Tamsin Hemingray is director of content for digital marketing agency iCrossing, where she oversees content strategies for brands including STA Travel and Sainsbury’s Finance. Tamsin is also a co-author of the ebook How to Plan a Content Strategy, released in March 2011 by iCrossing, on which this post is based.
Content is the heart of an effective web presence. Whether you’re a retailer, a media site or a social startup, it’s compelling, up-to-date and relevant content that attracts and engages users. If your content isn’t right, your customers simply won’t engage with it in the way you hope.
The rise of search and social marketing has not changed this basic truth about the way that the web works. When people link to you, they’re linking to your content. When they share via social networks, they’re sharing your content. It means that great content should be just as important to marketers as it is to the people using the Internet to talk, learn and buy. It turns out that content is still king.
But branded web content is not without its problems. A focus on “search benefits” has led many brands to see content purely as a marketing tool, rather than a way to satisfy a specific user need. This has resulted in keyword-heavy “linkbait,” often of low quality, created for the search engine’s algorithms, and not the user.
If you want to maximize the value of content so that it engages and retains customers (and boosts your search rank), take note of these tried-and-true methods.
1. Be on the Side of the User
Content is for people not machines, so you need to make sure that you’re thinking about the user when you’re developing a content strategy. This mind-set is more likely to create things that are useful to consumers and therefore earn attention and shares.
2. Start Platform-Agnostic
Good content is good content, wherever it’s hosted. Don’t start with a Facebook strategy (or a blog, or a YouTube channel) — start with identifying what content will be interesting to your users. Then as part of your content strategy, consider which platforms and tools are going to give your content the best chance to be seen and shared.
3. Make it Portable, Findable & Shareable
Avoid the mindset that your content must be published only on your site and completely controlled by you. Good content should be built to travel, so users should be able to download, embed or share it as they like. In fact, your content may not be published on your site at all. Of course, search engine optimization is essential, because search engines have to be able to see and make sense of stuff so they can show it to users. But don’t get trapped into making SEO the end goal of your content — it undermines the bigger opportunity for your brand.
4. Release Early, Release Often
A lesson from the techies is an attitude that works for content as much as it works for startups and apps: Release early, release often. Develop a range of content ideas, get them out there and see how they go down with your users. Simple measurement tools and analysis will tell you what’s working and what isn’t so you can put more focus on the things that are successful. Things that work get more effort behind them. Learn and move on from things that don’t.
5. Stay Close to the Data
Ideally you should be doing this yourself, but if data makes your head hurt, talk to data analysts and social media analysts about what it might be telling you about your content. How is it being used and where might the opportunities be? If you see that a particular social community is picking up on your content, then it might be an opportunity to develop further assets with that audience or network in mind. If, on the other hand, your target audience is only engaging with certain aspects of your content, or worse, ignoring it completely, then it’s time to refine, optimize and retarget your efforts.
6. Be Prepared to Be Surprised
It’s a liberating approach, and one which has given rise to some of our biggest successes for clients. You might be planning a series of videos about a topic when the first one really hits the spot and starts generating a lot of attention on its own. Take advantage of this and don’t worry if you have to re-write your plans. When opportunity comes and it isn’t what you are expecting, be prepared to move quickly. Be prepared to ditch the plans for that week and go after it with everything you have at your disposal.
A few simple tips like this can’t tell you how to create great content — that’s part talent, part experience, part understanding your audience, part luck and a great big chunk of content strategy. However, if you focus on creating content that’s made for people, not machines, then you’re starting from the right place.