If you work in content marketing but look to sources outside your organization for content, you probably engage in content curation. This can mean simply aggregating and sharing content that you know your audience will be interested in, or it can involve doing research to generate your own content, when you are not a subject matter expert yourself.
Either way, you want to make sure that you are going about it the right way and providing well-sourced information. Here are a few things to keep in mind when curating content from the web to share with your audience:
Use the most authoritative sources.
Example: With our consumer-focused website, Green Home Guide, USGBC publishes articles not just on LEED homes, but on general green living and choices the average person can make to have a healthier home. Our marketing staff often does online research to find the best data and resources for our readers.
When finding content to cite or share, we make sure to focus on authoritative sources—websites from organizations that have a reputation (the U.S. EPA, the International Energy Agency)—and sometimes we also use well-known sustainability blogs. The name/recognizability, Google ranking and professional appearance of a site are all factors that can help you recognize a good source. Never use Wikipedia as a source, since it can be edited by anyone.
Check the footer if you’re not sure—sometimes, sites hide what they are really about and by whom they are run. What seems initially to be an informational article on indoor air quality and health may actually be a marketing piece by a litigation firm. If content is from a website run by a company related to your industry, make sure that the content is not overly promotional.
Search with strategy.
Be smart about the keywords with which you search—focus on the most relevant terms, and avoid emotionally or politically loaded keywords. If I am writing a piece on how new, clean energy technologies are helping to slow the effects of climate change, I will get back more scientific and useful results by Googling “climate change mitigation” and “energy-efficient technology,” than if I look up “global warming disaster” or “how to stop oil and gas industry.”
Also, if you are sourcing data from a news article, follow the links back to the original source: the academic study, publication or release being described. Use that original link in your piece.
Save time by zeroing in on what you need.
There’s a lot of information out there. Save content you come across as you find it, for future reference. I started a spreadsheet of academic studies relevant to our work at USGBC, with statistics on green building, nature and the environment, green jobs, and human health and wellness. I can go back to this document to use quotes and statistics when I’m writing on one of these topics.
When you’re doing research, scan potential content sources quickly, and don’t waste time wading through entire articles to get to the info you need. If what you need isn’t reflected on the first page of an article or clearly pointed out in a subhead, move along.
Then, take the time to craft the piece.
It takes time to create even short articles, if you want them to be useful. After doing your first draft, think about what questions the reader might have, based on that copy, and then answer those questions in your second draft. In my experience, the average time spent researching and writing a 300-word curated content piece is about 2–4 hours, depending on the complexity of the subject.
Structure your article to allow for easy scanning by the reader. Whether it’s a straight curation of other sites’ content, as in a weekly content roundup, or a weaving in of cited sources to an original article, make it simple for the customer to get the point, to scroll down for more detail and to click through to useful links for more information.
When presenting content you’ve researched, never cut and paste. That’s plagiarism. Always rephrase or summarize the source’s information, and link to the page where you found it.
Pro tip: Once you’ve got a good library of content, curate your own content and do a roundup of previous resources that had high engagement.
Doing your due diligence to present the best, most recent and most authoritative content for your readers will pay off! When I began generating more of our content in-house this way, we saw our pageviews almost double. Respect your audience’s intelligence, and they will return to your company for more of what they need.
What is a brand? The professor who teaches my “Branding Concept” class put it really well: If your organization is a pyramid, your brand is the top piece of that pyramid. As your organization expands its operations, it should continue to follow the guidelines set by the triangle at the top of the pyramid.
Scale your brand choices and keep them consistent.
That lesson can help when making small marketing decisions about brand interpretation, like what swag to give away at an event. For USGBC, it makes more sense to promote our organization on a sustainable tote bag or reusable water bottle, instead of a koozie or pair of sunglasses. That’s an example of how this global brand manifests itself in individual marketing choices. Referencing that top pyramid guide can help you make decisions as detailed as what emoji to use in an email subject line.
Create a positioning statement to clarify your brand.
Need help finding who you are as a brand? Try writing your positioning statement. A positioning statement is an internal document that helps clarify what problem you are solving for customers. What “job” does your brand do for people?
- For [a target audience, based on needs]
- Our brand is [frame of reference—category in the consumer’s mind]
- That provides [3 key benefits]
- Because [reason to believe]
For USGBC, that might look something like:
- For professionals in the built environment who need to quantify their environmental impact
- Our brand is the independent green building certification organization
- that provides education, verification and guidelines of environmental standards
- Because we wrote the definition of what is environmentally friendly in buildings and sites
Ultimately, anything your business does can be replicated by some other organization. Your brand is the only thing that cannot be taken or copied. Your reputation is specific to you, and the brand is what people identify you as. Your brand is your identity.
It’s been a busy year for all our communications, marketing and design folks at USGBC. Here’s a handy guide to our tips from 2019, broken down by category.
Tips for graphic designers
- Keeping up with graphic design trends
- USGBC’s new LEED v4.1 advertising campaign
- Designing the Greenbuild booth for a great attendee experience
Tips for social media teams
- Social media strategy for live events: Working on-site
- Social media strategy for live events: The planning stage
- Social media strategy for live events: Post-show reporting
Tips for digital and content marketers
- 3 ways quizzes can help your marketing
- How to edit your own writing
- Sourcing sustainable merchandise and vendors
- Articles that point users to existing resources
- How to enforce brand guidelines
- Top 5 takeaways from Digital Summit DC
- Top 2019 updates to the AP Stylebook
- Tracking your marketing impact with UTM codes
Tips for email marketers
- Create a personalized email experience through segmentation
- The dos and don’ts of email subject lines
Tips for web designers
- Case study: Redesigning the Greenbuild international website
- How different web browsers affect user experience
What inspires us
Outside of a small minority, people don’t often think about what browser they are using when accessing the web. Indeed, most people in the United States use the same web browser, Google Chrome. However, for digital marketing professionals, it is still worth considering the landscape of web browsers and the effect they can have on the user’s experience.
Understanding how browsers work
First, it’s important to understand how a web browser actually works.
When a user visits a website, the browser sends a request for that page to the server, which sends back a whole bunch of code in return. In order to display the page correctly, the browser has to know how to read and interpret that code correctly. This is done by something called a rendering engine.
The guidelines for how a particular piece of code should appear to the user is laid out in detailed specifications, but how each rendering engine actually goes about interpreting the code is different from engine to engine. This individualized approach can lead to a website looking different in different browsers.
A decade ago, the disparities between browsers were huge. Some sites were developed to work only with a specific browser, usually Internet Explorer, and developers would have to resort to crazy workarounds to make their content consistent for all users. Since then, things have standardized, and the specifications have become mature enough that modern browsers are largely consistent outside of edge cases and newer features.
However, it’s important to be aware that there are still differences between browsers that have to be contented with, especially on projects that are more complex.
Strategies for avoiding browser compatibility problems
1. Be careful of new features.
As I was building out mockups for a redesign of the Greenbuild website, I toyed with the idea of using a blurred, semi-transparent background behind the banner text to give the site a modern feel. I liked the effect, but testing across different browsers quickly revealed a problem. The CSS backdrop-filter property that I was using is relatively new and isn’t compatible with many browsers, including Safari and the mobile version of Chrome.
Google Chrome (left) renders the backdrop filter property correctly, making the text over the image easy to read, while Safari (right) doesn’t render the property at all, leading to the text over the image being difficult to read.
To avoid this, I recommend searching CSS features on Can I Use, a helpful website that will tell you the support available across a range of browsers for any feature, as well as share usage data for each browser. Once a feature is implemented, it’s also a good idea to manually check the website for problems, using as many different browsers and browser versions as possible.
2. Use graceful degradation and progressive enhancement as workarounds.
Just because a particular feature isn’t supported on all browsers doesn’t mean that you can’t use it, however. To get around a lack of support, web designers can employ a combination of strategies: progressive enhancement and graceful degradation.
The idea behind progressive enhancement is to build a site to the lowest common denominator, then layer on additional features to enhance the experience for users with capable browsers. Graceful degradation is similar, but in reverse: A website is built for modern browsers, but essential functionality is preserved for users with unsupported browsers. Which strategy you use will depend on the specifics of your site and your audience, and most likely, you will use a combination of both.
3. Consider your audience.
As always, everything comes back to your audience. If you know what browsers your users are likely to be using, you can be careful to avoid using features that those browsers don’t support. Similarly, if you know what browsers your users aren’t using, you may choose to use features despite a lack of support in those browsers.
For example, according to GlobalStats Statcounter, 65% of all desktop users in the U.S. are using Chrome, while another 26% are on Edge, Firefox or Safari. This means that 91% of users in the nation have a modern browser that can likely handle the most advanced features.
However, there are still 8% of users who are using some version of Internet Explorer, an old browser with a bad reputation for not supporting features. Depending on your industry and who you expect to be accessing your site, it may or may not be worth putting in the extra effort for that 8% of users.
Overall, while browsers have become more consistent over the past several years, keeping in mind the different experiences that people have when visiting our various websites is still important. If you are overseeing the implementation of a website, it’s worth asking whether everything you want to do will work for all users and to explore your options for mitigating the risks of browser incompatibility.
For Greenbuild 2018 in Chicago, our creative team had the opportunity to totally redesign our presence on the expo hall floor. We designed a 70-by-60-foot (4,200 square feet) booth that showcased both the USGBC and GBCI brands. The ideal booth design needed to have a longevity of three years.
Our main goal was to build brand awareness for USGBC and LEED, as well as each of the GBCI brands (Parksmart, PEER, SITES, and TRUE) and their various products and services. We also wanted to be sure to provide an inviting space for attendees to learn about each of the brands, for staff to hold sales meetings with customers and for local USGBC community members to network. Part of this goal also included providing a designated space for our GBCI Certification Work Zone.
We started to design the booth from the basic floor plan, and then moved into the actual design of the physical space. One side of the space was devoted to our GBCI Certification Work Zone—this meant we included tables and chairs for meetings, a check-in desk and planters to clearly divide the space. We split the other space into two sections, one focused on USGBC’s merchandise, with a counter and shelving, and the other devoted to community meetings and networking.
We selected all the interior furniture and carpet. We also created a specific space to showcase Arc, and a spot to mount the plaque display. The entire booth space was framed by recycled cardboard walls.
Our next step was to design the recycled cardboard walls and focus on messaging. The interior facing walls included our USGBC logo, the LEED logo and messaging from our overall mission, such as “Better buildings are our legacy.” The goal was to create an open space showcasing the brand, without creating too much stimulation to detract from presentations or meetings. We also included mounted TVs as a way to incorporate digital signage and video within the booth.
The panels facing the exterior of the expo hall featured messaging focused on our current membership campaign. We wanted to show off that we are a diverse community of real estate leaders, governments, developers, contractors, architects, engineers, educators, innovators and companies working to build healthy, efficient and equitable buildings and communities for all.
Seeing the booth go from sketches to the final product was such a cool experience! We worked on-site at Greenbuild to interact with customers, meet with members and provide further information about all of our products. Watching the space being used as suggested, and seeing people actually experience our brand in person, was rewarding for me.
This year at Greenbuild Atlanta, we will be using our booth again—but every year, we get a chance to improve the experience. In 2019, we will have new flooring provided by Interface, new digital visuals, Arc demonstrations and information, opportunities to meet the experts, merchandise for purchase and some giveaways. Will you be attending Greenbuild this year?
This past summer, we transitioned our website for the Greenbuild international conferences from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8. While this change on the back end didn’t have to mean change for our end users, we decided to leverage this opportunity to rebrand and refocus the site. Here are three key takeaways that we gathered from the process.
Create and maintain consistency in user experience.
Over time, it is easy for a website to develop minor inconsistencies in branding and presentation, and this is especially likely when multiple teams in an organization have a stake in the content. What starts out as a minor deviation to satisfy an immediate need can lead to a user experience down the line that feels less cohesive.
As always, it’s for the marketing team and brand managers to try to limit these deviations and keep the entire experience feeling unified and coherent. It helps every now and then to revisit an existing web property to clean up the inconsistencies. Scheduling regular revisits of websites, preferably in a staggered manner so that you can devote time to each one, can help you to avoid procrastinating on compounding branding problems.
One of the drivers of inconsistent branding can be a lack of adequate default options baked into the content management system. When analyzing the areas for improvement with our Drupal 7 site, we found that a lack of tools and templates meant that content managers were coming up with creative workarounds and solutions to common problems.
To combat this, we created a robust set of templates using the Paragraphs module in the Drupal 8 Core. The goal was to give content managers on the site an easy, standard set of options for adding and editing content, making brand consistency the default rather than the exception.
Achieve a sleek site with more images and less text.
Trimming text-heavy sites can be tough when every piece of information feels essential, but the truth is that nothing makes reading a site feel more like a grind than large blocks of text. Lightening the experience by removing unnecessary text and integrating photos and visual elements is a great way to keep users happy and on your site.
For the Greenbuild website, we decided to add visual appeal by separating text into colored sections, adding more decorative and illustrative images, and giving some pop to headers with colorful backgrounds. The result is a site that has more shape and texture with which the user can engage.
We added images, modular blocks of text and headers to the new Greenbuild international site.
Focus on what’s most important.
Of course, not all content can simply be trimmed or removed—a lot of it is important! However, being strategic in how you present this content to the user can make a big difference in how they interact with the site. While a piece of content may be important, it isn’t necessarily important to every user, every time they visit a site.
With the redesign of the Greenbuild site, we decided to rethink how we presented some of the content. For example, we took information that was common to each of our five international conferences and moved it to a separate homepage. We also took content that would be interesting to specific users, such as the schedules, and separated each piece out to its own page.
It’s a good strategy to allow your users find the content that they need, rather than making them sift through all of the content that you want to give them. The key balance to strike is making all of the information on your site easily found by those who need it, while keeping it out of the way of those who don’t.
The purpose of the Greenbuild site is first and foremost to drive attendance and engagement for the conference, and reworking the site gave us a chance to refocus on that purpose. By creating brand consistency, integrating more images and visual design, and focusing on content that promotes the key motivating factors for attending or sponsoring the events, we were able to better serve the website’s core purpose.
One of the greatest benefits of digital marketing is the ability to track the impact of online marketing tactics. By using UTM codes or parameters, digital content creators can append URLs with fields that provide transparency into a campaign’s web activity related to source, medium and name. Through this transparency, content creators can have better insight into what is working for their organization and what is not, allowing teams to make more informed decisions regarding marketing strategy and tactics.
At USGBC, we use custom URLs to track the activity generated on our websites through online articles, web content, email marketing, social media and online advertising. For marketing teams that use a number of channels or sources, this is a helpful way to gather stats for a campaign in one location. On Google Analytics, under Acquisition > Campaigns, we are able to view the users, sessions, transactions and revenue tied to each campaign, and then drill down further into the source and medium.
Here’s an example of a recent campaign to drive customers to our education course subscription package, with the custom URL we used to track the impact:
At the conclusion of the campaign, we noted that the web banner and email generated the most activity, with the email bringing in the most users and the banner bringing in the most revenue. This insight demonstrates the value of both channels in the promotion of sale opportunities, and as a result, we will continue to use these sources in future promotions.
Create a custom URL with Google’s campaign builder.
When it comes to digital communications, keeping up with new techniques, insights and trends is critical to being able to do your job well. As a big believer in never resting on what you know worked two years ago if you can learn what works now, I was excited to attend this year’s Digital Summit DC at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center (which, incidentally, hosted Greenbuild in 2015 with an 84% waste diversion rate).
The presentations covered all aspects of digital marketing, such as email, social media, content marketing and UX. I focused mainly on content marketing, with a sprinkling of other topics that felt relevant to my work at USGBC.
Here’s a rundown of my top takeaways from the event:
1. SEO is a moving target.
In 2019, SEO is no longer primarily about throwing as many keywords into your content as possible. As Google’s algorithm continues to evolve, so must marketers. From Janet Driscoll-Miller, I learned that adding structured data is a best practice for webpages dealing with products, events, how-tos and FAQs. This allows rich snippets to share relevant details of your content right on the Google search results page, making them stand out even if they’re not the top result.
Several presenters mentioned the huge boost that having video on a page gives to its SEO rankings. In addition, Matthew Capala shared how factors like your content’s thoroughness and length have moved up in importance. For me, this will mean emphasizing USGBC’s evergreen content more and creating new content pieces that showcase our company’s authority as an industry resource.
2. Authenticity can’t be faked.
A common refrain at Digital Summit was “be more authentic.” Users are increasingly accessing web content via their phones, and social media has shown us how easy it is to create instant, personal snippets of content about our experiences. Customers don’t want to be told how great a product is—they want to see it, from other users, not from stock images.
Debra Mastaler explained to her audience that people actually respond more positively to less polished videos than to highly produced ones, because they seem more trustworthy.
When it comes social accounts, Carlos Gil recommended sharing behind-the-scenes views of people doing what they do every day in your industry. Gil also emphasized the importance of liking and commenting on all your reader interactions on social, so they can see the company is composed of real, responsive people.
3. Making things easy results in conversions.
In a competitive marketing landscape, according to Hilary Sutton, it’s imperative to “make the first ‘yes’ easy.” Sutton challenged the audience to think about how they can make conversion as simple as humanly possible, especially for the new customer. Start with a painless way to buy in, and then overdeliver so that users are impressed, she advised.
This theory came up in Capala’s session as well, under the concept of zero risk bias. This cognitive tendency causes people to prefer choices that have no risks associated with them, such as free trials, easy-to-cancel subscriptions and signups that don’t require a credit card number.
4. Analytics are a testing ground, not an endpoint.
Although we all use analytics to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t, marketers could take a more experimental approach to using this data, said Madeline Gryczman in her presentation. She encouraged creating a culture of “test and learn” that allows your team to set hypotheses about content performance, then to review the results, to try it again on different channels or at different times of year, and finally to reuse the best-performing aspects of your trials in future content.
Making time for more in-depth analytics can allow marketers to make better strategic decisions. Also, when sharing data with internal customers, it’s good to pay attention to the visual aspects of reports, like spacing, colors and graphics, to direct attention to the most relevant insights.
5. Community connections take work.
Another common theme at Digital Summit was that communities of members, users and customers need nurturing.
In her presentation, Leigh George emphasized that it’s critical to think about what you can do to help connect the community you serve, both on and offline. This means connecting them with one another in a meaningful way, not just with your own company or product.
Also, she said, when it comes to in-person interactions, customers seek “experiences they can’t get anywhere else” to make them value IRL events over digital opportunities. Building exclusive, creative happenings that aren’t just the same old thing will drive engagement much deeper in today’s world.
Last, how do you learn what your community needs from you, exactly? The best way to find out is to ask them. Mastaler suggests polling your users once a year, at minimum, to directly ask them what they want. To gain unfiltered insight, she says, it’s also helpful to explore message boards and social media in depth to find out what your industry is talking about in general, and how they are discussing your company in particular.
Digital Summit gave me a lot of new perspectives on the challenges we face as content professionals, plus ideas on how I can best achieve USGBC company goals in the ever-changing digital landscape. I’m excited to implement some of these new strategies going forward.