While content marketing once consisted of things like magazines and flyers, today, the most effective ways to connect with consumers are through blogs, virtual newsletters, white papers, eBooks, videos, infographs, and other digital mediums.
Still, so much of what you see on the internet is barely worth a glance, and deservedly, gets little notice. The last thing you want for your business is to get stuck in such a sea of mediocrity. You need to stand out, make an impression, and provide something worthwhile if you want to rise above the competition. Use the suggestions below as a guide for creating stellar content that impresses your online audience.
Make a Plan
Whenever people are starting something new, they get excited and have a tendency to jump head-first into the project without proper preparation or direction; thus, the reason why so many diets, budgets, and content creation efforts fail. However, this doesn’t have to happen to you. All you need to do is slow down, breathe, and follow this action plan:
Step 1: Choose a Tone for Your Content
In real life, when you’re talking with people you get automatic feedback, which means if you’re saying something they don’t understand you can read their expression and try a new tactic. However, you don’t have such a luxury when providing content to an online audience. Instead, you must wait until the information is already out there, and then gauge the response based on comments (if you’re lucky enough to have any). But, by that point you may have already missed your chance to connect with your readers.
So, to ensure you make a good impression from the get-go, you have to establish a tone appropriate for your audience. To do this, you must first analyze your audience. Think about their age, interests, and especially what they are hoping to get out of your site. Are they looking for entertainment, or just information?
Once you understand what they’re after, you can match your tone (voice) accordingly. For instance, if you’re marketing to a college-aged demographic, you may want to use a more laidback voice with plenty of humor. On the other hand, if you’re offering information to senior citizens, you’ll probably want to use a straightforward, more professional-sounding tone.
Step 2: Choose a Style for Your Content
Whether you’re the sole writer for your content or if you have an office full of writers, you should establish some type of “style guide” to maintain consistency. In other words, have clear directions on how you’re going to handle certain writing situations. Here are a few examples:
- Are you going to write out all numbers or use digits (ex. four or 4)?
- Do you want to capitalize all words in a title or only the nouns, pronouns, verbs, and adjectives (ex. “This is a Great Title” or “This Is A Great Title”)?
- Are contractions acceptable or not?
These types of things may seem inconsequential, but they give your content uniformity and help to support your tone.
If you don’t have a distinct tone and style that flows through all your postings, then your content will appear inconsistent and may even confuse your audience. Your followers will wonder who you really are, and what type of message you are trying to get across. Essentially, your content should behave in a similar manner as your brand logo (the same everywhere and all the time), so if someone familiar with your site were to read one of your postings out of context they could immediately say, “Hey, this sounds like so and so…” or “This is written in the style of…”
Step 3: Select Your Content Creators
Undoubtedly, your business is full of talented people, but not everyone has the skills for creating great content, and just as you wouldn’t call your yard guy to work on your plumbing, you may not want to ask your IT specialist to write your blog.
If you want to recruit folks from within for content creation, have all the employees submit their best article, web copy, social media update, or video, and select the best individuals for each type of content. You will likely find that some are whizzes at coming up with original ideas while others are more adept at editing and polishing things to make them web-ready.
You can also hire-out these types of tasks, and you can even use ghost writers if you want to keep the face of you and your employees front and center, but don’t have the time or ability to do the work yourself.
Step 4: Organize Your Workflow
Sometimes (especially when companies are small), it seems easier to just have one person handle everything related to content creation: coming up with ideas, creating, editing, and posting. However, this setup is rather limiting since only one person is providing input. You’ll find your content is enriched when you have a little more participation.
That said, you don’t want a bunch of people poking their nose in every step of the way (leads to confusion). Instead, assign individuals specific jobs and have every type of content follow a systematic work flow.
For example, with social updates you may find one person is sufficient, but with eBooks or white pages you may want to have one person come up with the ideas, someone else write the content, another person act as editor, and a final individual who gives approval before posting the content on the site.
Putting it into Action
Once you have a clear plan with a distinct tone, style, and workflow, you are ready to get to the fun part — creating the content. Website owners are constantly hearing the saying, “content is king,” but what does that really mean? How can you create interesting content which entices visitors to become loyal followers? Of course, “great content” is subjective and varies based on the subject of the site; however, there are certain elements present in all the best content. They are:
1. Plain Language
Generally, online readers aren’t looking for beautifully crafted prose or posts filled with big, SAT style words. Remember, they are skimming and trying to get quick information in the most efficient way possible.
It’s good practice to write as you would speak, and stick with ordinary words the majority of online users understand. If guests to your site need a dictionary to decipher your message, they will likely just go somewhere else to get the information. It also helps to avoid too many adjectives since they have a tendency to cloud your meaning — keep things simple and to the point.
Also, be mindful of using industry-related jargon and acronyms that are unfamiliar to outsiders. For instance, if you are giving business advice, avoid terms like synergy, elasticity, or marginal, which may be second-nature to you, but likely mean nothing to the average person
2. Be Opinionated
Have you ever hung-out with someone who agrees with everything you say and never seems to have opinions of his own? It’s pretty boring and kind of annoying. Websites and brands are no different. If you want consumers to find your business interesting then you have to stand for something, have unique ideas, and not be afraid to voice your opinions.
This doesn’t mean you should be confrontational; that will just make you look like a bully and turn people off. Instead, let your opinions weave naturally (and gently) throughout your content. A small retailer, for example, should not try to make their own business look better by writing an article explaining why Wal-Mart is terrible and responsible for all that is wrong with the world. This will only perturb the millions of customers who actually like Wal-Mart.
A better approach for this small business would be to write an article about their own positive traits (individualized customer attention, easy access, no lines, etc.) and casually mention these things are hard to find in big-box stores (no names mentioned).
In some ways, it helps to think of yourself as a politician. You need to get people on your side, have a distinctive platform, yet not alienate too many voters (potential customers).
3. Use Your Content to Sell Your Product’s Benefits
Online users may come to your site, glance at your content, and merely click away if they can’t immediately tell how your product or service is of use. Therefore, it’s your job to make sure consumers are aware of the benefits you are offering. This is important for every website, but even more so for those which are new or have innovative products (people might not know what they are).
Just think how many apps you have on your iPhone that you never knew you needed until you had them. What convinced you to get those apps in the first place? Most likely, a friend told you about them or you saw them on the top of the download chart (both great advertising mediums). Even if you were randomly searching through the App Store, each application comes with a description, reviews, pictures, and often times a free demo. This whole formula does a wonderful job of letting people know what the app does and why they might want it.
You can apply those same principles for the things you are promoting. Find multiple ways to let others know about your products and services, and don’t get bogged down into the details of what it is, but explain how it is valuable to consumers. For instance, does it save them time? Make something easier? Provide entertainment?
Whatever it is, use your content to portray that message.
4. Provide Knowledge
Many online users are looking for answers or new information, and making your site a go-to source for such knowledge will keep them coming back for more. Instead of weeding through the same old stuff full of vague advice, they will know to rely on your content for specific, practical, and up-to-date info.
Consider the popular “For Dummies” brand of books, which has now branched out with a successful website. What makes these books and website so well-liked? For the most part, it is because they use plain language, explanatory videos, and straightforward, expert advice that is easy to comprehend. The content isn’t full of philosophies or general ideas, but real directions people can immediately put into application.
5. Be Unique
As mentioned above, make sure your content has something new to say. Of course, it’s hard to find a topic that’s never been discussed online; however, this doesn’t mean you have to tackle it in the same way as everyone else. You and your brand are special and can offer a unique perspective on your subject matter.
Try to think of the topic from a new angle or from a different person’s point of view. You can also summarize someone else’s findings in an easy to read infograph or video. The point is to use creativity, and with a little fresh-thinking, you may in fact come up with a totally new idea.
A good rule of thumb is to always ask yourself, “would I want to read this?”
6. Provide a Story
Things are more engaging when told through a story, this doesn’t mean you have to write a “once upon a time” type narrative for your postings, but merely relay information based on your own experiences. Explain where you were when you thought of something or describe a conversation you had which sparked a new idea. Also, customer stories or case studies are excellent tools for earning consumer confidence.
When told through a story, you provide background information that helps readers agree with your conclusions, and it tends to evoke emotions which make your message memorable.
It’s also useful to “keep things real” by writing about both the positive and negative happenings with your business (every good story needs suspense and conflict) as it will make you seem more genuine, and will cause people to become emotionally invested in your company.
Just be careful not to let your story drown out the information — relaying knowledge is paramount. Also, don’t force a story if one isn’t there; sometimes readers just want a quick top-ten or how-to list. Balance is the key.
7. Put a Face to the Business
Using real people (you and your employees) as your characters will help your story come to life. It’s always a good idea to include photographs and videos of you and your content providers to give followers a sense of your personalities. This will help them to feel as if they are getting to know actual humans and not just a faceless business.
Online users are bombarded with advertisements and have gotten to the point where they automatically tune out page images which appear contrived (banner blindness), but a candid photograph of real person stands out from the ordinary, piques curiosity, and encourages brand loyalty.
Truthfully, the ingredients for creating buzz-worthy content isn’t very complicated, yet most blogs and websites are missing the mark. Why? Because it takes genuine work, dedication, and talent to generate a steady stream of worthwhile content, and many businesses are still underestimating the importance of online marketing.
The good news is, their lack of effort works in your favor since you understand the importance of content marketing and can devote your energies in this direction. Gather the best writers, videographers, graphic artists, and socializers on your team and you will quickly gain a leg-up on the competition.