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Compelling Content: The What, Why, and How

Kyle Greenwood Written by
Kyle Greenwood
3

Content is King and other witty cliches

The importance of good content can not be overstated – especially as Google tries to root out the bots and other black hat operators via algorithm changes. When it comes to good content, we know the What and the Why – but the How can be frustrating.

While those that employ keyword stuffing and other nefarious practices are being drug into the street and beaten like the scurvy dogs they are, many business owners are stuck with content that either reflects poorly on the business or is simply ignored by Google, Bing, and other search engines. A fate worse than death.

So many aspects of having a solid web presence are analytical. User experience, search engine optimization, web development, and more are a series of zeros and ones and can be easily measured via analytics. The more creative aspects – web design and content – aren’t as easy to quantify.

Intro to Content

Black and white picture of Liquid Paper productWhile the earliest forms of content were verbal, cave drawings are largely viewed as the earliest form of written communication. Instead of selling extra-warm wool socks, the paintings are believed to act as a heads up as to which animals or plants were safe to eat. Google returns 460,000,000 results for “what animals are safe to eat?” by the way.

Descriptive (and life-saving!) yes, but not very transferable. Nearly six centuries ago, the Gutenberg Press was invented. While the internet is pretty sweet, the effects of mass-producing content via the press transformed a millennium. Eventually, these presses were shrunk down to typewriter size, single letters replaced entire blocks of content, and the second most important content invention was introduced: Whiteout.

In the 1980s, the proliferation of home computers made creating content even more efficient. And while you may miss the smell of Whiteout, its time has come and gone. As computers came down in price, the digital age exploded. Not just for the written word, but music, movies, and other forms of art as well as business, commercial, industrial, and manufacturing industries.

The internet, smart technology, cloud computing, and more elevated the use of content – in all its forms – that much more. Although, as any comment section on social media will tell you, maybe elevate is the wrong word.

Hi, I’m Kyle Greenwood. You may remember me from such presentations as…

Although I wasn’t around for cave paintings and had only late, passing interactions with the Gutenburg press, I’ve experienced many of these changes in content creation first hand. Especially Whiteout. With computers, the internet, and a printer, essays for school that would have taken days took a few hours.

I worked at a newspaper for 25 years, starting when computers were just glorified typewriters that had no internal storage of their own and pagination still meant using hot glue. This was waaaaaay back before words and pictures were referred to as “content.”

Whether it was editorial, advertising, or marketing content, I did it all. The way I wrote for the news side was much different than what I wrote for advertising or marketing – also known as the Dark Side.

But I didn’t take classes specifically for marketing. I don’t have an advertising bone in my body. I’m terrible at sales because I take no for an answer. My skills just kind of grew as the digital marketing marketplace did. It took baseball nearly six years to come up with an official rulebook, a rulebook that has been in constant flux for 170 years! I doubt we’ll have that kind of time to figure out consistent rules for digital content marketing.

You get Content, and You Get Content, and You…

Am image of Oprah Winfrey pointing to the audienceWhen I began my writing career, “content” wasn’t a thing. At least for me. Game stories, previews, featured pieces, and other editorial work was just that. In advertising, the word “creative” was the visual component of any ad.

But as the digital marketing industry grew, and different media became more prevalent, content became the catchall word. Which is Great! Can you imagine having to say “text, videos, blogs, location pages, service and product pages, SEO, creative, and evergreen pieces…” all the time? Nobody would ever get anything done!

It’s also a great way to make sure you don’t forget anything when it comes to your digital marketing efforts. If you just say “service page text,” you may not even consider a how-to video discussing gutter repair, a three-panel graphic on how to design a living room, or a slow-motion image of a beagle running through tall grass as a hero image at the top of your veterinarian website.

Start ‘er Up!

This presentation won’t be about which colors work best together on a graph or the ideal time of day to shoot a short video. I’m concentrating on the “text” part of content. Chances are, the editorial is what will make up the bulk of your content. It will contain the appropriate keywords, header tags, interior links, and so on to improve SEO rankings.

Yes, with the proper preparation, Google is able to search .pdfs, discern what images/videos are, and check the overall health of your site. But the text is still the driving factor for most online digital marketers.

The majority of the presentations I’ve attended that discuss “content marketing” center on how to use the content for maximum effect and spend very little time with the actual content creation. Of course, you can’t just ask Michelangelo how he painted the Sistine Chapel or set up a Zoom call with Tolstoy for a bullet list on how he wrote “War and Peace.”

Aside from being dead, their creativity isn’t something you can boil down to a few talking points. Well… I guess. I mean… that’s what I’m trying to do right now. Talk about painting yourself into a corner.

No Such Thing As TMI

An image of an interrogation roomAlthough I started my career as a journalist, I don’t think it matters what your background is when it comes to creating content for a digital marketing plan. Too Much Information should not be part of your vocabulary. Well – in that specific order anyway. For me, it’s understanding what the business owners do. For the business owners, it’s what the customer wants. For the customer, it’s what the business can offer them.

The who, what, where, why, when, and how. A journalist should be able to answer all of those questions when done with a piece. While those same questions are addressed by digital marketing firms and business owners, the answers can be wildly different. Until that initial consultation, how would we know? It’s like being able to say the final score before the first puck is dropped, pitch is thrown, or the ball is kicked off.

In some cases, these conversations will offer the occasional revelation for the client, too. We all know so much more about each other – products and services, personalities and temperaments, procedures and operations – after that meeting. The very best kickoff meetings leave everyone a little worn out. But the good kind of worn out because remember – no such thing as TMI.

Like an interrogation performed by nothing but good cops! If done well, the interrog… interview will answer so many preliminary questions. What the business is passionate about, the “tone” of the content, and even the design of the website.

The Client is Always Right… Eventually

Still shot of a scene from the Monty Python dead parrot skit.As a digital marketer, you’ve run into your fair share of… well… you know. Come on. Don’t make me say it. Okay? Since not all marketers – or businesses for that matter – have the luxury of picking and choosing their clients or customers, you’ll need to put on your happiest face and explain just who the content is for.

Let’s say… an insurance broker wants to improve its digital footprint. There is a time for marketplace jargon (more on that later), but the content isn’t being written for other brokers. Think about it: other brokers already have someone in place to take care of their insurance needs. Themselves!

The people that are looking for those services only know what a double indemnity is thanks to Fred MacMurray! (Note: pause for uproarious laughter to subside. Two minutes. Tops.) The content must address their clients’ needs, and to do so, speak to their clients in a language they can understand. After all, they didn’t go to school for years to learn the industry – you did that for them.

That being said, there are times when explaining deductions and depreciation and declarations are necessary. Why? Because that’s what people are trying to figure out! And what our favorite SEO tools tell us people are searching for.

Tools like SEMrush, ahrefs, MOZ, and Screaming Frog help the SEO expert find what people are searching for, the most important keyword phrases, and the low-hanging fruit that can be turned into easy wins. And other marketing jargon. These are the building blocks of any good digital marketing plan.

But you gotta string those keywords and phrases together in some way. Back in the long-ago time (say… four or five years ago), the more nefarious would often take those lists of keywords and phrases and jam them at the bottom of a page, hide them with HTML code, and just watch their visits grow.

Of course, the time on those pages was next to nothing. While they had the eyeballs, they didn’t satisfy the searcher’s intent. Which made Google… upset. Google is kind of upset all the time. Wouldn’t you be if someone kept using YOUR ball to change how the game was played?

Google changes its algorithms on the constant, fending off those that would rather slight the system than just produce quality content. Those that play by the rules are rewarded. Those that try to skirt the system are rarely – if ever – heard from.

Quick note: I’m using Google as the search engine example. there are others – Bing, Yahoo, etc. – and they shouldn’t be ignored. But… come on. Just… come on.

Time To Write

Peanuts cartoon strip featuring Snoopy and a typewriterAs I started writing this presentation, the point I wanted to get across was how to write the kind of content that satisfies Google as well as providing the information potential clients want. Here we are, more than halfway through, and I’ve completely buried the lead! A journalistic failure if there ever was one.

What I’ve done is set the stage for you to create the kind of relevant content that not only makes the benevolent Google overload happy but draws in potential clients, turning them into loyal customers. A solid foundation and all of that.

Let’s take a look at what we have so far. I will now attempt to create the most tenuous analogy ever written by man or beast. Ahem:

That initial consultation is like the playing field – a large swatch of neatly mowed grass. The SEO crews have come in and chalked the lines. Google has provided the referee and linesmen. Now it’s up to you to manage the players – the content.

But what if you’ve only managed football teams and now you’re on the soccer pitch? Or, Lord help you, a baseball diamond? I mean… geez. It’s the only sport where the defense spends most of the time giving the ball to the offense! Figure that one out!

This is getting too tenuous. The point is so much of the content work has been done for you. Now it’s just a matter of linking it all together. I use the SEMrush writing assistant as an add-on for my Google docs. This provides even MORE direction on what to write. Grammarly helps with spelling, grammar, and other nuts and bolts.

Even competitor websites provide some help. DO NOT JUST COPY THEIR CONTENT. You don’t want to be known as a big cheater, do you? That’s why no one likes the New England Patriots or Houston Astros. Because they’re cheaters.

And you could get blackballed by Google. Or even sued by your competitors. Your content needs to be your own. Use other websites as resources, but make it your own. I mean, you’re all working with the same set of keywords, right? The key is how you use those keywords.

Hopefully, your client will provide more feedback than “this sucks.” “This is great!” doesn’t really help the process, either. It’s like playing a night game with no lights. Just like there’s no such thing as TMI, the only kind of bad feedback is no feedback at all.

As I said earlier, you can’t always pick your clients. It could be months before you hear back from them. But you can’t just sit back and wait. A content plan – a collaborative effort between the SEO and Content team – has given you the roadmap. Keep driving. It’s the only way to get better – whether it’s a creative position or not.

Become An Expert

Content Writing Meme with six slides

You should probably also have that innate desire to learn. It’s one of the things I truly love about my job as a content writer. Every day I learn something new. I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me a month to stop snickering every time a client talked about their POS solutions. I’ve just never heard of point of sale software before.

Eventually, you become an expert in the field of your clients. I can explain ice dams on your roof, recommend educational opportunities for those interested in learning how to create Electronic Dance Music, and how to care for your trees throughout the year.

But it takes time to become an expert. There is no such thing as being done with content. Having a few blogs, product pages, and an about us page and nothing else isn’t going to cut it. Google can see when a site has become stagnant. Just like a rolling stone gathers no moss, a stone that doesn’t roll… uh… gathers a lot of moss. Or something.

Even though your work has captured the top spot on a high-demand search phrase, if you don’t continue to support that content with additional and consistent work on content throughout the site, Google will just assume the site has gone dormant. Bye-bye no. 1 ranking.

That’s a Wrap

Not everyone can write content, design websites, create beautiful works of music, and so on. I’ve carved out a nice little position at Webfor writing content, but I’ve never written the great American novel. But I don’t have to. I just need to write content that satisfies searchers’ intent.

Just like the fruits of those labors take time to ripen, so will your talent. Those featured snippets or page one rankings don’t happen overnight. It can take months. At Webfor, we track the content that we write for our clients and I’m always amazed by what catches the Google fancy.

A piece I wrote a few months ago currently holds the top spot when people search for “precast concrete dry wells.” Sure, there are less than 600,000 results for that phrase, but I’m no. 1 baby! I’m number two when people search for “what is a digital audio workstation?” But Wikipedia is a really hard nut to crack for that no. 1 position.

Today’s digital marketing landscape is ever-evolving, leaning more on the tone of the content. I’m sure, at some point, someone will write an A.I. content program that will put me out of business. But until that software stops arguing with itself about using “work site” or “worksite,” I feel pretty good about my prospects.

Because right now, those programs are just shiny examples of the Infinite Monkey Theorem. In short, is the theory that when given enough time, 100 monkeys in front of 100 typewriters will eventually recreate all the greatest literary achievements in human history. Just through sheer randomness.

Graphic that has a blotted slide of a bunch of monkeys and "Slide Removed" text over it.In reality, the results are much different. Nearly two decades ago, college students (those little rascals!) decided to put six monkeys together in a cage with a single keyboard to see what they could come up with. Although it was still better than most of my college newspaper articles, the product was less than stellar.

To whit: “Not only did the monkeys produce nothing but five total pages largely consisting of the letter ‘S’, the lead male began striking the keyboard with a stone, and other monkeys followed by soiling it.”

Thanks, Wikipedia – that No. 1 spot is well-earned!

But that’s the great thing about being a content writer. Sure, it doesn’t pay much, but look what they let you get away with! (I’M KIDDING MR. GETCH! THANKS AGAIN FOR THE JOB!)

I waited until the very end to say this because everyone would surely drop off the call if I said it at the top: there is no one way to write perfect content. But by using the tools available to us, wringing as much information out of customers as we can, and continuing to produce relevant content over and over again, you’ll get there.

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