You’ve clicked them before: “5 Things Preventing You From Becoming a Billionaire,” “The Secret Video Obama Doesn’t Want You to See” and the ever-insidious “Hot Female Celeb’s Wardrobe Malfunction.”
It seems harmless enough linkbait, but stories like these have the potential to kill content marketing.
Content marketing is no longer a trend or a fad — according to one survey, nearly four out of five CMOs think it represents the future of marketing.
Content marketing is popular because it works. Consumers are more likely to click, share and purchase a product from a brand’s content than from its advertisements. Thus, many brands have found that creating their own content is far more efficient in reaching and engaging with customers than traditional ads.
As a discipline, though, content marketing is still not well understood. How does one measure a successful content campaign? Who is it meant to reach, and what message is it meant to send? What does effective content even look like?
One problem is the word itself; the definition of “content” is maddeningly vague. Google defines it as “information made available by a website or other electronic medium.” Merriam Webster: “The principal substance (as written matter, illustrations or music) offered by a World Wide Web site.” Dictionary.com: “Something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing or any of various arts.” Pretty unspecific.
The problem is that “content,” in this context, is so ill-defined and poorly understood that unscrupulous content creators flood the web with low-quality schlock meant to appeal to base online instincts. Or, as I heard someone ask recently, “Does content marketing have a side-boob problem?”
It doesn’t help that content marketing’s history isn’t pretty. In the past 20 years alone, content farms have taken advantage of SEO to the point that Google had to revamp its algorithm; email marketers inundated consumers, sparking the creation of spam filters; banner ads became so annoying that we invented ad blockers; even aggressive telemarketing lead to federally mandated do-not-call lists.
If its practitioners aren’t careful, content marketing on the web could easily fall into the same trap.
How do we create standards that ensure the quality of content stays high? It’s a thorny question, not just because the definition of content is so broad. After all, quality is in the eye of the beholder — one man’s Cosmo is another’s The New Yorker. To make value judgments on the relative quality of each is to risk a firestorm of criticism.
That said, it’s worth setting a few guidelines for content marketers in the pursuit of that ever-elusive (yet wholly possible) quality content.
1. Make something new.
Every day, Internet users share 27 million pieces of content. Every minute, Tumblr users alone create nearly 30,000 new posts. The vast majority — a photo, a comment, a meme — are repurposed from elsewhere on the web. Countless “original” blog posts simply repackage information from various corners of the web.
Standing out requires adding something new to the mix, bringing users a piece of information they could not have gotten elsewhere.
Some content- or media-centric companies demand original sourcing as a way to differentiate. If a piece of content contains original source material, we know it’s unique. As such, it’s more than mere entertainment for our users. Primary source material is not the only way to gauge originality, but the standard screams legitimacy and integrity.
2. Don’t ignore search, but be wary of it.
SEO is important, but there are good and bad ways to use it, and it’s inherently risky to emphasize the practice too extremely.
“What doesn’t work is what we like to call ‘dumb SEO,’” says Neil Chase, who ran content strategy at Federated Media and now consults for a number of organizations, “the practice of spraying keywords all over a piece of content in unnatural ways in an attempt to win SEO points.”
If it looks written by a machine, for a machine, it won’t resonate with human readers.
That being said, smart content creators should certainly identify target keywords and make sure to mention them in a sensible way. “It’s all about having a smart, integrated strategy,” Chase explains. “Creating quality content comes first, and then finding the appropriate ways to integrate SEO principles without damaging quality or the reader’s experience.”
3. Know your audience and what it wants.
In general, Vogue readers probably aren’t all that interested in the latest episode of Jersey Shore; and Wall Street Journal subscribers are likely less unconcerned about the season’s top handbags. The same holds true in the world of content marketing. Topics need to resonate with very particular sets of users.
“Quality content should serve both the audience’s needs and the brand’s needs,” says Michael Grimes, editor in chief at Hill Holliday. “Beyond simply “Likes,” comments and shares, quality content should create a lasting connection between the brand and audience, and a connection that the audience ultimately chooses to seek out.”
It’s important to produce content that will uphold and retain value for your target audience. Do your users gravitate toward first-person essays? Photos of cats? Celebrity interviews? Curated Pinterest boards? Longform investigative journalism? Quality is, after all, largely in the eye of the beholder.
4. Understand your options.
As content marketing has caught on, dozens of companies have moved to take advantage, to the point that brands now have a myriad of options to choose from before embarking on content campaigns. But the more crowded the space becomes, the more difficult it is to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Brands must select partners, including dedicated agencies, traditional publishers, freelance creatives, syndication networks, tech platforms, in-house editorial hires and more. It’s key to understand the landscape, which solutions fit best with a brands current and future content needs.
5. Know what success looks like.
Content marketers are just now learning something that traditional publishers have known for years: Measuring content value is complicated. There are dozens of ROI metrics to choose from, with varying degrees of significance based on the goals of a given content program. Unique visits, time-on-site, engagement, shares, brand lift, share of voice … the list goes on.
It all depends what your goals are, says Grimes. “Are you trying to simply raise awareness or encourage engagement, or do you want your content to shoulder the load in converting your audience to commence business-building activity in some way?” he asks. The portrait of “success” looks different for each case. Luckily, digital helps us measure everything, so honing in on program objectives at the beginning is critical for establishing those KPIs, then measuring against them.
6. Be patient, be consistent.
Content creation is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s not like traditional advertising, in which a campaign typically consists of a few well-executed ads and a ton of media spending. Successful media companies need to create interesting, informative stories day after day after day, and successful content marketing is no different.
According to Joe Alicata, principal product owner at Chartbeat, consistency is imperative to building trust. “It’s not good enough to simply have someone spend two minutes on a piece of content,” he explains. “You want to know that they will convert to returning as a loyal, frequent reader.”
Grimes agrees. “You’re competing with everything else out there, branded and, more importantly, non-branded,” he says. “So it has to be engaging and presented in a way that’s aligned with your audience’s natural consumption habits.”
It takes time and effort to create an engaged audience, and digital content loses relevance with astonishing speed, so it’s important to keep things fresh. Content marketers don’t need to publish 350 stories a day like the New York Times, nor does each story require the amazing production value of a big-budget TV campaign. But a branded content site that’s out of date and inconsistent is worse than none at all.
Quality content is hard to define, multi-faceted and open to interpretation. But it exists, and plenty of brands are doing it right. And unlike traditional publishers, whose business models are based on ad sales, pageviews and scale, brands have everything to gain by keeping content high-minded and consistent.
After all, while celebrity wardrobe malfunctions may drive clicks, they don’t help sell products. Unless, of course, your brand manufactures cameras.
Via Mashable: http://www.mashable.com