If this year's digital marketing strategy looks the same as it did four or five years ago, you're likely missing out on new tools and techniques that have made their way into the modern marketer’s arsenal.
While the core mission of digital marketing remains the same as it always was, changes in how we interact with online content have prompted marketers to find new ways to accomplish their goals.
Advancements in social media advertising technology, for example, enable marketers to cut through the noise to deliver information directly to their target––accelerating traditionally slow inbound campaigns.
Chatbots can be used to make customer service more efficient and personalized, as well as qualify leads.
Tools like these are complemented by strategies that borrow ideas from traditional concepts––like account-based marketing––to make smarter use of marketing budgets by bringing focus to each action you take.
As I explain below, however, you don't have to radically change what you're doing to refresh your marketing strategy in 2020. Even small tweaks can make a measurable impact.
Here are six ideas for improving your digital marketing strategy this year:
1. “Pillarize” your top performing content
The concept of a “pillar page” has been around for a few years now. You’ve probably seen them around: ungated, in-depth pages about a particular topic that connect to many specific, related pages.
There are a few reasons pillar pages are popular among content marketers:
1. It gives order to chaotic blog feeds
The traditional blog feed isn’t ideal when you’re looking for an easy way to browse everything published on a given topic. Pillars solve this problem by centering around the root of a topic, then breaking it down into its subtopics in logical succession on one page.
The pillar page offers a summary of each subtopic with links to your blog posts for those who want to wade into the weeds where they choose.
2. It reflects changes in the way Google ranks search results
For years, Google has been tuning the dials on its search algorithm to better anticipate our intent when we search for stuff. This is called “semantic” search since Google is trying to connect semantic cues (associations between the words we use) to anticipate a searcher’s intent.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, here’s a more long-winded albeit well-stated explanation from Moz:
“Semantic search seeks to improve search accuracy by understanding a searcher’s intent through contextual meaning. Through concept matching, synonyms, and natural language algorithms, semantic search provides more interactive search results through transforming structured and unstructured data into an intuitive and responsive database. Semantic search brings about an enhanced understanding of searcher intent, the ability to extract answers, and delivers more personalized results.”
The article I pulled this from is one of the best resources for those who want to dive in and learn more about what semantic search is and how it works. Check that out here. Here's another article that's a little older but still gives a great explanation.
3. It enables you to see content gaps you might otherwise miss
Simply organizing your content into a cluster of subtopics surrounding a root topic can help you realize what you haven’t covered that may be relevant to your audience. This can be especially helpful for those who’ve been blogging for a while and are struggling to fill out their content calendar with compelling ideas.
So how do pillar pages fit into SEO?
A good pillar page's linking structure helps the search engine understand the relationship between different pages on a website, helping both your pillar page, and the pages it links to rank better in search results for a broader set of search terms.
As a result of their popularity, best practices have emerged surrounding the creation and optimization of pillar pages.
How to build a pillar page
Step 1: Identify your top performing blog posts
Consider what general topic(s) each of your blog posts falls under. Depending on your site navigation, your posts may already be organized by subject using tags like “IT management” or “international law.”
Create a pillar page for whichever topic attracts the most interest. Your goal is to find a topic that your persona would use to Google information that relates to your brand or product.
Let’s say one of your top performing posts is about measures you can take to secure your IT infrastructure to prevent hacking. You find that several other posts about security measures for businesses are popular. In this case, you may want to create a pillar page about cyber security for businesses.
It’s best to pick a topic that is too broad for a blog post, but not so general that it can’t be summarized in a few thousand words. A pillar page is an overview that links to specific, in-depth pieces.
Step 2: Identify your audience
Understanding your audience is the key to effective communication. Identify the types of people who read your most popular blog posts. Ask yourself:
This can help you put together a buyer persona, which is a fictional representation of your ideal buyer. HubSpot has a free tool you can use to gather this information into a single profile.
Knowing your audience will help you pick more relevant subtopics.
Step 3: Decide which subtopics to cover
Brainstorm and research relevant subtopics and identify which ones interest your audience the most. These will make up the subsections of your pillar page. You can go about this a few different ways:
Make a list of blog posts on your site that cover subtopics. You can link to each one from the pillar page.
Brainstorm common subtopics you think your persona would find helpful, especially if they answer FAQs about the topic.
Look at Google’s autofill drop-down menu. You may find relevant subtopics there, or similar searches that can lead you to more subtopics.
Look at the related searches at the bottom of the results page for more ideas.
Try Googling your pillar page topic, and see what other writers cover in their content. Backlinko’s Skyscraper Method is a great way to learn from your competitors and make content that is even better.
Scroll past any ads on the search result page (which are labelled “ad”) and take a look at the top five or so organic (unpaid) search results for your topic. Ask yourself:
What does this page do well? Maybe it has thorough content, nice images, and strong organization.
What does this page do poorly? Maybe it has outdated design, text that is difficult to read, or feels like a brochure.
What subtopics do they cover? Maybe they cover passwords and security certificates. You may want to as well.
What don’t they cover? Maybe they don’t talk about the importance of updates.
What subjects could be covered in more depth? Cover the same subjects more thoroughly.
Step 4: Drafting
Now that you’ve done your research, come up with an outline. You’ll need:
A strong introduction that establishes your authority on the topic.
A definition of the topic.
A quick overview for readers who are not familiar with it.
An outline of your subtopics with anchor links (links that jump to a different part of the same page). Anchor links can appear in the text itself, or in sidebar navigation. This gives readers the opportunity to skip to whichever section is most useful.
Overviews of each of your subtopics
Use a clear, nested hierarchy of headlines and sub-headlines. There should be only one H1 headline (the title), followed by H2, H3, and H4 sub-headlines at the top of each section and subsection. This helps readers scan your content easier, and Google understand how your page is organized.
Clearly written, concise content that uses simple words.
Links in the overviews to relevant blog posts on your site.
Links to helpful resources and sources (who aren’t your competitors) on other sites.
A conclusion with a clear CTA
Sum up the ground you covered and leave readers with some key takeaways.
End with a call to action that pushes your reader forward on their buyer's journey. For example, if your pillar page is for awareness-stage prospects (most of them are), send them to consideration-stage content.
Editing and design
Before you release your pillar page into the world, be sure to run it past a skilled editor. This can help you catch any structural or flow issues, subtopics that need further development, or brand voice inconsistencies.
After you’ve revised your page, get a designer involved. Look for opportunities to illustrate your point with relevant screenshots, photos, videos, illustrations, or other visual elements. The designer can make sure your pillar page looks professional, attractive, on-brand, and is easy for visitors to read.
Finally, don’t forget to ask a team member or freelancer to copy-edit your pillar page. A typo or spelling mistake could undermine your team’s hard work by making your business look careless.
2. Tweak your website for better conversion rates
If your list of most-trafficked blog posts isn’t identical to your list of blog posts that result in the most conversions, you’re probably missing opportunities to capture leads due to misaligned next actions.
Here’s what to do.
Provide a single, clear call-to-action
Note the posts that should be generating more conversions based on the relative traffic they receive. Then, optimize them one-by-one. First, check to see if your post funnels readers toward a single, clear call-to-action. Add a CTA if you don’t have one.
If your page has multiple CTAs of equal weight, pick the one that matches the blog topic the best and leads the reader forward in their buyer's journey.
Note: it can also be good to have in-text CTAs for relevant offers. These are links that lead to a useful resource or offer that is directly relevant to something you are discussing. They may be subtle links dropped into the flow of your writing, or more direct calls of action.
An in-text CTA can also be more direct.
In this case, the in-text CTA is set off on its own line, and the entire sentence is anchor text. However, the font is the same size and style as the text, so it calls less attention to itself than the main CTA.
If this call to action advice sounds contradictory, let’s put it in context.
Let’s say you’re a landscaper writing about the best hardy perennials for shady yards. You want readers to finish your post and click on your offer for a free consultation at the bottom of the page. That’s your primary CTA.
Your primary CTA should:
Be a logical next step after reading your post
Guide readers further down the buyer’s journey
In general, you don’t want to confuse readers with multiple CTAs that look equally important, because they won’t know what to click on. As a result, choose one CTA that sticks out and provides a logical next action for readers to take.
Let’s say that in the same blog post you explain how different plants like different amounts of sun, moisture, and soil types, so you link to a page on your website about the types of landscapes you install. That’s an in-text CTA.
You can think of this as a supplementary CTA. It’s helpful to the reader and is so subtle that it doesn’t compete with your primary CTA at the end.
In-text CTAs should:
Not distract the reader from the primary CTA
Be directly relevant to the topic you are discussing
Be helpful to the reader
These sorts of CTAs act as asides that help the reader obtain more information if they want it, and potentially score you more leads with the opportunity to convert on an offer on the linked page once the reader has learned more about the topic.
Identify and fix CTA issues
Too many websites plaster the same offer across every page. This is not an effective strategy, because the CTA is generally irrelevant to a large portion of the audience.
For example, if the CTA on every page of a business’s website is “contact us” this is only interesting to decision-stage (low funnel) buyers. Plus, if your content has nothing to do with your offer, your CTA doesn’t provide a clear next action that makes sense.
Take a look at your primary CTA, and ask yourself:
Does this CTA lead the reader further down the buyer’s journey?
No > Replace it with a CTA that leads the reader to the next stage of the buyer’s journey. For example, if your post is for someone at the consideration stage (mid-funnel), send them to decision stage (low-funnel) content.
You may find it helpful to make a spreadsheet of all your content and web pages, and identify which buyer’s journey stage each one targets.
Then, list all your offers and which buyer’s journey stage each one targets. For example, a free trial of your software would probably be a better fit for a lead who is closer to making a purchasing decision than a first-time visitor to your website.
Finally, make sure the CTA on each of your web pages leads to an offer providing a logical next step that takes readers one stage further down the buyer’s journey.
Is the CTA relevant to the reader?
No > Replace it with a CTA that directly relates to the topic of the post or even picks up where the post left off. For example, if your post is about setting up a rain barrel system, but your CTA links to “How to create your own compost,” that CTA may not interest your prospect. Instead, link to a page where they can buy your rain barrel system.
Is the CTA annoying?
It may be annoying to the prospect if it: 1) implies that the reader is stupid for not buying your product, 2) is interruptive, or 3) forces the reader to convert or leave the site. In this case, the CTA might appear in a pop-up with no “x” button, or force the reader to take a next action regardless of whether they click “yes” or “no.”
Is the CTA worn-out?
Your CTA may have lost its appeal if the design is outdated, or it’s been re-used on many different pages. If the design is old, give it a modern facelift. If it’s been re-used too many times, replace it with a new CTA.
Sometimes, a poor user experience is the culprit. If you find that your CTA is airtight. Ask yourself:
Does the page take longer than 3 seconds to load? Most visitors leave a site if the page won’t load within a few seconds.
Are there other interruptive elements in the text or design that could be annoying the reader?
Add a dose of social proof
Social proof, or the “audience effect,” is the tendency for people to conform to the actions of others when they can assume those actions are good actions.
In other words, people are compelled to do things they see other people doing and enjoying. This third-party validation can be a very powerful motivator for site visitors and only requires a strong, resonant testimonial. Consider where you can add social proof to your marketing assets to drive conversions.
3. Supplement inbound marketing with account-based marketing (ABM)
Account-based marketing is a whole approach to marketing onto itself, but it can also be used to supplement and accelerate inbound marketing. If you’re new to ABM, it’s an approach to marketing that targets the accounts of particularly qualified prospects.
This approach presents qualified prospects with offers that appeal to their specific needs and wants, rather than targeting a broad audience of potential customers who may or may not be good fits.
A hybrid inbound/ABM approach can be especially useful for B2Bs with long, complex buyer’s journeys that need to engage multiple decision-makers within an account. It’s also helpful for companies that appeal to a select niche of clients, or to a niche subgroup within a broader group of potential buyers.
The idea is to personalize your marketing strategy to nurture each of those people on their own, treating the account as a discrete campaign.
Since this can take a lot of work, it’s best to start with just a couple of “dream accounts” your sales team can highlight. Put together a free analysis or eGuide addressing a specific problem or challenge for the account and reach out to garner a personal connection with key contacts.
From there, you can use remarketing or a more personal outreach strategy to nudge decision-makers at your targeted accounts forward on their buyer’s journeys and track which pages and content they’re engaging with to inform each action you take––especially as you get closer to closing.
4. Add a chatbot to your website
One of the more exciting recent trends has been the rise of chatbots. These are AI programs that interact with humans using messages on websites, within messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, through personal assistants like Alexa, and more.
Chatbots are useful for many things, including promoting content, collecting contact information, facilitating sales conversations, and answering visitor’s FAQ questions. Sometimes, potential customers are more willing to give a chatbot information than submit a form.
For example, if a bot can be programmed to ask a customer questions that reveal their buyer’s journey stage, or other questions that might appear on a survey, such as whether they practice account-based marketing, such as in the example at the beginning of this section.
Bots can also ask visitors to fill out forms, provide the contact information of an employee who can help them, or suggest content for them to view.
Some chatbots require a programmer to install them on your website properly, while other companies offer template-style chatbots that do not require you to be an expert coder.
There are many website chatbot platforms to choose from, but a few options are:
If you want to learn more about chatbots, check out this guide by Drift.
5. Satisfy Google’s BERT and Core updates
When it comes to SEO, the bottom line is: how do you satisfy the searcher? Google’s latest major algorithm updates, including BERT in late 2019 and Core in 2020, have further refined Google search results.
BERT improved Google’s ability to guess what searchers want based on context and how the addition of different words changes the meaning of a search query.
The Core updates helped improve Google’s ability to evaluate the quality of content.
If your pages have been affected by these updates and dropped in search rank, perform an audit of your content to make sure you’re doing everything you can to give the searcher what they want. Here are three ways to do that.
Follow Google’s advice for quality content
According to Google, you should review your content and ask if it
Provides new, original, compelling information
Covers your chosen topic thoroughly
Serves as a valuable resource to the searcher
Is trustworthy and accurate
Displays expertise and cites sources
Has been copy edited for errors
Doesn’t disrupt the reader’s experience with too many ads
Looks great and performs well on a mobile device
Is better than other content about this topic
Feels like it was written for a human, not a search engine
Create content that gives straight answers
Check to see if you have content designed to answer potential customer’s questions. For example, if you know of certain FAQ questions customers ask about your business, products, or services, do you have content that answers them?
An FAQ question that requires a more detailed answer could be the perfect topic for a short but informative blog post.
Longer content, such as pillar pages or white papers, are useful for answering broad questions, or multiple questions about a particular topic.
However, prospects looking for a quick answer to a specific question may be delighted by short but sweet content like blog posts tailored to their needs.
Reputation, integrity, and honesty are essential ingredients for good content. Just like you wouldn’t recommend a restaurant with a dirty kitchen, Google doesn’t like to rank content by an unreputable source near the top of results. As a result, SEO experts talk about the importance of E-A-T for your website’s search rank.
While EAT is not an algorithmic ranking factor, it can affect your search rank. Human quality controllers at Google assign eat scores to double check that search engine results are providing the best information.
These days, Google evaluates the EAT of both the website and the writer who created the content. EAT stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
EAT for the website:
Expertise: Does this website have a deep knowledge of this topic?
Authoritativeness: is the website an authority on this topic?
Trustworthiness: is this website trustworthy?
EAT for the content writer:
Expertise: is the writer of the content an expert on the topic?
Authoritativeness: is the writer a known authority on the topic?
Trustworthiness: is the writer a trustworthy source of information?
Many factors can contribute to a website’s EAT.
One of the most important things to know before writing about a topic is whether it might be a YMYL subject. This is a topic that has a significant impact on a person’s well-being.
EAT weighs particularly heavily into ranking for these topics, because incorrect information could have major consequences on a person’s life. Google’s search quality evaluator guidelines list these broad categories as containing YMYL topics:
News and current events (includes topics like politics, science, and technology. Note that entertainment, sports, and lifestyle stories are not considered YMYL).
Civics, government, and law
Health and safety
Groups of people (information about groups of people, such as minorities)
Other (anything that an evaluator decides requires additional accuracy)
Here’s a post by SEJ with tips for improving your EAT score.
Searchers want the information they seek immediately in a thorough, high-quality, trustworthy package with a good user experience.
If you provide this, you’ll satisfy many of the SEO content best practices.
6. Accelerate your inbound campaigns through targeted social ads
If you haven’t experimented with social ads yet, this should definitely be your year. Facebook and LinkedIn have incredibly strong ad platforms that let you push the fast forward button at every stage of your funnel by targeting a precise audience with relatively un-intrusive sponsored posts that appear in the newsfeed.
LinkedIn ads may be particularly helpful for placing your best converting content in front of a high-funnel B2B audience.
While LinkedIn is an obvious match for a professional audience, Facebook might feel like a strange fit. The numbers might surprise you. The median amount of time spent on Facebook by business decision makers each day was 74% higher than other people on the platform as of 2017.
What’s more, the stigma of Facebook being a poor fit for B2B might work to the advantage of those that go against the grain. A study by Hotwire Global found that 1 in 4 respondents cite Facebook as their preferred social media platform when seeking information on a purchasing decision, ranking it ahead of LinkedIn and Twitter. The report also found that almost a third of marketers do not plan to use Facebook in their own B2B marketing, leaving a huge gap for those that take advantage of it.
Facebook ads have the added benefit of the lowest cost per click among other social networks and still has a massive breadth of data to help B2B marketers reach the right people.
For those planning their first social ad campaign, try using the basic targeting options that lend themselves particularly well to B2B:
Industry: Find users who work in or have browsing habits that align with your industry
Interest: Target people based on what they have expressed interest on while they’re online
Business Size: Target people on LinkedIn most likely to need your B2B product or services based on their business size
Job Titles and/or Seniority: Using job titles or seniority on LinkedIn can put your ad in front of a person with the power to buy or those who influence decision makers
You can also track your Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn ad leads by integrating your campaigns into HubSpot. This syncs your lead information with HubSpot’s CRM tools. You can then view more audience information, such as which contacts interacted with which ads, and identify the ads that are generating the most leads.
You can also use HubSpot to generate ad campaigns, create forms for capturing lead information, and retarget ads.
HubSpot has two targeting options that are especially useful for B2Bs:
Lookalike audiences: this feature allows you to serve ads to a new audience that is similar to an existing one. For example, if you have an audience that targets a particular persona, you can create an audience of new potential customers that have a lot in common with the original audience. We’ve had good results from lookalike campaigns for several of our B2B clients.
Visitors to particular pages: you can create an audience that includes only the people who visited particular page(s) on your website. For example, you can create an audience of just visitors to your “contact us” page, who may be more likely to be at the decision or consideration stage of their buyer’s journey.
For tips on how to update your website for 2020, download our free SEO guide.