The Most Important Lessons You Should Have Learned in 2014

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For so many of us, the end of every year revolves around holiday celebrations and spending quality time with friends and family. As it should.

But the end of the year is also a time for purposeful reflection — for considering the successes and failures of the year gone by, and for making sure that lessons have been learned and that plans are in place to hit the ground running in the new year.

On this episode of The Lede, Demian Farnworth and I spend a little time purposefully reflecting on 2014 and the most important lessons we will carry forward with us into 2015.

In this episode, Demian Farnworth and I discuss:

  • The impact of Google killing Authorship
  • Predictions about Google+ and Author Rank
  • Why we eliminated blog comments and our Facebook page
  • Is native advertising working?
  • The intersection of serving your audience and creating a profitable business
  • How empathy can influence the customer experience
  • The next episode of The Lede: looking ahead to the evolution of content marketing in 2015

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Send us a tweet with your thoughts anytime: @JerodMorris and @DemianFarnworth.

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The Show Notes

The Transcript

Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

The Lede Podcast: The Most Important Lessons We Learned in 2014

Jerod Morris: Welcome back to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media. I’m your host, Jerod Morris.

This episode of The Lede is brought to you by Authority Rainmaker, Copyblogger’s second annual live conference focused on providing content marketing training and networking opportunities for real-world results.

Authority Rainmaker takes place in May of 2015, and will be held at the stunning Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver, Colorado. Keynote presentations will be delivered by Daniel Pink, Sally Hogshead, and Henry Rollins.

Super early-bird pricing is still available. Go to authorityrainmaker.com for details.

For so many of us, the end of every year revolves around holiday celebrations and spending quality time with friends and family, as it should.

But the end of the year is also a time for purposeful reflection, for considering the successes and failures of the year gone by and for making sure that lessons have been learned and that plans are in place to hit the ground running in the new year.

On this episode of The Lede, Demian Farnworth and I spend a little time purposefully reflecting on 2014 and the most important lessons we will carry forward with us into 2015.

Demian, when you reflect back on 2014, what sticks out in your mind?

Demian Farnworth: What sticks out in my mind? The fact that you roared on one of our episodes.

Jerod: Okay, that’s ridiculous. What about …

Demian: (Laughs)

Jerod: (Laughing) … content marketing?

Demian: Oh, content marketing! Okay. Content marketing.

Thinking back over 2014, I think of two major events that — I don’t want to say defined content marketing — but at least changed the course, gave it a rumble, so to speak.

The first event was when Google killed Authorship, and the other one was the emergence of native advertising.

The impact of Google killing Authorship

Jerod: Let’s start with Google killing Authorship, because obviously that was big news.

What about that really sticks out? And then, more importantly, what can we learn from that?

Demian: Google Authorship was something that Google rolled out about three years ago in June.

It was an experiment, and — as we know with Google, nothing is a sacred cow — the experiment failed.

Google Authorship was supposed to allow authors to claim their content and then display it in search results with markup code.

Over the past three years, we’ve probably all seen when we’ve gone to Google and searched for something that some of those entries had photos on them. That’s the display or the image support that Google allowed.

Google was trying to connect authors with their content, because they had PageRank, and PageRank evaluates and judges content based upon the content on that page.

The other half of the equation is who is the author. They wanted to bring in an authority factor. So it was not just the content on the page that was important but also who wrote it.

Authorship was their attempt to do that, and it didn’t work out. Ultimately, they killed image support. They actually, in December of 2013, reduced image support and then ultimately killed it in June of 2014.

Then just this past August, Google said Authorship’s done, and it’s gone.

The reasons why they did it were, first, low adoption rates. People weren’t implementing it. It was somewhat complex. It was even absent in some verticals.

You go to some industries, and it’s completely absent. Nobody was implementing it.

And, in fact, it had such a low adoption rate only 30 percent of the top 50 most influential social media marketers had implemented Authorship.

Those who you’d think it would be most important to weren’t even getting involved, weren’t even interested in it.

The other reason it failed was that it just had low value to searchers. The novelty had worn off.

Google sees that half their searches come from mobile devices. And since photos and Authorship snippets didn’t look right in mobile searches, they decided to kill it.

Predictions about Google+ and Author Rank

Jerod: Let me jump in here and highlight a lesson, what we can take from this.

When Authorship came out, there was a pretty big rush of people, especially in our industry, who implemented it on their sites, and with good reason.

And it also seemed to really increase Google+ usage there for awhile. Once they removed Authorship, it feels like people have started to use Google+ less.

The lesson is, as always, with Google and any of these social media sites: You have to be careful about putting too many eggs in one basket because the rules of the game can change at any time, just as they did here.

It’s not that implementing Authorship was a waste of time by any means, but it’s just another lesson that these things can change.

It should just be one portion of your strategy, and you never want to go all in on anything that you don’t control.

Demian: That’s right. And I wouldn’t be surprised — even though they’ve said contrary — if at some point in the future that Google kills Google+.

Because it’s a social site now as it stands, and that’s the only function that it’s really serving. Unless they find a fundamental use for it, it’s not serving a business objective.

I would not doubt that it goes away, too. Because we saw comments and such drop off on our actual Copyblogger profile, and I think part of that is because Authorship ended.

However, Author Rank itself — the concept that Google is trying to judge content based on who wrote it — is not dead.

And Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land discusses the current state of Author Rank in a good article we’ll provide in the show notes.

Because it’s still used in what’s known as in-depth articles, and of course, Google hasn’t told us this, but they have other ways of identifying author authority.

Brian asked the question in an article he wrote: What if Author Rank never happens?

The answer is: It doesn’t matter as long as you’re still building authority and creating great content — then you have nothing to fear.

It’s what we’ve been teaching you for the last eight years. If you continue to do those things, you’re in good shape.

Why we eliminated blog comments and our Facebook page

Jerod: One of the lessons that’s become a lot more clear to me this year is the idea that we’re all in business, right?

An online business, or in business to make money — but to make money while serving an audience.

That’s why I think it’s so important to understand this intersection of where you offer the most value to your audience, and then what drives profit in your business.

And this is going to be different for everyone, right?

Two decisions we made this year that created a lot of discussion were removing blog comments and killing our Facebook page.

Some people agreed, some people didn’t, and everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.

For us, it really came down to understanding where we provide the most value for our audience with limited resources.

We can’t be everywhere at all times and everything to all people, so where do we provide the most value?

In terms of our business, what actually drives revenue and profit? Understanding that intersection is what led to those decisions.

It’s what you have to understand and think about when you consider possibilities such as “should we go after Google+, or should we step back from Google+? What social networks are we going to invest in? What type of content are we going to invest in?”

It really is a lesson that is not specific to 2014, but understanding that intersection of where you’re providing value for your audience and where you derive the most business value really is a way to guide your decisions.

Demian: That’s right.

Is native advertising working?

Jerod: Let’s move on to the next one. I know that you wanted to talk about native advertising.

As you reflect back on the big research project you did on native advertising, what are your thoughts?

Demian: Native advertising has got to be the buzzword of the year, I think. Especially at the start of the year, it was huge.

Companies were coming out of the woodwork to support it, and the funny thing is: we did a series and survey about it, and not very many people actually knew what it is.

In fact, our native advertising survey results demonstrated nearly 50 percent of the respondents didn’t have a clue what native advertising is, and another 48 percent had a shaky understanding of what it is.

There were only about three percent that were very knowledgeable about it, and I guarantee those were people who have businesses that cropped up to serve native advertising.

For those who don’t know, native advertising is paid content that matches a publication’s editorial standards while meeting the audience’s expectations.

For example, if you go to BuzzFeed, you can see lots of examples of promoted content, native advertising. If you go there right now, you’ll see promoted content by PlayStation and Heinz.

Another thing, too, is native advertising is not new. It’s just new online.

Because David Ogilvy was doing native advertising back when he did campaigns for Guinness beer, and we termed that an advertorial.

It looked like an article, a top 10 best-of list, but it was an ad for Guinness. It was to promote their beer. It had a clear call to action, which is basically that a Guinness guy eats oysters.

You eat oysters, and it’s best to wash them down with Guinness beer. Now we have the same thing online.

That’s the editorial side of native advertising.

There’s also the in-feed ad side of it: Twitter’s promoted posts, Facebook’s promoted stories. You’ll see in-stream ads inside apps, and Google text ads are also an idea that comes from native advertising.

It’s just advertising that is basically invading, coming into the editorial space, but it’s designed to look as if it was editorial, if it was an article.

Jerod: Let me ask you: is it working? Does it work, and what opportunities does it provide, especially as we look forward into next year?

Demian: That’s a great question because here’s the thing: Native advertising has been a boon for publishers.

Many big, blue-chip media companies have come collapsing down because they can’t compete in the online world.

Well, here comes native advertising and publishers get to sell major real estate at a premium price.

Advertisers pay for this space, so this revenue model actually saves these businesses.

BuzzFeed is a great example. VICE is another example. For the time being, this revenue model is profitable. The question is, like you said, will it be profitable in the long run?

This is to be seen, because eventually the novelty will wear off. And in fact, the sponsored content’s native advertising does have a trust problem.

Contently ran a survey in 2014 and demonstrated that people look at, say, an advertorial in Entrepreneur magazine by Dell with a very skeptical eye.

And then ChartBeat, a data analytics company, did a survey in early 2014. They said people simply are not scrolling on this content.

Either advertisers are going to wise up and say, “Native advertising isn’t working,” or they will create compelling content that will actually engage an audience, and maybe close that trust gap.

The opportunities are two-fold, I think. Brands are hiring a lot more writers to fill this gap because they see the value in native advertising, sponsored content, and promoted content.

We’ve seen a lot of journalists become content marketers.

But this could also be a revenue model for small-time publishers — actually allowing brands to come in and create content for their site as an ad.

But again, this is like what you mentioned earlier. You don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket.

The intersection of serving your audience and creating a profitable business

Jerod: And for some advertisers, native advertising isn’t going to be possible simply because of the budget.

Like you said, it’s a big opportunity for small-time publishers, but when you look at it from the content creator side, it’s not always going to be feasible.

That leads me into another lesson from 2014. There’s a lot of discussion about content shock — there’s all this content out there, so how do you rise above it?

You’ve got to create better content. That simply doesn’t change. The quality of your content, its usefulness to an audience, has to continue to get better.

That may mean thinking outside the box and finding new ways to reach people and new ways to maximize different mediums.

Most of our audience, as well as us at Copyblogger, don’t have unlimited resources or unlimited budgets, right?

Demian: Right.

Jerod: If we’re going to invest more in our content, we’ve got to take time, effort, and resources away from something else.

You have to find a balance between content and technology.

If you can find ways to be more efficient with what you’re doing on the technology side, it will give you more resources on the content side.

And obviously for us, we released the Rainmaker Platform as the solution. The technical part of your business is taken care of on this one platform so that you can focus more on content.

I think as we look into 2015 that is going to continue to be so important, especially for publishers, advertisers, and companies who don’t have unlimited resources.

For most of us, we need to find ways to be more efficient with technology so that we can invest more time into creating better content and become more successful with our content marketing efforts.

Demian: And I think to add to that, the idea of content shock is silly because we’ve always been under a deluge of content. There’s never been a shortage.

I can’t think of any time in my past that I’ve ever had a surplus of time to consume all the content that was out there. It’s always been a flood of content.

It’s really about content fatigue, right? Saying the same thing over and over. Rather than “efficient,” I think a better word is probably being “effective” with your content.

For example, instead of a daily publishing schedule, maybe you only publish twice a week so you have time to focus on creating and researching.

Because the thing is, you have to figure out a way to rise above the noise. If you can pour more of your resources on one piece of content, then you’re going to create something better than if you’re spreading resources out to create five pieces of content.

It’s also this idea of creating asset pillars, and I talked about this in a blog post on infographics. The infographic an as asset pillar reduces your content strategy time.

Say you wrote five different articles that are in your archives. You’d take those, create an infographic, and then you create a podcast from that infographic, like we did with the 11 Essential Ingredients Every Blog Post Needs.

It’s being smarter with what you have, especially for the small-time publishers. It allows you to pour more energy, focus, and creativity into one particular piece of content.

It gives you a fighting chance versus spreading yourself thin.

Jerod: That’s a great point. So one more topic, here, before we close out this episode, and that is empathy, which is one of the biggest buzzwords from 2014.

Anybody who attended our first Authority conference in Denver in May knows empathy was a big word. It really carried throughout the entire year.

Let’s close out by talking about empathy and then also how it influences that next-step idea of experience and journey maps.

How empathy can influence the customer experience

Demian: Empathy is this idea of relating to your customer, being in their shoes, but then also wanting to provide a solution to their problem.

For example, I have empathy for freelancers, because I’ve been in their shoes and I understand them. I know where they’re at, and so I can speak to their plight. Their plight resonates with my plight.

Being able to do that is what we’re after. And so empathy is just another way of saying something that we’ve been saying for quite some time, which is about focus on the customer rather than upon ourselves.

We’re constantly fighting this from a commercial standpoint. You shift from “it’s all about me, the brand” to “it’s all really about the customer.”

In regard to empathy, what we’re trying to do is just relate to them. Google did this when they were promoting some of their products, like Chrome and gmail.

They did it through the dad using Google products to chronicle the birth of his daughter and document milestones as she grows up. That’s empathy, right?

Procter & Gamble did a commercial for mothers who are raising Olympic athletes that spoke to everything mothers do for their children.

It was a short commercial, but the idea was “we understand, we see what you do, so we want to create products that help you do your job better.” That’s empathy, too.

Jerod: Our next episode of The Lede will tie what we learned in 2014 into what we’re going to focus on in 2015.

Empathy is really the first step toward being able to provide the most personalized experience to your users.

You have to understand what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, and what they’re going through to really be able to tailor content that’s going to fit their needs at any given time.

Demian: Right.

The next episode of The Lede: looking ahead to the evolution of content marketing in 2015

Jerod: I think one of the concepts that is starting to gain some traction that will gain even more traction in 2015 is adaptive content.

You can’t adapt content if you don’t understand who you’re adapting it for. And that’s why empathy is such an important building block and foundational principle.

We’re actually going to talk about that in our next episode. This episode was more about looking back to 2014.

Our next episode, which will be the final episode of The Lede in 2014, we will look ahead to 2015 and talk about some of the trends that we expect to see and how we individually, and as a company, are planning to capitalize on those.

Demian: Right.

Jerod: Any final thoughts here, Mr. Farnworth, before we close?

Demian: Yes. I was just going to say I have an article coming out on experience maps that will explain more of what we’re talking about here.

But it’s a natural progression from empathy to experience maps. An experience map is just a story of how your customer interacts with your product and your brand from start to finish.

We talked about customer experience maps with Brian, and as I did more research on it, it became clear that it’s a natural next step to what we’re calling adaptive content.

Because once you understand who your customer is and the interactions they have, and you see the high points and the low points, then you can create a better, a sublime customer experience from that experience map.

I suggest creating a prescriptive map, meaning looking forward. What is the most sublime, supreme customer experience you can create?

You can only do that by resonating, knowing your audience, knowing your customer, creating that experience map, and then creating that content, which then adapts to how they interact with your brand.

Jerod: In closing, Demian, I know we’re recording this podcast before Thanksgiving, but it’ll be released after. I just want you to know that I’m very thankful for you and for your contributions to The Lede.

Demian: That’s very, very, very sweet of you. I need to find a tissue.

Jerod: (Chuckles) All right.

Demian: I am very, very grateful for you too, Jerod. Honestly.

Jerod: Thank you.

Demian: Yes. And you have a wonderful Thanksgiving in your new home, with your gal. Are you guys spending Thanksgiving in your new home?

Jerod: No. We are actually doing the family thing this year, and then next year will be the first time that we bring everybody together in the house.

Demian: Great. Right. Okay, good. All right, buddy.

Jerod: Yes. All right, man. Always a pleasure, and we’ll be back to wrap up the year in a couple weeks.

Demian: I’ll be talking to you. Sounds good, man. Take care.

Jerod: All right. Bye.

Thank you for listening to this episode of The Lede. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider giving the show a rating or a review on iTunes. We would greatly appreciate it.

And don’t forget to go to authorityrainmaker.com and check out all the details about the Authority Rainmaker live conference coming in May of 2015.

You won’t want to miss it, and the super early-bird pricing is still available.

All right, everybody. We will be back two weeks from now with one final episode to wrap up 2014 as we look forward to 2015.

*Credits: Both the intro (“Bridge to Nowhere” by Sam Roberts Band) and outro songs (“Down in the Valley” by The Head and the Heart) are graciously provided by express written consent from the rights owners.

Jerod Morris is the VP of Marketing for Copyblogger Media. Get more from him on Twitter or . Have you gotten your wristband yet?

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