There's a new strategy in town. It's turning the SEO tables, causing established giants to fall by the wayside as smaller competitors make their mark in search rankings.
It's powerful; it promises to deliver sought-after SEO treasures, top spots on SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), without any technical wizardry or dark magic required at all. How can this be done? How can such small rivals take on these seemingly impassable contenders - and win?
The truth is that the strategy behind these impressive feats does not involve anything mysterious or untoward. There are no short cuts; nothing clinging to a grey area, trying to escape the all-seeing eye of Google. The winning strategy is completely above board.
The great secret behind this success is actually disappointingly straight forward; it's about doing what you say you will and doing it well. The problem with so much SEO advice is that it simply over-complicates a field that is already littered with jargon.
Too many brands enter into some kind of bizarre battle with Google, believing there is no other way to compete than to use underhand tactics, trying to navigate the SERPs while skirting the threat of penalties.
This is not the way to win. The way to beat larger, more powerful rivals is to take them by surprise; by doing it honestly and transparently. It's about going back to basics.
What is a website for? Is to inform, entertain or persuade your customers into making a sale? If you can create a website that offers interesting, relevant, regularly updated content, it will become worth seeking out and the powers that be - aka search engines - will recognise it as such.
There is no need for dirty tactics. Sites are currently being compromised in this incessant race to get to the top, brands are receiving hefty penalties, all the while losing business.
This is all entirely unnecessary. The way to make your mark on SERPs is simply to maintain a website which does what it says on the tin and develop good quality, clean links from sources which you trust and build good relationships with.
If brands stopped cutting corners and using SEO "tricks" they would be in for a pleasant surprise. SEO is like anything else; if you do it well, you will be rewarded.
Finding your content on the internet is almost as difficult as looking for a specific star in the Milky Way. It would take you over 340 years to peruse the 2.15 billion actively indexed web pages out there — even if you just spent five seconds on each one.
In short, people aren’t going to simply stumble upon your content. Even though you’ve created an interesting, relevant, high-quality article, you’re still going to have to do some legwork to make the most of it.
Continuing to market and track your content helps deliver reach, targeted delivery and increased credibility. Here are some free ways to increase your content’s exposure after publication.
If you’re on a budget, there are still lots of ways to get your content in front of relevant audiences — you just need to tap into your networks.
Using your article as a resource in LinkedIn Groups can be effective for sharing your expertise without seeming too promotional. Find like-minded groups and make a habit of joining their discussions before you share your own content. Likewise, don’t overshare and keep it professional.
Adding your most recently published article to your email signature functions as an instant credibility badge. I almost always follow a link like this if I want to know more about someone who has emailed me. It demonstrates thought leadership in your industry and it gets your message in front of the people you’re trying to reach.
This is a good place to extend the conversation about a published article without duplicating content. Can you follow up on your original blog? What did you learn from the comments on your article? Are there any comments you’d like to respond to? Be sure to include a link to the original article.
In addition to getting your content maximum exposure, it’s important to follow the data and use metrics to drive your decisions. With Google Analytics or a similar platform, you can track your leads and conversions by source. If one source stands above the rest, you know you’re effectively reaching your audience, either with your content or the publication.
Tweak your content marketing strategy by immersing yourself in the metrics and making positive changes. Set a goal for your content, whether it’s increasing visits to your site, starting more conversations with prospects or converting more leads that find your site through your content.
Content marketing isn’t a vanity exercise. If you’ve ever done it, you know it takes time, effort and strategy. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your content’s journey ends once it has been published. You’ll be missing out on an opportunity to keep your content working for you.
Mark Hodges is a brand strategist at Influence & Co.
It’s good to be able to vary your copy style — different styles for different tasks.
Deep level service pages or white papers, for example, are a place where people will be looking for detail, and will expect to find copy that lays out your process or explains the nitty gritty of how your products work.
Your home page and blogs, however, are a different matter. Here you’re after copy that grabs people quickly, and packs a real punch.
So how do you do that?
The quickest way to pack a punch with your copy is to address the reader directly. Putting “you” into whatever you’re writing is your short circuit to making a connection. How do you feel about that? More connected, I’ll bet than if I had written how does the person reading this feel about that?
Direct from me to you is the shortest way to hit home fast. Imagine your ideal reader, and forget about everything else, just write it to them.
Short sentences are another way to keep people moving so quickly through the copy in a way that doesn’t feel like a long hard read. Keep sentences short. That way people won’t drift off. They’ll stick with you.
Of course not every sentence needs to be super short. You want to pack a punch, not make the reader feel under fire. So vary the sentence length sometimes, so it feels conversational, but not like gunfire.
Active verbs make writing punchier. Seeing, running, jumping are all pacier than saw, ran or jumped. Similarly cutting out unnecessary “wills” and “cans” make your writing more direct. So don’t say, we can deliver solutions. Say, we deliver solutions. (Except avoid the word solutions at all costs. Find some real words that describe things people can picture instead).
Metaphors and analogies can help pack power into your writing. I could tell you that last night in an Aberdeen hotel surprised me, because there seemed to be no women anywhere, except those working as waitresses, and that all the men seemed to be sizing each other up, and you might get the picture. If I told you it was like the Wild West, you’d get a quicker and sharper image of the place, and that picture will stay with you for longer. Metaphors add colour and vision to whatever you’re writing.
To summarise, the key to writing copy that packs a punch is to make it resonate with the reader. Put them at the heart of whatever you’re writing, keep the writing pacey and colourful, and get creative with your comparisons. It will knock them out!
Keeping your website updated is important for encouraging traffic that brings in business. If your team has got in the habit of adding to the business website regularly, you’re on the right track. A website that’s continually updated will pull better results from search engines and it demonstrates to customers that your business is doing well.
It’s also worth trying to come up with “evergreen” content. Evergreen content doesn’t become outdated or irrelevant. Rather, it always reads and appears as relevant whether it’s viewed the day you upload it or three years later. While all content that’s fresh and enticing doesn’t have to be evergreen, this kind of long-life content is very useful.
Blog about new products, share a tutorial with your subscribers or write about what’s going on in your business. It’s not necessary to blog daily, but add one or two blog posts per week to keep visitors coming back for more.
What are people talking about in your industry? Is there an event coming up or a new product launch? Fresh content includes news that’s current. To keep it evergreen, use dates instead of time frames. For example, say “on May 29th, 2014” instead of “in a few weeks”.
Current client testimonials show potential customers that your business is thriving and clients are happy with your services or products. Seek testimonials from satisfied customers, add them to a specific page and intersperse them amongst relevant product or service information. One of the best ways to convert a would-be customer is to provide them with previous customer reviews.
Know your customers and subscribers to provide content that is relevant and enticing. If you understand your demographics, you’ll be able to focus on your niche market to cater to the specific needs, personalities and interests of your customer base.
Update your readers on past stories or news items, especially if they elicited a large number of “likes” or shares. There’s nothing wrong with flying on the coat-tails of a previously popular post if you have a fresh update to add.
Tap into the interest in current events — national or local — through your blog; and promote products and services that customers would find useful in relation to those events.
All the fresh content tips in the world won’t amount to anything if they’re being applied to a website that is clunky to navigate and unpleasant to look at. Before adding a blog to your business website or hiring a professional writer to create content, ensure that your website is attractive to viewers and easy to use. Avoid cramming too much onto one page or overwhelming the viewer’s senses with music or flashing pictures. Keep your website clean so viewers can easily focus on the fresh content you’ve created for them.
Mary Ylisela is part of the writing team at TouchpointDigital.co.uk.
Content is the currency of the internet. People go on the internet to find answers to everyday questions like, “What's the weather like in London?” or even, “What are the health benefits of broccoli?”. And it's the duty of every business to provide content that answers the needs of their target audience.
However, there will come a time when all your ideas for relevant posts will be exhausted. Since search engines look into content freshness as a basis for ranking, what can you do to create a steady flow of new articles on your site? The answer lies in content curation.
Simply put, content curation is the finding, selecting and sharing of content related to a certain theme or topic. The practise of curating content has long existed in the publishing world to give readers a digested version of what they should know about. It's human nature to want to learn more about something you stumble across.
Putting that into a business perspective, don't you want people to access this information from your website? That's where the power of content curation lies.
What can curation do for your website?
Whatever the services you offer or products you sell, you can usually find interesting content to write about. But you hit a problem when you've seemingly exhausted everything useful you know about it.
This is where curating content comes to the rescue. It’s the not-so-secret reason behind the success of sites such as Buzzfeed, Huffington Post and Mashable. They've all found ways to present a wide variety of information to readers in interesting ways.
Getting information from different sources and posting them on your website makes it:
People have a constant need to be informed, and with the multitude of information published each day, they only need to know about content that is useful for them. This is where you come in. Rather than having them scour the web for information, bring it straight to them.
Constantly putting out curated content makes people come back for more. This helps establish your brand as an authority on topics concerning the niche your business is in.
Publishing curated content on your website also helps drive traffic, which is what any business wants. This is best accomplished by creating a catchy title to accompany the equally entertaining content.
There are lots of content curation tools you can make use of.
Mining Facebook, Twitter or Google+ allows you discover content before it gets indexed by Google. For example, you can embed tweets of interesting things Twitter users are saying about a particular topic into a single post.
Using question and answer sites gives you access to some really interesting content you can use on your site. You can list some interesting questions and answers you found and compile them in one article.
Take cue from a Huffington Post article that used Reddit answers to create content about embarrassing text messages sent to the wrong person. You can scour Reddit threads for relevant questions and feature the answers in a blog post.
With Digg, you can gather a list of articles and publish this in your own article. Better yet, create a list post along the lines of “Five must-read posts about pencils”, for example.
Stay up to date by looking at the news. Simply filtering Google search results to “News” gives you a list of sources that talk about subjects related to your own market.
You can also do something similar to what MSN Now is doing and write a short summary, then link to the original source.
With Flipboard, you can search for articles and creatre curated content for your website. Unlike Flipboard, Zite is a mobile-only application — so far — where you can get a list of articles based on a particular topic. You can create list posts out of the results you receive.
Articles are not the only form of content at your disposal. You can search for relevant pictures and videos and feature them in an article. Instead of just embedding a photo or video in a post, take time to write something short about it.
Sure, curating content is a lot easier than creating content. However, this doesn't mean you should feature curated content all the time. It's also important to publish articles of your own because this demonstrates your expertise in your field. Use content curation to supplement content creation — a good mix of both provides a steady stream of articles for your website.
The golden rules of writing apply whether you are writing a novel or a blog. Your purpose should be to get the reader’s attention and keep it. You want them to go away with a clear understanding of your core message and ideally, be so impressed that they spread the word about what you’ve said.
The recent death of crime writer Elmore Leonard — known as the writer’s writer — has put the spotlight on his significant contribution to the world of fiction and film. His 45 novels — he was writing his 46th when he died — include many titles made familiar on the big screen, such as Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Rum Punch (which was filmed as Jackie Brown by Quentin Tarantino).
Leonard shared his golden rules in an essay on writing. George Orwell did the same. Stephen King wrote a brilliant book called On Writing. So what can these great fiction writers teach us about writing marketing copy?
Elmore Leonard said “never open a book with weather”. In other words, avoid unnecessary scene-setting. So if you are writing a blog, make a bold statement at the top and then expand on it and back it up. On your website, highlight what you offer before you go into the history of your firm.
It’s good practice to wait before you send or publish something online. Read your writing back a few hours later and delete anything that deviates from your main message.
George Orwell said: “Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” These are wise words.
Leonard, King and Orwell also agree — adverbs are the work of the devil and dialogue should always carry the word “said”. In the world of fiction, that means avoiding phrases such as “he admonished gravely”.
What can this teach us about copywriting? Use simple language to make your points clearly. Short sentences are better than long ones. The simplest words are the most powerful. Verbal trickery is a distraction.
Leonard said: “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.” And, for good measure, he added: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip”.
Stephen King put it another way. He said: “Kill your darlings”.
It’s tempting, when you are writing a blog or white paper, to include all your knowledge and expertise. There’s so much you want to say. One way to avoid unnecessary rambling, is to think of your blog or white paper as a story and cut out anything that detracts from the plot.
Leonard said: “Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose." He also said: “Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.”
Orwell said: “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”
The message is clear — avoid clichés and jargon. Cliches cause readers to disengage. They skim over these familiar but ultimately meaningless phrases and before you know it, you’ve lost them.
Jargon is another no-no. Sure, every industry has its acronyms and technical terms. But make life easier on your readers. No matter how clued up they are, write in plain English. And don’t forget, your in-house terminology may not be at all familiar to your customers.
Leonard said: “Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.”
You’re not writing an epic novel — so I would avoid exclamation marks altogether. They are a clumsy way to flag up a joke or any strong statement. It’s a bit like saying “ta da” after you’ve spoken. F Scott Fitzgerald said it was like laughing at your own joke. According to the BBC, there's a word for it — bangorrhea.
Above all, exclamation marks distract the reader. The same goes for the practice of adding quote marks to "unusual words" — much better to change the words and drop the quote marks. Similarly, avoid capitals as much as you can. Giving Some Phrases Initial Capitals is another major distraction for readers.
Happily for anyone that writes marketing and sales copy online, there are lots of additional ways to make your messages stand out — ways that novelists may not use.
Headings, sub-headings and bullet points attract readers and allow them to find their way around your writing. Summaries, handy hints, useful links, images and infographics support your messages. And social media, SEO and email give your writing rocket fuel to reach the widest possible audience.
Content marketing has become so powerful today that you can’t afford to miss a trick.