If you’re like me, you spend a good amount of time scrolling through content marketing blogs for advice and suggestions that will give your content a leg up. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for any blog title that begins with the words “How-to” or “Tutorial.” Why?
Because, as a content marketer, I’m always looking for ways to make my content better.
Recently, however, I’ve started feeling like I have a bone to pick with these old, familiar blogging archetypes. I don’t mean to pick on “How-to” or list-style posts; we all know these types of blogs can be very effective in establishing credibility and providing an audience with specific information they might be looking for (here’s a How-to post I found helpful when writing this blog, for example).
But, with my Twitter feed inundated with these types of advice columns, I’ve started asking myself: Why do I keep reading about what content marketing strategies have worked well for other people? Who’s to say what’s been successful for another person (even a content “expert”) will be successful for me?
Now that I’ve been at this content marketing thing for a while, I’ve come to realize that there’s no one way to do content marketing. Period. As content marketers, we run the risk of reinventing the wheel if we continue to churn out the same kinds of blogs and articles that everyone else is writing. Worse yet, we dilute content that could have otherwise been new and different, resulting in what Elisa Gabbert from Wordstream calls “redundant crap.”
Here are a few examples of how KoMarketing is thinking outside the box with some of our recent content initiatives:
Conventional wisdom suggests that readers prefer to consume information in short, digestible bits. In fact, Neil Patel, who ran a Crazy Egg test to see how far down the page people would read into his blogs, discovered that keeping posts short and to the point would increase the likelihood that they would be read in full.
Neil claims that posts should be less than 1,500 words; other sources such as DigitalSherpa and Heidi Cohen claim the ideal blog is much shorter (500 – 700 in the case of the former, ~1,000 for the latter). While the exact post length will ultimately be determined by the target audience, the point is that presumed reader attention spans (or lack thereof) tend to keep posts on the shorter side.
Don’t get me wrong: Short-form content has its time and place (e.g., visual content, compelling content used to convey a quick message, social sharing, etc.). But long-form content (anywhere between 1,200 – 2,500 words, generally speaking) can provide readers with more in-depth feature posts that research shows can lead to lower bounce rates, higher engagement rates, and longer average time on site.
This month, for one of our larger clients, we’re focusing on long-form content pieces targeted for two industry segments in particular. The decision to do so was based upon several factors: keyword ranking difficulty, wanting to generate social buzz and potential link partnerships by referencing key bloggers/industry pros in each article, etc. Previously, we had driven a significant increase in page views (58%, month over month) with a similarly structured piece of long-form content and we plan to tailor our content focus toward these types in-depth articles for the future.
Comprehensive “How-to” Posts
So you know how I spent a good chunk of the beginning of this article hating on “How-to” posts? Well, I’m going to take back what I said. Sort of.
If you’re going to offer a straight regurgitation of the types of posts that everyone else is writing about (and probably have been for some time), this doesn’t offer much value for your readers. Think about it: How many times have you clicked on a catchy headline that made a blog post sound different from the rest, only to discover that it didn’t actually provide any useful information, insights, or analysis that you hadn’t read before? (Note: This is the type of blog post Elisa Gabbert refers to as “5 Ways to Do Blah Blah Blah the Same Way as Everyone Else.”) It’s frustrating!
Comprehensive blog posts, on the other hand, make good use of an effective blog post archetype, ultimately providing readers with a complete, in-depth understanding of the process or practice you’re trying to teach. My colleague Ryan Young, for example, wrote a post a few months back called “An Eight-Step Process for Creating Front-Page Industry News” (for the record, Ryan’s post is ~1,400 words, which reinforces what I said earlier about long-form content). At KoMarketing, Ryan’s our resident industry news expert and so this blog gave him a forum to discuss how to get news to the top of search results, information that could be useful for anyone building an industry news program.
A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about the overlap between content marketing and public relations. In the post, I discussed how KoMarketing is stepping outside of traditional online marketing and working on building third-party relationships on behalf of our clients, a role many considered (at least previously) to fall under the PR umbrella.
But who can forget Matt Cutts’ January 2014 proclamation that guest blogging was “stick a fork in it” dead? Others have also maintained that guest blogging opens the door for posts swarming with spammy offers, shady links making their way into posts, and even penalties from search engines like Google.
The thing to remember about guest blogging is that it holds many benefits (beyond just links and referral traffic), not the least of which include brand exposure, increased reach, community, networking, etc.
At KoMarketing, we’re moving beyond one-off guest blogging opportunities for our clients and focusing instead on third-party outreach with the end goal of building long-term relationships and establishing website authority. Our strategy for one client, in particular, is to connect with a minimum of two high-quality, industry-specific sites a month. Why? There are a couple of reasons: 1) We’re building credibility by guest posting for some of the biggest names in the industry (and, in turn, having them post for our client) and 2) We’re laying the groundwork for ongoing content collaboration (i.e., most of the sites we’ve connected with thus far have agreed to quarterly blog post contributions).
There’s a reason why “How-to” posts remain one of the most powerful blogging types. Google’s Keyword Tool estimates, in fact, that the phrase “how to” is searched 414,000,000 times each month, which indicates that there’s a demand for blog posts that provide answers to the types of questions readers are asking!
But that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to get lazy with your content marketing efforts. If anything, it should serve as a reminder that there’s an audience somewhere out there in the blogosphere just itching to read about whatever it is you consider yourself an expert in (with more than 400 million users per month looking for how-to advice on any given topic, chances are that someone is looking for your answers to their questions).
Instead of simply reinventing the wheel and duplicating what’s been done before, a better approach is to analyze and evaluate content programs to see what’s working and what isn’t. That way, you can gain the confidence to take some risks with your content marketing, something for which your audience will undoubtedly thank you.
How have you broken out of the mold with your content efforts? I’d love to hear your thoughts and perspective in the comments below.