Content is King. Bill Gates said it in 1996 and by now every marketing department has that phrase carved in stone, memorized by heart, plastered on a t-shirt and stuck to a bumper. The notion that quality content is the most effective way to attract users online is well established. But two decades after Bill Gate’s proclamation on what drives the Internet, many companies still struggle with content marketing strategy.
As it turns out, content marketing is no Field of Dreams. If you write it, they will not come, unless you follow at least some of the best practices outlined below:
1. Use a Catchy Title
Nobody likes to admit it, but catchy titles are key to getting people to engage with your content. Sites on the interwebs have built empires around effectively deploying irresistible titles to attract people to otherwise recycled, unoriginal content.
“10 Things You Never Knew”
“This New Image of Cats is Amazing”
“Cool Stats—In One Simple Graphic”
If you’re reading this article, then odds are this technique worked on you, too, dear reader. It’s like one of those billboards on the highway that says “Made You Look” to sell advertising space. Sorry.
Of course, every piece of content you produce cannot be a “5 Things You Won’t Believe” post, nor do you want that (unless you are one of the aforementioned clickbait empires). But just because the clickbait farms have hijacked these techniques, doesn’t mean you can’t use them intelligently to promote some of your content. As long as your titles are relevant, accurate and not “bait and switch” clickbait headlines, you can enjoy the benefits without abusing your readers.
Sprinkling a little “clickbait magic” into your content every now and then can help draw in new visitors. Just don’t overdo or abuse it and lose your credibility or professionalism.
2. People Love Lists
Did I mention people love lists? Something deep within our very being cannot resist a good list. Call it “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) or call it “I’m Bored,” but across many topics and industries, lists are sure-fire draws for your content. In fact, there are hundreds of articles written on this topic explaining the many reasons our brains cannot resist list posts.
While list posts are often abused to push “junk” content in an effort to maximize display ads, they don’t have to be cheap tricks. If you have truly helpful content to share, organizing it in a list can make it both easier to scan for your “readers” (remember: no one reads on the Internet) and more likely to get that all important click when it pops-up on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or wherever your audience hangs out to get its news.
If you’re avoiding “list posts” because you think they are cheap tricks, stop! Create a good list and it will be widely shared, driving mountains of traffic to your site.
3. More Stuff, Less Fluff
Nothing kills content marketing faster than generic articles, filled with buzzwords, written by authors that barely know anything about the topic. Readers can smell these articles from a mile away. It’s like someone opened a thesaurus and began stringing together interesting words, interspersed with a few choice keywords suggested by the SEO experts.
If you want content that creates value for your readers and gets organically shared, find authors that can offer a unique point of view based on their experiences. Every piece of content does not need to be Harvard Business Review ready (Example A: the post you are reading now). To succeed, content needs to be interesting and offer a fresh take on a subject that matters to your audience.
The very best content shares insights from data your company has unique access to. As the Content Marketing Handbook says, your company’s unique data is the “currency of truly valuable content marketing.”
Subject matter experts with access to this valuable marketing currency are everywhere. They are (or should be) on your team. They could be scattered throughout your company. Or, if you can’t find the right expert internally, many external subject matter experts are willing to author guest posts on topics they love (with data they have) for a small stipend (varies by industry and content type, but in our experience, $200 to $800 for a quality blog article).
Original content authored by informed experts in a field is key to creating a catalog of content that has real, lasting content marketing value—not fleeting fluff metrics.
4. When in Doubt, Run a Survey
Don’t have access to unique data you think you can use for content marketing? No problem. Run a survey. It’s like printing content marketing currency.
If there is anything readers and journalists like more than a list, it’s a post highlighting new survey results. Those fancy charts. Those quotable facts. Surveys are a gold mine for producing a stream of content marketing assets that will be widely shared on social media and in press coverage.
The key to a successful survey is asking the right questions. Look for topics that are interesting to your audience, especially where there may be some controversy. “Are mobile apps dead?” “Is responsive web design worth it?” “Is iOS better than Android?” Get creative. Done well, the survey will give you a juicy new statistic, infographic and article that puts your content at the center of the hot conversations of the day.
In 2012, the Kendo UI team at Progress ran a survey to get developer opinions on a range of relevant issues, including Mark Zuckerberg’s then recent criticism of HTML5. Developers told us how much Mark’s opinion mattered (73% said it didn’t), and in the process gave our marketing team a timely, interesting piece of data to help start conversations that spread our message. That content is still available today and driving traffic!
5. Promote, Promote, Promote
Speaking of social media and watering holes, don’t forget to promote your shiny new content once it’s published. Once your post is live, don’t wait for the search engines to start feeding you traffic. This isn’t 1999 where stuffing pages with keywords was the best way to get noticed. Many people today discover much of the content they consume via social media, so traditional search traffic isn’t always the best way to get noticed. Social signals are not (yet) factored into SEO rankings, but a strong social media presence with your content will boost your brand and maximize its reach.
Ultimately, the goal of quality content marketing should be articles your target audience wants to share. If you find you are the only one sharing and promoting your content, it’s probably time to rethink your titles or content.
Be proactive “seeding” your content with your target audience, too. Post links to your content on popular content aggregation sites (varies by industry, but examples include, HackerNews, DZone, Pinterest). If there are popular newsletters that your audience subscribes to, submit your content to the editors to see if they’ll include it in a future edition. These are free techniques for expanding your reach that can radically and rapidly scale your audience.
6. Don’t Be Boring
Yes, I can count. This is a bonus...and a check to see if you are paying attention.
One final piece of advice to improve your content marketing: don’t be boring! Or, said another way, give your content some personality. Most content marketing isn’t academic research or hard-hitting investigative journalism. It’s focused, helpful content, related to your brand and products, competing for the slivers of attention users can afford to throw your direction.
If a user clicks a link to your content, reward them with something that is entertaining and fun to read. Of course, make the content helpful and original first (see: “less fluff” and “data is currency”), but go further and make your content human and relatable. This applies to both the tone and voice of your content, as well as the images and styling. Avoid those cliche stock images and sales-y pitches.
This is the age of the selfie and emoji. Informal and casual are the name of the game. Don’t write content that is the equivalent of a stiff 1880’s portrait unless you want your readers to think you’re equally out of touch with the times.
There you go. Sure-fire tips to improve your content marketing and achieve rock star results. Did I miss anything you think should have been in this list? Let me know in the comments.
(Psst...that’s another tip...encourage conversation around your content. Okay. I’ll stop.)