Search engines demand great content. Every few weeks it seems that another SEO shift occurs, from small but potent updates like Panda to completely new algorithms like Hummingbird, pushing things away from the arena of keywords. Intent of inquiry and quality of content should guide us as we move into 2014. But how do you create great content?
First you need to take a look at the three main types of content, broken out by their purpose.
Three Goals, Three Types of Content
Goal One: Engagement
Engagement calls for broad, searchable, and relevant content. Anyone who has ever seen Jaws or watched Shark Week will be familiar with the idea of “chumming the waters,” the act of throwing fish and bait into the ocean to attract sharks before actually putting out hooks.
In your case the chum is helpful and useful content. Content that attracts people to your brand and expands your audience. You want readers to get excited about your content as you prepare to move toward goal number two.
Goal Two: Offering Resources and Capturing Leads
Visitors are wonderful and hits are to be desired, but that is far from enough. Converting visitors to leads is the goal. You’ve all seen this in action across the Web: When a website asks you for your email address or gets you to sign up for something, this is exactly what the website is doing — generating leads.
Because people are loathe to sign up for things unless they see a tangible value to doing so, it is up to you to provide motivation. White papers, eBooks, podcasts, and other resources related to your company are common offerings to incentivize sign-ups.
Never underestimate the value of a solid email list. There is a reason that black-hat companies sell them on the open market, despite their offerings often being out of date or of questionable value. Building your own list may be time-consuming, but it is a resource that continually grows in value. As it gets larger, your email list will be a vital tool for educating people about your products, services, and brand — an important step toward making a pitch.
This type of content is very much the gift that keeps on giving, because once it is set up, it runs in the background as an engagement opportunity for all of your website visitors.
Goal Three: Offers and Sales Opportunities
Closure content is the term used for specific sales offers. Be sparing with these to avoid audience burnout. Today’s media savvy readers tire of outright sales pitches very rapidly. My advice is that one in five pieces of content should be of this type. If you’re doing a good job of providing value with your other posts, that should give you a solid mix. Once an audience is used to coming to your website as a trusted source of information, the periodic offers will have a much easier time gaining traction.
Content Mills: Just Don’t Do It
The goals of Google’s search updates over the past few years have all been geared toward bringing good content to the surface and burying this stuff. That alone should make you wary.
BuzzFeed, Upworthy, Demand Media and other websites of a similar nature blast massive amounts of links across the Internet and quite often can produce impressive page view metrics. It looks impressive, but hits alone are not enough. VentureBeat gives a great bit of insight into the reasons why:
Virality mills love talking about the keys to their success — premium content and an effective social media strategy — but for whom, and to what end? Great content is not which generates millions of views, but which accomplishes a goal for you. And that goal isn’t, or shouldn’t be, chasing page views at all costs. Similarly, an effective social media strategy shouldn’t be purely focused on exposure, rather on building relationships and solving problems. In this context it begins to make more sense why Facebook would want to demote viral content mills from the Newsfeed in favor of higher-quality publications.
It’s all about goals. Having a post take off on Reddit or get tons of shares on Upworthy can look like it is putting some wind in your sails, but if you want return on investment you will often find it lacking. It’s nice when something gets shared, but all efforts should be aimed at achieving your brand’s goals. Since traffic spikes like this rarely produce any return traffic after the fact, content mills are more a placebo than a shot in the arm.
No, I don’t mean English or French. The important thing about language in this context is the proper word choice. Shorter sentences are better than long ones. Certain words are proven to be better at eliciting the reactions you’re looking for.
Make it personal. The word “you” or the use of someone’s name adds a personal touch. Research shows that personal references make people trust a message much more.
There is an old joke in the music industry — if you want to fill a club, advertise a band named “Free Beer.” People love the word free, especially in an environment of economic uncertainty like the one we live in today.
Another word that is shown to trigger direct response in the brain is “new.” This is considered axiomatic, but it is not always appropriate. Applied to products and services “new” is a positive, but for brands this is not the case. Humans tend to trust established or familiar brands more than new ones, so be careful how you use this vocabulary word.
Content is king, but successful monarchs reign intelligently. Avoid the false opportunity presented by content mills. Hits aren’t worth much if they don’t move you toward. Keep in mind the three goals and the types of content that go with each. These little shifts in content style will prove themselves over the long haul. Write for the tablet and mobile reader, using shorter sentences and evocative language.
Good content is a process. One quality blog post won’t do much for you, but an ongoing series of them can help you establish thought leadership and trust in your field. If you don’t think you have the time or the ability to consistently create such content, contact us here at SixEstate — we have a staff of online journalists covering many fields waiting to breathe new life into your efforts!
Image by Adrián Pérez.
George “Loki” Williams is the community and brand manager for award wining game company Savage Mojo, Ltd. and the owner of SocialGumbo, LLC, an online consultancy specializing in Web content and online communications. Loki has produced content for clients including the Open Society Institute, National Association of Broadcasters, Kobold Press, and Kaiser Permanente. His work has been seen or written about in The New York Times, The BBC, Air America, The Gambit Weekly, and NOLA.com, among others.