Content marketing’s shifted into full tilt boogie. Everyone’s into it. And I don’t just mean every company; sometimes it’s everyone in the company.
The assistant pencil licker in the customer support department sketched out a plan to create the “Ultimate Guide to Pencil Licking.” It seems like a can’t miss idea, but darn it, page one SERP results reveal some very sharp content creators have already seized control of the pencil licking 101 space.
Shock, schlock and hickory dickory dock.
There’s too much content. Someone had to say it. Someone did. Mark Schaeffer, a respected author, professor, consultant and leader in the field penned “Content Shock: Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy.”
Schaeffer opined the supply of content has surpassed demand. Mark warned, “Content shock is coming and I believe we are beginning to enter the danger zone now.”
Not many members of the content marketing club missed the story. Content ambassadors far and wide responded and retorted, me among them. I questioned, “Is the problem content shock or content schlock?”
I hope my point of view was clear. If we’re overly saturated, it’s because the flood of junk content has created white noise. Copyblogger’s Sonia Simone said it well.
“We are a long way from the day when too much high-quality, Rainmaker-style content is being created. To repeat myself, there is not a glut of content that is useful, passionate, individual, and interesting.”
I created a SlideShare and post about the phenomena I call “Nontent.” Nontent, of course, not only includes blogs, but all kinds of no or low-value content that fails to connect or convert. Then I thought I’d take I’d take a whack at identifying the ingredients required to create effective content that informs and inspires.
Let’s examine the ingredients.
Purpose: If your first ingredient isn’t a purpose, there’s no point in creating content at all. Whether you’re going to create a how-to, list, story, opinion piece, roundup or anything else, you need to know the point you want to make and make it.
What do you want the reader or viewer to take away? Remember, the battle you fight first and foremost is attention. When you get it, don’t waste it. Though a great lure may earn the click you seek, it’ll backfire if your reader’s expectation isn’t satisfied.
Relevance: A content marketer exposes himself as a wanna-be when he fires before he aims. This reckless approach rears its ugly head when you concentrate on content, but not marketing.
Do the research and hard work up front to identify the relevant subject matter where your prospect’s needs and company’s strengths overlap. What pains your prospects? What gives them pleasure?
Education: Effective content marketers solve problems. They make readers more informed and inspired. And to keep them coming back for more, they make the lessons fun.
Think like a teacher. What will it take to deliver a great lesson?
Emotional triggers: You can out-feature the competition by a long shot, but come up empty if you don’t push the right hot buttons.
As a young student of advertising I learned emotions drive every kind of decision. The lesson holds true for content. In my post, “11 Feelings Great Writers Fondle,” I highlight many of the ways you can trip people’s triggers. Understand what it takes to get your reader to feel something.
Timeliness or timelessness: Readers are going to want to know what’s new. You can get them to relate when you’re on top of what’s new, what’s now and what’s next.
Of course, while change is imminent in every field, every game relies on fundamentals too. So while you’ll strive to create timely content when you can, your mix should also contain timeless lessons. In fact, you should make these content creation projects—often called “evergreen” content—your most substantial. You’ll be rewarded for a long time to come.
Truth: In any form of media, or communications of any type, it’s dreadful to find lies or questionable claims. The best of them will stop trains and could get you all the attention you seek, but will inevitably derail you, possibly for good.
Now I don’t suspect you’ll stoop so low, but I offer a “truth” warning to everyone, even the best-intentioned brand journalists with unquestionable integrity.
Be über credible. Prove, demonstrate or backup every possible claim. Abstract superlatives and puffy proof points invoke my BS meter and I suspect I’m not alone. Cite your sources. Link to viable research. Include proof points. If you don’t want readers to doubt your claims, be undoubtedly accurate and earn the trust you have to have.
Ease: First, some clarification. I’m not suggesting to make your content brief, or dominated by images, or bullet-heavy. I consider advice like this to be flawed.
But you do indeed need to strive to make your content easy to consume. So your content should, in fact, be easy on the eyes and meaningful when skimmed. As I mentioned before, you fight for attention and must therefore respect your reader’s time. Look at long, detailed posts, eBooks and what have you and take cues from the ones designed well enough to squash your temptation to bail midstream.
Originality: It’s excruciatingly difficult to teach you how to be original. Figure it out. The proliferation of content marketing has made blogs, infographics, eBooks, and every kind of content a sea of sameness.
Can you develop a version of something you liked? Should you create content around popular topics? Is it okay if someone else’s great idea informs yours? Yes, yes, and yes. Your challenge is put a new spin on it.
Voice: Sameness sucks. Everyday I read informative, but forgettable articles. In my opinion, the majority of content creators come up short because they play it safe. If I’m to become a fan (and therefore loyal consumer) of your content, you need to give me reasons to become a fan of you, the author or brand.
Give me you. Your point of view. Your personality. Your ideals. I want to hear your voice. Some say how you say stuff is more important than what you say.
Great headline or title: We have a bit of a no-brainer here, but still, headlines miss the mark in a variety of ways. Sometimes they promise far more than a post or program delivers. Often, they’re overly formulaic or bland. And more often than not, they simply don’t make me feel anything.
The best headlines itch the reader’s brain. I submit when you write a headline that indicates what I’ll be reading while still creating a big curiosity gap, you have a winner.
Friendliness: Nix the buzzwords and jargon. You read that all the time, right? Doesn’t seem to matter much. Gobbly gook still runs rampant. I can’t explain it. However, I can explain to content creators guilty of the “curse of knowledge” why their puffy prose fails to engage.
Direction: A disease that’s crippling content marketing is a lack of marketing. It appears the well-understood notion that content should be useful often gets in the way of lead generation.
By no means do I mean to be proposing you retreat to an advertising approach. However, content marketers need to be intimately acquainted with business objectives and execute accordingly.
This means at the conclusion of any piece of content, you ask something of the prospect. It’s called a call to action. So call for action (or you won’t be doing content marketing for long).
Shareability: I’m forever stunned by the oodles of stuff I read, view and listen to that fail to encourage sharing. Are content creators afraid to ask for shares? Are they oblivious to the idea they should?
It seems preposterous, but a ton of very good content creators suck at social media. If you want to succeed in content marketing, social media is a necessary ingredient. No excuses accepted.
There are sooooo many ways to encourage sharing, which of course, can increase your reach, engagement, credibility, trust, leads, sales, you name it. Start with a share bar. Sprinkle in some “click to tweet” prompts. Embed social media commentary widgets. This list could continue. If your website and blog lack shareability, go do something about it right now.
Optimization: As is usually the case in my how-to posts, I’m not going to dwell on search optimization tactics. I’m simply going to remind you you need to understand them.
You need not get all SEO-crazy. You simply need to include keywords and tags. You need to write compelling snippets for search engine listings. A fundamental understanding of how search engines index and present content is absolutely required.
That’s a healthy list.
There are 14 ingredients I believe will make your content tastier, better for you, and worthy of the audience you serve. You might reread this post or stick that pseudo nutritional label somewhere in sight when you create your next piece of content.
Did I miss an ingredient? Please feel free to stir yours in.