Study after study has shown the positive impact personalization and customization have on everything from email open rates to time spent on a web page. It makes sense: One surefire way to get a person’s attention is to call them by name, and that’s what personalized content does. While technology doesn’t yet let you personalize everything your content creators write and record for each member of your audience, it allots more of your prospects’ attention to your content when it is specific enough to feel as though it’s addressed expressly to them.
Know Your Audience
You can’t be relevant to the people viewing your content unless you know who’s looking. Understanding your visitors is the essential first step to customizing your content for them. Data scientists do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to market segmentation and analytics, but it’s your creative team that takes that information from theory to practice. For example, if your audience profile reveals more than half of your visitors share a similar professional background, that’s your cue to invest in content that applies more specifically to their industry. If the numbers suggest your how-to posts outperform everything else on your blog, it’s time to tell your content creation team to step up production on them.
Writing Targeted Copy for a General Audience
Some content managers shy away from publishing specific content for a broad audience. They may feel a targeted article could distance other readers or that a video aimed at one segment of a total market might garner fewer views. What they’re missing is that quality – high engagement, great relevance, and soaring response rates – matters more than quantity. If you know you’re reaching small businesses, it doesn’t make sense to address them as if they were Fortune 500 firms. You’re better off publishing half a dozen specific blog posts, each of which addresses a different market segment and commands that segment’s full attention, than giving readers one or two articles full of generalities.
Proper English grammar, syntax and spellings are the same whether the text appears in a book, on a website or as part of a social media blast. It doesn’t mean print and online content are the same, though. If you’ve been transcribing your tri-fold brochures verbatim to your website or repurposing blog posts as hand-outs at conferences and trade shows, you could be losing much of your audience. Writing that’s out of place is like wearing board shorts in the boardroom or a tie to the beach – it just isn’t comfortable.
Print Readers and Online Skimmers
When people read online, study after study has shown they skim or scan whole paragraphs instead of reading every word. They might read the first few lines of a paragraph to get the gist of it and skip the latter half; others don’t even make it to the end of the article, instead reading the salient information at the top and leaving the rest. A few only read the title before making judgments about what’s written, as this NPR post for April Fool’s Day showed.
Researchers tracking eye movements have found that people read books and print magazines in a column that looks much like a newspaper column or a page of print. The map of eye movements is the same width at the top as at the bottom. Online content is a different story. When mapped, online readers’ eye movements followed a capital “F” shape, taking in a few full lines at the top of a page, reading much of the subsequent few paragraphs and tapering off dramatically at the end. If you want readers to see something in online text, put it in that F-shaped zone. Otherwise, they may miss it entirely.
It’s one of the most common questions content creators hear from their B2B clients: “We love our work, but how do we make what we do sound exciting?” Selling hand tools or hospital gowns doesn’t have the same surface glamor as next-gen consumer electronics or haute couture, but that doesn’t mean writing and talking about it must be dull. Having an affinity for the subject, showing your visitors more about the people behind your products and taking novel looks at familiar topics can prove satirist. Magazine editor H.L. Mencken agreed and stated: “There are no dull subjects. There are only dull writers.”
Turning Facts into Narratives
People love a story, and if you can frame information as a narrative, they’ll follow the tale you and your content creator tell. Let’s say a company makes latex and neoprene gloves. These aren’t fashion choices; they’re what doctors, cooks, clean-room techs and a host of other professionals have to wear at work. An article about manufacturing those gloves could be a little dry, but if you reframe that with a narrative flow that follows one particular pair of gloves from raw materials and blending to molding and QC, you communicate the same information in a livelier way. The television show “How It’s Made” is a shining example of how successful even the most mundane processes can be when they become a story with a beginning, middle and end.
Unless your website is so new that it still has the default “Hello, world!” message as your first blog post, you already have some content on it. A great content strategy allows everything that your website contains continue to work for you for as long as you keep it visible, but your current content might not fit with that goal. It’s worth revisiting what you currently have published and measure it against the standard of what content should be. As you browse your video library or read through your blog posts, ask yourself these questions.
Is It Relevant?
No matter how brilliant your site copy for your air conditioning company may be, people in Nome are not going to find it as relevant to their interests as someone in New Orleans. To be relevant, you have to know what your audience wants. Only once you understand your visitors and what they hope to find on your site can you give them what they want. Your marketing team can paint an accurate picture of your ideal customer; once you have that image in hand, compare it to how relevant your content is to that buyer.
Is It Useful?
Utility and relevance are related but not identical. Relevance is potential energy; visitors find your content compelling when it’s relevant but don’t always act on it. Usability puts that potential energy to work by giving visitors actionable information. An article about improving your business content might be relevant to you, especially if your current SEO and content marketing strategies need an upgrade, but that article only becomes useful when you take concrete steps toward your goals. While not every line of your content has to be actionable, seeding your website, blog and newsletters with suggestions that enable visitors took great take action makes your site a more valuable resource.
Google regularly updates its algorithms to keep ahead of spam sites and black-hatters. The company’s spam guru, Matt Cutts, estimated that the search engine giant performs somewhere between 400 and 500 updates a year. Why is Panda 4.0, the most recent update, such a big deal?
For one thing, Panda 4.0 is considerably larger than the little daily tweaks the search engine undergoes. Like software, Google algorithm sets are numbered, and they only get a new number if they make sweeping changes. Google keeps the specifics of its updates to itself, but the company did confirm the update went live on May 20. Data analysts already knew some major changes were in the works from the changes in traffic patterns, but with Cutts’ confirmation, they now know the source of the upheaval.
The original Panda changes launched in 2011 and targeted sites with superficial content, duplicate information and link-heavy but meaningless copy. It crushed some content mills and drastically curtailed others, leaving sites with custom-written content and insightful information on top of results pages. This is only the fourth full-scale update to Panda, and sites with low-quality content are once again feeling the pinch.
Another reason for the uproar over Panda is its almost concurrent launch with the Payday Loans 2.0 update, a new set of algorithms meant to attack the high percentage of spam in certain high-traffic verticals. Named for the industry most notorious for its bad web habits, Payday Loans 2.0 obfuscated the data returned from Panda 4.0, making it a challenge for website analysts to sort out which peaks and valleys could be attributed to Panda and which to Payday Loans. In some industries, site traffic see-sawed wildly throughout the week and is still settling down, but the news is good for many small and mid-sized companies’ sites – and bad for at least one gigantic one.