As a journalist-turned-content-marketer, the hardest part of my job used to be convincing brands to publish content. Fast-forward ten years and the gatekeepers of content strategy and promotion are struggling to process the flood of messaging from PR, marketing and brand agencies, users and influencers.
According to analytics experts Track Maven, branded content production is up a whopping 35% – job done then! Though engagement is down 17% – oh. Fellow software specialist Beckon reports that only 5% of branded content gets 90% of all engagement. And demand for content strategy continues its upward trajectory as brands struggle to understand what exactly it is they’re getting back from their investment.
So how do we fix this? The quality-over-quantity maxim doesn’t really cut it. A series of low-fi images can attract more attention for some brands than a beautifully-produced piece of long-form content. And in a world where newsjacking made it onto the shortlist for Word of the Year and people “saying it like it is” is prized as highly as anything else, I’m proposing authenticity as a more useful ideal to aim for in 2018.
Understanding search intent can help create content that offers more authentic value. But serving audience need isn’t enough to avoid wasting your investment. Only by exploring how people engage with and unpicking the patterns within successful content can we confidently pit your efforts against every other brand and media site covering the same topics: Making a blueprint for how to be an authentic publisher.
A good content strategy creates a framework with which to judge ideas – helping to stem the flow of content flotsam and jetsam – and ascertain whether or not your efforts are paying off. Without one, how will you know if your content’s ‘working’?
Combining brand and audience need shapes your content goals and content mission statement. What exactly is it you want your content to deliver for the brand? And crucially, what do you want it to make your audience think, feel and do? If your answers fill a flip-board and see you ordering in more Post-It notes, you’re not alone. The sheer scale of the opportunity and options presented by content marketing is one of the main reasons the majority of marketers (70% according to Altimeter) lack a consistent or integrated strategy.
Thankfully, we no longer have to start from scratch. All of that published content offers a wealth of data and insights that can be mined to help brands hone in on the exact type of success and connection they’re after. And the principles of search – built from the principles of human behaviour the algorithms serve – give us a solid jumping-off point.
Borrowing YouTube’s Hero, Hub, Hygiene model to audit content helps to paint a picture of how audiences engage with different types of content. In broad-brushstrokes, hero content plays on passions; raising awareness with a wide audience that can be measured through social shares and backlinks. Hub is built around topics; primarily to nurture existing relationships that we explore through channel engagement audits. And hygiene answers more specific in-market queries – the demand that keyword research and search visibility helps us understand.
Through this lens we start to spot trends in the types of content that fall into these categories; the first pieces of the puzzle that help inform decisions on what we produce and how we promote it. Some will require more Creative investment and collaboration with Brand, PR and Social than others, but that doesn’t make them any less of a search concern. And the success or failure of hygiene content is far from reliant on keyword optimisation alone.
As search algorithms become more sophisticated to mimic human thought processes, keywords carry less weight as a single ranking factor. As well as findable, content must meet the high-standards of traditional editorial teams; to be relevant, digestible and engaging. In short, it has to be authentic; and this is where deeper analysis of user data signals and quantitative audits help fill in the blanks.
Identify the content that’s attracting social engagement, backlinks, high click-through and low bounce-rates then tackle trends in topic, format and structure.
If Google rewards publishers who cover a subject comprehensively, exactly what detail should you include? Here, keyword research is much more powerful when supercharged with engagement insights and editorial analysis. From top-level strategy – where can you win; what subjects can you own; and how can you offer something uniquely valuable? Right down to the nitty-gritty – what sub-topics should your content cover; who should you interview or quote; what type of visuals and interactive elements are most appropriate and where should you link to?
Dig deep in discovery and you’ve done the lion’s share of the work to create killer briefs; complete with best-practice examples, resources and leads to inspire quality content with a strong point of difference.
But most importantly, you now have much more than the wishful content shopping lists most marketers labour over. You’ve brought home the ingredients of a strategy that will help you balance opportunity with expected investment and make smart decisions on production priorities.
Successful publishers don’t just go live and hope for the best – they wouldn’t be able to justify the business and advertising investment. To secure yours, demand even more from your discovery. Use it to identify the channels on which your content is most likely to pull users in and the engagement triggers –search and social listening trends – that can help frame promotional push messages.
As the search landscape has expanded, so have the opportunities for your content to be found organically. Voice search is on the rise; Cortana ships with every Windows 10 machine, Siri remains the personal assistant to beat, while both Amazon’s Alexa and Google Mini were top gifts for Christmas 2017. Cisco predicts that IP video traffic will be 82 percent of all consumer Internet traffic by 2021, up from 73 percent in 2016. And image platforms have become the go-to for people searching for ideas; particularly in the visual spheres of fashion, homeware, food, crafts and travel.
Combining detailed keyword research with platform-specific variations (suggested searches are a solid starting point) will give your content a better chance of being seen and a greater incremental return on your investment; weeks, months and years into the future. Because as any authentic publisher will attest, if nurtured – catalogued, audited and regularly checked and updated – the value of quality content can and will grow over time. Search experts know it, too: Research by SEO toolset Ahrefs shows that to rank 1st across 2 million top search terms, your content had to be live over on average 940 days. So the fact that only 29% of leading marketers systematically reuse and repurpose content may go some way to explaining those disappointing engagement stats.
Evergreen guides, life-stage creative with transient audiences and seasonal showpieces are just a few examples of media that act as magnets for incremental engagement. Look after your most valuable content and your channel strategists can pull the right levers to keep it working hard: Excluding users through paid social, targeting new groups by interest and lookalikes or building personalised journeys through email.
If you’re going to invest in content marketing in 2018, take a deep breath and throw yourself in. Consumers, users – let’s just call them people – they know a toe-dipper when they see one.
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