Talking Content Strategy with Industry Producers
My end goal with every post is to provide insight and hopefully, sometimes, inspiration. And while I have approached the topic of content strategy, I haven’t yet provided any real concrete examples of it in practice…
So I thought I would reach out to some of my favorite content creators and strategists to get their thoughts on something that is not talked about enough; content strategy as it relates to production and results.
Meet The Content Panelists
Dr. Peter Meyers – Probably best known for his useful and actionable posts on SEOmoz, Dr. Pete is the President of User Effect and Resident Mad Scientist at SEOmoz.
Shelli Walsh – Director at Shellshock UK is a self-confessed design snob, passionate internet devotee, creative content marketer and writer of the ShellShock Blog.
AJ Kohn – AJ is the owner of Blind Five Year Old, an internet marketing consultancy that specializes in search. AJ is also a content curator and regular contributor to Marketing Land.
Anthony Pensabene – Anthony is best known for his online persona, Content Muse. When he’s not stirring thoughts on the state of content you can find him hanging out at the Saloon of Literature.
Kieran Flanigan – Kieran loves online marketing. He has worked for both large and small brands to create online strategies focused on international growth. He is currently the Online marketing Manager for Marketo and blogs as Search Brat.
Kelani Nichole – Kelani is the Senior UX Strategist at Big Spaceship, a digital, social, and mobile agency in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about Kelani on her website.
Neal Dougan – Neal is the Owner of Evoke SEO, a London based search marketing and web development company. Neal focuses on the design side of content marketing, as can be seen in his recent You vs. John Paulson campaign.
Onto the discussion:
Where have you seen content strategy have the greatest impact, either within your organization or one of your client’s?
Unfortunately I am limited as to examples I can provide due to confidentiality. ShellShock are predominantly producing infographics right now and recently had a campaign which worked exceptionally well for the client and achieved great viral uptake through social media and careful seeding. The reason it was so successful is because we had a strong concept targeted at a specific demographic: the right message delivered to the right audience. The graphic has reached #8 on the entire Visual.ly site (over 20K entries) for most viewed, with over 150k views and rising. Between the Visual.ly page and the host page it has had over 70k pins, 130k likes 65.2k stumbles and 500+ tweets. I have been told it is the most viewed page on the client’s website (I didn’t have direct access to analytics).
I know many SEOs are weary and derisory of infographics but they can be a fantastic medium if produced well. You only need to look at work from people like David McCandless, Column Five and Pop Chart Labs (and of course ShellShock!) to see that the medium can be executed beautifully for stunning results.
It’s a shame that such a respected form of design has been hit with a bad name due to all the spammy, cheap, rubbish being pumped out on a budget. A massive proportion of infographics are pushed out with no direction or purpose and fail miserably to engage. Successful content campaigns always come down to the same thing: targeted concept, creativity and execution – and I can’t believe how few people manage to get that right.
All the campaigns I manage have their placements on a variety of blogs and hub sites. We only seed in a handful of the best IG directories and don’t consider this as the strategy for outreach. Campaigns that rely purely on paid directory postings are not going to get the same results as creating something engaging and shared with a target audience. ShellShock infographics have great results time and again.
Content strategy that is segmented, addressing different stops on the initial sales tube and re-cyclical journey of consumers (additional buy, upgrade, interaction), has the best impact.
Let me use laptops for example. A consumer is at the beginning of the initial sales tube. They want to compare and contrast different machines and manufacturers. Respective brands are not likely to host on-site information about other brands; that’s found more on a consumer reports-like site.
However, a brand may benefit from emulating the consumer report site, hosting competitor information (just not making the competitor link readily available). Consumers will get the initial information they seek, and will now be ready for the next portion of their journey, which in the best case leads to a sale. Addressing the consumer’s need (while seemingly contrary to brand intuition/interest), segmenting the buying journey, makes a powerful impact in this case.
The greatest impact varies. Follow your consumer to elucidate where to place and how to shape content. Get in their heads.
Content strategy is a deep sigh of relief for clients. They get it, the pain points of workflow, broken update processes, shitty CMS systems, are things that every organization is aware of and suffers from.. When you tell them there is a cure for that ailment AKA A PLAN, and a system for managing content built around THEM, they get very excited.
Seeing the effect that a well thought out and documented workflow has on an organization is a beautiful thing! Instead of struggling with broken processes content producers suddenly have time and energy to IMPROVE rather than just maintaining status quo.
For me, the best content always starts with finding a gap – not necessarily something no one has done (that’s rare), but something where I’m just not satisfied with the breadth or depth of what’s out there. From there, it’s a bit organic – I try to find the type of content that best fits the need. In other words, I never think “I should make an infographic!” – I try to let form follow function.
It actually differs from client to client because of the dependencies on the niche, type of content, current content assets and production resources at hand. So the details of workflow are often quite different client to client. However, there’s a broad framework I often use to help guide content development.
I start by determining different query intent for that product/site/service. Once I have intent down, I map query syntax to that intent which creates, most of the time, a bunch of root terms and modifier combinations that I can assign to a specific intent. From there it’s relatively easy to start creating the right content to match the query intent and ensuring it’s optimized for specific queries.
I’m fond of saying:
‘target the keyword, optimize the intent‘
I went through a little of my process on this guest post over on SEOMoz, a guide to TOFU. I am definitely no expert in content development, I am just eager to learn :) so there are probably lot’s of better methods of doing this. But I would say the workflow depends a lot on the problem you are trying to solve. But everything should usually start with a problem.
For example, if my problem is lack of awareness in my market, I may decide to start a blog (as John says – a blog is not a content strategy), I might start with personas, my content sweet spot, break this into topics, do competitive analysis, look at my available resources and then put an editorial calendar together to cover some of these topics (based on resources I have available).
But I could also have a very specific problem that I try and solve with targeted content campaigns. For example (sorry I can’t give links to the actual content), from looking at the analytics I showed in my presentation above, I can see there is a particular type of buyer (persona) who is struggling to make their way through our funnel. My development process is to do as much analysis I can on where I think that journey breaks down, make assumptions on what the problem is (backed by analytics), create new content to try and address that problem (this resulted in an ebook, slideshare, specific lead nurture track and a couple of other assets). Each of these were designed to address the problems we assumed in the journey. Once completed and set live, you dive back into your analytics to see what worked.
There’s really not a great deal to it. We like to spend more time coming up with decent ideas that will get an emotional reaction than define our ‘target market’.
- Brainstorm creative ideas
- Edit to a shortlist
- Decide the platform for the content (should it be a video, infographic or post?)
- Figure out what people / websites would talk / write / host that piece of content
- Discuss the ideas with the client
- Research the data needed
- Design / create content
- Approval from client
- Release it
- Get the content in front of people through outreach and manual submission
- Celebrate with a curry and a few bottles of Bangla
- Watch the links and social mentions roll in
With major sweeping changes to the search landscape in 2012, how has this affected your approach to creating content?
I had already predicted what was going to happen and positioned ShellShock in the right place to take advantage of the new upsurge of content and creativity. Having 15+ years of design and illustration combined with 5 years online marketing put me in a rather unique position being able to straddle the two disciplines which has fast become in big demand. My biggest challenge looking forward is to is to keep evolving and offering new products without relying on infographics. I have some great ideas and can’t wait to get some new projects out there to show everyone.
I look forward to working in a landscape that expects *more thought put forth regarding content. I’m excited, but it hasn’t changed my own original thoughts on creation.
STRUCTURED CONTENT!! Have you seen the amped-up google search pages for someone famous, or well known cultural institutions, movies, music? That is the future of the web. Its being popularized by Google as the Knowledge Graph. You MUST MUST MUST build well-structured content with rich metadata if you plan to survive the next wave of search, and the melting interface paradigms for that matter. Future-proof, people! Shit’s going semantic, we are teaching the machine to think instead of just retrieve…and it wants to think on your content. Mark that shit up yo!
Yes, I’m a big believer in evergreen content, but I think you have to be realistic about it. Some pieces naturally fit the evergreen idea and others don’t. If you try to make 100% of what you do evergreen, you’ll end up doing some ridiculous stuff. So, I focus on the small amount (maybe 5%) that has evergreen potential and I put sustained effort into those pieces.
Evergreen is often vital to a content strategy. I think of a content strategy as telling a story for that client over time. Evergreen are like major plot points in your (never ending) story. You want to be able to refer to them as you move forward and add characters, events and descriptions.
So you’ll have a number of climaxes in your story over time (as pieces go viral) but you want them in the framework of your plot and you want to encourage users to ‘keep reading’ even without those high point pieces.
Analogy pass or fail? You be the judge.
Quick warning here, I’ve had debates with people on the meaning of evergreen content, so apologies in advance if this isn’t what you asked :) . For example on GrayWolf’s blog he talks about evergreen content in a lot of different formats, both long and short term. This is what I’ve always taken from the term evergreen content.
If you look at the content we created for the #SocialSuccess site, you can see a lot of it is timeless. We created a lot of pieces that are going to be relevant for years. A great example is this Prezi, which was designed to really show social customer service in action, but in a way that’s really easy to understand e.g it’s a little more product-centric than your average top of funnel piece, but that mapped to how it was promoted.
At Marketo, we do a lot of smart things with our content. A great example is our Definitive Guide to Social Marketing. This was a really successful piece when it was first released a couple of years back, but with social media changing so much, the guys in the U.S. felt it needed an update. They totally rewrote it, added in influencers and released the new version in September. That updated piece has generated a massive amount of traffic, leads and pipeline for the business.
I think the big takeaway for evergreen content is continually look for opportunities to “repimp” popular pieces so you can get the maximum value out of them. This doesnt’ necessarily mean you should just keep rewriting popular content, you could turn them into different formats e.g. article to ebook, ebook to Webinar, Webinar to presentation at a conference.
I think it does play a big part as we want the content to remain as fresh as possible for as long as possible, but if you’re doing topical / current stuff then you are getting that quick burst of traffic / buzz / links then it tails of to nothing.
Without sounding too cheesy we aim to create content that will always remain interesting, if that’s evergreen then so be it. Combine the topical with something constant, make it look nice and you have great content that will get links, views and visitors in the short and long term. We want maximum ROI (visibility wise) on the lowest possible output (workload for us). This means we have more time to think and create.
Do you design a marketing and execution plan for your content prior to creating it?
I put together a proposal that is to be agreed by myself and client for execution and expectations. This defines concept, timelines, pricing and estimated results. Results can be anticipated but never guaranteed, we make that clear to clients but with experience/case studies you can offer reassurance to clients that you know what you are doing and have the results to prove it.
It depends. Sometimes I’ll write a post for Content Muse to share a message. Sometimes it’s more of a passionate lightning storm. However, client projects have an end goal or goals of metrics in mind. You are a big champion of CRO and A/B testing; considering past successes and receptions is an advantage and tools of creation. Moreover, a piece of content may be a small part of a larger strategy, so execution wise, you have to consider how that piece serves the larger endeavor.
YES! Don’t make anything without a plan. Not even dinner. Mmmmm dinner. But seriously, I think if you have a solid business case for content, aligned to goals, and a plan for creating it you don’t necessarily need a ‘marketing’ plan for that, you have a raison d’être, that’s the starting point.
For anything else, don’t make it at all! Get rid of it! To help your content spread its wings a dissemination/marketing plan is clutch, but nothing is as important as aligning content to goals, and planning for its creation and governance.
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