Content Marketing

Have you heard of “Content Marketing” yet? It’s the loudest buzzword in the digital marketing world currently, especially because virtually anybody can do it (potentially for free) and find great success.

How hot is Content Marketing right now? In the month of July 2013, Forbes Magazine published more than three articles a week about Content Marketing on their web site.  Thirteen articles in one month on ONE subject! And that’s arguably one of the most successful business magazines on the planet!

Needless to say, if you’re not all about Content Marketing already, you definitely need to re-prioritize your small business marketing efforts. Content Marketing will immediately grow your contact list and generate new local leads. Your customer base will grow to include the friends of your followers, as well as new customers across your state.

So, what is Content Marketing?

Content Marketing is essentially a combination of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Public Relations (PR), Journalism, Social Media, and advertising. You roll all of these marketing techniques together and you’ve got a burrito of marketing success that places your small business at the top of local Google searches, in Social Media posts, and in news articles your potential customers read.

Why do I need Content Marketing?

It’s simple, really. Content Marketing drives attention to your small business.   It wraps your content strategy all together into one single campaign effort. As a small business owner, you LOVE any attention your business can get.  Some of that attention comes free as a result of social media discussions, blogs, word-of-mouth, or even through contacts you’ve made with personnel in the media. Some attention comes paid from Facebook ads (which are very effective, as this recent Pagemodo article‘s graph by Alfredo points out), Google ads, signage, mailers, postcards, etc.  You need Content Marketing because it leads directly to lead generation and sales.

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Content Marketing increases awareness while boosting your SEO rankings and generating a buzz. Plus, it is potentially free if you can nail down the right message and discover the best target audience.  I’ll get you started on the right track with basic-to-intermediate Content Marketing knowledge in a three-part series called “Rolling the Perfect Content Marketing Campaign”.

The Meat: A Blog That Features Original, Valuable Content

Have you ever flipped through a magazine or newspaper and noticed an article was actually written by an author from another news source? As a former Editor-in-Chief of several newspapers, that’s what I called lazy reporting.

Nobody wants to read your blog if your articles are not your own. The purpose of managing your own blog is not to share articles you find interesting, it’s to share ideas you create or agree with in your own words. You have to become a journalist in your own right.  Google algorithms are now setup to think like your readers and customers: If your blog features copied articles from other sites, your blog and its linked web pages will be considered “less relevant” by Google … just like your readers will feel about your blog.

The same thing happens in journalism.  When CNN reports that MSNBC just broke news of a hot story, half of CNN’s viewers immediately flip the channel to MSNBC because they’d rather hear the story straight from the “horse’s mouth”.  Google operates similarly. Your blog and website mean less to Google if you’re not publishing fresh, original content. You want Google on your side because it can become very easy to rank at the top of local search results with a sharp Content Marketing plan centered around fresh, original content. If your blog regularly links to your web site, and if Google sees your blog and believes your content to be original and valuable, Google will raise the value of your blog in search results and any pages your blog links to.  More important than the originality of your content is its value. An article that doesn’t intrigue, inform, educate, help or inspire is a waste of time for you to write and for your readers to read.  As Michael Brito puts it in his 2010 article, “It’s about the right content, at the right time, to the right person in the right channel.”

In my career, I’ve probably written more than 5,000 published articles, but there were some, probably 10 of them, that were worthless … and I remember them vividly. They received the fewest readers, no shares or comments from readers, and they never popped up in search results. So what made them so worthless? While I hadn’t chosen a poor topic for my target audience, I had approached the article from a poor angle.

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Regardless, an article is generally deemed valuable if it can follow the rules of newsworthiness in journalism: the very rules that decide what gets published or aired and what does not.  Let’s discuss what those rules are and how knowing them can help you in your efforts to create online content that attracts interest among potential customers.

1. Timing. Is it relevant now?

This article, for example, is about Content Marketing, the hottest topic in digital marketing today, as Forbes proved last month. If this article were about Google’s Panda update that occurred in 2011 (which has been succeeded by the 2013 Google Penguin update), then you as my reader, and Google, would find it less relevant, and a search result would not list it high enough on the top of the results page to be found by very many – and this blog’s SEO ranking would drop.  So remember, timing is everything.

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See the full infographic from visual.ly here.

As a fledgling PR specialist for a nutraceutical Multi-Level-Marketing company, my content became very old once our Research & Development team stopped conducting clinical studies. We could no longer publish popular articles that started with: “A Recent Study Shows …” because our studies were no longer recent. If you’re not citing recent content or discussing recent topics, your articles will not only kill your own blog, but you’ll struggle to receive interest from other bloggers who may share your articles.  Plus, your blog should be inherently tied to your website by using links to your site in your blog posts, but if your content doesn’t involve recent information, Google will disregard both your blog and your web site until you have proven that you’re a legitimate content creator, not just a blog that fills article space with old news.

2. Relevance. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.

Does the topic of your article impact, include, help, or touch a large percentage of your target readers?  This is where many business people struggle, because what may be interesting to you may not be special to anyone else. My best test is to present the topic of an article to my wife, best friend, or even (gulp!) my mother. They represent the everyday reader and I want to capture their attention.  If you are wondering where to begin, Leah Weisman, content writer for Business 2 Community, offers some great tips in her recent article, How to Choose a Blog Topic.

Know your target audience

Most of the time, my wife gives me that “Oh gee, honey, that sounds cool” response, at which point I toss the article and start over. Even though my wife knows nothing about digital marketing, she represents the everyday person who can find value in a topic immediately. If the everyday person thinks your article topic bites, then so will your audience and Google. At that point, you’re down to just a handful of readers feasting on your topic about a minute subject.

A great example of a failure to understand one’s audience is a blog that a friend of mine writes. He’s a dentist who’s really into the latest dental technology. This topic alone attracts an excellent niche audience of fellow dentists. However, when he writes an article about the latest technically advanced micro-processors in computing devices, he loses his readers, and Google’s crawlers, because the topic has nothing to do with dental technology.

3. Proximity.

The internet has drastically changed the concept of proximity in journalism. About 15 years ago, an article had to relate to the readership’s location. Now it’s much more about deciphering other common interests from the readers of your blog. For example, if your article’s topic is “2013 Christmas Toy Reviews”, it is definitely not newsworthy for your small business marketing blog. Choose article topics that relate to your audience directly. This may echo the principle of relevance in many ways, but it’s still very important to note that your U.S.-based blog loses readers when you publish an article about business ethics in India.

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4. Prominence. The celebrity factor.

Does your article touch on the thoughts or actions of someone your readers know? If so, then you’ve got a newsworthy story … so long as it’s timely.  Let’s say your small business focuses on culinary creations. Right now may be a good time to jump on the Paula Deen criticism bandwagon. It’s recent, it’s relevant to your target audience, it’s especially relevant to the proximity of your audience if you’re based in the South, and Ms. Deen is definitely a prominent personality.  Plus, your blog will rank higher in search results if you link to outside articles from major publications, such as this one from ABC.

Another important note to the Prominence factor is that you must make sure to remember that YOU ARE NOT A CELEBRITY. Yes, you have readers, maybe thousands, but you didn’t get them by talking about yourself, and you won’t keep them by talking about yourself either, unless you’ve reached Steve Jobs status with your audience. Your life’s interactions bore the tar out of your readers.

I give this warning about your lack of celebrity because where I live in Utah, presidents of small businesses make the sour mistake of believing everyone knows their name after they were quoted in one line of a back-page article in the local business magazine. Giant billboards, radio and print ads, and Google ads bombard every Utahn with the name of some nobody who thinks that because his face is on a billboard, people love him. I’ve lived in three other metropolitan areas and never before have I seen a billboard announcing a business convention hosted by the CEO of a 100-employee company … until I moved to Utah.  My point is that your business — and your readership — is small no matter how big your cousin’s spouse thinks it is. Treat your customers and your marketing plan like a start-up small business and you’ll gain far better results.

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5. Human Interest.

Aww yes, the ever-slippery, always intriguing Human Interest story.  A Human Interest story is a heart-touching tale of sacrifice, pain, and/or triumph.  It is king in the land of appealing articles because it both attracts new readers and ensures they stay loyal to your blog.  For example, the second issue of a newspaper I started in rural Idaho featured a 3-piece Human Interest story about a disabled war vet and elected city councilman who got in a car accident the day after his house burned to the ground. Holy cow was that a tear-jerker.

My newspaper’s subscription rate grew by 1,000% the week after that issue. Your blog will do the same if you can capture a Human Interest story that relates to your audience and your blog’s topic.  In a way, social media itself is nothing but a giant Human Interest news outlet. We love reading the emotions of our friends, the events of our distant relatives, and catching up with long-lost acquaintances. Yet, while a Human Interest pieces seem to trump all Newsworthiness rules, finding the right balance when it comes to writing them through social media is important, as Megan Pugmire points out so well in her Health Care Communication News article.

Google’s bots and SEO crawlers decipher a blog’s value based on its adherence to the rules of newsworthiness. Now I know your blog may not be a news source, but the rules of newsworthiness still apply. For example, your article critiquing the flurry of traditions and symbols found in the Royal Wedding should’ve been published back in May of 2011, just after it happened. You’d be two years late now, and Google would notice.  As a result, your blog would show up much lower on the results page when someone searches for the principal topic of your blog.

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To end where I began, the Meat of the Content Marketing burrito is the content itself. Your content must be delicious to your readers, to those outlets with whom you hope will share your content, and to Google. To ensure your content is delicious, follow these Rules of Newsworthiness.

Guest Blog Post:  Zach Zavoral is an award-winning journalist who specializes in public relations, advertising, SEO and social media.

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