An Open Conversation About Content Strategy

by Nick · 37 comments

in Content Strategy

An Open Conversation About Content Strategy
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I invited my friend Anthony Pensabene to participate in this conversation with me; if you are reading this I would also like to invite you to add to our open conversation via the comments.

Anthony is a talented content strategist who has always expressed strong feelings about the role content should play within overall marketing strategy.

What you are about to embark on is a relatively informal set of questions and responses that dives into content marketing from the strategy perspective.

This is intended to be an open conversation, meaning we want to hear read your responses to these questions, your responses to our responses, and in general get your feedback on the topic. Thank you for reading.

What is the true impact of content on SEO?

Anthony Pensabene Anthony Pensabene

I might blow some minds right now.  So be it.  I don’t really like “SEO.”  Let me explain.  I like SEO theory not SEO application.  Peoples done ruined it.

Marketing necessitates content, not SEO.  SEO was inspired by the structure of the Web.  ”Search engine optimization” is just a theory.  ”Optimization” is a theoretical ‘zen.’  You can never truly optimize anything…

The search engines are in a state of complete flux.

Dr. Pete who is a puppeteer, genius, and good citizen of the community, established that via his Mozcon presentation.  He also explained in his 2 Metrics That Matter post, that good rank (which is the best an “engine” can give?) does not guarantee good on-site stats or eventual conversions (yeah..conversions..that’s really what brands are ultimately after, right?)

So marketing always necessitated content.  Business always necessitated marketing.  You need some basic content to start search engine optimization.  I don’t think the content need be stellar for ‘engine optimization’…

If we’re talking about business optimization and achieving conversions, then CONTENT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.  It’s largely how a brand communicates with its target market…done and done.

Nick Eubanks Nick Eubanks

I couldn’t agree more. Marketing implies content which implies SEO, and not the other way around.

I think this is one of the fundamental downfalls of SEO’s turned content marketeers. Content should be created to serve a purpose, provide a solution, or at the very least provide a perspective.

More often than not it seems many internet marketer’s are writing for the sake of writing because SEO has become synonymous with content. This is wrong.

I feel like content has become a crutch for SEO.

I am not so ignorant to believe that SEO can exist exclusive of content; but when content serves and fulfills a need, SEO can be approached after the fact.

Anthony Pensabene Anthony Pensabene

I believe the nature of SEO in its beginning (and to an extent now) inspired some sort of notion associated with a circumvention of… offering quality, knowing people, knowing business… those things (imo) that beget success.

Penguin was a huge marketing litmus test. It’s kind of becoming “if you don’t offer quality or understand marketing, get out the kitchen” scenario..

Nick Eubanks Nick Eubanks

Completely agree. Suddenly you were able to circumvent all of the usual customer acquisition channels and grab buyers directly from search engines and hurdle them through your conversion funnel.

I think to some extent you still needed to know business, but maybe not – perhaps this was more about knowing your audience and being able to trigger the emotions required to create conversions.

The Penguin update was the wheat farmer finally separating out the chaff. I would even take that one step further and say we have arrived. The days of using methods that can be completely automated to build links and generate content are numbered, they still work in a limited capacity but it is diminishing with each passing month.

How does content engage a target audience? What is the net impact of this engagement when it is positive or negative?

Anthony Pensabene Anthony Pensabene

There are no guarantees in marketing.

Let’s do ourselves a favor as marketers; let’s be sadistically realistic. No one is harder on me than my mom me; and I’m willing to admit marketing failure or a level of ‘not as good as should have been’ at times.

Wil Reynolds, who is one of the most entertaining speakers I’ve observed, mentioned failure in his presentation, observing how in doing real company shit, sometimes you fail (failure is a reality.); but real companies are also passionate, keen, and tenacious.

To engage a target audience, one does research of comparable audiences, takes notice of personas, takes notice of popular trends then superimposes them against personas (check Marty Weintraub’s moz presentation), writes for the target audience, observes and tests, and revises moving forward to better the chances of good reception.

Also, time and patience is a huge, less-discussed factor. Great, well-thought, devised-for-end-user, time-devoted, quality-not-quantity devised content (in theory) is a sound method.

Are there guarantees? No.

Just ongoing, founded-due-to-experience-and-passion ‘best’ practices, which should be ever tested and modified; because people are dynamic and ever changing; therefore, tactics in getting their attention and respect being seen in terms of ‘timeless’ or ‘like clockwork’ is better left as exceptions more than rules. (Trying and ever-attending to consumers is timeless…) meaning to continue to ‘aim to please’ .. there is no such thing as a clear-cut formula..their good reception to the brand is not ‘timeless’ or ‘guaranteed’.. brands always need to work consumers.

Good content marketing is like facilitating a good relationship.

The relationship is valued but never ‘given.’ To think so is foolish. The repercussions of content which entertains, stimulates, teaches, and resounds with consumers…is priceless. Providing your end user with shit, tainted with noticeable traces of hastiness and half-assed-ness, has endless potential to do irreparable damage to one’s company.

Again, content is communication. Who/what is your brand? It’s like personal conversations.

Reputation and image is huge. A brand’s content is ALWAYS making some sort of impression.

How important is securing the right message? To me, it’s everything.

Nick Eubanks Nick Eubanks

I believe the brand comes first.

If the greatest link-building or press-grabbing campaign ever designed has the potential to skew the brand perception of a customer segment toward the negative, it fails.

To regurgitate my earlier statement; content needs to serve a purpose, effectively.

It needs to fulfill a desire, need, solve a problem, be entertaining.

Engagement is about finding that virtual park bench where you and your reader sit and chat. Even if you’re doing all of the talking, you can still engage in a conversation-like relationship through your content. You can reinforce ideas they believe in, speak to issues they stand for, make them laugh, cry, angry, excited, all based on the purpose of your content.

Writing with purpose sounds so easy. But so does writing for comprehension, i.e. making something simple to grasp and easy to understand.

Neither of these are true.

The easier something it is to read and relate to, or understand, chances are the harder it was to write.

Net impact of content engagement can be extremely positive and extremely negative.

Content that serves a purpose and engages with readers for the right reasons leads to brand evangelists, product advocates, and near-permanent mind-share.

Content, in almost any form, that is forced, thin, or just plain insulting can degrade and upset your customers.

Anthony Pensabene Anthony Pensabene

I’m close with a family who owns a restaurant.  They truly enjoy the food, operating the restaurant, and the ‘community’ environment they created.  I observe them, and I’m like, “they get it.”  But if I asked them about ‘stratagems’ to use on customers, they would scratch their heads.

They are by no means dense.  They would just not ‘get’ the idea of trying to ‘game’ marketing or not be completely forthright with customers.

It’s a restaurant.  To borrow a line from Dr. Huxtable (80’s child), the proof is in the pudding.  I was talking to the owner the other day.  We were discussing the money-hungry, faceless nature of some larger-sized businesses.  I recognized how he had better control over his brand.  He agreed.  “I’m only as good as my last serving,” he said.

I liked that philosophy a lot.  Under that umbrella, image is everything; and one’s image is contingent on consumer reception.

Nick Eubanks Nick Eubanks

That makes perfect sense. After all a brand can spend tens of years building their image, positioning their products, and some poorly managed content can destroy their customer mind-share overnight. In the instance between Ocean Marketing (the agency/brand representative) and the customer, the content was their email correspondence (literally the communication) and it’s mismanagement resulted in, in my opinion, degradation to the brand.

I recently read a blurb in the August issue of Fast Company magazine covering the “Rules of Social Media” and it made me stop and think… it was: “your customers own your brand.”

This stuck out. Most of time we think of the company as the owner of the brand, after all they control it right? I mean I understand that customers perception of the brand is the brand. But to take that one step further I would go so far as to say a brand’s perceived value is it’s value. As you mentioned; a brand is simply as good as it’s last serving.

So a brand’s reputation is only as good as their last customer interaction; they are only what their customers believe they are.

How is content used for brand positioning? What are examples of where this worked and where it didn’t?

Anthony Pensabene Anthony Pensabene

I think branding is inextricably connected to content (and just about everything a brand does for that matter).

Again, if we’re thinking of content as ‘communication’ then one can theoretical leverage the content to ‘speak’ upon anything.

However, what I think maybe you’re getting at is issuing content to consumers as a ‘branded producer.’  For instance, you want your brand’s personality and unique style to exude from the content while it may not be the immediate focus of it…

A great examples is the Vans brand has a separate media site, OfftheWall.TV.  Vans has always been a brand aligned with ‘counter culture,’ especially counter-culture sports, such as surfing and skating (though I think those sports are anything but counter #ohthetweenageirony).

They know their market; and their market has come to expect particular media and notions from the brand (such as regularly hosting offsite surf events like Vans Triple Crown) Perhaps some of you have noticed Vans shoes ‘coming back‘ in a big way of late?  Vans is very aware of its connection to skating/surfing and the growing popularity of those sports and associated goods/trends.

Another example is REI (they have that smart dude that works for them.)   The ‘travel with REI’ section off their main page caters to their targeted market.  Their content attempts to do everything content should… it’s entertaining, unique, communicative, and tailored toward the target market.

I purposely used Jon Colman.  He’s hella smart regarding UX and could probably provide some insight as to how REI’s attention to UX and purposeful content benefits the brand and drives sales…

As far as some poor examples…I don’t like calling people or businesses ‘out’ as bad examples.  But conceptually, any instance where consumer reception is placed in ancillary focus, one can expect a lesser chance of success.  Sorry is that sounds too theoretical.

My answer, to include all readers, must be:

Readers, content marketing is about your communication with the target market.  Be continuously interested and invested. It’s ongoing.  You’ll get better at ‘reading’ the market, the more interested/invested you become…

There are some examples of intent-to-implement disparity in this article, and BlueGlass used to have a good post on reviving a content promotion campaign’

Nick Eubanks Nick Eubanks

Wow. REI and Vans are really good examples of utilizing content for positive brand positioning.

What immediately comes to mind for me is Windell’s Snowboard Camp, and how a number of their instructors are Burton riders.

Burton is not only a pioneer in the winter sports industry, but they realized a long time ago that the young enthusiasts of today are the Burton professionals of tomorrow.

They have long supported educational programs for young riders, donating gear, lessons, and lodging to help aspiring young riders reach their goals.

This positions them in the minds of their key demographic by supporting their interests, supporting their improvement through education, and the trifecta; putting products in their hands.

Another great example that comes to mind is OK Cupid’s blog, OK Trends.

OK Trends provides detailed data analysis and findings based on the millions of data points that the parent website, OK Cupid, gathers operating as an online dating website.

OK Cupid is not directly in the data business, but this content positions them well on two fronts:

  1. They convey to their users the power of their algorithm, and
  2. They show their level of sophistication and understanding regarding user’s greatest interests; meeting other users.

They have built their brand on “math to get you dates,” and this is in large part due the mounds of time they spend reporting on the research they conduct, which they have found is very sticky for their audience. They combine this data along with some cheeky and fun writing to keep people coming back.

Anthony Pensabene Anthony Pensabene

In reading the question a second time, many of our peers come to mind.  For a one-person to boutique brand setup, content is the front line for branding.

When I come across some “how to gain the attention of an influencer” posts.  I get the same feeling related to some brands using SEO as a sidestep.  Well, to start, think about why they gained attention.  If they are an influencer in our field, it’s likely they regularly offer content in some fashion, whether it’s guest posts, their own blog, helping on forums and Q&As, etc.

AJ Kohn and Dan Shure are two peers I highly respect.  Both gentleman mold their brands via their personalities and industry applications, showcased through their respective brand websites/blogs.

AJ is into the graphic nature of the Web.  He walks his talk on his blog and Gplus profile.  Dan Shure is superman-helpful, always offering help in Moz’s Q&A, lending advice on Twitter, and has even scored some clients by expressing to them what they could be doing better via his blog.

Nick Eubanks Nick Eubanks

Spot on.

I can think of a handful of people right off the top of my head that directly position themselves as thought leaders through the creation of content. In my opinion these are Ross Hudgens, Todd Malicoat, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Alex Hillman to name a few. All thought leaders within their respective industries who as you put it, walk their talk.

I think the main difference here is these people are all very successful content marketer’s because their passion comes through their content (Gary’s book literally calls out ‘cashing in on your passion’). There is nothing more engaging than having a talented person show you their talent, because they love it – and for no other reason.

How can a piece of content build advocacy and mindshare? How is this leveraged in terms of inbound marketing?

Anthony Pensabene Anthony Pensabene

Again, in thinking of content as communication, it’s similar to asking how speaking builds interest/admiration and supplants ideas in peoples’ minds.

The notion is very simple.  What’s difficult is earning the interest, admiration, and ongoing consideration.

Marketing can be incredibly creative and stimulating; but it’s limited to the brand.

If the brand and respective product or service is not grand, the marketing content can only do so much.

Content should  never be misleading or ambiguous.

If your brand’s message, and associated product or service which serves as a physical implementation/extension of that message, is ‘for’ the target market, then it’s all about finding fresh angles to communicate the message to those who are hearing, are willing to hear, and have been listening for some time (if you’re listening right, the market will tell you what it wants…).

It’s a marathon and never a sprint.

Sure, some pieces of content can serendipitously run a viral race; but that’s usually a derivative of savvy, ongoing marketing and not due to an immediately genius idea.

Nick Eubanks Nick Eubanks

For me I think of reading some of Aaron Wall’s stuff back in 2004 when I first found out that what I was doing had a name and even it’s very own acronym.

I remember reading a post , I think it was backlink and pagerank lookup tools, and being excited about finding new information that was helping me think about a relatively new process (at the time there was not widespread awareness of SEO). I subscribed to SEOBook and became a loyal reader. Aaron knew what information I was looking for, he put the time in to do the research, he wrote well and provided me with value I was able to realize.

My readership turned into advocacy , all the while building mind-share through the continued communications and value-add content. Over the next 8 years I would share his content, tell people about his resources, tools, and success with pride and admiration because I believed it was truly helpful… I’ve never met or even conversed with Aaron Wall; this was all through the power of his content.

How is content used for signaling to search engines, your target audience, and other influencers within an industry?

Anthony Pensabene Anthony Pensabene

Good question.

Intent largely shapes content… Let’s start with our users and consumers… Wil Reynolds shows a simple but highly useful tactic to start sleuthing toward user intent.  Just start toying with the Google search box..  For instance, if we had a tire company, I’d put in “tires” then start typing other letters and let the auto suggest give me searcher intent ideas..  Some will be more intuitive.. for example “how to select a tire.”

From there..the producer has to think about what medium is most educational/entertaining for their end user.  For instance, if we were to reference visual cues in tire selection, we’re better off expressing that information through a series of pictures or through video.

The type of results the content is to-be included is also crucial.  Without a brand and advocates actively sharing, the content is logged in an engine’s library.. It’s important to use each engine’s respective ‘dewey decimal system’ to ensure future learners can find the content via associated terms and subject.

If timing is an issue, it would lead me to think about leveraging pay-per-click ads as well as some social media ad platforms (such as Facebook).  I would also think about a landing page just for the time-sensitive content (Bill Sebald just wrote about that).

Authority… I do think (visually) those who implement the rel=author will gain some added perception of authority.  Furthermore, I do believe a regular content provider’s communication to search engines about the subject matter of their regular writings will influence “search authority.”

For instance, AJ writes about Twitter cards.  I believe his focus on the topic, coupled with his blog authority, and personal participation in social media will ‘signal’ engines to serve up his content on behalf of the subject. (I just did a quick search for “Twitter Cards.”  Yoast and AJ are within first seven SERs.)  I do think social cues will come into play, so say for instance if I write something more popular than Danny Sullivan (yeah right) and though Danny has more author ‘juice,’ I do think the popularity of my article would trump his authorship authority (or at least you would hope it would work that way..).

I’m still a strong believer in word-of-mouth… I guess now online, it’s social media.  The content has to be orchestrated for the end user.  Pick a medium and platform.  In theory, I champion the sentiments of marketing.. but we must obey the logistics of search..

AJ Kohn’s mozcon presentation on Google+ really opened my eyes… I always thought of it as a social media platform (like a Facebook); but AJ really opened my eyes to how Gplus implementations graduate on to Web search results.  He showed some examples I couldn’t dismiss… So, I guess where I’m going with that is no matter the nature of your content… first and foremost be mindful of the end user… but be mindful of how to communicate and log that content into the engines…

Take notice of practitioners in the space who place focus on particular mediums and platforms.. for instance.. if I were taking notice of Pinterest and visual platforms, Colby Almond is my guy… Joe Youngblood is into YouTube and music… AJ is your Google+ guy..  and I know Anthony Nelson is savvy with video…

Nick Eubanks Nick Eubanks

I think content can be used to signal all matters of a brand’s capacity. From capabilities and competencies to mindset, direction and approach.

A piece content, as you mentioned, can provide the end-user with enough information to empower them, hopefully enough to make decisions.

In my opinion, this kind of influence cannot be bought.

When content transcends from a static piece of information to an reference point that serves to empower it’s audience with the knowledge to drive decisions, I think of this as a digital asset.

Digital assets can be built into a portfolio, in terms of content this would be viewed more so as a library. A great example of this is the large evergreen content portfolio Jason Acidre has built on his blog. This content is just as useful the moment it is published as it is 6 to 12 months later, this is evidenced by the fact that Jason regularly will share posts that are months or years old because they provide value that is relevant to current discussions or topics within the industry.

How does content attract links, not to the first tier or even the second, but the third and subsequent tiers where a piece of content moves from a blog post to a reference point?

Anthony Pensabene Anthony Pensabene

An evergreen project is more easily said than accomplished, for sure… Definitely, having that evergreen mindset helps.

For instance, you wouldn’t want to write about a specific event…unless you think you can do it so well it will be THE reference point… but it’s still difficult to assume such.

Jon’s was/is a great piece… he’ll have to continuously maintain it and remind us… ‘best’ link building strategies will evolve… Even Moz had to revise its acclaimed “Beginner’s Guides” of late…

Recently, I’ve been thinking something that is communal in application can garner ongoing interest.  So, it will have to be similar to a ‘best of’ post, but be approached more like a forum…

If you can inspire people to return to a Jon-Cooper-like post, and continue adding to it from the comments, complementing the host’s maintenance, that would be something pretty cool and valuable…

Nick Eubanks Nick Eubanks

Anyone ever called you a mind-reader before?

You took the 2 examples that immediately come to mind; Jon’s link building post and the Moz Beginner’s Guide to SEO.

To look a bit closer at how these posts continue to attract links, and more so to the question, how these post’s help reinforce concepts to the extent that they can actually motivate readers to link to bloggers who link to them, we need to look at some of the characteristics:

  • Both provide near-comprehensive lists on their respective topic
  • Both offer a category-esque navigation/filter allowing for only desired chunks to be digested on-demand
  • Both are updated often as needed
  • Both target an extremely competitive keyword phrase
  • SEOmoz offers a lengthy introduction explaining why you need their information and an available PDF download
For all of these reasons these have become staples within the SEO industry and are now commonly used as reference points, not only online but offline in industry-related conversations.

Wow.

That was a long posts, huh? Thank you for taking the time to give us your attention and hopefully gain some useful information.

I am going to finish where I started; please join in our conversation and share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.

About Nick
Nick is the VP of Digital Strategy at W.L. Snook & Associates, Co-Founder of I'm From The Future an ecommerce consultancy, and the author of this SEO Blog. Follow Nick on Google+.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Dyson August 28, 2012 at 9:26 am

Hey guys absolutely awesome post and format… hopefully I can add some additional resources to this awesome discussion.

I think a great example of a company who aren’t afraid to push the boundaries and take risks with their marketing in the UK has to be Wish.co.uk they sell Experience days and they have had a lot of success with them. This past Valentine’s day they offered a “Romantic Break for 3” – How very European!

http://www.metro.co.uk/weird/889989-broad-minded-website-sells-romantic-weekend-break-for-a-threesome

There is a really good post today over at Buzzstream about looking beyond the referral traffic generated from a link in a major publication.

They give a great example of how Kev Gibbons @ Quaturo mentioned them in a recent talk and it lead to an increase in direct and branded organic traffic.

http://www.buzzstream.com/blog/how-to-measure-content-marketing-pr-impact-with-search-volume-tools.html

Reply

Nick Eubanks August 28, 2012 at 9:43 am

Hey Chris – Thanks so much for jumping in the conversation and contributing some great examples!

Haha the romantic getaway for 3 is awesome, and yes very European, I might even go so far as to say a bit French :)

Thanks for the link to Buzzstream, I hadn’t seen that one yet.

Cheers!

Reply

Isaak August 28, 2012 at 9:42 am

I think, in regards to social media campaigns and marketing, you guys left out something very important. Brand authority is the second most important thing after bottom line to most businesses. Nike doesn’t pay millions of dollars to athletes who aren’t the best at what they do. Social Media is the same, to attract your niche market, you have to have the best authorities/experts/practitioners in the industry, or you have to be so incredibly innovative that you create an all new brand loyalty through a crazy PR scheme. It is sad that SEO is a business and not a theory, but that is the way of the digital marketplace. As soon as any advantage can be taken, it will be, and quickly, mostly by those with out the proper attitude towards what should exist in the world of eCommerce. They will exploit it, and use cheap angles to get further. Though steps like Penguin, and Google’s recent shift against piracy are just a couple of examples where they are trying to limit the effect of the SEO wannabe’s versus the actual industry experts, for every lame SEO marketing strategy that is gets shut down, there are ten to take its place following the new guidelines. It’s no longer punch cards, and knowing what binary even means, computing means the ability to access any information, product, or service instantly, on demand, and have it mobile, so it never has to leave your side. The future of SEO will be the same as regular marketing, those giants that were there in the beginning will be there in the end. Some new players will step in, and some old players will lose out. Content creation is the most important part of any page, but there is no way for a robot to actually “know” which content is “better”, and even that implies that there aren’t multiple audiences for the same theme, but different mediums of content on the page. Great Post BTW. I’m giving this to the other content writers I work with. Hopefully, they’ll read it all the way through. :) -IK

Reply

Nick Eubanks August 28, 2012 at 9:54 am

Isaak – Thanks for the comment.

Nike doesn’t pay millions of dollars to athletes who aren’t the best at what they do. Social Media is the same, to attract your niche market, you have to have the best authorities/experts/practitioners in the industry

Great point! And to your next point, I believe SEO is a theory, just a theory that drives business.

Funny you mention there is no way for a robot to “know” which content is ‘better,’ I think this is completely true, AJ Kohn actually makes a strong point in his post on Readability and SEO;

the majority of content on the web is not optimized for readability

and

It’s not only your job to write well, but write in a way that is accessible.

Which, in my opinion, hit at the core of what content must be… useful, accessible, and digestible. This is a point I approached in the conversation above when I said content must serve a purpose and optimization can be an afterthought…

Thanks again for all the feeback; I really appreciate it.

Reply

Michelle Lowery August 28, 2012 at 9:51 am

Thank you both for putting together a fantastic post. I have to say, the tide turning from SEO toward content feels like validation for things content creators (including me) have been saying and thinking for years now. So many SEOs and Internet marketers seemed to treat content as an afterthought in the past, an area to place keywords and backlinks and not much more.

Anthony, I love what you said about intent shaping content. I couldn’t agree more. When writing, doing keyword research, or doing pretty much anything else related to producing content, I try to put myself in the reader’s/customer’s shoes. After all, I’m a reader and a consumer, too, and if I let myself get too far removed from that, anything I write won’t be genuine.

And Nick, this part: “…being able to trigger the emotions required to create conversions.” I was JUST discussing that with someone on Twitter recently! I think a lot of people look at marketing as manipulation, and maybe in some ways it is. But I think you get more out of it when you try to connect with people on a deeper level and try to get them to feel something, rather than try to make them click something. I’m actually in the middle of writing a post about that.

Thanks, also, for including so many great resources. I have some new blogs to read and new people to connect with now. :-)

Reply

Nick Eubanks August 28, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Michelle – Thanks so much for taking the time to add such a thoughtful comment.

I personally couldn’t agree more with your sentiment regarding Anthony’s strong feelings towards the purpose of content and serving user intent.

Thanks for noticing :) If I’ve learned anything over the years; the most successful campaigns representing the most successful brands put true human connections at the heart of their marketing; and when marketing exudes human emotion it’s easy for people to connect with it.

Cheers!

Reply

Chris Dyson August 28, 2012 at 10:00 am

It goes to show that “content marketing” doesn’t have to be expensive and as Anthony pointed out if you are doing #rcs you are continually iterating and learning from what does and doesn’t work.

The most successful content is something that will cause an emotional response as John Kearon put’s it… ”We are feeling creatures. Content matters so much LESS than you think it does. Do something shocking or exhilarating in your marketing, but don’t be bland. If people feel nothing, they do nothing.”

Reply

AJ Kohn August 28, 2012 at 11:25 am

Lots of great stuff here and I’m glad that there’s a continuing dialog about the real value of content.

I feel like content is being treated as a commodity of sorts by some in the SEO community. That it can just be cranked out on some assembly line as so many other tactics have in the past.

Bill Sebald had a great piece the other day about this very issue with a focus on the ‘top x things’ template that has become a standard for many sites and blogs.

http://greenlaneseo.com/blog/2012/08/being-actionable-vs-phoning-it-in/

As you’ve discussed, content must have purpose. It has to fill a need. It has to match intent with relevance and value. And above all else it must be authentic.

Content produced without these elements will simply sit there like that bean you planted in 2nd grade that never sprouted.

I think there’s also a false positive on much of the content produced by popular authors or sites. I generally find Seth Godin to be pretty trite these days yet he could sneeze on his blog and it would get hundreds of Tweets.

Or how about all those SEO blogs who recap the latest Google feature announcement? Maybe that’s helping them capture more readers but is it truly good content? I rarely see much value in those day-of, first-to-talk-about-it posts.

The 124 tips that can save your business posts or the 100 best articles on a topic also get a lot of love. Frankly, I think it’s about perception. Many equate more with better. So you see a ‘I should think this is awesome so I’ll say it is awesome’ type of reaction.

In the advertising world there’s the concept of recall. I think most of those list articles have poor recall and as a marketer you should really want to ensure you have high recall. That’s the content that gets passed around and the content that is referenced for months and years to come.

(Content recall – I may have just hit upon a future blog post idea. +100 for commenting as a way to flesh out potential content ideas.)

Reply

Nick Eubanks August 28, 2012 at 1:22 pm

AJ – I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to add your thoughts and validate some of ours…

The idea of content authenticity seems, unfortunately, very new to many who operate in this industry, and in marketing in general.

Funny you should mention false positives, this strikes at the heart of a conversation I was just having last week about many writers (some very well respected) forcing content as I mentioned just for content’s sake. I think you hit the nail on the head with the timely news / announcement reaction posts… do these posts really add value? In my mind, not really. What’s there purpose? To potentially spread information to someone who it may have take an extra day or two to find through other channels? It’s gas on the fire.

Content recall would be a wonderful litmus test for any content creator, giving them the opportunity to ask themselves “what impression does this leave behind?” and to take a page from Anthony’s book, “Is this good enough to be my last serving?”

Thanks again AJ, I look forward to your post :)

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Kyle O'Brien August 28, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Hey guys this was a fantastic exchange. So many points nailed right on the head. I liked the mention about certain brands and their products being limited to a certain degree and that the content has to be marketed with a bit more creativity to make up for that. And sometimes that can be a problem with clients whose scope is mostly (or entirely) local. Whether that’s because of the limited audience or you have a smaller budget to work with, it more or less requires a bit more elbow grease from the marketer. And that’s where getting audience participation into a marketing idea can work wonders if done right.

Whether it’s reaching out to them through Twitter or Facebook and having them go on, for example, a scavenger hunt to piece together clues to an upcoming product and having them share each find not just on the company Twitter feed, but possibly among their friends, that would be a form of gaining consumer interest and letting them share in the experience. And obviously the winner would get some fancy incentive from the client.

Another great point from the discussion was on the “evergreen” pieces. Wholeheartedly agree and I’d throw in Mike King’s Zelda-themed post on outreach tactics as an example of having content that not just stands the test of time but is still actively being discussed all the same.
http://www.seomoz.org/blog/throw-away-your-form-letters-or-5-principles-to-better-outreach-link-building

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Nick Eubanks August 28, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Hey Kyle,

Thanks for taking the time to join in the conversation.

The idea to use something like a scavenger hunt is not something I’ve heard before; that could be a lot of fun (and effective) for a local business that is looking to engage it’s target audience and add some fun into the mix.

Mike’s post is a great example, in fact, he’s created a number of evergreen posts already this year. I immediately think of his ‘New SEO Process’ which is still very frequently referred to in new posts and was first published back in February, his personas post mentioned by Anthony above, or his post on keyword level demographics; all stellar examples of purpose-driven content.

Thanks again for the contribution.

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Anthony Pensabene August 28, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Wow, thanks to all of you for reading and commenting.. Hey Nick, thank you very much for allowing me to participate and discuss content with you. It was really enjoyable and as AJ echoes in his comment… discussion inspires further thought…

Before I dive in, want to ensure people read Sean’s post today:

http://01100111011001010110010101101011.co.uk/2012/08/couldnt-think-of-a-decent-title/

Chris, your sound comment immediately makes me think of Rand’s sentiment today in his serendipity post. Link building (a form of exposure) relies on content generation as well as relations. What’s better than ‘link building’ or ‘a link’? I would say the NOTION BEHIND IT- advocacy- someone is saying, “Hey, check the thoughts of this brand; they’re good.” That’s “why” a link is worthy… not the related online metric…

AJ, always have me thinking. You pretty much wrote a mini post here. Thank you for adding value. This made me smile (“commenting as a way to flesh out ideas..”) Yep! I’ve recently been thinking of the ‘shelf life’ of most posts.. Too much in conjunction with little actual progress in conjunction with little tenacity.. for instance, Gianluca’s ‘Wake Up SEO’s’ post was a monster. I have to stop my heading from nodding in agreement.. That was months ago.. a lot has happened since then.. there sure has been a lot of content published.. too much to reflect actual progression? It demands a new approach to creation and reception..

Michelle, I’ve been reading your thoughts for some time and always enjoyed your integration of content into strategy. I too (perhaps due to my personal interests) have been entertaining philosophies, which just recently have been gaining more ‘votes.’ I especially celebrate the notion of a return to ‘marketing.’ You can paint your horse any color you like, but it’s still…

I’d love for more people to add to the convo.. as Nick properly titles this, it’s an open discussion. We value the thoughts of our peers!

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Michelle Lowery August 28, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Thanks, Nick! I completely agree with you–marketing and emotion go hand in hand. Or rather, the most successful marketing.

Thank you so much, Anthony. I truly appreciate that. I also enjoy reading your entertaining and informative treatises on content! :-)

AJ, your comment does seem like a mini-post, and I mean that in the best way. I’ve often thought the same thing about Seth Godin, and a few other “names.” They write or tweet platitudes, which are then shared like gospel. It boggles my mind. I look forward to your post on content recall!

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Anthony D. Nelson August 28, 2012 at 3:22 pm

This is one of the more enjoyable posts that I’ve read in some time. As others noted, I enjoyed the format.

I see a lot of people struggling with all of the changes in SEO. Many people simply struggling with themselves, not knowing what to call their own job. Some SEOs seem to fear that they don’t know content marketing well enough. Some seem to fear that pitching content will place their business in direct competition with bigger, more traditional agencies. I for one, welcome the change and challenge. I know for certain, that I won’t miss the days of submitting websites to directories or getting links on pages that no one will ever see.

Working in-house, I’ve often been considered the technical SEO, the link builder or the nerd with the SEOmoz cup. My recent challenge has been to further integrate myself with the content team. I’ve found that many writers and designers don’t have the understanding of “good content” that SEOs do, due to some SEOs telling them about meta titles and KW density a few years ago and still believing all holds true. Creating content is no longer a good goal to have. Creating useful and unique content is.

This is the moment where I realize my comment rambles way to much and consider deleting the whole thing. I’ll submit anyway.

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Nick Eubanks August 28, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Hey Anthony – That’s great feedback. Anthony (#2 I guess) and I threw around a lot of ideas trying to figure out how to move a conversation into a blog post without losing the element of engagement of going from voice to text. Seems to be relatively well received.

I think your approach is really the only way to look at it; welcome the change and challenge, embrace it, and start building. I have had the pleasure to work in/with a lot of industries over the past decade and hands down SEO is the most dynamic, hell we’re all chasing a target that is moving through the shadows and only provide cryptic validation (at best).

“Creating useful and unique content” is a fundamental paradigm shift that is going to take time to makes it way into marketing agencies and in-house teams. So much of the water has been polluted with snake-oil, misinformation and general misconception that it is going to take some serious cleaning and re-purposing before many of us will be received as anything other than spammers.

No rambles, quite the contrary; thanks for adding to the conversation.

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Joel August 30, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Wow, what a discussion!

I have very little to add as my head is swimming, but I think one thing we forget is that while we ultimately want to “invite our customers to the bench for a chat”, sometimes customers are just looking for a transactional conversation: Give me the info I need, right now, goodbye.

Yes, we want to brand build, we want to be creative and expressive and build a brand that our customers can own and run with. But on the medium of the web, when we look to sales the primary goal is often answering pain points.

MAKE LIFE EASIER. Make information digestible.

Insofar as your guys’ musings on the early iterations of SEO, you awoke some thoughts in me. SEO has had the attitude of entitlement and circumnavigation of communication for years. Rank, sell. Content was delegated to writers and UX folks because experience became secondary to the holy grail of visibility. Business sense got lost. “Marketing” got taken out of “online marketing”.

Thought provoking. But, I’d rather talk this out further over beers, so I think I may need to schedule some flights.

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Nick August 30, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Joel – I would say you lied about not having much to add…

Your points about the old-school attitude of rank, sell and marketing being seemingly dropped from ‘online marketing’ are smacking the nail on the head pretty hard. I think you have inspired a new post…

Thank you.

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SEO Company Brisbane October 16, 2012 at 12:30 am

This is a good way to know about others comments about content strategy. Content plays an important role in marketing.

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Simple Start SEO July 4, 2013 at 9:24 pm

If there is one thing you need to start with, or even remember it’s that content drives the Internet, and consumers are looking for information that solves a problem, not immediate sales pitches. If you are a small business owner, the last thing you want to do is boast about how you are the best, cheapest, most reliable, or friendliest person on the face of the earth that needs to be hired without question. You need to educate your potential customer with pages of informational content, answers to complicated questions, tips on what to look for before purchasing, and other items that someone searching for your services might want to know about. The trust, credibility, and authority that small business content marketing creates knocks down sales resistance, all while providing a baseline introduction to the benefits of a particular product or service any business offers.

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