On Building a Sustainable Content Marketing Program

Content marketing is naturally attractive.

Sustainability isn’t just about how our choices affect the natural environment. It’s about how the systems we build keep working for a long time. Sustainable marketing practices ensure that your business thrives in a healthy marketing ecosystem.

No business has an unlimited budget to dump into marketing activities that return negative ROI. I don’t care how big you are. Whether you’re afforded millions of dollars or limited to your own efforts, all marketing costs your business something. Thinking about your marketing like an ecosystem ensures that every choice directly or indirectly contributes to the conditions that support your business goals.

Useful content, unlike advertising and sales copy, has cumulative, compounding effects for your brand. Content is it’s own product. It’s valuable to your target audience, and it provides evidence of your brand’s authenticity. That’s why 70% of consumers would rather learn about a business through content, as opposed to ads. And 80% of business decision makers prefer to get company information through a series of articles versus an advertisement. The jury is in on content marketing, the stats prove it.

First, Know Your Niche

Would you plant a coconut in an Idaho potato field and expect it to grow? I wouldn’t think so.

Your content has an ideal environment. It’s suited to a specific audience with specific needs, and you can find them in specific places. For all intents and purposes, your content doesn’t exist unless it’s being seen by the people who matter to your business. Go where they are, not just on your own blog. Find influencers, use the social networks they use, and engage in the discussions they want to have.

Content marketing is organic; it’s not a brute force tactic. That’s why it works so well, but only when it actually serves the needs of the target audience in your niche. Don ‘t be a coconut in a potato field.

Help Others Thrive

Fundamentally, it’s not just about content. It’s about identity, relationships and content.

–Amit Singhal, Google Fellow

Ecosystems are built on symbiotic relationships between organisms. Flowers provide nectar for bees; bees polinate flowers to help them reproduce. Great content is just like nectar. Other players in your niche need it, they go looking for it, and they eagerly consume it. They even tell their friends about it.

Great content this way!

OMG you guys! It was awesome, let me tell you about it.

Design your content so that it helps others in your niche do their jobs and get their needs met. It could be that the role you envision for your content is not what your niche needs most, so pay close attention.

Promotional content that serves your needs first won’t create brand advocates out of your readers. That’s not how an ecosystem works, and that’s why so much advertising is becoming less and less of an effective marketing tactic. It doesn’t contribute to the ecosystem.

Experiment and Adapt

Until you’re publishing content out in the wild, it’s difficult to know what kinds of topics will survive and thrive in which environments. Take the time to observe how others in your niche are addressing similar topics to figure out what’s working, then begin experimenting yourself.

Remember, just because others are marketing a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s ideal. In fact, some trends become popular and seem like a really good idea, until everyone realizes they didn’t actually work. Article directories are a perfect example of a dead branch on the content marketing family tree. Other tactics, like press releases or guest blogging, are highly dependent on your industry, the nature of your topic and how it serves your audience. Content isn’t always the right choice to market a business, but assuming it is, everything can be tested and improved. Everything.

Many small improvements yield huge adaptive changes over time. Among the aspects of your content you could test are

  • topics
  • titles
  • tone
  • keywords
  • content type
  • delivery methods
  • social networks
  • time of day and week
  • guest blog hosts
  • sponsored blog hosts
  • content discovery tools

The list goes on, and includes about every content decision you could make. Mailchimp, for example, allows you to A/B test email subject lines, while Optimizely lets you compare on-page content performance. Topsy helps you research which keywords are popular and how they’re being used, and Twitonomy will show you what’s actually working for you on Twitter, and what isn’t.

There’s no such thing as an ideal content marketing plan– finding “product-market fit” within your niche is an evolutionary process. It takes months to develop. And then, once you feel like you’ve got it right, things will have changed, requiring you to adapt your plans again.

If you’re committed to adding value to the ecosystem in which your content lives, doing more of what your audience wants and less of what they don’t, it will always trend toward a sustainable future.

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Posted in Content Marketing, Creating Content, Digital Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Writing Better Content

Why Quality Drives Every Content Decision, No Matter Where You Publish It

Quality content is the gift that keeps on giving.

As a freelance writer, businesses ask me a lot of questions about content development and placement. Even after the many Google updates penalizing websites with low quality content, there are still many businesses that do not understand why they need better content. And for those who do understand, they don’t know where it needs to be placed. In this post, we’re going to discuss what makes content high quality, and where you need to publish it.

What is High Quality Content?

The words “high quality content” get tossed around a lot. But some businesses still don’t seem to know what it exactly means. Lots try to figure it out based on technical aspects. Is it based on just length – are shorter posts considered low quality and longer posts considered high quality? Is it based on relevance? Is it based on a certain percentage of the wording being unique to anything else on the Internet?

The truth is, high quality online content usually meets the following criteria.

  • High quality content is unique. Any content that has gone through software to be “uniquely” duplicated is no longer high quality content.
  • High quality content is as long as it needs to be to fulfill the promise of the title. This can be 600 words, 6,000 words, or anything in between.
  • High quality content is not pushed down or obscured by advertisements.
  • High quality content is not filled with dozens of text links.
  • High quality content is written for people, not search engines.
  • High quality content is relevant to your business, your customers, and your industry.
  • High quality content is generally supported by media – images, video, audio snippets, and/or slideshow presentations.

What it really boils down to is this. If your largest potential customer were to come to your blog today, or to find an article written by your company on a major industry publication, would they be impressed enough to want to learn more about your business? Would they recommend it to their network? Or would they just end up reading a paragraph or two and moving along?

Why You Need Expert Content Creators

Each piece of content your business puts out should be thought of as a vital piece of marketing material. You wouldn’t trust the copy of your business’s main marketing brochure to a person who knows nothing about your business or industry. You wouldn’t trust the copy on your website’s homepage to a person who you paid $5 to either.

So why would you trust your blog content to people who know nothing of your business or industry, and aren’t getting paid enough to care?

You have a few choices when it comes to finding the perfect content creators for your business. Your first option is to look within your business itself. Who are your in-house product or service experts? Do they enjoy writing? If so, you already have some people to count on for blog content development.

If you don’t have in-house experts that love to write, or you do, but they don’t have the time because they are focusing on revenue-generating work, then you need to outsource your content development to experts outside of your business. These can be in the form of freelance writers and guest bloggers.

What is the difference between hiring an expert freelance writer or inviting an expert guest blogger to create content for your website?

  • A freelance writer is someone you will pay to create the exact content you want for your blog. They will write content that they claim under their own byline, or ghostwrite content that can be used with your byline.
  • A guest blogger is someone you will invite to create content for your blog in exchange for allowing them to promote themselves (and usually their business) to your audience.

There are two things you can expect when approaching experts in your industry vs. anyone else.

  • If you reach out to expert freelance writers in your industry, you can expect to pay premium rates for their services.
  • If you open your doors to guest bloggers, you can expect to spend a lot of time screening the submissions to ensure they are, in fact, experts.

While you will have to make a large investment into expert writers to create high quality content for your business, it will be worth it as you will have the kind of content that will attract more visitors to your website, and convert those visitors into leads for your business.

So how do you find expert content creators? Start by looking at the top blogs in your industry – you’ll find a lot of them listed by topic on sites like Alltop. Look at the people who are regularly contributing content that would fit your business and start reaching out to see if these people would be interested in writing for you. You can also use Google searches like site:techcrunch.com “am a freelance writer” and site:techcrunch.com “is a freelance writer” to specifically find people who are available to hire.

Reasons to Invest in Onsite and Offsite Content

Which is better? To place high quality content on your own website or to submit high quality content to other publications in your industry? The answer is both. You need high quality content on your own website for a number of reasons, including the following.

  • You want to have content that people want to share with their social media networks, leading new customer prospects back to your website.
  • You want to have content that you can use to engage with your own social media and email marketing audiences.
  • You want to have content that visitors can peruse to demonstrate your business’s expertise and knowledge in your industry.

With that said, publishing high quality content offsite has its benefits too.

  • You get the chance to gain exposure with your target customers on new platforms.
  • You get to build up your business’s reputation as an industry authority with regular contributions to respected publications.
  • You get to build valuable links back to your business’s website from highly authoritative publications.

References Provide Credibility

This is why you need to invest in both onsite and offsite content. The added bonus to having high quality onsite content while also contributing to other publications is that people who love your work on another website will be able to continue consuming your content on your own website. The added bonus to having high quality offsite content is that you truly say your business has been featured on the top publications, which adds credibility to your business’s reputation.

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Posted in Building a Better Blog, Content Marketing, Creating Content, Social Media Marketing

Your Target Audience: Do You Know What They Really Need?

Your Audience is Looking for You
In marketing, audience everything. Or is it the only thing?

Everyone your content is designed to speak to is online for a reason. They have certain intentions— needs they’re trying to meet. When your content speaks to those needs, not only is that how you get found, it’s how you engage your audience and form relationships. Not speaking to the needs of your target audience means you’re not speaking to, well, anyone.

We discussed this point in-depth during a recent interview I did with Dr. Jane Karwoski and Jim Nico on The Social Network Show podcast. We hadn’t planned the interview with a particular agenda, but as we spoke beforehand, kicking around ideas, we kept coming back to concepts around audience. Read more ›

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Posted in Branded Content

Marketo CMO: ‘Marketing has changed more in 5 years than the past 500’ (interview)

Posted in Content Marketing, Digital Marketing, Native Advertising

Sponsored Content Pricing: Are You Getting Ripped Off?

Sponsored Post Pricing

What should a sponsored post cost? How much is fair for a publisher to be paid? What are other brands paying? And what do they get for their money?

Price transparency is one of many factors keeping sponsored content marketing from reaching scale. Unlike display and text ad buys, few opportunities exist for brands or their agencies to define a content marketing objective, target an audience, set a budget and let her rip. Reaching a highly fragmented audience with distributed content therefore, remains a significant challenge.

And the problem isn’t isolated to the marketing side of the equation. Blog publishers, who command the attention of the audience that brands require, are no better equipped to take advantage of the push toward sponsored content. By and large, their available inventory of publishing real estate remains hidden to any given brand, mixed in with millions of other sites. When opportunities do come, many blog publishers find themselves at a loss for how to properly price a sponsored content placement. Read more ›

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Posted in Branded Content, Content Marketing, ContentBLVD News, Native Advertising, Sponsored Content

To Write Killer Headlines, Appeal to Emotions, Not Google: Here’s Proof

Write Headlines for Readers not Search Engines
Every blog post has a primary job: To be read by real people. Specifically, to be read and valued by the kinds of readers you want interacting with your site and your brand. It doesn’t matter if you published your own blog post, a guest post, or a sponsored post, the point is reader engagement. There are a lot of powerful ways to make that happen, but writing blog post titles for SEO is not at the top of the list. Here’s the logic (and the supporting evidence) to free yourself from the shackles of optimization overload. Read more ›

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Posted in Blogging and SEO, Content Marketing, Creating Content, Social Media Marketing, Writing Better Content

In an Opt-In Culture, All Content is Branded Content

Making and Sharing Branded Content

Who doesn’t want to appear more interesting?

How we think about content is highly dependent on how we choose to interact with it. More often than not, the content we choose to consume comes with a label that we’re comfortable with, not unlike other products we use including clothing, cars, and even the food we eat.

Beyond personal communications, all content is branded content, whether we  see a given piece that way depends on how we feel about the content creator, their motives, and the context of their content. Read more ›

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Posted in Branded Content
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