A field guide for making content thrive.


How do you think about your digital marketing ecosystem? Have you stepped back and mapped it out? Are you focused on how your customers navigate this maze of content?

As digital strategists, we spend a lot of time designing our clients’ digital ecosystems to understand where and how they interact with customers and prospects. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to extend the customer relationship and should be designed with a path in mind:


Where do we want the customer to go?


What options can we present to them?


How do we get them to purchase?

In the digital space, successful strategies focus on how to structure a digital ecosystem that extends the power of the brand and aligns with customer demand.

Your digital ecosystem involves three integrated components:

Your website
(the core)

Your web presence

Your web activity

Let's take a closer look at each part.
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Your Website

Give the people what they want.

At the core of your digital ecosystem is your website. It is the ultimate destination for all your activity online. Advertising, social media, search — they all drive traffic back to your website, where you can fully engage customers and prospects within a controlled and branded environment. As such, your website must work seamlessly with all the external links, bots, devices, and protocols tied to it.

>80% of buyers

use online search engines (primarily Google)
during the purchase cycle.


of the purchase cycle is complete before contacting a solution provider.

( according to research from Adweek )

In many cases, the internet is the sole lens through which prospects research and evaluate potential solution providers. Brand awareness and consideration, purchase criteria, and engagement all occur online.

The good news is that web technology gets better every year. You can now stand up a nice, mobile-friendly website in one day for less than $100. However, for a top-notch website, there are six main boxes your business needs to check.

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Six Key Components of a
Successful Business Website

1. A content management system (CMS).

A CMS is a software application designed to support the management of your content and web pages. Content includes text and embedded graphics, photo, video, audio, maps, and program code (e.g., for applications) that display content or interact with the user.

Your CMS has two major components:

A front-end user interface

that allows a user to add, modify, and remove content without the intervention of an IT resource.

A content delivery application

(CDA) that compiles the information and updates
the website.

Some of the most popular CMSes include:

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What’s the trick to choosing the right CMS for your business?

There are some standard capabilities your CMS should fulfill — version control to prevent mistakes, the ability to scale properly, user permissions settings, and easy CRM integration, for example — but ultimately, choosing the right CMS comes down to what you want to do with it.

• If you’re using your CMS for e-commerce, look for one that’s secure and can handle lots of products and product categorization in the backend.

• If you’re using your CMS for content, you want a system that’s easy to manage and upload. A good categorization system and the ability to handle rich media are essential as well.

2. A customer-centric, responsive, and modern design.

You are creating a website to attract and engage customers, so you should leverage the usage behavior of your current website and knowledge about your target audience to define the most effective and intuitive paths for your new site.

If necessary, conduct research to fill in any gaps in your understanding of who your customers are and how they navigate the purchase cycle. This learning informs design, information hierarchy, site map, and wireframes for individual pages.

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From a responsive standpoint, focus on mobile first. The main benefit of mobile-first design is that it enables content parity across all access points, meaning it provides a seamless experience for the user no matter what device they’re using.

Designing more layouts (mobile, tablet, and desktop) takes time, but you can streamline the process by prioritizing the content and doing away with unnecessary graphics or ineffective image treatments.

Modern design focuses on quality photography, clean typography, sharp illustrations, and thoughtful layouts. The key is to let the content be the hero and ensure the message hierarchy provides value at every step.

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3. A content strategy.

What’s going on your website? Have you already started thinking about your main navigation? Have you taken the time to research and hone your value proposition and understand the messaging that will drive engagement and convert clicks to customers?

Your content strategy, as with your site map and design, depends on a deep understanding of your target audience. Customer research, analysis, behavioral tracking, and testing will all help you determine what content and context will motivate visitors to engage and act. Take the time to build robust audience personas that include motivators and barriers and insight into how they navigate the purchase process. This will help you craft content and clicking paths that meet or exceed your visitors’ expectations.

This is just the beginning. Great content experiences are born from rounds and rounds of testing. Images, headlines, first sentences, sidebars, page structure — you should be A/B testing all of it.

You also have to keep it fresh. Google rewards websites with fresh content, which generally means you should have a blog and publish new posts weekly. Relevant, tested, SEO-friendly new content will move your site up the search rankings and make it more relevant to your user audience.

One last word on content and something many businesses struggle with:

Customers are demanding meaningful access and information. Your website should open a door to your professionals and value creators through thought-leadership content, cases studies, social content, interviews, and more. Remember, the buyer is now in control.

4. A marketing automation platform (MAP).

Almost every business and website can benefit here. MAPs allow you to track visitor activity and serve individuals and/or customer segments more relevant content based on their past behavior, known preferences, and purchase history.

A simple example of this is L.L. Bean. On their landing page, they feature warmer clothing for visitors from the North and lighter clothing for visitors from the South — information they can gather from your IP address. This is all managed via MAP. On the slightly more complicated side, Amazon recognizes you on their website and automatically recommends products based on your past purchases and browsing history. They may even notice that you haven’t purchased laundry detergent in a month and serve you a quick message about reordering Tide.

Marketing automation platforms also improve email campaigns and should tie to your CRM to ensure you have the most up-to-date information on your website visitors.

Some of the most popular MAPs include:

As with any software platform, each MAP comes with different features, but the key benefit is a better experience for visitors and more knowledge for marketers.

5. Security.

Almost all websites can be hacked. But with proper development and management, security breaches can be minimized and quickly rectified when they do occur.

Your best defense boils down to three steps:


Monitor the site on a frequent basis.


Keep all software and plug-ins updated.


Install a security plan and a backup plan.

Security plans are usually three-pronged.

First, to prevent attacks and lessen the harm of a potential cyber breach, you need an incident-response procedure. This should include a map of website vulnerabilities and a list of contacts to repair hacking damages, such as attorneys and IT managers.

Next, consider cyber security insurance. Plans are usually priced between $5,000 and $10,000 per $1 million of coverage and are designed to reduce losses from data breaches, network damage, and business interruption, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The investment could be the difference between short- and long-term business impairment.

Finally, investment in security programs, such as Comodo, an award-winning cyber threat detection service, or OpenVPN, a protected web-browsing application, are smart preventative measures. These programs offer affordable (and sometimes free) options to protect your online assets.

How bad is the threat?

44 attempted cyberattacks on small to medium-sized businesses daily

18.5 million websites infected with malware or software bots right now

$5.3 billion global loss in 2017 attributed to business email compromise

93% of breaches in 2017 were easily preventable

6. Google-friendliness.

Like it or not, Google is defining the connectivity requirements and standards for every website on the internet.

So what, exactly, does a smart SEO strategy entail? Glad you asked.



What if there were a way to sit the needle on top of the haystack?

It is surprisingly difficult to find accurate and up-to-date metrics on the size and scope of the web.

In 2016, Google, the planet’s thought leader on all things internet, claimed to serve 2 trillion-plus searches annually.

Amid all that noise, how are you supposed to make sure your content gets found, recognized, and delivered to your customer by Google and its competitors?

This is essentially the definition of SEO. It’s a common term, but a daunting one — many corporate marketing teams aren’t comfortable enough with the practice to properly include it in their discipline, while others can’t get the investment buy-in from executives with more traditional (read: word-of-mouth referral and sales) lead-generation belief structures.

For most large companies, SEO is caught in the limbo of old-school thinking.

Why Does SEO Matter?

Because the internet is so vast, only a machine mind can hope to grasp all of it. Unfortunately, the content tends to overlap, forcing search engines to “decide” what to serve someone who, for example, wants to find cheap flights to Dallas.

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Clearly, clocking in at No. 26,492,361 on that list isn’t going to drive traffic for you. What many marketers fail to understand is that clocking in at No. 20 doesn’t do much for you either.

Once you factor in advertising and Google’s rich results, drawing clicks becomes even more difficult. Ranking No. 15 for “top tire shops in Chicago” seems like a great achievement when you consider the millions of results you beat out to finish that high — but at the end of the day, it’s probably still not helping your bottom line.

How to Plan Content for SEO

The two most important elements of SEO work are links and content. You need to be actionable on both fronts to move the needle for your brand.

Let’s start with content. The two most important questions you need to answer every time you post are:

1. What search term do I want potential customers to type into Google to get to this content?

No matter how large or influential your digital ecosystem may be, it is difficult to rank for any worthwhile targets with rudderless content. Each post, story, or report you produce should have a “focus keyword,” or an established term you are trying to get that content to rank for.

2. Is my content correctly and thoroughly addressing that searcher’s need?

Google algorithms “read” a page to establish what the page’s content intent is (that’s what your focus keyword is for), but they also lean heavily on searcher engagement metrics to determine whether people who click on a certain result actually got value from it. That’s right — Google really wants to know if people are happy.

Thanks to the same behavioral metrics that most marketers rely on in their own Google Analytics dashboards — bounce rate, time on page, etc. — it’s actually not as difficult as it sounds.

Let’s say you search for the term “best hot dog toppings,” and the first result that pops up looks promising.

But when you click it, you realize the page is actually focused on hamburgers, so you quickly hit “back” and return to the search page.

Guess what — Google saw all of that. It logged your search, the results, your action of clicking the first result, and you pressing the “back” button and leaving the page in under two seconds. If Google sees enough searchers following that same behavioral pattern, it will determine that its current lead result isn’t satisfactory and push it down the rankings.

That’s why your content has to deliver the goods. If it doesn’t, people won’t read it, and if they don’t read it, Google will bury it.

Luckily, buried content is an easy problem to avoid. To recap:

Determine the keyword you’re targeting before you put pen to paper.

Make sure you completely and efficiently address the searcher’s need.

Managing Your SEO Needs

The key here is to be patient — it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Seeing a measurable return on your time will probably take at least a few months, so don’t feel like you have to optimize every last corner of your site in one fell swoop.

Instead, think about devoting a few minutes of each day, week, and month to your overall SEO goals — a concept pioneered by the SEO experts at Moz. From there, you’ll have the framework for your company’s SEO efforts.

This subject is a big one, however, and we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of technical concepts — like how you use tags in your content and cleaning up error codes on your pages — that are also pretty impactful. But that’s the kind of work that may need an outside consultant to help you perform properly. The intent here is to get the ball rolling, and the work we covered is something you can start doing from your desk today.

Which brings us to the final tier of the digital ecosystem: amplification.



If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound?
If you produce content and no one reads it, does it make an impact?

Not too long ago, your company created a great piece of content, posted it on social media, and the world was instantly experiencing your genius. That time has long passed. The marketing world is crowded, competition is fierce, and creating something, sitting back, and crossing your fingers that it gets exposure is a dangerous (and ultimately fruitless) game.

All content and marketing efforts require an amplification plan. Without one, you’re producing content for the sake of producing content rather than moving the needle for your business.

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Starting With Strategy

So where does a good amplification plan start? As with all things: strategy.

Ask yourself two things:

1. What are your goals? Are you trying to ...

Generate leads for your business?

Embark on a brand campaign?

Improve customer experience?

Build a retention program?

2. Who are your audiences?

Targeted audiences can make or break your strategy. Throwing your content out there, even with a solid budget behind it, won’t work. And knowing who will engage with your content will help you determine where they’ll engage with it.

“Everyone” is not a realistic audience. No piece of content is relevant to the entire world (even your brand’s entire world), no matter how groundbreaking it is. Are you targeting new customers or current customers; early or late in the sales cycle? A good amplification strategy must consider the variable nature of audiences.

Choosing the Right Channels for Your Content

There are numerous channels to consider when building your amplification strategy. Some are great for branding, but not for driving traffic; some are perfect for business-heavy content and conversation but won’t help you when you’re trying to build a brand aesthetic.

Here’s a look at your options.

Building audiences through email …

The most successful companies in the world are the ones with the highest brand loyalty, and that’s no coincidence. Successful companies are built through a direct and meaningful relationship with the customer, and one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to create that is through email marketing.

A qualified, opt-in email address is a little nugget of gold for your marketing team. It’s a potential (or current) customer telling you that they like what you have to say, and it’s your way to inform your customer about your market, share product updates, and build a deeper relationship.

Inform them about
your market

Give them product updates

Build a deeper relationship

Once you’ve built an audience via email, you can use them (or segments of them) in future amplification strategies.

... and staying in touch through social media

Social media is wide-reaching. Whereas email allows you to communicate with audiences that have some sort of established relationship with your brand, social media also allows you to communicate with new, untouched audiences.

Having a solid social base is important — there’s nothing worse in the realm of social media than a dead channel.

Take the time to build your channels, and keep in mind that it’s better to be great at two channels than mediocre at seven. Dedicate your time and resources to the channels that benefit your brand most and commit.

To help you find the best fits for your business, here’s a closer look at the major social platforms at play.


Facebook is the social media world’s behemoth. With about 2.23 billion people logging in every month, brands are able to access and target people from all walks of life who are willing to interact with content. Facebook isn’t always appropriate for all audiences, but in the world of social media, it is home to most.


Video content is incredibly important in today’s digital landscape, and there is no better place to house your video library than YouTube. YouTube is friendly to marketers across the spectrum, and both B2B and B2C companies succeed on this channel. Quality content and consistency are important here.


Pinterest, much like Instagram, is great for visual brands. It caters to B2C companies and can be an incredible traffic driver. However, without a robust image portfolio, Pinterest can be fruitless.


As a haven for business professionals, LinkedIn is incredibly friendly toward B2B content, thought leadership, success stories, and employee networking. Case studies, whitepapers, research, and ongoing education all have a place there.

Like Facebook, it has targeting capabilities, but unlike Facebook, it isn’t quite as content- and industry-agnostic. While LinkedIn can be a great place to build a personal brand for your career, recruit top talent for your company, and deliver business content, it is less friendly toward heavy B2C content.


Never count out specialty channels when building your social media presence. Brands such as Birchbox have developed interesting ways of using Snapchat, from customer service to sneak peeks. Reddit and Tumblr are home to fans of just about anything. Brands often find their most loyal fanbases on sites like these, and interacting with them where they go to share their opinions can be great for branding, customer service, product sneak peeks, and lead generation.

A key component to all this is influencer marketing and employee advocacy. Having the right people involved is a powerful way to spread your message with transparency.


Twitter might be the most social of the social media channels. Built to disseminate information quickly, Twitter is great for quick content sharing, brand building, and customer service.

Twitter isn’t a traffic driver or a brand aesthetic builder. Instead, it’s all about social communication, so a Twitter strategy requires a willingess to talk with your audience.


Instagram is home to the visual-driven brand and younger demographics. Predominantly a B2C channel, brands use carefully curated aesthetics and beautiful imagery to engage with customers.

The key takeaway:

Focus your efforts on the channels that most directly reach your audience and gel best with your content. (Social Media Today created a handy infographic to help you focus your energies on the right platform.)

Paid vs. Organic Reach

Striking a balance between organic and paid social media is a must when building your social strategy. The base of social media is still organic posting and interactions (likes, comments, shares) with your audience. Using content, you build online relationships with people who know, love, and regularly engage with you. But because it’s hard to get where you need to go with organic posting alone, paid social media is a necessary part of your social strategy, too.

A Brief History of Your Social Feeds

In the not too distant past, social feeds were linear; you were almost guaranteed to see all the things published by the people or brands you followed. That turned into a gold rush. Brands, publishers, celebrities, and your parents all flocked to social media to share their thoughts, marketing messages, and memes.

Facebook, leading the pack, responded by building an algorithm that attempts to predict what it thinks users want to see most based on their behavior on the channel. Other outlets fell in line. Organic reach quickly became a thing of the past, and paid social media became the new way of life.

In Google We Trust

There is one last targeting giant in your digital ecosystem that cannot be ignored.

Google offers incredible targeting capabilities through paid search and display advertising. Regardless of industry or audience, everyone relies on Google at some point to find a resource. Using paid search and display to help put your business at the top of the pile is not only smart — it’s necessary.

Google Ads is Google’s pay-per-click advertising system. Launched in 2000, Ads has become a must-use tool in every marketer’s belt. If you’re looking to reach people who are searching for anything from a new dentist to a new management consulting firm, Google allows you to appear as a top search result (paid search) and throughout their display network.

While building your SEO can take time, Ads can be a more immediate marketing tactic. It is easy to learn, scalable based on company size and budget, and can produce results quickly. Ads gives you a leg up on your competitors, guaranteeing your presence in paid search.

Companies like Yahoo and Bing have similar paid search systems, but Google’s hold on the industry is hard to ignore. When building your digital strategy, Ads should play a part.

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How to Test and Measure Your Success

Again, let’s start with three questions:


How many leads are you looking for each month?


What constitutes success and failure?


What is your ideal cost per lead?

Once you’ve identified how you’ll measure your campaign’s success, you can start testing.

No amplification strategy is perfect, and it’s important to build in time to test your strategies. You need time to identify the strongest pieces of your campaign so you can better invest rather than wasting time on the wrong targets. Just because you think one audience is going to be a gold mine for your content doesn’t mean it actually will be.

Analytics are your best friend. Data will guide you through your strategy as you launch and as you design and adapt your output for the long run. Keep an eye on your numbers and confirm they are tying back to your original goals. And be sure you’re looking at the right numbers — impressions are great, but if they aren’t generating leads, consider adapting your strategy.

The bottom line: Amplification should exist within your digital ecosystem. Have a conversion strategy for when your amplification results in someone landing on your site. Don’t amplify blindfolded. Know your audience and your target and plan your strategy accordingly. Your efforts will pay off tenfold when they are combined with a big-picture perspective.

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Digital marketing is an ever-changing art form. Each day brings algorithm changes, new social media platforms, exciting tracking tools, and so much more. It’s important to stay on top of these changes so you can adjust your strategy as necessary.

How do you do that? For starters, sign up for our e-newsletter. While you’re at it, check out our blog. Digital marketing agencies are a great resource for changes in the industry. Learn from them.

Nothing is going to be perfect when you start out, so don’t be intimidated by the weight of an entire site’s worth of needs. Just get started, take the first step, and take another step the day after that. And when you feel like you’ve gone as far as you can go, take the sum of your work, present it to your management, and make the case for the next tier of effort. If you can do that, you’ll be ahead of the curve — and your company will be, too.

About Us

D Custom started in 2001 as the custom publishing arm of D Magazine, one of the nation’s most highly recognized city publications. As the way people consumed media changed, so did we, and soon we evolved into a full-service marketing agency. Today, our top-notch editors still manage every account like they would a newsroom, recruiting best-in-class writers from around the world to match the needs of each client. The result is content that reads like a story, engages audiences, and gets results.

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