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How to Choose Dynamic Images for Your Blog Posts

I’m a content writer, not a graphic designer. My job is to make the words dance, to convey useful information in an entertaining way.

As such, for a long time visuals were just an afterthought for me. Yeah, a blog needs a header image. So after I’m done writing I’ll slap something on there, check that box, and send it off to the client.

As content continues to proliferate, though, that laissez-faire approach isn’t enough. Your potential audience has far more content available to them than they’ll ever be able to read. That means they’re actively looking for reasons not to read your content. A weak—or worse, missing—visual is a perfect excuse to move to the next thing.

The right visual does more than take up space. It captures attention, creates a little mystery, invites the reader to dig into your carefully-crafted text. Good visuals are doubly important for amplification, too: Your Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn shares will all include an image. The visual alone can stop the endless, half-engaged scrolling people do on social media, buying you crucial seconds to compel a click or a tap.

I challenge any and all content creators to up their image game. Let’s stop with the schlocky stock photos and give people something that’s worth their attention.

Here’s how I find scroll-stopping visuals for my blog posts.

Ditch the Schlock Stock

It’s trendy to bash Shutterstock for schlocky stock photos, but that’s like blaming Netflix for your binge-a-thon of Fuller House. There’s plenty of great content available. It’s up to you to find and choose it over the cliché stuff.

Whether you’re using Shutterstock or any other paid photo site, start by avoiding these cliché photo types:

  • Minority Report Computer Displays. Seems like every B2B blog is required to use one of these nonsensical things at least twice a week.
    businessman using futuristic computer interface
  • Stark White Offices. It’s futuristic! It’s so clean! It… looks like no place anyone has ever worked!
    people gathered in stark white office building
  • People with Arms Crossed. Do you pose for pictures like this? Does anyone? Then why are there thousands of these on stock photo sites?
    man with arms folded
  • Cupped Hands with Floating Icons. Sing it with me: “He’s got the [abstract concept of my blog post] in his hands…”
    businessperson holding floating icons in cupped hands
  • Anything in front of a Chalkboard. STAHP.
    Businessman in front of chalkboard with muscular arms drawn in

I could go on, but you get the idea. These are the hoary clichés that give stock photos a bad name. They’re not unique; they’re not authentic; they’re not visually stunning.

To avoid the stock photo blues, I tend to start my search on royalty-free sites like Pixabay, Pexels, and even Creative Commons-licensed photos on Flickr. But even if the boss demands you use an approved paid site, there’s good stuff to be found.  Here are a few ways to kick your visuals up a notch.

Make It Weird

For my blog post on mobile advertising strategy, there were plenty of obvious ways to go. Someone looking at a phone in a coffee shop, at an airport, at a concert… people look at their phones everywhere, so there are no shortage of safe options.

So of course I went with this one:

Visual Content Marketing Dog with Sunglasses and Cell Phone

Why is the dog wearing sunglasses? What type of phone has a pawprint for the unlock button? Why didn’t he use the front-facing camera for his selfie? Any one of those questions is enough to give the reader paws. Er, pause.

Make It Beautiful

Instagram is a social media network that’s almost entirely visual. It was designed for image sharing, boy howdy, do its members share. There have been over 40 billion photos posted on Instagram since it launched 7 years ago.

So it makes sense to take a few design cues from Instagram when you choose your photos. Find something beautiful, striking, and with an evocative filter. Like this image I used for my comedy in content post:

Visual Content Marketing Clown in Forest with Instagram-Style Filter 

Find a Metaphor

Get a little creative with your content, and you can get more creative with your visuals. Introduce a metaphor in your opening paragraph that will unite your content and give you more options for a header image.

For a recent content marketing tips post, I could have stuck with a generic “businessperson” or “office” header image. Instead, I added a personal note about Lego in the beginning, and found a dynamite visual that helped introduce the metaphor:

Visual Content Marketing - Colorful Assortment of Lego Bricks

Take Your Own Photos

The best way to ensure your header is original, authentic, and eye-catching is to take the photo yourself. Last year, Jason Miller held a photoshoot with his LinkedIn Marketing Solutions crew. They captured a ton of wonderful moments that the team used as header images for months:

LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Team around Laptop

I love that even though this image is a parody of a stock photo, it’s undeniably original. You can see the cool art in the office. The people are actually the folks who create content for LinkedIn. The laptop is a well-loved machine with a LinkedIn sticker on it, not a pristine stainless-steel model. Unlike a stock photo, this picture actually tells you about the people behind the brand.

Even a cell-phone quality image can get the job done. When our team covers marketing events, we always take a candid photo of the presenter as the header image. My colleague Caitlin took it a step further for her Ann Handley roundup, with this adorable selfie:

Visual Content Marketing Selfie with Ann Handley

It’s genuine, it’s unexpected, and it’s a photo the reader is guaranteed to be seeing for the first time.

As with Written Content, It’s about Personality

It used to be that all B2B marketing content had to be “professional,” interpreted as “impersonal, flat, and unemotive.” Old-school stock photos are a perfect match for that kind of content. Here’s a guy in a suit standing with his arms folded. Here’s our white paper written like a software end-user license agreement.

Now we know better. Readers want content that has warmth and personality. They want to feel that another human being is communicating with them.

Visuals need to evolve in the same way. If you’re writing great content and still using stiff, stock images, you’re doing your content a disservice. Make sure your visuals are every bit as distinctive and authentic as your writing is, and you can earn your reader’s attention.

Do you love to create great content? Do you excel at eye-stopping imagery? TopRank Marketing needs you on our team.

Disclosure: LinkedIn Marketing Solutions is a TopRank Marketing client.


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How to Make the Switch to Content-Driven SEO #MNBlogCon

TopRank Marketing’s Joshua Nite made his debut on the speaker circuit this past weekend at the 8th annual Minnesota Blogger Conference held at Concordia University in St. Paul.

Charming the crowd with his unique brand of wit, creativity, mad content marketing expertise, and numerous “cats with hats” references, Josh delivered a The Good Place-themed presentation titled: “The Good News About Creative Content: From SEO-Driven Content to Content-Driven SEO.”

As someone who spent 12 years as a creative comedy writer for a video game called The Kingdom of Loathing, Josh said he was terrified by the concept of SEO-driven content when he made his transition into content marketing.

“The worst content to write, and the worst content for people to read, was the stuff that [search engine] robots liked to read to most,” Josh said.

But thankfully, search engines are getting smarter, using AI and machine learning to increasingly improve how they deliver the best results. As a result, content creators need to flip the script on how they craft content if they want to resonate with readers and robots. From Josh’s point of view, that means transitioning from SEO-driven content to content-driven SEO.

How? Below is Josh’s five-step framework.

#1 – Topic research.

Get started by digging deep into your target audience. Why? Because in order to craft content that resonates, you have to understand what they care about. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are they? (i.e. demographics, hobbies, interests, etc.)
  • What do they desperately need to know? (And what keywords and keywords groups are associated?)
  • Where do they hang out online? (i.e. social media)
  • Why should they care about your content? (What value can you add?)
  • How do they search for inspiration? (i.e. Google, Bing, Q&A forums, etc.)

From there, you need to identify your sweet spot. Your sweet spot is the intersection of: 1) Your brand’s expertise. 2) Your audience’s needs. 3) Your unique insights.

Finally, leverage free and paid tools such as Google auto-complete, Google Keyword Planner, Quora, Answer The Public, and BuzzSumo to understand specific keyword topics that resonate most with your audience.


To craft #content that resonates, you have to know what your audience cares about.
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#2 – Competitor research.

Simply put, in order to beat out your competition, you need to know what they’re up to. Kick off your competitive research by simply “going incognito,” Josh said.

An incognito search prevents your browser history or cache from impacting the results, giving you a more accurate picture of the search results surrounding your priority keyword topics.

After popping in your keywords, scan the results for content gaps—gaps in quality, relevant, or helpful content. As you do this, look for opportunities to expand your keywords into long-tail variations, so you can get more specific and really let your niche expertise shine.

#3 – Content creation.

Now the fun part comes. Using your topical and competitive research, outline your concepts and document your content mission (i.e. increase ranking for “X” keyword by 10 positions in one month). Then get to work on crafting your piece.

#4 – A smattering of HTML.

As you craft your content, you need to be thinking about how you’ll organize that content on-page, as well as send “click me” signals to searchers. This involves working in some of the technical on-page SEO elements. The top three that need consideration include:

  • Title tags: This is the title searchers will see in the SERPs. Keep it to 600 pixels long so it doesn’t get truncated. In addition, aim to have the primary keyword near the beginning, as long as it makes sense.
  • Header tags: Use H1 and H2 tags to organize your content to make it easy to scan for readers and robots.
  • Meta description: From Josh’s perspective, this is the most overlooked, yet crucial part of SEO infrastructure. “This is your one shot to hook users,” he said. Keep it to 160 characters or less, include your target keyword if it makes sense, and state the clear benefit.

#5 – Optimization.

You’ve spent a lot of time getting that piece of content out the door. But fight the urge to move on and never touch it again. As Josh so eloquently said, “The real work begins after you publish.”

So, keep an eye on your analytics. Is your content getting a good amount of impressions but not a ton of clicks? Consider refining the meta description a bit. Are you getting impressions and clicks, but the bounce rate is high? Your readers may feel like they’re not getting what they were promised or there’s no clear call to action to keep them on your site. So refine the meta description and craft a more compelling CTA.

Again, you poured a lot of effort into getting this content published—so don’t let that effort be wasted. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to tweak the content and the SEO elements to improve its resonance.


The real work begins after your publish. – @NiteWrites #contentmarketing
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Don’t Settle

Josh summed it all up perfectly in the final moments of his presentation:

“There’s never been a better opportunity to write great content that people actually want to read and that will get seen in search results,” Josh said. “So, go forth and be awesome. And please, please—don’t settle for writing crappy content.”


Please, please—don’t settle for writing crappy content. – @NiteWrites #contentmarketing
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What does your creative content creation process look like? Tell us in the comments section below.


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Digital Marketing News: Twitter Happening Now, Snapchat Context Cards, LinkedIn Video Ads

LinkedIn Video Ads

Video Ads Are Finally Coming to LinkedIn (client) – When LinkedIn began allowing users to upload videos in August, video ads seemed like an inevitability, and they are now one step closer. LinkedIn announced today that it is running a closed beta test of video for sponsored content “with a limited number of advertisers.”  AdWeek

Twitter Plans To Release A Bookmarking Tool #SaveforLater. You know how you can save posts to read later in Facebook? Well, Twitter is looking to do the same thing. For all of you liking posts as a way to bookmark, you can stop that practice with this new feature. Will this mean likes will go down? Probably. BuzzFeed

New Research: The state of marketing attribution – A growing number of marketers are using attribution in all or most of their marketing efforts, according to a recent study from Econsultancy and AdRoll. However, the number of marketers acting on the insights they pull from attribution data is dwindling. Econsultancy

Snapchat Introduces “context cards” – Snapchat released ‘Context Cards’ this week, which have the potential to bolster marketing efforts for restaurants, venues and other destinations. These cards will pull in information based on the Snap’s geo-filters and map information that will lead viewers to online reviews, Uber and Lyft information and more. TechCrunch

AdWords Charges & Your Daily Budget – If you’ve been struggling to reach your advertising goals, AdWords has made some recent changes to help get you over the hump. As of October 4th, campaigns are now able to spend up to twice the average daily budget. Don’t fret about racking up the costs at the end of the month as you will not be charged more than your monthly charging limit. Google

Twitter Happening Now – Twitter is adding a “Happening Now” feature that will group tweets by event, the company announced today. The feature, which will start with sports games, is yet another way the company is seeking to highlight information on its platform outside of the traditional follow model. Buzzfeed

Social media monitor Brandwatch acquires content marketing platform BuzzSumo –  Two things that are great on their own are not often better together, but that’s exactly what the marketing industry expects from the combination of BuzzSumo and Brandwatch. TechCrunch

Connect the Dots from Data to Better Customer Experiences – Join me and Michael Trapani of IBM on October 26th for a free webinar to better understand the opportunities around creating best answer experiences with cognitive technologies. IBM Watson

Smart Speaker Commerce

NEWS NUGGETS

Infographic: YouTube has grown to 1.5 billion monthly active users – MarketingProfs

LinkedIn connects sales, marketing tools for B2B advertisers to target leads, accounts – MarTech Today

70% of Brands Work with Instagram Influencers – Research Brief

Majestic and SEMRush Combine Forces – Majestic Blog

Bing Ads Launches Automated Bid Strategy to ‘Maximize Clicks’ – Search Engine Land

As Voice Has Its Moment, Amazon, Google and Apple Are Giving Brands a Way Into the Conversation – AdWeek

New Study from D&B Shows What Frustrates B2B Buyers Most – MarketingProfs

70% of Marketers Do Not Use Anonymized Consumer Identity Data But 75% Say it Helps Campaign Optimization – MediaPost

63% of Amazon Advertisers Plan to Spend Even More Over the Next Year – AdWeek

What was the top digital marketing news story for you this week?

Be sure to stay tuned until next week when we’ll be sharing all new marketing news stories. Also check out the full video summary with Tiffani and Josh on YouTube.


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Top 5 SEO Article Marketing Mistakes You Need To Avoid

Many people who do article marketing for SEO want to get results but often their results do not meet their expectations. Here are, based on my experience, the top 5 SEO article marketing mistakes that you should avoid if you want to really get results with your article submissions.

1. Submitting an article with the same title

The title is very important from an SEO point of view. “5 Article Marketing Blunders” is not the same as “Top 5 SEO Article Marketing Mistakes You Need To Avoid” in the eyes of search engines. And if you want your article to appear unique, this is the first step you need to follow.

Make sure you rewrite your titles in order to have between 5 and 20 different versions of your title. And do not forget to put your keyword in your title. This is a must when you submit an article to both article directories and blog networks.

2. Submitting an article with the same resource box or with the same links (anchor text and URL)

seo - article marketingWhen you submit articles for SEO, the most important part of your article are your links back to the pages you are promoting. If you submit to directories, then the most important part of the article is your resource box, and if you submit to blog networks, it is your anchor text links.

Submitting the same article with the same anchor text link pointing to the same URL is a clear footprint and does not help you make your article appear as unique. What you need to do instead is vary both the URL you are pointing to as well as the anchor text of your links. With one article you can promote several pages, so just take advantage of this possibility. This will give you more links to more pages without more effort on your part.

3. Not submitting enough articles

Both when you submit article to article directories and when you post them on blog networks, you need to consistently submit articles. Promoting one keyword means you will need to submit several or many articles.

Submitting one article to directories and 3 articles to a public blog network like MyArticleNetwork might be enough if your keyword is not competitive. I have reached the number 2 on page one within 2 weeks with such keywords.

But if your keyword has some competition, you might need to submit 5 articles to directories, 10 articles to a public blog network, and 50 posts to a private blog network such as BuildMyRank before you achieve a decent position on page 1.

4. Writing promotional articles or articles that are not spell checked

Some readers or subscribers sometimes ask me why their articles get rejected. Usually they are promoting a product as affiliates and they don’t know why their articles are not accepted. Most of the time, it is because their articles are promotional. And article directories will usually not accept these articles.

What is a promotional article? For an article directory, it is either an article that is salesy (reads like a sales pitch) or an article that mentions a product name or brand in more than one part of the article: title and body, body and resource box, or title and resource box. If you want to ensure that your article is not promotional, just mention the product name in the resource box. For instance, if you are writing about some article writing software, write a general article about the benefits of using such a tool, and then only mention the product name in the resource box.

The second reason why articles may be rejected is because they contain spelling errors or grammatical errors. Make sure your English is grammatically correct (especially if you are like me and English is not your mother tongue); it does not need to be perfect, just correct.

5. Submitting badly spun articles

If you are submitting articles to blog networks, you need to rewrite and spin them. Otherwise, they will have a very low uniqueness and blog owners will not accept them. Moreover, it is crucial from an SEO point of view to submit unique articles. Submitting badly spun articles will do you no good, and you will not get good results with this method.

Many people just put their original article in The Best Spinner and use the automated rewrite function. The problem of doing this is that the outcome is usually pretty poor. Rewriting and spinning does take time if you want to have a quality output, even with a great software program like The Best Spinner.

Need help with your online marketing? Learn more about our search engine optimization services for small business.

See More Here: Top 5 SEO Article Marketing Mistakes You Need To Avoid

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