The state of content marketing
By now, you get that if you want to remain on Google’s good side, you do content marketing. If you want your website to rank for your chosen keyterms, you do content marketing. If you want to gain your customers’ trust, you do content marketing.
But, what I believe isn’t discussed enough is HOW you do it. After all, with Google’s recent algorithm changes, all of which push webmasters to display unique, engaging content, there’s been a ‘content creation explosion’. Businesses from every industry – B2B and B2C – are having to create a lot of content if they want to rank. Sadly this has meant that many people unable or unwilling to dedicate the time to creating this content, are posting entirely unoriginal ‘content-for-the-sake-of’ content!
As a writer myself I’m well aware of how much effort it takes to write something that’s well researched, interesting and targeted to your particular audience. However, there are a number of things you can do to make this process easier. This is what I want to discuss in this post. I’m hoping that many of you will take it on board and apply it to your own blog, whitepapers, books and whatever else you produce.
What makes for ‘great’ content?
Great content is about your unique stance on the topic you’re discussing. This is partly why LinkedIn’s Influencer Program has been so successful. Apart from the fact that ‘influencers’ can immediately tap into an audience already interested in their content/industry, they’re also required to create fresh content not seen on any other platform. This is a bonus for the company and for LinkedIn users. Plus, the fact that Influencers get FAR more views when they publish to LinkedIn compared to their own blogs (according to the likes of Dharmesh Shah), make posting on this platform a fantastic way for the Influencers themselves to continue speaking as thought leaders.
Get ready for change
Over the next few weeks or months, you’re going to see LinkedIn opening up the Influencer program to the general public, basically allowing everyone to create content unique to LinkedIn. This is likely to have a big impact on how and where individuals choose to publish their content. At the moment we await further information…
Without further discussion, let’s dive into some of the things you can do to make your content stand out from the crowd
5 ways to create thought leader style content
1. Make use of Numbers, Graphs and Data
CEO of KISSmetrics, Neil Patel, gives this same advice in his video on how he grew his blog from 0 to 350,000 readers a month (advice worth taking if you consider that fact alone). It’s particularly true if you’re making content like infographics, and according to Neil, in addition to original and different content, is a must. If you don’t have stats that back up what you’re trying to say, pull in examples of sites that show it. You can’t expect people just to believe you because you’re you – not unless you’re Seth Godin with a string of books to your name.
2. Make use of others’ opinions
If you can’t find either sites or stats that help you make your point, why not make use of ‘crowdsourced content’? By that I mean quotes from people that have the ‘Influencer’ label and the following you don’t. Or, perhaps answers sourced from reliable LinkedIn Groups. This type of content is a great way to prove that you’re not on your own in thinking the way you do and that there are other experts saying something similar.
New sites like Passle are perfect examples of how to go about doing this – state your original thought and back it up with quotes from around the web as well as relevant tweets. This is a very new site so if you haven’t tried it, I recommend giving it a go, especially if you’re pressed for time. What makes Passle particularly useful is that you can embed the posts you create on your own website.
3. Remember that thing called the MLA? Well it’s a reminder to back up what you say!
Okay, so ‘blogging’ doesn’t require you to back up every single thing you say (after all you’re ‘thought leading’ this content!), but there’s a reason you do it anyway, usually by including links. Apart from making your readers’ lives easier, especially if they want to research the subject you’re talking about, references or links to others’ work lend your own work credibility.
It’s really like going back to University and writing a research paper. As it still is today, research papers without references are as good as (and as believable as) the news on April Fools’ Day. The same is true of blog posts. If yours is going to succeed and going to stand the test of time, it needs to have substance. References show that you’ve researched your subject, that you’ve got data to back up what you’re saying, or data that can sit behind a prediction you make. And… if it turns out you weren’t right about that prediction, well it wasn’t because you didn’t do your research…
4. Use original photos with REAL people. Avoid Stock if you can.
Include photos that don’t look like generic stock photos. Okay, so stock photos are pretty and they make your blog look pretty, but how meaningful are they really? What more do they ADD to your post? If you’re reading this post I’m pretty sure you’re someone interested in creating content, so I’m going to use examples of sites you may know. Compare Mashable with Hubspot. Mashable makes use of photographs. Each of these photographs hints at what the article is about, at least if only with regards to the subject of the article. However, it’s difficult to say that they DON’T add value. They lend the site credibility, they make looking for the article that will appeal to YOU easier and they allow the company to exclude post summaries. Sure the featured articles have summaries, but all of the other ones only make use of headings and social data, something ONLY made possible because the pictures are the summaries. Plus, in a world where the giants of social are now picture-driven (yes, referencing Pinterest and Instagram), you’d expect this. Now, take a look at Hubspot’s blog. Mainly stock photos and guess what the effect is? The whole blog looks the same AND, I actually have to bother reading summaries if I want to see what they articles are about. This is pain, not because I don’t like reading, but because I have TOO much to read. I’ve got to keep up with what’s happening on Econsultancy, on Moz, on Search Engine Land, on the Google Webmaster Central Blog, on the Content Marketing Institute…trust me, I just don’t have the extra time to read through things that don’t immediately grab my attention. If you ever took a psychology or biology class in your life, your teacher may have heard your teacher say: ‘the ability to recognize faces is hardwired into humans’. This is exactly why you need to take Mashable’s approach, or indeed, use in-house photos to supplement your posts.
One of the companies I work with at Xanthos manufactures and distributes rigging hardware for the marine and architectural sector. While their own products are perhaps a little ‘dry’ to be of visual interest to most people, they do sell these products to customers that build and maintain beautiful buildings and boats. Thus, they are able to create an attractive looking site with images that feature those things their products go into making.
The point: find a way to get hold of images that show what your content is about. After all the old cliché is a cliché for a reason: a picture is worth a thousand words.
5. What to do when you don’t think you have anything to say
Shut up. Okay, I mean shut your internal, self-deprecating monologue down. You DO have something to say. All you have to do is figure out what it is that you’re comfortable talking about. Just because your business sells chocolate, doesn’t mean you have to talk about chocolate all the time.
Here’s the best bit: when you realize that what you like to talk about is different to what you think your business industry dictates you should write about, you’ve actually got a greater opportunity than those who JUST like talking about their business. There are a number of examples of people like this, the most obvious and possibly well know that I can think of being Deepak Chopra who draws on examples and information from his own background in medicine to back up and substantiate his thoughts. This doesn’t just lend his writing a strong sense of credibility as he’s an expert in that field, but it makes him unique. It makes him memorable.
Consider – how many people do you know that try as hard as possible to exclude themselves from their writing? Too many. It makes for pedestrian writing and content and it makes them infinitely forgettable, even when they’re famous!
Go forth and be original!
That’s the best advice I can give you at the moment. If you pick up on a few of these pointers, you’re sure to create content that’s long-lasting, engaging and at the very least, interesting for you to write.