Realistic Conversion: Guiding Paths in Content Marketing
Misty Weaver Jan 5 2016
This article is about how we help people navigate our marketing and websites. We start with breadcrumbs. Metaphorical ones. The first little morsels of interest are “breadcrumbs” because, as content, their reach is limited.
These are small, temporal bits of information you distribute for customers to find you online. Your ads, social media, blog posts, brochures, a team member making an elevator pitch or encouraging people to visit a booth at an event – breadcrumbs. They’re all moments in time meant to draw attention.
Moments are not enough.
Think of Hansel and Gretel. They wandered through the forest, having lost their path of breadcrumbs home, until they found a delicious gingerbread house. Unfortunately, there was a witch inside who wanted to cook them in her oven. Breadcrumbs did not serve them well on their journey.
Breadcrumbs disappear. They are not enough to get your customers from where they are to where you want them to go. But who doesn’t love a giant house made of candy and cake? It’s alluring, attractive. However, if you really want to lead people to your company’s equivalent of a gingerbread house, you need to light the path back, forward, and from any side.
To compete online, you need to provide breadcrumbs AND signposts — those permanent content anchors that help people towards their goals. Then, make helping customers* achieve their goals the focus of your content marketing.
Everything you do, from content to design, UX to marketing, sales to actual product or service delivery should have one primary goal: Build trust with your audiences. Trust must be earned.
In short, if your marketing points people towards a gingerbread house, there actually needs to be an enormous quantity of gingerbread at the end of your path. But if your house is made of black licorice, don’t hide that information from people on the path. Avoid risking the disappointment of licorice haters, knowing that the devotees will be so thrilled to have finally found you!
Use smart content marketing strategy to demonstrate your credibility. Breadcrumbs and signposts are small examples of how content and architecture will help you guide people through a path towards a goal without hovering or interrupting the journey.
*Note: I say “customers” but I mean anyone you want to reach. Be you nonprofit, government, or education, small business or gigantic enterprise – think of customers as people who convert. That can mean making a sale, receiving a donation, or even learning a piece of information you want to share.
Moving on from the Witch: Where’d the trust go?
When it comes to brands and marketing, Hansel and Gretel is a cautionary tale for our time. Most consumers don’t feel empowered. They feel consumed. So many brand promises turn out to be for the company’s benefit with no real value for the consumer. “Give us your eyeballs, email address, time, money,” marketers cry, “and tell everyone how great we are!” Even the good guys do this. What are we giving people in return for their engagement?
Think about your own time online. How often do you check a social media channel to see what your favorite brand is doing? Or are you there to check on friends and family? Get resources and advice from colleagues and professional heroes?
Maybe you’ll accept a commercial as long as you’re entertained.
If you want your marketing to work, you’ll need to entertain without making people feel like you’re blocking their progress. With all these branded breadcrumbs being thrown around, it’s hard to get anyone’s attention. You do need to create value through content and promote it on every channel your customer regularly visits. But in a world of irritated people, what are ads good for now?
They’re still relevant. They remind people you’re out there. You have a lovely gingerbread house down the path and it’s full of tasty, delightful things they want, maybe even need. Plus, it’s real. Use ads–and other breadcrumbs–as attractive signals in your master marketing plan: Point these signals to even more useful, engaging chains of content.
Show people that your marketing is here to provide for them, not consume them.
How It’s Done: 3 steps to creating the path
Start by knowing the architecture of your content, from the central point to the temporary promotions. To succeed, you need to be sure that the labels, paths, and links are all clear. The content on the pages should be helpful and directional, not just aesthetically pleasing.
Know what content you want to share? Awesome, let’s map a path to it. (Bonus: Eventually, you can create as many paths as you like, as long as you understand your own content map.)
Consider your customers’ needs, language, and channels, then…
- Choose your central point (house)
- Create relevant anchors (signposts)
- Plan your promotion (breadcrumbs) for the channels customers actually use
Your Central Point (Gingerbread House)
This web page or point of sale will fully describe the product/service available and provide a way to take action. It’s useful and functional. Best case scenario: it answers customer questions, helps them make a decision, and makes it easy for them to take the next step.
For most of us, this is the ultimate conversion point to which we are guiding people.
Content Anchors (Signposts)
Evergreen content on your website moves people forward to the central point. It answers questions, aids decision-making, and points towards desired action.
It can also point them to pieces of information they may need in order to make a decision. It must have a clear call to action, but its message is helpful, not sales-focused. We’re not at the “close the deal” stage. You can use blog posts, webinars, slides, one-sheets, or useful guides and tools as anchors – as long as they subtly lead to the central point.
Evergreen also means you will maintain these assets. They will remain accurate, up-to-date, and functional at all times.
Promotional Content (Breadcrumbs)
Now we can have fun! These are temporary points of contact that lead people towards the lights or the house. Make informative entertainment over interruptions – from banner ads to meta descriptions, social media posts to landing pages. It’s okay to be playful. This means help someone enjoy the work it takes to learn something new. Be that fun teacher, the one you still admire.
Action Plan: An example content path
This is sample campaign model in which I am selling gingerbread-house themed cupcakes. They feature an adorable little candy house on top of a delicious cake.
House: Order form. My website has a kickass order page and cart. The shopping system is intuitive. It is quick, easy, and provides the right information for someone to understand how to order and how/when it will be delivered. You can easily access ingredients and preparation information from the form.
Signposts: Web pages. I have a page dedicated to the gingerbread cupcake – the images are mouth-watering, the messaging is clear, the tone is fun-loving. If you want to order these for your holiday party, school function, or a dozen for your own darn self – our page outlines the options clearly and makes it easy to get to the next step. We also have multiple evergreen pages showcasing these and other cupcakes.
From our story in About Us to content about ingredients to our party planning guide, we appropriately point to the order form on each page. We make it very easy for people with allergies or food-sourcing and preparation concerns to see how we work. And if you don’t like gingerbread, it’s always easy to navigate to our other selections.
Breadcrumbs: Winter is the season for gingerbread houses. Our planning and content creation started in August for a November launch. After Halloween, we began teasing the cupcakes through appropriate ads, social media posts, contests, and free samples at our locations.
We gathered testimonials from last year’s customers and showed this year’s creations being made in our test kitchen (bring on the Vines!). We even taught people how to make their own versions on our blog and YouTube channel. We offered an email sign-up list for notifications. At launch, we held and documented a party where our first customers decorated their own cupcake tops.
And we subtly pointed to our signposts in these posts. After launch, we were able to send some ads and posts directly to the order form.
The central theme here is: If you are looking for gingerbread cupcakes, you can find us. If you’re excited about gingerbread cupcakes, we will help you make them or make them for you. We’ll be transparent, helpful, and quick from time spent viewing content to final product delivery.
Content Marketing: Findable, useful, and generous
Content Marketing just means drawing people to you with your content. To do that, you need to structure images, language, and code so that your work is findable. You will prove that you are useful by creating content based on what your audience wants and needs to get done. In drawing them to you, you make a promise with all of your content points that you want them to succeed.
Online, you can’t hold someone’s hand throughout their journey. Getting their attention and leading them to your conversion point is difficult. Mistrust. Competition. Information Overload. Other people are getting in the way of your ideal customer. Be better than that.
Provide clear paths to content by planning first, creating second, and drawing it together with a cohesive map. In all of your content, seek to be clear and helpful. When someone sees your ad, clicks your link, gets to your destination – make sure they will find exactly what they thought they would. Every time.
Be the gingerbread house, not the oven.
Map your path: From central point to promotional venues
|Map Point||Content Type||Description|
|House||Central Point||Web page with conversion action (button, link, order form.)|
|Signpost||Evergreen Answer Content||Web page with back and forth action (links to conversion or back to more helpful information.)|
|Breadcrumb||Promotional Content||Small pieces of content across a variety of channels.|
|Promotional Content Examples|
|Blog posts or web pages||Inform people of their options and potentially teach them something of value.|
|Landing pages||Speak to something in the moment: This could be seasonal sale, contest, product or customer spotlight.|
|Social media posts||Highlight one central idea in a fun, attractive way.|
|Paid social media||Promote content at the right time and place for your customers.|
|Search engine optimized structure, content, and metadata||Help people find you by using their language and following the rules of search engine algorithms. This will support findability and usability.|
|PPC||Place ads on the right channels and attach yourself to the words your customers use to search.|
Find your signposts and plan your next breadcrumbs with a content inventory and strategy: https://www.portent.com/data/content-inventory/
Need help? Contact us for a UX Content Audit or Story Package that helps you build evergreen and promotional content.
More Content Marketing Resources
Map your Content with the Content Analysis Tools for Inventories and Audits: https://www.content-insight.com/
Portent Alum Misty Weaver is the past lead for the Content Strategy practice here at Portent, and also teaches at the University of Washington. She is a dedicated community volunteer, organizing the Content Strategy Seattle meetup and actively supporting the IA/UX meetup. Read More