The content marketing industry is difficult enough to describe to a prospective client, a friend or a family member without the ever-changing rules and methods we are faced with. When you then factor in all of the updates we have to deal with and the demands we face from clients in terms of what they want, what they don’t want and what they expect; the industry as a whole gets even more confusing – and we’re on the inside, supposedly “in the know.”
When Matt Cutts made his infamous guest posting is dead quote, many experienced content marketers were forced to take not just one but several steps back to re-evaluate their whole strategy. Content creators panicked, SEOs panicked and nobody really had the answers as to how it was going to affect the way they worked and achieved their clients’ goals in both the long and the short term.
Except, in a way, the answer was there all along. Content creators have the ability to show their ingenuity, talents and personality in what they were producing and that, at the end of the day, is how to create content anyway!
Google’s Panda update sought to rid the web, or at least the influential search results, of spammy, poor quality content – the kind of thing that we don’t want to read as we get no value from it whatsoever. If you’re going to write something or spend your budget creating a piece of amazing content, you should be giving it your all – like an important essay or a client proposal.
If you want someone to take the time to read and share your article, the very least you can do is put some time and effort into creating it! (That’s my theory anyway). If you want a guide to what Google actually looks for in terms of judging quality content, and how the panda update has changed how we create it since it was first rolled out back in 2011, Neil Patel has written a great piece on all of that here.
In essence, the strategies and the algorithms may have changed, but our approach to high quality content creation should have been as passionate as day one trying to do the very best we can for our clients – and our own reputations, it’s our name on the work at the end of the day.
I’ve been working in content marketing in its various guises for five years now and I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a strategy which has been created for the long term which hasn’t been modified to some extent based on either algorithm updates, client requests or a sudden burst of creative inspiration – they’re quite nice moments, I like them a lot and it would be great if there were a few more of them!
To help me to deal with the ever-changing industry and the various different plans we have to work with, I’ve tried to stick to some form of structure even when the ideas themselves veer off somewhat. I call these the five E’s of content marketing, an idea that came from my University days when I learned about the five W’s of journalism – who, what, where, why, when.
If you are going to create a successful piece of content, you need to do it ethically. Nobody likes spammy posts that don’t really do or say anything, and nobody likes having their own content ripped-off and re-worded (especially when they use their own significantly greater audience to get more likes, shares and comments than the original author!)
A high quality piece of content is something that is original, entertaining and made with a purpose other than just acquiring links. You need to show something off. Not in a bragging “look how good I am” kind of way, but you need to show off your talent, your abilities, your creativity and you’ll then reap the benefits that come your way.
Stay true to yourself, your passion for creating great content and your own beliefs in terms of what constitutes a great piece of unique content by creating something based on your own experiences, knowledge and opinion. Don’t just “sell out” to acquire quick links and social shares – the big, more beneficial ones are out there for those who deserve them.
Your content, whether it’s as part of a content marketing strategy designed to get links for clients, an article for your own company blog like this one or a feature on a highly reputable industry publication, should focus on providing the audience with something useful.
We recently produced an article for one of the North West’s biggest business websites in collaboration with one of our own clients which consisted of purely no-follow links. If you want to show the search engines that you are serious about creating great content designed to provide value to the reader, then giving no-follow links a try (even if it is only now and again) should be in your content strategy. If nothing else it will help the site’s backlink profile by mixing up the ratio of dofollow and nofollow links. if they’re all one or the other, it’s going to set the alarm bells ringing.
When you create a piece of content, you want to make sure that you are showing the audience something valuable and also that you know what you’re talking about. Anybody could blag an article which incorporates information they’ve found on the web, but if you can talk freely and easily about something you know you are confident on then you’re on the right track.
The best way to test yourself before hitting the publish button or sending your content to an editor is to ask yourself “would I be able to stand up and talk about this?” You don’t have to be confident enough to stand in front of a conference with hundreds of industry professionals, but if you can’t even talk about it with your mates in the pub then you’re probably not creating anything with any real substance and you risk the whole piece being overlooked, skimmed or even rejected by the author rather than going viral as you might hope.
Before creating any substantial piece of content, whether it’s a dissertation for your University course, an article on behalf of a client, a press release, a video or any other form of content; take the time to research the subject to such an extent that you can get to that point where you’re happy to talk about it.
By having a level of expertise in a subject you find that you write more passionately about it and the whole article flows perfectly from start to finish and your audience view you (or your brand, depending on who you write for), as an authority. You never know, you might even become someone whose content they enjoy reading and will look for in the future.
This one is possibly the most obvious of “the five E’s” but it’s one that you just have to get right if you want your content marketing campaign to really flourish. Entertaining your audience sounds easy on paper (even easier in your own head), but actually making them smile, laugh and feel as though they’ve spent their time reading, looking at or watching your content wisely is more difficult.
Brainstorming sessions can create some incredible content ideas (and some truly catastrophic ones that result in nothing more than facepalms), but not everyone shares your own sense of humour…what now? Try, try and try, that’s what. You don’t need to make all of the people laugh all of the time – you just need to give them something of value, something that encourages them to either share your content on social media, to buy a product, to visit a website or – at the very least – something that makes them think your content was worth their valuable time (we’ve all read articles or watched videos and thought “well I wish I hadn’t bothered, that was dull).
It’s easy to see when you’ve tried too hard to entertain people, it’s a bit like that one friend we all have who is desperate to tell jokes and they just result in tumbleweed and awkward silences. It’s the same with content marketing.
We’ve heard so much about the importance of entertaining people that we fall into a trap of trying too hard to make it funny that we don’t provide any value. Not every client wants to be seen as a funny brand – some just don’t suit it depending on the niche. Sure you can brighten up an article with a GIF or a video but make sure you do it in the right place at the right time – don’t force it, nobody likes forced fun!
Getting your audience to click on, look at and share your content is the only way of achieving your goal. With every piece of content you create, whether it’s an article, infographic or video, you want the audience to do something – share it on Facebook, buy a product, make an enquiry, visit your website… the list goes on. They aren’t going to do this if it doesn’t speak to them in some way.
I’m not trying to say that you fill your content with calls-to-action, telling people to buy this product or making your article seem more like a television advert; but you do need to ensure that you take your target audience into account and show a human side to separate you from all of the other faceless brands in the industry.
Some people respond better to videos while others respond better to in-depth articles with quotes from industry professionals to give it that extra substance to convince them that a certain brand, product or service is the one for them. Yes, budgets and in-house time and abilities dictate what we’re able to do in some cases, but it’s a case of making the best out of what you can do.
Content creation is about being creative, using your imagination and speaking to people just like you – in whatever way you choose. You can’t force people to like your article to an extent that they share it on Twitter but a thumbs up or a comment on the end of the content itself is just as good (whether it’s positive or negative because you can use that feedback to inform your next piece).
Finally, you need to try different things! This industry is evolving all the time, and not just when Google releases an algorithm update or when someone says “guest posting is dead”. There are only so many times you can write a “top five ways to…” piece, and there are only so many infographics you can do on a certain topic before the audience starts to feel that they’ve seen it all before and you’re just a part of the crowd.
Mix up your campaigns from time to time. You might do a certain number of feature articles one month accompanied by an infographic, a survey and a YouTube video for example; and then the next month you might decide to do solely articles or one infographic that links back to a series of guides or a range of products on your website.
Just because one campaign provides instant results doesn’t mean that is the surefire way to success. Yes you may see almost instant results in terms of an increase in rankings for specific keywords or traffic to your website, perhaps you’ll see a boost in social media followers and fans but you won’t always get that kind of success. Some amazing pieces of content haven’t had the kind of success we might have hoped for when we initially published them, so one thing you could try is to revisit that specific piece to see if you can repurpose it with some fresh content, maybe a new video or a quote from somebody with serious authority that could help it to get picked up this time round and receive the traction it deserves.
Keep being creative and trying new things, you never know, you might just like it.