Last month, aimClear had the pleasure of attending MozCon, a search, social and content marketing conference hosted by the fine folks at Moz. MozCon is a conference unlike most. There’s one track, so no shifting between session rooms. Yes, that means the creatives had to bear with the who-the-hell-is-JSON-and-his-friend-MQL geekouts, while the techies had to sit through the kumbaya-content-fluffy-hugs sessions. But it was worth it because these were some of the most dynamic, inspiring presenters out there. Only the best of the best are invited to speak, and it showed.
Content marketing was a regular discussion topic throughout the three-day event, with speakers dissecting everything from ideation to creation, promotion, and measurement. We’ve rounded up just about everything that was said in relation to content to bring you this guide for creating a successful content marketing program, broken down into 4 steps—and 2 posts. Read on for part 1, as we explain why content marketing was such a hot topic at a traditionally SEO-focused conference, along with steps 1 and 2 of the content marketing process: conceive and create. Keep an eye out for part 2, coming in a few days, in which we’ll cover steps 3 and 4: promote and measure.
Why content marketing?
Before we dig into the nuts and bolts, let’s take a step back and look at the motivation behind content marketing. Moz’s Rand Fishkin identified it in his traditional opening speech as one of the five big trends from the last year in web marketing. For many, it’s the “shiny object” of the moment—a fad that will pass as many others have before—but for others, it’s the key to winning the Internet. It wasn’t too long ago that a page stuffed with keywords and promoted with paid links could appear at the top of the SERPs. Obviously that’s no longer the case. It’s harder to dominate in organic search today. So, how does one win? Lindsay Wassell, CEO of Keyphraseology, believes that mastering the core principles that form the acronym IDEA—innovate, dedicate, educate, accommodate—is the secret to ranking well. Innovation—whether through business product, principles or even content—means doing something a bit better, a bit different, using slightly different methods.
Content done right can draw attention, rank well, amass links, drive traffic, generate awareness and interest, build preference, and ultimately increase sales—not necessarily in that order, and not necessarily all of the above—so it’s no wonder that marketers are flocking to it like free money. Despite that, it may not be right for every organization looking to cash in. There has to be a reason to endeavor into content marketing, and it shouldn’t be “because it’s the hot marketing tactic of the moment” or “because everyone else is doing it.”
Wil Reynolds of SEER Interactive gave an inspiring speech in which he reminded attendees of outputs vs. outcomes. Growing a business is an outcome, he said.Getting 10 links is an output.How often do you work on outputs and are happy about it? When planning a content marketing program, think about the outcome. What do you hope to achieve?
Setting goals is an important part of planning your content marketing strategy. When all is said and done, measuring results against those goals proves your success (or otherwise) and helps determine if changes, a complete overhaul or desertion of the program are in order. In fact, goal setting should really be a step unto itself. We’ll call it step 0.5.
When setting goals, keep in mind there’s a difference between goals and aspirations. Dana DiTomaso of Kick Point explained: aspirations are fuzzy; they’re not measurable. They’re important, but they’re not goals. Every goal should be a SMART goal, she said, which means they are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. If your goal doesn’t fit these parameters, it’s an aspiration. If you set SMART goals, your job will be much easier when reporting time rolls around.
Step 1: Conceive
Once you’ve set goals for your content, it’s time to start coming up with ideas. If there’s one thing you remember in this step, remember this: Go big or go home. This is a point that multiple presenters emphasized. There’s too much content out there, Dr. Pete Meyers of Moz said. As marketers, we all think of our content as refreshing. We know as content consumers that we’re drowning in it. Dr. Pete reported that on WordPress alone, there are about 41.6 million new posts per month. About 19% of blogs run WordPress, so we can extrapolate that there are roughly 7.3 million posts per day. We’re not merely a drop in the bucket, Dr. Pete joked. We are one drop in 237 buckets.
Lindsay Wassell concurred. Go bigger with your content, she said. Stop publishing drivel. Create things you’re proud of, things that are different, meaningful, original. This will ultimately make it easier to promote (see step 3). Build shit that helps people, Wil Reynolds added.
Marshall Simmonds reminded the audience of Google’s Panda update. It’s your greatest ally, he said. If you’re scared of being hit by Panda, you probably deserve it. If you’re publishing new, amazing, different content, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
Another reason to focus on quality content? Competition. Content marketing has become big business, Dr. Pete cautioned, and it’s getting the attention of our predators. Big media, PR, and ad agencies all want a piece of the pie. Madison Avenue has more cash and resources, greater offline networks and, typically, better creative talent. SEOs and online marketers have greater online networks and better technical skills. If we want to compete, the key—if we’re not going to spend the money—is the creative. It’s time to raise the bar, Dr. Pete said.
So let’s generate big ideas. Before initiating a brainstorm, Stacey MacNaught of Tecmark advised attendees to keep the following mantra in mind: goals first, format second. Don’t decide you’re going to do an infographic before you decide what it will be about, she said. What is it you want to communicate? Format will follow in the next step. At this stage, it’s about the ideas.
In his enlightening talk on “how to never run out of great ideas,” Dr. Pete boiled down content into a hierarchy. Topping that chain is the following notion: Build something amazing. If you can’t or don’t want to, try to become a subject matter expert in your industry. If not that, find a system that’s easy to repeat.
How does one become a subject matter expert? Put in the time to read, Dr. Pete said. He offered Search Engine Roundtable’s Barry Schwartz as an example. Barry read search forum threads every morning to determine if there was a significant algorithmic change based on the complaints posted. Pete recommended setting aside a half-hour each day to read and a half-hour to write. Another path to expertise is to pick a niche and excel, like Annie Cushing has done with data visualization. The key to becoming an expert, Dr. Pete said, is answering this question: What part do I know that they don’t know?
As for harnessing a system, Dr. Pete recommended coming up with a process—a pattern—that helps generate content. Examples you’ve probably heard of include Blendtec’s Will it Blend? videos, Neila Rey’s visual workouts, Dinosaur Comics, and Moz’s own Whiteboard Friday series. Through repetition, you:
- Become better and the process becomes easier each time
- Spread out the cost and risk over tens or hundreds of pieces of content
- Simplify planning
- Set expectations: People anticipate and come back to take in your content.
The secret is to ensure the process is repeatable, but not repetitive. Every time you do it, ensure your content has a unique flavor.
The best way to waste time and money is to produce awesome content for the completely wrong audience, Stacey MacNaught said, or for an uninterested audience, Wil Reynolds added. Too often we’re not giving customers what they want. We’re giving them the content we want them to want, he said.
Part of the concept development process is to determine who your audience is and what their interests are, and build content consumer personas around this information. These are often different than buyer personas, Stacey remarked. We can find this information using social data. Facebook Graph Search, for one, is a content marketer’s dream. Use it to find the interests your audience has: the companies they like, where they shop, their musical tastes, preferred entertainers—these things can all spark engaging content ideas. Check out Stacey’s post for example queries. Wil Reynolds added DemographicsPro as a must-use tool, and as pertains to video content, Distilled’s Phil Nottingham suggested using Google Trends, YouTube Trends and Tubular to find what audiences care about.
Content marketing demands a stream of good ideas, and Stacey MacNaught shared the 6-3-5 method of brain writing as an efficient means of idea generation. Using this method, you can generate 108 ideas in 30 minutes. Here’s how it works. Gather 6 people in a room and give each of them a worksheet. At the top of the worksheet is a problem statement, brief or goal—what you’re trying to accomplish with this content. Set a timer for 5 minutes, and ask each person to write down 3 ideas. This should ideally be done in silence. When the 5 minutes are up, ask everyone to pass their sheet to the person on their left. Start the timer for another 5 minutes, and ask everyone to write down 3 more ideas. Continue doing this until you’ve gone through 6 rounds, a total of 30 minutes. The principle is that reading others’ ideas will spark new ideas or enable you to build on them. With each person writing 3 ideas in 6 rounds, you’ll end up with 6 x 3 x 6 = 108 ideas.
Other presenters offered these additional suggestions for idea generation:
- Steal popular topics. Go to any relevant online community and look at popular discussions by the number of replies/views. Find the things that people love to talk about – Richard Millington, founder of FeverBee
- Immerse yourself. Whether it’s video or blog posts or infographics, study the types of things that do well – Phil Nottingham
- Think laterally about your brand. What can you talk about with authority? What separates you from the pack? Keep in mind, content that’s relevant to your audience is more important than content that’s relevant to your brand. Your brand is not what you sell. It’s how you sell it – Phil Nottingham
- If media coverage and/or links are your goal, come up with content media wants. Look at your target outlets’ social channels. Find out what’s doing well for them. Put their site into Moz Open Site Explorer and look at their top pages (beyond homepage and category pages). Find out what type of content is performing the best. Come up with ideas like that – Lexi Mills of Dynamo PR
When you’ve got a list of possibilities, it’s time to narrow down the candidates. Not everything that came out of the 6-3-5 session is going to be a winner. In fact, you should be able to eliminate some right off the bat. Other ideas you’ll need to be more analytical about. Stacey MacNaught suggested NUF testing to cull the list. On a scale of 1 to 10—10 being the best—give every idea a score for each of the following criteria:
With a maximum score of 30, get rid of every idea that scored fewer than 20 points.
Ideally you have a list of new, never-before-seen content concepts, but it’s a good idea to see if someone has done it before. Paddy Moogan of Distilled recommended undertaking a competitor analysis. Find out who your content competitors are. Search for your idea. Use the Moz Keyword Difficulty tool to determine if you can beat who’s ranking.
At the end of the concept development process, ensure you’ve sanity checked your ideas before proceeding to creation, Stacey MacNaught advised.
Step 2: Create
OK, so you’ve gone through step one and you have several brilliant content concepts in hand. The next step is the actual implementation: build it, write it, produce it— whatever it may be. Create it. But where to begin? What concept to start with? Dr. Pete offered some sage advice: save the best ideas for first. It’s human nature to want to save our best ideas for last. We tend to think that there are only so many ideas out there, that we have the mental capacity for a limited number and when we use them up, they’ll all be gone. Dr. Pete said there’s no scientific evidence for this—not that we really needed evidence because the notion itself sounds ridiculous. Nevertheless, we fear running out of ideas.
Getting beyond this fear is important for several reasons. First, delaying kills passion. Many writers can attest to this. They come up with something they believe is greatness embodied, write it down so as not to forget, then return to it weeks, maybe months down the line and find that they’ve lost the spark and, consequently, the drive to see it through. Dr. Pete added: When you have to write a bunch of crap first, you start to hate what you do.
Another facet to working on your best ideas first is it shatters illusions of genius, as Pete put it. When you think you have a great idea and you actually begin working on it, it may not turn out as great as you thought. This is a crushing reality, but it’s better than the fantasy, he continued. Get it out so you can start working on something else.
Another reason not to save the best ideas for last: In the beginning, most content creators suck. They lack the skills. If you suck and are boring, you’re done. You’ll never develop the skill if you don’t lead with your best stuff, he said.
Finally, when you invest early, you can earn interest. The best pieces of content are timeless. They live on for weeks, months, maybe even years after their initial creation. Dr. Pete offered Mozcast as a great example. It was a great idea that, although time-consuming to build, remains an important resource for SEOs. Moz expects it to draw 600,000 visits this year. How’d you like that sort of traffic coming to your content?
Alright, so we convinced you to work on your best idea first. Next, you need to determine the format for conveying your idea. Remember: Goals first, format second. Perhaps it’s a blog post, maybe it’s a video, an infographic or an interactive experience. Richard Baxter of Builtvisible encourages content creators to delve into the realm of possibilities. From SVG to jQuery, WebGL, HTML5 and beyond, this stuff can create incredible, one-of-a-kind pieces, but it’s hard to do. Fortunately, for content marketers, we don’t need to know how to do it. We just need to know how to ask for it. If you’re involved in creating content, it means you tell stories. A gifted storyteller understands the medium by which they choose to tell a story, Richard said. The hard part is acquiring the vocabulary you need to describe what you want to a developer. Once you do, the possibilities are endless. Richard offered the following vocabulary list for content marketers to master:
In terms of actually diving in and creating the content, Nathalie Nahai, also known as The Web Psychologist, offered tips for some of the more common types of content—the written word, images and video. To create persuasive content, she said, you have to understand your audience, engage them emotionally and use psychological triggers.
Copy is all about the headline. You could develop the greatest piece on how to fry an egg with a sock—her example, not ours—but if the headline is so boring that it draws zero clicks, what good is it? Nathalie mentioned the 80:20 golden ratio: If you want people to read your stuff, spend 80% of your time on the headline, the rest on the rest. While that might be a bit of an exaggeration (really good content, as we know, takes time), it’s important that the headline not be an afterthought. It’s easy to spend 10 minutes on a headline and call it good enough after spending 10 hours on the body. But if the headline wouldn’t entice you to read on, what makes you think a reader will?
Nathalie shared 9 tips for creating persuasive headlines:
- Understand your target audience: Personality matters. Adapting persuasive messages to personality traits can be an effective way of increasing the message’s impact.
- Write to one person: Give each segment a psychologically representative persona.
- Write an outline of the copy first, then the headline.
- Use psychological trigger words, such as weird, mystery, free, secret, amazing, essential, etc.
- Write several different headlines and read them aloud.
- Pick the number 1 benefit and include it in the headline.
- Include the product or problem in the headline.
- Write a totally left-field headline.
- Split-test your headlines and use the most effective one.
The formula for headline writing, Nathalie said, is as follows:
Number/trigger word + adjective + keyword + promise = killer headline
An alternative headline for this post is an example:
4 Essential Steps for Creating a Successful Content Marketing Program
- Number: 4
- Trigger word: Essential
- Adjective: Successful
- Keyword: Content Marketing
- Promise: Creating a Successful Content Marketing Program
As any decent psychologist would, Nathalie anticipated the skepticism and addressed the elephant in the room: Isn’t this just clickbait? It’s only clickbait if you don’t offer value. If your content doesn’t follow through on the headline’s promise, you’ll erode trust and your audience will stop coming back. Make sure you can deliver. Ask, what are the tangible benefits my audience will get from this content?
As for other types of content, Nathalie offered these quick tips. To engage audiences with images, elicit emotion (anger, fear, happiness, disgust, surprise, sadness), tell a story, or create a curiosity gap. To boost shareability of videos, use nostalgia, mirror your audience, make it funny, surprise or move viewers.
At this point, you probably have a draft, prototype or rough cut of your piece. Test everything as early as you can, Stacey MacNaught advised. Field-test your story before investing in making it shiny. Simple tools like fivesecondtest.com and title split testing in WordPress can help with this process.
Another step in preparing your content for primetime is thinking about how your audience will consume it. Accommodate their needs, Lindsay Wassell recommended. The need for information crosses all borders and boundaries. Accommodate your audience, no matter their location, device, or other limiting factors. Think multi-screen, Stacey added, especially if it will be promoted via social. Don’t tell viewers/readers to come back on a desktop. It’s not just about catering to your audience’s interests, she said. It’s about catering to the screens they’re using as well.
It’s also about catering to your audiences’ languages, and Zeph Snapp, CEO of Altura Interactive, had some translation advice to share. First, be realistic about what your staff can do. Jenny in accounting who counts four years of high-school Spanish and a trip to Cancun as her experience might not be the most reliable translator. You’re likely going to need outside help. And that’s when the harsh reality of budget will hit you. Prepare yourself. It’s going to be more expensive than you think. Going cheap can end up being a lot more expensive.
Zeph advised against machine translation. Human translation is the only way to go to ensure quality results. Finding bilingual marketers in the region you’re targeting is ideal, but of course, not always feasible. The key to working with non-marketer translators is ensuring consistency and an understanding of entities and context (so that “Amazon Kindle Fire” doesn’t end up as “light a fire in the jungle”). Pay by the hour, not by the word, and test first, Zeph recommended. Crowdsourcing is a new frontier of translation, but as we’re all aware, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.
So you’ve reached the end. You’ve created your masterpiece. Or have you? Richard Baxter offered one final piece of advice pertinent to the creation stage: If you don’t love it, you can’t ship it. Meaning, don’t settle for good enough. Make it the best you possibly can, deadlines be damned. As another wise marketer once said (whose name currently escapes us), better late than crappy.
That’s a wrap for steps 1 and 2 of the content marketing process. We’ll be back with steps 3 and 4—promote and measure—in a few days.
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