Fresh, timely content signals authority and relevance to search engines, and it’s absolutely essential to your SEO. On the other hand, articles that aren’t time-sensitive slowly accrue greater authority and value. Somewhere between up-to-the-minute news and timeless articles are seasonal pieces that bring in new traffic cyclically. Where should your content strategy focus to get the most SEO value and garner the greatest interest from readers? The best plans incorporate a little of everything. One of the best models for growing your best blog could be right outside your front door: your garden.
The Evergreens: Content That’s Meant to Last
Content creators refer to articles and blog posts that aren’t time-sensitive as evergreen pieces because the content’s utility never fades. These articles support long-term growth, and over time, you can use them to build up a significant content library that can then become an e-book, a research library and a signal of authority to search engines. Evergreen pieces need no further pruning once you’ve published them, and they can enhance your site for years.
While evergreen content is valuable, it also generates traffic slowly. It isn’t trendy or eye-catching enough to leap to the top of search engine results pages as news, and it isn’t subject to seasonal searches. Most blogs benefit from a certain amount of evergreen content, but the specific ratio of evergreen to time-sensitive content you publish depends on your business and clientele. Fashion blogs, for example, tend to follow trends as they happen while law, healthcare and B2B industry blogs lean more heavily on evergreen copy.
You don’t have to spend more than five minutes reading about search engines and how they work to know you need original content for SEO. Google and other search engines penalize duplicate content even if you own both the rights to that content. If your content creator has inadvertently borrowed – or worse, outright taken – that content from another source without owning the rights to it, you could get a DMCA takedown notice or even face legal action. Obviously, original content is important, but what is it? First, it might be easier to look at what it isn’t.
“Original” Doesn’t Always Mean “New” (And That’s Okay)
People watch more than 6 billion hours of YouTube videos every month. That’s about 685,000 years’ worth of adorable cats, product demonstrations and movie clips. The chances that at least two of those videos will feature very similar content are extremely high. The same goes for written content, especially in hotly competitive verticals. Even the best writer isn’t able to produce a startlingly new way of thinking about five ways to trim belly fat or how to keep your shop floor clean. Even if they did, those writers would sell their new magic formulas for millions instead of putting them into a one-off blog post.
What most content creators do instead is take a slightly different angle on a specific topic, giving a new perspective on an established theme and leaving room for future variations on it. Take that shop floor example; a blogger might write one week about how to remove minor oil stains from concrete and cover soaking up liquids efficiently the next. From Google’s perspective – and just as important, from your audience’s – these highly specific articles are useful and original even if someone else has previously written something on the general subject of keeping your shop floor in good shape.
Having an on-site blog is vital for SEO, customer engagement and establishing authority, but too many businesses use it as an ad delivery system or a dumping ground for ideas that didn’t quite grow into feature articles. That isn’t why your blog exists, and if you’re spending more time talking about “we” than about “you” in your blog, you could be losing your visitors’ interest. On the flip side, some topics instantly attract more attention, more traffic and more social media sharing. Fill your blog with more of these posts and fewer ads, and you’ll see engagement metrics rise.
How-to articles give readers evergreen content – that is, information that stays relevant over time – in a format they can immediately use. A great how-to article also demonstrates your own knowledge of the topic, and knowledge builds authority. Once you and your content creation team have pinpointed areas you know your visitors would like to explore in greater depth, coming up with a few related how-to articles is just the beginning. Those ideas can also become video demonstrations or form the foundation for a new white paper. One caveat: Don’t invest too heavily in how-tos that have already been covered extensively by content mills and crowd-sourced answer sites. Make your how-to content specific and focused, not shallow and broad. Sites such as eHow succeed on volume rather than depth, and no company site can match their output; instead, compete on quality, not quantity.
The opposite of a how-to list, an article that focuses on mistakes or problems the readers might be making can also have a powerful draw. Any reader who has a particular problem will read on to find the solution, while those who don’t know they have a problem will check out the post to see if they do. We all want to be a little closer to perfection, and finding out about the mistakes we’re making gives us a chance to improve. The concept of “new and improved” is powerful in advertising, and it’s equally potent in content; by giving your readers new ways to improve, you’re bound to hold their interest.
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.
When writing business content, many companies instruct their writers to avoid any negative words. Everything must be re-framed as a positive, they believe, as if the word “no” and its cousins, such as “can’t” and “not” and “never,” will taint the rest of the content like used motor oil in a bucket of paint. You’ve read here before about magic words and how they affect your content, but does that magic have a dark side? Can reading the word “won’t” subconsciously associate your content with negative emotions? Is there bad juju connected to “no?”
The Difference Between Negativity and “No”
Sales and marketing executives have an understandable aversion to denying their customers’ requests. No one likes to say no to someone who’s about to give your business money. The word “no” by itself, though, can sometimes be a positive in buyers’ minds. Think of phrases such as “no money down” or “no special equipment needed,” and you’ll see how powerful this short word can be in the right contexts. These statements describe positive benefits even though they contain a negative word. While your content creation team could recast these phrases in positive terms, the results sound wordy or awkward – and awkwardness is a content killer.
Negative statements, on the other hand, are something your content team should avoid, at least on persuasive copy. While some negatives are unavoidable on FAQs or in warranty information, the content your customers see first should have a positive spin. Assume visitors are there because they want to buy with positive phrasing instead of implying they’re there only because they couldn’t find what they wanted elsewhere. Tell people what you can do for them, not what others can’t accomplish.
How far into the future does your search optimization plan stretch? If you can’t realistically see what you’re doing now as viable in a year or two, you’re at grave risk of running afoul of the next wave of search engine algorithm changes. A short-term scheme puts all your content creator’s efforts into keyword-stuffed pages, paid links and spun articles. Ultimately, the traffic stream these tactics divert to your site will dry up because search engines constantly look for ways to close the floodgates and eliminate SEO schemes.
A long-term SEO strategy relies on custom-written blog posts and articles, a library of stored knowledge developed over time and an organic ground-swell of interest from social media followers. It’s inevitably a slower process, but it’s slower for the same reason you don’t get a five-course tasting menu from a star chef at a drive-through window. It’s the opposite of a fast-food approach to content, and that’s why it’s the most viable long-term strategy.
Why Gaming the System Doesn’t Work
Ultimately, any short-term scheme for artificially inflating traffic is doomed to failure. As soon as Google’s latest algorithm changes close the loophole a site has been exploiting, that site must scramble to find a new tactic to get back the traffic it loses. For many sites, the traffic never comes back. Take a look at these stats from SearchEngineLand and see how some major players in the SEO content industry have fared post-Panda.
When you pin your site’s SEO plan to outmoded tactics, you’re climbing a staircase that’s constantly crumbling beneath your feet. Every time a new algorithm launches, your marketing team has to leap to the next temporary tactic. Wringing traffic from search engines through short-term SEO schemes is also a money-waster. With one change, Google could nullify all the previous investments you’ve made in your site, devaluing the content you’ve already bought and forcing you to buy the next SEO scheme from anyone who promises a quick, powerful fix for your traffic woes.
Google’s most recent major algorithm update, Hummingbird, subtly changed how searches happen. Most of its changes went on backstage, and most people didn’t even know it was active until months after it was in place. From a user’s perspective, Hummingbird made about as feather-light an impact as its name suggests.
For SEO developers, the new algorithm roll-out has brought more noticeable change. Hummingbird speaks English – rather, it recognizes search strings written in natural language instead of deriving Boolean search strings from whatever a user types into the field. In other words, when you want to find the nearest dog park with a fountain, you can now type your question the same way you’d ask it instead of condensing the words to essentials.
For example, if you’re looking for a local SEO and content creation firm in Long Island, you can now ask Google directly instead of playing around with combinations of these terms in ungrammatical key phrases. You may not notice the difference when you’re typing, but if you look closely, you’ll begin to see it in the articles and blog posts you read. To maximize the impact of their keywords, some SEO content providers used phrases that felt shoehorned into articles. They didn’t occur naturally and were just there as a convenient hook to snag Google’s attention. Now, Google looks for the same things you want to find.
Stopping Stop Words
SEO content creators, bloggers and search-savvy Google users have long been aware of the effect stop words had on keywords and search strings. Stop words such as “the,” “or,” “of” and similar terms are ignored by search engines. These little connectors and almost-invisible linguistic helpers make written language more sensible but aren’t really needed in a web search. They’re the lubricants of language, but they just gum up Google’s works by taking space away from relevant terms within a search. Because Google only looks at the first 70 characters or so of a search term not in quotation marks, too many stop words can eat the end of your search string.
Stop words have also given SEO writers an excuse to come up with ungainly grammar in keywords. The next time you read an article that uses phrases like “dentist Manhattan” or “writer SEO New Jersey,” you know someone’s been paying more attention to old-fashioned keyword stuffing than to updated Hummingbird-friendly content.
You’re bombarded with hundreds of advertising messages daily. They range from subtle suggestions from product placement in movies to overt pitches in your email in-box. You’ve learned to tune most of them out because they don’t apply to you. You aren’t the target market for these broadcast ads, so they become background noise.
Content is a different story. It isn’t an advertisement; it’s valuable information your customers actively seek. It’s never background noise because it reaches an interested, invested audience automatically. Unlike advertising, content carries a meaningful message to a select few prospects. Customized content is one of your most powerful tools for increasing your visibility, enhancing sales and earning a front-page spot on search engine results pages, and it works best when you find the right niche.
Impressions vs. Conversions
A large ad campaign can create an impressive number of impressions, but it may mean little for conversions. If you aren’t in the market for a new car, no amount of glossy magazine spreads or ad spots will persuade you to buy one. Conversions are the narrow end of your sales funnel; they represent the buyers you’ve convinced, not merely made aware of your existence. That’s the point at which niche content reaches your audience. If you were shopping for a new car, you’d notice those ads and seek more information about them – information you’d find on a company’s website, from online reviews or in feature-length articles about 2014 models.
A narrow focus returns big results because your intended audience is self-selecting to a large extent. They’re actively looking for an industry authority on what they hope to buy. Whether you sell Cadillacs or candy manufacturing equipment, your custom content should position you as an authority within that industry. The more fine-grained you make your focus and the more informative your content becomes, the higher your conversion rate goes.