Content Creation: How to Create Better Content

One of my all-time favorite commercials is the Snickers spot that riffs on The Brady Bunch. At the end of the spot, the actor Steve Buscemi stands at the top of the staircase in the Brady home and spouts the famous Jan Brady line, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”

I’m laughing out loud as I watch the commercial right now on YouTube! There’s even a GIF that was floating around the Internet a few years ago when the spot first aired.

It’s All About Content

OK, so why do I bring up this commercial now? Because “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” came to mind when I was thinking about the topic for this month’s article: content creation. Ask any marketing director and they’ll tell you that these days, marketing is all about “Content, Content, Content!”

According to the Content Marketing Institute, nine out of 10 businesses use content marketing, spending more than a quarter of their marketing budget on it. That’s pretty incredible when you consider that “content marketing” wasn’t even a thing 10 years ago.

5 Tips for Better Content Creation

If you work in marketing, it’s probably safe to assume that a big part of your job is content creation. So how can you become a better content creator? Here are 5 tips you can put into practice right away:

1. Stay on top of your industry. One of your main goals in content creation should be to position your company and/or yourself as the go-to expert in your industry. To do this, you need to stay on the cutting edge of the latest trends and developments in your industry.

I specialize in financial services and business-to-business, writing a wide range of blogs, articles, whitepapers and other types of content for organizations in these industries. To do my job, I have to be aware of what’s going on in these areas all the time. This requires regularly reading industry publications and websites.

2. Always be looking for new topic ideas. This is a never-ending task because good content marketing programs present a never-ending need for new topics.

The key is making tip #1 a priority. If you’re doing a good job of regularly reading industry resources, generating new topic ideas will be much easier. Keep one or more idea files active at all times, whether they’re old-fashioned manila folders or electronic folders stored on your computer.

3. Put your own spin on topics. Great content creators do more than just rehash material they found by Googling a topic. And they do much more than just curate content written by other people.

The best content creators add value by enhancing topics with their own unique angle and perspective. This is the best way for your content to stand out from the crowd and position yourself and your organization as industry experts.

4. Learn how to reinvent the wheel. “Don’t reinvent the wheel” might be good advice in some situations, but not when it comes to content creation. One of the keys to churning out quality content on a consistent basis is learning how to write about the same core topics over and over again and still keep the content fresh.

I’ve specialized in the financial services and business industries for my entire 30-plus year career. At this point, there are few if any financial and business topics I haven’t written about before. So one of my biggest challenges is figuring out how to make the one-hundredth article I’ve written about boosting your cash flow fresh and relevant.

5. Never stop improving your writing. Becoming a great content creator is a process that never reaches a final destination. Trust me, you’ll never reach the point where you can kick your feet up on your desk and say, “I’ve arrived. I can never be a better writer than I am right now.”

Always strive to be a better writer. Maybe this means taking some professional writing courses. Maybe it means finding a writing mentor who can help nurture and develop your skills. For sure, it means writing, writing and writing some more — even when you don’t feel like. Especially when you don’t feel like it!

It’s Not Going Away

In the 10 years since I became a full-time freelance writer, I’ve watched content marketing go from an afterthought to an integral part of most marketing campaigns. And I don’t think it’s going away any time soon.

This makes it critical to sharpen your content creation chops. Print out these 5 tips and keep them handy to help you become a better content creator.

6 Great SEO Stats and What They Mean to Your Business

About a year ago I wrote a blog I titled “The State of SEO Copywriting in 2017.” I made the point that search engine optimization (or SEO) changes so fast that successful marketers can’t afford to sit still when it comes to staying abreast of the latest SEO trends and developments.

Given the importance of SEO to most marketers and copywriters today, I figured it’s probably time to talk about SEO again. And I found a pretty cool resource with a whole bunch of useful information about SEO and online marketing.

SEO Stats and Takeaways

The resource is an extensive info-graphic titled “55 Must-Know Things for Small Business Website SEO.” Here are a few of the most useful tidbits I pulled out of the info-graphic, along with my takeaway:

1. Google is by far the most popular Internet search engine, accounting for 81% of all desktop search traffic. Bing is a distant second at 7% and Yahoo! is less than 5%.

I guess this isn’t surprising when you consider that the word “Google” is now synonymous with Internet search — and has even become a commonly used verb (as in, “just Google it”). However, it’s still eye-opening to see how Google completely dominates the industry.

Takeaway:Plan your SEO and online marketing strategies on the assumption that most searchers are using Google.

2. Before making a purchase, nine out of 10 people start the buying process via Internet search. Meanwhile, eight out of 10 people research a company online before doing business with it. And just two out of 10 people scroll down beyond the fold on the first page of search results.

Takeaway:Ranking high in the search engines and having a vibrant web presence is really, really important for most businesses.

3. Just 17% of small businesses say they’re investing in SEO while only 25% say they’re investing in online marketing. And 71% say they do their own digital marketing instead of outsourcing it to experts.

Takeaway:Most businesses have a long way to go if they want to take advantage of all the possibilities offered by SEO and online marketing.

4. Eight out of 10 marketers believe their SEO marketing efforts are at least “above average.”

Takeaway:There’s a serious disconnect between what businesses thinkthey’re doing right from an SEO perspective and what they’re actuallydoing right.

5. Four out of 10 people use their smartphones exclusively for search. However, only about half (56%) of small businesses said their websites feature responsive design so they load properly on smartphones.

Web searchers have even less patience for sites to load on their smartphones (they’ll give them two seconds) than they do their desktops, where they’ll give sites three seconds to load. And if a site doesn’t load properly on their phone, about half of searchers (46%) never go back.

Takeaway:It’s critical that websites today feature responsive design so they load properly on smartphones and other mobile devices.

6. When it comes to SEO tactics, 57% of marketers rank content creation as the most effective. This is followed by keyword research at 49%, social media integration at 39% and link building at 36%. Interestingly, content creation is also considered to be the most difficult SEO tactic.

Takeaway:If you want to improve your SEO results, you should probably focus most of your attention and resources on creating relevant, high-quality content.

Just Do It!

I’ve written extensively about the importance of content marketing as part of an overall SEO strategy. So I’ll wrap up this blog by reiterating what I stressed in a blog at the start of last year: When it comes to content marketing, you need to Just Do It!

There are lots of different components to a content marketing program: blogs, whitepapers, e-books, case studies, info-graphics and newsletters, to name a few. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all this, so it’s usually best to start off with one or two components and grow your program over time.

But always remember the most important thing with content marketing: consistency. Publishing a blog once or twice a year or throwing an occasional whitepaper or case study up on your site when you “have time” to create one is a sure-fire recipe for failure.

5 Tips for Writing Better Blog Posts

In a phone call yesterday, a prospect explained to me why her organization was looking for a new blog writer. It seems they had been working with a writer who just couldn’t nail the blog writing format.

“He’s a really good writer and he does a great job on whitepapers,” the prospect said. “But it’s taking multiple rounds of revisions to get the blogs right, and even then, we’re not real happy with them.” She said it has been taking up to three months for them to get one blog written and posted. Ouch!

Art and Science of Blogs

This got me thinking about the art and science of writing blogs. Yes, the writing style for a blog is different from the writing style for a whitepaper, website, brochure, newsletter or any other kind of marketing writing, as my prospect pointed out.

But what exactly is blog writing style? And how can you improve your blog writing? Here are 5 tips to help you write better blogs:

1. Remember why you’re writing the blog. Most marketers write blogs in order to get fresh content up on their websites regularly and position themselves and/or their companies as thought leaders and subject matter experts. When done well, blogs can help educate customers and prospects, build brand awareness and generate quality leads.

If you’re a marketer, you might be thinking “Duh” right now. I include this fairly basic tip because I see so many blogs that don’tseem to have a purpose — other than trying to sell something. Which brings me to my second tip.

2. Don’t try to sell with your blog. This is by far the biggest mistake most marketing bloggers make. Your blog is not — I repeat not— the vehicle for selling yourself or your products. Instead, it’s a vehicle for sharing valuable information, thoughts and ideas to help your customers and prospects solve problems or do their jobs better.

“But why would I give away information?” you might be thinking. “If I do, people won’t hire me.” The idea is to share just enough information so that readers reap value from your content without “giving away the store,” so to speak. When you strike the right balance, readers will see that you are the true expert in your field and they probably need to hire you instead of doing it themselves.

3. Write a great headline and lead. Now to the nitty-gritty of blog writing, which starts (where else?) at the beginning with your headline and lead. If you don’t nail this, nothing else you’ve written matters — because nobody’s going to read it. In fact, while 80% of blog readers read the headline, only 20% read the actual blog content, noted a recent post on Wishpond.com.

Plenty has been written about writing great headlines and leads, including the Wishpond blog, so I won’t get into it here. My point: Don’t neglect this critical part of your blog.

4. Get to the point quicklyThis was one of the big problems the prospect I spoke with had with her writer. “It just takes him too long to get to the main point of what the blog is about,” she said. “As a result, very few people are reading our blogs.”

Blog aren’t the place for long, flowery, creative leads. Assuming you’ve written a headline that at least gets your readers into the first paragraph, you’ve now got a few precious seconds at best to draw them into the meat of the blog. So make it easy for readers to understand right away what the blog is about and why they should continue reading.

5. Make your copy “scannable.” According to Problogger.com, only 16% of people read online copy word for word. Instead, most people scan the page for words, phrases or headings that grab their attention — so you need to make sure your blog copy is scannable.

What do I mean by scannable? Break things up to create “breathing room” by including bulleted and numbered lists and plenty of subheads. Use formatting like boldface, italics and underline to emphasize key points. Also use pictures, borders, boxes and other graphics to create visual interest on the screen.

Bonus tip: Inject some of your personality into the blog. Remember that your blog is not a research paper or thesis so it doesn’t have to be stuffy and dry or full of citations and footnotes. Write in a casual, friendly tone that lets some of your personality come through.

And don’t be afraid to have an opinion or take a stand. Doing so will generate more reader interest and comments, which can spur online discussions and conversations with your readers.

The Rise of “Fake News” and Its Impact on Sourcing

Every since the 2016 Presidential election campaign, the term “fake news” has become part of the American lexicon. It was during this time that legitimate-looking news sites started popping up on the Internet and in social media feeds with all kinds of reports about the election and the candidates.

Of course, much of this “news” was far from legitimate. It appears that some of these fake news sites and feeds were created by foreign governments in an effort to interfere with the election. Others were simply created by partisans on either side of the political spectrum trying to sway undecided voters.

Media Distrust Abounds

Regardless of the source of the disinformation, the result has been further decline among Americans in terms of how much they trust media sources. In fact, six out of 10 respondents to a recent survey said it’s hard to distinguish between real and fake news.

All of this has real-world implications not just in the political realm, but also for those of us who spend our time researching and writing content. Specifically, we have to be much more careful nowadays when it comes to the sources we use for blogs, articles, whitepapers and other research-intensive material.

What Sources Do We Trust?

An outfit called the Trusting News Project conducted a survey last year in which they asked Americans to name the three news sources they most and least trusted. The three most-trusted news sources according to this survey are:

  1. The Economist
  2. Public television
  3. Reuters

Other highly trusted news sources listed in the survey are The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian and the BBC, NPR and PBS.

At the other end of the spectrum, the three least-trusted news sources according to the survey are:

  1. Occupy Democrats
  2. BuzzFeed
  3. Breitbart

Other untrustworthy news sources listed in the survey are Infowars, Huffington Post, Yahoo!, The Blaze, and social media and the Internet in general.

Interestingly, The New York Times — which is generally considered to be a bedrock of American journalism — didn’t land on either list. It was rated as highly trustworthy by liberals and highly untrustworthy by conservatives, so it landed in the middle of the pack.

Two Key Takeaways

My friend Gordon Graham, aka That Whitepaper Guy, wrote about the implications of this survey in a recent blog post. Here are two of his main takeaways for those of us who research and write content:

1. Quote experts instead of publications. Gordon cites a survey conducted by the PR firm Edelman that found that trust in subject matter experts is actually on the rise. For example, 63 percent of people trust technical experts, 61 percent trust academic experts and 50 percent trust financial analysts and successful entrepreneurs.

“We gain more credibility by quoting from technical experts, academics and business people,” Gordon writes. “And it’s better to find disinterested third parties, rather than company employees.”

2. Quote people instead of institutions. One way to do this is to mention the lead author of a published report instead of the institution that published it. “With faith in institutions slipping so badly, I believe that quoting an individual by name will create more trust with readers,” Gordon writes.

Take It to Heart

As a researcher and writer who takes proper sourcing very seriously, I’m taking these survey results to heart. If researching and writing are part of your job, so should you.

The 10 Biggest Content Marketing Challenges Faced By Marketers Today

The rise of content marketing is one of the biggest marketing trends in recent memory. Content marketing itself isn’t really new — businesses have been using “content” to tell their stories and attract new customers since modern marketing and advertising first started taking shape over a century ago.

But the explosion of the Internet and search engine optimization (SEO) over the past two decades has really brought content marketing to the forefront. Achieving any kind of lasting SEO success requires consistent creation and distribution of high-quality, non-promotional online content.

Top 10 Challenges

As a full-time freelance writer — or “content creator,” using today’s verbiage — I try to stay on top of the latest trends and developments in the world of content marketing. So a recent Facebook post asking “What’s your biggest challenge with content?” caught my attention.

ClearVoice, a content management platform, conducted a survey in which they asked 1,000 content marketers what was their biggest content marketing challenge. Here are the top 10 responses:

  1. Finding enough time to manage the program.
  2. Assuring content quality.
  3. Creating the content itself.
  4. Scaling the content.
  5. Generating content ideas.
  6. Acquiring content creation talent.
  7. Distributing content.
  8. Devising content strategy.
  9. Engaging with audiences.
  10. Publishing content consistently.

Digging Deeper Into the Data

It’s not too surprising that time is the biggest challenge faced by content marketers. Creating and managing a successful content marketing program is a time-consuming task, to be sure.

Specific time-related challenges listed by marketers included having enough time to curate, create, research, develop and write content. Also mentioned was having enough time to handle all the phases of a content marketing program and take a nascent content strategy “from zero to 60 in less than a year,” as one respondent put it.

However, the authors of the report point out that the challenge of “time” goes beyond just having enough hours in the day or week to manage a content marketing program. When you dig deeper, time challenges really have to do with organization, prioritization and focus, the authors assert.

If “time” is a big content marketing challenge for your firm, the authors recommend stepping back and conducting a thorough review of your content strategy — or maybe even your overall approach to time management.

Balancing Creativity and Quality

When it comes to the content itself, “creativity” and “quality” were mentioned as specific challenges by many of the marketers who were surveyed. These were some of their verbatim comments:

  • “Making it feel genuine
  • “Getting creative with it”
  • Storytelling in a compelling way”
  • “Making abstract ideas tangible
  • “Being clear and concise

According to the report authors, “Having the stamina to generate ideas and produce compelling content — again and again — was a prevalent challenge” for the marketers who responded to the survey.

Credibility Also Critical

Ensuring a high degree of credibility is another challenge that was consistently mentioned by the marketers who responded to the survey. Specifically, they worry about whether the content they’re creating is “good enough” and whether audiences “trust us” or not.

The full ClearVoice report contains a lot more insightful details that might help you meet some of the content marketing challenges your organization is facing. Click here to access it for free.