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How To Earn High-Authority Links That Drive Rankings

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How To Earn High-Authority Links That Drive Rankings

The author’s views are entirely their own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

My agency, Fractl, was founded at the dawn of content marketing, when Google launched its war against paid link networks, and SEOs were scrambling to figure out how to earn domain trust signals. At the time, I was heavily invested in viral marketing research, seeking to understand the intricacies of what drove readers to share and, more so, how to pitch journalists to earn media.

Our case studies grew rapidly as we built Fractl’s research-backed Digital PR processes, and we quickly earned a reputation as “The Michael Jordan of Link Building,” as claimed by our client, who just renewed an annual quarter-million investment in our services. Yet, the industry hums with debate on this recent Ahrefs post along with the quote: “I think SEOs may overvalue links from media sites. They really don’t seem to have much impact”.

For starters, let’s trust Google’s own search experts:

Screenshot of a tweet by John Mueller noting that digital PR is just as critical as technical SEO

Next, let’s consider several other industry studies and thought leaders:

  • “Obtaining links from more authoritative sites has more value than obtaining a large quantity of links” – Eric Enge

  • “Sites with better quality sites linking to them tend to be higher in rankings” – HubSpot

  • “One good link from a big news site can be more impactful than millions of low-quality links” – John Mueller

Clearly, we’re already building a solid case for how a diverse, authoritative backlink portfolio could help a brand drive its site authority, trust, and organic search rankings. But how can you consistently earn media coverage and avoid spammy link networks?

Ten years ago, I presented viral marketing case studies at MozCon, and while I agree viral marketing isn’t as easy as it used to be in a more saturated industry, I disagree that this kind of ‘earned media’ isn’t valuable to SEO. In my clients’ experience, if “Content is King” then “Digital PR is Queen,” and when executed perfectly, KPIs across SEO, Digital PR, Social, and Sales will all soar.

Fractl's SEO case study results for Paychex

How to earn high-authority links that drive rankings

When I first built Fractl’s Digital PR team, I created a resource for tracking all the publisher feedback we received, which we still utilize today to continuously analyze and refine our processes for earned media. I also spent hundreds of hours interviewing editors and conducting digital PR research to learn: How can we be more effective at creating newsworthy content that breaks through the noise of your inbox?

As content marketing and digital PR go mainstream and more amateurs enter the market, the findings from my research are more important than ever for establishing our industry’s value to publishers versus eroding it with low-quality research and spammed pitches. Here are the four most important lessons I’ve learned over the last decade that will help you execute newsworthy research that publishers love to link to.

Fractl's Digital PR campaigns have been featured in hundreds of high-authority news outlets

1. Your success relies on your ability to educate your client on how to create truly newsworthy research

When it comes to content marketing and digital PR, the most successful teams walk a thin line between creating newsworthy content that writers actually love to cover versus a campaign that will be perceived as sponsored content that will be routed to advertorial for a $100k budget and a minimized link value.

If you want to earn high-authority links, you need to focus on creating content that publishers will perceive as newsworthy: research that is relevant to their readership or the mass consumer, is emotionally compelling and often surprising, is generally tangentially related to your industry and product vs. advertorial, and is educational, or better yet, actionable.

If you’re producing truly newsworthy research, then your pitches will routinely elicit positive responses from writers similar to the ones we receive each week:

Publisher feedback on Fractl's Content Marketing campaigns
Publisher feedback on Fractl's Content Marketing campaigns
Publisher feedback on Fractl's Content Marketing campaigns

For example, imagine you’re a HR management tool, Paychex. You have a traditional PR team that’s pushing your product releases and providing executive interviews to select writers who cover brands in that fashion, so your goal in digital PR is to reach new and engaged readers. What topics are tangentially relevant to your brand that the broader consumer would care about, that you could provide research on, and which high-authority publishers would value?

Content marketing campaigns can take many forms and generally comes down to your budget and talent across data journalism, design, editorial, and PR. Over the last eight years, some of our most link-worthy Paychex research has explored:

  • Analyzing the rise of polywork

  • Job search red flags

  • Employer transparency

  • Remote HR issues

  • Mental health at work

  • Employee discrimination

  • Team morale before & after COVID-19

  • Taking flex-schedules into the future

  • Remote employee benefits

  • Build a retirement fund

  • Retirees rejoining the workforce

  • The onboarding crisis

Our campaign Employee Regret After the Great Resignation is an excellent example of how brands can add value in a breaking news cycle by producing research and providing commentary on trending stories relevant to their niche. This campaign earned hundreds of pickups, with a small sample of high-authority links and brand coverage from:

  1. Business Insider

  2. Fortune

  3. Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)

  4. Computer World

  5. HR Morning

  6. Refinery 29

  7. Clever Girl Finance

  8. Fox Business

  9. Harper’s

  10. Huffington Post

  11. Morehouse.edu

  12. Her Money

  13. The Guardian

  14. Yahoo

  15. iHeart Radio

Ultimately, you should always vet your ideas by asking, “Is this something interesting that I would read, or that I could see myself sharing with a friend?” After all, the best content marketing case studies are legitimately “cool pieces of content.”

John Mueller comments on a cool list of Digital PR campaigns

2. Level up your research by adding actionable quotes from clients or industry experts

Once you understand the foundational principles for creating newsworthy research for your brand, the next most valuable thing you can do is to make it actionable. The #1 piece of feedback we’ve received across all of our campaigns has been: “Can I interview your client to go along with my story?”

While research can be interesting and valuable, it often lacks the “actionable” hook that writers know their audience needs. To solve this, writers may send a short Q&A for our client based on the broader theme or takeaways from our research, or they’ll request to hop on a quick call with our data journalists to answer more open-ended questions to expand on our methodology and findings. Here are some examples of requests we’ve received from writers when pitching our campaigns:

“I actually would love to learn more about this. Is someone available to speak with me this week or next?” – CNN

“After speaking with my editor I can confirm interest in moving forward with a story about the four-day work-week, and whether or not it is an inevitability, based on this data. If possible I’m hoping to connect with a spokesperson at some point next week.” – Fast Company

“I am interested in covering this study. I would typically ask some HR analysts at research firms for their input, but I’m certainly interested in what Paychex has to say on the issues of better onboarding processes. That would certainly add color to any article.” – Computer World

Generally, it’s most effective for your digital PR team to field the writer’s Q&A directly since clients are often tied up with their own objectives, and writers expect a near real-time response to secure coverage. In these instances, we typically only comment on our research versus speaking to a broader theme on behalf of our client.

Ideally, instead of being reactive to these requests, you’d solicit a dedicated client PR stakeholder during onboarding and make it clear you need them to commit to a same-day response on high-authority publisher interview requests that are more brand-specific. You would then elicit quotes from this stakeholder during the final draft review stage of any campaign, so your PR team can proactively weave these valuable assets into their pitch.

These interview opportunities can be very exciting to client executives who are eager to build their individual authority and thought leadership in their industry. For example:

Client Coverage on CNET:

Fractl's Digital PR team leveraging client quotes to earn coverage on CNET

Client Coverage on Kiplinger:

Fractl's Digital PR team leveraging client quotes to earn coverage on Kliplinger

Client Coverage on USA Today:

Fractl's Digital PR team leveraging client quotes to earn coverage on USA Today

Interview opportunities go a long way in helping your brand provide value to each publisher’s specific audience, so always evaluate how to go the extra mile to deliver actionable advice along with your pitch. In certain circumstances, you might even need to contact external sources, such as nonprofit organizations, who can provide knowledgeable and unbiased opinions in cases where your client isn’t the expert. A great example of this is a female trucker research we produced for a surety bond client, where nearly every editor requested an interview with an actual female trucker. A quick Google search led me to the ‘Women in Trucking’ association, whose board members were more than happy to lend their expertise along with our research:

How to utilize nonprofit associations to add expert commentary and authority to a client's Digital PR campaign

This on-the-fly partnership helped us land over 170 pickups for our client on both mainstream news sites and niche-relevant publishers:

Clearly, the source can come in many forms, but the quotes can be necessary for your success. When in doubt, I always encourage our PR team to include this CTA in the closing paragraph of our pitch: “I’d be happy to offer you an exclusive interview with the CEO, expanding on this research and its implications, if you’re interested”?

3. Always pitch an ‘exclusive’ and preferably password-protect your landing page

While tech publishers are more accustomed to an embargo period on emerging products from Fortune 500 brands, most digital PR teams have the opportunity to provide value in an entirely different way: the ‘exclusive’.

Publisher compliments Fractl's Content Marketing campaign

I’ve done a lot of testing over the last decade leading Fractl’s digital PR department, and I’ve consistently found that an exclusive, password-protected landing page generally yields the strongest interest from the most authoritative writers. A password strategy ensures publishers perceive your research as ‘breaking news’, which they have ‘the exclusive’ first rights to release. This can be tantalizing in the editorial world, where pay is often correlated to pageviews and engagement, and breaking news can represent the lion’s share of a site’s engagement.

Whereas an embargo sets an industry-wide deadline for writers to adhere to, an exclusive allows the writer to be the architect of a unique breaking story that doesn’t have to be crammed into their editorial calendar based on an external deadline. It’s also generally more engaging to write a unique story instead of racing a dozen other editors to write the punchiest headline on the same embargoed facts.

One journalist tweets about his disdain for PR embargoes.

Lastly, an exclusive makes a writer feel special since you’ve hand-selected that person instead of using a poorly targeted mass blast approach, which is far too prevalent in the PR industry. In fact, the ‘spray and pray’ tactic will often leave you in an agency-wide ban folder if you’re targeting isn’t on point. I’ve heard about this very real danger in writer interviews I’ve conducted, and Michael Smart attests to this same jaw-dropper in his recent PR newsletter:

Screenshot showing Michael Smart's opinion on off-topic pitches.

In the dawn of artificial intelligence (AI), your time spent investing in meaningful relationships with relevant writers in your industry will be critical to your success.

4. Investing in relationship building by personalizing your pitch vs the ‘spray and pray’ approach

With newsjacking or reactive PR, it’s essential to quickly scale your pitching efforts to provide value in a rapidly evolving breaking news cycle. However, when you’re pitching more evergreen research or working in-house or for a select number of clients, it’s far more important to build a meaningful relationship with a writer by taking a moment to connect with them on a personal level.

These are the primary data points I seek out when first attempting to personalize my pitch:

  • What does their author bio say about their personal interests?

  • Where do they live?

  • Where did they go to school?

  • Do they have any kids or pets?

  • Have they celebrated any major milestones recently?

  • What topics matter to them based on what they post and engage with on social media?

  • What is their tone like in their writing, and how can I match that in my pitch?

While a few people may gasp at this in-depth personal research, stating, ‘I don’t want to be perceived as a stalker,’ I have hundreds of receipts where writers praise our team for taking the time to personalize a pitch:

High-authority publishers compliment Fractl's Digital PR campaigns

I often find that if a writer is ‘putting it out there’ they generally appreciate you taking the time to research those facts and connect with them personally on it when relevant. Need inspiration for how to personalize your pitch? Check out some of the writer responses from our personalized subject lines and intros:

Writer Responses to Fractl Pitches:

  • I appreciate you checking out my Twitter.

  • LOL hair trauma! So much of it!

  • I am a huge sucker for dog photos.

  • It’s a pleasure to (virtually!) meet another habitual cleaner!

  • Hahaha, love it! 80s songs are the best!

  • Ah yes, truly addicted to Love Island. So here for the drama!

  • So glad you noticed the skyline and got a little hit of nostalgia!

  • Always happy to meet another Ravenclaw meets Slytherin!

  • Always good to know there are other eyeliner-loving, cheese-eating gals out there!

  • Glad I’m not the only dessert fan. 😉

  • Nice, I’m headed back to Michigan for the first time since leaving.

  • Thank you. You sound like a great mom!

  • I’m sure you can do a marathon, too! It’s all about prepping for it!

  • I’m always glad to hear from another skee ball fan!

  • I strongly agree, it took me a while to not regret my college choices!

  • Thanks for your kind words… I was born with a ton of energy!

  • I appreciate your affinity for Baby Yoda.

  • I, too, am pretty big on Scotch.

  • *laughs* Naturally, one can only do so much sassmouthin’.

By differentiating your pitch with personal connections for that individual writer, you’re also quickly demonstrating that you likely did in-depth research to ensure you’re pitching something relevant to this writer that they would value and avoiding journalist pet peeves.

Fractl's Digital PR research on the top 10 worst pitching offenses, ranked

In practice, a well-personalized pitch can look like this:

An example Digital PR pitch Fractl sent to earn client coverage on a content marketing campaign

And the Huffington Post writer’s response says it all:

Writer response to Fractl's Digital PR pitch

The KPIs of digital PR and earned media

When executed exceptionally well, this style of PR research can consistently earn high-authority links that drive trust signals and organic search rankings, which can offer a higher ROI and more long-term value than paid channels that require the faucet to constantly be ‘on’ to deliver value. Beyond SEO metrics, this strategy also creates a platform for industry thought leadership, exposes new customers to your product, drives consumer engagement, and produces content that can be repurposed to provide cross-channel value across your social media marketing (SMM), pay-per-click (PPC), and email marketing strategies and throughout your buyer’s journey.

Any SEO professional that’s not a snake oil salesman will tell you that link-building alone is not a silver bullet for organic search rankings. The most effective content marketing and digital PR teams deliver a comprehensive organic search strategy, where they’re focusing on both on-page and off-page strategies to drive organic search growth:

Content Marketing and Digital PR Buyers Journey

While the increasing lack of attribution for organic search will forever be a struggle, these are the KPIs our clients use to evaluate our work, which we solicit at the start of each engagement so we can report on the KPIs that matter to each of our clients:

  1. Imagine we are at the end of our statement of work (SOW) together. What does success look like to you?
    1. “As many do-follow backlinks from top tier domains as we can get, resulting in an overall increase in website keyword rankings and traffic growth.”

    2. “High quality/quantity links, great content/studies, and rankings.”

    3. “Acquiring high authority links at a velocity that will allow us to reverse the organic traffic trend we’re currently seeing and get closer to early 2021 levels.”

    4. “A high number of top authority placements across all of our campaigns. We want to be able to show notable growth in our backlink portfolio.”

    5. “Minimum success threshold is 100 linking domains across the five campaigns, comprising a mix of authority and follow/nofollow. Strong success is 200+ linking domains and meaningful referral traffic from those links.”

Most of our clients are founders, SEO directors, marketing directors, or PR managers who are aligned on these same goals, now more than I’ve seen in the last ten years of running Fractl. What’s enabled us to remain a clutch industry leader as competition heats up? Our ability to consistently produce content and PR strategies that drive organic search and the bottom line:

Fractl Content Marketing Case Study [HR Vertical]
Fractl Content Marketing Case Study [Home Vertical]
Fractl Content Marketing Case Study [Security Vertical]

Fractl Content Marketing Case Study [Health Vertical]



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Top 3 Strategies for Success

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Top 3 Strategies for Success

With the advent of e-commerce, manufacturers have unprecedented opportunities to expand their reach, streamline their operations, and enhance profitability. Amidst this digital revolution, adopting Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) is pivotal in optimizing production processes, quality control, and resource management.

As the lines between traditional brick-and-mortar sales and online commerce continue to blur, manufacturers increasingly realize the need to adapt and thrive in this new digital landscape. This article explores the top 3 strategies manufacturers can employ to succeed in e-commerce.

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES)

MES (Manufacturing Execution System) is specialized application software designed to solve the tasks of synchronization, coordination, analysis, and optimization of production output within any production. MES systems belong to the class of shop floor-level management systems but can also be used for integrated production management at the enterprise as a whole.

MES collects and analyzes production processes, product demand, and inventory data. This allows manufacturers to adapt more quickly to changes in the market, reconfigure production to meet current requirements, and closely monitor trends. As a result, manufacturers can more easily predict and meet customer needs, which helps increase online sales.

MES helps in maintaining accurate inventory records and managing inventory turnover. This avoids overstock or shortages, which can affect a company’s ability to meet online demand and maintain customer service levels.

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) enhance transparency and automate operations, reducing human errors and operational costs. Integrating Manufacturing CRM streamlines customer data, allowing manufacturers to tailor products, respond to market changes, and offer competitive prices in online stores. The synergy between MES and CRM creates an agile manufacturing environment, optimizing efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Content Marketing

Kapost’s research shows that companies in the B2B segment that blog get 67% more leads on average than companies that don’t. However, it’s worth remembering that content marketing requires a lot of resources to prepare and regularity in publishing it. This content can be, for example, brand identity and E-commerce logo, articles and videos, webinars, research, and interviews.

The content should help solve a specific problem to create the image of an expert and thus influence the decisions of potential customers. The topics discussed should not be chosen randomly. A little research in Google Trends will help select the main topic, discussion areas in the video, phrases, and words that should be included in the article. Publishing content based on such a prepared analysis allows you to achieve high positions in search engines. It provides a good user experience for customers looking for answers to product/service questions, comprehensively covering the subject matter.

The benefits of this e-commerce strategy are free traffic, increased user confidence, and the creation of an expert image.

Content marketing is a form of promotion that requires patience and time. Its effects will also depend on the quality of thecontent itself, its optimization, and promotion methods. No specific terms can be specified here.

YouTube channels as a form of content marketing

You can discuss your production process and show and test products on your YouTube channel. If someone is looking for information about a product and is unsure which brand to choose, they will likely find your video and maybe make a purchase. Remember to choose a title that matches the search query and prepare a video description with product links. You can send out an email to announce when new videos are released. Whenever you have particularly compelling videos, you could also promote them via texting notifications to drive even more traffic.

Utilize user-generated content and social media

Not utilizing the content that your users generate is a huge issue. This is because it’s not easy to refresh an e-commerce website and keep it alive. But photos and videos taken by real customers are great for this purpose.

Adding a “widget” that connects your online store’s website to its official social media accounts brings significant benefits. These include revitalizing your social media accounts, increasing your credibility as a manufacturer, inspiring other customers to buy, and encouraging repeat purchases.

Snapchat Planets

Snapchat’s “Planets” feature provides a unique and interactive way to engage with your e-commerce store’s audience. Here are some creative ideas on how to leverage Snapchat Planets to create engaging content:

  • Virtual Store Tours: Use the AR feature to create a virtual tour of your store. Each planet can represent different sections or categories of your store. For instance, one planet could showcase your latest collection, another could highlight bestsellers, and another could offer exclusive deals.
  • Product Launches: Announce new product launches by creating a cosmic journey. Users can travel from one planet to another, each unveiling a new product with engaging visuals and detailed descriptions. This creates a sense of excitement and discovery around new arrivals.
  • Interactive Shopping Experience: Create interactive shopping experiences where users can explore products in a fun and engaging way. For example, users can navigate through different planets to find hidden discounts or special offers, making shopping more interactive and rewarding.
  • Customer Rewards and Loyalty Programs: Develop a loyalty program where users earn points or rewards by exploring different planets. Each planet can offer unique rewards, such as discounts, free samples, or exclusive access to new collections. This gamifies the shopping experience and encourages repeat visits.
  • Themed Campaigns: Align your marketing campaigns with planetary themes. For instance, during holiday seasons, you can create a holiday-themed planet where users can find special holiday deals, gift ideas, and festive content.

By leveraging Snapchat Planets, you can transform your e-commerce store’s content into a captivating and interactive experience that keeps your audience engaged, entertained, and coming back for more.

Use newsletters to captivate your target audience

Newsletters can strengthen the connection with the consumer and demonstrate that shopping with you is safe and profitable. Remember that the more personalized the message, the more effective it will be. It should contain a call to action (CTA), such as a button that redirects to products.

Don’t forget to put a box to check for consent to process personal data when subscribing to the newsletter. Also, add an option to unsubscribe from the newsletter in each email.

A regular email account is not adapted for the newsletter, so do not use your everyday email address. This way, you risk being blacklisted by spam filters. The benefits of newsletters are optimizing advertising costs, increasing loyal audiences from different channels, and building mutually beneficial relationships with partners.

Print and PDF Channel

1716522964 432 Top 3 Strategies for Success

In the digital landscape, the significance of Print and PDF channels cannot be underestimated for manufacturers engaging in e- commerce. The tactile experience of print offers unique psychological advantages, enhancing comprehension and retention, which are vital for technical manuals and complex product details. PDFs merge this benefit with digital accessibility, ensuring wide reach while maintaining format integrity. This dual-channel approach not only caters to diverse consumer preferences but also bolsters marketing efforts, making technical content more engaging and understandable. Utilizing catalog software further streamlines the integration of Print and PDF channels into e-commerce strategies, enhancing product presentation and distribution efficiency.

Contextual advertising: Google Ads

1716522964 713 Top 3 Strategies for Success

If you want the advertising you invest in to have an immediate effect, it’s worth turning to Google Ads. Google displays paid ads in search results and on Google’s network of partners (on-site ads in the form of banners).

You bid when you search for a keyword for which advertisers have set up a campaign. The search engine determines who will appear in the search results and at what position. When assigning bids, the quality of the landing page, the quality of the ads, and the stated maximum bid per click are all considered.

To start setting up your campaign, simply login to your Google Ads account. Using the service is free, and you’ll find plenty of online tutorials on creating a campaign. However, you may find that it won’t generate valuable traffic if you don’t set it up optimally. Your budget will be wasted on clicks that won’t lead to conversions. This is why most companies resort to the help of agencies, including specialized agencies.

There is probably no industry in which Google Ads campaigns cannot be used. However, advertising can be moderately profitable if there is a lot of competition in the industry and margins are low.

The benefits of this e-commerce strategy are large audience reach, the ability to get the target audience as accurately as possible, and very detailed statistics on results.

The effect of launching a campaign should appear almost immediately. A properly set up campaign will increase traffic to the website. By systematically optimizing the campaign, you can achieve much better results.

You also can use paid Facebook Ads post promotion. It is important to pinpoint your target group, but how do you do it? A popular way is to draw up a customer portrait, that is, to make a collective image of your customer.

This considers age, gender, income level, location, interests and hobbies, and online behavior. Such a person will display a group interested in your services or goods.

Implement personalized product selections

Recommended product block and cross-selling are very powerful internet marketing strategies. In addition to the recommended product block, which shows the analogs of the product being viewed, it is worth paying attention to the website’s functionality.

As a rule, the products in the “You may also like” block are selected based on the pages previously viewed by the customer, his previous purchases on the website, as well as what was purchased by other customers with similar tastes. If this functionality is implemented technically sound, it can lead to additional items added to the shopping cart. “You may also like” block partly acts as an alternative to the advice of a specialist or consultant.

With blocks for cross-selling related products is a similar situation. Usually, in them are placed products from the same product line, collection, or simply those that perfectly match the product being viewed. You can use AI-powered live chats to proactively engage in customer conversations and suggest products based on their behavior.

Conclusion

E-commerce for manufacturers is a vast field, and in this article, we have presented the most popular and most effective forms of selling online. Remember, no effective e-commerce strategy exists. Each industry and business will have specifics. Try combining the above mentioned e-commerce strategies to maximize your chances of success and increase your profits.

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

Did you follow the Apple iPad Pro content debacle?

Here’s a quick recap. A recent online ad for the new iPad Pro showed a large hydraulic press slowly crushing various symbols of creativity. A metronome, a piano, a record player, a video game, paints, books, and other creative tools splinter and smash as the Sonny and Cher song All I Ever Need Is You plays.

The ad’s title? “Crush!”

The point of the commercial — I think — is to show that Apple managed to smush (that’s the technical term) all this heretofore analog creativity into its new, very thin iPad Pro.  

To say the ad received bad reviews is underselling the response. Judgment was swift and unrelenting. The creative world freaked out.

On X, actor Hugh Grant shared Tim Cook’s post featuring the ad and added this comment: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”

When fellow actor Justine Bateman shared the Tim Cook post, she simply wrote, “Truly, what is wrong with you?” Other critiques ranged from tone-challenged to wasteful to many worse things.

Actor Justine Bateman shared Tim Cook’s post on X, which featured the ad, and added this comment: "Truly, what is wrong with you?".

A couple of days later, Apple apologized and canceled plans to air the ad on television.

How not-so-great content ideas come to life

The level of anger surprises me. Look, the ad does show the eyeballs on an emoji-faced squishy ball popping under the plates’ pressure, but still. Calling the ad “actually psychotic” might be a skosh over the top.

Yes, the ad missed the mark. And the company’s subsequent decision to apologize makes sense.

But anyone who’s participated in creating a content misfire knows this truth: Mistakes look much more obvious in hindsight.

On paper, I bet this concept sounded great. The brainstorming meeting probably started with something like this: “We want to show how the iPad Pro metaphorically contains this huge mass of creative tools in a thin and cool package.”

Maybe someone suggested representing that exact thing with CGI (maybe a colorful tornado rising from the screen). Then someone else suggested showing the actual physical objects getting condensed would be more powerful.

Here’s my imagined version of the conversation that might have happened after someone pointed out the popular internet meme of things getting crushed in a hydraulic press.

“People love that!”

“If we add buckets of paint, it will be super colorful and cool.”

“It’ll be a cooler version of that LG ad that ran in 2008.”

“Exactly!”

“It’ll be just like that ad where a bus driver kidnaps and subsequently crushes all the cute little Pokémon characters in a bus!” (Believe it or not, that was actually a thing.)

The resulting commercial suffers from the perfect creative storm: A not-great (copycat) idea at the absolutely wrong time.

None of us know what constraints Apple’s creative team worked under. How much time did they have to come up with a concept? Did they have time to test it with audiences? Maybe crushing physical objects fit into the budget better than CGI. All these factors affect the creative process and options (even at a giant company like Apple).

That’s not an excuse — it’s just reality.

Content failure or content mistake?

Many ad campaigns provoke a “What the hell were they thinking?” response (think Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad or those cringy brand tributes that follow celebrity deaths).

Does that mean they’re failures? Or are they mistakes? And what’s the difference?

As I wrote after Peloton’s holiday ad debacle (remember that?), people learn to fear mistakes early on. Most of us hear cautionary messages almost from day one.

Some are necessary and helpful (“Don’t stick a knife in a live toaster” or “Look both ways before you cross the street.”) Some aren’t (“Make that essay perfect” or “Don’t miss that goal.”)

As a result, many people grow up afraid to take risks — and that hampers creativity. The problem arises from conflating failure and mistakes. It helps to know the difference.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to become a rock ‘n’ roll musician. I failed. But it wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t wrong to try. My attempt just didn’t work.

Labeling a failed attempt a “mistake” feeds the fears that keep people from attempting anything creative.

The conflation of failure and mistakes happens all too often in creative marketing. Sure, people create content pieces (and let’s not forget that there are always people behind those ideas) that genuinely count as mistakes.

They also create content that simply fails.

Don’t let extreme reactions make you fear failures

Here’s the thing about failed content. You can do all the work to research your audience and take the time to develop and polish your ideas — and the content still might fail. The story, the platform, or the format might not resonate, or the audience simply might not care for it. That doesn’t mean it’s a mistake.

Was the Apple ad a mistake? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Was it a failure? The vitriolic response indicates yes.

Still, the commercial generated an impressive amount of awareness (53 million views of the Tim Cook post on X, per Variety.) And, despite the apology, the company hasn’t taken the ad down from its YouTube page where it’s earned more than 1 million views.

The fictional Captain Jean Luc Picard once said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness. That is life.” The Apple ad turns that statement on its head — Apple made many mistakes and still won a tremendous amount of attention.

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t criticize creative work. Constructive critiques help us learn from our own and others’ failures. You can even have a good laugh about content fails.

Just acknowledge, as the Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote, “Not every mistake is a foolish one.” 

Creative teams take risks. They try things outside their comfort zone. Sometimes they fail (sometimes spectacularly).

But don’t let others’ expressions of anger over failures inhibit your willingness to try creative things.

Wouldn’t you love to get the whole world talking about the content you create? To get there, you have to risk that level of failure.

And taking that risk isn’t a mistake.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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MARKETING

The Future of Content Success Is Social

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The Future of Content Success Is Social

Here’s a challenge: search “SEO RFP” on Google. Click on the results, and tell me how similar they are.

We did the same thing every other SEO does: We asked, “What words are thematically relevant?” Which themes have my competitors missed?” How can I put them in?” AND “How can I do everything just slightly better than they can?”

Then they do the same, and it becomes a cycle of beating mediocre content with slightly less mediocre content.

When I looked at our high-ranking content, I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it ranked, but it wasn’t overly helpful compared to everything else that ranked.

Ranking isn’t the job to be done; it is just a proxy.

Why would a high-ranking keyword make me feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that the whole freaking job to be done? Not for me. The job to be done is to help educate people, and ranking is a byproduct of doing that well.

I looked at our own content, and I put myself in the seat of a searcher, not an SEO; I looked at the top four rankings and decided that our content felt easy, almost ChatGPT-ish. It was predictable, it was repeatable, and it lacked hot takes and spicy punches.

So, I removed 80% of the content and replaced it with the 38 questions I would ask if I was hiring an SEO. I’m a 25-year SME, and I know what I would be looking for in these turbulent times. I wanted to write the questions that didn’t exist on anything ranking in the top ten. This was a risk, why? Because, semantically, I was going against what Google was likely expecting to see on this topic. This is when Mike King told me about information gain. Google will give you a boost in ranking signals if you bring it new info. Maybe breaking out of the sea of sameness + some social signals could be a key factor in improving rankings on top of doing the traditional SEO work.

What’s worth more?

Ten visits to my SEO RFP post from people to my content via a private procurement WhatsApp group or LinkedIn group?

One hundred people to the same content from search?

I had to make a call, and I was willing to lose rankings (that were getting low traffic but highly valued traffic) to write something that when people read it, they thought enough about it to share it in emails, groups, etc.

SME as the unlock to standout content?

I literally just asked myself, “Wil, what would you ask yourself if you were hiring an SEO company? Then I riffed for 6—8 hours and had tons of chats with ChatGPT. I was asking ChatGPT to get me thinking differently. Things like, “what would create the most value?” I never constrained myself to “what is the search volume,” I started with the riffs.

If I was going to lose my rankings, I had to socially promote it so people knew it existed. That was an unlock, too, if you go this route. It’s work, you are now going to rely on spikes from social, so having a reason to update it and put it back in social is very important.

Most of my “followers” aren’t looking for SEO services as they are digital marketers themselves. So I didn’t expect this post to take off HUGLEY, but given the content, I was shocked at how well it did and how much engagement it got from real actual people.

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