This is part two of our Content Marketing special here on the Smokehouse. Some of this is basically a fleshed-out, compiled, and updated for 2019 list of my previously given advice for content marketing but a lot of it is brand new takes for this year!
You’ve heard no less than six million times in the past ten years that if you want to rank well, build brand sentiment and basically even exist online, you need to be writing content. Blog posts, decent product descriptions, the works – you need content and you need to write it.
You’ve probably pushed back a bit, in favor of the more technical side of things like page speed, schema and things like that. I mean, what’s the point of writing content if the site itself is a dumpster fire, right?
But all this time, people just keep telling you to write content.
You know you should. You see everyone else doing it. You’ve read the case studies and you can’t deny that people are getting great results with this whole ‘content’ thing – if they do it right.
“Fine!” you say, “I’ll write content!”
You sit down and create what you think is a great blog post that’s going to be the next big thing. This one is going to get you all the likes, clicks and shares! You’re going to make a ton of sales from this!
You push that publish button and wait.
And wait some more.
Not even crickets could be bothered to show up to your awesomely amazing, world-shattering blog post.
Zero backlinks. Awful time on page. Huge bounce rates. No leads.
Three likes on social media: two from your own employees and one from someone overseas somewhere that will never be a customer and you have no idea how they even found your post.
Congratulations! You are now officially talking to yourself online! The future is now!
So, what happened?
Let’s take a look at some possibilities – and I’ll do this without mentioning the phrase “10x content” even once!
Be Relevant: Did Anybody Care?
Did you do your research before you decided what to write about?
No, I don’t mean keyword research, I mean topic research. Did you make sure that your topic is relevant to what your audience is talking about or asking questions about right now?
You could be the reincarnation of Shakespeare but if you’re writing about something literally no one cares about, you’re asking for problems.
How do you know what people are talking about? It’s easy and it takes about two minutes.
There are great tools out there to help you find current topics in any industry.
There are paid tools like BuzzSumo, which I use and love, but there also are free tools and techniques that are very helpful if you’re on a budget.
Some people name Google Trends as their free tool of choice but my personal favorite is the website ‘Answer the Public’.
All you do is go to the site, plug in your industry keywords and then boom: a ton of questions just waiting for you answer will appear right on your screen!
These questions are things people are actually asking about and searching for on Google and Bing so they’re real, relevant and all in one place.
Pro tip: What I like to do is grab a few of the questions from the results list, search them in Google and see what comes back. From there, I find the questions with the ‘weakest’ answers and then write something stronger, more detailed or more focused.
Which leads me to the next question to ask ourselves when our content flops…
Be Original: Did You Have an Angle?
Was your topic a broad or generic subject? Are there a lot of big names in the field covering the same topic?
Well, there you go. That could be the reason right there.
Hate to break it to you, but Google’s not the only thing taking E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness & Trustworthiness) into consideration – readers always have.
Let’s say you’re a contractor shopping online for new work pants. You go to Google, type in ‘work pants’ and you see two sites pop up: Amazon and one called ‘Big Jim’s House O’ Duds’ – and yes, for the sake of this example, somehow Big Jim made it to the first page of the SERP.
Everything else being equal, which one are you going to click?
You need to get unique with your content for clicks and engagement. You need to find an angle and get in where you fit in.
Maybe Big Jim won’t beat Amazon for generic shopping search terms like ‘work pants’ but maybe he can beat them all when it comes to functional search phrases like, ‘How to get stains out of new work pants?’
He can create content around how to get grease stains out of their work uniforms, which type of pants are best for which job roles and even a ‘Working Person’s Gift Guide’ for the holidays where he can link to his products.
Amazon probably isn’t writing articles about stain removal or who should wear what pants. Most of the big guys aren’t.
This is where you come in.
Don’t try to beat them at their own game. Be personable, be unique and express your brand voice. This is where your opportunity is – especially if you’re marketing for a small business and going against the big names like Amazon.
Use personal touches in your content, showcase the people behind your brand and whatever you do, don’t come off as a ‘corporate’ machine only interested in their wallets.
Usually, when most brands decide to write about a generic subject to make a sale it ends up being something like this:
“Working people need pants. Our work pants are the best work pants you can buy. We stand behind all of the work pants we sell and we’ll save you money. We have all kinds of pants for work no matter what job you do. So come in to our store and buy some work pants today and save big!”
Imagine trying to write four paragraphs of that. Imagine someone actually reading four paragraphs of that. It won’t happen. You need a specific approach to the topic to help readers and yourself.
Maybe you’ll still never be number one for generic terms but there’s nothing stopping you from being the top result or even the ‘expert’ on product care, use or ideas.
Let your social media channels help you.
There was a client I had back in the day that was an expert at this. They sold bedding and they knew exactly how to provide a personal touch in their social media which led to their content being far more engaged with (which led to more sales!) than even some of the larger competitors in their space.
They mastered walking the line between showcasing their products and providing useful content for all readers – even ones that didn’t buy from them – with topics like bedding care tips, how to coordinate your room, how to select a mattress and more useful things for everyone.
Which leads me to the next point…
Be Useful: Was Your ‘Content’ Just One Big Commercial in Disguise?
Now we have people who cross that line.
This problem is so simple it shouldn’t need to be said but it does.
Real talk: We’re marketers. We know this. Our job is to promote things for people to buy.
Readers for the most part don’t want to be ‘sold’ things.
Put yourself in the reader’s place – it shouldn’t be too hard, we’ve all been there.
Imagine you’re trying to decide what TV to buy and you find a comparison article between two models. You read through the whole thing and it seems legit. It’s got side by side feature comparisons, price comparisons and as you read, it’s pretty clear that TV B is superior in every way.
Great! Problem solved, right?
Then you get to the bottom of the page and read the disclaimer in the footer that tells you the manufacturer of TV B wrote the article.
Congratulations! You’ve just wasted everyone’s time!
All trust of anything written in the article – gone.
Hopes of this article being shared – evaporated.
Tables – flipped.
You don’t think this happens? This has happened to me personally.
Don’t do this. Just don’t.
Yes, I know some companies like Ahrefs can pull it off, but, real talk, you’re not Ahrefs and you probably don’t have that brand/industry reputation.
If you’re creating content with the express purpose of trying to trick someone into buying your stuff, I’ll tell you now it won’t work. People aren’t stupid and have seen this a million times.
If you’re making content for people be honest, impartial and, above all, useful.
Fake impartiality and self-promotion without any actual benefit to readers isn’t useful.
Avoid That Awkward Silence!
So, let’s sum it all up in three easy and actionable takeaways:
- Be Relevant: Don’t write about what you or your company happen to find interesting, write about what your readers will find interesting. Be timely, answer real questions and cover real topics – not whatever your marketing team wants to pitch that day. There are tools out there – use them
- Be Original: Don’t come with the same topics that already have a thousand answers and don’t sound like everybody else out there. Find your content niche and what your brand can be an authority on – especially if you’re going against the ‘big players’ – and develop that. Always let your unique voice stand out or you will get drowned out
- Be Useful: Don’t try to ‘trick’ people into reading commercials. Give people real content that they can actually use and will want to show their friends. The idea is to create content that people will want to share, whether they buy from you or not. If it builds your brand authority and gets eyes on your name with potential customers, shares are not a vanity metric!
Also, don’t forget to the basics of content marketing and promotion such as marking up your article with the proper schema/JSON-LD tags, paying to promote it on social media (that’s right, social is still pay to play!), sending out a link in your email blasts and other things like that.
It’s very easy to take a ‘just write good content and you’re set!’ mentality but that’s not how it works. You need to write and promote your content properly. Writing is only half of the battle, but promotion is a story for another day.