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1 October 2014 

9 Things We Learned @Hubspot’s Inbound 2014

David Epstein
9 Things We Learned @Hubspot’s Inbound 2014

We’ve just come back from a trip to Boston where we grew [even] more brain cells by attending Hubspot’s conference for inbound marketers. The conference has featured inspiring speakers such as Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell and Arianna Huffington as well as a number of marketing experts in blogging, digital advertising, SEO and design. We’ve  combed through our notes to share with you some of the  best gems from Inbound ‘14.

1. SEO is About Intent – Not Just Keywords

Danny Sullivan, the editor of Search Engine Land, headed a workshop on how to stay up-to-date with the changing landscape of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Five years ago, a good SEO strategy involved filling a web page with targeted keywords, and cultivating a large list of backlinks. Two years ago, Google penalized pages with overly dense keywords and now with the new Hummingbird algorithm, even backlinks can be penalized if they aren’t of high quality.

So what’s Danny Sullivan’s solution? Simple, just start writing content aimed at answering the intent of a user’s query. Sullivan argues that Google is developing its search engine platform to be able to understand the intent of a users search rather than simply delivering content that matches the keywords of a search. Today, you can use Google Instant to dictate the search “Barack Obama,” next you can ask “How old is he,” and without even entering the keyword “Barack Obama” it’ll inform you that Obama is 53 years old. On top of that, you can ask “How old is his wife” and without ever mentioning Michelle Obama’s name Google search engine will answer that she is 50 years old.

This little example highlights how much Google search algorithm has changed, from being keyword focused to moving toward answering a searcher’s intent.

Our lesson –  you should be focusing on writing awesome content that clearly answers a potential question. Stop harping on the keywords, and start writing helpful content.

2. A/B Testing Makes a Big Difference

A theme across workshops was the need to conduct A/B testing. This form of testing is done to see which of two variations of text or visuals is more effective. Whether it means sending two different emails to a small batch of users before sending the winner to the rest of your mailing list, or experimenting with how you phrase tweets, the way to improve as an online marketer is by running small scale tests.

If your CTR (click through rate) on an email marketing asking people to register for an event is just a few percentage points higher thanks to some A/B testing, that could equal thousands of extra dollars in ticket sales.

Our lesson – don’t trust your gut feeling, trust the numbers. A/B test.

3. The Best Tweets Use a Visual and Provide Context

With an 10,000+ marketers in attendance, Inbound has gotten so big that it’s no surprise the pros of Twitter’s Small Business team gave a talk on tweeting best practices. Head of SMB Marketing @AKMercog, Head of SMB Sales @RussLaraway, and Analyst @DavidK reported that tweets that use an image see engagement rates increase by about 313% on average. Tweets that feature a Vine (a short video) see engagement rates climb by 216% on average.

Keep in mind that users tend to not want to leave the platform, therefore, it’s important to share tweets with links context so that users feel enticed to click. Using a twitter ‘website card’ that previews exactly what a user will see on the other end of the link can boost clicks by 43%.

Our lesson – visualize your tweets.

4. Leaders Eat Last

Keynote speaker, Simon Sinek is a journalist who writes about the psychological mechanisms behind effective leadership. His inspirational talk emphasized the need for leaders to take the first step in order to build a safe and motivating office environment. That means listening to employees, helping them to succeed by sacrificing time, and devoting resources to employees to allow them to grow. In return, your employees will be happier and more motivated to work for you.

Our lesson – leaders need to take the first step to create a healthy work environment.

5. Careful Using Guest Blogging

During his talk on SEO Tactics to Love and to Leave, Rand Fishkin of Moz.com, suggested that guest blogging is a practice that should be done very carefully. He argued that after the Google Penguin update, which penalizes less credible backlinks and link sharing programs, guest blogging programs could actually be damaging to SEO. Specifically, if the content that the guest blogger contributes is low quality or is produced to only improve SEO, you could actually be damaging your Google ranking. Fishkin urged the audience to use guest blogging sparingly and to focus on creating highly valuable pieces of content instead. The occasional guest post from a credible author is a good thing, but the days of relying on guest blogging to boost your SEO ranking are over.

Our lesson – it’s not you, it’s us. Choose good content over random guest blogging opportunities.

6. Be a Picky Adwords User

Founder of WordSteam, Larry Kim gave the only talk on paid marketing at Inbound 2014. The talk focused on how to target high quality leads using Google Adwords.

Since you spend money each time a lead clicks on your ad, why not make sure that the lead is highly qualified and thus has the best chance of converting? Kim suggests that the best strategy to target highly qualified leads is to focus on users who have visited your site before. That means using retargeting ads! Those [lovably ;)] annoying ads that follow you around the web actually see conversion rates improve as their number of impressions increase. Don’t be afraid to aggressively use retargeting ads that refer back to the content the visitor viewed on your site.

Our lesson – don’t be afraid to use retargeting ads as they’re highly effective.

7. Always Ask for Feedback

Hiteh Shah, an entrepreneur and founder of KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg, is a numbers guy, and as such suggests that compiling data from visitors is the best way to optimize your website. Whenever someone is about to click away from the pricing page on KISSmetrics, a screen pops up asking “Is there anything preventing you from making a purchase at this time?” This site uses user feedback to better improve overall experience.

Shah suggests using a pop-up screen to better understand what users are thinking and what they want. Take the insights gleaned from the quick survey to better optimize your website. Similarly, Shah suggests sending a follow up email to users who’ve consumed your content to see how they liked it, if they considered sharing it, and how the content could be better.  If you want to get fancy with it, this can be called the Net Promoter Score which is a rating that determines how likely it is for a user to recommend your product/service/content!

Our lesson – the only way you can improve is by collecting feedback, so go for it!

8. Personalization Will Get You Far (And boy, will make people like you!)

Gone are the days when you can shoot out mass emails that all look identical (as appealingly simple as it may be…).  If you want to even be a blip on your target audience’s radar, you need to send them messages that are tailored to their needs and are relevant to their life. Lead nurturing pro, MK Getler, emphasized that this means using visitors’ data to segment your audience to avoid sending out one-size-fits-all emails.  Engage with contacts via email and social and be human. Have a personality, address them by name, and if you have a funny bone in your body, use it!

Our lesson – use data to send segmented personalized emails

9. In an Increasingly Data-Driven World, Creativity Still Has its Place

In a riveting discussion led by ZipCar Creative Director, Brendan Stephens and ZipCar Senior Director of Community, Millie Park, they touched on the importance of listening to the data. But emphasised that marketers must still stay true to their brand. Creativity and data don’t need to be at odds; they can actually come together to make something more powerful than has existed before (like this). The key is to find out where data intersects with your audiences’ lives, while also keeping creative open mindedness a part of your work.

Our lesson – while data is important, don’t ignore the human aspect of marketing

The overall takeaway from Inbound ‘14 is that marketers should be trying to serve their target audience. The era of shouting at people with flashy ads are over.. Instead, the best way to grab someone’s attention online is by creating wonderfully good content, and then using the huge array of metrics out there to figure out what your audience really wants.

While you’re learning all of these markeitng insights, why not inject a little insparation into your day by taking a look at the Top 5 Ted Talks for Event Marketers.

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