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A Beginners Guide to Converting Mobile Users

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A Beginners Guide to Converting Mobile Users

Think about a time when you were on the train, sitting in the airport, or simply lying on the couch, and you had to complete an online form on your smartphone. Did you ever pay attention to the mobile form design?

Chances are you haven’t noticed. That’s the goal — to give users an intuitive experience that gets them to seamlessly fill up the form and continue with their day.

Easily create mobile-optimized pop-up forms. Get started with HubSpot’s form  builder.

In this guide, we’ll review the most effective ways to do just that. Here, you’ll learn how to design mobile forms that are not clunky or misaligned, but that help boost conversions and create a great user experience.

Table of Contents

Mobile vs. Desktop Form Design

Today, your website visitors aren’t just browsing your site, viewing your content, and completing your forms from their desktop computers. They’re also completing these tasks from their mobile devices.

Mobile was responsible for nearly 60% of global website traffic from April to June 2022. That means it’s critical for your form to be simple to review, complete, and submit via a mobile device.

Why is mobile form design important?

The best mobile form design allows for a positive user experience, which ensures a happy website visitor who’s more likely to convert to a customer and become a returning user.

The design, layout, and functionality of your mobile forms play a large part in your website’s overall user experience.

If your forms aren’t mobile-friendly, you may experience fewer conversions, a loss in mobile site traffic, and an increase in unhappy and frustrated customers. And who wants that?

Why should mobile form design differ from desktop design?

“Everything works differently on mobile, so marketers need to make sure any elements of their websites are always optimized for mobile,” says Lilach Bullock, an award-winning marketing influencer and strategist.

“And that, of course, includes forms — especially since it feels like you constantly have to complete forms while on mobile.”

Specifically, think about the difference in the display or screen size between a mobile device, such as an Apple iPhone, which typically ranges from 4.7″ to 6.7″ in size; and a Mac laptop or desktop, which typically ranges from 13” to 24” in size. It’s safe to assume a form that fits an iPhone screen wouldn’t fit a desktop screen perfectly.

If your mobile visitors cannot easily read, complete, and submit your form, you may lose their business. So creating a mobile-friendly form that fits the screen of any mobile device is crucial to creating a great user experience in order to leave a lasting impression on your visitors and help you boost conversions.

What is responsive web design?

If you want to take mobile form design a step further and ensure your entire website is functional on all types of devices, you can implement a responsive website design.

Responsive web design takes into consideration the user’s screen size, platform, orientation, and environment. This is a simple and effective way to create a great user experience since so many people are constantly visiting and browsing different websites on various devices.

There are several ways you can make sure your site has a responsive design. For example, if you’re a WordPress user, there are several responsive WordPress themes that you can install and use to design your site.

Additionally, if you’re building, or have built, your site with software such as Squarespace, your site may automatically come with responsive web design.

Today, responsive web design is a popular choice for businesses due to the sheer number of people visiting websites via a variety of different mobile devices. But for now, let’s get back to discussing mobile form design.

Mobile Form Design: 11 UX Guidelines

“When designing your mobile forms,” explains Bullock, “it’s important to keep things simple and make them as quick as possible. [Forms] are more difficult to complete on mobile and everything feels like it takes longer than it should.”

In other words, the most important thing is simplicity for the end-user. When creating a mobile-friendly form, there are some steps you’ll want to take to provide the best user experience possible for your visitors. Let’s review 11 of these mobile form design best practices that you can begin implementing today.

1. Minimize the number of form fields.

Ever heard the saying, “less is more”? Well, that’s precisely what you should be thinking while creating your mobile form.

Between the size of a mobile device’s screen and the amount of content you need to place in your form, it’s easy to accidentally make your form feel cluttered. Remember to remove unnecessary fluff. Only keep the form fields for information that you absolutely need.

To streamline the process, you’ll also want to label your form fields clearly and succinctly, and mark optional fields as “optional” or include an asterisk next to the required ones.

form design example with an asterisk used to indicate compulsory fields

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The aim is to make the form as easy as possible to fill out so that the chances of people completing the form go up.

2. Automate inputs when possible.

If you accidentally mistype your street address and the form corrects the spelling for you, the form autocorrects your response.

If you begin typing your shipping address and a box pops up with the rest of your address asking you if you want to “autofill” the rest of the form fields with your saved address, then your form is autocompleting your response for you.

By implementing autocorrect and autofill features on your mobile forms, you’ll improve user experience by making it quick, simple, and straightforward for users to enter their details.

In the below example, a person can easily autofill their information by clicking on the small pop-up that appears.

mobile form design example showing an autofill option

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3. Use a single-column layout.

When you’re creating a long or multi-step form, list all of your content in a single-column layout.

the difference between a single-column and multi-column layout in mobile form design

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Single-column form layouts are:

a. Easier to read.

Placing all your form fields in a single-column format allows your visitors to focus on only one item at a time, making your form easier to read.

b. Less daunting.

If you look at a form, especially in a tight space as you would on a mobile device, and see a large amount of content smushed together, you may feel overwhelmed. That’s why separating your content by rows and placing your form fields in a single-column format make your content look and feel less intimidating.

c. Quicker to complete.

When you place your multi-step form in a single column, leads can complete it more quickly than they would a multi-column form. That’s because the format makes the form easier to read and work through step-by-step.

Take a look at this sign-up form on the HubSpot website when viewed from a desktop or a laptop.

sign up form with a two-column layout as viewed from a desktop

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The two-column layout makes sense here, as there’s plenty of space on the wider screen to work with. Now check out the same form when viewed from a mobile device.

mobile form design, sign-up form with a single-column layout as viewed from a smartphone

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This single-column layout allows the eye to flow naturally while preventing clutter on the compact mobile screen.

4. Consistency matters (and so does form appearance).

How do you close a folder or an open tab on your laptop?

By clicking the ‘x’ button in the top-right corner.

But what if the button didn’t appear while on a particular application? How would you feel when you went to close the window?

Confused or irritated, maybe. You might spend a minute or two figuring out how to shut the application.

This is just a broad example but serves well to illustrate the importance of consistency. Watch this video to learn more.

Consistency in form design applies not just to style (colors, typography, logo, etc.) but to generally-accepted conventions that people are used to.

Here are some tips to ensure a consistent experience:

  • Match your form’s look and feel to your brand and website.
  • Ensure your form’s styling and formatting are consistent and complementary (nothing should look jarring or out of place).
  • Align your form field inputs to the left.
  • Affix each label above its corresponding input box and left-align it.
  • Use an asterisk to indicate compulsory questions.

mobile form design examples

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First impressions leave a lasting impression (in life and in business). That goes for your mobile forms. Nobody wants to complete a dark, difficult-to-read, cluttered, and unattractive form.

Your mobile form should be highly functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. Its appearance should contribute to its readability and positive user experience. To achieve this, use a simple and easy-to-read font style and size, a color palette that doesn’t feel overwhelming, and minimal form fields.

5. Keep in mind the touch experience.

Think about how you hold your phone while texting.

Most likely, gripping the phone with two hands while using your thumbs to interact with the screen. Or you might even do it single-handedly or type by using your index finger.

We interact with smartphones much differently than a laptop or desktop (cue the texting thumb), and mobile form design should reflect that.

Here are some suggestions to keep in mind:

  • Have adequate whitespace to keep the form clutter-free and avoid accidental button presses.
  • Ensure buttons are logically positioned (for example, the submit button near the bottom of the form, so users don’t have to scroll up to find it).
  • Check that the text (font size and style) is legible on the small mobile screen (no one wants to pinch their screen and zoom in to be able to read the text).
  • Make sure the form fields and buttons are large enough to be comfortably tapped with a finger.
  • Make the form pop-up towards the lower part of the screen (where possible) to make it easy to reach.

mobile form displayed in the lower half of the screen

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6. Leverage input constraints.

Input constraints restrict the type of response a person can enter in a form field. This can include a word limit (say, while filling out a job application form) or only being able to input digits (in the case of a phone number).

This is seen in the form below, where a numeric keyboard pops up when a person goes to enter their phone number.

mobile form design, input constraint displaying a numeric keyboard

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Input constraints maximize form efficiency by limiting inadvertent mistakes, delays, or confusion. For example, if someone was trying to make a reservation for a table at a restaurant and accidentally selected a date in the past, the constraint would prevent them from actually being able to select and confirm that date.

This is especially crucial when designing for mobile as smaller screens make it harder to enter information accurately. By setting input constraints, you’ll save people time while completing your form fields, and prevent yourself from receiving long-winded or invalid answers.

Here’s another example of an input constraint.

mobile form design, input constraints on two form fieldsImage Source

7. Create clear action buttons.

Buttons are an underrated aspect of mobile form design. Think about it: You get a form submission or conversion only after the right button is pressed. So you really can’t overlook this element.

This UI cheat sheet and UX Planet blog are great resources for designing effective buttons. Here’s a quick run-through of some of the mentioned principles that you can apply to your mobile forms.

  • Too many buttons spoil the broth (just like form fields, keep only the essential buttons).
  • Style and label your buttons consistently (capitalization, formatting, alignment, etc.).
  • Let the focus shine on the primary button (the main action you want the user to take) by making it stand out by size or color.
  • Right is right — a common rule of thumb for mobile is to position the main button on the right side and the second one on the left (though this can vary according to individual needs).
  • Specific labels are almost always the answer (“Edit this page” over “Edit”).

mobile form design, action button

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8. Provide card scanners for payments.

Tried entering your credit card details in a form via your smartphone? Typing a bunch of numbers on a small screen with a small keyboard can be a tedious process.

Card scanning apps, such as Microblink, have become increasingly popular for that exact reason. When making a purchase, your visitors can click a button that takes them to a screen where they can use their mobile device’s camera to take a secure photo of the front and back of their card, whether that be their license or credit card.

mobile form design, card scanning option

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With just a couple of pictures, your leads will be finished with one of the most time-consuming parts of the mobile form completion process — keeping your visitors efficient as well as frustration and error-free.

9. Explain the need for specific information.

While completing a simple email signup or a registration form, have you ever been asked to provide personal information that has nothing to do with the signup form itself?

This is a common occurrence in all types of forms (not just mobile). Asking someone for personal or other sensitive information without explaining your need for it can seem sketchy.

When asking a question that doesn’t directly relate to the reason your visitor is filling out the form, it’s essential to create a summary box (with additional information) that the person can click on to understand why you’re asking for this information.

Such indicators can also help provide extra guidance on completing a form field when the instructions are not immediately apparent. In the image below, a summary box pops up when a person hovers over the icon.

mobile form design, additional information about a form field displayed in a hovering pop-up box

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These small details will make your form feel professional and thoughtful while reducing the odds of the user leaving halfway.

10. Gather validation and feedback.

User experience is at the heart of good mobile form design. And validation and feedback play an important role in providing a great UX.

Validation lets people know if the information they’ve entered is right (or not). Notice the green ticks in the form fields below.

mobile form design, three ticks displayed next to valid form inputs

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While completing mobile forms, your visitors are bound to make a mistake here or there. The form should flag these errors in real-time so the user can correct them immediately.

For example, if someone adds the incorrect zip code alongside their street address, the mobile form should display an error message. This should indicate — in easy-to-understand language — the error location and how the person can rectify it (as seen in the image below).

mobile form design showing an error flagged due to an incorrect zip code

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It’s also crucial to give people feedback as they go through the form. For example, a progress bar on lengthy, multi-step forms can make the form-filling process more engaging by showing users how far they’ve reached and how long they have left to complete it.

mobile form design, progress bar

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Consider a person filling out the above form without a progress bar. They’ll be clicking the ‘next’ button with no idea of when the form ends, and might even abandon it just before the final step in frustration.

Once people submit their forms, you should direct them to another screen or page that says something like, “Success!” or “Thank you” so they know their submission worked.

Here’s an example of a success page on HubSpot that appears after a user signs up to receive a free Google Ads kit.

mobile form design, success page

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11. Make forms accessible.

Accessibility is fundamental to the usability of your form. Forms designed with accessibility in mind can be used by a wider range of people, including those with visual, physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities.

Here are some specific recommendations for creating accessible forms from the World Wide Web Consortium Web Accessibility Initiative, WebAIM, and The A11Y Project Checklist).

  • Check that the text doesn’t pixelate or become fuzzy when zooming into your form (for better visualization).
  • Label your form elements in a way that can be clearly understood when read by a screen reader.
  • Ensure your form is accessible in both portrait and landscape modes.
  • Avoid the use of a time limit (where possible) to give people sufficient time to respond.
  • Include captions or transcripts for any video or audio components in your form.
  • Keep color contrast in mind. Here’s a free tool that can help with that.
  • Check that your form is fully-usable with just a keyboard.

A great way to ensure that all of the above mobile form design strategies stick is by exploring what you should not do in form design. The below video looks at some examples of what not to do when designing forms on both mobile and desktop.

Back To You

It’s no secret that your website visitors are completing and submitting your web forms via their mobile devices. That’s because it’s convenient and efficient, as most people carry some type of mobile device with them everywhere, making it crucial for your forms to be mobile-friendly.

Otherwise, your forms will be difficult to read, complete, and submit, which may frustrate your leads or cause you to lose their business altogether.

By considering your mobile form design and implementing these guidelines, you’ll enhance your mobile form user experience, build positive relationships with your leads and customers, and boost your conversions.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in Dec. 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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MARKETING

How to choose a content marketing automation platform

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How to choose a content marketing automation platform



A 1917 poster says in bold capital letters: “I WANT YOU FOR THE U.S. ARMY,” along with the famous image of Uncle Sam pointing at the viewer.

In 1917, most advertising was blunt and direct, but in the following 100+ years, consumers have become desensitized to typical marketing strategies. As a result, companies have turned to new forms of marketing to reach their audience.

One of these forms of marketing is content marketing: an indirect type of advertising that delivers blog posts, podcasts, and other forms of content to indirectly market a brand to consumers. Today, businesses can automate many aspects of content marketing, and choosing the right platform for content marketing automation unlocks new efficiencies and return on investment for companies.

Key takeaways:

  • Content marketing is a powerful way to reach customers by providing value through content.
  • Automation makes content marketing efficient and convenient.
  • Optimizely can help you take your content management to the next level.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is a new strategy for reaching potential customers by delivering content they want to consume. Content marketing improves the brand’s image by providing useful or entertaining content which builds goodwill and brand recognition among potential customers.

Content marketing takes many forms: podcasts, digital video, webinars, articles, infographics and more. Creating and delivering quality content is difficult because it must deliver on multiple levels: it must be useful, entertaining and informative, but it must also inspire confidence and credibility. In other words, quality content marketing must be both good content and marketing material.

Why would a company spend its marketing dollars on content marketing instead of more direct forms of advertising? There are several reasons content marketing is a good choice for companies:

  • Content marketing improves organic reach by delivering content that customers want to consume. This can range from entertainment like TikTok videos or online quizzes to more serious informative content like how-to guides and video conferences.
  • Content marketing inspires confidence in your brand by establishing your company as an expert and key player in your industry.
  • Content marketing improves goodwill by delivering personable, relatable content that meets customers where they’re at. Rather than trying to make customers interested in your company directly, content marketing capitalizes on the things your customer is already interested in.

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How to automate content marketing

AI can’t host a podcast or present a webinar (at least not yet), but automation plays an important role in content marketing.

Social media

Social media is one of the largest opportunities for marketers. Social media is the second largest market within the world of digital advertising, second only to search marketing. Content marketing is uniquely poised to cover both categories as it can optimize content for organic search results and social media sharing.

This is where automation comes into the picture: automation can’t take over your social media presence for you, but it can take on some of the most tedious and error-prone aspects of your digital presence. Some key ways you can automate your social media content marketing are by scheduling posts, connecting various social media platforms to publish content on multiple platforms at once, regularly sharing your content, automatically promoting content and more.

Recently, AI has taken significant steps forward in Natural Language Processing (NLP), which makes AI chatbots a powerful way to connect with users on social media platforms (as well as on your platform).

 

Email marketing

A fan of the television show Arrested Development would finish the phrase “The money is in the…” with “banana stand,” but experienced marketers know that the right answer is “the money is in the list.”

This popular phrase refers to the fact that email marketing is one of the most important aspects of a marketing plan, and a longer list of quality leads is one of the most reliable ways to grow sales. Email newsletters are one of the most popular forms of content marketing but sending email after email is a tedious and treacherous process as it creates limitless opportunities for human error.

Automation revolutionizes email marketing by automatically sending emails. With a customer relationship management platform, email automation can automatically send emails based on milestones and timelines and personalize emails based on the customer’s name and history. This level of personalization is difficult for small businesses and impossible for large ones, but with automation, it’s straightforward and convenient.

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Tracking performance 

One of the keys to marketing automation is tracking marketing communication performance. Marketers should be performing A/B testing to see which campaigns perform the best and merit further expansion, but tangibly measuring the outcome of these tests is difficult without the right tools.

Automation helps companies track the performance of their content marketing by collecting data from various platforms, bringing it all into one convenient place and providing metrics about the traffic and conversions coming from each piece of content. 

Features of the right content marketing platform

Harnessing the value of these powerful automation options requires a quality content marketing platform. The right platform should include some qualities that maximize its usefulness.

  • Flexibility. One of the essential functions of automation is the ability to share content on multiple platforms simultaneously. While this is already a powerful option, it becomes more powerful with a headless API that empowers you to deliver content on various platforms.
  • Personalization. 71% of consumers expect companies to deliver personalized interactions, and 76% become frustrated when companies don’t personalize their communications. The right content marketing platform makes personalization second nature with robust personalization tools that go beyond copy-and-pasting names. Content marketing platforms like Optimizely target personalized digital experiences to dynamic customer segments.
  • Capacity. Your business has unique needs, and your content platform shouldn’t hold you back. Rather than making your job harder, the right content marketing platform makes your job easier by offering a wide range of options and high-capacity storage for all your needs.

When it comes to content management, Optimizely is an industry leader. Optimizely’s advanced tools range from A/B testing, e-commerce support and headless digital experience management.

To learn how Optimizely can help you harness the power of automation and revolutionize your content marketing, request a meeting today to start the next chapter of your marketing journey.


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Skills to Look for in a Freelance Software Developer

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Skills to Look for in a Freelance Software Developer

According to Statista, the number of software developers around the globe is expected to increase to 28.7 million by 2024.

Freelance software developers benefit companies because of the ease and speed with which they can be onboarded and used as project-specific resources. This blog will answer the most asked concerns about using contract services.

Benefits of Hiring Freelance Software Developers

When hiring a freelancer, your first expectation is impeccable skills and expertise, followed closely by cost savings, or vice versa. Here are the most popular reasons why companies choose to hire freelance talent.

Cost-efficiency

Full-time employees cost an organisation a salary, as well as added investments in training, equipment, perks, overheads of utilities and rented space, and benefits such as healthcare and social security.

Freelancers work remotely using personal resources; businesses reduce investments without losing quality.

Reduced Risk

Businesses reduce financial risk by working with freelancers on an hourly, monthly, or project basis. Setting a clearly worded contract that the freelance software developer agrees to and signs, mitigates financial risk and clearly stipulates ownership of intellectual property.

Expertise

Freelancers with niche expertise such as software development company in London, provide companies with the best talents for their projects. Hiring freelancers for different projects allows businesses to match the varying demands of each project, streamlines workflows and ensures productivity.

Global Talent

Businesses choose professional freelancers expecting them to complete any given task with minimum input from the organization. You can access talent from across the globe on platforms such as UpWork, People Per Hour, Fiverr, and Toptal, amongst others. Client reviews on such portals help in assessing proficiency and expertise.

Work Quality

A freelancer is as good as her or his portfolio. Successful freelancers achieve credibility by building long-term relationships and providing consistent quality. Freelancer work depends on referrals and good reviews, hence a potential contract employee’s work portfolio, and reviews showcase their abilities.

Skills of A High-Quality Freelance Software Developer

The first criterion for hiring a developer for your project is knowing what skill sets are needed. List your project specifications to customise your search and determine the expertise required for the project. Freelance developers may work on web development (front-end, back-end, or full-stack developers) or mobile application development.

Front-end freelance developers

Front-end software developers design websites and web applications and manage the graphical interface of websites. They use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and technologies like Foundation, AngularJS, Bootstrap, Backbone, DOM, and EmberJS to create layouts and graphics.

Back-end freelance developers

Back-end developers handle server-side processes such as website security, speed, databases, servers, application logic, and APIs. Back-end developers are typically skilled in Java, Python, and PHP, as well as SQL, Git, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Full-stack freelance developers

Full-stack freelance developers handle both the front and back ends of the website. They are responsible for everything from project planning to website coding. Front-end frameworks include HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and backends employ NodeJS, ExpressJS, Django, Flask, and C++. Full stack programmers manage database systems (such as SQL SERVER, MySQL, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, and Oracle Database), version control, and web hosting.

Mobile app developers

Mobile app developers develop, create, and test mobile applications for iOS and Android operating systems. Mobile app developers have programming language skills such as NodeJS, PHP, Python, or Ruby on Rails. They must also be proficient in back-end frameworks, database management and security, and hardware interaction. They need expertise in UI/UX design, security, and the Internet of things (IoT) for mobile devices.

How to Locate the Best Freelancers  Online

Talent portals such as Upwork, People Per Hour, and Fiverr showcase many talented freelance software developers. Here are steps on how to hire talent from an online opportunity marketplace.

Set a Hiring Budget

Look for similar job postings to learn what are the current hourly rates for the work you require. Define a reasonable budget. Beware that a freelance software developer may have higher hourly rates than regular employees.  

Clearly Define Project Requirements

Freelancers can be effective resources when you provide clear details about your project requirements. Be sure to mention the following

  • Allocated Budget
  • Payment terms
  • Project start and end dates
  • Clear job descriptions
  • Project expectations

Shortlist and Assess Freelance Software Developers

Top software developers typically work harder and achieve results because client reviews are essential to their ongoing success. The details you post make it easier for them to determine if they fit your requirements. Once you begin receiving qualified responses, choose according to their ratings and reviews, your interview process, and any sample project to build software and check their skills.

Six Factors to Consider when Hiring Freelance Sofware Developers

Hiring a freelancer revolves around their technical skills, certifications and education, attitude towards work, and ability to deliver results. Here are some crucial pointers to help you find the most appropriate fit for your project.

Technical Expertise

Freelancers must be able to handle the technical requirements of the project. They should be well-versed in software stacks, coding, development and task management software, version control tools, and deployment processes. Freelance software developers may charge more for specific technical abilities such as mobile app development, web development, or project rescues.

Experience

Freelancers who have worked on similar projects will have come across pain points and solutions. Any relevant experience enhances their expertise for your project and boosts their ability to strategise toward productive outcomes. Note that a freelancer’s experience typically increases their pay rate.

Cost

Experience and expertise increase a freelancer’s worth, but their services must provide value for your money. Knowing current hourly or project rates ensures that you are connecting with the right candidates. Freelancers that accept less payment may be new to the market and want to create a client base. Or, are choosing to supplement their income with multiple projects, which may reduce their work quality.

Professionalism

Education and certifications improve a freelancer’s pay scale, but they do not signal a freelancer’s abilities. The easiest way to gauge work ethic is from social proof such as client endorsements and their portfolio. A professional freelance software developer will openly share these details, with their client’s approval, of course.

Reliability

A reliable freelancer will have a long-standing client base, developed by consistent efforts and proven results. The more repeat customers a freelancer has, the better the chances of them being dependable. The following actions demonstrate the integrity of any freelance work and can be testified by customer reviews.

  • Following instructions
  • Regular updates
  • Quickly responding to queries
  • Willingly accepting critique
  • Meeting deadlines consistently

Location

One of the best features of acquiring freelance talent is access to global resources. Ensure that your communication skills match. Also, check that the culture and holidays in the freelancer’s location do not conflict with project development. Location can also affect fees, where freelancers in the USA charge the highest as compared to their Asian counterparts.

Conclusion

Finding and hiring the right freelance software developers is easy when you have the necessary checklists in place. Software development work is complex, make sure you are vetting your candidates carefully to get the best fit for your project. Good luck!

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State of Content Marketing in 2023

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State of Content Marketing in 2023

I just pressed send on the manuscript for my book to be released in September. It’s called Content Marketing Strategy (snappy, eh?), and Kogan Page will publish it.

Last week, marketing professor Philip Kotler wrote the foreword. I won’t spoil it, but he mentioned the need for a strategic approach to owned media.

He writes, “(T)he company doesn’t carry an account of showing these marketing assets and their value. As a result, the company cannot show the CEO and company board members a return on owned assets or content.”

Luckily, my upcoming book shows exactly how to do that. Funny how that works out.

In any event, all this struck me that now is an opportune time to look at where the beloved practice of content marketing stands today.

First, let’s go back to 1999 when Kotler published Kotler On Marketing, one of his more than 70 books. The latter 1990s – a time of tumultuous change – fueled most of the thinking for the book. But he knew that it was merely the beginning.

Kotler concluded the book with a section called “Transformational Marketing.”  In the next decade, he wrote, “marketing will be re-engineered from A to Z. Marketing will need to rethink fundamentally the processes by which they identify, communicate, and deliver customer value.”

Well, it’s taken over two decades, but it’s finally happening.

Consumers have changed, but marketing operations are just starting to

In case you didn’t notice, almost every marketing conference these days starts with the same four or five requisite slides:

  • Digital technologies, such as search and social media, empower consumers today.
  • Consumers research, engage, buy, and stay loyal to brands in ways that have fundamentally changed.
  • First-party data and privacy are of the utmost importance.
  • Artificial intelligence begins to threaten the idea of the usefulness of search and pressure companies to deliver better and more personalized experiences.

You get it. Consumer expectations in the age of the social, mobile, and AI-driven web are different than they were.

However, the continuing challenge in 2023 is that content and/or marketing operations in enterprise companies are only beginning to evolve. Most marketing departments have remained as they were when Kotler wrote his book — they still work from mid- to late-20th century hierarchies, strategies, and processes.

Most marketing departments still work with mid- to late-20th-century hierarchies, strategies, and processes, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Content marketing isn’t new, but a content marketing strategy is

For hundreds of years, businesses have used content to affect some kind of profitable outcome. But the reality is this: Whether it was John Deere’s The Furrow from the 1800s, Michelin’s guide to car maintenance in the early 1900s, or even Hasbro’s GI-Joe partnership with Marvel in the 1980s, content was not — and is not for the most part now — a scalable, repeatable practice within the function of marketing. In short, companies almost always treat content marketing as a project, not a process.

That fundamental change will finally take hold in 2023. It could happen because of the digital disruption and ease by which you can now publish and distribute content to aggregate your own audiences. It could happen through the natural evolution that the ultimate outcome – more than the marketing – matters more.

As we roll through 2023 and beyond, content — and the exponentially increasing quantities of it produced by every organization — deeply affects not just your marketing strategy, but your business strategy. Content in marketing is now bigger than simply content marketing, and it should be dealt with as a component of that business strategy throughout the enterprise.

#Content in marketing is bigger than #ContentMarketing. Treat it as a component of the business strategy, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

In 2023, the No. 1 focus of my consulting and advisory practice these days: help companies transform content into a repeatable, scalable, and measurable function that drives value through a multi-channel strategy. It’s bigger than publishing a blog, creating a lead-generating resource center, or sending an email newsletter. Today’s content marketing team is being absorbed into marketing because marketing and its various operations are fundamentally transforming into a content-producing machine.

It is not good enough to produce content “like a media company would.” The goal must be to operate as a media company does. Your job is not to change content to fit new marketing goals. Rather, your job in 2023 is to change marketing to fit the new business content goals.

Your job in 2023 is to change #marketing to fit the new business #content goals, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

The unaware builds a case for the aware

The term “content marketing” continues to evolve. Even today, I run across those who still call it “brand publishing,” “custom content,” or “inbound marketing.”

My take matches with what Kotler described in 1999. I always thought the term “content marketing” would become part of “marketing” more broadly. In 2023, that happened. So, returning to the lexiconic debates of 2013, 2014, or 2015 doesn’t seem terribly productive. Content marketing is just good marketing, and marketing is just good content marketing.

That said, two kinds of companies do well at the broader view of content marketing. Some of them, such as Cleveland Clinic, Red Bull, Arrow Electronics, HubSpot, and REI, have purposely devised content marketing strategies as differentiating approaches to their marketing. They are succeeding.

Others, like Amazon, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, and Peloton, backed into a smart content marketing strategy. But executives at those companies probably don’t recognize it as such. If asked (and some have been), they would say acquiring or launching a media company operation was just a smart business strategy to diversify their ability to reach their consumers consistently.

They’re right, of course. Many have yet to read books about content marketing, been influenced by the Content Marketing Institute, or even recognize content marketing as a separate approach (as far as I know). And they are also succeeding.

Consider this proof: As I write this article, six companies have a market capitalization of more than $1 trillion. Four of the six wholly or partially use the business model of media creation to further marketing and business strategies. Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon are all, in part, media companies that also sell products and services.

Why would you not avail yourself of that same model?

The future looks cloudy and bright

As for the overall state of enterprise content marketing, it’s in transition, as all marketing is. As a focused project-based approach, working in ad-hoc ways across a business, content marketing appears to have proven its worth. Hundreds of entries every year to the Content Marketing Awards feature myriad case studies using content marketing techniques in strategic ways to profitably affect business results.

And yet, it remains to be seen whether you can make content marketing a scalable, repeatable, measurable function within marketing.

As to what the discipline’s future holds? At last year’s Content Marketing World, one of my favorite events, the Executive Forum gathered senior leaders from brands succeeding with content marketing. As we talked about the future, one participant said: “The only certainty is change. I can’t tell you where or when, but I do know there will be change, and this is the principle we build on now.”

As for my take, Kotler’s idea of transforming the marketing function seems to have gotten lost along the digital road traveled by marketers. In so many cases, marketing – and especially content – remains just an on-demand service function within the business. Its sole job is to produce ever more voluminous amounts of content that describe the value of the brand (or its products or services) so that sales can sell more efficiently, customer support can serve more effectively, and all manner of customer interfaces are more beneficial to both sides.

However, and maybe because I need to rationalize now that my book is finished, I passionately believe it’s finally time for marketing to reclaim its ability to create value — not just reflect it in the polished shine of your traditional products and services.

Almost 27 years ago today, Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote an essay called Content is King. In it, he said that “(C)ontent is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”

It certainly was one of his more prescient moments. Nearly three decades later, his words have proven true. The essay title has become the rallying cry for thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs who now make their living on creating, managing, optimizing, and measuring content on the internet. (A Google search for “content is king” nets more than 1.7 million results.)

But it’s the last line of his essay that I find the most visionary: “(T)hose who succeed will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products – a marketplace of content.”

That’s what content marketing is for me in 2023. It’s just marketing – optimizing the value of ideas, experiences, and products in a marketplace of content.

Time to get to work.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in just five minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries

Watch previous episodes or read the lightly edited transcripts.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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