on what you can do to achieve good content marketing results if you work in an industry that isn’t, perhaps, as ‘Buzzfeedable’ as some others! If they can produce an effective content marketing plan for an insurance company, then there’s hope for us all!

The Future of Content Marketing

Could also feature as an example in effective headline writing … but this post from KissMetrics gives some excellent insight into the direction Content Marketing is currently taking. It’s a guest post from Mauro D’Andrea and looks at how content marketing is becoming (somewhat conflictingly) both heavier (longer posts, ebooks) as well as more visual (infographics, video).

5 Ways Ecommerce Sites Are Killing It With Content Marketing

This one won’t have registered much on other year end lists I’m sure, but I really liked it. Ecommerce sites present some unique opportunities for content marketers – video demo’s, quirky FAQ’s, photo led content, etc. and this article neatly sums them up and points you in the right direction. (Plus, it’s the only blog post this year where I’ve learnt how many hair cuts a woman can choose from in North Korea. It’s 18.)

Need more reasons for creating content …

creating valuable free content creates trust, builds your brand, keeps people informed, gives you something to share on social media and helps you rank in search engines. – Emma Siemasko

Search Engine Optimisation

How To Rank – 25 Step Master Blue Print

In the same way that the Content Marketing section of this list simply had to start with Neil Patel, the SEO section has to start with, and there was no finer content on that site this year than Cyrus Shepherd’s How To Rank. Comprehensive, easy to understand, and just so damned useful, it’s become my go-to article when talking to clients about the basic steps they need to take to get their website ranked in search engines. It’s gold, and if you haven’t read it – run, don’t walk.

(other notable, great SEO content from Moz this year: ’96 Quick SEO Wins: What Can You Do With An Hour’, and their always comprehensive ‘2013 Search Engine Ranking Factors

How To Rank

The Short Cutts

If you want to get picky, this isn’t really an article … but file it under ‘straight from the horses mouth’. Matt Cutts is the head of Google’s Web Spam team and a regular video blogger about all things Google. This great site has collected every video Matt has produced and arranged them in the form of specific answers to specific questions. Brilliant.

101 Lessons Learned from 5 Years of SEO

Brian Dean works over at Backlinko and blogs about some great and innovative SEO strategies (if you’ve not read his Moving Man strategy – you should. It didn’t make this list because it’s quite specialist, and probably a step beyond most website owners). He put together this list of 101 lessons learned in his time working in SEO. 5 years is a long time – and his experience is great. 5 years of common sense, ‘nail on the head’ advice, right here.

Links have formed the foundation of Google’s algorithm since Day 1 — 15 years — and billions of dollars of revenue — later, they still do. Despite its flaws, the link-based algorithm flat out works and they’re unlikely to change it anytime soon. Brian Dean

How To Grow a New Website to Over 100,000 Organic Visits Per Month

It’s tempting to look at blog post titles like that and be put off. It’s tempting to think ‘well, on that sort of scale, this doesn’t apply to me. I only really need a fraction of that traffic, and don’t have the budget to really grow. There’s probably not much to learn here.’ But you’d be wrong – dead wrong. But stick with it – this is a fascinating case study that does apply to you, I promise. And made all the more interesting because it was for a foreign language project, using a non-roman alphabet (Japanese) which meant that a lot of the SEO tools you read about online simply wouldn’t work.  A great study in how to grow website traffic.

How I grew traffic to 10,000 visitors

The Most Creative Link Building Post Ever

Okay, so, a definite trend in blogger content strategy this past year was the ‘ask a whole bunch of experts one question, and build up a great resource of answers on your website’. It’s good for bloggers, good for readers, and hell, everyone loves a list, right? So, when Jon Cooper over at Point Blank SEO did that with a bunch of SEO experts – asking them for their most creative strategies for link building, the response was immense. What a great list. You’ve got Glen Allsopp, Nick Eubanks (author of the 100,000 post above), Dan Petrovic … and a whole ton more. Epic content, great tips for link building.

The Persona Driven Keyword Research Process

Keyword research is pretty dull, let’s be honest. But it remains the foundation for all successful SEO projects. However, the process is evolving – and as a small business owner, it’s simply not enough to have a list of terms you’d like to rank for. The approach advocated here goes beyond even classifying your keywords into groups such as navigational, transactional, informational, and so on – but instead goes further by incorporating audience profiles (here developed through audience surveys / research) and matching them to the specific keyword classifications. Exhaustive? Yes. Comprehensive? Yes. For most small business owners, it’s probably too much information – but what it does is brilliant, and it demonstrates the complexity of what sounds like such a simple task. Check it out.

Building SEO-Focused Pages to Serve Topics & People Rather than Keywords & Rankings

And finally for SEO – another post … this time a great video from their Whiteboard Friday series. Really, it’s a user-friendly take on some of the information covered in the post above. A great look at how search is evolving – how Google is getting smarter at determining what you want from your search, and how we as website owners need to react to that. This involves creating content, pages, site sections that are SEO focused around topics and people (audiences) rather than keywords. Makes sense. The old saw is that you build websites for people, not search bots – but people did (do) still build for google rather than their audience … this video explains how Google is getting wiser to that, and what we need to do about it.

Google is getting better and better at determining what’s relevant to you and what you’re looking for. This can actually help our work in SEO, as it means we don’t have to focus quite so intently on specific keywords – Rand Fishkin

Email Marketing

Email marketing has been a little over looked in 2013, I feel. But it shouldn’t be; more powerful for making direct connections than social media – and more trackable – it has a lot to offer when done right. These articles really summed it up for me this year:

41 Tips that Put Over 10,000 People on My Email Subscriber List

Ramsay Taplin has over 10,000 people on his email subscriber list. That’s a lot – enough to build a great, profitable business with. As the title suggests, he uses this article to share over 40 tips on how he got there. Some of it falls in the ‘obvious but often overlooked’ category (e.g. ‘you need a strategy’), but all of it is useful and goes to illustrate that these techniques are not beyond us – we can all do this; it takes time, it takes a strong strategy, it takes a lot of follow through – but it’s not something we should be intimidated by. It’s achievable – and it’s been neatly laid out by Ramsay.

A fast blog can make a huge difference. Speed matters not only for Google rankings but also for conversions. This study showed that for every second your blog takes to load you lose a massive amount of conversions. Figure out how to make your blog faster – it might mean a new host, a cache or some tricky coding fun – RamsAy Taplin

How Gmail Tabs Affect Your Email Marketing

One of the biggest changes to the email marketing landscape this year was to how Gmail categorises your email inbox. Many many businesses and individuals use Gmail as their default mail provider – so any change they implement is bound to have big implications for marketers (and there are more coming). The biggest change this year was that Gmail now automatically filters user email into ‘tabs’ – by default, you have a ‘primary’, ‘social’, ‘promotional’ and ‘updates’ tab. Now, as a marketer, our email is likely to get shifted by default into the promotional tab, meaning it is likely to get dealt with by the recipient in a much different way to email in the primary tab. As a gmail user, I found this quite useful. As a marketer – it’s, well, it’s a challenge. MailChimp covered their initial findings and reaction to it here, but provided a great update with some tips to help open rates following shortly after.

Gmail Tabs effect on open rates

8 Effective Email Strategies Backed By Research

The folks over at Buffer run a tip top blog. I use their social sharing tools – which are excellent – but I arguably get as much value from the content they produce themselves. This article is excellent – including great advice on long vs. short form emails (short better for opens, long better for clickthroughs), optimum time to send an email (I bet nobody had ‘8pm to midnight’), and how to personalise without the ubiquitous ‘Dear David …’ approach. Nice, concise but full of information – it’s a great read.

Obama Email Marketing - great success with short subject lines

Short subjects came in vogue with the success of President Barack Obama’s email fundraising. He saw incredible engagement with subjects like “Hey” and “Wow.” – Kevan Lee

Email Marketing is Changing – The Rise of Mobile and Triggered Emails

This great info graphic from KissMetrics neatly showed how email is changing. The two biggest drivers being the move to mobile and triggered emails – emails that are sent out as a response to a specific action from a user (be that a purchase, a signup, a download – whatever). The neatest takeaway for me from the infographic below is that whilst open rates on desktop email have fallen by 18%, open rates on mobile have risen by 40%.

Email Marketing is Changing
Source: Email Marketing is Changing

Blogging for Business

This year, it seemed that many small businesses woke up to the possibilities of blogging – no matter what industry you’re in. The benefits are immediate and obvious – from the tangible (a regularly increasing volume of fresh content will inevitably help to increase traffic) to the less so (employees writing about their business is a great way for internal knowledge sharing), blogging should be a cornerstone of your business – and these articles help show why (and how):

9 Hard-Hitting Content Strategies for Small Business Blogging

It was hard to keep Neil Patel (Quicksprout, Kissmetrics) out of this list … his article on content strategies for small businesses was again superb. From defining your objectives, researching your market, developing an editorial calendar and a checklist to ensure your content is suitably great, this article had it all. No surprise then from perhaps the premier blogger in this space. Run, don’t walk.

The Simple Guide to Business Blogging

The clue’s in the title. This simple guide is just that – it’s a great example of a landing page that’s also a comprehensive resource page. A great strategy for marketers in general (create a page that pulls together a dozen or so articles relevant to your audience, and link to them in an innovative way), this is a good guide to the ins and outs of business blogging sourced from a variety of different websites. Yes, strictly speaking, it’s several articles – not one … but the value is hard to argue with. Check it out.

Blogging Tips from the Pros

Another collection of tips from industry experts. It’s good stuff – and specifically targeted at business owners. Tips include ‘treat each of your articles as a product’ – which I really like. If you create something – whether it’s a widget or a blog post, it needs promoting, nurturing, delivering to market, managing through it’s life-cycle, etc. A blog post – or any piece of content – is a product, and should be treated as such. The article also deals with issues such as developing your blogging voice, guest blogging, and whether you should even call your blog a blog! As it says, it’s tips from the pros – we can all learn here.

A product is only useful if you know others want it. Validate an idea for a blog post in the same way. For example, before posting an article, we tweeted a question about whether anyone was interested in learning more about multitasking. The outcome? They sure were, and the post was a big hit – Leo Widrich, Buffer

32 Experts Share Their Blog Post Promotion Tips

Brilliant. This is a great list of what to do once you’ve created your perfect piece of content. There’s no point slaving away at a 3000 word blog post if nobody’s going to read it. As mentioned in the article above, your blog post is a product and needs to be promoted … so, here’s what 32 experts suggest you do about it. There’s not one dud in this list – not one piece of advice that is off the mark, superfluous or unnecessary. It’s blog post promotion gold – and you should read it now! (I particularly like number 3: ‘Target content topics for the people you want to promote them’ – which sums up blog writing, content creation and post promotion in 11 words) from Carol Tice.

Blog Promotion tips from 32 experts

Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ … where to start with social media? Well, the answer: somewhere. No longer a luxury, your business, your brand, needs to be on social media somewhere. Start with the network most of your customers are on and expand from there. These articles will help you refine your message and get the most out of your networks:

7 Social Media Marketing Trends That Will Dominate 2014

I loved this article for a couple of reasons – firstly, it recognised the increasing importance of Google+ as a significant player for businesses involved in social media, but also because it stressed the importance of not just ‘being there’ on social media, but of being an active participant. We’re moving away from how business can ‘do’ social, and starting to understand how businesses can ‘be’ social instead. This is a good introduction to the things you should be thinking about in 2014.

How To Sell on Facebook

For many, the ‘problem’ with social media is that they cannot see a direct link between what they do on the networks and bottom line revenue for their business. They need tangibles. This great article from Jon Loomer details exactly how to bridge that gap and start using Facebook as an effective revenue channel for your business. It’s in-depth and contains a ton of ‘Facebook power-users’ information that it’s worth getting to grips with.

guide on how to sell on facebook with Jon Loomer

Social Media Strategy in 8 Steps

How do you get started in social media? Well, you’re going to need a strategy and here, Jay Baer (author of Youtility – the blog post that became a book) breaks it down into 8 (really) simple steps for you. Check it out.

How To Find More Content Ideas Than You’ll Ever Be Able To Create

Of course, one of the challenges of ‘being everywhere’ is having something to say. You need a plan to consistently generate new content. You need to read this post. Yes, it’s hard work – and involves a lot of research, but nothing worth doing online doesn’t. You’ve got to put in the hard yards to answer questions like: “What questions is no one in your industry willing to answer?”, “What do you believe will happen in the future that other people consider impossible or unlikely?” … in answering these questions, you’ll be closer to developing a content cycle that will sustain your social media (and other marketing) efforts for a long time to come yet.

Don’t be afraid that adopting a strong controversial stance will make you look stupid. You don’t even always have to be right. In fact, being bold and occasionally wrong wins you a lot more attention than being boring and always right – Peter Shallard

Why It Might Be Time to Ditch Your Facebook Strategy

This crept into 2014, but covered an issue I first became aware of towards the last quarter of 2013. Essentially, the amount of engagement with Facebook posts decreased significantly as Facebook changed their policy on business pages – basically saying, you’ve gotta pay to play. Distressing stuff for those of us getting to grips with the ins and outs of Facebook marketing. But fear not – acknowledge the changes and make them work better for you. This article gives you some useful pointers on how.

So, that’s my round up of the last 12 months of great marketing insight. But … you’ll have read more too – what were your favourites? what did I miss? are any of the above duds?! Let me know below, or hit me up on twitter with your suggestions.