Content is king. Sure, whatever. Water is also wet, but who cares? Every marketer should know that you need content, and good content, but what does your content really amount to if it’s no different from what everyone else is doing?
Some brands publish content sporadically, and some publish every single day. Why does content marketing work for some brands and fall flat for others? You want your content to be the person who everyone at the party talks to because it’s engaging, not because it’s in their face about how “the right insurance package is really about securing your family’s future in case of the worst.”
So how do you strike that balance where your content is remembered, but for the right reasons? Well, by (1) focusing on your readers’ needs, (2) standing out from the competition, and (3) consistently delivering on its value.
Working with branded content is a constant give and take between the two-headed beast that is marketer vs publisher. Creatively speaking, marketers put their first foot forward by figuring out what it is they want to say. Which is fair; a good marketer knows their brand, and they know how to get their audience to also know the brand.
Publishers on the other hand, reside at the other end of the spectrum; they’re all about what readers want to hear. And having this kind of publisher’s mentality is key to a successful content strategy. In short, your branded content should be all about connecting with your audience through meaningful interactions, not through aggressive value propositions and ad campaigns.
If your audience is already visiting your site, or reading what you have to say, chances are they don’t need the big push that comes from seeing a heavily branded message. This is why with branded content, you’re pushing your marketer’s instinct aside — but not completely away — while taking a customer driven view à la publisher. Yes, sometimes your content must be heavier on the branding (with branded storytelling for example), but subtlety is the golden rule, and all of your branded content should avoid directly schilling for your product or service.
Just as your brand (and its products/services) need to stand out from the competition, so does your content. As Nathan Lump pointed out while at his former post as Director of Branded Content for Condé Nast:
Brands should think about what differentiates them, not just from their business competitive set but from their content competitive set.
Essentially, just as your products/services have a unique selling proposition (USP) vis-a-vis your competition, so should your content. In other words, the kind of content you’re producing, and how you go about producing (and syndicating) it should reflect your brand and its USP.
And we’re already seeing this with particularly brand conscious organizations. Take Luxury Retreats, for example, a brand that distinguishes itself from the competition through the quality of its service and prestige of its product offering. When they launched their luxury travel magazine, it was probably because they knew that their old company blog was no longer equipped to meet the realities of modern content marketing. They needed something that was more focused on appealing to the interests and needs of luxury travelers specifically, rather than a platform that simply featured general travel advice/insight, company news, and seasonal promotions. By tailoring their content, in other words, to reflect both their brand and their customer’s unique interests, they’re able to connect with their audience better than ever.
Part of any brand is brand consistency, and if you’re going to be conscious about your content’s own brand and USP, then you have to be ready to commit to delivering that distinct value proposition on a consistent basis. This means developing a kind of editorial calendar and sticking with it so that your audience knows not only what they’re getting from your content, but when they can expect it.
This is why it’s crucial to have an always on mindset vs an episodic one. You can’t produce branded content sporadically or whenever you want; give customers a constant stream of engaging material to check out. This being said, don’t overkill it because otherwise your brand will be just another content spammer that the internet hates. There’s a fine line between being the cool brand whose content is the stuff of water-cooler banter and being the lame eye-roll inducing label of the internet.
Don’t post because you have to, post content because you have something your audience is going to engage positively with. Going back to Luxury Retreat Magazine, they for instance publish once a day, seven days a week, which is enough for them to be consistent in their commitment, but not so much that they’re spamming readers (and customers) with content just for the sake of it.
Branded content is about community. You tell the story about your brand, the feelings and experiences that go with it, and you attract a target audience of like-minded people who share the same values and interests. But establishing who your brand is isn’t enough to sustain your community; you need to craft, foster, and maintain a content footprint that not only lasts with your audience, but also makes them want to come back to you time and time again.
Whether or not you agree with them, there are two cliches that digital marketers don’t seem tired of repeating: “SEO is Dead” and “Content is King”. I’m actually a little embarrassed to even mention them, but they’re gonna provide a nice little segue into the main narrative of this post — which is about how you can create better, more relevant content by mining search data to produce the kind of content that your actual potential paying customers might actually engage with.
Before we can get into that, however, I should probably elaborate a bit on why you should still care about SEO, especially when you’re trying to create content for human beings instead of search engines.
Most of the broohaha around SEO being dead is based on an misunderstanding of what it actually is. If you consider this infographic from SEO Book, what you start to realize is that SEO isn’t dying, it’s just evolving.
Like most things (and industries and technologies) in this world, SEO is in a constant state of flux, and what used to be true about it, may or may not be anymore.
Take your car, for instance. Once upon a time it would’ve run on leaded fuel and had a carburetor instead of fuel injection, but that doesn’t mean that automotive engineering ever died. Rather, the technology changed and evolved, becoming much more advanced and complex, and what once passed for auto engineering best practices would now be considered crude and archaic.
It’s the same thing with SEO: it’s not nearly or simple or straightforward as it used to be, and now requires a degree of tact that makes it much closer to a science than a parlor trick.
Like any organism or technology that evolves,the way in which SEO is evolving is in response to a change in its ecosystem, and the changes in that ecosystem are being driven by how search algorithms have evolved to reflect how their own ecosystem (the web) has become a much more complex beast.
Essentially, the last 14 years of Google’s algorithm updates have brought the Google algorithm closer and closer to an AI algorithm, and that algorithm isn’t so easily fooled by some backlinks and keyword stuffing. Rather, they look for queues that reflect how users (i.e. human beings) now use the web, and rank content based on what those users’ needs actually are.
This is why SEO is now about optimizing content for discovery and conversions. Whereas it used to be about showing search engines that you had relevant content (onsite keyword density) that other webmasters trusted (through backlinks), now its about demonstrating that you’re relevant to actual users on an ongoing basis by getting users to engage with your brand and your content.
Of course, this makes it necessary to product content that doesn’t suck (i.e. optimizing content) and then get it in front of users (i.e. discovery) so that they can interact with it (i.e. convert) in a meaningful way. Most digital marketers seem to intuitively understand and agree with this approach, but then kind fumble when it comes to executing.
So the question becomes: How do you figure out what kind of content your users are actually interested in and likely to engage with instead of being just another content marketer that the internet hates?
If you’ve ever taken a serious shot at SEO, then you’ve done keyword research and determined what search terms users are actually using to search for your products/services. If you haven’t done this, you’ve never taken SEO seriously because you’ve never made an attempt to understand how how your potential customers use search engines. Once you’ve done your keywords research, though, you’re in a position to sync your SEO and content strategies by building a keyword narrative.
A keyword narrative is not about producing content that targets specific keywords and/or is stuffed with them. Rather, it’s about using keyword data to understand what kinds of content your targeted users are likely to engage with.
Basically, keyword research is an important first step for optimizing your products/services pages. However, it’s not always so useful for creating compelling content because no one really wants to read, engage with, or share content that was built around keyword stuffed themes.
The search volume data around those keyword groups, however, is very useful if you compare it against your user/customer profiles. Essentially, what you have to do is:
So while the keyword research goes toward optimizing product/service pages, keyword narrative goes toward ranking engaging content in front of actual potential customers.
The whole idea, here, is to get the the right proportion of content out and in front the right audiences. After all, it’s great if you’re producing viral content, but if that content doesn’t appeal to your customers, then it’s not going to help you rank on their searches.
Of course, your content still has to walk a line between being relevant to your industry/business and being engaging, and that’s where you’ll have to put on your creative thinking cap (or hire someone with one), but no one ever said good content came easy. Just like SEO has its inconvenient truths, so does content marketing.
In this way, content marketing is a lot like tattoos: good work isn’t cheap, and cheap work isn’t good.
The point is don’t declare a channel dead just because you haven’t properly invested in it in a way to yield results. SEO has never been a quick, cheap fix, and now that it requires that you develop solid content that your actual customers are going to engage with, the buy-in has gotten a bit higher. But if you want to benefit from the equity and retention that SEO and content together can offer, you have to be willing not only to adequately invest in them, but that investment time to mature.
We’re all probably tired of hearing the phrase “Content is King,” and we’re tired of it because it’s become such a cliche. But the thing about cliches is that they’re cliches for a reason; that is, they’re generalizations or stereotypes that are accurate more often than they’re not.
Well as far as the content-being-king cliches goes, you can’t achieve much as an online marketer without it. PPC ads need copy and landing pages, SEO requires authoritative content, and Social efforts tend to hinge on engaging content such as memes, blog posts, and status updates. And something that you have to consider when deploying content across multiple channels is to (1) make sure it’s designed for that specific audience without (2) compromising your messaging or brand consistency.
One case in point is developing SEO content that doesn’t read like SEO content. Basically, if you create content just for the sake of targeting keywords, it ends up reading like vapid keyword spam that no one reads or engages with. And if no one engages with it (via Shares, Likes, and +1s), the content itself offers no real SEO value in the end.
But your data analysis shouldn’t stop there, especially since you haven’t really collected an real data yet. It’s only once you start developing content that attracts visitors via Organic Search (or Social, or Paid Search) that you can really step up your content and SEO efforts, because it’s only then that you can actually examine how they interacted with the content (and your site), and what the ROI of that content was.
At this point, you want to consider collecting some kind of customer analytics that are actionable. In other words, you want to start drawing correlations between how certain kinds of content attracted certain kinds of users, and what the value of those users were to your business.
From there, you can actually challenge many of the assumptions you started out with about the different personas that make up your target market, and determine how content (and SEO) efforts should be modified to have maximum impact. For example, you might discover that content you developed for persona-X is boosting your rankings for keywords that are attracting persona-Y, or even some unforeseen persona, and by increasing your production of such content, you can actually appeal to two or three personas all at once.
The point is that your SEO tracking needs to go above and beyond traffic source, avg. time on site, and conversion rate. You need to make an effort to understand (1) what kind of
users people are coming through on Organic Search and to what content, (2) what the value of those visitors are, and (3) how your content strategy and keyword narrative can be refined to maximize ROI.
The last couple weeks haven’t been kind to content marketers. First, Google’s very own anti-spam enforcer, Matt Cutts, went after guest posting. Then Downworthy (a browser plugin that rewrites sensation headlines) declared war on clickbait. And finally, the Boing Boing editor, partner and tech culture journalist, Xeni Jardin, sounded a call-to-arms to reclaim the internet form the so-called “viral mills” of the internet marketing world (the irony of which was not lost on the Boing Boing community).
So what’s a marketer to do? Do we have to start worrying about the day where users rise against the machines in some sort of Skynet reversal scenario? Probably not…
Truth be told, all this hype is, ironically, the same kind of sensational hyperbole that it’s targeting in the first place. What’s really at issue, here, is that there’s a little bit more buzz than usual about how users (i.e. human beings) hate douche bags, so as long as you’re not a douche bag, or don’t let any douche bags infect your marketing, you should be fine.
That, of course, doesn’t mean that just ’cause you’re not a douche bag users are spontaneously going to find you. You still have some marketing to do. The real question is “How to go about it?”
In a sense, all marketing assets are content. From billboard and print spreads, to banners and PPC ads, almost everything you use to communicate a value proposition or unique selling proposition is something that engages users (or consumers) on some visual and cognitive level.
The thing about users (or consumers), though, is that they’re human beings. They’re human beings with limited bandwidth and attention span, and if you’re hoping to capture any of it and hold it, then you have to respect that by being mindful of their needs and how you can cater to them.
This is kinda Marketing 101 stuff. Just because someone is a human being, it doesn’t mean that they’re a potential buyer or targeted lead. And that’s what you’re supposed to be after as a marketer: targeted leads.
So when you’re creating content, focus on (1) who your target marketing is, (2) what you can do for them, and (3) how you can help them understand just what exactly it is that you can do for them. In other words, your content shouldn’t be focused so much on generating a sale (or click) directly, but on engaging human beings by helping them solve some problem or fill some need. If you can do that, your brand will be top of mind the next time they set out to make a purchasing decision.
Another upside of this is that guest blogging is not actually dead. Instead, it’s getting back to what it was originally meant for: reaching out to a pre-existing community, engaging it, and giving them something it can use and appreciate and benefit from.
If you’re creating meaningful and useful content, you have every reason to take it out to the communities that are already out there that can benefit from it. ‘Cause, you know, we have another word for communities in the world of marketing: a target market.
So don’t be afraid to guest blog. But when you do so, do it for the right reasons — which do not include the linkjuice you’re going to get out of it. Rather, guest blog because you’ve found a community out there (i.e. target market) that can relate to you because you can relate to them.
Going out to the community is nice enough, and it’s a good start, but as a marketer, it won’t completely solve your problem of how to acquire and retain new customers (because let’s face it, that’s what marketers should be out to do). So you’re going to build a community around your brand, and that means making and maintaining a content footprint that’s not easily forgotten.
This might sound like a big, long-term, ongoing commitment, but that’s ’cause it is. And, of course, it’s not gonna be cheap, but you get what you pay for because content is a lot like tattoos: good ones aren’t cheap, and cheap ones aren’t good.