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.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is the true impact of content on SEO?
- 2 How does content engage a target audience? What is the net impact of this engagement when it is positive or negative?
- 3 How is content used for brand positioning? What are examples of where this worked and where it didn’t?
- 4 How can a piece of content build advocacy and mindshare? How is this leveraged in terms of inbound marketing?
- 5 How is content used for signaling to search engines, your target audience, and other influencers within an industry?
- 6 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?
What is the true impact of content on SEO?
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.
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.
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..
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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’
Wow. REI and Vans are really good examples of utilizing content for positive brand positioning.
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:
- They convey to their users the power of their algorithm, and
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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…
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.
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…
Anyone ever called you a mind-reader before?
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
That was a long posts, huh? Thank you for taking the time to give us your attention and hopefully gain some useful information. You can see what other content strategy producers from the industry are saying.
I am going to finish where I started; please join in our conversation and share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.