Success on social this holiday season: Data-led recommendations to win at Facebook and beyond.

Two elements, supply and demand, determine CPM and CPA on Facebook. At Brainlabs we’ve completed an extensive analysis of the UK and US market for multiple verticals and, in particular, retail and compiled recommendations to help you prepare for the holiday season.

Supply & Demand

Before we begin, let’s define the essential elements of the advertising space:


Depends on

Supply (or available impressions)

the number of ad placements* and the number of people using Facebook products.


both the number of advertisers and how competitive they are (e.g. how much they are spending).

*The number of placements only changes when Facebook launch new products


Over the past year, we saw fluctuations in CPM and CPAs which were a result of changes in supply and demand in the Facebook ad ecosystem:

During Q2 2020, users were spending more time on the platform as a result of the pandemic which led to an rise in supplies, while advertisers pulled back budgets and reduced the demand. These changes drove a dramatic decrease in CPMs across all verticals.

Through the first half of 2021 we saw a move into the ‘economic recovery’ stage, where users continued to work from home and spend the same amount of time on the platform – maintaining the same level of supply, advertisers  increased their investment in the platform after a year of holding back their budgets. This increase in spend led to a noticeable jump in CPMs across all verticals.

Image: Brainlabs 2021

The upcoming festive season should increase platform usage (supply) but also lead to an increase in advertisers’ budgets (demand).

Analyzing Brainlabs clients’ performance over the past few years, we found that on average CPMs increased up to 93% in the US on Black Friday and up to 80% in the UK in the days leading up to Christmas.

Below are CPA vs. CPM breakdowns for our US and UK clients overall and specifically in the Retail sector:

Overall, we see a drop in CPAs on Black Friday as people are motivated to shop, while CPMs sharply increase and remain high throughout the December Peak (December 1st – 31st).

In the retail sector, CPMs are at their absolute highest on Black Friday and slowly work their way down throughout December. CPAs followed a similar trend.

In the UK we, again, saw CPMs take off during the December Peak. CPAs remained somewhat consistent but spiked on Christmas Eve.

UK retail CPMs and CPAs remained high throughout the December Peak but plummeted on Christmas Day.

5 Recommendations (with examples and stats) based on our learnings:

Increase investment in video creative

Facebook is investing in increasing ad-placements for video assets (IGTV, In-Stream and Reels), as the supply is always growing bidding on this inventory should be cheaper and help you make the most of every penny spent on the platform.

Invest in creative that stands out

With four big shopping events and big budgets spent on festive productions, advertising on social media during December can be very competitive. Below are the two big questions we’re asking:

  • Will your creative get the users’ attention?
  • How does it differentiate from the rest of the ads on the platform?

It’s time to try more engaging ad-formats such as ‘Try-before-you-buy AR experiences’ and shopping assistant chatbot (automated messaging experience), that can help you choose the perfect gift for your loved ones. These can help your campaign stand out, and ensure potential customers have the most engaging experience all the way to the check-out on site.

In collaboration with Harrods, we ran paid social campaigns on Facebook to promote their Christmas Gifting Chatbot, developed by Spectrm. Users answered a series of questions around who they were buying for, and with what budget, before the chatbot recommended suitable gifts.

The campaign issued 20,000 conversations, delivering an engagement rate of 2x from the account average!


Put your products in the front

In the weeks leading to Christmas, users are looking to shop, and will make impulsive purchases when they see the right product. According to our analysis, advertising during the holiday season is much more effective than the rest of the year with a 67% average decrease in CPA in NA and UK.

In other words while CPMs rise, strong product performance can offset that cost – so put your products forward!

Consider redistributing budgets from Facebook into other social platforms (e.g. Pinterest, Snap and TikTok)

Over the past 18 months the major social platforms have introduced new social commerce tools that can help advertisers get in front of audiences at the product discovery stage, and then move these customers through the purchase journey to maximize the return on ad spend.

Below are some additional resources explaining the available social-commerce opportunities on each platform:


Prepare for Q5

Q5 (or the post-Christmas period into the new year) is a prime advertising opportunity because supply is still high but demand bottoms out as advertisers cease their holiday budgets. Think about the following:

  • You don’t need highly polished content: ‘lo-fi’ Facebook content performed better due to the authentic feel.
  • Conversion trends tend to go up after Christmas: The hypothesis is that more people get new devices after Christmas therefore there are new CPM opportunities available.

Consider planning a Q5 promotion (perhaps testing out other social platforms like we mentioned earlier!)

The economics of the advertising space boil down to supply and demand. Now that demand has surpassed supply, CPMs on Facebook have increased and will continue to. Diversifying your social platforms and testing new inventory types in Facebook can help you stand out in an overburdened market. Brainlabs can help you kick off your new social strategy or optimize your current setup for the best results!

The post Success on social this holiday season: Data-led recommendations to win at Facebook and beyond. appeared first on Brainlabs.

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Brainlabs acquires international Amazon agency Molzi

That’s right, today we’re pleased to announce our latest addition to the Brainlabs team, the full-service Amazon specialist, Molzi. The move is our third acquisition this year!

Our industry-leading expertise in Google and Facebook advertising along with the incorporation of further Amazon capability elevates us to leaders across all three giants of the digital advertising triopoly.

As an Amazon preferred partner, Molzi has experienced exceptional growth since its inception in 2017 under the leadership of Founder and CEO Chris Mole.  In particular, 2020 saw Molzi double the size of its team to 70+ as ecommerce became the big winner of lockdown. The Molzi team are currently located across the UK, Spain, Hong Kong and Brazil and support such clients as Church & Dwight with a full-suite of services designed for world-class ecommerce results.

With the support of our global leadership team, Molzi will continue to expand its international footprint and develop innovative service offerings for Amazon and additional Marketplaces. We’re also going to increase investment into engineering to fuel scale and efficiency on Amazon, in line with our combined group’s core vision. Molzi are our specialist eCommerce arm and will continue to be led by Chris Mole, initially via the sub-brand “Molzi by Brainlabs” before full integration.

Dan Gilbert, Our Global CEO, commented: “I’m super excited to welcome Chris and the Molzi team to Brainlabs. I don’t need to ask Alexa to know that adding Molzi’s Amazon and retail specialism to our Google and Facebook prowess puts us in ‘prime’ position to continue our mission —  to become the number one media agency in the world.”

Chris Mole, CEO & Founder of Molzi, added: “Over the past 12 months we’ve been courted by a number of businesses looking to expand their portfolio off the back of last year’s eCommerce boom. It’s not until we met Brainlabs when we got ‘the feeling’ we’d met our perfect match. The culture at Molzi is about ambition, determination and transparency. We want to be the leading global marketplace agency. We want to get better as well as getting bigger, and Brainlabs share these goals. We’re excited to be part of the world’s smartest digital agency; and bring even more success to our clients across the world.”

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Goodbye Expanded Text Ads: Google Announces Full Transition to RSAs

Today Google announced the change that every paid search marketer knew was coming sooner or later – the sunset of Expanded Text Ads (ETAs). With this change, Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) will become the core paid search text ad type for all advertisers.

If you haven’t started testing RSAs yet, don’t panic (but also–start testing RSAs. They work. Really well.). Google has generously given us ten months until this change goes live–plenty of time to deploy or refine your RSA strategy.

So let’s bid farewell to yet another Google ad format, and then take a look at the key things search marketers should keep in mind in order to create the most effective Responsive Search Ads.

A Look Back: The History of Expanded Text Ads

Launched in 2016, Expanded Text Ads provided approximately 50% more text than STAs (Standard Text Ads). Search marketers were able to utilize these additional character lengths to provide more details about their products to the searchers.

For historical context, STAs consisted of one 25-character headline and two 35-character description lines, whereas ETAs added a second headline and the expanded description line lengths to 80 characters. The second iteration of ETAs added a third description line and further increased the limit to 90 characters.

ETAs fully replaced STAs on January 31, 2017 (after a three month extension from original deadline of October 26, 2016).

Google has now announced that marketers will no longer be able to create or edit ETAs starting June 30th 2022. Based on similar past changes, we anticipate pre-existing ETAs will continue to serve for at least an additional year, although Google has not yet shared a definite date when they will be fully deprecated.

The new standard ad type: Responsive Search Ads

Responsive Search Ads debuted in 2018 and became the default ad format for text ads in February 2021. They enable advertisers to leverage Google’s automation and vast amounts of audience data to personalize messaging and rapidly test a massive amount of ad copy variations.

RSAs offer true query-time optimization by assembling the assets that are predicted to perform best for each individual user’s search based on contextual and intent signals. As an added bonus, RSAs can also show in more inventory across the Search Network and Partner sites, a clever incentive by Google to encourage advertisers to utilize this ad format. Google has found that overall, advertisers that switch from ETAs to RSAs (using the same assets) see 7% more conversions at a similar cost per conversion.

Instead of writing multiple discrete ads to test messaging, RSAs enable advertisers to submit up to 15 unique headlines and four description lines. Google then dynamically combines these assets to create tens of thousands of potential combinations. For brands who want or require more control over their messaging, Google offers the option to “pin” headlines and description lines in specific positions – for example, to ensure that a specific call to action always shows or to display legally required text (especially important for brands in regulated industries like finance and pharma).

One key benefit of RSAs is increasing the speed to optimization for search marketers. Advertisers save time by having Google do the testing. Prior to RSAs, an ad group may have had three to five ETAs running at a time with each testing a different message. Over time a winner will emerge, but determining that winner came at the expense of manual ad creation and the advertiser’s time. RSAs accelerate this process by enabling Google’s algorithm to do the testing rapidly and dynamically.

However, this functionality does come with a trade-off. For many search marketers, the frustration with RSAs has been the lack of transparency. As a whole, advertisers can see how each group of RSA assets performs – for example, in one test Brainlabs identified that an RSA produced 20 conversions at a cost per conversion that is half of its ETA counterpart. But Google does not yet provide insights into which assets and combinations are driving those conversions. Instead, Google only shows the number of impressions for each individual asset and combination. Even with all of the performance benefits that RSAs provide, some advertisers have continued to rely on ETAs to better see what messaging is working. We’re hopeful that over the next ten months Google will evolve and expand the reporting provided for RSAs to deliver more transparency that search marketers can utilize to derive insights based on specific combinations of ad assets.

How to Maximize Success with RSAs

If anything, the sunsetting of ETAs will simplify the ad creation process. By combining all available assets each RSA is able to generate upwards of 30,000 different combinations, so there’s no need to create multiple separate RSAs within the same ad group

Google’s recommended best practices for creating RSA assets is straightforward: Use the maximum number of available assets, make the assets distinct from one another, and include popular keywords in the headlines. The good news is that all of these factors can be evaluated via the Ad strength report in Google Ads. The better the ad strength, the better the projected performance.

Marketers should evaluate the importance of pinning ad assets. Pinning enables more control over the content of the displayed ads, but also reduces the number of permutations Google can deliver, so marketers that have historically pinned specific RSA elements should test whether removing these pins delivers incremental gains. Of course, as mentioned above brands in a restricted industry should continue to leverage pinned ad copy to ensure legal compliance.

One thing we have seen firsthand is that RSA performance dramatically improves when fueled with greater volumes of data through each ad group. A minimum of 3,000 impressions per week is the target amount recommended by Google’s Hagakure structure, and based on Brainlabs testing this does appear to hold true (and serves as the foundation of our own proprietary D’Artagnan structure). The removal of ETAs certainly puts more weight behind the argument to look at consolidating account structure, which also aligns well with other recent Google recommendations like making use of broad match keywords and leveraging smart bidding.

One big unknown off the back of this announcement is how Google will update their recommendations for overall creative best practices. Historically Google has recommended running at least 2 ETAs in each ad group alongside RSAs to allow the RSAs to learn from “static” ad formats. We’ll look forward to seeing how Google’s recommendations evolve in the near future as we test into our own updated Brainlabs best practices!

Unsurprising, but Still Actionable

This update didn’t come as a complete shock and will not disrupt current account performance – which is welcome news for retailers staring down a fast-approaching holiday season. Google has provided a long lead time before ETA creation is disabled, and RSAs are well established (have been around for well over two years).

Even if you haven’t yet deployed RSAs, the most important things to do next are:

  • Review high-performing expanded text ads and identify top performers to inform RSA strategy
  • If relevant, work with your/your client’s legal team to define which headlines need to be pinned down to meet compliance
  • Test, test, test! The more ad variations you have, the more learnings you can gather.

As with any Google announcement, it is important to keep an open, curious mind. Know that this update should be an improvement directionally. Be curious about how it will impact performance and how you can test for optimal use cases – like pinning headlines for exact match keywords and testing different combinations for broad match.

Google is constantly evolving their product offerings, and these changes often bring new challenges. But in this case, we can confidently say that the best move is to lean into RSAs, which have proven to be an extremely effective ad format.

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The rise of privacy-first search engines: a marketer’s guide to Neeva, Brave, and DuckDuckGo

Consumer privacy is a major concern across every component of today’s marketing ecosystem.  Brands, data providers, and advertising platforms are each attempting to deliver powerful, personalized experiences while navigating rapidly evolving data legislation. Apple drastically reduced mobile targeting and measurement opportunities with the release of iOS 14.5 only a few weeks ago. While third-party cookies recently received a two year “stay of execution,” their reliability will continue to degrade. Savvy brands are working to ensure their first-party data is robust and portable in order to continue delivering customer-first marketing strategies.

But many consumers aren’t waiting for laws and adtech to catch up with their desire for privacy.  They’re changing their digital habits and proactively adopting privacy-first behaviors that include using alternative search engines. In the United States there are now three major privacy-focused search engines competing to steal users (and queries) from Google and Bing: Neeva, DuckDuckGo, and Brave Search.  

While aggregate volume for these engines is small, it is growing.  In order to ascertain the impact of shifting search entry points and future-proof search marketing for changing user behaviors, it’s important for marketers to understand the complex paid and organic opportunities across each of these emerging search engines.

Neeva: Ad free, subscription-based, privacy-first, and built on Bing results

After raising millions of dollars in funding and spending months in beta testing, new search engine Neeva finally launched to the public on June 29th, 2021. Neeva’s tagline is “Ad-free, private search”, and its home page is filled with strong statements about the drawbacks of search advertising aimed directly at Google. This is an especially interesting market position because the two founders of Neeva are former Google advertising execs who helped build the ad platforms that delivered more than $170 billion in advertising revenue across Google Ads and YouTube last year.

Instead of leveraging the longstanding (and now heavily scrutinized) model of monetizing online traffic with ads, Neeva is instead going entirely ad free and instead charging its users a monthly subscription fee of $4.95. It’s a bold approach to ask internet users to pay for a feature they’re used to getting for free, but Neeva’s founders are betting that every privacy issue faced by other search and social platforms will make customers more willing to pay for a premium experience where their data isn’t sold or monetized at all. In fact, they’re playing up their pricing model as a strength, touting that “Because you pay for Neeva, we’re accountable to you (never advertisers).”

The Neeva marketing opportunity: 

While there are no paid search ads on Neeva, there’s plenty of potential for organic rankings and traffic–and marketers with good SEO practices are already set up for success. Neeva search results feature structured data from sites like Wikipedia, IMDB, and alongside “special units” built by Neeva’s own crawler. However, the majority of Neeva’s search content is pulled in directly from the Bing API–so today the best strategy to optimize organic results on Neeva is to simply ensure a site’s content ranks well on Bing.

DuckDuckGo: The first privacy-focused engine offers paid and organic opportunities via Bing

Touted as the original privacy-first search engine, over the past twelve years DuckDuckGo has grown from a one-person passion project to a team that is 129 strong. Its foundational principle is a reaction to the growth of secondary contextual signals on Google and Bing search, well in advance of today’s privacy challenges. While DuckDuckGo only holds 2.4% of the search engine market share in the US, it has seen significant user growth over the past two years and answers approximately one hundred million queries daily.

The DuckDuckGo Marketing Opportunity:

DuckDuckGo serves both ads and organic search results, but all SERP (Search Engine Results Page) content is purely based on the current search query and does not incorporate any historical or contextual personalization. While it pulls its organic results from “over 400 sources”, in practice the vast majority of natural search results on DuckDuckGo are sourced from the Bing API, just like Neeva. Thus, all SEO optimizations targeting Bing rankings will deliver organic traffic from DuckDuckGo as well.

Paid search ads on DuckDuckgo are also served via Bing–or, more specifically, by the Microsoft Advertising Partner Network. If an advertiser is running search text ads via Microsoft Advertising they’re either already serving ads on DuckDuckGo or can easily opt in with a few clicks. It’s worth noting that Microsoft’s search partner network is transparent and easily analyzed via in-platform reporting, so marketers can ascertain the impressions, clicks, and cost of their ads served on DuckDuckGo.

Brave Search: Ambitious, independent, but marketing opportunities yet to be determined

Previously known for their ad blocking browser, Brave has recently expanded its privacy-focused initiatives into a new search engine with a bespoke crawler, transparency in their sourcing from other data sets, and an incredibly ambitious initiative to eliminate bias in search results.

Brave launched the 1.0 version of its browser in June 2019 after three and a half years of testing. Based on Chromium, Brave not only offers ad-blocking but also provides users with the option to choose to see ads served by Brave based on their browsing interests (matched privately on the user’s device). Brave incentivizes users to opt into these ads via a revshare model, where a significant portion of the ad revenue paid to Brave by advertisers is passed along to the user and can then be converted into cryptocurrency or used to “tip” sites whose content the individual accesses frequently. In June 2021 Brave launched the beta test of their new privacy-first search engine.  

The technology underpinning Brave Search is much more ambitious than the other privacy-first search engines.  Unlike Neeva and DuckDuckGo, Brave has focused on building its own proprietary web crawler, using tech from in their March 2021 acquisition of Tailcat.  Asked how the quality of Tailcat-powered results vs Google, Brave CEO Brendan Eich described it as “quite good”, adding that it “will only get better with adoption.”  

Standing up a new independent index of the entire web is an even larger challenge than launching a new search engine, so Brave has cleverly set up two solutions to supplement the data from their crawler:

  1. A transparent Search Results Independence metric which displays the percent of results sourced from other public APIs (like Google and Bing) for the specific search, for a browser’s lifetime searches, and anonymously for all searches to date by every user on Brave.  This is framed as a way to balance user experience while still providing information about the level of independence from “big tech” Brave is currently delivering.
  1. A further option that allows users to opt-into also receiving Google results for long-tail queries that Brave doesn’t yet have refined content for.

These two solutions are a nod to the fact that it will take time for Brave to achieve its ambitions of a truly independent search results page without compromising the transparency Brave is committed to providing its users.  

But Brave’s ambitions don’t stop with merely a unique index.  They’ve also launched the (cleverly named) Goggles initiative, which aims to empower communities and individuals to create bespoke ranking algorithms built upon their index in order to overcome the single-actor bias other search engines and social networks have been accused of by leveraging crowdsourced ranking criteria.  Whether this approach leads to truly unbiased results or merely creates more echo-chambers reinforcing predetermined beliefs will be fascinating to explore – as will whether other engines respond to Brave’s invitation to partner on this initiative.

The Brave Marketing Opportunity:

 Brave doesn’t offer paid ads on their search engine yet, but we predict they will begin testing search ads within the next year.  These will likely be an extension of the current advertising solutions offered by the Brave browser, so interested brands should begin testing the browser-based ad units in order to define a baseline of potential effectiveness.

SEO optimization on Brave Search will require a different approach than Neeva and DuckDuckGo.  Brands can review their current rankings on Brave manually, but should balance the prioritization of Brave-focused SEO initiatives based on how quickly this new engine acquires users and traffic.  One specific unanswered question is how Brave’s crawler interacts with a website and the site’s robots.txt file (the first place any web crawler will go to, which informs the web crawlers from Google and other leading platforms about how to crawl the site).  We’ll investigate this interaction in the coming weeks and provide recommendations to Brainlabs clients about any suggested changes to the website or to the robots.txt files.

Prioritization of opportunities will be informed by growth & user “stickiness”

The successful creation and launch of two new privacy-focused search engines and the rapid recent growth of DuckDuckGo (4x increase in query volume over the past two years) demonstrate that there is consumer appetite for new search experiences.  Each represents new marketing opportunities across both paid and organic search, but the overall impact on the search and marketing ecosystems is yet to be determined.  We will continue monitoring each engine to track user growth, query growth, and “stickiness,” and prioritize our search marketing efforts accordingly.

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Brainlabs appoints Wan-Gyn Ang as SVP, APAC

Award-winning marketing strategist and business transformation leader Wan-Gyn Ang is joining Brainlabs to amplify the agency’s growth in APAC with a mission to share Brainlabs’ unique data, tech and talent approach with clients across the region. 

She brings with her a wealth of in-market knowledge across the Asia Pacific region and over 20 years’ industry experience at some of the world’s biggest media agencies, most recently at Carat where she led the charge for driving business transformation, growth and client satisfaction across the Carat operation in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.

Before that Gyn spent 5 years as Managing Director of PHD (leading them to be named ‘Agency of the Year’ for two consecutive years and to their first Cannes award). She has also held previous roles as Managing Partner at M2M and as Business Director at both OMD and MEC.

Gyn will be based in Singapore where Brainlabs launched its first APAC office earlier this year and will report into Brainlabs’s APAC CEO Mark Fagan, who joined the company recently from iProspect where he held a number of leadership roles in the UK, Global, China and Asia Pacific teams. Over 3 years of that time was spent in Singapore as the Regional MD, iProspect APAC, where he was responsible for the growth and development of 18 offices in 14 markets.

Commenting on Gyn’s appointment, Mark said, “Gyn’s impressive track record of driving product innovation, business transformation and building award-winning strategies for a wide variety of clients across the Asia Pacific region, makes this an incredibly exciting prospect for our clients and our fast-growing team in Singapore. We are aiming for our APAC operation to contribute substantially to our global growth ambitions in the next few years. Gyn’s hire will help bolster this ambition. ”

Gyn added, “I’m thrilled to be part of the Brainlabs team and working with Mark to chart Brainlabs’ next wave of growth in APAC. The use of experimentation-led marketing to drive more profit for clients and its exceptional people culture are what attracted me to the role. The fast evolving business landscape in the region means we are in a strategic position to help clients unlock business opportunities and respond to marketing challenges with Brainlabs’ unique go-to-market approach and marketing solutions.”

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Brainlabs acquires Canadian Programmatic Buying and Google Marketing Platform experts MediaNet

We’re thrilled to announce Brainlabs’ acquisition of Toronto-based agency MediaNet. 

Clearly the best thing to come out of Canada since Ryan Reynolds and maple syrup, the arrival of Medianet strengthens our existing programmatic capability and adds deeper expertise in Google’s MarTech stack. We’re also looking forward to benefiting from MediaNet’s creative production services to enhance our social and programmatic advertising. 

The acquisition signals further North American expansion for us under the guidance of ex-iProspect leader Jeremy Cornfeldt who joined Brainlabs as CEO, North America earlier this year.

As an agency built for the future, MediaNet is differentiated in the market for their consultative approach and ability to build successful partnerships with in-house teams. Their current client roster includes Aviva, Bank of Montreal and Postmedia.

Over the coming months, and with the leadership of MediaNet’s CEO, Julia Amorim, the team will become a specialist programmatic and dynamic creative branch, supporting clients across North America.

Originally founded in 2003 as part of Casale Media; MediaNet was spun out as an independent buy-side media agency in 2015. The company employs a team of specialists from their Toronto office and are one of a handful of independent Google Marketing Platform Sales Partners in North America.

Our CEO of North America, Jeremy Cornfeldt said: “MediaNet is a perfect fit for Brainlabs and will help us expand against our strategic initiatives in North America. Off the back of their market-leading services in programmatic, creative and GMP, they’ve built a fantastic business coupled with an amazing reputation. We look forward to welcoming MediaNet to the Brainlabs team.”

Julia Amorim, CEO of MediaNet, added: “Today more than ever, brands need to harness a holistic understanding of the consumer journey and build strategic communications around that ubiquitous, multi-channel universe. We are thrilled to be joining forces with Brainlabs whose market-leading solutions and stellar reputation in search and social will naturally compliment our core capabilities and help strengthen our digital marketing services offering to clients across North America.”

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Mental health awareness at work: How to start the conversation

Stigma: a mark of shame or discredit  (Source: Merriam-Webster)

Mental Illness: a health condition involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Often associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities (Source: American Psychiatry Association)

Mental Health: a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his/her/[their] own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his/her/[their] community. (Source: WHO

How do these three ideas work together instead of against each other? 

The truth is: they don’t. 

We need to do better to remove the stigma from mental illness and focus more on mental health as a whole. Mental health is not simply the absence of illness, and mental illness is not the absence of mental health. However, we need to focus more on health, diagnosing illness, and finding ways to manage all without the stigma attached. 

How can we accomplish this? 

It starts with yourself and in the various avenues of your life: at home, at work, with your family, friends, with your community… the list goes on. Mental health is woven throughout your life and the truth is – it’s never a perfect balance. 

A person can only find their own ways to continue to be self-aware and open to what is going on in their mental state. Mental health is not an absence of mental illness; it’s how we take care of ourselves. Just like you would take care of your diet, or your heart, or make sure you’re getting enough exercise – the same goes for your mental health. 

We recognize mental health and wellness as an ongoing opportunity to encourage employees to be in tune with their mental state, so they can bring their best self to work each and every day. From paid sick and safety time that can be used for mental health, to wellness chats and employee champions that are there to listen, Brainlabs is inclusive and open to keeping its employees healthy beyond their physicality and into their mental space. 

This May, we participated in normalizing Mental Health Awareness with initiatives such as:

  • Weekly wellness chats for a “brain break” on topics including:
    • Identifying stressors and how to cope
    • Music and Mental health, where we discussed the power of music and created a playlist in real time 
    • Mental Well-Being Care 
  • Live yoga sessions
  • Team-sourced ‘Calming Cues’: words to calm and recenter 
  • Spring Day: No-meeting days to take some time outside and enjoy being tech-free 
  • A water challenge to encourage good hydration habits 
  • A walking challenge and fundraiser for the Mental Health Foundation
  • Encouraging Brainlabbers to develop #Tools2Thrive to support their mental health on an ongoing basis
  • A space for Brainlabbers to share their own mental health stories to break the stigma around these types of conversations in the workplace. 

Employers must focus on each employee as a whole – their most authentic and true selves. This includes their mental health, physical health, work style… all the little things that make every employee truly unique. Tackling mental health stigma looks different for everyone, but we all have one central goal: to take care of ourselves and each other. 

One week or one month of mental health awareness isn’t enough. 

How are we able to break the stigma in the workplace, and globally for that matter? 

Mental health and mental illness should not be a big red splotch that you wear and try to cover up. We are all responsible for how we talk about mental health and mental illness in our personal lives, in the workplace, in our community and in the world. This is not a conversation that expires at the end of a month, or at the end of a week, or even a day. It’s a constant conversation and journey that we are all on individually and collectively. 

Be vulnerable and open. 

Even in writing this post, I struggle with being open and vulnerable about my own mental health. It’s easy to write passionately around actionable items regarding mental health and wellness as a whole, but it really makes you key in on introspection and reflection.

Be vulnerable with me and assess your own mental health and meet yourself where you are. No judgement, no stigma, be real.

So, where can we start as individuals?

Ask yourself, in no particular order:

  1. How am I feeling today? A loaded question, I know!
  2. What is making me happy at this moment? 
  3. What am I looking forward to? 
  4. How have I been sleeping? 
  5. What am I grateful for? (Morning Gratitude video for some inspo!)

Spending a little time on your mental health daily is just like taking a quick jog, or doing a cardio workout. It’s a work-out for your mental health and to see how you are at the moment, where you were in the previous time and where you are hoping to be. 

One step at a time, we can each be kinder to ourselves and help normalize mental health awareness in the workplace.

Mental health matters. Take a moment. Take a breath. Be gentle with yourself. You’re worth it. 

For more information about mental health, here are some great resources: 

  • Mental Health America: crisis resources, discussion communities, and tips for mental health habits  
  • Right Direction: resources to identify and manage depression for yourself and your loved ones
  • NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness): learn more about mental illness, signs and symptoms, help to find treatment
  • 7Cups: feeling alone and need a chat? Connect with a trained listener who can offer an ear. 

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from Marketing

A paid media expert’s perspective on dealing with depression

For this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I want to open up the conversation around mental health in our industry and share my experience with depression because it’s such a common experience that people should feel more comfortable talking about openly. 

More importantly, I want to share the things I learned from my own experience, and give some advice on how to recognize and overcome depression. After all, the best thing we can do with a negative experience like depression is to learn as much as possible from it, and try to turn it into something positive.

Content warning: mention of suicidal ideation

My experience with depression

My battle with depression started during my last semester of college where I was obtaining my degree in Marketing Analytics. There were some key things that happened which lead up to it. The main factor being that I took an extra semester to graduate as I had changed my major – a few times! Because of this, all of my close friends had graduated and moved away, leaving me relatively isolated for that term. 

I was also deeply involved with a student organization, holding multiple leadership positions throughout my time at school, the terms of which happened to end before going into my last semester, leaving me without my usual sense of purpose. 

Both of these things caused me to have a less structured social life, and it also meant I wasn’t active with intramural sports and basically stopped exercising altogether. These are the conditions that set me up for the hardest year of my life. Not to mention the pressure of looking for a job after graduation after watching all of my friends land great roles at well-known companies.

Over the course of the next 6 months, I started to completely isolate myself. I frequently cancelled plans with the remaining friends I had. I skipped class most days, and dreaded going to work. All I wanted to do was stay at home and sleep, watch TV, or play video games. I was hardly eating (I had lost 40 pounds by that time), I had lost a lot of my self-confidence, and my motivation was non-existent. The search for a job after college wasn’t going well. I graduated, and it took me another 4 months to land a job. I took a front desk job at a hotel in Austin, which wasn’t what I had planned to do with my marketing analytics degree. At that point I still wasn’t fully aware of my deteriorating mental health, and kept pushing forward.

I was working long hours, 6 days a week, and living in a tiny studio apartment with my dog. I was stressed and anxious, still wasn’t eating much, and absolutely hated going to work everyday. I remember feeling so trapped in that apartment, not knowing many people in a new city, and the overwhelming feeling of wanting to just give up. At that point I realized something was wrong, I was not okay.

I quit my job, and I remember sitting in my apartment, weighing my options. I was deciding between calling my parents and telling them that I wasn’t okay and that I needed help, or suicide. It’s hard to describe how I felt at my absolute lowest point, but I remember just wanting everything to stop, I didn’t want to continue on with life. I felt like a failure, and I didn’t think I had any value to add to the world. 

Fortunately, I ended up making the right choice, and I called my parents and told them everything. This was the turning point for me.

I moved back home the next day and over the course of the next 8 months I started to work on my mental health. I went to therapy, began taking antidepressants, and went back to exercising regularly. I was surrounded by a great support network and slowly started to get back to feeling like myself. I started my job search up again and eventually landed my role with Brainlabs! Through that recovery process I learned a ton about myself, and actually developed an appreciation for the experience I had gone through.

What I learned about myself from depression

At the time, I hated the fact that I was depressed. I had an idea of what my life after school would be and it was frustrating for that to be completely disrupted. I didn’t like who I was at that point in my life. I wasn’t motivated, I struggled to feel any emotions, and I had lost all of my confidence. 

But, surprisingly, I’ve actually come to appreciate it. It helped me realize the things that are important to me, the things that make me who I am. It reminded me that I need to reach out to friends and family more often. Most of all, it made me a stronger person, mentally and emotionally.The knowledge I gained from my experience has made the pandemic easier to handle for me. I’ve definitely struggled this year, but at this point I know myself, I know the signs to look for, and I know the things I need to change in my life to make sure I’m mentally and emotionally well.

Therapy was a great tool for helping me understand what had led me into a state of depression in the first place, and it gave me an understanding of what I needed to change in order to get back to feeling like myself.

My therapist and I dissected what led up to my depression, and we ended up highlighting the things I mentioned before: social life, sense of purpose, and exercise. Those were the big factors in my decline in mental health. I went from having a robust, structured social life to having basically no social life for a time. I went from holding leadership positions in an organization to not being involved with the organization at all, leaving me without my sense of purpose. I went from playing sports and going to the gym multiple times per week to no physical activity at all. These are the things that are important to me, and they’re a few of the key things that make me who I am. 

When they all disappeared fairly quickly, it took a huge toll on my mental health and sent me into a deep depression.

My (unlicensed, amateur) advice for coping with depression

Here are a few tips that have worked for me. Please note, they may not work for you as every experience and set of circumstances is different, but I hope some of them are helpful.

1. Learn your warning signs

It’s not easy to spot the changes in yourself, they tend to be slow and can go under the radar. A big one for me: if regular things start to feel like an absolute burden, then I know I need to change something. For example: I always wash my dishes as soon as I’m finished eating, if I start to want to put something that simple off, then I know something is up. When small, easy things start to feel overwhelming, something isn’t right.

2. Make time for what matters most to you

Understand what’s important to you, and make sure to prioritize those things in your life! It could be your family, your hobbies, your job – anything that’s a key part of who you are. If you notice that you’re ‘defined’ by one thing, maybe your job, then try to add some new things in your life. If your whole definition of self is riding on one thing and that thing disappears, it can be really destructive for your mental health. I think of it almost like diversifying risk in an investment portfolio, having a healthy number of things from which you derive your sense of self can help mitigate the effects of losing one of those things. Of course be mindful not to over-do it and stretch yourself too thin.

3. Lean on your support network

You are not a burden! 

This one was hard for me as a man. We’re taught from a young age to toughen up and face things on our own, asking for help can be seen as a weakness, but it’s absolutely not. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help in whatever way they can. When I told my friends I got 3 types of reactions: 1. Friends shared their experiences with depression with me, and I never would have guessed they had been through that experience. 2. Support, overwhelmingly they offered support and wanted to help. 3. I had some friends who I could tell didn’t know what to say. They clearly hadn’t encountered it before, and I was not someone they expected to go through it. I don’t blame them for not knowing how to react, and this is a big reason why it’s so important to talk about depression more.

4. Don’t underestimate the power of exercise

Exercise is an incredible tool for taking care of your mental health. It doesn’t have to be anything too difficult, just find something that you like to do, there really is something for everyone! For me, it’s walking (I hate running so I don’t force myself to do it) and lifting weights. During the first summer of the pandemic, I was walking over 2 hours a day and it did wonders for my mental health. Don’t be afraid to try things outside of your comfort zone, but definitely don’t force yourself to continually do things you truly dislike.

5. Understand the negative and positive feedback loops in your life

Here’s an example of a negative feedback loop: I get nervous before presentations, so I sound awkward and anxious when giving a presentation. As a result, I feel poorly about my performance, and next time I go to do a presentation I’m even more nervous, so on and so forth. This was eye-opening for me when I realized how much of an impact these things can have. It’s good to try to identify them and find a way to break the cycle for negative feedback loops, or maximize the positive feedback loops you have.

Rebuilding confidence from scratch

That brings me to the last point that I learned a lot about from my experience: confidence. When I started to feel like myself again, things like motivation and feeling more emotions came back to me. But the one thing that didn’t return was confidence. 

This experience made me realize that I had never built up true confidence in myself. Instead, I was ‘living paycheck to paycheck’ as it were – using small confidence boosts from being told I did something well or the occasional compliment to tide me over until the next confidence boost came along. I got by on this for most of my life. This isn’t a sustainable way to build true confidence in yourself, and my depression exposed that. It took a long time to build up some form of true confidence, and it’s something I’m still working on. It comes from trusting in yourself, and knowing that you’ve done all you can do to prepare yourself and be the best version of yourself!

I’ll leave you with some final thoughts. Every person’s experience with their mental health is going to be unique. Prioritizing your mental health is going to cause you to learn a lot about yourself! If you really want to see a change in your life then you have to change something about the way you’re doing things. In this case the cliche holds true: it will get better.

The post A paid media expert’s perspective on dealing with depression appeared first on Brainlabs.

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Advertising on the cookieless web: 4 steps to protect your data now

Advertisers, your data is at risk.

From legislative changes like CCPA to technical developments like ITP, the foundations of data that digital marketing has been built on are crumbling. And this momentum is snowballing with more and more changes on the horizon: Apple is now requires opt-in tracking in iOS 14, and Google is following their lead by limiting third-party cookies in Chrome in early 2022 and possibly even cross-app tracking.

Unless businesses act now, marketers soon won’t be able to collect the data they’re used to, which will impact a number of key functions like planning, bidding, selecting and targeting audiences, attribution, and ultimately ROI… 

Luckily, there is still time to prepare. So buckle up, and make the leap into the exciting world of first-party data activation.

You have a year to sort your first-party data strategy out

In order to mitigate loss before it’s too late, you need to decrease your reliance on third-party tracking and invest in your first-party data strategy.

Look at it this way: where in the past, big tech firms like Google and Facebook did the work for marketers by tracking users around the internet, now marketers must do their own first-party data collection with transparency for users.

Chrome limiting cookies next year will be the final nail in the coffin for third-party data, so you need to get ready ASAP.

Before you get overwhelmed by all the literature out there and possible solutions, you need to stop and take stock.

Ask yourself the following question: is your business ready on a structural level and on a technical level? These are the two gaps in internal expertise that are likely holding you back from reaching that ideal state. 

Break the organisational barriers 

According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, the biggest obstacle for businesses on the way to being data-driven is not technical, but cultural. Even when businesses invest in data-driven initiatives, they struggle to make progress due to legacy organisational structures, outdated processes, and inflexible cultures.

Data science is not a rigid academic pursuit, but a problem-solving mindset anyone can adopt.

First and foremost, it’s vital to address data sharing issues across departments. Otherwise, you end up in a situation where you might be collecting plenty of data but not doing anything with it. Relevant teams must have access to relevant data so that everyone can get on the same page to understand the full impact of privacy measures, settle on measurable KPIs, and set up a system for decision-making with data (e.g. are you measuring customer lifetime value?). This is a time-intensive, but completely necessary operation to undertake.

Review your organisation’s privacy awareness, and train employees on the latest developments or hire data-savvy talent. Be ready to go through a top-down cultural revolution, break down internal silos, and scrap familiar processes. Set up a specific team to oversee this transition, but buy-in from across the whole company and especially the leadership team is key for progress to happen. 

Tackle the technical obstacles

There are three key things that have to be re-evaluated on the technical side in order to ensure you are able to gather high quality first-party data.

First, you need to assess your current set-up. Start with a thorough audit of your current data collection processes: review your website tagging, and audit tracking across all your media platforms, from Google Ads to Facebook Ads. 

Next, you have to ensure your first-party data is being imported into the right platforms, and that your tech stack enables data sharing. For example, setting up a CRM data import into your analytics tools, and offline conversion imports into your ad platforms will enable you to connect the online and offline customer journey

Finally, for data to be accessed across teams, you need unified tech stacks that enable sharing and allow you to import rich CRM data into the right ad platforms. This will enable you to leverage that data in audiences and bidding, using advanced insights to execute advanced strategies.

It also won’t hurt to familiarise yourself with alternative measurement solutions such as econometrics and geo-testing, and know when/how to use them.

4 practical steps you can take to protect your business today 

If you understand what’s at stake and are ready to work on the above, here are a few tips to get the ball rolling on switching to a first-party data strategy.

1. Implement sitewide tagging

I recommend implementing Google Sitewide Tagging to maximise your use of first-party cookies across the Google stack. Use Google’s Global Site Tag set to first-party cookies on your domain to ensure that Google Ads can measure conversions more accurately, with Conversion Linker tags enabled in Google Tag Manager. Make sure you’re capturing as much data as you can from key events and tracking micro-conversions such as time on site, product views and cart adds.

2. Prepare Facebook for iOS 14

if you’re advertising on Facebook, your campaigns will be affected by the iOS update. There’s a few actions to take: verify your brand’s domain, update the Facebook SDK, and priorities pixel events to mitigate data loss. You might also want to look into Facebook’s Conversion API as a long-term solution to cookieless tracking.

3. Review cookie consent policies

Make sure consent mechanisms comply with legislation in your operating regions and that tracking is implemented according to this. If your business is using a consent management solution, you could test Google Consent Mode (which is currently in beta), which provides granular Google tracking options and will be used in future for conversion modelling algorithms.

4. Future-proof your analytics

Consider moving to an analytics solution designed for cookieless tracking. We recommend upgrading to Google Analytics 4 because in future it will include advanced machine learning that fills in gaps of data and preserves campaign insights, plus first-party audience integrations data will increase remarketing audience pools. It also comes with a free BigQuery data export which will let you link your analytics and customer data to measure customer lifetime value.

Change your mindset from threat to opportunity

Don’t get the wrong idea: although there is a necessity here to protect your business, this is actually a great opportunity to take ownership over how data is used within your organisation and improve it for the better.

If you can get your business in a place where you’re collecting high quality data on your customers and key business drivers, connecting that data across teams and platforms to share insights, and activating the insights from that data by feeding them back into your marketing strategies… Well, you’re golden!

But it’s important to be realistic about data, and your own limitations before you create your strategic roadmap. There are some amazing long-term benefits for advertisers who maximise their first-party data, but for many there’s a long road ahead. So take it one step at a time – but start walking today or you won’t make it on time.

The post Advertising on the cookieless web: 4 steps to protect your data now appeared first on Brainlabs.

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How to produce high quality written content

If you own a website, you’ll undoubtedly have been told multiple times how important it is to write “high quality content”. In SEO terms, this goes hand in hand with the concept of E-A-T (Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness), which Google uses to assess the quality of content on every site.

This becomes even more important if you’re aiming to rank for YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) keywords, or topics that could, in Google’s words,  “potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.”

But how do we achieve that in practice?

In online and SEO terms at least, we’ve come some way in recent years to getting a fairly concrete answer. Not only have studies given us solid intel about how people read content online, but Google’s guidelines help us a lot too.

As we mentioned already, a 2019 Google update told us that quality – measured by expertise, authority and trustworthiness – is a big factor when it comes to ranking content.  

This doesn’t mean you need a PhD in every topic you write about. Expertise, authority, and trust can be relayed by how you write, not just what you say (although that’s really important too). Put simply: an information-packed blog post is no use unless it’s well written. High quality content means writing about things your audience will find useful in a clear, understandable way.

So if you’re wondering how to make sure that page or blog post you’re writing is high quality enough to engage readers and appear in search results, here’s some advice. 

Before you start writing

Many brands try to start writing web content before they identify why they’re writing it, and what purpose it will serve their readers.

1. Identify what your audience wants to know

Your content strategy cannot be “build it and they will come” (more here on how to create a content strategy). If your goal is to create content that people will find and use, then you need to identify the topics that matter to them, and the best way to give them that information. 

  • Write down why your product exists, and the problems your customers have
  • Search for the phrase you’re targeting and see what already ranks well
  • Ask questions to get feedback on social media channels
  • Use Google Find My Audience (this is aimed at YouTube, but still gives useful insights) 
  • Send out surveys (old school but still effective)
  • Analyse what keywords and topic areas your competitors are targeting

Really get to know who your audience is, by drilling down into the specifics:

  • What are the general demographics?
  • What/who influences them?
  • What does your audience want/need? (basic information vs. detailed tutorials, etc.)
  • What questions are your readers asking and what topics would they like to see covered?

2. Do your research

As we mentioned earlier, Google is actively rewarding content that shows expertise and authority. Once you’ve done the keyword research and have a good idea of the topics you’re covering, do the research to make sure what you’re writing is well supported. 

Start off by running through some basic steps:

  • Identify and develop your topic: narrow down the specific topic you wish to cover and flesh out the finer points.
  • Review what’s already been said: delve into what industry experts say on this topic –this will provide you with the backbone of your research.
  • Identify gaps: Once you figure out what’s already been said on the topic, identify what hasn’t been said. Great content is useful and unique. You can still target the same keywords and rank with a different slant to everyone else, but you need the research to back it up. 

The writing process

We know that writing for an online audience isn’t like writing an essay. There are a few best practices we can follow to make sure people stay engaged with the content you’re writing.

Create Credibility

Your content should be unbiased and non promotional as far as possible (if people wanted a sales pitch, they’d watch your ads). Not only because most readers are hypersensitive to brands trying to sell them something or endorse a particular product, but because credibility is a component of authority – and our aim here is to impress Google with our E-A-T.

In addition to creating non promotional content, here are a few ways to boost your credibility:

  • Cite all of your information/facts/statistics. Try to use a primary source whenever possible (linking to the original place you got the information) 
  • Qualify your experience or expertise: give an indication of your trustworthiness.
  • Link to other industry experts. Citing the experts signals to the reader and Google that you’ve done your research. 
  • Use attribution phrases whenever possible (i.e. “according to a recent report…”)

Tip: make sure the attribution goes after the fact and that the attribution phrase is linked to the original source. (For example: people are more likely to scan than read your content, according to the NN Group.)

Make your writing actionable

When you’re writing high quality content, the aim is to make it as useful as possible. Most Google searches are made by people searching for a solution to something, so put the reader at the centre: what do you want them to do or feel after reading?

Take a look at the actionable yoga content versus non-actionable yoga content below – you will see that the actionable example has clear step-by-step directions (plus a picture) as to what the reader should do to achieve the end results. The non-actionable example doesn’t give the reader any takeaways.

Actionable Yoga Content:

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Non-Actionable Yoga Content:

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If you’re having problems identifying what you want your reader to do exactly, use these tips:

  • Ask yourself: “What do I want the reader to think, feel, and do?”
    • Tip: Convert these points into calls to action in your content
  • Ask yourself: “What do I want to talk about and what are my main points?”
    • Tip: Use these points as your subheadings to create an informal outline that guides your reader through your content (this will also prevent your main points from getting buried)

Here are a few questions you can run through to make sure your writing is actionable:

  • Are there clear takeaways or points of action readers can get from your content?
  • Is there any call to action?
  • Are there steps explaining how to do something or where to find more information?
  • Does every section of your writing add value to your desired message?

Use plain English and a conversational style

There’s a time and a place for formal, flowery language: and that place was the academic essays you wrote in school. 

When you’re writing for an online audience, your primary goal is to be understood. The best way to do that is to write (more or less) in the language you’d use in everyday speech.

Writing in standard English means cutting back on jargon. This is one of the most important but often forgotten parts elevating your writing from ok to great.

When Google’s EAT evaluation process was released, many of the rules evaluated the simplicity of language. Google wants to see us get straight to the point. Featured snippets already direct people straight to the answer they’re looking for in search results and are so prevalent in search – we need our words to do the same thing on the page.

Even if you’re writing about specialist topics for an audience of experts, there’s research to back this up.

“…when given a choice, 80% of people preferred sentences written in clear English and the more complex the issue, the greater that preference. But second, […] the more educated the person, the more specialist their knowledge, the greater their preference for plain English.”

Consider this: which is easiest? 

“This guide will help facilitate the needs of users within your online vertical”

Or “This guide will help give your customers what they want”?

How to structure your content

If the main goal is to get people to read your content, one thing to avoid is big blocks of text. We know that users tend to scan content rather than read every single word, so we want to make sure important information stands out. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Use short paragraphs (between 1-4 sentences is a good range to aim for)
  • Use bullet point lists 
  • Make use of bold or italics to emphasise points
  • Add Subheadings to guide your readers through the article. Readers should be able to skim subheadings to get an idea of what your main points are
  • Get to the point; don’t include a lot of fluff or filler (e.g. As you may have seen,…)
  • Put the information up front (when structuring content, but also in subheadings and links)
  • Keep your content long enough to thoroughly cover the subject, but don’t drag it out (hint: if you feel like you’re done writing, you probably are)
  • Use images and visual examples to give your reader a “visual break”

As you can see in the examples below, the scannable content is broken up with a subheading, a bulleted list, short paragraphs, and bolded words. However, the unscannable example has large blocks of text (especially the last paragraph boxed in red), no lists, bolded words, etc.

  • Using clear, noticeable headings and subheadings to break up content and label sections so that people can scan to find only what they’re most interested in
  • Placing information up front (in other words, “front-loading”) in the structure of our content, as well as in subheadings and links, to allow people to understand the message quickly while scanning
  • Employing formatting techniques like bulleted lists and bold text to allow the eye to focus on the most important information
  • Using plain language to keep content concise and clear

Scannable Content:

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Unscannable Content:

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If you’ve done the work to craft a well written and well-researched article, take the take to make it scannable, so you readers are more likely to actually read your content. 


You’ll notice that this blog post touches lightly on SEO best practices, but doesn’t go into detail about optimising your writing too much. That’s because Google will always value content that follows these basic principles over a blog post that is optimised for every keyword, contains every single bit of information, but will never get read. 

The main points to remember are: 

  • Determine who your audience is and what they want to read
  • Research your work well and identify gaps in available information you can fill in
  • Make your writing actionable and useful
  • Use a plain language and standard grammar
  • Make your content easy to scan

Ultimately the best marker of high quality written content is that you want to keep reading. So if you’ve got this far, I’ve done my job.

Original author: Kyra Kuik
Updated by Jo Harris-Cooksley

The post How to produce high quality written content appeared first on Brainlabs.

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