Monthly Archives: February 2014

50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals – Part 3

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series 50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals

Website content strategy for professionals

In the 1st two parts of this series we learned to look at content marketing from the clients’ view and how to write in the shoes of your client. Now we begin to look at how we take our content beyond the boundaries of a professional firm’s website.

Strategy Fifteen – Tie content to social media

Create social media accounts to distribute your content. I’m not a huge fan of Facebook for professionals, though of course it is popular with some firms: FB makes changes to its terns of service, and anything it else it can change, too often to be a consistent business tool (e.g. timelines. newsfeed, privacy settings); there are better photo sharing options; the difference and boundaries between “friends” and “clients” is confusing etc.

I certainly like Twitter as a distribution arm, and at times LinkedIn as a means to publicize your work and have a virtual online CV that is almost universally used by other professionals. Make sure you brand these accounts. Get a Google+ profile to claim authorship for each blog post – to learn how to do this, the famed internet guru Guy Kawasaki has a very cheap guide: “What The Plus”.

But what is the dominant partner in this exercise, social media or a content strategy that encompasses social media? In some respect, the social media that supports your content is the “showing up” part of the deal. But what do you do once you are standing on the platform at Social Media Central? At that point you must have content that is already strategized to the medium – that answers vital questions such as what niche market and pain points does it address; does it suit the social media platform and its audience; most important, is it interesting to that audience?

These are all strategic questions. So what comes first? Content created to the parameters of an excellent strategy, that’s what comes first.

Strategy Sixteen – Consider guest posts

Professionals tend to do very little of this, which is a pity. It benefits not only search rankings, but depending on where you guest post, it also helps boost your reputation. To be successful you should target relevant blogs and write a better article than you would for your own website or blog.

At the beginning of 2014 there was an enormous online fracas about this. Google stalwart engineer Mat Cutts wrote:

Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.

This caused an online hurricane of opinion. Google’s new policy was in part a reaction to the proliferation of low quality guest posts that are (crudely) designed to do little more than obtain links to elevate search-engine rankings. There is still a place for high quality guest posts (written by you for another website or accepted by you for your firm website) – but it must be relevant, accurate, preferably by an expert in the field and not merely calculated to improve search rankings. In fact Cutts later qualified his initial bald statement:

There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there. I changed the title of this post to make it more clear that I’m talking about guest blogging for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.

So you should look to contribute to high quality sites that will increase your exposure. Similarly, don’t accept a guest blog from another professional unless you know the writer is credible and the article is well written and factually correct.

It works the other way, too. All professionals have networks. Friends, colleagues (and perhaps enemies) who may be flattered to be asked to provide content for your site. Just be certain you have provided detailed guidelines that address some of the following: the length required, the type of content you require with reference to the needs of your clients (“your expertise in multi-generational estate planning would be useful to our clients in multi-generational businesses”), proper attributions (plagiarism is easily checked by authors on the internet), whether they are entitled to link back to their own websites, the need to avoid blatant self-promotion (obviously you are happy for them to include their professional credentials and website), the structure (headings, bullet points) etc.

Strategy Seventeen – Curate content

Content curation is the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme. (Beth Kanter)

This is a service you can undertake for your clients if you want to be the “go to” professional for an issue relevant to them. Curation, as the name suggests, is the collection and dissemination of selective content that educates the reader and makes it clear that you are well versed in the topic. There are programs like Curata that  assists in this process. There are also destination sites like SCOOP.IT that aggregate your content curation.

Curation can also be as simple as a Twitter account that publishes links to important content (and your own, of course), where you encourage users to follow you and add your account to their Twitter Lists. Ideally each has an added comment by you (“This is really useful if you have a personal injury claim”). 

However, you need to be careful if you have a dedicated page on your website that merely creates links to articles on other sites, because Google shuns duplicate content. Also ask yourself if there is enough content to justify the effort. Aggregation tools like Feedly make the process a lot easier.

Strategy Eighteen – Have a comments policy

Service professionals – lawyers, accountants, retirement fund providers and advisors, insurance and finance professionals – have legitimate anxieties about online interaction with clients and prospective clients.

The sorts of PR embellishments that are taken for granted in some service industries – guarantees of service, claims about results and more – are imprudent for many professionals. The regulation of legal, accounting and finance professionals by government and member associations is stringent. As a professional, you cannot assert an expertise you do not have, nor can you raise expectations you cannot fulfill. You have at all times an overriding duty of care to your clients.

If you want to build an online community, then the solicitation of clients’ or prospective clients’ comments to your website (e.g. a comments section at the end of a blog post) is a valid strategy. If, on the other hand, your goal is to provide a place for clients and potential clients to have a window into your firm’s culture and expertise, then it’s worth rethinking a comments strategy.

Comments will not build a professional online content strategy. That can only be done with ongoing content provision, which you have to develop. Since the aim of your content marketing strategy is to get potential clients to pick up the phone to book a free first interview, or ask a question that initiates an interaction, you do not need to develop that relationship online. Instead the best use of your website is to prepare the ground for a one on one communication.

Moreover, a professional firm’s website comments section requires rigorous moderation. Every professional understands the opportunity for defamation and inappropriateness with regard to sensitive professional issues, especially if the comments reveal private information. If you are prepared to undertake these tasks with the energy and seriousness they deserve, then still have a good think about it first, and get some advice. Make sure you know what you are doing.

This is not to say that a “comments and interaction” strategy is misplaced, it is more to question the orthodoxy that comments should always be encouraged from our online visitors. Remember, we are running a professional business, not a discussion forum. Think about your goals and priorities. Some firms allocate these tasks to a “junior” staff member – if that’s your plan, then you clearly don’t see much strategic value in the comments. And be very wary of how that staff member interacts without supervision.

Strategy Nineteen – Have a call-to-action

Have you provided a call-to-action for clients and prospective clients? Have you given them a reason (and means) to reach out to your firm? Is every piece of information on your website designed to create an invitation to further action by a client or prospective client? Have you defined the goal for each item of information and what you want it to achieve?

The call-to-action should be a clear statement that tells the reader what to do, most often at the end of a content piece. For instance, if you have written a blog post about investment strategies in a recession, the last line might be an invitation to read an eBook on your website that deals with investment strategies in general and further highlights your firm’s expertise – “Do you want to learn more about this? Check out our…” Or it might be, “if you are interested in learning more about the best investment strategies for your retirement fund, contact our office for a free first interview”.

Always spell out the next action you want the reader to take, and don’t be shy about it (they don’t expect you to be). This is the biggest problem that professionals have in this regard, they just don’t have a call-to-action in their content . Rather than see it as a “hard sell”, which is anathema to the culture of some professionals, it should be rightly viewed as an unambiguous direction, written in clear, active and direct language, for prospective clients to take the next logical step.

Remember, it’s not strategic if it’s not strategic. You can write beautiful copy, lovely sentences, perfect syntax, wonderfully inventive long-tail keywords – whatever, it will count for nothing if the client or prospective client does not take some action. That’s why it’s strategic content. And to do this you must know who they are, the messages they will be prepared to incorporate, the actions they will be prepared to take.

This is the precise reason that professionals should only rely on content  providers who are well versed in the culture of their professions. A lawyer can write content for an insurance agent because they both live in the world of the professional-client relationship. If you outsource your content  provision – and I don’t think it’s a good idea unless you are prepared to hire someone from your profession – then make sure they understand your strategy.

So what is the ONE step that you want clients or prospective clients to take immediately after they finish reading? Be explicit about it.

Strategy Twenty – Hook the reader fast

This is a hard one for professionals. Apart from client emergencies, we prefer a clear-headed, reasoned and considered response to clients’ enquiries. Moreover, the question and answer interview format is our preferred forum for these interactions. Unfortunately this is at odds with the consciousness of the internet and its readership. This is not to say that professionals should alter their real world strategies, but it’s horses for courses, and in the cyber world the reader is always in a hurry, and unless quickly hooked will soon be on their way. Usability guru Jakob Nielsen captures this:

…the first 10 seconds of the page visit are critical for users’ decision to stay or leave. The probability of leaving is very high during these first few seconds because users are extremely skeptical, having suffered countless poorly designed web pages in the past…

Website builders and designer Newfangled COO Christopher Butler conducted an interesting test using Nielsen’s formula. These are the questions he focused on for a ten second reader:

  • What was this page about?
  • Did anything in particular — words, images, colors, shapes — stand out to you?
  • Was your general impression positive or negative? Why?
  • Would you continue reading this page?
  • If you had to find this page again using a search tool, what would you search for?

Remember, all readers scan. Yes, you think your words are jewels to be appreciated in the ample time they deserve – forget it. Like it or not, if you are going to write online, you must write for the predominant cultural norms. That means using sub-headings; lists; bullet points; short paragraphs; link to quality content.

There is also the issue of first sentences. Humorist David Sedaris is a master of this – how’s this for a killer hook? “My sister Lisa became a woman on the fourteenth hole of the Pinehurst golf course.” Of course it’s provocative, and not analogous to a professional interaction, but it has all the elements of a good hook.

How about the following:

  • “There are some things clients tell you that are not easily forgotten.”
  • “I am so glad I paused before I clicked the ‘send’ button, the consequences would have been unthinkable.”
  • “There are the ten things you should know to stop your business partner ruining your life.”
  • “You just took all your business onto the cloud and you hate every minute of it.”
  • “Would you know if the securities commission was about to march through the reception area and into your office?”
  • “If you read this article I guarantee you’ll get a Will within the next five business days.”
  • “Being a great parent takes time, effort, dedication, unconditional love, commitment, respect, responsibility, long-term planning, intuition, courage and consistency – that’s why there are so many lousy parents out there, and why the partners of those lousy parents seek our advice.”

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50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals – Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series 50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals

Media puzzle

In the 1st part of this series we learned to look at content marketing from the clients’ perspective, how to write in the shoes of your client. Now we look further into the way you create a unique space for your content.

Strategy Eight – Tell a story

Do you want to adopt a content marketing campaign that will really impact with clients and prospective clients? Then look to a communication strategy that has been paying dividends since you were born. Tell a story, the same way your parents did whilst you sat eagerly on your bed, straining to hear every word they read. You loved these stories because they had a beginning, a middle and an end. There were heroes and villains. It had a narrative. It made sense, or helped you make sense of your own world. You may not think this is suitable business strategy, but it’s precisely the best way to explain who you are, what you do, and what you can achieve for your clients.

Clients love a story. In fact, as every professional knows, it is the way most clients explain their problems. What does a client tell a family lawyer in the first interview? It will inevitably be a story about the breakup of their relationship, not their immediate legal needs. Why does this happen? Because telling a story allows them to convey to a stranger a sense of their experience. We all want competent advice, but we also want the adviser to be empathetic. And the client usually does not understand their immediate needs, that’s the job of the professional. Telling their story is often the only way they know to establish the parameters of the problem. First they must introduce you to their world, especially if their experience is painful.

It’s not just clients or prospective clients, we all love stories – we love a narrative. Why? What were our ancestors doing when they gazed at fires in the African Savannah 130,000 years ago? They were telling stories. The delight we have in stories, and the ability to explain otherwise complicated issues by using stories, is hardwired into our brains.

Stories connect your clients to your firm on a personal level – the right story creates empathy. The right story can help prospective clients identify with your firm, not in the cynical manner of advertising, but because you have taken the trouble to reach out and uniquely explain yourself in a way your competitors cannot replicate. Either they don’t know how, or more likely they believe it’s not “professional”. While they elucidate the minutiae of retirement funding, you have made the same point by telling the story about one of your clients who used a managed fund to take their dream trip around Australia in a vintage Airstream caravan. How did they achieve this? By taking your excellent investment advice, that’s how. Your prospective clients will have their own dreams to fulfill, what matters to them is whether you can help them do it.

The heart of plain English content marketing is its authenticity. That’s why consumers have now become, and will become increasingly so, conditioned to reject the conventions of overt marketing. This is good news for professionals who can tell a story. When online, consumers adopt a different psyche than their passive radio or television counterparts, and instead identify with the “social” aspect of the media, which is unmistakably interactive compared to earlier technologies. For mature professionals, who well understand the value of effective communication, this is an opportunity to leverage already honed skills.

We love stories that have a message, and that message can certainly be commercial in nature. When she was little, my daughter used to write stories, wonderfully descriptive, but they were just events followed by more events. One day I said to her, “in a story something can happen that changes everything and that’s why the word ‘suddenly’ is such a great word”. Off she went and returned a few hours later holding her newest creation. In this story she enjoyed a walk, bought an ice cream, went to the park, played a game with friends, then headed home. On the way home there were people in the street and SUDDENLY they turned into aliens. She had accomplished the one thing we want to achieve with any story, even in a professional context, because now I was hooked. I wanted to know what happened next.

We thrive on rich imagery – words are always better when they create an image.  If you are a lawyer describing a Will, don’t assume your readers have in mind the same document you do. Instead of describing a will as a “document that deals with your estate”, try to give it some colour:

Why do you need a will? Imagine your family are grieving, they are confused and anxious about the future. The last thing they need is to have those anxieties exacerbated by your failure to leave a Will. One of your legacies can be to take care of their needs, even when you are not there to make your presence felt in a physical sense.

That’s a story that invokes imagery. Your client or prospective clients read this and see their own family, with faces and needs to match. That’s what they care about, not a dry description of a legal document.

Remember, intellectual understanding is overrated. You will explain most professional concepts a lot better with metaphors and analogies than any jargon that you believe, wrongly, demonstrates your professional expertise.

Strategy Nine – Show don’t tell

If you can examine something with your senses, it’s concrete. A V8 engine is concrete. ‘High-performance’ is abstract. Most of the time, concreteness boils down to specific people doing specific things. (Chip and Dan Heath)

This is a follow-on strategy from telling your story. Don’t tell clients that the service offered by your firm is “proven to get results”. That’s abstract. Instead describe its content and let them draw their own conclusions. “Our customised Powers of Attorney allow you to undertake a myriad of substitute decision making. This might be the purchase of property when you are overseas. Or it can allow you to make appropriate arrangements with banks that enable a trusted person to operate your account. Or it will mean that your financial affairs are always supervised by the person you choose – not a court – if you are unable to make reasonable financial decision for yourself because of illness or injury. No matter what you require, we can tailor a customized Power of Attorney that suits your personal needs and special circumstances.”

In this example the client or prospective client hears in rich imaginative terms what you can achieve for them, and then fills in the blanks with their own circumstances. That’s called “marketing”.

Strategy Ten – Create a buy-in

The idea of content marketing has always gone hand in hand with professional practice, but it’s online variant, and the attendant culture that underpins it, are unfamiliar to many professionals. It will fail if the firm’s stakeholders do not get on board, though obviously this will be a greater imperative the larger your firm. This does not mean that every professional in the firm must contribute to the production of online content, but there must be a general agreement that the appropriate resources should be allocated to the effort.

This can be achieved by a thorough analysis of the business case for content  marketing.

Strategy Eleven – Repurpose your content

Content marketing is labour intensive. This is especially so for the Home Page, FAQ, About Us and similar pages, because they are generally static (the content does not change much over time). But the ongoing content  production – primarily a blog, articles, newsletters etc – takes a continuing effort. Luckily there is plenty of scope to reuse that content.

It’s best to proactively choose a subject that lends itself to repurposing, but in many cases this can be achieved in retrospect. Let’s start with a blog post about flood insurance by an insurance broker. It will require a good deal of research: statistics; client stories; legislative provisions; a viewpoint that motivates clients to act; the effects of underinsurance; costs of flood reclamation and rebuilding; a strategy for clients to be properly insured; what should be included in a property inventory to make a proper claim; copywriting and SEO etc.

What else can be done with this content written for the blog post?

  • A number of blog posts can be the basis for an eBook, especially a free guide that creates added value for email subscribers
  • Combined with other blog content, it can be used as the text for a presentation or SlideShare
  • Create an infographic to visually present the data
  • Turn it into the script for a video or  podcast
  • A summary (or the whole blog) in a newsletter
  • A webinar – yes, this is a little more ambitious, but easily doable with basic technology
  • Speaking engagements. Many do not consider public speaking as a content  strategy, but of course it is
  • Create a link to the post on your Twitter account
  • Use the post to spread your message on Social Media

Strategy Twelve – Create a niche

Content marketing is by it’s nature a perfect fit for a niche target. As a professional you have a wonderful opportunity to carve out a niche that is your own and hard to replicate by competitors. Can you be perceived as a thought leader in your profession or amongst clients and prospective clients? Where is your greatest expertise? How narrow can you target the content  and still reach a profitable client segment?

“Thought leadership” may sound a little bigheaded, and beyond your reach, but all it means it that you are able to:

  • write authoritative content that is not ghost-written
  • create at least a blog a week
  • publish some long-form content  e.g. an eBook or White Paper (these can be edited collections of the blog posts on one topic)
  • ideally have some public exposure, an article in an industry publication or have spoken at a conference.

Strategy Thirteen – Have A Regular Content  Schedule

Like a resolution made with bravado as the minute hand marches to midnight on New Year’s Eve, we all have the best intention to regularly feed the content  beast. Well, not so fast, buster!

The general advice seems to be to get an Editorial Calendar – a piece of software or a WordPress plugin that creates a schedule of blog posts with a drag and drop program. This is especially helpful if you have a number of authors writing the blog. It’s a neat use of technology, but if you are looking to do only one or two posts a week, it is easy enough to rely on that archaic piece of technology, a list.

Here’s what I do. I have a Word file (any word processing program will do) that has headings of topics I want to cover in my blog. When I get an idea, or more often when I read an article that looks like it might provoke a blog post, I include it under an appropriate heading. When I’m done with that idea I simply delete it from the document. No fancy programs, just a means to ensure that I always take note of anything useful I read.

It doesn’t matter how frequently you choose to write. Some people can support a daily cadence. Others can only commit to an update once a week. Whatever you select, be sure that you are consistent and that your audience is aware of how often you’ll be creating new content. (Scott Monty)

As far as the regular writing schedule is concerned, here’s my tip. Set a pace that is manageable, let’s say a 700 words article once a week, and then do it.

Strategy Fourteen – Give away an information product

You can decide to offer a free “gift” to readers as part of a strategy to gain subscribers, perhaps using a landing page and appropriate call-to-action, or just as an obligation free giveaway. This is an especially attractive strategy for professionals, who are essentially information providers.

There’s a tension between what is offered for free and what should be held back as proprietary information, but in general you will benefit greatly from information that is given with a sense of generosity. There is no doubt that information giveaways, usually an eBook or White Paper, will work their karma. Clients are reassured, sometimes grateful, often impressed and generally more trusting. Remember, it is always possible to repurpose previously published content to create a free information product giveaway.

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50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals – Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series 50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals

Where we will go in this strategy series

There are dozens of books (and multiples more articles) on marketing strategies for every size and sector of the commercial universe. Well and good, but a successful online content marketing strategy must be matched to specific strategic objectives. This is moreso for service professionals – lawyers, accountants and all superannuation, insurance and finance professionals – who must balance the specific needs of clients for whom they also maintain a duty of care.

If you read widely about content marketing, it is soon clear that there are a multitude of views, in fact too many, often glaringly at odds with each other. Service professionals find this hard to comprehend because inconsistency is death in the world of professional relationships with clients. What we want is certitude, for ourselves in dealing with regulatory authorities, and for the advice we are able to offer our clients. But in the online world, a diversity of views is more easily explained and sometimes welcomed. Despite the desire of some to see online content marketing as an analytical tool, it is in fact essentially a creative enterprise. In reality the commentaries of “experts” should be more productively viewed as “creative suggestions”, and that is also true for search engine optimisation (SEO), whose practitioners often claim a more scientific approach.

The 50 strategies presented here, by a fellow mature professional, are certainly worth consideration, but always with an eye to the specific needs of your firm. If you are certain of your firm’s marketing goals, and understand the needs of your clients or prospective clients, you are already well ahead of most professionals in the strategy stakes.

Strategy One – Know your clients’ pain points

What is the essence of a good friendship? Shared views or political ideologies? The same religious outlook? Philosophical agreement? A particular genre of movies? Of course not. As anyone with brains and a heart knows, it is the extent of your ability to step into the shoes of another that defines a really successful friendship. In other words, empathy.

This may no longer be true for a younger generation raised in the age of social media, in which relationships (of sorts) can in fact be conducted in a virtual world where shoes do not exist. It does however illustrate the same problems and opportunities you face if you want to successfully communicate with clients and prospective clients on your firm’s website. One thing is for certain, no matter what strategy you adopt, you must offer useful information for your clients and prospective clients. Otherwise your website content  is no more than an online brochure, and sadly for you that is no longer an acceptable online presence.

For service professionals, the ability to comprehend a client’s pain point is the greatest strategic advantage. This requires a professional knowledge of the issues that beset clients and prospective clients – legal, financial, bureaucratic, regulatory, emotional or whatever – and your expertise as the agent to alleviate those issues. Clients often express those concerns in terms of frustrated goals – what are your clients’ goals, and what can you do to help them achieve them?

So as a first step, ask yourself honestly, “do I really understand the goals of my clients, and can I properly articulate them?”

Many psychologists and biologists ascribe all human behaviour to the evolutionary imperative to avoid pain and maintain pleasure. So what are your clients’ pain points? What do they want to achieve when faced with a problem? In what ways can you help them avoid problems or prepare for the future? Is there an overarching aim that characterises your clients’ needs? Do you understand a client archetype? Have you developed a shorthand that quickly deciphers those needs because the client fits one of those archetypes?

For instance, at times it is clear that the client has a straightforward goal – perhaps they want assistance to make their business more successful. That may appear to be a one-dimensional goal, but all professionals understand that it will encompass a larger and more complex set of aspirations. That’s why all professionals learn to recognise the signs of a hidden client agenda. Once you read those covert signs – words like “hope’, “wish”, “family”, “respect”, “need”, “future” – you can readily adjust your advice to meet those goals.

The same is true for your website content. In what ways can you meet the spectrum of needs of your client base? One of the advantages of website content is it’s ability to meet multiple client needs, often achieved with open-ended questions. This works because it mimics the essence of a good client interview, and competent professionals have those techniques ingrained by years of everyday client interaction. Some basic strategies of web content marketing will help you translate that accumulated knowledge to your website content.

Strategy Two – Speak your client’s language

Do your clients say, “I need to invest in a managed fund to ensure a lower risk but substantive return strategised by a professional and pooled with like-minded investors?” Is that the way they talk? Of course not. What they tell you is “I’m wondering about a managed fund as a safe investment that suits my needs”.  Given those needs, which they will articulate in response to your expert questions, you will be able to tell them the short and long term prospects for the investment; the tax implications; the cash flow required to support the investment; the merits relatives to other investments; the opportunity costs. And much more.

This all coalesces into one essential strategy – do you speak your client’s language? Are you able to convey this understanding in the information on your website? Can you communicate in a way that allows them to believe, without the benefit of a face to face meeting, that you are on their side? Will they come away from your website with a belief that a first interview is likely to be a worthwhile investment of their time and energy?

Strategy Three – Know who is not your client

Professionals who venture into website content marketing often aim too wide. This is understandable. You have a lot to say, you want to tell everyone about your wonderful firm, you want to demonstrate the breadth of your expertise. There is a place for some of this, and that’s the About Us profile page of your website. Content marketing for professionals is about the client, not you – that’s why it’s called “marketing”, but you’re not marketing to yourself! Content marketing is most successful when it is targeted to the needs of your client base, not the world at large. Not everyone is a potential client, nor should they be if you want to get the attention of the ones who might take that step through the front door of your office.

Strategy Four – Create an effective website

A cursory look around the web is enough to know that many smaller professional firms have inadequate websites, or have been fooled into a belief that the only workable website is going to cost them far more than they are prepared to spend. In part the business case for content marketing and a reasonable spend on web design must be explained to reluctant participants, but they must also understand that bigger is not always (in fact very often not) better.

Clients want information that is clearly presented to showcases the expertise of the firm, written in plain English. They rarely interact with a website as a “consumer”, at least not in the same manner as a retail customer. Clients and prospective clients are far less likely to be impressed by whizz-bang technology, flash animations and image dominated interfaces, in fact they may instead wonder why their fees are being used for such silliness. What they want is:

  • A well written and informative “About Us” page
  • Comprehensive contact information
  • Lots of up-to-date information
  • A well written FAQ page that answers and anticipates client queries
  • Ongoing information, usually a blog and/or newsletter
  • If possible, a “responsive” theme that is optimised for mobile and loads quickly (very important for mobile users)

These features can be economically fulfilled, in fact it is possible to do it on your own using WordPress.

Strategy Five – Create something new

Of course you don’t want to take a wayward path that sets you on a radically different course than your professional peers, but if all you serve to your clients or prospective clients is the same content recipe as your competitors, you will not achieve much in the way of “marketing”.

The reality in advertising is that no one “needs” anything. Do we really need twenty brands of washing liquid? Do we really need ten versions of the same basic Windows PC? Why is the new model of any product so much more attractive than the original, especially when the improvement is largely cosmetic or marginally better? How important is it to buy a “revised edition” of a book that might only have tweaked a single chapter from the first edition? The answer is “marketing” – and content marketing is what separates your website content from the other service professionals. In the world of content marketing, never underestimate your ability to tell your story in a compelling individualistic manner that grabs the attention of a reader.

Strategy Six – Make the client feel special

We all want self-esteem, and that includes your clients. In this regard professionals need to be careful not to underestimate the intelligence of their clients or prospective clients.

Some professionals have a tendency – although less so over time – to deal with clients from an apparently ascendant position. Mature professionals or older clients can remember a time when the advice of an esteemed professional was sacrosanct. Those days are gone, in fact one of the consequences of the internet age is the democratisation of professional advice. Nowadays clients who access online information will not be patronised. In part the solution is to write in a conversational tone, but it also important to be genuinely interested in a communication between equals. That is the true nature of online client support.

To address any perceived professional-client imbalance, it’s important to have a well constructed FAQ page. This is not just a way to anticipate the objections of prospective clients, but also a means to show that you care about their needs. Mean it – don’t fake it, because it will be obvious and negate your marketing efforts.

Strategy Seven – Have a well-judged opinion

Professionals frequently earn a deserved reputation for blandness. Hopefully that’s not you, so separate yourself from the herd with a viewpoint. You don’t need to set yourself up as a focus of controversy, instead be a decisive voice with a definitive view that is buttressed by your professional experience.

If part of the rationale for effective content marketing is the replication of “word of mouth”, then a well-founded opinion will help this effort. Professionals need to do this with an eye to a red line that should not be crossed.

[Data] shows that controversy increases likelihood of discussion at low levels, but beyond a moderate level of controversy, additional controversy actually decreases likelihood of discussion (Jonah Berger and Zoey Chen).

Where is that red line? It’s certainly productive to create a blog post that questions the stringent rules associated with superannuation investments, but it will hurt your efforts if you extend the argument to the need to protect the wealthiest members of society. That may be your opinion, and even reflect your client base, but it is also a dubious view that may find it’s way beyond your website and into the wider community.

But sometimes it’s productive to undermine a sacred cow. “Why industry superannuation funds are stealing your money” is a reasonable headline if followed by a reasoned explanation in favor of self managed superannuation. This can lead to a discussion of the value of self-determination and highlight your ability to guide clients in that direction.

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Should Professionals Guest Blog?

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What Is Guest Blogging?

The concept is simple – you find a site that accepts articles (blog posts) by guest writers, offer up your work, they publish it, and then you bask in the reflected glory. Anyway, that’s the concept.

As we know, content marketing is the hottest topic in the online world, and “guest-blogging” is currently its favourite child. It has been popularized as a reliable source of links to your own website. Why? Search engines are the judges in a worldwide competition, a beauty contest between the competitor websites. Other websites are also casting votes by way of links. And the more links to your site, the higher its ranking. This is called “link popularity”.

Search engines listen to the opinion of other websites in order to form an opinion about yours. If lots of sites link to your page, that tells the search engine your site is important. So what you want are inbound links, the more the better, though the quality of those links is critically important. When you have an article published on another site, your authorship creates a link back to your own website, for instance “Written by Geoffrey Winn at MatureMedia”. Depending on the rules attached to the home blog of the article, there may also be opportunities to link back to your website in the body of the post.

However, as we will see later in this post, this theory may no longer be as relevant to guest posting if it is only to gain links.

Guest Blogging Spam

Before Google began its “animal” updates, guest blogging was sometimes a source of search engine spam. You found appropriate keywords for your firm, wrote a guest post that emphasised those keywords without regard to their relevance or context to the readers of the target website, and reaped the rewards in extra traffic. Changes to Google have made this a far less attractive proposition.

Nowadays you need to look for opportunities that emphasise relevance (is the target blog relevant to your firm’s business e.g. a superannuation blog that has a similar readership to your clients), quality (is the target blog a high quality site), and opportunity (does the target site get the attention of Google).

Find Guest Blogging Opportunities

So how do you find relevant opportunities for guest blogging? First, use one or all of a series of search phrases (and grammatical variations of each) that relate to guest blogging, e.g:

  • “submit a guest post”
  • “guest post”
  • “we accept guest posts”
  • “write for us”

Combine each of these with keywords that are important to your clients. So, for instance, if you are an accountant and you want to attract retirees for investment advice, you might put some of the following in the Google search box:

  • “superannuation retirement” “submit a guest post”
  • “retirement investment accountant” “guest post”
  • “how to retire” “we accept guest posts”
  • “long term investments” “write for us”

You will get many results. Read some, decide which website you might want to write for (e.g. do you want a site in your city?), and then check their guest blogging guidelines, which can sometimes be onerous. I recently considered a submission to a well trafficked website, but was shocked at the stringent conditions attached to each submission. Although I understand that popular sites must be choosy, at the end of the day it was not worth the effort.

How To Pitch A Guest Blog Post

If not well written, you can be certain the email that pitches your guest blog post will be quickly discarded. So if it is not grammatically correct, reasonably discursive and intelligent, don’t even bother. Make sure your “pitch” has at least the following:

  • Has diligently follow the guest posting guidelines of the website
  • A well thought-out and carefully crafted subject line for the email
  • A very short bio for your firm, including your expertise
  • Share something about their blog and what you like about it
  • Why their readers will be interested in the topic – include a short summary
  • ALL your personal contact details – don’t make them go through a switchboard and leave a message

Latest Google Guidelines About Guest Blogging

Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team (and a really well known SEO commentator to whom everyone listens) had the following to say in January 2014:

Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company… Ultimately, this is why we can’t have nice things in the SEO space: a trend starts out as authentic. Then more and more people pile on until only the barest trace of legitimate behavior remains. We’ve reached the point in the downward spiral where people are hawking “guest post outsourcing” and writing articles about “how to automate guest blogging.”… There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future.

Get it? If you want to guest post to largely gain traffic, the effort is misplaced. As Cutts writes, “I’m talking about guest blogging for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes”. So if you want to write for a blog or website that is respected in your professional field, and you hope to attract some of its readers to your site, than that’s great. And well worth the effort.

According to search optimisation genius Nail Patel, “…if you use it to help build up your brand, referral traffic, and overall sales, it will continue to be a great strategy”.

This is an evolving subject. I’ll keep you posted as this pans out.

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In The News

"Lawyer and plain-English expert Geoffrey Winn wants to set you free to make the legal and financial decisions that will help you take control of your life."

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"Practice Management: How to Get To The Top" by Geoffrey Winn               

Law Institute of Victoria Journal May 2014  

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