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Onto the first rung...

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Onto the first rung...

Update your blog! The voice in my head shouts about once a month. And as you can see from the post below it's been much more than 30 days since anything's been added - contrary to the nagging voice.

The reason?

I've finally made it onto the housing ladder and bought my first flat.

Even with my organisation skills I still underestimated the task of dealing with solicitors, banks and furniture stores, but I'm there. I'm in and almost sorted.

Where have I moved? 

Teignmouth. A dramatic 3 miles away from my previous residence in Dawlish. It's like Dawlish, but more seasidey and less prone to dramatic sea wall collapses.

Anything else that's changed?

Not really. I'm still working in Exeter, still blogging and generally doing everything else I did previously. I do now get to be involved in proper adult conversations about mortgage rates and bin collections. I imagine the novelty will wear off on this pretty quickly.

Why the hell are you telling us this?

Because throughout the process, the same voice that keeps reminding me to blog also keeps wondering why the process of moving is so stuck in its ways. So, here's two loosely based marketing things which if you're:

  • A) A Solicitor
  • B) Someone whose services or products could be sold to first time buyers...

You should really read on.

So Solicitors.

Often the bane of people's lives, without gloating the solicitors I picked actually turned out to be surprisingly efficient, friendly and useful. But finding them was a complete shot in the dark.

As I've not been in this part of the world for long, I literally went through the first set of results in Google to find solicitors. The quotes I got for conveyancing were so similar that they had to be ruled out by other means which included:

Trying to obtain quotes on a Saturday. This ruled 6 of them out automatically as phoning them led to an automatic answer phone. 

Lesson 1:  I'm busy. The weekend is when I can get the most of my moving done. So, if you're not available on a Saturday, you're not getting my business.

Trying to obtain quotes on weekday lunchtimes. They were all out at lunch. That meant they were crossed off the list. 

Lesson 2: I get it - even solicitors need to eat. But if your clients only have lunch breaks to phone you then putting your answer phone on doesn't make communication easy. Ruled out.

The next solicitor’s website didn't even make it clear that they even did conveyancing.

Lesson 3: Make it super, super clear the services you offer. Ideally a page a service. I don't have the time to rifle through pages of copy to see what you may or may not do.

The next solicitor didn't clearly list their location

Lesson 4: Make sure you make it super clear where you're based and how I can reach you. Ironically, working in Exeter meant it was actually easier to use a solicitor up there rather than Dawlish or Teignmouth because I couldn't reach others in their opening hours.

Lesson 5: Finally, mention that you’re friendly and professional. Now I know that they're buzzwords. Anyone could write them on any site. But expanding on this with a decent 'About Us' section finally sealed the deal. And that's how I decided on my solicitor.

First Time Buyer Mortgages

Next on the list is mortgage providers, who again did a pretty decent job at getting everything sorted.

I even got this awesome welcome pack from Halifax when I arrived. It had wine, crisps, picture hooks and a screwdriver set. Whoever works in the marketing department - hats off to you. You got me through some very hungry moments.

Alongside the eating, I've had a serious amount of buying to do. It's probably been the most amount of money I've ever spent in a 2 week period. I've needed everything. Beds, crockery, lightbulbs and a bucket. You name it I've probably bought it.

But if I was a retailer, I'd be trying to get in front of these people, yet there weren't any 'first time buyer' discounts. I'd assume this was because they simply didn't know. But if you know there's a customer out there, who needs what you sell and everything that might accompany it (bed, mattress, pillows, duvet sets for example) then why would you not want to tap into that.

Lesson: I don't have one, but if you can get in front of people at key stages in their life with relevant products and services its worth spending some time trying to target these people.

The voice in my head is also aware of all the other things I need to catch up on, so I'm in the process of drawing up posts on recent trips to BrightonSEO and DigitalExeter, both of which deserve some attention.

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Referral Spam: How to Block It

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Referral Spam: How to Block It

Today we're going to talk about spam. Unfortunately not the rather tasty food staple, or even email spam, but referral traffic spam.

The stuff that's probably going to be blighting your Google Analytics account.

So, here's an explanation of what it is, and three steps that I've been doing to block it from my sites.

What is referral spam?

It's traffic from bots and spiders created by unscrupulous websites. It visits your site like any annoying neighbour who'll never leave you alone. Constantly knocking on the door until you answer. And referral spam does it over and over again. Thousands of times until you finally search online for the blasted name of the referral source and you're redirected to some shitty site selling some shitty product. That's their game to bring in traffic by frustrating Google Analytics users on an international scale.

How do you know if you have referral spam?

Experienced a massive spike in traffic recently? Hopefully it's down to some effective marketing, but if there's no apparent reason for it, check your traffic sources in Google Analytics. You can do this by logging into Google Analytics and on the left hand side navigate to:

Acquisition > All Traffic > Source Medium

You'll then see a list of your referral sources and if there's websites in there that look dodgy then they probably are. So far, I've clocked over 30 different referral sites.

If you're unsure if a site is spammy then just Google the name of the site followed by the word 'spam' and you'll probably see other people having the same problem. 

Why it's so rubbish for businesses

Simply put, if you use Google Analytics regularly you'll be aware of what's going on. That total traffic figure isn't genuine. But there are plenty of other people in most businesses who also have access to the account - and more often than not, they're not aware. So, for any form of reporting there going to be seeing figures which artificially inflates your overall 'success' online.

With some websites I've seen some accounts report no more than a few visits from spam sites. Others have been making up over 50% of their total figures. That's thousands of visits. Google appears to the aware of the problem, but solutions aren't yet forthcoming. 

So how to block referral spam

Step 1: Start blocking bots

  • In Google Analytics, go to the Admin section
  • Click 'View Settings' in the far right column
  • Scroll down the page so a section marked 'bot filtering'
  • Click the box ' Exclude all hits from known bots or spiders'

Based on the swarm of spammy sites hitting websites, it doesn't seem to help that much. But it's better to have it ticked than un-ticked.

Step 2: Set up Filtering

Setting up filters in Google Analytics allows the software to filter out traffic from any domain name, IP of if needed country that you choose. I set this up for each new spammy referral site that comes about. 

To do this;

  • In Google Analytics go to 'Admin'
  • Click on 'Filters' in the far right column
  • Click 'New Filter' (the big red button)
  • On the new page add a Filter Name
  • Click 'Custom' on the filter type.
  • Choose 'Referral' from the 'Select Field' dropdown
  • Under 'Filter Pattern' Add the domain name of the spammy referral site you want to filter out.
  • Click Save.

Repeat this process for however many referral sites you want to block out. 

Now the problem with this is that applying a filter will only stop new visits being recorded from the time you press save. It doesn't do anything for the visits which have already been recorded. 

So, to see a more accurate traffic figure we're going to need to set up and apply a segment. 

STEP 3: Setting up and applying a Spammy Referral Traffic Segment

  • Head to the 'Visit Overview' screen (the main screen you'll probably see once you log into with your traffic in it)
  • Click 'Add Segment' (in the top right)
  • Click 'New Segment' big red button
  • Give you segment a name in the 'Segment Name' field. Something like 'spammy referral traffic' will do. 
  • Go down to 'Conditions' from the list of options on the left hand side.
  • On this screen you'll see three options: Filter - Sessions - Include. 
  • Change the word 'Include' to 'Exclude'
  • Beneath it they'll be a button saying 'Ad Group'. 
  • Change this to 'Source'
  • Don't change the word 'Contains'
  • Add your domain into the box to the right of this.
  • If this is your only website you want to remove from your data. Click Save.
  • If you want to add more than one website. Click the 'OR' button and repeat the process.
  • Then click save

Then when it comes to measuring your traffic, head back to the 'Add Segment' button and choose the segment you've just set up. By applying this will then give you an accurate, non-spammy reading of your total traffic. However, as more and more referral sites seem to emerge your filters and segments will need to updated accordingly.

In the meantime hopefully Google will be able to come up with a more full proof way to block this sort of traffic.

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Historiography - A Ramble

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Historiography - A Ramble

The picture that you see above is a painting of the Danish attack at Battle of Dybbøl, part of the Second Schleswig War between Denmark, Prussia and Austria in 1864, painted by Vilhelm Rosenstand.

It is a painting, a battle - indeed a war which until about two weeks ago I knew absolutely nothing about. And it's only been in thanks to the masterful series '1864' which has been shown on the last few weekends on BBC4 that I've learnt of it. (If you want to watch it, and you seriously should - it's amazing, then the (Danish) trailer is here):

Now I consider myself to know hopefully a thing or two about history having done it for my degree. But this, to my embarrassment this has passed me by. And it got me thinking about something which in the trade is known as historiography-

Historiography -

"The study of the way history has been and is written – the history of historical writing" - Furay and Salevouris

To me historiography means the study of what is remembered, what is forgotten and how things are re-remembered. What's is genuinely fascinating about studying history is how events which on the surface seem frozen into place are actually take on a fluid appearance as the decades roll on by. The First World War was originally the study of the generals, the battlefronts, of poetry. Now, it is the history of the people. Every family from up and down the country sharing their memories of their loved ones, creating a dense tapestry of thousands of intertwined stories. Why the change?

Here's the ramble...

So, why is the Schleswig wars never mentioned? Why is the First World War all the more important at a centenary and not as important either before or after that point? Why is the British Second World War always mentioned? (On another note why is it's Britain's war, and not the British Empire?)

Why is Second World War remembered so frequently when the wars of Korea, the Falklands or the Gulf that also had saw Britain play an integral role so infrequently mentioned? 

I don't have the deciding answers to these questions but it does provide an incredible insight into what is and isn't remembered when you can start to remember the stuff that isn't remembered.

And in the future?

However, with the sheer scale of the web, more and more people are able to access information, share memories and record the world around them at such an unprecedented rate how we remember everything is becoming ever more impressive and complicated. Would a historian in the future be able to get a greater insight into 2015 by reading our tweets? Or would it just give a narrow opinion a step away from the wider majority? What if everything online wasn't accessible - would there be a huge void in understanding the world in which we lived.

As I say in the title, this is a ramble. But something which I hope to re-visit when I've spent some more time thinking about it. 

If you can offer any advice, suggestions about why history is understood the way it is in 2015 then add your comments below.

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Marketing & Fitness Instructing

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Marketing & Fitness Instructing

They say a change is as good as a rest. So, for the last few weeks I’ve been going my Level 2 Fitness Instructor qualification – like you do.

So what did I learn? It had a lot to do with goal setting, learning and seeing things from a different perspective. I enrolled on the intensive course with Performance Training Ltd in Exeter and have been so glad I did. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now.

What the course covered –

Well, dust off your GCSE biology books because the first part involved plenty of learning about the muscular and skeletal systems, the functions of the heart, energy systems, joints, ligaments and so on. Unfortunately the childhood song of ‘your knee bone’s connected to your…’ which floated around my head failed to help (For reference your knee bone – your patella, is connected to your femer, tibia and fibia).

The second part was focussed on creating exercise plans and demonstrating to a new gym user how they can effectively and safely use a range of gym equipment. On the face of it a rowing machine is a rower right? Suddenly when you have to explain how to use something you’ve used hundreds of times suddenly becomes incredibly difficult as with a combination of perfect form and an explanation of the key benefits of using said equipment you can find yourself getting lounge tied.

However, what I can’t say loudly enough is how fun and interesting both me and the others on the course found it. It's refreshing to learn something so detached from the day job, to understand (and appreciate) how incredible the human body is and how exercise is so vital to a healthy and happy lifestyle.

So, the FITNESS marketing bit

There's always things that can be learnt from one industry and applied to another. So here's what I picked up that I'm going to try and use in marketing - 

1) Explain. Let's take the example of re-using content. Some people call it re-purposing. Some people, shattering. But they all mean the same thing. The same applies to gym training. Calling the same thing by a different name can completely confuse people, so ensure your clients know what on earth you mean before you cite the benefits of re-purposing.

2) Make a Plan. If you want to achieve anything you need a clearly defined path with markers along the way to reach it. That's applies to both exercise and marketing. But the plan shouldn't be so damn rigid that if things aren't working you can't try something else. Build in some flexibility, but don't deviate to far away from your overall objectives.

3) Measure Results. Decide on what you're going to measure and how you're going to measure it fine, but ask yourself why you're measuring it in the first place. People will often only use the number of Facebook fans as a sign of success. But five thousand people which don't engage is meaningless. So from reps and sets to bounce rates and conversions, accurately measure meaningful things to see if you're achieving results.

If you made it down this far and are interested in both marketing AND the fitness industry then click here. 

Image credit to Pete Bellis cc

 

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How far do you go for digital marketing services?

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How far do you go for digital marketing services?

To be honest with you I first started this article back in May of last year and put it to one side as I couldn't come up with an answer. But a few weeks back someone made a commented about a freelancer friend of mine that got me thinking once more...

My Question to you:

If you were to hire someone for an online job (say content marketing, web design or hey even digital marketing) would you actively look for someone local? Or would you hire someone from further afield?

The reason for asking is that time and again businesses seem to opt for those closest to them. But why? There's naturally plusses and minuses but with the power of the internet you literally have a whole planet of talented people and agencies ready to do to your work. So, assuming language and time zones aren't an issue, there isn't any difference if your asking a developer in Bristol or Baltimore to do a job. You could find an agency that is perfectly suited to your needs, or could give you the best price.

So, why is it time and again people opt for the guy down the road?

I imagine it's a case of out of sight, out of mind. People hidden behind a screen lose the human element. It's also because should the worst happen and someone does a runner you don't have to summon the forces of Interpol to track someone down. On the other hand local people know other locals and a personal recommendation from a friend of colleague carries a lot more weight than a webpage from an unknown, untested international agency.

All in all, I have can't come up with an answer for why you should do either. But I'd be really interested to hear what you think.

Have you ever looked at working with a non-local agency or freelancer?

Why did you go with them?

Or why did you avoid them?

What makes having a local business much more appealing?

The doors are open to you. Add your comments below. Just click on the comment box and get typing.

 

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Mobile Search Update - Coming 21/04/2014

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Mobile Search Update - Coming 21/04/2014

If you read my last post about mobile in 2015, you really should.

Why? Not just because I want you to, but Google's taken things a step further since then, and announced a major update to shake up the SEO world coming to a website near you on the Tuesday 21st April 2015.

As of this date Google will be expanding their use of mobile friendliness as a ranking signal. In their own words this is going to have a "significant impact in our search results". You can read the full announcement here.

Why the mobile update is so significant:

One this is damn important - Google very rarely make announcements about changes to their ranking algorithms. Normally, it's a few weeks after an update's taken place, so for them to announce this weeks before indicates something big is about to go down.

Secondly, this means that if you don't have a mobile friendly site, you really need to get one up and running fast. If you don't then you've only got  a few weeks to go before the likelihood of anyone finding using a mobile device to find you through organic search, well isn't going to find you. As mentioned in the last post, this might not have much of an impact if your total traffic levels from mobile are 1-2%. But, 30, 40 even 50%. That could mean you lose half the traffic and realistically the level of business you do though your website is set to plummet.

Some Further Reading:

If this is all still new to you and you're madly searching for 'how to make a website mobile friendly' then I suggest you have a read of this article here from Search Engine land on how much traffic you stand to lose with the coming mobile SEO-Pocalypse (their words - not mine).

If you're a little more advanced and know a thing or two about Google Webmaster Tools, Analytics and the like then I'd recommend this article here also from Search Engine Land.

So, act now, or if you've done all you can - sit tight. Either way, we're going to be seeing some interesting things happening come 21st April. 

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Mobile in 2015 - the year your website sink or swims

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Mobile in 2015 - the year your website sink or swims

Since we moved into 2015 the big discussion that's been taking place has been mobile marketing. That and Fifty Shades of Grey and why it terrible on so many levels. But mainly about mobile...

Over the last month WebMaster's across the web have been receiving notifications. And if you're a Webmaster you'll know that receiving a notification is rarely a good thing. This month the warning were to those without 'mobile friendly' websites. You can see the full details here:

In a nutshell it looks if you don't plan on making your website mobile friendly, you stand to lose your rankings on mobile search results in the near future. Just log into Google Webmaster Tools to see if you a message waiting.

So here comes the questions:

Why is this important?

Firstly, it represents a pretty dramatic shift in the way Google delivers search. From now on the results displayed on your phone or tablet will be inherently different from doing the same search on a laptop or desktop computer.

And secondly, it means that if you don't have a mobile website, but want to hang on to your mobile based visitors, it looks like you're going to have to act.

how do i know if my website is mobile friendly?

Chances are you'll know if you've got one as it would've been mentioned when your site was built. 

If you're not sure then just run this test here.

HOW MUCH OF MY CURRENT TRAFFIC IS COMING FROM MOBILE DEVICES ALREADY?

Almost every website I've seen has traffic coming in from people searching on mobile devices. Depending on the industry, I've seen this as low as 2-3% of total traffic, for others well over 50%. To see your total figure just log you'll need to be set up on Google Analytics.

If you're set up log into Audience > Mobile > Overview to see your figure.

Why is a responsive/mobile design needed in the first place?

Ever been on a website on your phone and it just doesn't work as well as it did on a laptop? The buttons might be tiny, or you can't navigate around, or you constantly have to zoom in or out to read a paragraph. Basically, that pisses people off and people leave to look elsewhere. This is normally reflected in your analytics by a higher bounce rate, reduced time on site and reduced pages viewed per session.

Google wants people to have a great user experience and it your site pisses people off then why should you rank when people are searching on mobile? So we have their recent announcement. 

So, a responsive/mobile design has two key advantages:

  • Happier mobile users.  A mobile friendly design means they can find what they want, are less likely to leave and just as likely to do business with you as everyone else.

  • You won't lose out based on Google's latest notification.

How to fix it

The honest answer is commission a new website design, ideally one that is responsive. That way, every screen from the smallest of smartphones to the biggest desktop monitors can clearly see and use your website. Everyone's happy then!

IS THIS JUST ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE FADS?

Occasionally, notifications from Google can send people into a panic (such as the recent announcement about HTTPS as a ranking signal.) But, this one seems like a genuine issue that you should seriously consider.

Finally, it's all about looking ahead. Smart Insights recently put together a fantastic article about mobile marketing stats in 2015, which includes the humbling fact that people accessing the internet on a mobile device overtook those accessing on the internet on a traditional computer for the first time ever. And it's a trend which is continuing as smartwatches, the internet of things and well even smarter smartphones proliferate the market.

So, even aside from Google's latest notification it makes clear sense to have a website that an increasingly large audience can access and use. 

Questions, thoughts or comments? Just add them below...

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My Golden Rules for Content Marketing

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My Golden Rules for Content Marketing

I've been thinking a lot about content marketing recently, probably because I've been reading a lot of content. Some of what I've read is good. Some of it is downright useless, and a lot of it is somewhere in-between the two.

My Thoughts on Producing Awesome Content

There is no point making content for content's sake. Nobody is going to take any pleasure in looking through a website inundated with sub-standard bits of information. Content needs to awesome, or at least the very best that you can make it with the resources available. 

So, behold a list of things that you should be thinking about whenever you create a piece of content.

Stage 1: content Planning

The Who

Who is your audience? Are you targeting your current customers, or a whole new area of people who you haven't previously engaged with? Where do they hang out? What's their style. What do they like or dislike? Do they prefer short and sharp content or long and detailed? Spending the time researching this before you launch is crucial if you want your content to resonate.

The Where

Is your content going to be placed on your own site, or is it being hosted elsewhere, on a seperate blog or social media platform? Regardless, whatever you create needs to be crafted to perfectly align with the style, layout and overall ambience of the site it's placed on.

The What

When you say 'content' to most people they think blog posts but there are so many different types of content you could produce. Consider crafting some cool images, videos, whitepapers, infographics, games, questionnaires, tools, podcasts to name a few. If you can't produce these yourselves then there are a whole bunch of super talented people who it can be outsourced to buy using sites such as odesk and peopleperhour. As more and more businesses are finally understanding the importance of content marketing, the wealth of generic blog posts swelling the net is increasing* so you need to do something to stand out.

*This blog post is not one of them.

The Why

A key question, but what is the ultimate goal of creating the piece of content?  Is it to try and improve brand recognition, increase engagement on social media sites, create sales and revenue, or help to get people further along the sales process? How you answer this will this impact on what you create as it will need to fall into a wider plan of getting people to love you.

The When

What Month. What Day. What Hour is your content going live? It might sound obvious but launching your content at 2am means less people are going to see it (unless your targeting insomniacs). Do your research and plan accordingly to work out when your audience is online and when they're most receptive.

Stage 2) Content Building

So, you've nailed down the kind of thing you want to create and who you want to create it for. Start looking around at fellow competitors and see what they're producing. What could be done better? What have they missed? Is there a new angle on something in your industry which hasn't been discussed.

People want something on value. You want something that can be shared, linked to and loved. Finding something that does both is hard - but not impossible,  so you may have to constantly alter and refine your content to hit that sweet spot of providing something that provides a really great experience for people.

The Headline

Once you've put something together it's time to work on a headline. If you're focussing on picking up traffic via organic search then make sure you stick to the recommended guidelines for meta titles. (if you need a reminder about this have a look at this Moz article). But if you're hoping for a something to be shared widely on social media then the choice is to often focus on a longer more compelling headline. Think Clickbait headlines, but offer genuine value in your content. If you look at the folks at Upworthy 25 different headlines are written for each article and then they're split tested to find out what is attracting the most people.

The Personality

People like personality. Sometime's it's appropriate. On other occasions less so. But try and experiment with being emotive and interesting. I try to write these posts the way I do, because they keep me interested and people seem to like them. I could talk about digital marketing in the style of an academic paper, but they wouldn't be half as much fun or engaging..

As more and more businesses are becoming 'social' on the likes of Twitter and Facebook, it should follow that if you can show a lighter side to your business operations on there why can't you do it with your content too? And personality shouldn't mean saying everything is amazing. Be disagreeable if you see fit. If you're not happy with your business results online, test, experiment and review everything you do to see if it can work better.

The Optimisation

Even if you're focussing on social for your content there's no harm in making sure you're content is well optimised too for SEO. From the alt text in images to internal links pointing to a page it's well worth making the page you're content sits on as search engine friendly as possible. If you're not sure how to do this, then read this.

stage 3) Content Promotion

Influencers

During the content process there's no harm in reaching out to key influencers in the community. These are people who can easily broadcast your messages to a much wider audience. As well as getting their insight when creating your content, you can easily let them know when your work is live online, and hopefully they'll help to spread the word.

Social Messages

So many people often spend hours putting together content, but can't be bothered with the delivery message. If you're going to tweet your content, spend the time making sure every one of those 140 characters count. Find the best hashtag. Find a decent image. Do the same with every other channel you're planning on using to promote your content.

Pay to Promote

If you've spent time and effort in creating something of value, then set aside some of your budget to promote it. With the ever present Edgerank algorithm blighting organic reach on Facebook, why not pay a few extra pound to promote you post? If you're using Twitter then you could do the same. Or if you're targeting a specific keyword why not put some budget towards ads on Google Adwords. Combined, any paid promotion can have a massive effect on the overall performance on a piece of content.

Stage 4) Content Analysis

Before you get to this stage you'll probably want to work out your KPI's. Are you hoping for direct sales, an increase in email signups, or just an increase in your number of fans on Facebook? Either way, decide what you're tracking, track it, then monitor the effect.

Did your content do the job? How did it compare to other pieces of content you've produced? But remember, don't look at statistics in isolation. The content you create still needs to be relavant. I've seen plenty of sites that receive good traffic for a specific article, but the user intent of people focusing on that page is completely irrelevant to it's businesses objectives. More on content relevancy here.

Stage 5) Content Curation

Once that piece of content gradually fades into obscurity, there's still value in it. Can you refresh your content for the following year. Can you re-use it for another purpose. Can you turn that blog post into an infographic, an infographic into a video? The data and information you've gathered for your original post can be crafted into multiple angles and stories, so don't archive a piece of content after just one outing. Equally, why not tie it into a series of posts - either a follow up piece. You might also find that your content is ranking well for a specific keyword, so you could spend some additional time in trying to get it to reach the number 1 position in SERP's in order to bring in additional traffic beyond your current main sources. Either way, you're content needs to be managed.

So, hopefully this can help to get you off to a good start. What's your content plan? - I'm genuinely interested. Let me know on the comments below...

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