Great content sells – it will build your brand and boost your business. Our 1-day Content Strategy, Editorial Planning & Content Calendars training course will help you to define and produce the content that will help your organisation succeed!
On the day, you’ll learn about our unique 7-step process and get our exclusive templates for: Strategy Statements, Content Audits, Content Requests, Content Briefs and Content Calendars!
But there's not nearly as much material designed specifically for someone whose job it is, day in and day out, to produce content. What challenges do professional content marketers face, and how do they overcome them?
To find out, as well as to add to our body of content marketing material, Econsultancy recently invited a number of professional content marketers to a roundtable discussion in Sydney. Here, in discussions led by David Voorn, head of lifecycle Marketing at Salmat, content marketers were free to discuss the problems that they face as well some of the solutions they have figured out.
Before we list them, though, we'd like to draw your attention to a couple of content marketing courses being held in Singapore in November.
Click on the appropriate link to find out more and book your spot!
So, back to the programme. What challenges are content marketers facing these days and what did our roundtable experts say about how to overcome them?
1) Keeping content fresh
The biggest challenge raised by nearly everyone was that content marketers find it difficult to keep producing high-quality, relevant content on a consistent basis.
They indicated that best practice guides and lists of ideas can help, but many said that even these run out – and they occasionally face a blank screen with a full day's work ahead.
So how do some get over this problem? Customer stories.
One of the most interesting trends which came up on the day was that many content marketers are using specific customer experiences as content. That is, they look for customers who are willing to talk about their problems both before and after they engaged with the company and then create content about the specific customer's journey.
Besides being a great way to generate fresh, relevant content, participants felt that customer stories are a great way for the whole organisation to understand the customer better.
Those using customer stories did warn, however, that those adopting this tactic need to finesse the stories in order to fulfill other goals, such as driving search traffic to the site.
2) Always being asked to produce product-focused content
Another challenge routinely faced by content marketers is that the business and marketing managers are always asking content marketers to deliver content which is about, and only about, their company's products. One attendee noted that it wouldn't necessarily be a problem except that product-based content drives little traffic and fails to impact many other of their KPIs.
The way some got over this was, first off, to write a content strategy. Typically this will state who they are trying to reach, what content themes will be used, and how they will measure success. Then resources can be allocated against higher-level goals and avoid being dragged into short-term product content production.
Another suggestion is that content marketers should educate the business about content marketing and sell the notion that content builds brand equity, often a key business goal at the C-level. Then, once senior business sponsors are bought in to a brand equity strategy, content marketers will be able to fend off ad-hoc product-focused content requests.
3) Confused by the technology stack
Many attendees admitted that their companies had bought various content marketing and marketing automation solutions, but had not used them to their full extent, if at all.
The only solution to this, suggested by a few participants on the day, was that content marketers need to be trained up on the platforms and to read up as much as the could about how to use them. Then, once they were aware of the potential of their technology stack, they should compare what they understand with any upsells from the vendors and make sure their knowledge and what they are being told line up.
It's important that content marketers avoid becoming overwhelmed and technophobic though, one added, as technology does have a lot to offer content marketers.
Finally, another problem that content marketers are facing nowadays is that content marketing needs to reflect the authentic brand voice.
Those who use agencies to produce content were particularly concerned about this as external agency staff typically do not 'live and breathe' the brand and so often struggle to produce authentic brand content.
The best way to handle this? Brands should in-source content marketing, said the experts.
Only when content marketing is handled by people who are fully answerable to the brand will the authentic voice emerge. Customer stories (see point 1, above) do help, but even the most trusted agency partners will probably not have the same level of customer access as internal brand marketers.
A word of thanks
Econsultancy would like to thank all of the marketers who participated on the day and especially our content marketing table moderator, David Voorn, head of lifecycle marketing at Salmat.
We hope to see you all at future Sydney Econsultancy events!
The International Content: Monetizing Global Content Assets and Measuring Success report examines the views of brand-side marketers on the management of international content.
This research, conducted by Econsultancy in partnership with Lionbridge LLC, is based on a sample of more than 270 executive-level marketers across a variety of international businesses. Respondents' organizations reported an average of $1 - 5 billion in 2016 revenue.
The report explores ways in which high-performing organizations govern their international content to improve global brand positioning and increase revenue. The survey contrasts leaders' methods with those of the mainstream to give the reader a better understanding of successful approaches to global content management, and the challenges those taking these approaches encounter.
As globalization accelerates, industry leaders tend to centralize control of their global content; 72% of leaders describe their governance of global content as either "very tightly controlled at a global level, with no local autonomy," or "tightly controlled, with some local autonomy."
Naturally, localization is a challenge for larger international organizations that tend to have more rigidly defined content strategies than companies in the more ad-hoc mainstream.
However, leaders are trying to change this; twice as many leaders are planning to extend the number of markets in which they have a web presence as their mainstream peers.
Standing out among the challenges organizations face in seeking to grow the number of local markets in which they operate are technology, industry compliance, and limited undestanding of ROI within the organization. Leaders are more than twice as likely as their mainstream peers to report "industry compliance" as the chief obstacle to localized expansion, while the mainstream reports "lack of business case / limited understanding of ROI" at twice the rate of high-performers.
Still, everyone struggles with establishing a global governance framework. While leaders are unsurprisingly better in this regard, roughly a fifth of both performance groups report it being the main barrier to their organizations' expansion efforts.
Nearly two-thirds of leaders (65%) believe that internationalization of content is 'critical for creating a global brand,' compared to only 35% of mainstream respondents. There is broad consensus among leaders that carefully planned international content is integral to digital transformation and the overall customer experience.
More than half (54%) of leaders believe their budgeting for international websites is 'very much based on a quantifiable understanding of the likely revenue uplift.' They are similarly likely to report that they have portioned off budget for content internationalization (60%).
Leaders are more than four times as likely as the mainstream to have clear ownership of content within their businesses.
Among leaders, control of content within the business itself lies with product teams twice as often as it does with the product teams of the mainstream (35% versus 15%, respectively), and with analysts at about the same rate (46% for leaders versus 23% for the mainstream).
The aim of this research was to identify best practice approaches, techniques, challenges and opportunities around digital content strategy.
The methodology involved two main phases:
Phase 1: Desk research to identify relevant issues, examples and models.
Phase 2: a series of in-depth interviews with a range of senior digital and non-digital marketing practitioners, Heads of Content, UX and Content Strategists. Interviewees for the research covered sectors as diverse as financial services, media, public sector, NGO and FMCG.
What you'll learn
This best practice guide:
outlines some key definitions
sets out a core process for content strategy in the digital age
defines some key strategic models that enable the smart application of content in the service of achieving marketing objectives.
Included in this report are the following:
The content strategy process
We define the importance of tying back to a solid strategic process that is aligned to answering the fundamental questions of strategy:
Where are we now?
Where do we want to get to?
How do we get there?
How do we know when we’ve got there?
Our research has demonstrated this alignment to be critical to effective content strategy implementation.
Insight and persona generation
We discuss the key thinking and methodologies around successful persona generation, how brands are using personas to inform strategy and how relating content to a solid understanding of the customer journey through customer journey mapping can establish a firm foundation for success.
Aligning content with brand strategy
Defining a content marketing mission, and a key model for relating content to brand purpose and essence.
Distribution and format
We set out a key model for building an effective content ecosystem (borrowed from YouTube) – ‘Hero, Hub, Help’, look at an example brand that shows exemplary practice in this context, and consider the best ways of linking format selection with objective.
The practitioners interviewed for this report stressed the importance of developing a testing culture to ensure continuous, not just episodic, test and learn. When combined with a structured content calendar, this can bring both alignment and optimisation of resources and impact.
Content and technology
The marketing and content technology landscape is more complex than ever so how might practitioners best navigate through this complexity and make smart decisions about technology? Technology will play an ever-increasing role in the content marketing process and ecosystem, so how can marketers set themselves up for success?
As so much of what people do online starts with search, a big part of managing your online reputation relates to search engines: trying to control and influence what appears when someone performs searches of your brand, key people and products and services.
It’s not just about driving out negative mentions
Most people assume that this is mainly about getting rid of negative content (such as in the UC Davis example) or pushing negative references lower while improving the rankings of positive material residing on your website or blog. But managing your online reputation goes beyond taking away negatives.
You need to make sure that the information people are seeing about you is accurate, up to date and consistent across all regions and countries. And you should continually find ways of improving what appears so that it’s more engaging and paints a more desirable picture.
Google decides what it shows in search engine results pages (SERPs) algorithmically based on hundreds of different factors. And the task for organisations who want to manage what appears for their brand is getting increasingly complicated.
It’s not just about the blue organic links in Google results
In addition to the traditional organic search results (the familiar blue links on search pages), Google now includes a whole array of other search real estate. Take a look at the image below which shows some of the elements that appear on page 1 for a brand search for “Netflix”.
So where do you start if you want to manage your online reputation in search? Here are five key considerations to inform your planning:
1. What SERP real estate are people seeing when they search for your brand?
First, it’s useful to conduct an audit of what people are seeing when they search for your brand keywords on Google and other search engines. In addition to the organic results there’s so many other elements that appear (as you can see from the Netflix example above). They range from universal search integrations (news, images, videos, maps, and shopping results) to Twitter cards, Google Knowledge Graph, as well as paid search results and a lot more.
And don’t forget that you need to analyse what appears according to region, country, device and search query intent as all these could throw up different results.
2. Of those SERP elements that appear for your brand, which can you reasonably expect to own or control?
You can definitely own or have control over what is on your website, your company blog, how you are represented in industry profiles, your social profiles such as your company Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube page. All of these can find their way into search results pages, so it’s important to take stock of what they are.
3. How do you communicate your brand in those parts of the SERPs you can expect to own and control?
Next you need to ensure that everything on the pages you own or can control is on message. Is all the content up to date? Does it highlight the positive things you want target audiences to know about your company? Is what you are saying consistent across all the different elements – including images, videos, online slide presentations?
4. How do you maximize the visibility in the SERPs of elements you own or can control?
How do you push the parts you own and control higher up the search rankings pages so they are visible for brand searches? This is a huge subject and one which usually falls under the remit of your SEO consultant. It includes making sure that your web pages and properties are technically optimised – paying attention to areas such as site speed, load time, site structure, internal linking - as well as optimising the content on individual pages and earning backlinks and mentions from other sites, all which have an impact on the performance of a domain in search results.
5. How can you influence the parts you don’t own and control?
There are many elements in the results you don’t own or cannot directly control that could rank in the SERPs for your brand. This includes other sites that mention your company ranging from competitors to partners, industry publications, blogs and online forums and review sites.
While you can’t directly control what they publish, you do have some influence. If something is incorrect or out of date you can consider contacting the website owner or author and asking them to correct it. If there is a negative forum or social media post you can respond to it.
Going back to the search real estate other than the organic links – here too, there are things you can influence. Examples include:
Video results: the majority of video results integrated into the SERPs are from YouTube. Make sure you host your videos there and include clear meta tags and descriptions and upload transcripts to let Google know what they feature.
Image results: ensure you optimise image assets on your website and social sites so they include brand search terms in captions, alt text and descriptions to increase their chances of appearing in image results.
News results: have a media relations specialist managing the flow of company news to target media to influence the News results that show up when people search for your brand.
Knowledge Graph: the Knowledge Graph (which appears on the right hand side of the SERP) is incredibly important. Much of the information it incorporates is taken from a brand’s website, social channels, Google My Business account and often from its Wikipedia listing. You can influence it by ensuring logos, images, contact details, social profiles etc., are all correct and up to date.
Site links: Google sometimes incorporates links to important pages on a brand’s website underneath the main organic blue link within the SERP. You can increase the chances that it incorporates site links to pages you want targets to see by creating a XML site map and using anchor text and alt text about those key pages that’s clear and informative.
Online reputation management in search should be on the agenda of every organisation that wants to have an online presence. It’s definitely not something that can be left to chance. Ideally you should devote time and resources to proactively cultivate it.
1. Twitter is currently researching whether there's enough interest to make a go of it.
First things first: while the possibility of a paid subscription offering is more than rumor – Twitter itself made an announcement – the company says that it's currently conducting research and asking users for feedback, so there's no guarantee that it will move forward with the concept.
2. The offering would likely be an enhanced version of Tweetdeck.
In 2011, Twitter acquired TweetDeck, a Twitter client for iOS and Android that had become the most popular Twitter app in the world. Today, Tweetdeck, which Twitter dubs "the most powerful Twitter tool for real-time tracking, organizing, and engagement," is most frequently used by power users and celebrities to manage and post to their Twitter accounts.
According to an email Twitter sent to select users, an enhanced, paid version of Tweetdeck would "provide valuable viewing, posting, and signaling tools like alerts, trends and activity analysis, advanced analytics, and composing and posting tools all in one customizable dashboard.
"It will be designed to make it easier than ever to keep up with multiple interests, grow your audience, and see even more great content and information in real-time."
3. Such a paid offering would face stiff competition from third-party solutions.
Although Twitter would obviously be able to add new functionality to Tweetdeck that others can't, those who Twitter would be targeting with its paid offering, including corporate and celebrity social media managers, already often use third-party social media management tools including HootSuite, Buffer, Sprinklr and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
These third-party social media management tools offer support for multiple platforms, making them ideal for users managing accounts across services. Previously, Tweetdeck offered support for other social networks including Facebook, but as of mid-2013, Tweetdeck works exclusively with Twitter.
This limitation could present a big challenge for Twitter if it tries to convince existing customers of those third-party tools to pay up for an enhanced version of Tweetdeck.
4. Twitter isn't going to try to get average users to pay.
Not surprisingly, there's no indication that Twitter's paid offering would be aimed at average users, as Twitter would not want to scare off new or casual users with a hard sell for its paid offering.
Instead of changing its business model, which is still driven by ad revenue, Twitter is interested in the possibility of adding incremental revenue from pro users.
5. Nobody knows what Twitter might charge.
None of the reports about the paid version of Tweetdeck discuss cost. If Twitter moves forward with a paid service, its direct access to its firehose will give it the ability to add features that might not be available elsewhere, particularly around alerts, analytics and sentiment analysis.
On one hand, exclusive features could be extremely valuable, justifying higher pricing, but on the other hand, if more and more of its power users are shifting their resources to competitors like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, Twitter might find that the market size for an expensive offering could be increasingly small.
To learn more on this topic, check out these Econsultancy resources:
In his seminal blog post, 'Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy', Mark Schaefer defined the term 'content shock' as the time when 'increasing volumes of content intersect our limited human capacity to consume it.'
That is, the time will (or indeed already has) come when the total amount of human attention is not sufficient to consume the content that is created.
What this means for brands is that, after content shock, the content that you spend your valuable time producing may never actually be read by anyone and could be a total waste of time and effort. Content shock exhibits itself through indicators that marketers are becoming increasingly familiar with: low click-through rates, high bounce rates, and fewer conversions and qualified leads.
While it seems that there is little brands can do to reverse the reality of content shock, there are a few key things you can do to be heard above the others and avoid its worst effects. Assembled by content marketing expert Matt Collette, MD of Zeno Group, there are four things brands can do to overcome content shock, listed below.
These were initially presented at a recent Econsultancy event in Singapore where brand marketers were given an overview of the current hot topics in marketing.
Before we start...
Econsultancy is conducting an Advanced Content Marketing Masterclass in Singapore on Tuesday, 28 March for marketers and other professionals who want to understand the impact of content marketing on their business. Matt Collette, MD of Zeno Group, will be the trainer, places are still available and you can find out more and book your spot here.
1. Put the consumer back at the center of content
The first thing a brand can do is to make sure that it considers the consumer first when producing content. That is, before you produce any content, think about what the consumer is seeking to do and how your brand can help.
This is achieved by conducting a thorough analysis of the various journeys your customers take when they interact with your brand, always keeping in mind what they are trying to accomplish at each step. Then, marketers should only produce content which reflects and builds on what customers are thinking, feeling, and doing at each step of the journey. This will help your content be the start of a value exchange with consumers.
A good example of content organised in this way is Rail Europe's blog 'Europe on Track' which organises its content according to customer needs. Additionally, Rail Europe has published the thought process behind its marketing, available for download here.
2. Ensure your content has a clear pay-off for consumers
While helping consumers along their journey is a good start, content must provide some immediate benefit to consumers for the good relationship to continue.
The benefit obtained does not, however, have to be material (e.g. discounts and offers). Content can also feel beneficial if it satisfies a positive emotional response such as happiness, warmth, hilarity, or knowledge.
One popular way to give a reader a quick pay-off is to satisfy the positive feeling of sharing something useful. To accomplish this the content should allow the reader to fulfill one of their social motivations of sharing, such as:
Shared passions – I would share this content because it gives me the opportunity to connect with friends about a shared passion or interest.
Social Utility – I would share this content because the product/service could be useful to my friends.
Reaction Seeking – I would share this video to start an online conversation.
Zeitgeist – I would share this content because it is about a current trend or event (and I will look knowledgeable).
The content should, naturally, also be related to your brand message. Red Bull does this very well by creating content which shows people at peak performance (brand message), and often includes an inspirational or funny message to make it more shareable.
3. Create immersive content
Content shock has in many ways reduced a marketer's ability to connect with their customers. With so many content options available to consumers now, it is harder to carve out space within their day to reach them. Interestingly, though, in one way it is becoming easier to reach people.
As digital platforms now offer near-constant internet connection and multimedia display, the hours per day that a consumer is available to consume what you have to offer has actually increased. According to one study, people now have, when you include sleep, a 31hr 28min day - half of which is available for marketing purposes.
Why 31hrs and not 24hrs? Because people multi-task across media and physical tasks during much of the day. Smartphones mean people can listen to podcasts while running or read web pages while eating. In order to win a disproportionate share of this new attention, marketers must make their content immersive and memorable.
One way brands can do this is by taking advantage of 360-degree video on Facebook and YouTube. Also, they should note that Oculus and Sony are close to bringing virtual reality to a mass audience.
One brand moving in the right direction in this area is Marriott Hotels, which offers branded 'pop-up' VR teleporters in major cities to show off its hotels and VR 'room service' for guests.
4. Use data to gain a competitive advantage
Finally, marketers should become familiar with data sources which help them produce better content, and use them to their advantage. Some of these tools are:
Newswhip Analytics, a database of the performance of articles across social media channels to help you benchmark and estimate performance.
Spike - a predictive analytics dashboard that shows which stories will perform best.
BuzzSumo - content performance statistics to help you find the most shareable content for any topic.
Demographics Pro - social media audience analytics which help you understand what your social media followers are interested in.
SocialBakers - social media performance analytics to help you understand the comparative reach of your social media posts - and of your competitors' posts, too.
Using data from tools such as these will help you understand what high-performing content is out there and what gaps exist so that you can plan brand-relevant content which has a high chance of performing well.
After using content performance data, it becomes hard to imagine writing up content without having any idea about how it would perform once finished!
Many brands are feeling the effects of content shock and, perhaps, are now questioning the existence of their content marketing programme. Others, whose marketers understand the difficulty of getting through to consumers, are adapting by using new techniques to be heard above the rest.
And whether its by using customer-centric content, writing more 'shareable' articles, taking advantage of immersive formats, or using data to improve performance, these brands will be the ones who are able to overcome content shock, attract attention and, ultimately, succeed in delivering the brand's message to the consumer.
Econsultancy is running an Advanced Content Marketing Masterclass in Singapore on Tuesday, 28th March in Singapore. You can find out more and sign up here.
'More than not, marketers are abuzz about social media and video without comprehending that most of our communication is still text- and story-based. And frankly, most marketers are really bad at writing.’
Good writing is about vigilance, among other things. And as marketers, one easy way to improve our writing is to try and weed out some of those bits of boilerplated guff and clichéd collateralese that are always hanging about ready to sneak their way back into our copy the moment we turn our backs. (I’m sure you’ll find some in my copy; but one can but try.)
So here’s a dirty near-score of marketing phrases that refuse to die – together with some extra ammunition as to why it’s time to let them go for good…
‘We understand that x’
As in ‘we understand that getting a mortgage for the first time can be a daunting experience’. Or ‘we understand that your pet is important to you’. Or ‘we understand that your time is valuable.’
When you think about it, is there anything good one can say about this time-honoured marketing construction, which comes over as redundant (why would you tell me things you don’t understand?), patronising, questionable (what do you, a bank, really know or remember about the experience of getting a first-time mortgage?) or bland – and often all at once.
The fix: Often you can just remove the wording and immediately improve the sentence. But if you really want to make this point about empathy, find a way to show or prove that you understand x, not just state or tell it, for instance through proof points, testimonial quotes or other credible content that showcases your expertise in the area.
‘Tailored to your specific/individual requirements/your unique circumstances’
...And the whole bundle of messages about bespoke/customised solutions. These time-battered phrases promise much but deliver little, and tend to fall apart on closer inspection.
There’s the tautology – why would you tailor things to my non-specific requirements? There’s the lazy promise – is your ‘solution’ really as unique as my circumstances? How do you know my circumstances are unique, come to that? (They aren’t always.) Above all, there is the weary sense that this is just what you say to everyone... which delivers exactly the opposite cookie-cutter effect to what you were apparently shooting for.
The fix: Try and find something fresh to say. Be specific. Demonstrate that you really do ‘bespoke’ your ‘solutions’ (without using either of these words). Or if you don’t really, maybe you don’t need to pretend that you do?
‘X will soon be upon us’ (and other tired seasonal hooks)
As in ‘winter will soon be upon us and car safety is essential to avoid emergency situations’ (so you need our executive driving winter kit). Or ‘the picnic season will soon be upon us so why not stock up on some al fresco essentials?’ (which we sell, by the way). Or ‘the festive season will soon be upon us, but don’t worry, we’ve got Christmas all wrapped up’.
That last one manages to combine two seasonal clichés in one, of course: ‘all wrapped up’ is for my money right up there with ‘new year, new you’ and the assumption that people (especially men) do nothing but DIY on bank holidays.
Does it matter? Aren’t these messages just conventions that we expect at certain times of the year? Well, they often feel very tired, and that can’t be good for our sales prospects. Plus, endless repetition of the same phrases tends to make readers blind/deaf to their meaning (a phenomenon that can affect the writers of such marketing copy too).
The fix: Say something else. Address the season in an unexpected way. What about single people and divorcees at Valentine’s? What about making a resolution at the start of the Chinese New Year or the tax year?
On the other hand, if you have an unexpected event coming up, the use of the mundane cliché actually adds to the impact:
‘Looking for/to do x?’ ‘Need x for your y?’
As in: ‘Looking to review your postage franking solution in 2017?’ Or: ‘Looking for a new flooring solution for your home?’ Or: ‘Looking to drive business growth?’ Or: ‘Need a new UK hospitality purchase decision-maker database provider?’
You get this sort of approach in coldish emails a lot. What they tend to have in common is an absence of sizzle, or benefit, or USP. Such marketing simply states what’s on offer, in the most internally focused and unvarnished way possible, and asks you if you want it. Or else it states the bleeding obvious: What business isn’t interested in growth? (And when are you going to get round to telling me what you do?)
Sometimes this may be a sensible way of qualifying out people. If I really have no possible need of a new UK hospitality purchase decision-maker database, no amount of fancy copy can change this. But then again, if there is a chance I might be interested, why would I go for the provider who can’t be bothered to do more than list what they do?
What this approach also overlooks is that people often don’t know what they want or need, and it’s the job of the marketing copy to get people feeling otherwise. We get engaged with marketing messages because they chime with something we didn't know we were already thinking, because they show how something might fit into our world, because they work hard to create a little feelgood sensation at the thought of having them in our lives. ‘Looking for a new flooring solution?’ doesn’t quite do it for me.
The fix: Be creative. Think about why someone might care about what you have to offer. Think about scenarios and use cases they might relate to. Tell us stories of other people who’ve benefited from your product or service. Anything but this really.
‘Today’s fast-moving world’
As in: ‘In today's fast-moving world, any business that fails to keep up with the latest technological trends and developments will be swiftly left behind.’ Or: ‘In today’s fast moving world with its rapid technological advancement, the ability to constantly pivot and see oneself in relation to the larger ecosystem is essential in order to remain relevant.’
On Google, a search for ‘today’s fast-moving world’ yields 61,100 results. It’s the sort of phrase that’s especially favoured by consultancies, software providers and personal development outfits. It seems to be a sort of shorthand for our contemporary sense that the world keeps changing in complex ways, what with all the new gadgets and the social media stuff and those disruptive brands and that Donald Trump and drones and AI and loads of the jobs of tomorrow haven’t even been invented yet and digital transformation and oh God, I don’t know, everything’s just really complicated, it won’t stay still and now I’ve got a headache.
Something like that. But because everyone uses the same phrase and you show no signs of having any special insights to bring to bear on this complexity, we sort of just assume that you can’t really get your head round it either. Or maybe you can’t be bothered to say anything more meaningful because the world will probably change again, making your comments obsolete before you’ve even published them. But that’s today’s fast-moving world for you all over, alas.
The fix: Avoid. Be specific instead. Choose a specific topic or issue that your users and prospects might relate to, and that you have something interesting to say about.
'Today, more than ever…'
As in: ‘Today more than ever, you need an effective way to help support a healthy balance of microbes in your gut’ (provider of probiotic supplements). Or: ‘Today, more than ever, we continue to be an industry leader in innovation’ (tool maker). Or: ‘Today more than ever before, our pets have become part of the family […] without asking for anything in return’ (pet urns supplier).
Copywriters often invoke this breathless phrase to signal that the thought that comes next is really important. It has to be, because it’s usually the reason they want you to invest in their product or service. Unfortunately, they often don’t have anything of sufficient weight to insert here, and so it all rings a bit hollow. 'Today, more than ever, I need you to buy my product.'
The fix: Go for a proof point that’s provable and specific, rather than a general statement that’s as sweeping as it is unconvincing. Or think of a topical reference or a story people will be familiar with, to illustrate your point.
'State of the art'
As in ‘state-of-the-art conference facilities’, ‘state-of-the-art accounting software’, or (even) ‘state-of-the-art pooper scooper’. I’m sure I’ve used this one in my time, but now that I look at in the cold light of day (cliché), I’m not sure I want to any more.
Pretty much everyone claims that what they do or sell is ‘state of the art’. This makes the claim meaningless. Another problem is that the phrase is really just a fancy synonym for ‘up to the minute’ or ‘latest’. So you’re basically claiming that your offering isn’t out of date (duh), or else it looks like you’re trying too hard to pretend that you’re still with it.
The fix: Back to specifics, to showing not telling. Focus on one or a few aspects that genuinely illustrate your state-of-the-artness.
As in: ‘UK cloud solutions provider’, ‘hotel bookings solutions provider’ or ‘business event solutions provider’. The word ‘solutions’ has been derided so often that satirical magazine Private Eye even ran a regular column in which readers sent in their worst examples of the phrase in action. Someone found a description of cardboard boxes as ‘Christmas Ornament Storage Solutions’. Then there was ‘Lockwoods Mushy Pea Fritters: the frozen versatile meal solution.’
But though civilians laughed at the phrase and moved on, in marketing – and especially in B2B and IT – it has refused to die. Google searches show it’s still everywhere. Yet it adds little in terms of meaning or impact, and is often totally redundant.
The fix: Try saying the same thing without mentioning the word ‘solution’ or ‘provider’. It’ll probably read better.
Here for your consideration are a few more pet hates from my colleagues, with their comments...
‘We’ve teamed up with…’ You’re not a superhero!
‘Meeting the needs of today’s [businesses/global traveller/etc]…’ Bland and meaningless.
‘It’s up to you…’ As in, ‘Choose x widget, or choose y widget – it’s up to you’. Who else would it be up to??
‘Whatever you’re looking for/planning etc, we can help/we’ve got you covered’ Really? Anything? Now you’ve just got me thinking of exceptions.
‘As a [insert audience], you need to [insert product benefit] and that’s why we now offer [insert product feature]’ Formulaic and unimaginative. This is just the brief served up as the execution.
‘Created by experts’, ‘We're experts in…’ ‘We have the expertise’ etc I hate the 'expert' tag. If you’re really experts, do you have to say it?
‘[Our event] is fast approaching and it’s going to be the best [thing of its kind] ever’ Don’t believe you.
‘110%!’ This is simply, mathematically inaccurate.
‘Something for everyone’ Don't do it. You'll be 'ticking every box' next...
Unbeatable prices Unless you really do have a price promise.
‘Your dream x (e.g. your dream kitchen)’ I don’t think I’ve ever dreamt about my ideal kitchen!
However, it turns out my research for that article was no better than the scouting performed by Southampton when they signed Ali Dia back in 1996. While I maintain that Southampton’s website is still the best the Premier League has to offer, it’s been brought to my attention that other clubs are also doing some excellent digital work.
Much has been written about Manchester City’s digital strategy, which includes a strong emphasis on social media, experiments with VR, and hackathons focusing on digital fan engagement.
And while it’s easy to suggest that City’s digital success is inevitable due to the club’s vast resources, one need only glance at their local rival’s site to see that having lots of cash doesn’t guarantee that some of it will be invested in digital platforms.
But it’s wrong to focus only on what’s happening at the top of the league. Robbie Blackburn, client partner at digital agency Aqueduct, said that although Man City are known for being digital innovators, other teams are quietly developing their own digital capabilities as well.
“It’s been a big play for City to be seen as leaders in digital. They recently launched their own robot partner, which suggests that some of it is for PR value. But a lot of other clubs are really seeing the value in innovating in digital.”
Cast your eye lower down the league table, down to the very bottom in fact. Sunderland AFC who, at the time of writing, are in last place, have had a strong focus on digital for many years. This approach is fairly unique for a club with a history of yo-yoing between the Premier League and Championship.
Most clubs in the Football League (i.e. the Championship down to League Two) outsource their websites to Football League Interactive (FLI). This is a centralised web platform offered for free to Football League clubs that want to outsource their website in return for giving up the right to any ad revenue. While it’s a useful service for lower league clubs looking to reduce their overheads, the UX of FLI sites is poor and customisation options are limited.
Sunderland have never used FLI and during the 2012/13 season launched what was then the first responsive Premier League site built in HTML5. Working with Aqueduct, Sunderland unveiled another new site at the beginning of the current 2016/17 season, with the aim of offering fans a more app-like experience.
Sunderland's content feed
Visually the site has a similar layout to Southampton’s, with a content feed that’s frequently updated, as well as a dedicated match day experience. While the range of content and site navigation isn’t quite on par with Southampton’s, plans are afoot to further develop the site in the near future.
Despite being a relatively small club compared to some of its Premier League peers, Sunderland is ahead of most teams in terms of its digital capabilities thanks to years of investment by the club’s owners. According to Stuart Vose, Sunderland AFC’s head of digital: “There’s no hard and fast way of getting digital right. What works for one club might not work for another.
“The senior management of this club are very ambitious for digital, they realise that it should be at the centre of any modern business, and particularly a sports club where it connects with so many fans around the world plus partners and sponsors.”
A common theme among Premier League teams is the desire to use digital both to engage with existing and new fans, and also to open up new sponsorship opportunities.
Stuart currently has seven people within his digital team who broadly cover content and digital marketing for the club and the Stadium of Light’s event facilities. One recent example of the club’s in-house capabilities is this #keepthefaith video, which aims to rally support as the club battles relegation.
Historically Sunderland’s digital team has acted almost as a service function for other departments, responding to requests and helping with specific projects, but plans are now underway to embed the digital team across the entire club.
According to Stuart: “We want digital to sit across everything and be able to proactively offer digital products and services into other departments to help drive them forward rather than just reacting to things. Not just ‘can we have a tweet’, but how can we innovate and offer products and services to them.”
It’s these new products and services – such as new content hubs or digital platforms – that can provide value to both fans and sponsors alike. As Stuart puts it: “Digital is a virtuous circle. The more you invest in it, the better our digital platforms become, which hopefully helps to attract better sponsors, which gives us more money to invest, and so on. It all builds up.”
Sunderland is currently working to create a single sign-on for the club’s digital platforms (ticketing, merchandising, content, etc), which will allow for better management of user data and enable personalisation of content using Sitecore. A previous project saw the club work with Sports Alliance to pull together its data from various sources (ticketing, merchandise, hospitality), which doubled the size of the club’s user database.
Digital in the Championship
And it’s not just in the Premier League where clubs are striving to improve their digital platforms. Wolverhampton Wanderers, currently 19th in the Championship, are also in the middle of a website revamp that aims to create a far better user experience for fans.
After 17 years of outsourcing its site to FLI, Wolves has decided to bring control of its website back in-house at the end of this season. Head of marketing, Laura Gabbidon, explained that the club is working to create the kind of digital experience that fans want and expect.
Laura said: “We’re not looking at our website like a traditional business would, like a brochure, we want it to be an interactive digital experience, a media centre for fans, the first port of call for all things Wolves.
“From our perspective that will hopefully improve the on-site engagement but also our relationship with the fans, or their relationship with the club. It’ll provide us commercial support by collecting behavioural and contact data, and also give us more opportunity to commercialize through sponsors.”
Wolves have already had some success with increasing revenues thanks to improvements with digital platforms. After redesigning the ticketing part of the website earlier this year, online sales of home tickets increased by 10%.
The overall site redesign, which is being worked on with Aqueduct and aims to go live in June, is the first stage of a bigger digital transformation project. Laura said that football “isn’t anywhere near up to speed” with digital compared to other industries, and that clubs now have no choice but to play catch up.
Wolves haven’t got a clear transformation roadmap in place, and are instead waiting for the website to be complete before deciding what to tackle next. "We want to build the website, get it as good as it can be, and then identify any gaps where we’re not delivering. We don’t want to rush into doing everything at once then end up duplicating things or wasting our efforts,” said Laura.
If the site achieves it goals, it will enable the club to make better use of social media and video content, which in turn has required new hires with the right digital content skills. The digital transformation journey is a familiar one, regardless of which league a club plays in.
Luring fans away from fan forums
Will an official club site ever be able to attract fans away from the likes of the BBC, Twitter and Sky? Southampton FC’s research into user behaviour showed that football fans tend to constantly graze on short-form content during the week, skipping between different social networks and publisher sites.
Laura admits that it’s a big challenge to insert an official club site into this mix, but hopes that a combination of an improved UX and unique, high quality content will be enough to win fans over. “A lot of our fans like to engage with us using Twitter on match days, and at the same time they’re probably going off to get live scores and updates from other games from the BBC," she explained.
“We don’t want to take away any of those experiences, so we’ll look to integrate all of it, offering the same type of experience that you get on Twitter but on the website, as well as giving people similar content that they’d get from the BBC and elsewhere. So you’ll get it all in one place.”
More broadly, there has been a concerted effort by the Premier League and top clubs to play catch up with other sports publishers.
With a flashy new website and the launch of a new app, the Premier League itself is aiming to compete with the likes of Opta Sports and the BBC by providing official access to stats, video content and fantasy football leagues.
The Premier League's new website
Another noteworthy development is the launch of a new social network called ‘Dugout’ that enables fans to access exclusive content by following their favourite teams and players. 10 Premier League teams have signed up to the platform, alongside the likes of Juventus, PSG, Barcelona and SC Corinthians Paulista.
While it will be difficult to lure fans away from their existing content grazing routine, these new official channels might succeed if they are able to provide unique content and a genuine forum for debate and conversation among fans.
Ultimately the user experience will also play a large part. If official club sites, the league’s new app, or Dugout can offer fans a quick, usable, mobile platform then there’s no reason they won’t be able to insert themselves into that mix.
And with site traffic comes those new opportunities for lucrative sponsorship deals. As Stuart Vose puts it, investment in digital is a virtuous circle.
But Google has spent close to 20 years learning how to serve up the best, most relevant content in its search results – now averaging over 3.5bn search queries a day.
If content marketers could tap into some of that vast knowledge, wouldn’t that provide some important clues on how to create killer content?
Below I’ve listed six areas in which insights from Google can help you develop better, more relevant content that chimes with your target audience. If you’re a content marketer or content creator, you can get a sense of some of these insights by simply running searches on topics that you’re interested in - and studying what Google throws up in its results.
However your SEO or search marketing teams are very likely using specialist tools to track and manage their programmes that can provide more detailed data and insights:
1. What sub-topics should your content include?
Correlation studies suggest content that ranks highly on Google tends to be holistic and comprehensive and generally has a bigger word count - because it covers topics in greater depth.
These studies also indicate that the main topic is usually paired with certain other topics. For the overall topic that’s being covered there are usually a number of mentions of some important ‘proof terms’ (which are very closely connected to the main topic) and ‘relevant terms’ (slightly more distant but still relevant).
If, for example, you were to analyse the top articles on the topic “Mexico Holidays”, you might see that proof terms such as “Mexico hotels” or “Mexico flights” are common, as well as relevant terms such as “Riviera Maya” or “Cancun sights”.
So analysing Google searches can tell you that if you are going to write about A, you should also cover B and C, because those are the things your audience will be interested in.
2. Who is your real competition when it comes to content?
The people and businesses you are competing with when it comes to content marketing, may not be those you compete with directly for sales. When you’re writing about specific topics, Google searches can highlight competitors with similar content that can give you inspiration.
For example a UK search for “buying a car” surfaces results (on the first two pages) from the AA breakdown service (providing useful advice on the pitfalls to avoid and a wide range of buying tips), a Gov.co.uk web page (with advice and links to help you avoid buying a stolen vehicle), a couple of banks (including articles that discuss car loans, financing, saving for a car and running costs) as well as pages from the Citizens Advice Bureau, the consumer section of the BBC website, money saving advice sites and several car buying magazine sites which include listings of new and used cars for sale.
Studying high ranking competitive content – even if it’s not from your direct competitors - can provide ideas and also help you spot gaps about areas that are not being covered adequately or can be developed further.
Some search tools analyse the content on your website and give you a list of your top content competitors on Google – giving you a sense of who’s writing content similar to yours.
3. How should content be presented on your site?
Google tracks user signals, such as bounce rates and time on site and uses this data to evaluate the relevance of your content to the search query.
These metrics also allow the search engine to get a measure of the user experience of individual pages and websites.
An important aspect of this is how information is presented - which means reviewing high ranking content that covers similar topics to you can provide important clues in areas such as the number and quality of images on a page, the presence of video, the readability of text and the use of bullet points, numbers, charts and tables to organise information.
4. When should you launch fresh content and promote it?
The volume of searches and questions people ask Google and when they do it, can help you plan when to create fresh content pieces and when you should put effort and promotional budget into distributing it (i.e. what time of year, month).
However your SEO and search marketing teams may be using other, more sophisticated search tools that provide in-depth analysis of how search volumes on specific topics vary over time.
5. What format or media should you choose for your content in the search results?
The most appropriate content on a specific topic – or for a specific intention - isn’t always text on a standard web page.
Over the years Google has embraced this and is now integrating more and more box-outs (such as video, apps, shopping, direct answers, knowledge graphs etc.) within its organic search results.
Analysing these universal and extended search integrations can give you insights about the different media and formats your content strategy should incorporate to address your target's individual requirements.
So a UK Google search on “tying a bow tie” throws up a Direct Answer box at the top of the page with numbered instructions. Underneath this are some video integrations followed by a variety of instructional diagrams that appear in image box-outs.
Obviously you can get an idea of the integrations/box-outs Google selects by simply performing keyword searches related to the topics you want to cover.
If you can manage to get your content appearing in these, then you can potentially boost your traffic. And there are search tools available to help you track the appearance of Google’s universal and extended search integrations for your site to see how your content is performing.
6. How effectively does your content meet the needs of your audience
We’ve already said that Google’s experience of successfully serving up relevant content day in day out, means it has a wealth of experience.
So one way of assessing if you’re online content is working, is to track and measure how it performs in search. After all, if Google positions your content highly in searches – then it’s likely doing a good job of answering searchers’ questions.
You could even put a monetary value on the ‘power’ of each piece of content by getting your SEO or search marketing team to help you estimate how much you’d have to pay in AdWords advertising to generate the same level of search visibility.
7. When should you repurpose, consolidate or even delete content?
If your content is simply not performing in Google searches (i.e. not ranking well, not getting much traffic with visitors bouncing away quickly when they land on the page), and your SEO team has told you that all the technical and user experience aspects of your page/site (site speed, file size, page structure etc) are fine, it could mean your content is just not right.
You may need to rework it completely or consolidate several content pieces into one (maybe it doesn’t cover all the aspects of the topic that people want to learn about) or even delete it.
At least: do something. Because if Google doesn’t think it should perform well in searches, maybe it won’t chime with people either.
Content marketing and SEO have been coming closer together for many years, and in 2017 we’ll see them getting closer still.
Because much of the data and insights that SEOs have been using to optimise web pages for Google can support the creation of better, more compelling content.
For more on this topic, check out these Econsultancy resources: