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.
Full Disclosure: I’m a professional SEO who has a heavily vested interest in companies investing in, well, SEO so that I can carve out my own little slice of the American Dream.
Okay, now that I got that out of the way, let me get to the point as quickly as possible: SEO represents the most targeted source of traffic online.
Why? Well, because search engines send you users who are (1) already interested in your products or services, and (2) they’re already looking to buy. In other words, they are already one step down the conversion funnel. You don’t have to convince them to buy. You just have to convince them to buy from you, and if you’ve done your job, they’re already on your website.
Social traffic is great for brand visibility, but not so much for driving sales. I mean, sure, you can target people by interests and social graph and all other kinds of creepy data sets. But when people log on to Facebook or Twitter, they’re there to hangout and talk sh*t. They’re not there go shopping.
Even if you use a killer piece of content to drive them back to your site, there’s no guarantee that they’re in the mood to make a purchasing decision, or even in the market for whatever it is you’re trying to sell them. In fact, they’re probably not even going to look at your products or service pages. They’re just gonna consume your content, share it (which is great), and then move on.
With search engines, though, you can get in front of users who are actively shopping around, and when you do, its your products or service pages that they’re looking at.
Of course, there are some inconvenient truths about SEO, like how it’s not a quick fix. In fact, it’s something you have to actually invest in over time. You’re going to need to do things like create killer content and build an ongoing keyword narrative.
But the investment is going to be worth it. That is, of course, as long as you’re selling something that actually offers value and you’re not a complete jerk to your customers.
But, seriously, think about it. If you don’t believe me, just dive in to your Google Analytics and compare the average conversion rate of your organic search traffic with your other traffic sources. The numbers don’t lie…
Content is king, blah, blah, blah. Great content drives SEO, blah, blah, blah. We’ve all heard all the cliches before. But just like there’s a huge difference between building websites for search engines and building websites for users (i.e. human beings), there’s a difference between writing for search engines and writing for users.
Well, not exactly, anymore… You see, over the last couple years, Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have been shaking up what it takes to rank. To oversimplify it, while Panda has gotten really good at judging the quality of content, Penguin has gotten a lot better at figuring out the popularity of that content. And one of the ways they both do this is by evaluating content’s social imprint.
The point is that writing for search engines now means writing for actual human beings (or at least a lot more than it ever has). The problem when you do that, of course, is you end up with popular (or even viral) content that is not at all related to the terms you’re trying to rank on. So while you’re attracting tons of social signals and backlinks (which are all good for SEO), they’re boosting your rankings for terms that have nothing to do with your products or services.
The result: you end up with a lost of trust from the search and popularity among users, but not enough relevance to actually rank competitively on terms that will help you drive conversions.
If you’re willing to allow for some more oversimplification (for simplicity’s sake, of course), there are basically 3 fundamentals components of SEO:
The first two of these are usually pretty easy to tackle, and are the very first and second steps to a solid SEO strategy. The real trick is developing (targeted) keyword relevant targeted that can actually gain the popularity it needs to help you rank.
Normally, once you’re sure that your site architecture lets Google (and those other guys) find and index all your pages, you start working on making those pages as relevant as possible for the most targeted keywords — i.e. those that users are actually using to look for your products and services. You start that process, moreover, by doing some keyword research.
The thing with keyword research is that (when it’s properly done) it’ll give you insight into how users are searching for your products and services, and it’ll help you optimize your product (and category) pages, but it’s not always useful for developing popular content because content that’s been developed specifically keyword density usually reads like it was written for search engine and not a human being — and human beings don’t share (or link to) that kind of content.
Properly done keyword research, however, can give you insight beyond just how users are searching for your products. It can also give insight into the kinds of users interested in your products. In other words, it can give you insight into their personalities and their psychographics.
Basically, people search for the same things in different ways because they are different kinds of people with different goals and priorities. Each group of these people can also be understood as different customer profiles. And each of those profiles can be targeted through good content which will, in turn, boost your rankings on the targeted keywords that are relevant to each of those customer profiles.
So the first step is to conduct a keyword research across all your product/service verticals. So if you’re a show retailer, this might include men’s sneakers, women’s sneakers, high heels, open toes, etc.
Now that you have all the keyword data for each keyword vertical, you’ll need to choose 5-10 top priority keywords based on a mix of:
Once you’ve done this, you’ll probably notice that there are keyword combinations with very different mindsets behind them — e.g. “cheap sneakers” indicates a discount shoppers, while “best sneakers” indicates shoppers looking for high performance products. So start breaking up your targeted keyword groups into psychographic profiles.
Now that you have each of your targeted keywords segmented into profiles in each keyword verticals, you can determine how what proportion of your potential search traffic each customer profile represents. For example, you might determine the following:
From here, you can determine that 40% of your content should target discount shoppers, while 30% of your content should target brand and performance conscious shoppers respectively. Now you can go forward and distribute your content resources accordingly, creating content that’ll appeal to each of you target customer profiles.
There’s this perceived tension in the marketing world between creatives and quants. The stereotype goes that creatives see the quants as bean counters who don’t know how to connect to people, and the quants see the creatives as artsy-fartsy types who just clamor for any kind of attention they can get.
Whether or not this is the case with your team, it doesn’t have to be. The beautiful thing about the split between quants and creatives is that they each represent different sides to the same coin — the conversion coin.
What should be happening is that quants should be providing the insight and inspiration that creatives use to get jiggy with it, and SEO is no different. Your SEO should be aggregating and segmenting the data that your content team can use to develop that killer kind of content that’s supposed to be king. Doing this will not only help you develop more engaging content, but content that can support your efforts to rank on targeted keywords that can actually drive sales.