Simply put, content is information. In terms of a website, it means text, images, video, audio or anything that can be uploaded to your site. But what is effective content versus ineffective content? And why does it matter anyway?
Good content matters now more than ever because the public no longer just passively consumes content as with traditional media. New media encourages interaction. This is where content is often confused with copy. Copy is a message created to promote a product or idea by interrupting through various channels, such as TV ads or email marketing. Content can also be copy, but it is more effective for you to approach it as a resource to the reader rather than a pitch.
In David Meerman Scott’s book The New Rules of Marketing and PR, he explains that: “Prior to the Web, organizations had only two significant choices to attract attention: buy expensive advertising or get third-party ink from the media. But the Web has changed the rules.” People rely on the web to make all kinds of decisions. Before making any substantial purchase, most people do their homework ahead of time and frequently search for reviews by other engaged customers. Everyone is now in publishing and it is important for you to embrace that for the following reasons:
- You want to draw new customers and build brand recognition
- You want to build a buzz about your business through social media
- Your customers have questions about you and your products. It is your job to educate them.
- It is an opportunity to overcome objections and establish loyalty and trust.
- It allows you to tell your story.
- It allows you to become a resource and create devoted fans.
The emphasis on good content is exactly what Google has been trying to achieve from the beginning. With the launch of recent changes to their algorithm, Google appears to be winning this fight. Many of the once tried and true methods of gaming the system to improve rank do not work well anymore. Link-building does not guarantee the success that it once did. It can even be a detriment if the links you have are poor and irrelevant, so don’t accept just any inbound link.
It is always best to have clear plan in mind before you create content. Just like a good journalist, you should answer who, what, when, where, and why to get your story.
Why: In this case of content creation, why is a better question to start with. Why are you creating content? What are the goals for your project?
Who: Ask yourself not only who is your intended audience, but who are you?
What: What are your trying to achieve with your company and what are you trying to represent?
When: When do you intend to create and release your content? How will this task be completed?
Where: Where will this content be published?
Choose Your Words Wisely
Now that you have a plan, it is time to get to work and make sure that you ‘keep it real’. Write for humans by humans by using a conversational tone. This doesn’t necessarily mean getting sloppy and unprofessional, the goal is to be clear and interesting. E.B. White’s The Elements of Style came out in 1959, but this tested classic’s guidelines for clarity and brevity are as true today as they were 55 years ago. Namely, avoid fancy words. Never stretch for a ten dollar word when there is a ten cent word that will do the job.
Don’t get caught up in using industry jargon if you aren’t directly addressing others in your industry. Using industry and technical terms will not get your message across to anyone outside of your industry any more effectively. You also don’t want to spew nonsense by using made up words like impactful or other over-used fashionable analogies such as low-hanging fruit in the attempt to appear clever or charismatic; leave that for motivational speakers.
Entice With a Strong Headline
Be sure to give the reader a reason to read on. An average of 80% of people will look at a headline, but only 20% will read on. A good headline can make all the difference in getting the one of the 20% to read your page with only mere seconds of evaluation. Your headline should provide a promise that something compelling will follow that they can’t bear to miss.
Demonstrate, Don’t Just Propagate
Instead of just declaring to the world how awesome you and your product are with a hard-sell, show how it works out in the real world. Give some context by using specific examples of how you were able to solve a real problem, and what value you can bring to their lives. You can do this by telling a story of a real life case.
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and walk them through the process by explaining everything they need to know about using and setting up your product. This may include the harsher and annoying truths, but by not glossing over unpleasant details, this can help you gain a competitive advantage when everyone else is busy trying to paint a picture of a trouble-free world. You will come away looking like the hero if you are able to help steer your customers through what may obviously be a difficult transaction.
Be Sincere and Honest
Garage rock legends The Oblivions once crooned, “You’ve got to live the life that you sing about in your songs.” This may be kind of an obscure reference, but the message is still poignant. Unless you are a very skilled fiction writer, most people can tell when they are being snowed. You may be able to get away with it for a while, but it is only a matter of time before the truth will come out. Just make sure to play to your strengths. You don’t need to point out your weaknesses, but if you are still in business long enough to be considering content strategy, surely there is something that you do exceptionally well.
Learn to Promote
Content may be “king” in what many are calling a post-SEO world, but that is exactly the kind of buzzword no one wants to hear anymore. Still, even if you created the most compelling article and the funniest video ever, what does it matter if no one sees it? Here are a few guidelines to help get you noticed:
- Make it Easy to Share – People love to share content they like and believe in, so make it easy for them to do it, and encourage them to do so. Employ hovering share buttons for as many social networks as you are willing to be involved in. Go one step further and ask them to “like” your content with a pop-up. Upworthy.com states that a pop-up will increase likes by 419%.
- A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words—Make sure to include a compelling image on your page, post or campaign. The email marketing firm Vero boasts a 42% increase in click-through rate as compared to campaigns without images. In the case of social media, this is even more important. Bear in mind however, that placement of an image and selecting the right image have an impact as well. Many years ago, advertising guru David Ogilvy commissioned a study that went against the convention of the time that just having an image was enough to boost sales. That he discovered was that selection, context, and placement had tremendous impact. Take just as much care with layout as you do your message.
- Use Your Wit for Your Readers and Save the Keywords for the Robots—Search engines are not well-known for their sense of humor. Doing something unexpected and fun can help out a lot, but that won’t come across in a site crawl. Optimize your H1 tag for the search engines and maintain your clever title in your title page. You can also take the approach of placing your joke in the subheading and using the keyword-centric portion in the main headline. In the case of social media, you should keep your clever headline.
As with any strategy, it will take some time to reap the rewards. You can’t expect to just create a viral video for instance. That would be like planning on winning the lottery. But you can’t win if you don’t play, so be sure to improve your odds of success by laying all the groundwork and making your message clear, honest and interesting.