The Absolute Best of the WordStream Blog: 2015


It’s been a hell of a year in digital marketing. This year saw some of the most exciting developments in online advertising, social media, and content marketing we’ve ever seen, and not a month passed when we weren’t excited by a breaking news story or a new feature that lets us reach our audiences more effectively.

Best of the WordStream blog 2015

With New Year’s Eve upon us, we at WordStream wanted to look back at our most popular posts of the year and see how the topics that were trending on our blog reflected wider trends in search and digital marketing in general.

We’ve split this list into two sections: one with the 10 overall most popular posts of the year, and another listing the 12 most popular posts from each month.

So, without further ado, here are the most popular posts from the WordStream blog in 2015. Here’s to an equally productive and prosperous 2016!

#10: 8 Blog Topic Generators for Blog Post Idea Inspiration, Megan Marrs

Ask any experienced content producer what their biggest challenges are, and you’ll likely encounter the same obstacle again and again – coming up with fresh, relevant ideas consistently. It’s a challenge for even the best of us, which is why Megan’s post about blog topic generators was our tenth-most popular post of 2015.

Best of WordStream blog 2015 blog topic generators

Blog topic generators like the ones highlighted in Megan’s post aren’t just handy tools to help you fill out your editorial calendar, they’re a very real indication that content producers for companies of all sizes and types experience the same difficulties in content marketing. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America report, 42% of B2B content marketers publish content daily, which suggests that actually coming up with content ideas themselves is half the battle – a trend that has continued for several years now.

#9: SEO Basics: Complete Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization, Tom Demers

Of all the disciplines within digital marketing, search engine optimization (or SEO) is perhaps the fastest-moving. Between adjusting strategies to align with changes to search engine algorithms (we’re looking at you, Google) figuring out which optimizations to make (and where), and even figuring out precisely what SEO actually is, there’s a lot to learn, which is why Tom Demers’ comprehensive introductory guide to SEO basics was our ninth-most popular post of 2015.

 Best of WordStream 2015 SEO basics

What’s most interesting to me about this post’s popularity is that despite Google’s insistence that merely creating high-quality, relevant content and offering an intuitive online experience for users is enough for a site to rank highly, there’s still an enormous appetite for introductory-level SEO content – perhaps a reflection of the desire to stand out amid increasing competition. Maybe one day Google will make SEO redundant entirely, but until that day, SEO will likely remain a hot topic.

#8: 5 Ridiculously Powerful Facebook Ad Targeting Strategies, Larry Kim

Advertising on Facebook is one of the most powerfully effective ways to reach new audiences. Although Facebook offers almost endless options for ad targeting, this can be a double-edged sword – it’s invaluable to experienced marketers, but more than a little intimidating to newcomers. In our eighth-most popular post of the year, Larry Kim offers you five immediately actionable and amazingly effective Facebook ad targeting strategies for your Facebook ad campaigns.

 Best of WordStream 2015 Facebook targeting options

Obviously, Facebook advertising is hot, hot, hot right now. It’s incredibly effective, can be extraordinarily cost-effective, and offers advertisers an impressive variety of ad formats and targeting options. What’s interesting about this post’s popularity is the adoption of Facebook advertising overall. Even two years ago, many businesses were still trying to leverage Facebook’s organic reach (a fight they were destined to lose), but now, Facebook advertising is the standard for paid social – itself a testament to how quickly our industry changes and evolves.

#7: 17 Best Practices for Crazy-Effective Call-to-Action Buttons, Megan Marrs

A strong, irresistible call-to-action button can make or break the conversion rate of even the most beautifully designed, highly optimized landing pages. Despite their apparent simplicity, there’s a lot more to nailing your CTA buttons than meets the eye, which is why Megan’s post on best practices for call-to-action buttons was our seventh-most popular post of 2015.

Best of WordStream 2015 CTA buttons

Larry is fond of saying that small changes yield small gains, but the popularity of this post and others like it prove that conversion rate optimization – big or small – is still one of the fastest-growing areas of digital marketing. From small family-owned businesses to large corporations, digital marketers at companies of all sizes are paying much closer attention to the little details in the hopes of maximizing their conversion rates.

#6: How Much Does Google AdWords Cost?, Dan Shewan

For newcomers to paid search, “How much does Google AdWords cost?” is among the very first questions they ask before tentatively dipping their toes into the PPC waters. With this in mind, I set out to answer this common question in our sixth-most popular post of 2015.

Best of WordStream 2015 how much does Google AdWords cost

Obviously, this is a perfectly reasonable question to expect from those new to PPC. However, beyond this aspect of paid search, the frequency with which we are asked this question shows that for all its bells and whistles, its power, and its potential effectiveness, paid search still comes down to cold, hard cash for many advertisers. There are a lot of stubbornly common misconceptions about the cost of paid search out there, myths that dissuade businesses that could benefit from PPC from even bothering to explore it as a possibility – mistruths I attempt to debunk in this post.

#5: 14 Marketing Skills to Add to Your Resume in 2015, Megan Marrs

Ask any digital marketer how many skills they use on a daily basis, and the chances are pretty good you’ll be listening to their answer for several minutes. This is because marketers have to wear a great many hats to get the job done (especially at startups), a fact of life in the digital marketing trenches that often results in a wide range of skills. In our fifth-most popular post of 2015, Megan explores 14 marketing skills aspiring and current digital marketers should have strongly considered adding to their resume in 2015.

Best of WordStream 2015 marketing skills in demand in 2015

Aside from making yourself a greater asset to your team and company, diversifying your digital marketing skill set is a solid bet from a stability perspective – especially for recent graduates. Data from LinkedIn and HubSpot indicates that digital marketing jobs remain very much in strong demand, and expanding your skills to make yourself indispensable to prospective employers is definitely a good idea in today’s turbulent economic climate.

#4: 10 Instagram Marketing Tips to Make People <3 Your Brand, Margot da Cunha

Even before Facebook acquired Instagram for a jaw-dropping $1 billion in 2012 (for a two-year-old company), the social photo sharing service was already hip with the cool kids. Today, it’s popular with just about everybody – including advertisers and brands hoping to get in on the action, which is why our fourth-most popular post of 2015 was Margot’s guide to Instagram marketing.

Best of WordStream 2015 Instagram Marketing

As for why Instagram is so popular with brands hoping to improve their image, the answer is simple. According to data from Mary Meeker’s hugely influential Internet Trends report this year, Instagram is considered the most important social network (not, however, the most widely used – an important distinction) among the highly desirable 18-24 year-old demographic, which has long been the Holy Grail to advertisers of all stripes.

However, it’s not merely the opportunity to reach users in this coveted demographic that makes Instagram so attractive to brands – it’s the fact that these young people are the consumers of tomorrow, which makes brand-building on the photo sharing service even more crucial to many business’ long-term growth strategies.

#3: How to Write an Awesome Blog Post in Five Steps, Dan Shewan

A blinking cursor on a blank page can be an intimidating adversary, even for experienced content marketers. For newcomers to blogging and content production, it can be outright terrifying. That’s why I put together this guide on how to write a blog post in five simple steps, a guide that proved to be our third-most popular post of 2015.

Best of WordStream 2015 how to write a blog post

The nitty gritty of actually writing a strong, engaging blog post isn’t particularly timely or topical from a trends perspective, but it is a perennially popular topic. This post, originally published in February, has consistently performed strongly for one simple reason – lots of people want to improve the quality of their content, a goal to which we should all constantly aspire. Looking back on 2015, I’m thrilled that my guide has proven so popular, and hopefully, it’s helped some of you overcome your fear of the blank page and write better blog posts.

#2: Goodbye, Google+: Social Network Broken Into Streams and Photos Products, Larry Kim

The first (and only) hard news story of our top 10 from 2015, Larry’s post on the dissolution of Google+ into separate Streams and Photos products was our second-most popular post of 2015.

 Best of WordStream 2015 Google+ dead

The Google+ update that shook the digital marketing world…

We were well-positioned to move quickly on this story, which helped us edge ahead of many major publications who were late to break the story. This resulted in the post being picked up by several news outlets, which further propagated the story to even wider audiences. As a result, Larry has used this case study in several of his presentations on how to help content go viral.

#1: 25 Restaurant Marketing Ideas: Tips & Strategies to Win in the Food Business, Megan Marrs

Drumroll please! Here it is, the most popular post from the WordStream blog of 2015 – Megan’s guide to restaurant marketing. We all knew this was a great post when we first saw it, but I honestly don’t think any of us could have predicted just how well this post would do.

I’m fortunate enough to know a few foodies who own their own restaurants (and a microbrewery, which is always awesome), and just from listening to their experiences, I can tell you that restaurant marketing is absolutely brutal. Think about it. Can you imagine an industry vertical more competitive than dining? If so, there probably aren’t many. This is one reason why Megan’s comprehensive guide performed so strongly.

Best of WordStream 2015 restaurant marketing tips

Aaaand now you’re hungry – and so am I.

Another reason for this post’s success could be the fact that food-related businesses – from traditional restaurants and food trucks to artisanal ingredient suppliers and “lifestyle cooking” companies – are insanely popular right now. People’s appetite (pun most definitely intended) for good food is voracious right now, which while good for business, creates its own unique challenges. With greater demand comes greater competition, and subsequently a greater need to stand out from the crowd – exactly what Megan’s post helps restaurateurs accomplish.

And now, the 12 most popular posts from the WordStream blog in 2015 by month!

January: 7 Places to Learn to Code for Free, Larry Kim

Our most popular post from January was this round-up of resources where eager minds can learn to code for free, courtesy of WordStream Founder and CTO, Larry Kim. In this post, you’ll find  the more commonly known names in coding education such as Codecademy, as well as a couple you might not have considered, such as MIT’s Open Courseware platform.

Best of WordStream 2015 learn to code for free

What’s interesting to me isn’t just the sheer number of places where you can learn to code for free online, but rather how popular this post was with our readers – and the public in general. With startups routinely making headlines (and not just for enormous IPOs) and adoption of high-tech devices among an increasingly tech-savvy public, more people than ever want to get in on the action by learning to code.

Software engineering and programming skills are among the most sought-after talents that many employers are looking for, and according to several experts – including Microsoft Founder Bill Gates – children should be taught to code in grade school.

February: Goodbye, AdWords Destination URLs: Everything You Need to Know About Upgraded URLs in AdWords, Larry Kim

It didn’t take long before Google captured the digital marketing world’s attention earlier this year when it announced its Upgraded URLs feature in AdWords. As such, our most popular post from February was Larry’s detailed breakdown about this new feature, and what it meant for advertisers.

 Best of WordStream 2015 AdWords Destination URLs

Aside from making adjustment of tracking parameters easier for advertisers, the introduction of this feature represented the then-latest shift in a continuing trend that we’re still seeing today, namely making AdWords easier to manage for advertisers in general. For the longest time, AdWords was pretty much the only player in the game, but increased competition from Bing Ads and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter forced Google to reassess some of the more frustrating bottlenecks in its system. Of course, 2015 would see some more “exciting” updates to AdWords, but sometimes, the little things make a big difference.

March: Goodbye, Google+: Social Network Broken Into Streams and Photos Products, Larry Kim

Although many of us saw it coming (and had been rather vocal about it), the demise of Google+ as we knew it made headlines across the digital marketing world, including the WordStream blog. We were among the very first blogs to publish the news, and this story went absolutely crazy – to date, it remains one of our most successful posts ever.

 Best of WordStream 2015 Google+ dead

As with virtually everything to do with Google, the news brought with it a predictable response from both fans and detractors. Google+ loyalists claimed Google was merely improving on an already solid platform, whereas critics of the ailing social network – including Larry – saw this news as the death knell for a struggling service that had never really gotten off the ground.

Regardless of where you stood on the issue, time was the ultimate test for Google+, and in accordance with ancient prophecy, the social network did indeed slip farther and farther into obscurity in 2015, especially compared with Facebook’s meteoric growth. Today, Google+ is still popular with digital marketers and many other niche interest groups, but for the most part, it’s a ghost town – just as Larry said it would become.

April: 26 Crazy Facts You Didn’t Know About Google, Larry Kim

Not content to write the most popular posts from each month in Q1, Larry also took the lead in April with this write-up of an infographic about life at Google, the company’s history, and some of the more offbeat facts about the world’s largest search engine.

Best of WordStream crazy Google facts

Aside from offering conversational tidbits about Google – such as the fact that the company rents a herd of goats to keep the lawns at its Mountain View, California, headquarters trimmed – this post revealed a perennial fact of life in the digital marketing and tech industries, which is pretty much everybody’s enduring fascination with Google. People remain practically obsessed with Google, and according to data from LinkedIn, Google remains the most desirable employer in the world (followed closely by Apple and Facebook), an honor it has enjoyed for several years running.

May: Using Emojis in Ad Text Boosts CTR!, Larry Kim

Continuing his unbroken track record earlier this year, Larry’s post on the effectiveness of using emoji in ad text was our most popular blog post published in May.

If you’ve ever met Larry or read his blog posts (which many of you obviously are, if this round-up is any indication), you’ll know he’s obsessed – sorry, passionate – about optimization. With this in mind, Larry set out to test whether the inclusion of emoji, this generation’s version of emoticons, in ad text would improve click-through rate. To the surprise of many, it turns out it does!

Best of WordStream emoji boosts CTR

The data in Larry’s post is definitely interesting and actionable (be warned – using emoji in ads is technically against AdWords’ editorial guidelines), but to me, the most interesting aspect of this post is its implications for how people consume digital media, their familiarity with conventions such as emoji, and how advertisers can leverage this in their campaigns. Once upon a time, it would have been inconceivable to include emoticons in PPC ads, but as Larry’s data proves, attitudes are changing (slowly).

Of course, emoji made headlines for entirely different reasons throughout the year, from accusations that developers had been inadvertently racist by failing to include emoji to represent people of color, to news stories about how certain hotels are allowing guests to request room service using messages featuring emoji. Either way, it’s likely that 2015 will be remembered as the year that emoji went truly mainstream.

June: 6 Shocking Things Google Revealed About the Future of AdWords at SMX, Margot da Cunha

For most people, June represents the beginning of summer vacation – long, lazy days lounging on the beach sipping fruity drinks with little umbrellas in them, the smell of irregular-shaped meat patties cooking on charcoal grills, and of the gentle hum of air conditioners (unless you live in Australia or anywhere else in the Southern Hemisphere). To marketing geeks, however, June means the start of conference season, and this year was one to remember.

 Best of WordStream 2015 future of Google AdWords

Jerry Dischler, left, on stage with Ginny Marvin, center, and Danny Sullivan, at SMX

Our most popular post from June was Margot’s round-up of six shocking things that Google revealed about the future of AdWords at the SMX conference in Seattle (also, way to go for breaking Larry’s streak, Margot). Our friends at Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan and Ginny Marvin, spoke with Google’s VP of Product Management, Jerry Dischler, about the future of the AdWords platform – and Dischler raised more than a few eyebrows with his answers.

Although Dischler’s insights into what advertisers could expect from AdWords undoubtedly stole the show, the fact that Google has spent so much time, money, and effort in developing AdWords demonstrates the speed with which paid search is changing. Introducing new ad formats isn’t just a way for Google to make more money (no, seriously) – it’s a way of adapting online advertising to the expectations and experiences of today’s online consumers. Viewed from this perspective, it’s no wonder Margot’s post was our most popular in June.

July: Average Cost-Per-Click by Country: Where in the World Are the Highest CPCs?, Mark Irvine

Few things get marketers more excited than data, and when it comes to data, WordStream’s Mark Irvine is our very own data whisperer. In part to satiate his curiosity, Mark delved deep into the numbers to determine the average CPC by country for our most popular post in July.

Best of WordStream 2015 average CPC by country

Mark’s post offered up some irresistible facts about CPC from around the world. I won’t tell you which country has the highest average CPC (spoiler: it’s not the United States), but there are some really interesting trends highlighted in Mark’s post, perhaps most interesting of which is the increasing frequency that we’re seeing businesses launch international PPC campaigns to reach new customers.

Mark’s analysis of the data also highlighted wider trends in search, such as the fact that CPCs on Russian search engine Yandex are significantly cheaper than they are on Google (a fact further compounded by Russia’s recent economic difficulties), and that mobile usage was on the rise in many parts of the world, a shift that had its own impact on CPCs across the globe – proof that CPCs are affected by many different factors, not just Quality Score.

August: How to Increase Conversion Rates Without Touching a Landing Page, Larry Kim

Toward the end of the summer, Larry stormed back into the top spot on the WordStream blog in August with this post about how to increase conversion rates without touching a landing page.

Best of WordStream 2015 Call-Only campaigns 

In this fascinating post, Larry outlines five(!) ways you can increase the conversion rates of your campaigns without ever touching a single landing page. Think it can’t be done? Prepare to be amazed.

It goes without saying that Larry’s page was popular because the tips featured were so actionable. However, it also shows that many digital marketers are moving away from so-called “traditional” means of conversion rate optimization in favor of more unorthodox or emerging strategies. This is likely due to pressures caused by a rapidly changing digital media environment, shifts in how (and where) prospective customers consume media, and a decline in the overall effectiveness of once tried-and-true methods of improving conversions.

I won’t use the phrase, “Think outside the box,” but if nothing else, the popularity of Larry’s post proved that you’ve got to get creative if you want to succeed.

September: The 8 Coolest Ad Targeting Features in Marketing Right Now, Larry Kim

2015 was a great year for digital marketers for many reasons, but one of the most exciting is the sheer breadth of targeting options that marketers have available to them. In our most popular post from September, Larry outlined the eight coolest targeting features that advertisers can take advantage of in their campaigns.

Best of WordStream coolest ad targeting features

A recurring theme in Larry’s post was that of tailored, custom audiences, particularly those on social media networks. So-called “identity-based” marketing is one of the hottest trends in marketing right now, so it stands to reason that this approach to the creation of highly customized audience segments featured so prominently in Larry’s post. Larry also went even deeper into the topic of identity-based PPC marketing during his incredibly popular session at SEJ Summit in September.

October: New AdWords Customer Match Beats Out Facebook Custom Audience Match Rate, Larry Kim

Hot on the heels of his ad targeting post in September, Larry also took top honors in October with this post comparing the match rates of AdWords’ new Customer Match feature and Facebook’s Custom Audiences.

Admittedly, it was a close call, but Google beat out Facebook in terms of match rate. One thing that is beyond doubt, however, is that both Google and Facebook absolutely crushed Twitter’s custom audience match rate, a fact that may give some advertisers pause when considering how to allocate their advertising budget for 2016. Larry described the introduction of Customer Match as the most exciting PPC news of the past decade, and when you look at this data, it’s easy to see why.

 Best of WordStream AdWords Customer Match rate graph

Of course, there are wider implications beyond a juicy, data-driven grudge match that few marketing geeks could resist – the most obvious being the further move toward greater ad customization, more granularity in audience targeting, and radical shifts in how advertisers target their audiences. It’s never been more important to start being more granular with your targeting, and as these trends show, it’s only going to become more important in 2016.

November: The Ridiculously Awesome Guide to Facebook Remarketing, Margot da Cunha

Real talk – there is absolutely no hyperbole in Margot’s headline for this post on Facebook remarketing, which is indeed ridiculously awesome and undoubtedly why this was our most popular post from last month by a country mile.

Facebook remarketing is incredibly powerful. For several reasons, however, adoption of this technique remains comparably low, at least from what we’ve observed informally. If you’re wondering about how to use remarketing to recapture “lost” leads from Facebook, Margot’s in-depth guide contains absolutely everything you need to know.

Best of WordStream 2015 Facebook remarketing

Again, aside from its highly practical applications, Margot’s post reflects wider trends in digital marketing, namely how advertisers are (slowly) adapting to consumer behavior. It’s exquisitely rare for a prospect to complete a desired action in a single sitting (or on a single device), yet many advertisers remain stuck in the past. Think of how many conversions you could lose by failing to remarket – especially on Facebook, where users probably aren’t actively shopping. Madness!

To anyone who has been paying attention, it’s obvious that remarketing, increasingly granular targeting, and audience segmentation are the way forward. If you haven’t already, it’s time to rethink your current strategies.

December: 8 Super Creative, Crazy Effective Display Ad Ideas, Erin Sagin

Last, but by no means least, is Erin’s post from earlier this month on how to apply these super-creative and highly effective ideas to your display ad campaigns. In her post, Erin shows you how to leverage clever, subtle techniques (as well as some more overt tactics) used by major brands to make your display ads more compelling.

 Best of WordStream 2015 CTA button colors

Image via KISSmetrics

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Erin’s post isn’t merely how to make your display ads better (though that’s obviously the point), but rather how much of a missed opportunity the Google Display Network is for many advertisers and marketers. Let’s face it, compared to social and search, display often gets a raw deal, as it isn’t perceived as being as “sexy” as paid social or as tangibly effective as paid search. However, for savvy marketers, the GDN represents a wealth of opportunities – if you know how to appeal to today’s audiences and serve them ads that align with their expectations and enrich their online experience.

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