Content is king. Bill Gates said this in the mid-90s and it’s never been more true than today. Just about every SEO/SEM firm has a blog, and every major player in the search space — from the single-person shop to the massive conglomerate that is Google — runs a blog talking about search on some level. A lot of the content is amazing; a lot of people think Sturgeon’s Law is in full effect.
Regardless of what you think of content marketing, there’s no denying that there are some basic rules that guarantee a modicum of success. In a world where noise seems to be always on the precipice of overwhelming the signal, how do we ensure signal strength? We’re going to talk you through content marketing strategies, techniques, and best practices.
This one seems like a no-brainer, but it’s the most important item and worth addressing first. With the rise of the semantic search, just having keywords in or on the website isn’t enough — you’ve got to be including those words in and with terms that are related, strong or weakly. This means that you talk about hot dogs and burgers if you write about grills, but maybe avoid carburetors, Adobe Photoshop, or mitosis.
This means that the content you produce can’t be keyword driven. The content must be a coherent, informative (or persuasive) piece overall. Put differently, the content must stand alone.
Thus, when writing content with a strong content marketing inclination, you must have a clear, coherent thesis sentence, and the marketing material itself must be structured from a narrative or readability perspective. While writing scholarly essays may be a skill many of us lost, presenting information clearly and directly in a digestible manner is a skill that any good marketer possesses. After all, that’s what a sales pitch is.
Check out this infographic from Searchmetrics that goes into more detail about what your content marketing should include from a keyword perspective — and what it should avoid.
The same Searchmetrics report linked above also found an interesting correlation: the more easily-read your piece is, the better it’ll do both in terms of engagement you receive from your audience as well as in search results.
Keeping your work readable means sticking to direct language; that’s not to say your work should sound like Maurice Sendak (though one could do worse!) but rather that your work should be digestible and manageable to read. This means avoiding words with four or more syllables when shorter, simpler words may suffice.
A good way to measure the readability of your writing is to use the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests, many of which are included in various processing software. These tests programmatically assign a score to your writing, usually between 0-100, where zero is very difficult to read and 100 is simple enough an early reader could understand. Flesch set a score of 65 as the average readability of Plain English.
Searchmetrics found that the top five content marketing results in searches average a readability score of 70-75, which maps to roughly the reading ability of the average 7th grade student. For reference, Reader’s Digest averages a score of 65, and the first Harry Potter book averages a score of about 77-80.
Beyond programmatic options, some simple tips to improve readability include:
— Your piece will likely not measure more than 1,000 words (the optimum length for any single content marketing piece) and you’ll have a better sense of problem spots if you read your writing aloud to yourself. It might feel a bit awkward at first, but the benefits far outweigh that.
There is so much content out there — every space seems to be inundated with it. How does a single shop compete? The answer is easier than you think: curate content. Just as the best kind of Twitter users have a timeline that is a combination of original and retweeted messages, so it goes with content marketing. If you read multiple news sources, cull the best and/or most relevant pieces for your audience and share them.
Moreover, if you choose to add commentary, all the better! You can create largely-original work by leveraging extant content into new work.
Notably, however, this is not a license to plagiarize. Google and other search engines see plagiarism quite easily, and you will be penalized if you are found plagiarising. Instead, use
<blockquote /> tags to indicate when you’re quoting from another source, and inline linking is encouraged.
For example, here at the YCP Community we occasionally do news roundup posts centered around a single topic, or posts like this one that bring together discrete articles and news pieces that are tied together thematically.
You can find out more about content curation strategies and dos-and-don’ts over at SEM Rush.
We put this last because it represents a departure from a lot of the content marketing “rules” that have existed thus far. Adding an interactive edge means taking advantage of the innovations of the Web 2.0 space — the same technology you’re relying on to “go viral” and gain that immediate boost of attention.
There’s a number of ways to go about this. You could work in quizzes and find a way for users to generate content for you. This is laudable, but it’s also a business model unto itself. Buzzfeed, for example, serves as a hub of company and user produced content, and it’s the primary driver of their traffic — and thus their ad sales.
Interactive media doesn’t mean creating flash games (though we’ve used those before too) and endless quizzes about topics profound and banal. Rather, it means adding some kind of interactive component to your content — such as having users take a color test before clicking through to the post about websafe colors for site design.
There are simpler alternatives, as well — Twitter polls, comment threads, user-submitted questions (e.g. an advice column), webinars, and roundtables all bring in that interactivity without sacrificing quality, curation, or care.
The key, ultimately, is to make the participation aspect as frictionless as possible — keep few barriers to entry, make sure the functionality/”the ask” is simple, and ensure that you’ve got a way to track performance.
For more tips about integrating interactive content into your current content marketing strategy, check out this guest post by Scott Brinker on Search Engine Land.
Just as with local search, your listing has to be relevant to the type of business the user seeks, your content marketing has to be interesting. No amount of SEO wizardry will make up for anemic content. Even if it’s infrequent, pushing out high-quality (and/or evergreen) content on a scheduled basis is a solid strategy for long-term success.