There is a neverending debate among business owners about the rivalry between content marketing and traditional advertising. Some people say that traditional advertising is more important than content marketing, since it will be likely bring leads to them. However, those who are on content marketing’s side believe that content marketing will bring long term relationship with their customers. Through great articles, newsletters, videos, or free downloadable ebooks, content marketing emphasis its selling point at the quality of the content, not the quantity. Their primary goal is to bring the customers what they need and “be useful”, instead of ranting about their products or brands.
A Web marketer’s job can be made much easier when meaningful and valuable content is available to promote.
There is no shortage of platforms on which to promote content, or channels through which to promote your content, or ways to construct messages about your content.
But where many Web professionals fall short is in the assembling of the content itself. Too often, online workers will recycle dated material, tired messaging and straight-up boring content. On the other hand, when you have content that by its very nature leads to deeper levels of engagement, it will show in the volume of conversions.
So, what types of content drive engagement?
It is likely that they are already at your disposal and, if not, you should start creating it. There’s actually quite a bit of content that you as a Web marketer and search engine optimization professional should have in your asset library. Videos, images, interviews, product manuals – just check out WM’s article on knowledge-base optimization. But many content types don’t really lead to high levels of engagement (return visits, more pageviews, additional downloads), so it’s important to accurately know the value of your content assets.
Let’s look at a few vital content assets that all marketers should be regularly promoting on social networks and private forums, within email newsletters, on your own website, through display and search-based advertising and, of course, within the Google and Bing natural search results.
Product/Feature Releases: There seems to be a general feeling in our industry that it’s not wise to be overly self-promotional. I agree in some respects but disagree in many others. It’s hard to argue, particularly when it comes to those with an established audience, that there remains a need to notify users of advancements about your business. Case in point – product/feature releases.
Not only are they a powerful way to keep messaging fresh and compelling, it’s also worth mentioning and should be in your lineup of options to promote content when the aim is to drive engagement. People like “new” and recently added features, and products definitely fit the bill. The key to driving engagement with product release-focused content is to carefully select the platforms on which to promote that content. For example, product releases are ideal for social media followers but not great for cold prospects that can be reached elsewhere.
Webinars/White Papers: Marketers jump at the chance to promote a webinar or a white paper. The reason is simple: It’s easy – easier than nearly any other form of content promotion. Production of these content types aside, buyers are naturally drawn to webinars and white papers because they provide information, meaningful/valuable insights that can be immediately used.
That’s one of the things that the three content types featured here all provide – valuable information. Webinars and white papers are perfect for nearly any channel (social media and search) but can be most effectively used in advertising, when the challenge is to educate, entertain and inform in a matter of seconds. When you show up with something as valuable as free information, the likelihood you will generate more clicks than the competition is all but guaranteed.
Feature Articles: The term “content marketing” is poorly defined. With so many opportunities to promote content and so many formats, it’s not uncommon that marketers opt for the fastest solution, and that is rarely the feature article. If you’re staffing a team of writers, or are skilled at producing/publishing content, then it would be a shame not to leverage feature-ready, long-form articles (starting at 800-1,000 words).
Search engines give preferential treatment to long-form content over short-form – at least in my experience – so dedicating yourself to regularly producing information in this manner will serve you well. Long-form, insight-rich content increases the time on site (and even page views) and drives sharing and additional on-site activity, particularly when linking to your own content. With the exception of advertising, features articles can be used within any promotional channel – particularly in search and social media.
Content is king and the level of quality does matter a lot, but marketers can give themselves a leg up by focusing on the types of content that have proved they can deepen engagement and increase conversions.
Much has been made about Google’s new search algorithm and how it affects different businesses on the Web. For those with half-empty glasses, the Panda update is a call for more work by anyone trying to run a successful online enterprise.
For the glass-half-full set, however, Panda is an invitation to let your talents shine and to stand out above the competition. In e-commerce, there may be no better way to do that than by writing compelling product descriptions that invite sales.
Below are some guidelines for writing product descriptions that will sing not only to the search engines but also to your customers:
Probably the greatest e-commerce copywriting sin in the Panda era, and perhaps the biggest temptation for merchants who are hard-pressed for time and short on resources, is recycling manufacturers’ product descriptions verbatim on a website’s product page. Not only is the text that most manufacturers provide generally too dry and technical to be considered compelling by your customers, it is also distributed to the thousands if not millions of retailers who may be selling the same product. If standing out from the competition is the goal – getting higher rankings from search engines and eliciting more sales from users – the best way to sabotage that effort is by using manufacturer-issued product descriptions. Instead, find a way to create your own.
E-commerce merchants do not need to have creative writing degrees, nor do they have to be writers at all. But in the event that writing compelling product copy poses a challenge too difficult to endure, they do have to get creative in their solutions. Retailers must have an idea of the message they want to convey to their customers and the keywords they must include to win over the search engines. But if the words do not come easily, there are several options. Freelance platforms such as Elance and oDesk have thousands of copywriters standing by, even for jobs that may last only a few days to write 1,000 product descriptions. Local colleges and journalism schools are another source of low-cost creative labor, and the institutions do not even have to be local. Online jobs forums and discussion groups will unearth thousands more willing candidates.
We assume, however, that most merchant readers will be writing their own copy, or at least they will have a strong hand in the creative process. So, both the merchant and the writing have to be smart. Not smart-alecky, but intelligent, authoritative and – above all else – useful for the consumer. Technical specifications of a product may lend an air of authoritativeness, but also explain how those specs will improve the user experience or even the user’s life. Then include why buying the product from this particular website will do the same thing – improve the user experience (i.e. a warrantee, added features, etc.) and the user’s life (i.e. competitively priced, free shipping, etc.). To give only the specs of a product and not include the rest is not smart copywriting, neither in the eyes of your customers nor the search engines.
But not necessarily funny. The funniest person in the room is rarely the one that can effectively write with humor, so also Be very careful. Most of us do not easily write the hilarious copy you may find in your daily Groupon, and the best tactic for those in the majority is to not even try. But fun is far different from funny, and it is also very often a much more effective way to reach consumers. A tad off-beat may be fun, as is the less-is-more approach to the technical aspects mentioned above. But what really constitutes fun copywriting is putting the user into real-life situations, and showing them how much fun they will have with your product. Why will they be the envy of the guests at their next Super Bowl party? Is it because the new flat-screen HDTV is 72 inches wide, or because they could still afford a keg of premium beer when the neighbor is serving domestic? Those hiking boots might be great for winter in NYC, but put your customer on a mountaintop during summer in the Rockies – that’s a lot more fun.
Of your keywords, and your SEO efforts as a whole. Remember that you are writing for your customers first, and trying to nudge them further down the sales cycle with your words. But this is also a process, and keywords are an integral part of that process. However, stuffing all of your product descriptions with endless amounts of keywords will do more harm than good under Panda’s watch, which is another reason why merchants must be creative. Try a keyword or two in each sentence of each description, but keep the descriptions relatively brief for the user’s sake. Whether I’m a consumer in New York looking for hiking boots or a computer in Silicon Valley searching for keywords, the words that seal the deal will all have this in common – they will be original, creative, smart, fun and mindful of the process.
If you happened to see Google’s interactive Earth Day doodle on Friday, you undoubtedly noticed the pair of Panda bears frolicking behind the omnipresent “G”. Do not be misled – those cuddly creatures mean business, and they are a not-so-subtle reminder to every company on the Web that the recently updated search algorithm nicknamed Panda is here to stay.
Most online businesses are having to make adjustments to achieve the desired search rankings under the new algorithm, and their approach to building links has to change as well. No longer do the old rules of link building apply, and the sooner that a company accepts that fact, the better its SEO results will be.
Here, then, are some guidelines for building links in this new Panda era:
Clean your own house first
The goal of the Panda update is to improve the quality of content on the Web, thus improving the quality of Google’s search results. Sites that engage in content farming or otherwise low-quality, “spammy” content creation have been the primary targets, and the updated algorithm was designed to punish those sites by significantly lowering their SERP rankings.
How this affects link building going forward is that businesses must be very careful about whom they share and receive links; linking to and from sites that Google has deemed as having a low quality of content is a virtual death sentence. Before setting out on any new link building initiatives, however, businesses and website owners must ensure they their own sites do not fall into this category, because their chances of acquiring quality links will be greatly diminished until they do this.
A professional design is imperative, as are acceptable page load speeds and signals of trust that provide clear indications to users and other businesses that your business website is a reputable destination. Most important, of course, and the whole reason behind Panda, is the ability to produce quality content that is useful, accurate, authoritative, current and free of grammatical and spelling errors.
New content strategy, new content
Panda does not require that all Web professionals suddenly become Pulitzer nominees, but a re-evaluation of your current content strategy is still a good idea. Even if it requires a temporary or part-time hire, ensuring that all existing content meets the above criteria before embarking on any new link building efforts is critical.
The next step, then, is to consider how your business can provide a high quality of useful content going forward, and that may require trying some new channels you have previously avoided until now. If your company is already producing regular blog posts and whitepapers that will draw in links from quality sites, perhaps now is the time to consider video, webinars and/or podcasts, and distribute them through YouTube, Vimeo, Viddler, Slideshare, etc.
Be social, but smart
The first, and most important, part of building links in the Panda era is about producing useful content to which quality sites throughout your niche will want to link. The second and next most important part is about forging and building those relationships that will be the most valuable to your business.
Like the mention of video in the section above, if you have not been taking proper advantage of social media until now, it is definitely time to start. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are three excellent places to start for finding and exchanging links with reputable websites in your specific niche or business category, but they are only the beginning. Building links in the Panda era requires a lot more work than previously, and hours of research and dozens of emails and phone calls may be required to build and maintain the necessary relationships with other website owners.
But be careful about the relationships you pursue, because the Panda algorithm will judge your business by the quality of the links you are able to build. That much has not changed; what has changed is the premium value put on today’s content, and the amount of work that will be required to create and distribute that content in order to build the quality links that will net the best search results.
We, the people who make websites, have been talking for fifteen years about user experience, information architecture, content management systems, coding, metadata, visual design, user research, and all the other disciplines that facilitate our users’ abilities to find and consume content.
Weirdly, though, we haven’t been talking about the meat of the matter. We haven’t been talking about the content itself.
Yeah, yeah. We know how to write for online readers. We know bullet lists pwn.
But who among us is asking the scary, important questions about content, such as “What’s the point?” or “Who cares?” Who’s talking about the time-intensive, complicated, messy content development process? Who’s overseeing the care and feeding of content once it’s out there, clogging up the tubes and dragging down our search engines?
As a community, we’re rather quiet on the matter of content. In fact, we appear to have collectively, silently come to the conclusion that content is really somebody else’s problem—“the client can do it,” “the users will generate it”—so we, the people who make websites, shouldn’t have to worry about it in the first place.
Do you think it’s a coincidence, then, that web content is, for the most part, crap?
Dealing with content is messy. It’s complicated, it’s painful, and it’s expensive.
And yet, the web is content. Content is the web. It deserves our time and attention.
And that’s where content strategy comes in.
What is Content Strategy?
Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.
Necessarily, the content strategist must work to define not only which content will be published, but why we’re publishing it in the first place.
Otherwise, content strategy isn’t strategy at all: it’s just a glorified production line for content nobody really needs or wants. (See: your company’s CMS.)
Content strategy is also—surprise—a key deliverable for which the content strategist is responsible. Its development is necessarily preceded by a detailed audit and analysis of existing content—a critically important process that’s often glossed over or even skipped by project teams.
At its best, a content strategy defines:
- key themes and messages,
- recommended topics,
- content purpose (i.e., how content will bridge the space between audience needs and business requirements),
- content gap analysis,
- metadata frameworks and related content attributes,
- search engine optimization (SEO), and
- implications of strategic recommendations on content creation, publication, and governance.
But wait…there’s more
In her groundbreaking article, Content Strategy: the Philosophy of Data, Rachel Lovinger said:
The main goal of content strategy is to use words and data to create unambiguous content that supports meaningful, interactive experiences. We have to be experts in all aspects of communication in order to do this effectively.
That’s a tall order. I’d like to propose that, in fact, there are far too many “aspects of communication” for a solitary content strategist to truly claim deep expertise in all of them.
Instead, let’s assume that there are a number of content-related disciplines that deserve their own definition, by turn:
- Editorial strategy defines the guidelines by which all online content is governed: values, voice, tone, legal and regulatory concerns, user-generated content, and so on. This practice also defines an organization’s online editorial calendar, including content life cycles.
- Web writing is the practice of writing useful, usable content specifically intended for online publication. This is a whole lot more than smart copywriting. An effective web writer must understand the basics of user experience design, be able to translate information architecture documentation, write effective metadata, and manage an ever-changing content inventory.
- Metadata strategy identifies the type and structure of metadata, also known as “data about data” (or content). Smart, well-structured metadata helps publishers to identify, organize, use, and reuse content in ways that are meaningful to key audiences.
- Search engine optimization is the process of editing and organizing the content on a page or across a website (including metadata) to increase its potential relevance to specific search engine keywords.
- Content management strategy defines the technologies needed to capture, store, deliver, and preserve an organization’s content. Publishing infrastructures, content life cycles and workflows are key considerations of this strategy.
- Content channel distribution strategy defines how and where content will be made available to users. (Side note: please consider e-mail marketing in the context of this practice; it’s a way to distribute content and drive people to find information on your website, not a standalone marketing tactic.)
Now, this breakdown certainly doesn’t imply that a content strategist can’t or shouldn’t be capable of playing these roles and creating the associated deliverables. In fact, in my experience, the content strategist is a rare breed who’s often willing and able to embrace these roles as necessary to deliver useful, usable content.
BUT. And this is a big “but.” If our community fails to recognize, divide, and conquer the multiple roles associated with planning for, creating, publishing, and governing content, we’ll keep underestimating the time, budget, and expertise it takes to do content right. We won’t clearly define and defend the process to our companies and clients. We’ll keep getting stuck with 11th-hour directives, fix-it-later copy drafts—and we’ll keep on publishing crap.
We can do better. Our clients and employers deserve it. Our audiences deserve it. We as users deserve it.
Take up the torch
David Campbell, the founder of Saks Fifth Avenue, said, “Discipline is remembering what you want.”
When it comes to creating and governing content, it’s easy to forget what we want, or even worse, to settle for less.
But until we commit to treating content as a critical asset worthy of strategic planning and meaningful investment, we’ll continue to churn out worthless content in reaction to unmeasured requests. We’ll keep trying to fit words, audio, graphics, and video into page templates that weren’t truly designed with our business’s real-world content requirements in mind. Our customers still won’t find what they’re looking for. And we’ll keep failing to publish useful, usable content that people actually care about.
Stop pretending content is somebody else’s problem. Take up the torch for content strategy. Learn it. Practice it. Promote it. It’s time to make content matter.
If it has been around the search marketing block a few times, you’ve heard this statement more times than you can count. Iit sounds redundant, but until more companies do a better job at focusing on their Web site copy, it bears repeating. Well written content is important for three primary reasons:
- Engages the reader
- Increases search engine rankings and traffic
- Promotes the likelihood of quality links from other sites
We’ve seen more than our share of companies who depend too heavily upon the weight and popularity of their brand to drive traffic to their site. Of course, it’s great that they have established their name or product in the minds of the public. But if you have one competitor who has done the same, and also provides quality written content on each page of their website, you’ve just lost a share of the market for no good reason.
We see well established companies make this mistake often on product pages. It’s not enough to post quality photos, a small blurb, and the pricing. In order for your intended audience to find your products and read your page versus your competitor’s, you need every page of your site to be focused on providing detailed, useful information that a customer would search for in the process of making a purchase/conversion decision.
Let’s take a brief look at each of the three primary benefits of quality content. Keep in mind that there are obviously other very important reasons (branding, for example) which we won’t have the room to cover here. We’ve chosen the three listed above because at the very least, your Web site needs to draw visitors through search engines, inform them of the amazing benefits you have to offer, and to encourage other webmasters and site content managers to consider your site to be an authority on a given subject. With search, attention to detail, and word of mouth, you have the beginnings of a successful Web presence through copywriting.
Engage the Reader
Traditional marketers and copywriters frequently criticize search engine optimization companies for focusing so intently upon the keyword research and placement within the text that they sacrifice the art of truly engaging content. Granted, it can be delicate balance at times, but our ultimate goal with every written page is to entertain, inform, and entice the reader.
All the top search engine rankings in the world cannot make up for a page so hideous that no one stops to read or continue visiting the site. Basic copywriting classes and workshops are excellent places to get tips on how to keep the reader as the center of your focus and your writing. If copywriting doesn’t come naturally to you and outsourcing isn’t an option, visit CopyBlogger on the Web for copywriting tips or enroll in a local copywriting class or workshop (check your local community colleges and writer’s guilds).
Increase Search Engine Rankings and Traffic
Though there are plenty of phrases people still don’t search for, your chances of receiving organic search traffic increase exponentially, based upon the quality of your copy. For the interactive marketing company, it can feel like pulling teeth to convince some companies to seriously consider copy changes or additions to their site. Perhaps we, as an industry, need to do a better job of communicating the necessity, because quality content is absolutely critical to achieving top rankings for competitive phrases.
Pictures and graphics don’t equate into words, unless you’ve added the appropriate HTML tags to them. Even then, tags are no substitute for actual text in the body of your site.
Think of this way: each search engine is programmed and designed to crawl each site in a manner similar to a human. Information is stored and viewed as more or less important based upon what a human is most likely to consider important. You can have the best META tags in the world, but search engines reward Web pages where the tags match up with the page’s copy.
Promote the Likelihood of Quality Links
It’s a well known fact that quality links to your Web site are one of the most influential factors in determining search engine rank. The search engine knows to rank any of your pages as extremely important if many authoritative pages externally (and within your site) link to it.
Quality content affects both the quality and amount of inbound links. With the rise of social media sites including Digg, Reddit, De.licio.us, and Ma.gnolia, your site content is more important than ever. Your readers have the power to submit excerpts of your copy to these sites with links back to your page for all to see.
This is especially powerful for companies with the foresight to regularly produce articles, blogs, and press releases. This fresh content not only contributes to the optimization of your site, it also provides opportunities for exposure to (potentially) millions of readers on various social media sites. Some companies plan entire campaigns around the bursts of traffic received from social media links.
It is strongly recommended keyword research at the beginning of any copywriting endeavor for the Web. Know what words and phrases your intended readers are searching with, and craft well-written copy for each page. If your terminology is relevant and your style is easy to follow, you have achieved the most important, yet often overlooked foundational task of organic search optimization and marketing.