As we’ve grown in capacity (currently at 135 FT employees) and pitched Earned Placement services (often called guest posts) for a little over two years we’ve come to recognize a massive knowledge gap at most companies, from small to large.
Their sales pages, whether they’re selling products or services, lack citability. In other words there’s rarely a justifiable (much less scalable) reason to cite a sales funnel page from a guest placement (not to mention a curated resource list).
While I’ve published recently on citation justification, the topic is important and applicable enough that it bears reiteration from the perspective of the sales content developer… In this context you think ahead carefully to how an offsite writer could conceivably justify linking to your sales content. Relax folks! You’re still selling from your sales page – just adding a new “customer” persona: the offsite writer.
Building Citation-Worthy Elements into Your Sales Pages
Link building to sales pages becomes increasingly viable (that is, justifiable to the potential linker) when you add what we call citable elements to the page. The balance between sales and citability is a delicate one though. If you do pursue this course it’s likely you’ll use anchor links (no, not anchor text) to help tuck these elements beneath or beside the funnel… and still be able to send the visiting reader (and editor/publisher) directly to the cited element.
There’s also the concern of skewing the page’s topic as perceived by search engines, which could potentially diminish rankings for targeted terms. Again, there’s a balance here that will require discussion and debate across several stake-holding teams. Also I’m not knowledgeable about these things so let’s ignore that balance thing for now and just dig right in.
How do you create “citability” on your sales pages to justify links from offsite writers? Here’s a quick list to get your brain going:
- Data or “findings.” Any data you publish to a sales page is first and foremost ideally yours and yours alone, derived from your findings as a business. Also the data ideally fits into the flow of purchase decision by your customers – namely it supports and justifies your product or service within the task accomplishment cycle of your target customers. Your busiest or slowest times of the week or day? Times when you have the most or least inventory? Most popular color or size? These types of data points can be woven neatly into offsite content.
- Direct quotation of a source. A source here could be a customer use case story or a brief interview with your internal experts that provide some new insight into effective task completion – in the context of the product or service. Marketers typically want products and services to be the hero on the sales pages but for linking purposes you’re better off letting the customer or expert shine a little brighter and give offsite writers something gripping to quote that illustrates concepts or inspires a redoubling of efforts.
- Defining jargon and industry terminology for the layperson (aka definitions). A sales page may not be the spot you’d typically think to drop some definitions. That said, if there’s any dense or even slightly obscure terminology related to your page’s products or services then you’d conceivably benefit your customers by defining them. You should also have a proper glossary but that’s a whole different article. Defining words remains a highly-justifiable reason to link out.
- Pricing Guides or Generalized Pricing Information. In much of the online how-to publishing space, opportunities to cite pricing information abound. Most tasks require materials or services to complete… so how much should these things cost? Pricing remains top of mind with consumers no matter where they are in the buy cycle. Any information that helps contextualize or convey the parameters that impact cost can serve as a highly-citable page element.
- Images, Videos, Widgets, Downloadables. Could your sales pages benefit from some graphics? Are you already using graphics to sell? Got case studies and sales PDFs? Great! Think beyond (but still within) your sales funnel into elements that could illustrate task completion or service execution best practices outside the context of sales.
- Detailed, Multi-Faceted Metrics-Based Reviews. Reviews remain highly citation-worthy so long as they can fit into the task-completion how-to narrative that most publishers churn out. Even better – facet out and metrically-rank the benefits of your products to different audience segments. How much better is this shoe for someone with bunions than another shoe? How much compression do these socks actually provide? If you happen to work with any offsite writers check in with them on audience facets for whom you could provide more thorough insight… Seniors, Parents, Pet Owners, Fitness Buffs and other Mundane Sufferer categories have large bodies of corresponding publishers.
- Tips/Advice Directly Related to Products/Services on the Page. Can you enable or speed task completion for a goal that’s related to your products or services? Just good, old-fashioned how-to content here, but with your products or services as central to the context of the information. So on your dog chew toy page you have some key detail on helping your dog stop chewing your furniture. On your plumber page you have a simple step by step guide to unclogging a drain with baking soda.
- The Origin Story. Talk with the designers, manufacturers, artists, and whoever else helped design or perfect this product or service. The origin itself can be highly citable and it’s almost certain that the story will have citable internal elements as well. Inspiring the audience to reach higher and try again remains a highly-justifiable citation purpose for offsite writers.
- Supplemental Outbound Resource Links. Just kidding – who’d put outbound links on a sales page? Well, what if they somehow served the purchase cycle? Still probably no, I know, but they would be highly citable, especially if the onpage sales narrative included something like: “we collected these resources based on client recommendations and questions related to our products.” Just think about it.
Recognizing the Practitioner Action Cycle in Which the Buy Cycle Functions
If, in reading through the suggested citable elements above, no clear direction stood out it may help if we take a step back from the buy cycle to address what’s really going on in this exercise. In the above examples we’ve stepped up a category from the buy cycle into what we call the Practitioner Action Cycle.
Practitioners in our model are your customers and audience. But… they don’t think of themselves that way. They are currently in active practice doing their job, hustling, working hard, getting ahead inch by inch in their day to day. Your site is a way station along their day’s arduous task list and you will be ruthlessly selected against based on your page’s capacity to enable task completion.
So this is a sort of fancy way of saying – you don’t define your customers, their to-do list does – along with all the context this implies. It helps to think this way though – it pushes us out of the flat interpretation of the seller and into a more compassionate appreciation of the day to day of the practitioner who may become a customer. Further, it’s this line of thinking that enables us to find our supporting elements that will be citable throughout the publishing ecosystem where your audience goes daily for information and inspiration.
So if your page converts you’re clearly speaking to your target practitioners. No question. But if your page lacks citable elements then you could benefit by following these questions through to concrete-as-possible answers… Even if you don’t know what to do with your answers, your blog team should be able to help you make the leap to what kinds of information could both aid the buy cycle AND become a citable element on the page.
- What specific tasks does the product or service on this page enable practitioners to accomplish? List as many as you have time for. Yeah these are sort of benefits, but not quite – you’re looking for specific tasks completed as a direct result of a purchase.
- Are these beginner or advanced tasks?
- In a given day’s cycle of work, where does this task typically fall?
- How do folks feel about these tasks? Are they self-selected tasks? Are they required by law or by standards of practice?
- Are these standard tasks or only for emergencies or edge/extreme cases?
- What issues or problems do folks typically have with this task array – even outside of the context of your product or service?
- The practitioner has an “object of practice,” eg the gardener works in her “object of practice” the garden. What traits of the “object of practice” does your product or service control?
- Where exactly do your practitioners do their work? Not just geographically, but in what specific work settings or environments? We call this array of settings the theatre of practice. List out as many as you can think of, and they can give some surprising turns to your citable-element brainstorm.
- Are there any common practitioner conditions to take into consideration (super sleepy parents of newborns, stressed groom to be, physically disabled gardener, hungry small business owner)?
The point of all these questions is to create enough task and practice-specific detail to spark you or your writing team on elements that could really assist the practitioner in the action cycle, not just the buy cycle you want them to have on your page. Because when you know and knowingly support the practitioner in their assault on task mountain you also support the offsite how-to writer. That’s her job too you see – knowing and supporting the practitioner as they encounter and plan for tackling their task lists for the day.
I’ve done a brief webinar on the action cycle here – it’s something we carefully study for each vertical we work in and use for generating fresh and useful content topics. Tracing an action cycle also opens up hundreds of new prospecting directions. I detail this line of thinking here: Offsite Content Strategy.