If you’ve been following the world of inbound marketing, you’ve probably read about thought leaders proclaiming that content marketing is the new SEO. And it’s true. But we’re going to take that one step further and say that content is the core, the foundation of and the key to inbound marketing success. Period. Think about it:
- What’s the driving force behind your social media campaigns? Content.
- What do you use to drive backlinks? Content.
- How do you generate leads from your website? Content.
- How do you get better search rankings? Content.
Content is Just Writing–Right?
It’s pretty clear that it’s tough to achieve any real success online without quality content. And if you think content is limited to your website copy, think again. Today’s content encompasses images, videos and a slew of written formats–all of which are critical to driving inbound leads. Social updates that include images get more clicks than those that do not.
Data visualizations help you reach a broader portion of your audience–who wants to read five pages of text when they can get the facts they need from an infographic? And images on landing pages can be used to direct eye-path and boost conversion rates. The reasons you should be using images in your content are endless.
Data Visualization Tools for Non-Designers
But what if you’re not a graphic designer? You can fiddle around with an outdated version of Photoshop (guilty as charged), or you can take advantage of the many amazing tools out there that help you create compelling graphics–for free. Here’s a look at a few of the best free tools to create infographics, charts, graphs, mind maps, data visualizations and more.
- Infogr.am – Create powerful charts using real data and generate complete infographics using customizable templates. Even though you’re using free templates created by professional designers, the customization options make it easy to create a totally unique look. And, there are built-in sharing options, too.
- Creately – You can only have up to five public diagrams with the free version, but the personal plan is just $5 per month and offers unlimited public diagrams–and the ability to collaborate with five other users per diagram. The platform is a simple interface that lets you create powerful charts, graphs and other data visualizations, including flow charts, mockups, mind maps, concept maps, Venn diagrams and much more.
- Venngage – Not only can you create infographics, but you can track analytics for your graphics, as well. Find out who’s viewing your graphics and which of your creations is most popular. Over time, figure out which styles, visualizations and data sets make the biggest impact to refine your strategy.
- Tableau – Create charts and other visualizations with ease for embedding in your website or for social sharing.
- Piktochart – Piktochart offers both free and paid versions. For beginners, the free version offers six free themes for you to start creating quality infographics. If you want to make use of the 100+ themes available (and customizable), the paid version is just $29 per month–and you can get a discount if you opt to pay annually.
- Inkscape – An open-source graphics editor, Inkscape is useful for customizing graphics when you don’t have advanced software, such as Illustrator. It does require a little more graphics prowess, but can be helpful for tweaking graphics and images if you’re an amateur designer.
- Easel.ly – Another infographic tool, Easel.ly offers drag-and-drop functionality to create compelling infographics. It couldn’t be simpler.
- Many Eyes – Upload your own data or use data already available on the site to create scatterplots, matrix charts, graphs, pie charts, word trees, tag clouds and word clouds. And more. Total awesomeness, and a great tool for generating smaller visualizations to customize a larger infographic. Yes, please.
- Visual.ly – Once a good tool for finding infographics produced by others, Visual.ly’s “Create” feature lets you choose a template and customize it for your own needs. Bonus feature: You can sign up to get your Google Analytics data sent to you in infographic form each week.
- Hohli Online Charts Builder – Quickly generate pie charts, graphs, radar charts and more to embed in blog posts, on your website or share with your social networks. Or, use multiple types of visualizations to create a larger infographic.
Now you have no excuse to leave your posts wanting more. Start using compelling data visualizations to enhance your content, boost open and click-through rates, engage your readers and generate conversions.
**Warning! Slightly dirty joke ahead….
What comes first good content or a good social network? Many companies are quick to assign a social networking team, but it becomes all too obvious when a company doesn’t have quality content to share. These are the companies that are posting random photos asking you to “caption this” or continually linking to static pages or posts from 2010.
Some people will argue that you need good social networks in order for your online content to be viewed. After all, your network is your safety net, if you will. It’s the people who are more likely to read your material and visit your site because they recognize the quality of work that you produce.
But, I counter that it’s good content that drives a flourishing social network. You are not going to have fans and followers just by sharing someone else’s’ content or driving your loyalists to the same material over and over again.
By creating compelling and share-worthy content you create opportunity to grow your network. It’s an exponential growth with each retweet or Facebook share reaching a new audience. It’s not rocket science. Good content extends your reach more than any other media ever could.
Creating compelling content doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Content shouldn’t be all about you
As marketers and business owners, it’s tough to retrain our brains to stop talking about ourselves. In the sales field, it’s all you do. You’re either talking about your own product or the downfall of the competitors. Not often do you spend significant time just talking about other topics of interest to your customer.
But, it really is okay, from time to time, to brag about yourself, sell your products or mark your territory.
Turn a News Story into Relevant Content
Breaking industry news has your network abuzz? Capitalize on it. Write about your perspective on the situation or how the outcome may affect you. Just be careful. What you write on the web has a way of sticking with you so if it’s something you feel passionate about (or that gets your blood boiling) be sure you take a step back and read what you’ve written before you publish. You don’t want to damage your reputation just because your emotions are flying.
Tips and Tricks of the Trade
Do you have trade secret that you’re willing to share? This is the perfect, most ideal, sometimes the easiest of content to create. How-to’s, tips for success and compilation of tools of the trade that will make your customer’s life easier are sure to garner attention.
Write to Your Audience
Match your tone and voice to that of your audience. Write to the level at which they do. In some industries a younger, more casual tone of voice is acceptable, where in others it’s wiser to maintain a level of professionalism. Often, finding a balance between the two will maximize your content and keep your blog from being too dry or too casual for the out-of-the-box visitor.
So, what’s your take? Which would you rather have: A good social following or good content?
We’ve heard it said. Content is King. Reality is: Google is King.
Google’s continual changes have shaped the world of digital marketing. SEO was once the go-to strategy. But the search engine giant became wise to the rogue tactics of some less than reputable “experts” who were stuffing keywords into less than stellar content.
The Panda update began to recognize the consumer’s need for content. Google’s algorithm changes began including fresh content. SERPs were filling with pages of companies that were updating their content regularly.
Compromised Quality Leads to More Changes
The problem became, however, that the quality of the content was significantly compromised. Many companies turned to content mills to churn out post after post, stuffed with keywords (relevant or not) in order to fool Google into returning less than optimal results.
Google has once again placed an emphasis on content. This time recognizing and rewarding company’s whose content is not only fresh and relevant, but is of quality. Who decides what quality is? Well, that’s subjective at best, but it’s going to quite difficult to simply stuff a bunch of random keywords into a blog post and get desired rankings.
Now, we know there are still a handful of content mills, offering bottom-dollar rates for content production. They’re an easy resource for many companies who don’t know where else to turn and haven’t yet placed a value on their content. But, as with anything, you get what you pay for.
Think about it. If you’re paying a freelance writer $8 per post, they need to write nearly 6 posts EVERY SINGLE day, just to make $16,000. And for many writers who are hoping to make a career out of this, that means, they need to double, if not triple their production in order to find any sort of financial stability.
Engaging Content = Quality Content
And, what’s worse than Google not recognizing your hard work: Not publishing content that is share worthy. Your money and your social media efforts are thrown out the window if you don’t have engaging content worthy of your readers’ time.
Will you find a qualified writer among the pool? Sure you will. There is no doubt that some very talented individuals are ramping up their portfolios or getting their feet wet via these mills, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. As a client, you’re more than likely just going to be the next assignment in the queue. Your business is a dime-a-dozen to the mill writers because once your project is finished they’re on to the next.
Therefore, the end result you’re getting is quantity, not quality. In fact, I’d challenge those businesses to examine their ROI, analyze their social shares and compare that to a company that is publishing quality posts. Or better yet, I challenge them to find QUALITY writers to help manage their own content and compare the success.
What would you rather pay for: Quality or Quantity?
We live in an ADD society. We are barraged with information on our desktop, our laptops, our tablets and our smartphones. Of course, that’s in addition to TV, radio and traditional print materials. We’re constantly multitasking (or attempting to) and our brains are running at unprecedented paces.
Because of this notion, many content “experts” have been suggesting that copy should be written differently than traditional business communications. It’s becoming a trend for blog posts to be chock full of miniscule paragraphs designed to capture the attention of the scanner.And while small paragraphs may make sense in some venues (depending upon the viewer), really small paragraphs can come across as insulting, and in all honesty, a little amateurish.
**NOTE** I’m all for smaller paragraphs, but I’ve been noticing a trend lately of professional bloggers spacing their thoughts just for the sake of creating more white space.
Understanding doesn’t always mean reading every word
Many people can read a novel in just a few hours if it’s really engaging. Is it read it word for word? Probably not. But, you can capture the essences by skimming the material. Do you miss some of the details? Perhaps. But most of simply don’t have the time to spend taking in every word (Oh, how I miss those days!!).
But, comprehending the novel isn’t because the prose is written in small chunks, but rather because it’s is worthy of the time commitment. Page after page, the story compels you to read on.
The same thing happens when reading a blog. If the headline is bold enough to capture your attention or spark an interest you will read through a good bit of the post. You may not process each and every word, but if the post incorporates key elements the main points should be sufficiently remembered and easy to find.
The headline is the most critical element of the post. You have less than 3 seconds to garner enough attention for a reader to continue reading or click through. Without a killer headline, you’re more likely to be just be
Instead of small paragraphs, subheadings can point a reader to a particular topic within your post, or entice them to continue reading.
Photos are worth a thousand words and coordinating images and screenshots can do more for a blog post than all the white space in the world combined. And, you get the added bonus of being able to include alt tags and captions using your keywords.
Another way to create a scannable post is to utilized bulleted lists, highlighting important posts and information. The bullets attract the reader and make the information stand out amongst the text. It’s not a cure all for a copy-heave post, but it does help signify to the reader that this information is worthy of their time.
Just because your font is designed for the average nursing home patient does not mean that it will capture your readers’ attentions. In fact, overly large font, excessive use of bold and italics, and nonsensical color placement will do nothing more than annoy your readers. Use bold, italics, color and larger than average font sizes sparingly.
So what do you think? Do you like the extra white space provided by micro-paragraphs? Or, would you rather read a complete thought without having to skip through the unnecessary white space?
Image via stock.xchng by celalteber
One of the habits I’ve gotten into since starting this business is checking my Spam folder just to be certain I’m not missing something important. Undoubtedly, there are at least five or six messages tagged as comments for published blog posts. Some of them are valid. Bu the rest, well, they’re just poorly translated, irrelevant, nonsensical comments from random sources just looking for a someone to post their comment in hopes of getting the links published and earn well below minimum wage for their efforts.
Here are our 10 Favorite Comment Spams from the CODA Concepts blog, complete with spelling and grammar errors:
1. Hello, I’m well known fraudster from Russia. For more informations about me cisit my blog
(Honesty is so refreshing!)
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(Library? Really? Neighbors taking a trip to the library to do research just seems a little far fetched, don’t ya think?!)
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(So glad we could provide such a compelling post that we saved this poor soul’s life!)
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(I just love the raw translation on this one. I wonder what the native language is?)
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(I still have no idea what “approximately brussels” could possible mean. Any ideas??)
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(Someone used their Thesaurus!)
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(Editor’s Note: Nothing quite like a spammy fortune cookie!)
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(Awww, shucks…that’s really sweet!)
The worst part about the spam is that we’re forced to weed through it to sort out legitimate comments. Fortunately, the spam is so bad, it’s not hard to spot a well-writen, thought out post amongst all the BS that comes our way.
I know we’re not alone. Share your favorites, but make sure it’s obvious that your sharing so you don’t end up in the spam file!
Image via stock.xchng by laynecom
It’s true: Blogging is on the decline. At least that’s according to new research from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth’s Center for Marketing Research. Researchers say that their longitudinal study (of online activities of the Inc. 500) indicates that just 37 percent of the companies interviewed report maintaining a corporate blog last year — less than half of those recorded in 2010.
So what’s happening? A look at this study alone would indicate that companies aren’t seeing a value in blogging and are decreasing their frequency or the use of the medium altogether. But what’s the real scoop? We’ve taken a look at several opinion pieces to piece together the REAL reason behind these stats, and where the opportunity lies for you. In the end, it’s not the trend that matters, but your own opportunity — right?
Is social media killing blogging?
ReadWriteWeb seems to think that social media is taking over, noting that 90 percent of the companies reporting in UMass’ study say that social media is crucial for brand awareness and reputation. And BusinessesGrow.com features a useful graph detailing the usage of Inc. 500 companies among blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Video and Podcasting. It’s pretty clear that Facebook is the standout winner, with LinkedIn coming in close second among the Inc. 500 group:
Here’s where it gets sticky: Despite the decline in corporate blogging, BusinessGrow says 62 percent of the companies not currently blogging are considering adding a corporate blog within the next year. Huh? Confused yet? So are we!
Here’s the real deal
Okay, honestly: Great blogging doesn’t come cheap. So in light of corporate cutbacks, shrinking stocks and other economic turmoil, it’s more than possible some Inc. 500s have been cutting back over the past couple years. And while social media has taken the business world by storm, more and more businesses are realizing there must be some quality CONTENT behind all that social in order to make an impact and drive traffic and sales. And that’s precisely where your blog comes in.
So where are you sending those engaged social audiences? Sure, you could post random status updates asking unimportant questions to your Facebook audience, but what value is that bringing to your business?
Don’t forget SEO
Furthermore, you have to consider SEO value in your content strategy. Google has made it clear that both freshness and frequency are crucial, and you can’t over-optimize. So why try to push more and more backlinks to your static pages when you can earn organic backlinks to your blog posts? Great blogging, especially when you can categorize it as share-worthy or linkbait, remains one of the most solid strategies for generating inbound traffic — and leads.
The bottom line
So what’s the bottom line for you? Well, if you’re lucky enough to be reading this blog, you’re in luck. This recent research indicating that blogging is on the decline spells an opportunity: Many of those reading news of this research will immediately drop blogging from their marketing repertoire. Which leaves more opportunity for you. Nothing — absolutely nothing — other than a blog allows you to meet so many of Google’s specifications in one sitting. You’re incorporating keywords, you’re posting fresh content, and you’re posting keyword-rich and not heavily optimized content. By capitalizing on the value of your social networks, you’ll earn valuable backlinks and generate crucial engagement that will bolster your success online.
Want to know more about why content should come before social? Keep tabs on our blog; we’ll be offering up those details later this week!
The boring blog. It’s almost as bad as no blog at all. You may be drawing traffic with some catchy headlines, but your readers are bouncing because your content simply can’t hold their attention. But, before you get all worked up over a lame blog, give yourself a pat on the back for having one in the first place. At least you’re moving your marketing efforts in the right direction.
So, if you’re writing posts that you wouldn’t even read yourself, here are five great tips to overcome your blogging blandness.
Don’t be too newsy: Just because you’re writing “professionally” doesn’t mean you have to sell your soul to the AP gods. Structuring your blog and your voice to mimic that of the New York Times or Washington Post is only appropriate if you’re really writing for a news organization. If using text speech or purposefully misspelled words adds emphasis to your post, then go for it. It’s not critical that you follow each and every style guide rule when writing blogs. In fact, throw out your AP Style Guide and just write naturally.
That’s not to say there isn’t a time or a place for a serious tone. If there’s a crisis within the organization that needs appropriate PR management, your blog is an ideal place to address the concerns of your consumer or organization.
Insert Personality: Humor and wit are okay. In fact, they’re a welcome break from the dry, drab nonsense that is traditionally associated with B2B communications. Finding a voice and a tone that your target consumers can relate to is essential. Sometimes a little levity goes a long way.
Again, remember that there is a time and place for everything and there are some taboo topics which, unless you’re looking for controversy, you should steer clear of.
Find colorful images: Colorful images, both literally and metaphorically, work to capture the attention of your readers. Bold and bright colors will help grab your readers’ attention keeping them from bouncing. (It’s also a great way to add ALT tags, helping Google find your post). Screenshots can take an otherwise dull topic and make it a little more palatable by illustrating real-life examples that can prove to be useful to the reader. Or, sometimes, it’s just fun to add a crazy cartoon or picture of a baby doing something funny just to brighten up someone’s day.
Save the sales for landing pages: Is every blog post a less-than-subtle plug for your business? Yes? Listen up: Your readers don’t want to read about how great you are. Every. Single. Day. Your blog is forum to provide resources to your readers, not pedal your wares. If you’re constantly pushing product down your readers’ throats, you will inevitably turn them off to those very products you’re hoping to sell. Instead, link keywords to well designed, benefit-oriented landing pages designed to convert.
Stay fresh: Do all your blog posts sound exactly the same? Do you find yourself using the same phrase over and over again? If you answered yes, STOP! We’re all begging you to stop. All you’re doing is annoying your audience and eventually, they’ll stop coming back.
People don’t want to read the same crap over and over again. They are looking for new, innovative ideas, off-the-cuff solutions to everyday problems and answers to nagging business quandaries. Be sure the content you’re producing is relevant and timely within your industry. If you’re focusing on Google’s Panda update you’re a year too late.
Content isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly more obvious with each and every Google update that search engines (and web users alike) are looking for quality content. So, if you’ve got to do it in order to appease Google, why not make it worth your readers’ time?
What tips do you have to keep your readers engaged in your post instead of watching the inside of their eyelids?
If you’re still trying to beat the system, it’s time to wake up and smell the roses. Google has made it abundantly clear that further updates will only continue to weed out shady SEO practices and crappy content sites, and so far, each subsequent update has lived up to that promise:
- PANDA – Penalized content mills and sites focusing on adding loads of poorly written content just for keyword rankings.
- Freshness – Gives a boost to websites that are regularly posting new, relevant and quality content.
- Over-Optimization a.k.a. “Penguin” – Nails sites with too many unnatural backlinks and those employing shady SEO tactics.
Invest in Quality Content, Not Gimmicks
If you’ve been running your site with integrity, you should have nothing to worry about. But if you’ve set out on a mission to uncover the most black hat techniques to boost your rankings for keywords that you really shouldn’t be ranking for, now’s the time to worry. But frankly, Google isn’t the enemy. They’re simply trying to improve their search results to provide searchers with the most relevant content possible.
At some point, I would hope that some of these spammy sites will throw in the towel. Really, it’s got to be easier just to set yourself on a mission to actually provide value to your site visitors than it is to be constantly chasing your tail trying to avoid being penalized with each new update. But there are so many snake oil salesmen out there making outlandish promises to get your site ranked on the first page of Google for whatever keywords you want, it’s hard for publishers to resist at times. Who wouldn’t want a fast-track ticket to the number one spot?
Black Hat SEO isn’t Sustainable
But it’s important to remember that black hat techniques, while they may boost your rankings in the short term, aren’t sustainable and are more likely to hurt you in the long run. It’s hard to erase what you’ve done in the past, especially on the Web, and if you’re caught trying to game the system it will harder to bounce back.
Over-Optimization: What to Avoid, What to Employ
If you’re worried that some of your prior SEO efforts might fall into the suspect category, now’s the time to refocus on quality content that will bring you lasting success. In light of the over-optimization update, publishers should steer clear of the following:
- Link exchanges. Link exchanges used to be the way to go, and it was a win-win for both parties. But mutual links are easily tracked by Google, and this practice has fallen out of favor and will likely earn you a penalty. At the very least, it’s a wasted effort; the links won’t count.
- Purchasing links. Never, ever purchase backlinks. The links you receive are almost guaranteed to be low-quality, spammy link farms which often are completely irrelevant to your industry.
- Links from low-quality link farms or directories. Ah, yes, the good old days of directory submission as a top SEO tactic. Unfortunately, directories are of little use to Web users and backlinks from these sites are worth nothing and may get you penalized.
- Linkbuilding via blog and forum posting (spam). This tactic has been a no-no for years, yet it still shocks me to see how many spammers are still trying just about anything to get a quick link. Please, don’t post a nonsensical response on a forum or to someone’s blog post. You’re wasting your time, and theirs.
- Keyword stuffing. You know those articles you used to come across that had a totally random keyword appearing in strange places throughout an article? You don’t see much of that nonsense anymore since Google has cracked down with its alogorithm updates, but this is still a no-brainer. Keywords should be natural, not forced, and shouldn’t be saturated so heavily into your content that it overwhelms your readers.
- Repeated use of identical anchor text. This was pretty much a standard practice in the SEO world, and it’s now being frowned upon. When you’re out there trying to get backlinks, most publishers requested very specific anchor text directed to specific landing pages. But now, it’s better to use varied anchor text as frequent instances of the same anchor text linking back to the same page will look very suspicious and possibly get your site penalized for over-optimization. Instead, switch it up, incorporate some long-tail keywords and related terms.
- Too many internal (circular) links. You’ll see a lot of websites still using this tactic, and it’s not entirely bad. It makes sense to link relevant pages from other pages within your site, if it fits naturally into the context and helps your readers navigate throughout your site. But overuse of this, and using the same anchor text over and over again to try to build link juice based on a very specific keyword, will now earn you a spot on the over-optimization naughty list.
How to Capitalize on the Over-Optimization Update
But the news isn’t all bad. There are still plenty of tactics you can use to ramp up your linkbuilding efforts. Yes, sustainable SEO and linkbuilding takes a lot of time and effort. But investing your money and time in quality content will pay off handsomely in the long run — and, you won’t have to worry whether your site will be on the chopping block the next time Google implements an update. Here’s what you should be doing:
- Mix up your on-site anchor text. This means your title tag, url and inbound anchor links should be varied, and not identical. For instance, instead of “Content Marketing” as the url, title tag and anchor text for a dozen internal links, incorporate your brand name, use other descriptors and make use of long-tail keywords. Which brings us to point #2:
- Embrace long-tail keywords. Industry leaders have been saying for a few years now that long-tail keywords are a worthy investment, and now that holds true more than ever. There’s less competition for longer-tail keywords, and making use of them provides a simple way to mix up your anchor text while still reaping the benefits of relevant search queries.
- Use article marketing sparingly. Stick to just a few article marketing sites with a high page rank, and do not submit the same article to more than one site. Instead, mix up the content as well as the anchor text.
- Invest in quality content. There’s no more valuable investment you can make for your website than hiring an expert writer to produce relevant and timely content. A skilled copywriter experienced in writing for the Web can craft compelling copy that provides real information your readers are actually seeking, while incorporating a variety of keywords and phrases naturally.
- Ramp up the frequency of your content updates. Freshness is a key component of scoring big with Google. Sites that have regularly updated content are more likely to be offering the latest advice, and Web users are seeking the most up-to-date information available.
- Get back to the basics: Guest blogging is one of the most beneficial ways to earn natural backlinks that are organically incorporated to in-text copy. While other publishers are seeking valuable content for freshness, it’s a win-win situation as you earn a quality backlink at the same time.
- Go for linkbait. Search Plus Your World boosted the value of social sharing in the Google SERPs. Crafting compelling headlines and robust copy that raises the bar or strikes a chord with your audience is more likely to be shared, which can ramp up your rankings.
The bottom line in all of this? You simply can’t get away without investing in your content strategy. If you’ve been holding back from ramping up your content marketing campaign, now is the time to start. Quality content will only continue to become more imperative for favorable search rankings.