Why Your Content is Facing an Uphill Battle

Content marketing is no longer optional for businesses – at least not if you care about being mountainvisible and reaching customers on the web. But a lot of people doing it are struggling to see the kind of results they want.

If you feel like you’ve been putting so much time, money, and energy into content marketing without seeing much response, it’s not just you. For anyone starting content marketing now, and even most of those who got started in the in past year or two, you’re facing a challenge on par with scaling a mountain.

Moz research found that the vast majority of content businesses are publishing never gets shared or linked to at all. In a lot of cases, that’s probably because the content’s not all that good to begin with. But that’s not necessarily the case across the board. In our era of content saturation, good content gets ignored too.

The odds really are stacked against the average joe business trying to get noticed on the web with content.

That’s because, right now, content marketing success primarily falls to two categories of businesses:

  • The early adopters

    These are the guys that started content marketing over five years ago, sometimes over ten. They were the first in their space (or close to it) and created some of the cornerstone, established content that people in their industry have been looking to for years.

    Other influencers in the industry (and Google) all see them as an authority already. They can keep doing what they’ve been doing and it will keep working for them, but if you try to do the same, you’re starting out much further behind.

  • The businesses with the most money to invest

    ViperChill recently published an eye-opening post on the companies that dominate search. They found that just 16 companies – behemoths like Hearst and Time – own the vast majority of websites that rank for a wide range of lucrative keywords. From software to food to health and pretty much everything else you can think of, these companies claim most of the top spots in Google.

Why It’s So Hard to Outrank These Guys

The initial thought that inspired this post came from working on a recent post on how writers choose what websites to link to, which gave me cause to really think about my own research process when working on a post.

When I go looking for examples, data, relevant extra info to back my points up – I go to Google. The stuff that’s already showing up on page one and two is the stuff I’m most likely to click on and read, and therefore the stuff I’m most likely to link to within a post of my own. Is it fair? No. But how much work would I have to do to find your awesome post – even if it’s better than the stuff on page one – if it’s sitting on page 13?

That creates a cycle. The content that’s already doing well in search is the stuff I’m most likely to find and link to, which keeps it high up in the search. And as the ViperChill article makes clear, since many companies are using their high-authority websites to link to their new websites, the new sites with the best chance of breaking that cycle are those that already have an unfair advantage.

What Can You About It?

It’s good to know what you’re up against to keep your expectations realistic, but that’s no reason to revel in doom and gloom. Plenty of adventurous people actually do manage to scale mountains – but only with the proper preparation and plan.

Content marketing is hard, much harder than it used to be. But that doesn’t mean your case is hopeless and it’s better not to try.

Commit, all the way.

First off, you can’t just throw up a blog, put together some haphazard content once a week, tweet here and there and think that’ll work for you. If you’re going to get anything out of content marketing you have to make a real commitment to doing it right.

That means:

  • Taking the time to understand your audience and develop a strategy based on what they care about and need.
  • Being consistent with your content production. Don’t overdo it in the beginning, get burned out, and let it dwindle to almost nothing. Figure out what you can do realistically and stick with that.
  • Don’t just produce content. That’s not all content marketing is. Do the work to get your content in front of people and stay connected with those people once they find you.

Promote.

Publishing relevant content was once enough for those early adopters, but if you don’t fall into that category, it’s not enough for you. You need to do the extra work of promoting your content to help get it in front of people.

At this point in the game, a lot of your best promotion options will mean spending some money or committing some serious time. That could mean buying social media ads, trying paid distribution platforms, or putting in the work (or hiring someone) to help you land some big guest posts that will get you attention.

You’ll have to do some testing to figure out what types of promotion work best for your content and audience. Whatever form it takes, promotion needs to be an important part of your content strategy.

Target and interact with influencers.

When you look at those early adopters, you shouldn’t just see the people that were lucky to get on the bandwagon early, you should see potential contacts that may be able to help you. Work to get on their radar.

Interact with them on social media. Comment on their blog. Go to conferences or networking events they may be at. Share their content.

One of the best ways to make the kinds of valuable connections online that lead to a larger reach and more links is to actually make connections with the people behind those websites and links. Don’t be creepy or demanding. But do let them know you’re paying attention to their work and appreciate it.

Over time, those interactions could lead to an actual relationship, a guest post on their blog that drives traffic to your website, or a tendency to share your stuff (now that they know it exists).

Expect to play the long game.

Even if you do everything right, it takes time to build up authority. Don’t expect any one thing you do to be the magic bullet that launches you to visibility online. You have to do a lot of different little things and keep doing them for a while.

Pay attention to what’s working as you go so you can tweak your strategy over time. And don’t get discouraged and drop everything when you don’t see results right away. You’ll just end up that much further behind when you decide in a year or five that actually you should have stuck with this content marketing thing after all. Better to stay on top of it now.

Don’t set all your store on Google.

Google matters in online visibility. Of course it does. But it shouldn’t be the end all be all of your marketing plans, if for no other reason than that, right now, it’s out of reach for a lot of businesses – at least if you’re interested in keywords that are at all competitive.

Focus on reaching people through whatever other channels you can find. As more people find and trust you through other places, over time you may find your authority in Google growing. But by then you won’t be dependent on Google anyway.

Why It’s Time to Re-Consider How You Think About Competition

Austin is a city full of freelancers in general, and freelance copywriters in particular. In this town, meeting other people who do what I do is common. From a competitive perspective, that makes it sound like a terrible place to be a freelance copywriter. In my experience, the exact opposite is true.

Instead of viewing each other as the enemy, we help each other out. I’m part of a freelance referral network that has brought me thousands of dollars in business, much of it sent directly my way by other local freelance copywriters – my so-called “competition.” And I know some of them have profited from jobs I’ve passed on because I was too busy or they weren’t a good fit.

Befriending my competition may just be the best thing I’ve ever done for my business.

How Do You View Your Competitors?

Whenever I encounter clients who insist that nothing they publish can include links or references to their content marketing competitioncompetitors, I usually shrug and oblige, but I always think what a missed opportunity. These are the businesses that share your target audience, and that are probably producing content that would be of great use to them. Is trying to pretend they don’t exist actually going to bring you more business?

If you view your competitors as a threat to the degree that you worry any mention of them could hurt your company, take a minute to analyze why. Is this really a strategic decision, or one borne of fear?

Why Content Marketing Doesn’t Have Room for “Competitors”

The big goal is to provide value to your audience, right? Content marketing is a long-term strategy designed in large part to gain customer trust. You know what makes me really trust a company, if they’re not afraid to admit a direct competitor has done something good.

Whether that’s an impressive piece of content they’re willing to share, or acknowledging that a feature in the competitor’s product makes them the better choice for some customers. Man, I hear that and think: this company is confident in their product and positioning.

Still Skeptical?

All my arguing for this so far has been based on my personal opinions and anecdotes, so I could see someone being unconvinced. But I’m not alone in this thinking. KISSmetrics, one of the top blogs out there in the marketing space, gives tips for growing your social media following that include following your competitors, commenting on their posts, offering to guest post on their websites, and promoting their stuff. But that’s just social media; I argue that there could be a clear value to publishing content that directly mentions your competitors or links to them.

Imagine for a minute that you’re the first person anyone looking for products or services in your industry comes to when they have a question about what to buy. How different would your business be?

Marcus Sheridan pretty much pulled that off with his pool business by publishing content about his competitors – not negative content, just informational stuff. He paid attention to the kind of questions his clients had and he answered them honestly on his website, even when it meant saying something positive about one of his competitors.

If you’re interested in using content marketing to become a thought leader, or even just a trusted brand, then the fear of mentioning your competition has got to go. You don’t have to go out of your way to promote and interact with them (obviously), just be willing to do so when it fits in naturally with your overall strategy. If the product or services you offer are really and truly great, then what do you have to fear?

On Content Marketing Semantics: Can’t We Just Get Along?

Over a year ago, I started a discussion in a LinkedIn copywriters group* asking members what they saw as the

content marketing vs inbound fight

Hopefully no one gets this mad.
Image via Tambako the Jaguar on flickr.com

difference between the terms copywriting and content marketing. I was surprised to learn from the comments on the post that:

a) Many of the people in the group had an opposite idea of the difference in meaning for the two terms than I did. The idea that content marketing was a subset of the larger term “copywriting” was popular – although I (and presumably, most content marketers) would see copywriting, or even content writing, as one part of the larger content marketing whole.

b) People were very opinionated on the subject.

I guess that latter point shouldn’t have surprised me, but the level of defensiveness of the term people were most used to and dismissiveness of something different was significant.

Every so often, a discussion with a similar tone (very much including the aforementioned defensiveness and dismissiveness) comes up around the terms content marketing and inbound marketing. Sometimes terms like online marketing and permission marketing get thrown into the mix just to make the whole thing a bit messier.

The result inevitably includes a lot of passionate comments, strong opinions, and lengthy explanations on why varying opinions are more correct than others.

These discussions have been happening with these particular terms for at least five years (exhibit A, from 2010, but for more examples of the tone described, see exhibit B, from 2011). As far as I can tell, everyone I’ve encountered who practices content marketing also considers themselves to be practicing inbound marketing, which makes the passion and disagreement on display in these discussions more than a little confusing.

Here’s my take: I don’t have any interest in defining the differences in the terms, because for all my intents and purposes, they point toward the same sort of work and goals. Some people think term A includes term B, but is broader. Other people argue the same, but with the equation flipped. I think it doesn’t matter much either way.

As a content writer, I relate a bit more to the term content marketing(it’s also the term I came across first, which probably makes a difference), but I immediately related to the ideology behind inbound marketing once I found my way to it. We’re all just trying to create content good enough, people would pay for it (as Jay Baer so memorably put it) on the path getting more customers and establishing better relationships with them.

While it’s valuable to argue semantics up to the point that you confirm you and your audience are on the same page, beyond that it can get more destructive than useful. Both terms were made up within the past few years and both will evolve to mean something different in the years to come. In the meantime, let’s just focus on doing quality work that helps clients and customers alike.

 

*The link to that discussion is here, but I don’t think you’ll be able to access it unless signed into LinkedIn and a member of the group.

9 Expert Content Strategists on How to Be a Better Content Writer

Be a Better Content Writer

Content writers know the importance of trying to get inside readers’ heads to tap into what matters to them most, but that penchant for empathy doesn’t always extend to those other people we’re doing our writing for. We can’t read the minds of the people who are hiring us, but the simple solution to that is a willingness to ask.

With content marketing one of the fastest growing and most lucrative industries for professional writers to work in today, many of us are increasingly likely to find ourselves answering to people with the newly familiar title of “content strategist.” In the interest of tapping into what’s going on the heads of these content strategists (without trying to read minds), I’ve asked a few of them just what they value most in a content writer.

Here’s what they had to say:

9 Expert Opinions on What Makes a Great Content Writer

1) “I appreciate writers who have a clear understanding of their skills, strengths, and things they’re not as good at.

I love when writers ask smart questions upfront and ‘group’ their questions when they have to ask during the project. It’s so much easier to field than one email after another.

The most organized writers anticipate an editor or content strategist’s needs. They proactively research organic search terms, they craft concise pitches and cite expected sources, and they reach out on a regular basis (once a quarter is ideal) to see what they can help with.”

Kirsten Longnecker
Content Strategist, BancVue

2) “I most appreciate content writing that reminds me of my academic roots in creative writing and analysis. I am looking for a voice that pops off the page — an intellectual heft, an analytical rigor, and the kind of word choices that will stick with me long after I’ve left work for the day. It’s all possible in the content world, but only when writers, editors, and content developers lead the way.”

Leah Levy
Content Strategist and Copywriter, Just Start Storytelling

3) “Adaptation.  This is really broad and can apply to many different situations. Whether it’s taking feedback and adapting content accordingly, seeing a blog post fall flat and adapting the headline/tone/format the next time around, or taking something that’s complex and technical and adapting it for a more general audience — the ability to mold and shape content is absolutely necessary.

Curiosity. Ask questions! When I work with content writers who ask a lot of questions, the end product is usually a better, more performant piece of content. Writers should be asking “who is the target audience?,” “at what point in the buying cycle will someone be exposed to this piece of content?,” “how much should I assume they know about this topic?,” “how will the target audience benefit from reading this piece of content?,” “what is the intended call to action after reading this?”

Hannah Simon
Content Strategist, Fastly

4) “One quality I find indispensable in a writer is curiosity. The best writers are incurably enthusiastic and want to learn as much as possible about the subject of their writing. I’d rather read a curious neophyte writing about a technical topic than a complacent expert! Curious writers unearth interesting facts and make insightful connections. And their energy is infectious.”

Melanie Seibert
Content Strategist, Razorfish

5) “Coming from the magazine world and into content development, the most important things for me are the age-old elements. Know your audience and know the voice of the site. Certainly, great writing is great writing but if that writing fails to take into account the brand persona and audience, then you’ve just lost an opportunity to connect and convert.”

Lara Zuehlke
Account Supervisor, Pierpont Communications

6) “The quality we most appreciate in the content writers we work with is their willingness to learn. We want to develop long-term relationships with the writers who develop content for our clients which means we play a very collaborative role in creation. Being willing to learn all there is to know about the client and their business, accept feedback, and then of course apply what has been learned to future content is a huge benefit to everyone in the relationship.”

Mack Fogelson
CEO, Mack Web

7) “For me it’s a little bit of a two-pronged approach and trying to find a balance between them.

I used to value writers who excelled at audience engagement – creativity and passion and being able to really get inside the mind of the persona – even if their process was chaotic.

But as we move to a more structured approach to content, I’m really finding that I value content writers that can also organize their thoughts clearly, deliver outlines in advance of drafts, who know how to research and footnote material. It’s no longer just about engagement – the structure and process are critical as well.

Jenny Magic
Principal/VP of Content Strategy, Sitegoals

8) “When I hire writers – I do so because I want to bring their view of the world to an issue that I or my client is trying to communicate.   Alignment and agreement is important – but so is (in many cases) disagreement and (in almost all cases) a unique perspective.

So many times writers want to ‘write what they think the client wants’ instead of bringing their unique talents and point of view to the table.  Certainly there’s a place for writing in a different voice (e.g. ghost writing) and trying to match tone and perspective. But, most of the time what I appreciate and value about a content writer is that they have the ability to tell a story in a unique and differentiated way.”

Robert Rose
Chief Strategist, Content Marketing Institute

9) “Given the space I work in: the ability to clearly communicate fresh ideas.

I’m all for pretty prose, but in content marketing it’s all about educating customers; this places priority on clarity over articulacy, and demands an ability to argue unique perspectives. In other words, I mostly value a writer’s ability to think clearly and then put those thoughts to page over their ability to ‘write well.’ Perhaps they are one and the same, though. :)”

Gregory Ciotti
Content Strategist, Help Scout

Edit: Bonus Tip!

One strategist got back to me after the post went up, but I didn’t want to deprive anyone of her great advice.

“I need people who are super curious and constantly educating themselves about all the different areas of content strategy, particularly UX and metadata basics. Great writing only goes so far! :)”

Kristina Halvorson
Content Strategist, Brain Traffic

One thing that quickly becomes clear through these answers is that not every content strategist has the same priorities when it comes to finding a great content writer, which goes to show that much of being good at your work is finding the employer or client that’s a great fit for you.

There are a few key themes we see emerge though:

 

  • Curiosity

 

      – A good writer has got to be a great researcher and that’s a skill that usually comes from having a driving curiosity to learn new things. The best writers

like

      that process of digging up new information on a topic and becoming a mini-expert in every little thing their readers want to know about.

 

  • Creativity

– Good writing is not formulaic, it brings something unique to the table to help keep the reader interested. While that curiosity-driven research takes care of the background work, creativity is what makes for greater skill in the writing process itself. Choosing the best possible words, finding the right voice, bringing some humor into a piece ­– these are some of the kinds of creative skills that really set content writers apart.

 

So there you have it, the things content strategists care about the most when it comes to the work you do for them aren’t those nitty gritty values like meeting deadlines or crafting the right headlines (although I’m sure they’d all be quick to say those matter too). It’s more about the most basic personality traits that drove many of us to become writers in the first place: the desire to continually learn new things and stretch our creativity muscle.

How Bloggers Blog: The Survey

Do you blog?

The number of people that answer that question with a “yes” continues to grow.

Blogging can look really different depending on who’s doing it.  A blog that’s mostly meant as a fun way to work out your thoughts or track your experiences on vacation will provide a different experience than the blogs meant to help promote a business. Even within the latter category though, how people blog varies.

To get a clearer picture of what business blogging looks like, Orbit Media took a survey. What they found, as expected, is that there’s a wide variety in how bloggers blog. Even so, they were able to pull out a few key trends in the blogging process.

  • Most bloggers spend less than 2 hours on each post, but it’s not unheard of to spend over 6 hours.
  • Bloggers don’t keep normal business hours. They write whenever they can fit it in, or when an idea hits.
  • Most bloggers work from a home office.
  • Many bloggers publish new posts multiple times a week.
  • Few bloggers have editors.
  • The main blogging promotion tools used are social media and SEO.

Not too many of those surveyed were freelance bloggers, but the survey findings match my experiences pretty well.

There’s no one right way to blog. Anyone who works in a creative field knows that you just have to figure out what works best for you.

If you want your blog to succeed as a business tool though, there are a few key things you need to keep in mind.

For a more in depth look at what you need to do to build a more successful business blog, download the Austin Copywriter report on the subject.

So what about you? How do you blog?