Overcoming Marketing Immunity with Killer Content

How many email marketing messages do you see in a day? How about ads on Facebook, Twitter and other social media streams? If you don’t use ad-blocking software, go ahead and add all the banner and sidebar ads you see during a day. Then consider all the billboards you see on your daily commute and the TV spots you watch while catching up on your favorite shows. What would you guess your number would be? Most people assume they see a few hundred ads a day, but that’s not accurate.

We see thousands.

Of course, not every ad makes an impression; most are incidental glimpses we catch while heading into the office or while fast-forwarding on our DVRs. Even those minimal exposures, though, lead to marketing immunity. Just as we tend to tune out constant background noise, we suppress the mental noise ads create. If you’re like most people, you decide within a second and a half if you’re going to open an email, save it for opening later or delete it unread. You take only a few seconds longer to decide whether to read an article or bounce off the page. That’s a tiny window for content marketers to hit – tiny, but not impossible. If your audience likes you, they’ll keep reading.

Your content matters because it’s the only thing that sets you apart in the long term. Your customers have become immune to most advertising gambits; they’ve seen the hype literally thousands of times before. Even if they give in with a click, they quickly move on if they feel they’ve been suckered in with a click-bait title or subject line. They stay only if they feel they’re getting something of value from what you’re serving them. Here’s how you can give your customers content that keeps them in place and sets your message apart from advertising clutter.

 Make It Easy

The best content goes straight from readers’ screens to their brains without getting snagged on poor grammar, bad spelling or ugly word choices. Your audience has limited patience for your content, and if they expend half of it just wading through awkward English and clumsy typos, they aren’t going to have much left over for listening to the message itself. Give your readers a break and hire content writers whose English skills don’t get in the way of the story you want to tell your audience.

Use Your Voice

Louis Armstrong and Lana del Rey couldn’t sound more different, but they have one thing in common: They’re unmistakably distinctive. Good content informs, but great content also entertains, and that’s what having a distinctive brand voice can do for you. Coming up with a content marketing strategy that reinforces who you are with a strong, memorable voice sets you apart in a large crowd of companies competing for a limited audience that’s increasingly immune to conventional marketing tactics.

Inform Your Readers

Too often, content marketing forgets the content and focuses on the marketing. The point of what you publish isn’t to disguise advertising as content but to give your audience useful information. Content marketing moves away from the old concept of positioning a product as the only solution to a problem described in the ad and toward genuinely helpful information that turns a blog into a destination site.

Respect Your Audience

You know advertising when you see it, and so does your audience. They don’t mind a plug or two when it makes sense and is honest, but they do object to feeling tricked. Some companies falter close to the finish line by developing useful, relevant content and later hiding advertising inside it instead of putting useful information available and clearly branding it. Content marketing is still marketing, and it’s fine to let your readers know who’s bringing them the information they want – but not if all you’re bringing them is a different kind of ad. Your dog might be fooled into swallowing a pill if you smear peanut butter on it, but your audience is smarter than that; be honest with them and don’t use content to conceal ads.

It’s Time to Stop Verbing Nouns in Digital Content

Read most business content, and you’re almost certain to come across some impacting and trending. You might see leveraging, trialing and even dog-fooding if the content creator’s really fond of the corporate habit of verbing nouns. The problem with turning nouns into verbs isn’t that it goes against dictionary definitions; it’s that it weakens strong writing and obscures meaning. Here’s why your content should skip the corporate conventions and use straightforward language.

 

 What’s a Verbed Noun, Anyway?

Essentially, nouns are names, and verbs are actions. When verbs describe a particular activity, they sometimes expand into noun territory, becoming the name for that activity. It happens especially often with new activities because these actions don’t yet have names of their own. That’s how sending email or text messages have become emailing and texting. You’ll also see it often in sports where the name of the equipment becomes the verb, as in snowboarding or rollerblading. These verbs’ evolution into nouns expands the language and makes it easier to communicate. It’s shorter to say ″I’ll email you″ than ″I’ll send you an email,″ and everyone knows what it means.

Some verbs are the wallpaper paste of language, holding sentences together but without adding much interest of their own. Forms of ″to be″ verbs such as ″is″ and ″are″ have become practically invisible because we see them all the time. ″To be″ verbs also find their way into passive-voice constructions that sap the life out of any content if writers overuse them. To spice things up, business content writers reach for more interesting verbs – but sometimes they reach too far. Instead of letting verbs naturally shift into nouns, they force them into that mold, which is how dog-fooding and donutting happen.

 

Solving the Wrong Problem

Business writing isn’t always filled with page-turning excitement. PowerPoint presentations of budget forecasts and analytics of SEO content need something to keep corporate audiences engaged, and one way business writers do that is with exciting language. In a boardroom presentation, that’s fine; anyone who’s sat through a dry, passive presentation would welcome a few newly minted verbs. For digital content you serve your audience, including SEO, blog posts, white papers and other branded copy, these new verbs don’t add to the conversation. In fact, they take away from meaningful content by making the conversation about themselves.

We’ve used it as an example already, so let’s take a closer look at dog-fooding. It’s certainly memorable, but what does it mean? Dog-fooding just means using your own company’s products and services. You see it in action on this website and blog because the same writers who work for you create the content you see on the page. Unless you knew that, though, this verbed noun doesn’t make much sense. How about donutting? That’s just forming up in a circle and discussing a project.

These don’t work well in digital content your audience reads in SEO articles, email and blog posts because they divert your readers’ attention from your subject to the obscure verb they’re now trying to process. In worst-case scenarios, they may even go to another site to look up definitions – and you never want your audience clicking away from your page unless it’s to more of your content.

Your readers don’t need you to do verbal gymnastics to keep them alert during a meeting or condense concepts to fit a large amount of information into a brief PowerPoint presentation. They need your content creation team to speak clearly to them about what they need to know.

 

Start Making Sense

For some corporate content writers, verbing nouns has become so common that it’s now a textual habit they can’t break. When nouns that already have a perfectly good verb form transform into verbs again, they hide meaning instead of clarifying it. An executive signaturing a document instead of signing it, a group conferencing instead of conferring, a test audience trialing products instead of trying them – these uses are awkward and make readers wonder why the content creator didn’t just use the existing verbs.

A little verbing goes a long way in business content, especially if you’re reaching a diverse audience with your SEO articles and blog posts. The occasional leveraging is fine, but leave the dog-fooding and donutting out of your digital content.

Why Your Content Needs Better Writing

When article marketing first started shaping the digital landscape for B2B and B2C content, the language writers used shifted too. Many of them no longer billed themselves as writers; they were now content creators. Those shifting linguistic sands reveal a move away from narrow, isolated communications and toward a more holistic view of everything a company does to create a seamless digital and real-world presence. From that standpoint, content is a great thing. It’s inclusive enough to incorporate video, Pinterest, Instagram, infographics and other tools to get your message across in more than words. Content is writing’s revenue-friendly cousin. Content’s only missing one thing, in fact: passion.

 

Feeling the Passion

The Beatles didn’t sing about wanting to become a paperback content creator. No one calls a gripping novel, a moving opinion piece or lyrical poetry content. Writers write because they care passionately about the story they want to tell or the imagery they want to create with their words. Niche bloggers don’t devote hours every week lovingly discussing game consoles, gardening or golden retrievers because they want to produce content. They do it because they feel impassioned enough to share their thoughts on their favorite topics. That fervent devotion to a subject brings them an audience – an audience that feels just as enthusiastic as their favorite writers do.

You and your content writer can translate that kind of passion into business content, but only if you nurture that drive to create and share information about your subject. Everything from your SEO content to your social media presence to your email newsletter should contain information you and your writing team can’t wait to share with an audience that’s equally enthusiastic. We write about writing here because it’s what we love to do, not to fill space on the page.

 

Exciting Writing

As writers and content creators, we can tell you it’s easier to write compelling prose about some subjects than it is about others. Anyone who tells you that writing about electronic components can be just as emotionally charged as writing a good love story either has a limited understanding of romance or is a lot more interested in capacitors than anyone else in the world. That doesn’t mean B2B content writing has to be dull or dry, though. With a shift in focus and a real enthusiasm for the subject, B2B blogs, trade journal articles and industry newsletters benefit from lively writing too.

Here are some of the ways a capable writer can turn plain content into engaging writing:

  • Narrative – Tell readers a story about how that product or service changes customers’ lives. When you turn the facts into a story with a beginning, middle and end, you tap into something deep in the human psyche. Narrative structures make us want to turn the page and see how the story turns out.
  • Lists – You’re reading one now, and chances are good you’re going to finish reading every list item. There’s something satisfying about the organization of a written list, which is why so much content focuses on numerical lists. Top five and top ten lists naturally lead readers to the next item.
  • Step-by-step instructions – Tell your readers how to do something, and you’ve earned their interest, especially if the writing catches their attention. Simple, well-organized how-to pieces are especially valuable for B2B content writers because they tie in easily with what companies have to say.

 

Care Enough to Share

Writers communicate their enthusiasm for a subject instead of just fitting text around keywords. The SEO content industry is full of content creators who start with keywords and retro-fit articles around them, but that strictly utilitarian, least-common-denominator approach doesn’t win you an audience. Instead, choose an SEO team that brings ideas to the table and incorporates keywords naturally. You want your writer to tell your customers, ″we have something really cool to tell you – listen, and we’ll share.

We came up with this article because we’d read one too many tired SEO pieces this morning, and we wanted to share some thoughts on how to make content better. We’re writers too, and it’s okay to express a little passion for our subject.

 

Content Marketing Predictions for 2015

It’s only a few weeks old, but 2015 is already shaping up as a year in flux for SEO and content marketing. Google’s been relatively quiet since its localization-focused Pigeon update in October, and the search engine giant’s spam guru Matt Cutts remains on leave into 2015. With less information about Google’s goings-on, content marketing experts have relied on their own insights to predict what 2015 will bring for SEO. Here’s our take on what you need to know about content for the coming year.

Mobile Marketing a Must

More visitors than ever now see the mobile version of your site, read your emails on mobile devices and check their smartphones for Facebook updates. If you aren’t catering to these customers with mobile-friendly responsive design, you’re missing a huge chunk of your audience. The good news is that responsive web and email design has become accessible for everyone. With current technology, your content marketing team can put together mobile-first designs that welcome your whole audience to visit your site, read your emails and click on your landing pages.

Sleek and Streamlined Content

Responsive design is just the start of the mobile revolution, which is also affecting how sites look. High-contrast color combinations, bold yet simple images and text with plenty of white space are direct results of mobile-first marketing design. From your logo to your layout, the content you present should look as good on a smartphone screen at 9:00 at night as it does on a desktop unit at 9:00 in the morning. Because viewers want streamlined sites that work well on any platform, content has to be concentrated. You don’t have room for padded writing or fluff-filled copy. Every word counts, and your content creator must keep that editing pencil sharp.

Marketing Automation Makes a Splash

At first blush, automation sounds like the antithesis of what content’s about – specificity, relevance and authority. In reality, marketing automation software just takes the guess-work and extra steps out of moving content from your creative team’s brains to your audience’s eyes. With it, you can customize landing pages, email and even your home page with content directed straight at the audience you want to reach. Triggered email events, audience segmentation and lead scoring are simpler with a fully automated system too, but the heart of the process is content – and lots of it. If you plan to upgrade to full-service marketing automation software in 2015, be prepared to supply your new system with plenty of content.

LSI Matters More

Latent semantic indexing, or LSI, has been a driver for SEO and content marketing for years, and businesses can expect that trend to continue. The term sounds complex, but in practice, it’s just a way for search engines to recognize high-value sites by seeing beyond keywords. For example, if you’re in the business of restoring classic cars, your site’s content might include car makes and models, automotive terms and synonyms for restoration. Search engines that use LSI – or at least something like it – pick up on these signals in your content and index your page more highly. Think of LSI as search engines’ natural defense against keyword-stuffing and thin content.

Google Pulls Away from Analytics

Google has already started playing their big data analytics closer to the vest by dropping their Google Keyword tool-set, and content marketers predict an increasing tendency to withhold similar information. From the search engine’s standpoint, freely providing access to this information helped not only legitimate white-hat content marketers but also black-hat SEO who could use the knowledge to game the system. For marketers, that means greater reliance on in-house software to analyze performance.

Content Matters for Customer Retention Too

When most businesses think of content marketing, they’re talking about customer acquisition and lead generation. They’re right to love content for its ability to bring in interested new prospects. With a solid content strategy, companies can create plenty of buzz and draw more traffic. Outstanding copy does more than bring in new customers, though; it’s also a key component of your customer retention plans. Just as you don’t stop having a conversation with your audience once they become regulars, you don’t stop offering worthwhile content to your frequent visitors and best customers.

Email Retargeting

Retargeting gives you another chance to make an offer to prospects who might otherwise be on their way out the door. Whether they’re former customers who haven’t connected with you in some time or visitors who once expressed an interest that seems to have waned, prospects whose engagement with you has dropped merit another look with a retargeting campaign. Instead of sending them introductory information or reaching them through SEO, your content team reaches out to this segment of your audience with copy designed to welcome them back.

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Self-Serve Content

When you read a newspaper or magazine, do you read every article and ad, or do you flip to what interests you? Chances are good you’re a selective browser, not an indiscriminate grazer. That’s true of most people, including your customers, yet content marketing strategies don’t always accommodate your visitors’ desire to see what’s relevant to them instead of a big mass of content they have to sort through to find what they want.

Delivering a self-serve content experience that lets everyone who interacts with you define their own experience encourages longer on-site stays and higher satisfaction. Here’s how you can tailor your content to your audience and give your prospects the power to explore for themselves.

Preference Pages

Giving your newsletter subscribers, email recipients and site visitors the authority to control how they communicate with you is key to their enjoyment of your content. Businesses that dictate how their email list members receive their mail have higher opt-out percentages than companies that allow preference choices. As a bonus, preference page selections can also be instrumental to your marketing department’s understanding of your customer base. Preference page use can give your customers more control over their interactions and help you learn more about them for future marketing. With those great reasons to build and use preference pages, it only makes sense to use them.

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Content Creation Drives Content Curation

Fresh, original, useful content is catnip to search engines and visitors alike. It’s also time- and labor-intensive to produce. Long-form feature articles can take weeks to research and write, and while the potential payoff in authority and relevance is tremendous, you need a regular stream of content for your social media channels and blog. One way to get that additional content is through curation.

Just as a gallery’s curator chooses artwork to display, a content curator finds interesting tidbits elsewhere on the Internet and houses it in one place. Buzzfeed, Gawker Media and TMZ are some of the most well-known content curation sites. Twitter and Pinterest are made for content curation and invite users to tweet, pin and share everything that strikes their collective fancy.

Like content, curation varies in quality. Some sites are known for finding valuable content elsewhere and showcasing it to an appreciative audience. Others are information dumps that don’t reach a specific audience, while still others are little better than plagiarists, siphoning page views from content-rich sites without offering proper attribution to the original source. That’s the category in which you never want to find your site, by the way, because eventually, Google and other search engines will catch up with these content-free sites.

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Annuals and Evergreens: Creating a Lush Content Garden

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.

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What Is Original Content?

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.

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Blog Ideas Your Visitors Love

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-Tos

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.

Mistakes

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.

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