It was a light bulb moment for me a few days ago.
I was just sitting by myself when I swiftly realized there are actually some rules that help high performing content teams drive great results these days. (Although, it wasn’t entirely a surprise — as I’ve spent a few years in the content marketing space.)
Many of these teams single-handedly achieve groundbreaking ROIs for their employers. They’re often the reason we see stories like:
And it appears my assertion (about high performing content teams having rules) wasn’t fallacious, after all: Content Marketing Institute’s 2017 report reveals 81% of top content marketing performers have a clear picture of what an effective content marketing program looks like.
My point here is: these programs often have guidelines, rules in them. And it is those rules drive great results for top content marketing performers.
In simple English, companies that drive huge ROIs from content have particular guidelines that they adhere to for results. Your content team shouldn’t be without certain rules, too — if they’re targeting great results.
Honestly? I don’t know all the rules.
But as someone who lives and breathe content, I’ve found I subconsciously use certain patterns when handling content — whether for my business or clients. And I also see how many top content marketing performers use certain patterns around their content marketing everyday.
But I have never taken the time to consider them particularly. So I finally did — a few days ago; I penned some of those rules down, and am sharing 4 of them today.
Let’s get started, shall we?
1. Never write content without copy
By now, you probably know copy and content are not the same. They are both in written formats, but their functions set them apart. Content informs. Copy drives action.
Sonia Simone, Copyblogger’s Chief Content Officer, describes the latter this way:
So, if copy is all these things Sonia describes, then:
- Email content include words sent in email that DON’T HAVE a specific goal (like getting you to click a link).
- Website content include words published on a website DON’T HAVE a specific goal (like getting you to fill a form).
- Ad content includes word I read during a podcast that DON’T HAVE a specific goal (like getting you to buy tickets from SeatGeek).
You get the idea. One major rule your content team need to follow to drive results is to always write with a mix of copy and content. HubSpot does this quite well in a slideshare titled ‘How To Write an Effective Follow Up Email in 5 Simple Steps’
After fleshing out how to avoid sending selfish follow-ups — with examples of such follow-ups — they moved to this:
But just before they reveal their five steps for moving from selfish to valuable emails, they introduced their email tracking software:
See the mix of copy and content there? Content, in this case is the slideshare on how to write an effective follow up. Copy there is: Install Sidekick now! A perfect mix of copy and content is what often drive great results for content teams.
2. At all cost, avoid unflavored content
Your content is flavored when it’s exciting to read. And (apparently) unflavoured when it’s not.
Two tips to keep your content flavored:
You’ve heard this before. You know humans are hardwired to pay attention to stories. And that’s a tool for us — writers and marketers.
But not many resources on storytelling tell us (a) how to tell stories and (b) where to use them. Answer (a): Tell captivating stories.
Jon Morrow puts it this way: “People love stories, but that doesn’t mean you should tell any. Here’s why: telling a boring story is worse than not telling any stories at all…” So how do you to tell captivating stories? One technique I find very effective is telling personal stories. That is, any personal experience that relates to your topic in any way. Take my intro above, for example:
There’s a good chance this enticed you to spend some more time with this post. However, if after trying all you can, you still couldn’t find a captivating story to tell, any interesting story works, too — whether personal or not. After all, it’s still an interesting story.
Answer (b): At the very top of your content. This is where many readers decide whether they want to spend more time with your content or not. And so if stories are a powerful engagement tool, why not use them at this point.?
Questions get people thinking and actively involved with your content. But like stories, you shouldn’t just ask questions. Think of something that will really interest your audience. Something mouth-watering that your readers are yearning for.
I love how Bryan Harris does it in one of his posts:
Neil Patel does the same in a recent post:
When your content is flavoured, it becomes sweet (to read), readers then get in the right frame of to share your content, comment, respond to your CTAs and ultimately help you reach your goals. These things accumulate and impact your bottom line.
3. Drop stating-the-obvious
“If Anyone Can Say It, It’s Not Helping You”
That’s a tip I got from Dr Karen Kelsky, a former tenured professor with 15 years of teaching experience.
Kelsky now runs a company that provides advice and consulting services on the academic job search and all elements of the academic and post-academic career. (Full disclosure: I’m not affiliated with Kelsky in any way).
In an article she wrote titled: Don’t State The Obvious, Kelsky recommends that job applicants avoid saying or writing in job documents the same things that other people obviously bring forward to employers.
In her own words:
There is a kind of line in job documents that is technically blameless, but is so generic, so very much “stating the obvious” that it also completely pointless. This kind of line fills space while doing nothing to distinguish you in any way.
It’s the same with content writing. Stating the obvious — especially in headlines and subheads — doesn’t set you apart. Even worse, it encourages readers to just skim your content and then bounce. They don’t want to pay careful attention since you’re covering things they already know.
Example: Consider the subheads in this post about writing techniques for beginners:
It’s easy for almost anyone to take a glimpse at these subheads and just bounce in, say, 20 seconds. A better way is to use subheads that carry more meaning than they appear. Call them loaded points. They can’t be clearly understood until readers wait around a little longer to find out what they mean. And so they entice readers to get engaged with your content.
Example: take these subheads in a post by Jeff Bullas titled 7 Ways Facebook Keeps You Addicted (and how to apply the lessons to your products):
Don’t you wonder what each of these mean?
That’s because they carry more meaning than they appear. Subheads like these piques your readers’ interests and entice them to learn more about your seemingly weird points. They get more engaged with your content, and are more likely to respond to your CTAs.
4. Be intentional about content promotion
Top content marketing performers understand this 2 things well:
- Communities their target audience spend time on every day.
- The most seen spots in those communities.
Being intentional about content promotion means you target these two things. It means you figure where your audience mostly hang out online (in their thousands), and actually put your content at where they’ll almost definitely find it in those places.
Sharing your post on inbound.org, for instance, is a good content promotion tactic. But will your target readers find it where it’s positioned in the community? You need to be intentional about putting your content where it’ll be seen by thousands of your readers in any community.
So what do you do? Simply look at where top performing content are positioned in the community. For most communities, that’s the frontpage. Example, take inbound.org (again), once your content is on their homepage, it’s almost certain hundreds (or even thousands) of readers will be seeing it.
Here’s a post shared on inbound.org on June 14:
27 upvotes and 39 comments.
And here’s another one shared on the same day:
4 upvotes and zero comments.
Why the difference?
Apparently, the high-performing post is right on the homepage (as of the time of this writing). And the less-performing one is buried somewhere else on the site.
When you want to promote your content on any community that you know thousands or even millions of your target readers frequently visit, think of how you can get on the most visited page on that community. So if it’s inbound.org (just an example), you figure out a way to get on their most visited page.
Here are a couple of options:
- Write a guest post and promote your content in it; guest posts go directly to the front page.
- Figure out a way to get a handful of upvotes and comments. This pushes your content to the front page (like the aforementioned post on Inbound).
Here’s a tweet from Twitter for Business’ timeline on May 11:
The following day, May 12, Twitter for Business launched a promoted tweet:
The regular tweet got:
- 2 replies
- 26 retweets
- 94 likes.
The sponsored tweet apparently got way more than these:
- 275 replies
- 692 retweets
- 3.9k likes
A lot more people saw the sponsored tweet than the regular one. Why? Sponsored tweets are positioned where they would been seen by thousands (even millions) of people.
Effective content promotion is not just about knowing your readers are on Twitter, blogs, online communities (inbound, reddit, Hacker News, etc.), etc. It’s about knowing what spots or pages on those communities attract the most views.
And being intentional about content promotion means you do whatever it takes to get each piece of content you create on those “most visited pages”. This is arguably the most important tip in this entire article. If you’re not intentional about getting your content seen by hundreds and thousands of your readers, every other tip in this post will be useless.
What happens after the rules?
If you attract attention with content and there’s no measurable results from it, there’s something you need to change. You have goals. And each piece of content you write should help you achieve them.
Your goal be anything: generate subscribers, new users for your product, etc. Sadly, many marketers still create content without specific CTAs. That’s not good for business. Create compelling CTAs around your content and you’ll be able to boast of results from your content. Sign-up forms beneath your articles, links to your product pages in white papers and case studies, and so on. They work like magic.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.