In the following interview, Jon Henshaw, Chief Product Officer and Co-founder of Raven Tools, shared changes in the digital marketing industry, ways to cut through digital clutter, and the value of tracking content and customer engagement. I first met Jon after he spoke to a room of entrepreneurs and content marketers at the entrepreneur center. I'm a fan of his story, product and his passion for helping other professionals better understand their online footprint (and the potential).
Created in 2007, Raven Tools is a Nashville based online marketing platform that converges business intelligence with digital marketing for both agencies and in-house marketing departments. The company originally focused heavily on SEO, but later set its sights on the ever-growing digital marketing space. Raven Tools’ previous SEO expertise, coupled with their digital marketing strategies, can provide better solutions to their clients with effective SEO, content marketing, social media marketing, pay-per-click (PPC) tools, and highly sought after marketing reports.
When Raven Tools first started, Google’s search algorithm was comparatively simpler than what it is today. In those early days, gaming Google Search could be accomplished somewhat easily through spammy link building and other rudimentary tactics. But, as the Google grew exponentially, they adapted their algorithm to make more useful content rise to the top of its search results. Consequently, digital marketing experienced a shift within the last seven years from focusing on SEO to focusing on content marketing.
Henshaw points to three issues all online marketers must now take into account:
Content: What type of content should a company create? What is that content’s ultimate goal for the company?
Relationships: Companies must develop relationships with webmasters and site owners.
Visibility: Companies should search for smart ways to get talked about and become visible on relevant sites that are also trustworthy to a search engine.
In regards to cutting through the digital clutter of trying to keep up with the ever-changing digital advertising landscape, Henshaw points to what Raven Tools has been doing for some time:
Gather insights from thought leaders to help discover your passion or provide inspiration. Henshaw describes this as the “secret of the trade” in that these leaders may just be on the sideline in terms of who people listen to, but if you closely follow them, they may be able to fill in some gaps of the bigger picture.
Look and evaluate information to see if it’s relevant or valuable to your content marketing efforts.
Use relevant content to spur business growth.
Pursue and implement unique, noteworthy reporting.
Use RSS extensively: Listening to the wrong people, or going along with a general online sentiment, means you’re likely missing out on key information.
Know current trends: The challenge is in developing wide awareness of the current state of affairs online so that a company or marketing agency can provide keen insight into what may happen in the near future.
Henshaw said that the luxury of smaller, bootstrapped companies like Raven Tools is the fact that they’re able to stay fairly secretive in regards to what they're doing or where they’re headed. The key is to truly understand the market and surprise your customers in a good way while shocking your competitors.
Henshaw illustrated how one can pivot around content marketing by:
Epic content: Instead of just publishing articles, a company can focus on one issue no one else has talked about in-depth that solves customers’ problems in their target market.
Innovation: Identify what’s working for competitors, then build off of that to do something better and bigger. Innovation occurs when a company sees what’s working for somebody else and knows it can do it better, cheaper, or faster.
Multiple media: Utilize different mediums, e.g. engage in social media, make a microsite, distribute videos via YouTube, or share a slideshow on SlideShare.
However, tracking and analyzing such epic content can be a challenge. Henshaw recommends using:
Google Campaign Variables: Track particular campaigns with a shortened Google Analytics URL, then use it everywhere for that particular campaign in order to track the campaign’s effectiveness and conversion.
Offline Campaigns: Use trackable links for offline campaigns. For instance, use a different trackable analytics link on print material than with social media so that each strategy’s effectiveness and conversion rates can be properly assessed.
Henshaw cited goals, events, and campaign variables as three Google Analytics’ focus areas that are critical to increasing organic traffic and conversion. Raven Tools has created online resources at www.gaconfig.com to help companies easily understand and implement these focus areas.