When I read the book Content Rules by Ann Handley and CC Chapman, I knew the marketing game was changing. Content Rules wasn’t just another book about content; it was about shifting the focus of what content means to our clients today. It was about making content that had real value: utility content.
About a year later, I was putting together a presentation on content marketing and I needed a quote. So, I went right to the source. I asked Ann Handley (via Facebook messenger of course) if she could sum up her book in a sentence or two. And boy did she…
Think about that. Most marketers are concerned with conversion rates and ROI. Those things are certainly important. But, what if in addition to ROI, the marketing was also useful to the target audience? What if they loved it so much they became more than clients… fans, advocates, cheerleaders?
That goes to the heart of what Ann was saying. Don’t waste your marketing efforts.
Marketing today is a 3-step process that repeats with every new person you touch…
- Being a resource
- Being known
- Being trusted
Being a Resource
When we started Wood Street in 2002, we already knew the “build it and they will come” model was flawed. Simply having a presence was never enough. Just look at the big names who survived the dot com bust: Amazon, eBay, Shutterfly.com.
These companies survived because they offered consistent value. And they continue to improve the user experience of their websites because they understand that the customer can always go elsewhere.
For us it was a clear sign that a website needed more than a pretty face and a contact form. Almost immediately after founding Wood Street, we started a regular email newsletter (with an archive on the website, a precursor to blogging).
I have to give some credit here to my dad who owned an email marketing firm at the time. And yes, we used his services (and we paid).
“How to Turn Your Website into a Resource”
The first issue of our newsletter was titled “How to Turn Your Website into a Resource.” I say this to show that being a resource is nothing new. And it goes back much further than our first Wood Street Journal (clever, huh?).
In order to build a business from nothing, we needed to build trust. To build trust, we needed to be known. To be known, we had to offer consistent value.
I’m not talking about value like “everything must go!” value. Value like “teach a person to fish” value… a go-to resource.
So, we wrote a post or two a month on web design, web development, marketing, SEO, etc. We archived each on our website which helped tremendously with our SEO.
But, this wasn’t just about keywords. This was about truly helping our clients to succeed. We still have clients today who tell us that they have found tremendous value in the content we produce.
Some clients have even told us that they will print our posts and file them in a folder for easy access. That’s about the best compliment we can get. It’s also validation that what we’re doing works.
Creating that content, in addition to client meetings, speaking at seminars, and the quality of our work, helped to build our reputation as a sought after web design and development firm, locally in Frederick but, also regionally (DC metro), and now nationally… all from being found because we are “known.”
We became the “experts” that clients told their colleagues, friends, and contacts about. Wood Street is not just a successful company that makes a lot of money. We’re known as a group of talented experts whose mission is to help their clients succeed.
“Traditional marketing is telling the world you’re a rockstar. Content marketing is showing the world you’re one.”
You might be the best at what you do but if no one knows, you will struggle. Don’t be shy, get your stuff out there!
Social media is more than just a place for cat videos and political arguments with friends from back in the day (maybe that’s just me). These channels have proven to be a great way to get your content out there.
I’m not talking about advertising, although that can certainly help to boost a post. In the case of “being known,” you want to establish an organic following.
To do this you need to mix it up. I recommend 80/20. 80% posts that are from a source other than your website. These are posts from trusted resources that you know your audience can use and will appreciate.
I recommend using some sort of scheduling tool so you can space these out. We use Buffer. I love it! It’s super easy to use, has a handy Chrome utility, and I can get analytics on all the posts I share.
Plus, I can share to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and even Pinterest. (I’m not paid to say this either unless Buffer really wants to drop me some coin.)
The remaining 20% is for your utility content. And because you’ve proven yourself to be a reliable resource of utility and informative content, the 20% will gain more traction.
Currently (and this could change), Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and some LinkedIn content is all indexable by Google. This is a great way to build viable links to your content that will be crawled by Google.
Facebook requires a login to view content so think of it as a closed system. You can still share there to boost content visibility. It just won’t get you any direct SEO value.
A great way to boost the reach of your content is with syndication. Much like a radio program is syndicated, your content can feed to websites with larger audiences and reach way beyond your website alone.
Take some time to find the top blogs in your industry. Look around on those sites and see if they offer syndication. A lot of larger magazine websites will do this simply to get more content. Here’s an example of a website that syndicates our content.
These sites will usually pull your content in through a feed, like RSS or XML. Check with your website developer and make sure you have this set up.
You can also manually “syndicate” your content. Everyone wants in on the content game. So, lots of aggregators and social channels have allowed users to post content directly on that channel.
Post your content to Reddit, Medium, LinkedIn, Facebook, and wherever else your audience might be hanging out.
You’ll need to decide with each post where it makes sense to repost. Think about your audience on these channels and what content, in which format, makes the most sense for that audience.
And always add a line at the bottom stating it was reposted with permission with a link back to the original.
And this isn’t duplicate content, it’s reposted with permission!
There’s been an ongoing debate on the value of guest blogging. Matt Cutts from Google killed it in 2014 but it still goes on and can still be a successful strategy.
This is when you create content for another website. This is different from syndication in that the content you create will originate on a site other than yours.
But, be careful. The content you offer needs to be of value to the audience of that website. If you’re just trying to spread thin content (content with keywords and little value) as a link building exercise, you will be sorry. Google hates thin content. The website owner will too and stop publishing your stuff.
Think about it this way. You are a member of your local chamber of commerce. You ask to be a speaker at one of their events. If you show up and speak about nothing of value or just schill your products or services, the chamber and event attendees will leave with a bad taste in their mouth.
Guest blogging follows the same rules. It is a privilege to be asked/allowed to write for someone else’s audience. At the very least, don’t make them regret it. In fact, make that content so good that they come back for me.
I would recommend establishing a real relationship with the editor of that blog/website before asking to guest post. Share their stuff. Comment on posts. Offer to help promote their events and content to your audience. It’s called the “giver’s gain.”
And do this with all of the SMEs (subject matter experts) at your organization. Anyone who is a good writer and can generate very valuable content should be on your guest blogger list.
Where’s the ROI? It’s in being known to a new audience as a resource. And you get a link back to your website in your byline! Qualified traffic is the kind of traffic you want and smart guest blogging can get it for you.
Don’t forget about the trusty ole standby, email. Email is alive and well in 2017. Just look at these stats from Hubspot…
- Three-quarters of companies agree that email offers “excellent” to “good” ROI. (Econsultancy, 2016)
- Email use worldwide will top 3 billion users by 2020. (The Radicati Group, 2016)
- Gmail has 1 billion active users worldwide. (Statista, 2016)
- 86% of consumers would like to receive promotional emails from companies they do business with at least monthly, and 15% would like to get them daily. (Statista, 2015)
- 86% of professionals prefer to use email when communicating for business purposes. (HubSpot, 2017)
Email newsletters are a great way to make sure your clients get the content you’re creating. Email is a channel where you can be a bit more promotional. But, I would recommend that at least 60% of your email content is utility content, whether yours or from an outside source.
You want to always include…
- “View in Browser” option where users can view the email content in their browser.
- Preheader links so they can get to linked content quickly without having to scroll or even load all email content.
- Images and clear links that encourage recipients to view the content on your website. I recommend using short blurbs in the email with a link to read the full post on your website. You always want them going to your website where it’s easier to drive conversion.
- Social share options so they can share your email content to their social channels.
- Your branding, make sure it’s clear that this email is from you. Stay consistent and your users will become pros at interacting with your email content.
More Content Boosting Options
There are so many ways to get your content out there. That could be a post all by itself (note to self, write posts on content boost).
I’ll close out this section with a few of my favorites. Try these out and track which ones actually drive traffic back to your site using a URL tracker like Bit.ly or Goo.gl or your website analytics.
This list will always change, so, don’t ever stop looking…
- SlideShare, AuthorStream – sites where you can post your presentation slides
- YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, and more – video sharing services
- Bookmarking sites – post your content on ScoopIt, BizSugar, StumbleUpon
- PR – boost your content the old fashioned way, pay!
There will always be new places to post content, keep looking!
Being a resource means you consistently provide valuable content and other resources to your followers. And being known means that you have established yourself as a resource whose follower numbers and website traffic continue to grow because of it.
But being trusted is bigger than those two. Trust is a loop. You provide solutions. Your audience sees that as valuable and shares “you” with their friends and followers. And this is the circle of life!
Of course, being trusted isn’t just about sharing great content. You need to truly understand your audience. What makes these people tick.
Who is Your Audience?
In UX terms, we call these your user personas. These are profiles of real users or containing real characteristics of a specific group of users. When developing user personas, you’ll want to look at the user’s goals, expectations, motivations, and behavior.
- Goals: What do they expect to accomplish?
- Expectations: How do they envision the journey?
- Motivations: What problem do they expect you to solve?
- Behavior: How will they use your website or the materials provided? What’s their state of mind?
Asking these questions for each channel and each instance of content shared can seem daunting at first. But, with enough time and practice, you’ll get to where it’s shorthand. You’ll be able to answer these questions without even asking them.
Your Content Value Exercise
To see what I mean, take the last 10 items you shared/posted on a specific channel that your audience uses. This could be Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, whatever. Just make sure that all 10 were shared on the same channel.
And this could be your content, someone else’s content, an app you think is useful, news, etc. Anything you shared with your audience.
Now, go through these quick steps.
- Post that link in a document and include the title (if appropriate) and a brief description of what it is.
- Underneath that, list out the goals, expectations, motivations, and behavior of the person you most hope will view this content.
- Once you have all 10, go back through and read what you listed. Share with a co-worker if appropriate.
- Assign a grade to each based on how well the content matched the goals, expectations, motivations, and behaviors of the person you’re trying to reach. This could be a scale of 1 to 10 or A through F. Whatever works for you.
- Now, review the top scoring articles. What about those makes them winners according to the needs of your target audience?
Now you have a baseline for what good content looks like. You’ve answered the question “what marketing would my client thank me for?” You also can see what has value to your audience and, more importantly, what does not.
Marketing Is Part of the User Experience!
There is no shortage of utility content out there. We are swimming in an ocean of content. Your job as a marketer and communicator is to sift through the noise and be the go-to resource for the stuff that truly matters to your audience.
Marketing your clients will thank you for does not ignore ROI or leave money on the table. Quite the opposite. In today’s information age, value reigns supreme! To illustrate what I mean, I’ll leave you with this quote from Joe Natoli, UX master at GiveGoodUX.com:
UX (user experience) isn’t just about users; it’s really a value loop in three parts:
- The person using the website has to perceive that it’s valuable to them.
- That perception has to be validated through use. Proof equals trust, which means they use and/or purchase.
- When both things happen, value comes back to the business/creator: increased market share, customer loyalty, money made or money saved.”
In other words, good UX means good ROI, happy clients, better traffic. Marketing today is part of your UX strategy. And value is what users/clients/fans expect! If you don’t deliver, someone else will.