The online marketing world is aflutter over content. Content writers. Content for websites. Content for blogs. Content strategy. Content marketing. Content amplification. Content curation. At times it appears as though you could put content in front on any word and have it make sense, given it’s popularity (Content Frappuccino, anyone?)
But while it’s clear content is popular, it’s not so clear that business quite know what to do with it, as many rush to measure, tweak and replicate without first asking themselves “What are we really trying to do here?”
To help us make sense of it all, I invited Lauren Hall-Stigerts a Kirkland, Washington-based Internet marketing consultant specializing in content strategy and social media, to weigh in on the topic for our In The Beaker series.
Hall-Stigerts is a writer and thinker I admire greatly, having read her work for more than a year and always finding her ideas clear, thoughtful and compelling. After reading her thoughts below, where she illuminates how businesses can wrangle the wild content horses, I’m sure you’ll agree.
RS: When I think of most of the writing I view on the web, I do more wincing than clapping. It’s as though the quantity is through the roof, but the overall quality is not what it should be. Why do you think that is?
LH-S: I’m over the moon that content is finally getting the attention it deserves. However, I think content publishers are getting addicted to the benefits of frequency and losing sight of quality in the process.
Search engines are rewarding sites for publishing fresh, relevant content. Site managers see a new spike in traffic every time a blog post is published. The marketing team get excited that the brand is getting in front of its audience regularly. IT’S JUST SO ADDICTING!
But like most things in life, balance is key. Don’t get sucked into obsessing over quality. You’ve got to find the balance that works for you and your audience. Some pieces you’ll invest in heavily deserve that magnifying glass and those white gloves. Others will have a diminishing rate of return the more time you obsess over it, such as a time-sensitive blog post alerting your audience to a recent announcement.
RS: Blogging, as a whole, seems to get far more attention than rank and file copywriting. But when you look at where businesses really have an opportunity to close the deal, it’s web content aside from blogs that rules the day. This is why it drives me crazy to see bad landing pages, About Us pages and poorly worded product descriptions. What area of web content gives you the heebie-jeebies, and how would you fix it?
LH-S: Like you said: make sure your home is in order before you start going crazy with content elsewhere. Shiny objects are always hoisted upon businesses: blogs, social media, flashy videos. But ideally all that content is driving traffic back to your website, and if your website does not meet let alone exceed their expectations set by that content, you could lose trust and customers.
I prefer to see a well-formatted website that answers customers’ questions and provide a way to contact the company rather than a popular Twitter account. (Not to mention content created on any web property other than your own is subject to the whims of that website. But if the content is on your domain, then you are the master of it.) Make sure you put your best face forward on your website before any other online content activity.
RS: I’m on record as saying businesses who outsource content production should (a) find a way to produce at least a small percentage of their own content and (b) have a member of the internal team who in-depthly understands content. How can businesses that outsource content creation ensure they’re getting what they need?
LH-S: Most will verify they’re getting what they need by looking to the end product. But here’s a secret: how you start the engagement with your content creator (before any content is created!) makes all the difference in the end.
Know who you are: Establish your magnetic north before setting off on the content trail.
Before outsourcing your content creation, understand why you’re producing it. Revisit your business objectives and goals. These are your magnetic north. These help guide your content marketing strategy in the right direction.
In addition to the top-level business strategy stuff, be sure to collect resources that will get your content creator up to speed on your organization. Dust off that brand guide: it will help the hired talent put the best foot forward. Share competitive overviews. Describe the target audience and—better yet—personas. Walk the content creator through the customer journey.
Know where you want to go; plan your route and define the final product.
In the words of the late Stephen Covey: “Begin with the end in mind.” This doesn’t necessarily mean envisioning what the content piece looks like. Think about what your customers will do as a result of reviewing your content. Are you producing it to help a customer through a certain part of his or her journey? Is brand awareness top of mind? Want to earn trust with key influencers? Each question requires a different content marketing strategy—that’s why it’s important to define it early on.
Establish your target audience’s content preferences. What type of content do they prefer? Where do they like to consume that content? What do they do with the content? This will inform what the content creator is producing.
Now establish (with the help of your friendly content creator) what success looks like. Define the metrics that will help you measure success and improve over time. Establish the tools that you’ll use to collect that data.
Make room for creativity by setting structure.
All of the planning you and your content professional have done up to this point will help him or her unleash their creativity during the creation stages. Set a schedule to review drafts. A few pairs of eyes reviewing the work before publishing will help see it from different angles and catch anything that needs changing.
Plan on circling back with your content producer a week after the content has gone live to review the performance, metrics, and discuss improvements to future content to better meet the business objectives. These meetings can become less frequent as the content producer becomes more familiar with the brand, business objectives, and performance of the content pieces.
RS: What are some guidelines businesses can put in place to make that process replicable and thus easier to manage?
LH-S: Editorial Guidelines: How content is presented when representing the organization. This includes a formatting checklist for works published to the website.
Voice and Tone: How the written and spoken word reflects the brand. Mailchimp’s team has created an excellent example of how a brand describes voice and tone.
Templates: If you’re creating visual assets, have a folder of pre-rendered and pre-approved graphical elements that can be dropped in. If you’re writing, create blog templates per brand standards with formatting coded in. This will help speed along blog formatting, too.
SEO Checklist: Are all your tags closed and your keywords researched? Provide a checklist that covers your SEO bases, making it easier for your audience and search engines to find you. (Make sure to include “test links” on the list!)
Quality Check: Create a list of who can be called upon to review content before publishing. It’s helpful to have another pair of eyes to catch what the creator might have missed.
Promotion Checklist: Know which social networks you’re posting to. Create your IFTTT recipes that will help spread the word automatically. List what you’ll need to promote through each channel: graphics? Preview text? A shortened URL?
RS: For businesses that lack the resources to outsource content creation, what are some tips you can share to help them manage this process and ensure the quality is what it needs to be?
- Know what resources are available to you: subject matter experts, writers, media creators, and your resources’ bandwidth to create the content.
- Finding the right talent for the job is essential. Locate someone who is passionate about the content topic, and if not passionate, then at least knowledgeable. Enthusiasm is infectious. If they aren’t good writers, pair them with a natural editor at your company. If they say they’re too busy, play journalist and record a 15-minute interview with them. You’d be amazed at the content you’ll uncover when you just let someone talk.
- Understand what content would entertain your audience or make their lives easier. Take some time to search your Twitter followers’ profiles for interests. See what competing websites’ visitors are reading. Mine Google for trending topics related to your product.
- Know where your audience consumes content and create content that fits. Don’t fit a square peg in a round hole: if your audience isn’t on Twitter, don’t waste your time talking to the wall.
- Set up a process that works for your business. This is important. Unless you have a dedicated content team, creating content internally is hard work. You’ll have to convince others to take on work that’s not necessarily their job. You’ll be doing work that’s not necessarily your job. Understand your “content team’s” motivations and limitations – and be flexible to make it as easy for them as possible
RS: When you look at web content as a whole, what do you see as (a) the biggest missed opportunity and (b) the biggest opportunity for quick wins? Please elaborate.
LH-S: The biggest missed opportunity I’m seeing is a concerted effort to promote excellent content. Not every piece of content demands its own campaign – but select pieces that have talent and funding behind them often fly under the radar. Why? The ball is dropped after hitting the PUBLISH button. It was so much work to get to that point that many companies stop there.
No – your work has just begun! Pick your biggest content efforts and organize a marketing campaign around it. I recommend reading Buzzstream’s Advanced Guide to Content Promotion.
Biggest opportunity for quick wins? If your “win” metrics are organic links and social shares: request influencer input early in the content production. Quote them and link back to their site if it’s appropriate for your content piece. The benefits are far reaching:
- You’ll get a unique perspective for the piece.
- You’ll get expert input from a trusted source.
- They will benefit from the mention and link, making it more likely they will share your content with their audience and link back to you in return.
RS: Finish this sentence for me: “Businesses who commit to blogging regularly can expect…”
LH-S: Well, that depends on the quality of content, too. Assuming quality is moderate: Businesses who commit to blogging regularly can expect a loyal audience. (Eventually. Patience + persistence.)