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The ultimate goal of SEO and content marketing is to rank higher in search engines so that your website is visible and in a position where you increase conversions. To increase conversions your content needs to be engaging. And to do that you need a content marketing strategy.
Which can be complicated – especially if you have a limited budget.
The thing is this; new technologies have made the need for content to be delivered in different formats. Not to mention Google guidelines and readers demanding high quality content.
Content marketing involves writing blogs, articles for third party sites, making videos, eBooks, newsletters, podcasts, case studies, FAQ’s, images, infographs, email campaigns and landing pages.
And here’s the kicker. They all have to offer value to the reader and make it easy for them to make a decision.
Which means creating each piece of content to perform a specific goal, targeted to a specific audience and designed for a specific device. Mobile handset have thrown a spanner into the digital works whereby content that looks great on a desktop computer is difficult to navigate on a mobile phone.
Where do you start your content marketing?
Blogs are a vital cog in the digital wheel. They allow you to use your website to publish various types of content that will attract the right audience. Adding content alone will help improve your page rank.
But that does not mean by keeping a blog you will improve your conversions. The content has to offer value to readers so they keep coming back and exploring more of your site, and of course, you have to get people to visit your blog in the first place.
And most of all, your blog has to position you as an expert in your field – especially if you provide professional services. You can also do this by contributing to third party websites.
When you prove to readers that you have specialist knowledge, can provide answers to their questions and meet their information need, and talk to them in a voice they trust, you increase your chances of improving online sales. Search engines will also pick up on this buzz and ultimately seek you out as a good source of information to deliver in their results pages.
Your blog should work hand in hand with your social media networks as you need amplification to reach your audience in the first place. It is very rare for visitors to simply ‘arrive’ without you pushing out your message. There are thousands of pieces of content undiscovered on websites which don’t market their published work. Social platforms are the vehicles that drive your content to your audience. But you have to find the right audience before the content takes any effect.
You can do this by using a range of tools to find out what questions your audience might be asking and by monitoring other companies in your industry, and most of all joining groups that include people taking a genuine interest in the subject you are writing about.
Content marketing is not just a passing phase. It is highly important aspect of SEO that will get stronger overtime. Consumers always need information and content is the best method of delivery.
In the last few years, content marketing has become the advertisers leading strategy – yet not all online business owners are having the success they expected.
The main reason for this is because they do not have a realistic content marketing strategy. Publishing regurgitated content on a blog and posting it through social media channels is not enough.
A successful content marketing strategy delivers a variety of marketing materials at every stage of the customer journey, lead generation and sales process. Not only that, but the content must be relevant and offer something of value to recipients.
Google guidelines clearly state that websites featuring quality content will be shown favouritism in search engine rankings. Furthermore, engaging content attracts followers and organic traffic who crave more of the quality information you provide to meet their needs.
The content you publish is the driver of your online revenue. It is therefore crucial you produce quality content, but more importantly that your content marketing strategy produces a positive ROI.
How to create a content marketing strategy
Building a content marketing strategy is no different from creating any other marketing strategy; define your objectives, target audience, message and budget.
A content marketing strategy involves delivering the right piece of content at every specific stage of the sales process. This also means you have to decide how the content will be delivered.
You will have a route map through your entire marketing process labelled with tags that explain the objective at that particular stage; lead generation, brand awareness, engagement etc.
From there you need to determine who your audience is, how you will reach them and what device they are most likely to be using. And this is a crucial element many marketers overlook.
Content creation and distribution
Online content is accessed daily through a multitude of gateways using a selection of devices that range from smartphone to SMART TV’s. What is most distinctive about these devices is the screen size.
If your target audience are most likely to be reading content on a mobile handset, they do not necessarily want to be scrolling through reams of text and images. Keep it short. There are many ways to impart bite-sized pieces of information which means the same thing as a whole ruck of text.
A 50-inch LCD screen on the other hand delivers more impact with something visual, either still images or a motion picture. The medium you use and the way your message is designed therefore must be taken into consideration.
Then there is the issue of how the content will be distributed; email, social media, newsletter, brochure etc. Again the type of content and the way it is presented need to be determined.
Consider paid promotion
You may also want to consider incorporating paid promotional ads you’re your content marketing strategy. Facebook and Google Adwords are the two most prominent options although there are a host of other pay-per-click advertising networks such as advertise.com and 7search.com.
The problem with ppc campaigns is they are expensive and do not work for every business. They do however, provide reach, help raise brand awareness and attract click-through so if you budget can justify a return on investment, ppc might be a good option. They also provide the opportunity to remarket to visitors who may need you in the future.
Content marketing can be an expensive advertising campaign, especially if you do not have a specific strategy that maximises your potential ROI. Not only do you have to consider what content will engage your readers, you have to consider how your audience will engage with your content.
Your content strategy plays a vitally important role in your overall digital marketing campaign. It is therefore equally important that you put together a solid content strategy that will hold and help you achieve your goals.
We will not lie to you, putting a content marketing strategy can be tricky and frustrating. So you are probably wondering whether it’s worth the hassle.
Statistics say it is. According to Contently, content strategists are 13 time more likely to improve ROI, increase search engine rankings and earn better trust and authority scores.
Not only that, but the creative nounce you need to put together an effective content strategy is an exciting proposition that gets you out of bed in a morning!
So how do you go about planning a content marketing strategy? Let’s take a look!
#Step 1: Tidy up your link profile
If you are new to content marketing this step is easy. Your task is to move on to step two. Done! See, we said it was easy.
If you already have content on your blog and, dare we say, a large social media following (cringe), this step needs some attention – and you are going to hate me for this! But it best to get it right…
First of all, go through your analytics and remove any backlinks that do not serve you. If they are from low quality sites take them out. There, that wasn’t too bad was it?
Okay, that’s the easy part. Now you need to go through all your back-content and remove any broken links. This is especially necessary if you have updated your website with new content and products and the links are directed to the wrong page.
Once you have your housekeeping tidied up, you can move on to step 2.
#Step 2: Research your rivals
To understand the type of content that is effective for your industry, get on to Google or whatever search engine you prefer and research your rivals. Check out what type of content the big hitters in the top ten are publishing.
The idea of this exercise is not to steal ideas, but to find inspiration of the type of content you need to publish. Titles, subjects, keywords, format (images/texts/video etc). Why do you think these sites are ranking well?
You also have to bear in mind that you need to produce better content and this exercise tells you which bar you should be aiming for. That of course will depend on what industry you are in.
Furthermore, foreknowledge of the type of content you will need to produce gives you an idea of how much budget you need to create the content and how you will achieve that.
Will you curate the content in-house or will you hire a content provider? If you feel you will have to hire a contractor, be sure to let them know who your rivals are and which sites you want to emulate and surpass.
#Step 3: Determine your target audience
Step 3 is a little like step one – if you already have a social following. Having hundreds, or worse, thousands of followers on social platforms can work against you if they do not engage with your brand.
You see, social media is all about making money these days. For the networks that is. Social media marketing is not free anymore. At least it’s not free and as effective as it used to be, although it can still be free.
But it will only be effective if you have the right audience. Let’s take Facebook for example. Good old FB only dish out your content to six per cent of your followers.
That means if you have 1000 followers only 60 are receiving your content. And less than that will engage with your content. And less than that will lead to conversions. Social media marketing is a pay-and-display I’m afraid.
So unless you have the budget to take you down the pay advertising route, you have to shed your following. Keep those that engage with your brand (purchasing customers) and keep those that engage in your content (potential customers).
Everybody else you can either dump or send them a message with a product offer. If they show an interest in your offer, keep, if they don’t, dump.
#Step 4: Attracting a target audience
Before you can do a great deal with your audience on social media, you need to determine what type of audience you want to attract. So determine your goals.
The purpose of a content marketing strategy is not only to improve conversions, but to climb up search engine rankings whereby you become more visible in search results and increase your chances of increasing conversions.
Not every visitor to your site will be interested in purchasing your products, but every reader of your blog offers you value. The more they visit and explore your site, the higher you climb up the rankings.
So your target audience should not only be paying customers, but people that will share an interest in your content purely to gather information. They may be fellow professionals, students or have a hobby in your field.
Your content ideas should therefore include tips and specialist information visitors to your blog will get value from. Throw the net wider and write about fringe subjects and you catch more fish.
#Step 5: Brainstorm content titles
Now, this is where the fun starts. It’s time to get creative. Now you have defined your target audience, you need to think of subjects to write about that will most interest them.
Choose your keywords to help you build a title, and also revisit the sites of your rivals to determine what type of content and keywords they are getting the most traction from.
The types of content should be varied; news articles, top tips, feature articles, interviews, Q&A’s. You may also want to curate image-based articles or infographs, videos and podcasts.
Which brings us on to the last step….
#Step 6: Choose your tools
If you are new to the content/blogging arena, the first thing you need to determine is which blog platform to use. WordPress is the most popular and has a wide range of designs.
Other favourites are Blogger, Drupal or Joomla which give you more scope for development – especially if you are an eCommerce site. Shopify is another option for retailers with multiple products.
You also need to determine what type of content you plan to create and the relevant software and platforms you will need. For example, if you plan to focus on video, you need YouTube and Vimeo accounts.
If you intend to create images and infographs you need software that allows you to add build relevant content, such as Canvas or photoshop. The options here are plenty.
If you have a website, it is not likely to be doing much other than sitting pretty if you do not have a blog and a solid content marketing strategy.
Social media networks help get your content in front of eyes, but it is the quality of the content that really determines how well your website ranks.
Does Your Content Resonate With Your Audience?
One of the most important triggers to launching a successful content marketing strategy is that of emotion. The content you produce and the way you market it must generate an emotional response from those reading it or interacting with the content in another way (for example, by listening or watching (podcasts or videos) or in imagery. Not only does content writing challenge you to develop fresh and unique ideas, you also have to make an impression on your readers. Not easy, not every time anyway.
So how can you write content that resonates with readers? By tapping into their desires, interests and problems!
A content strategy is more than an SEO marketing tactic. It can help you to understand the needs and demands of your audience. Content writers should also be analysing customer data in order to have a better insight of your audience.
Being a good writer, means being a good researcher, and a good listener. You need to take on board what your audience is saying, and write content that answers their questions from an industry perspective.
Identifying content ideas
So you have listened to what your audience is saying, together with considering your company line and core philosophies, but still not sure what to write. Don’t worry, it’s natural. You just need a spark of inspiration.
Take a subject that most interests you and do a Google search. What are other writers publishing on this subject, and what headlines are they using? When you read their content, what resonates with you and what points could you improve on?
Also look for angles that other publishers in your field are not writing about. It helps to follow an industry magazine that is at the cutting edge of developments. If something in the news grabs your attention, you can do a quick bulletin for one piece of content then follow it up with a full length feature.
Story telling in content marketing strategy
Story-telling is an ancient art. When executed well, stories not only engage and entertain readers, but also leave a lasting impression in their mind.
Not every visitor to your website will be ready to buy immediately. They may just be browsing the web and stumble across your content, or they may be actively assessing their options with the intention to buy at a later date.
Content should engage readers deeply enough that it evokes an emotional response. It is this desire or connection you make with your audience that compels them to choose your company over a competitor.
So imagine if you can produce content that not only provokes an emotional response, but also remains in their mind until the time they are ready to buy. Do this and you are guaranteed they will return to you rather than your rival.
Why is story content so powerful?
Story-telling is such an effective art because it appeals to the human mind. When we read general text – no matter how compelling – we typically only remember a small percentage of the context.
The reason for this is because it is only the language part of our brain that is decoding the meaning, and the Broca’s area cannot retain a great deal of information.
When we read a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end however, we connect the dots and remember more details. Better still, create actual imagery and readers even remember the smaller details.
When the neural systems in our brain relate a true understanding of the world, the cognitive guns are fired and this is what evokes an emotional response. And when our imagination is able to visualise a concept in the mind’s eye we remember more details.
And this is why story-telling is becoming an art in marketing. It is the latest trend that is about to kick into overdrive so make sure it is part of your content marketing strategy.
Make marketing a personal experience
The concept of story-telling in advertising content is simple enough. Executing it is an entirely different skill altogether.
To give you a few pointers, consider writing content from the first person and introducing real-life experiences that either inspired the article you are writing or can be used to support a significant point.
Tapping into emotions
Neuroscientists have discovered that emotions play a major role in our decision-making process. Consumers will take steps to purchase something if they have an emotional attachment to an item that goes beyond desire.
The most powerful content resonates with readers because it taps into their emotions. It gets into everyday life and the relationships people have with others or how they feel about specific events.
Modern marketing is evolving into story-telling more than ever before, and that involves developing characters and concepts that evoke emotions. Ads do not have to feature your product directly, they can simply deliver a message that falls in line with your product or services.
Find a new angle
A lot of industries only have a limited number of subjects they can write about. And this poses a problem for content writers looking for new and unique ideas. Ultimately you end up writing the same messages every month, even if you present them in a different way.
So you need a new approach. Looking at content from the perspective of your company’s core values and public image will give you different angles in which to approach familiar subjects.
If needs be, talk with your senior managers and stakeholders to determine what message they want the company to deliver. What is their vision for the evolution of the company and how can you use content to deliver their message and their vision.
Not every piece of content you write will resonate with your audience or even perform particularly well. But don’t stress over it as that will stagnate your writing even more. Ideas will come and more often than not you will find fresh and engaging angles that do resonate with your readers.
What content does your audience really crave?
As businesses invest more into content marketing the competition heats up and you have to raise your game. If you’re serious about converting sales from your content you can only get away with following the same old strategy for so long. Before you know it you’re audience will have a better offer come along and they’ll go elsewhere.
So the burning question you always need to ask yourself is what content does your audience really crave? As always you need to know your audience better than yourself and never take for granted their habits and tastes can change. And as things stand right now there are a few types of content that audiences everywhere can’t get enough of.
In a sense all content is the same – or at least the content that gets results. Your audience is simply after the information they need most at any given time and its your job to provide it. Where content starts to vary is in its format how you deliver this information and how effectively it engages.
We recently covered the value of video when it comes to generating high quality leads – and this is because you can communicate a huge amount of information is a short space of time. Not only is this vital when your audience is busy, but video combines a range of audio and visual elements to engage viewers in a deeper level.
The other hot trend in modern content is snappy stuff posted on social media. Whether it’s micro content designed to draw prospects through to your websites, infographics, or some branded imagery, people crave social content they can like, share and comment on.
While an often overlooked type of content is long-form articles. As the average online attention span grows ever shorter, its easy to assume people don’t like to read any more. But you’ll find long-form articles convert far more than their shorter counterparts. The challenge is convincing prospects that your larger content is worth the time it takes to read.
Alternative types of content
So if there’s such a thing as a holy trinity of web content it would be text, images and video. How you format and integrate these is another question entirely, but don’t rule out other forms of content too hastily. Because your audience may have other ideas.
There are many situations where people are too busy to stare at a screen and audio content has a role to play here. Videos aren’t much help to people while they’re driving, going out for a jog or walking through a busy city, but a podcast fits the role perfectly. While interviews, talks and a range of niche content needs (eg: language lessons) can all be heard while other forms of content won’t do.
Then we have free downloads – the best way to give your audience something for nothing. Regardless of what type of content, people crave freebies and downloads give you a chance to get your hands on those all-important email addresses. Digital downloads also open up more alternative forms of content to offer, like design freebies for websites, plugins and applications – whatever your audience craves most.
What Types of Content To Produce?
Once you have identified an audience, you can move on to the next stage of your content strategy – producing other types of content.
Videos are a powerful advertising tool and with a glut of platform hosting video footage free of charge, there is a good opportunity for companies to reach a wider audience and improve conversions.
If you have a strong following, newsletters are another means of promoting your brand and products with customers. Identify the content on your site which gets the most interest and engagement and push these pieces out via newsletters to your subscribers. Mobile technologies also give brands the opportunity to produce personalised content featuring special offers for a targeted audience.
A survey conducted by Hubspot aimed to determine what the best performing types of content are getting the most engagement on social media networks. The results determined that content formats work on an industry basis and are seasonal rather than one-size fits all.
For example, list articles performed well in the travel industry, but poorly in the education sector. The conclusions to draw from the data is that online businesses need to determine what content formats perform well in their field.
To give you an edge, this article will outline the types of different content options posted to social media networks and attempt to explain how to best utilise the type of content.
Lists focus on a specific topic and go through a number of options. We can see why this will work well in industries such as travel, electronics, marketing and business, but lists do not work for everyone.
The pros of lists are they are easy to knock together and are intriguing to readers. The survey showed that lists received 22.45% of engagement on social media.
The problems with lists are they typically regurgitate the same ideas because they are written by writers who have used the internet for inspiration. Especially in travel. Sooner or later readers will not trust them.
Furthermore, since search engine algorithms have switched to semantic text, they can read and understand content on the page, thus better determine whether the post is fresh and original, or a rehash of somebody else’s ideas.
Therefore, if you are going to publish lists, make sure they are original and have different recommendations to those other have already provided.
How-to articles relate to every industry across the spectrum. Essentially, web users want information and how-to articles typically answer the questions they have. It is hardly surprising then that how-to articles were the most consistent performers.
These types of articles performed best in food circles, but also do well in financial, business and exercise sports so are ideal for gyms and yoga classes. The types of articles should introduce a problem and provide a solution by taking the reader through each step of the process.
What-posts, like this one, highlight specific information on a particular topic. Although they typically get the lowest number of shares on social media, they are useful for specific industries where professionals need specific information on particular topics.
What-posts are best utilised peer-to-peer groups attempting to generate traffic and a following of readers who come to your site to read the advice you offer. These type of posts are designed to build your reputation as an expert rather than sell your services.
Why post ask a question then proceed to explain the reason or purpose to support a focused conclusion. They perform pretty well, receiving a total of 22.32% of the shares in the survey.
The trick with why-posts is to raise a thought-provoking question and answer it with a compelling argument. If the topic you are discussing is controversial or enlightening you have more chance of generating engagement.
News shares are the most effective because the content is the most topical. They are also quick and easy to write so do not take up too much time and resources. You can also post news articles every day to keep your content clocking over and raise brand awareness.
Social media marketing requires publishing content, and to be successful, you need a strategy. Mix your content up by all means, but target specific audiences with relevant content and you increase your chances of provoking more engagement.
Also look for other news items which cause problems your industry can help with. Likewise, if a large corporation launches a new product and you have merchandise or services that complement the mainstream product, you can tap into a market by creating content consumers will resonate with.
Best Performing Content Headlines
The phenomenal amount of content posted on the internet everyday makes customer engagement a challenge. According to experts, eight out of ten people will read an average headline, but only two in ten will click on it.
So how do you make headlines clickable?
Headlines that draw on human emotions
Humans by nature are egocentric and are guided by emotion. This is an important psychological factor to consider when crafting a headline – appeal to human emotions. Customers want to know “what’s in it for me,” so think about what your customers want and use your headline to show them how they can get it.
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Headlines that explain ‘How To’ do something
The “How To” headline is one of the most powerful as it ticks several engagement boxes in one foul swoop. Internet users are often looking for information on how to do things and your headline tells them exactly what they can learn to do.
- How to attract the girl of your dreams
- How to increase traffic to your blog
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Headlines that make a statement
When you are targeting a wide audience, making a statement in your headline increases the likelihood of people clicking on it. The statement obviously needs to be true and if it is a new discovery or topical news that is shocking, the statement headline is all the more appealing.
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Headlines that provide a solution
Many people have problems they do not know how to resolve, but you can tell them in an instant by writing a headline which offers a solution. These type of headlines cross over with “how to” articles and statements in that they identify what the solution is – but you can also in the problem in the title.
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Headlines that promise a secret
Humans have an innate need for attention and appraisal and will often look to seek for approval in others by sharing classified knowledge. Promising them access to “secret” knowledge or “little known” facts compel them to click on links to access pearls of wisdom they can tell other people about.
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Lists as Headlines
Lists are one of the most popular types of content on the web as people know exactly what information to expect from them by the title.
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Headlines that appeal to self-interests
If you own an online business, appealing to your customer’s interests should be the easiest headline to write – you already know what your audience is interesting in. But you still have to make the headline appealing in relation to your product or service.
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Headlines that raise curiosity
Curiosity can often get the better of people. There have been times when I have resisted clicking a headline that purposefully raised curiosity, but always go back to it at some point. The power curiosity holds over someone is a sure-fire way to get a click-through.
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Headlines that provide an explanation
Another technique to raise curiosity is to provide an explanation in your headline, that make the reader think, “hmmm, why?” (or how?) The point is you still need to give them something to get excited about rather than providing an entire explanation.
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Pinpoint your audience
When targeting content towards a specific audience, you can use your headline to flag up the type of person the information you are putting out will most appeal to – followed by your product or service.
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Whenever you create a piece of content, the headline is the most important element and should be given the most time and dedication. If your are not attracting readers to engage with your content via a headline, there is little point writing articles in the first place.
Compiling notes and maintaining a focused strategy
You should be making notes and keeping records whilst doing all this by the way. When you look for subjects to write about, collecting titles is not enough, you should also be looking for interesting angles to pursue and developing critical points that are being discussed amongst your target audience.
However, whatever you do, don’t forget your content needs focus. Don’t try and cram issues that do not mix into one article. This is not good for SEO (you will end up with topical-dilution) and probably won’t answer your readers question either. Content should be tightly focused around one theme although this may split into several branches and sub-themes.
Hiring Content Creators and Writers
You know you need a blog for your online business, but you are not sure what to write, right? Maybe you are not confident in your writing ability, or perhaps you just don’t have time to maintain a blog.
If any of the above ring true you need to hire a content writer. And that means parting with money. You therefore want to be assured the content writer can deliver quality content.
What about if you’re choosing to use content writers though for scale as your business grows? Finding the right people can be challenging. Here are a few questions to ask content writers to get you started in recruiting the perfect content creators and copywriters to ensure your content marketing strategy is a success:
9 Questions To Ask A Content Writer
Readers demand quality and oftentimes they are searching for answers. Therefore your content should be packed with information. A good spread of subjects related to your business will do the job, both for SEO and attracting readership.
So how do you find a writer with this knowledge and ability? You interview them. So ask these questions:
Question 1 – What experience do they have in your industry?
Your content should speak with authority. It needs to show that you are an expert in your chosen field. If you work in a niche, the writer should have a good knowledge base and understanding of your industry and/or products.
Question 2 – What do they know about your brand?
A content writer needs to understand your brand and your company’s core philosophies. If they are acting as your “voice” you need to be assured they are saying the right things.
Does the writer understand SEO?
In terms of search marketing, an understanding of SEO is essential. A surprising number of writers that contribute to online publication and blogs are not aware of Google guidelines.
Keywords are not as important as they used to be, although long-tail are required in the content as they perform better with the latest semantic algorithms.
Therefore, ask the writer to explain what longtail keywords are and how they will improve your search results. You do not want a writers that draws a penalty because they are ignorant of SEO rules.
Question 3 – Search engine algorithms
To determine if your content writer does understand SEO, ask them to explain what Google algorithms relate to. The three most important algorithms are Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird.
Panda identifies websites that have thin content and is low on quality, Penguin identifies low quality sites that produce manipulated back links to third party sites, and Hummingbird understands the overall context of content, thus has changed the way in which we use keywords.
Question 4 – How do you research a target audience?
Your content has to find the right audience, therefore the writer needs to understand who your audience is and most importantly, what they want. Can the writer answer the questions and inspire your audience?
Question 5 – What content do you produce?
The future of keeping a blog is to add a variety of content to keep readers interested. This means ditching the standard 500-word blog posts and mixing it up with image-based content, news shots, quick tips and feature articles of around 2000-words or more.
Question 6 – Are they socially active?
A major part of content marketing is understanding how to generate interest on social media. First of all you should ask whether the content writer also provides this service, and if so what their strategy is.
However, it is advisable for you to run your own social media accounts so you can act decisively, quickly and know the right answers.
Question 7 – Do they understand analytics and metrics?
Your content marketing strategy can be an experimental affair initially, so you need to be able to understand analytical data. It is not always a necessity for content providers to understand these metrics, but if you are relying on them to produce content independently rather than following your instructions, then yes they do.
Question 8 – What’s the difference between copy and content, blogs and articles?
The word content has become confused with copy. Copy is essentially sales material that you find on websites and brochures. Content is an article, blog or newsletter.
There is also a difference in writing an article and a blog. Blogs can be more formal and chatty, whereas articles should be more editorial and state facts rather than ask questions and answer them.
Question 9 – What is your editing process?
Search engines have started to check on the accuracy of grammar and spelling in content. When writers turn out a first draft, spelling and grammar mistakes typically occur.
A good edit of the text should iron out the mistakes, but if they just scan read the edited version, minor mistakes can still go unnoticed. Ideally, you want to hire a content writer that has edit checks conducted by another party.
Maintaining a blog is an essential part of SEO, but can be costly, so you want to be assured the expense will be worth your while. And that means hiring a good writer you can trust to deliver quality results.
Avoiding Copyright Problems with Content
As a website owner content is the core of your online presence, search campaign and overall marketing strategy. Needless to say, you can’t put too much value on quality content that attracts a regular stream of relevant traffic to your website.
That said, content gets more difficult to produce each year. The web is more visual than ever and social media is evolving the way we consume and share content. Chances are you don’t have a music studio, film crew or team of photographers to create bespoke content, which means you have to source it from elsewhere – and that leaves you vulnerable to copyright law.
Quite simply, if you write your own content or produce it in-house, you have full rights to everything you create and publish. Things are a little bit different if you use an agency or a freelancer to write content for you though, so make sure you have all the usage rights before you hire anyone.
When it comes to using other people’s content, you should always ask for permission – however Google’s stance on duplicate content means you should avoid ‘borrowing’ altogether. Curated content, where you use the theme or refer to other sources to create original content is fine, but copy and pasting is a big no-no.
Images and graphics
Images and graphics are a little tougher, unless you have a professional photographer, artist or designer on foot. If that’s not the case, you have to rely on images that already exist on the web.
Basically, you have two options: pay for stock images from a vendor or search for creative commons images where the owner has stated they are happy for people to use their images. Just be aware that Google’s stance in duplicate images could change at some point in the future and that creative commons licences can also change over time.
Using Images In Content Marketing Strategies
Are You Breaching Copyright Laws?
Content marketers beware! Hungry lawyers are gathering in packs. Over the last several years, thousands of website owners have received legal letters from stock image companies like Getty Images and Corbis accusing them of being in breach of copyright infringement.
Blog owners are handed a desist and remove notice, but are also being told they have to pay damages – in some cases up to 20 time the value of the actual image.
The aggressive approach of firms like Getty have raised questions about the ethical integrity of their pursuit, claiming it is morally wrong even though the law in on their side. There is even a question of criminal behaviour.
A team of lawyers in the United States, Michael Chan and Oscar Michelen, have called the threat an “extortion scheme” and have dedicated an entire website to raise awareness of unwitting “infringers”.
What is the law on copyright images?
When anybody produces a creative piece of work and publishes the piece in a public domain, it is classed as intellectual property and belongs to the person that created the piece.
Therefore, you can take a picture of your family and post it on Facebook and it immediately becomes intellectual property. If somebody uses your photograph without your permission, you can legally sue them for copyright infringement.
And this is what Getty Images and other stock photo firms are doing. However, there is a problem in the system that allows them to do this and be protected by the law. The complications arrive under the creative commons licence.
What is creative commons licence in the Copyright Act?
The owner of a piece of copyrighted work has the right to allow other people to use their images. They do this by permitting a creative commons licence. There are certain provisions and attribution options you can choose.
- Royalty free images allows anybody to use your images without asking your permission beforehand
- Credit attribution allows others to use an image on the provision the copyright owner is named as the originator
- Modification attribution allows other users to adapt, add or transform the original image
Using images from controlled sources like Flickr stipulate whether rights are reserved and whether the images are attributed quite clearly. This is how images should be labelled in the digital arena to protect both the owner of the copyright and inform blog owners whether or not the image can be used.
Unfortunately, search engines and stock image companies like Getty and Corbis are not doing that. Although they are best placed to improve the system, they have not attempted to put any measure in place.
Then they sue blog owners who have used their images unwittingly!
The defect in the image system
When you search in Google images, you will often find images that are labelled “All Rights Reserved.” This means that the owner has claimed copyright for the entire image and nobody can use it for their own purposes or amend it in any way.
Fair enough. The image has been clearly identified with a hands off label.
However, when you search in Google Images creative commons, there are no labels, attributions or otherwise. Based on the understanding of creative commons licences it is quite natural for bloggers to believe the images are royalty free and available for use.
Apparently not according to Getty and Corbis. Now, these firms would have a case to argue if they were small business owners or as in the example above, Facebook users, that are ignorant of the copyright laws.
But they are not!
Do these companies not owe a legal duty to their clients to protect their intellectual property? Yes they have! They have therefore been negligent and in breach of contract with their clients.
If the images belong to them, these companies are well aware of the potential for copyright infringement, yet have failed to protect their own intellectual property. Why? Perhaps Chan and Michelen of extortionlettersinfo.com are right.
Should you publish images that are not your own?
To avoid issues, the best option is to make your own images. However, when this is not possible, only use stock image photos that are clearly labelled as free to use and respect the owners wishes.
If you do not know whether you can use an image, it is best practice not to use it at all. If you already have, remove all images you cannot account for from your server before stock image companies send in their bots to track you down.
Even though claims for a breach of copyright infringement may not go to court – it is still better to avoid the shock of receiving a letter and the subsequent worry about the extortionate amount of money you are being ordered to pay.
Legal representation can be extremely forceful because they know the general public is afraid of the law – even for an offence you did not know you were committing.
Video is even tougher for content creators because it can be very expensive and quality stock footage is almost impossible to come by. Which means you almost certainly need to call in the services of a film crew or animator. Much like written content, just be sure that you own all the usage rights – especially if you hire a freelance animator.
Embedding YouTube videos is another option you have and courts have recently ruled that embedding videos does not count as copyright infringement. Uploaders have the option to remove the embed feature if they don’t want people to use their video, but you should still credit any footage you embed.
Fair use and web content
There is a grey area in copyright law where you can use protected content – as long as you are using it in the right way. This is called ‘fair use’ and it can be as ambiguous as it sounds, so read up on the rule and draw a safe line the right side of copyright.
Generally speaking, you can use copyrighted material by means of comment, demonstration or education. For example, you can’t go around using the Google logo on your business cards or emails, but you can take a screenshot of the logo to use it in an article about the latest Google algorithm updates.
Formalise and Write Your Strategy Down
Put Your Content Strategy In Writing
A report published by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) indicates that content marketers in the UK were less effective in 2014 than the previous year.
The annual report shows that only 42% of content marketing professionals confirmed their campaigns had been successful – down from 48%. The results were causing some marketers to lose faith in content marketing all together.
However, it was determined that the underlying cause of the decline was because a content strategy had not been put in writing. 36 per cent of respondees said they didn’t even have a strategy.
Considering that an average of eight tactics were used to target four categories of audience, there is little wonder so many content marketing campaigns failed. Simply loading up a blog and posting the results to Facebook and other social networks is not a strategy.
Content marketing has become the weapon of choice amongst top brands. According to research, 43% of companies are winning on their content ROI whilst 80% of marketers said they will be investing more on content in 2015.
Documented Content strategy
A documented strategy allows you to create the right type of content for specific audiences. You should also be thinking about the type of device users are accessing the content from. Mobile content for example has to be small and easily digested thus is very different from advertorials targeting desktop users.
Your strategy should also include the type of technology you need to create engaging content (apps, infograph creation etc) together with the tools you will use to analyse the metrics and results.
If you do not know which types of content are effective and which are not, you are wasting time, money and effort doing something that does not serve a purpose.
Founder of CMI, Joe Pulizzi says “There are two critical factors that differentiate effective content marketers over the rest of the pack – having a documented content marketing strategy and following it very closely.”
Turning Content Strategy into Leads and Conversions
Whereas content has been a major factor in boosting page rank and improving visibility, the biggest challenge for online marketers has been to turn marketing campaigns into conversions.
However, top brands have recognised the advantages content has over other forms of online advertising and have to develop disciplined marketing models that are designed to improve conversion rate.
Social media networks remain the biggest driver of content marketing campaigns. It is the easiest way to connect to a wider audience and share content.
The problem many companies face however, is converting social media followers into paying customers. But without a defined content marketing strategy, it is tantamount to swinging a golf iron wearing a blindfold and hoping to hit the ball.
Your content marketing strategy should begin with a brainstorming session to come up with as many content ideas as possible. It is important at this point to think of the type of device your content will be accessed on. Don’t forget mobile.
Your content therefore has to be a variety of images and written text, short and long articles. Set times of day when each piece of content will be posted. For example, images and short articles intended for mobile should be posted during commute hours.
A surprising amount of content marketers do not analyse ROI or performance metrics of their content. This is a big mistake, because how do you know which content is receiving the most engagement from your audience.
Publishing content for the sake of it will not get your very far quickly, and in essence is a waste of time and money. If you do not already have a content strategy, sit down and plan one asap.
Content serves different purposes, namely attract traffic, lead generation and conversion. Your strategy should outline your goals and detail where it fits in your overall sales funnel.
Your content also has to be positioned in the right place. Blog content for example, should not read like a sales pitch, whereas a landing page requires a call to action. Social media platforms and community forums should be used to offer advice and position yourself as an expert in your field.
Speaking of which, also consider contributing to third party blogs and recognised industry magazines. This will raise your online profile and brand awareness. Earned media through influential channels dramatically increases your chances of improving ROI, and you might even get some links from not on the publication you contribute to but from linkerati who see your contributed piece and want to link to the authors.
Content marketing requires a substantial investment of your time and, if you a paying a content curation service, also has a significant impact on your marketing budget.
If you want to see a return on your investment, make sure you have a strategy and analyse the performance of your posts. There are plenty of free tools you can use and with a little time and patience you can become a content marketing expert and compete with the top brands.
Things To Avoid In Content Marketing
As with anything in life, in addition to positive activity there will also be things to avoid when developing and executing a content marketing strategy.
It goes without saying you should avoid using techniques that fall outside Google guidelines when looking to manipulate search results.
Search engines have developed core quality algorithms to prevent low quality sites from ranking highly, not only looking at links but also as a dampener on low quality content. Algorithms such s Penguin and Panda and more recently a whole host of core quality algorithmic updates bundled together as ‘Fred’ updates have become very sophisticated when it comes to detecting manipulation and lower quality pages.
If in doubt you should refer to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines but here are a few pointers:
Avoid Inbound links from low quality sites
When the owner of a third party website directs an inbound link to your website, it is an indication that your site is worth visiting. Links are seen as votes. This indicator is generally favoured by search engines as a signal of trust and authority and has historically helped to rank your site higher (NB: Since Google Penguin 4.0 it is widely believed low quality links are merely ignored by Google).
Because inbound links have historically scored well, some SEO agencies began posting articles on low quality third party sites. The owners of third party sites saw pound signs and started charging for inbound links back to commercial sites.
Google got wise to this practice and released Penguin to prevent webmasters manipulating search results. In addition to this link based suppression (Penguin), Google also issues manual penalties which are separate from the automatic downgrades in search results coming via Penguin updates. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines are very strict about paid links. Some SEO companies continue to use a strategy that may not always be detected, but the net is tightening, and you have to consider whether it is worth the risk at all.
As a result of bad practices, guest posting has been given a bad reputation which is a shame considering the benefits it has, i.e raising brand awareness, positioning yourself as an expert and attracting organic traffic.
Inbound links from low quality sites should be avoided, but that does not mean you should ignore guest posting altogether and contributing meaningful quality content as part of your overall content marketing strategy. Find a reputable online publication with whom you can build a good working relationship and continue to contribute good quality content which resonates with their audience. This way you can build a reputable online profile which will be acknowledged by search engines whilst also avoiding link suppression and penalties.
Avoid Producing Content Quantity Over Content Quality
Search engines have put the focus on quality content rather than quantity. If your online business enables you to post quality and quantity on a daily basis, by all means continue to publish as much as possible. However, if you have limited things to say about your product, posting content twice a week is a waste of time.
Furthermore, if your platform automatically generates programmatic content at scale you’ll find yourself not achieving the full potential available from fewer higher quality pages.
Search engines class quality as “fresh, unique” content. If you are therefore repeating the same message every week or spraying out auto-generated pages, your content will not be considered fresh or unique.
Now search engine crawlers have semantic software that can understand the context of content, they are better equipped to determine which websites are producing quality content as opposed to regurgitated messages and content pieced together from various other sources or from within your own site (content quilting).
The solution is to offer different formats of content such as images, statistical graphs and videos among others rather than standard written content.
The number of internet users accessing the web using a mobile device is on the rise and will be the majority number of users over the next few years. Therefore, ignore mobile content at your peril.
The key with mobile content is to keep it bite-sized and accessible. This requires image-based content or written content in small easy-to-digest paragraphs.
When creating content, imagine how it will look on a 4-inch screen. Once you have this in mind, it is easier to create mobile-orientated content.
Poor writing technique
Writing is a skill. If you do not have the ability to communicate your ideas in an understandable way, writing your own content is not advised. If visitors to your site are confused by what you have written, or if the wording is poor, they will not hang around.
The standard of content you publish on your website reflects you as a business. If your content writing does not sound professional, it gives readers the impression that your business is not professional.
It is possible to generate a lot of success for your online business with a good content marketing strategy, but if you do not execute your plan to fall in with the demands of search engines and readers, do not expect any success.
More mistakes to avoid with content and digital PR
There is no doubt that content marketing is a major player in the quest for better SEO rankings. Get it wrong however, and you can negatively impact your SEO and subsequently throw money into a digital hole. The opportunity cost on lost or missed visibility in search engines can literally be in the thousands, if not millions for a brand online. Getting content right can have a significant impact on the bottom line, along with its sister, technical SEO of course.
Let’s have a quick run through of some content marketing strategies far too many online companies employ and pick up on a few things you might want to drop from your content marketing strategy altogether.
Don’t forfeit quality for quantity
Whilst it is true that the more content you publish the more visitors you attract, if you are not publishing good quality content end-users want to read, they leave. This bumps up your bounce rate percentage which many in SEO believe gives a signal which search engines use to imply you are not providing good user-experience. It’s important to remember though that Google has vehemently denied that bounce rate has an impact on search rankings, and of course a low bounce rate might mean your visitor landed on exactly what they needed, read it, then simply left. Pogo-sticking (bouncing back and forth from one result and back to search and then into the next is much more of an issue, but that’s another story). Either way, make quality content your top priority. There’s also argument that if users visit and are less than delighted by the information provided they’re unlikely to be tempted back for more. Regardless of whether bounce rate / percentage is a ranking factor or not, a dissatisfied visitor is a dissatisfied visitor.
Don’t fish for backlinks just anywhere – be picky
Publishing content on low-quality sites is perhaps not such the issue it was two years ago, but we still get clients asking for backlinks. But link-building strategies have changed now. Rather than looking for backlinks, explore avenues of attracting earned media through influencers and industry commentators, and by pushing out your content amongst your industry peers (if you’re a business). One of the most successful strategies for gaining links is amongst those who you network with at offline events who may be keen to share your content because it’s actually very relevant to them. To run a successful inbound linking program you need top-quality content (see point one!) which people in the industry you’re targeting can relate to and will feel empowered by emotion to share. This is an important part of digital PR as public relations should be a key part of your strategy overall, which involves your relevant industry peers.
Stop publishing content you’ve copied from other websites
We appreciate it is often difficult to think up content ideas, but regurgitating content from competitor websites is not the answer. There is no harm tackling the same topic of course, but at least put a different spin on it. You need to show you are an expert in your field and have something interesting to say – so don’t be a parrot. Of course, there’s also the argument for the ‘Sky Scraper’ approach to content, which essentially means looking at content which has been successful for others and replicating it (with a new spin of course), but going beyond what was there before. i.e. you’re adding a bit extra on top to surpass what has gone before. You’re adding another floor onto the ‘Sky Scraper’. If someone successfully built the ‘Ultimate List of Digital Marketing Events’, go right ahead and build the ‘Ultra-Epic Ultimate List of Digital Marketing Events’. Add an extra layer of added-value. Sky-Scraper content marketing adds a good deal of positive value to the industry overall, because the bar is constantly being raised with the next piece to target a particular subject. We fully approve of this approach.
Avoid using generalisations and clichés
Clichés have long been the scourge of writers and can make even a novice reader wince. You need to be creative and unique when writing content. Which also means avoid generalisations such as “We all know…”, or “I think….” This statement is not always true and has become an internet cliché. Double whammy! Some of the best content online is supported by evidence in what is being claimed.
Always look to support any claim with quality research you’ve either carried out yourselves (primary research) or with research from high quality secondary sources. Don’t forget, most of the time very few people want to know your opinion, and there’s never a shortage of opinions out there. We all have them.
Stop publishing 500-word blogs exactly – It’s not the number of words, it’s what you say that matters
Whilst it has become customary to publish content of 400-600 words, rigidly sticking to this word count is not a strategy that will always work. Some topics need more than 500-words to explain fully and some need less to avoid fluff.
if you’re on a mobile device, short form content might be much more useful to you than long form content for example. If you have an urgent problem to fix, it might be much more helpful for you to find a short answer very quickly, over having to read 2000 words of content before you find the answer to your emergency. Furthermore, you have to consider your audience and SEO performance.
Every piece of content should serve a purpose and be curated towards your audience, what they’re searching for, and the context and search mode they’re in when they come looking for useful information to meet their need. Therefore, if you are targeting a mobile audience, publish images, videos or short written pieces.
When publishing content aimed at industry readers, or consumers that want information, the number of words you use should be adequate enough to explain everything in detail. Longer articles about an area which is considered that of a subject matter expert may also perform better in search engines because they are considered in-depth and by a specialist. Particularly so if these are cited by many other experts in the same field.
There is little point splashing your marketing budget on a content strategy that does not work for you. Although content marketing can be slow paced in the initial stages, if you publish in-depth content that offers value, you will engage readers and improve your SEO (search engine optimisation) visibility and rankings over time.
There is certainly no silver-bullet when it comes to building up engagement via content marketing, but as with all other aspects of search engine optimization related marketing strategies and tactics, the impact is really more akin to a drip, drip, drip effect which builds up over time, rather than a huge tidal wave. Content marketing takes time and effort, as well as an element of patience and perseverance.
If you need help with content creation and ideation, get in touch.