If you’re developing digital content in any capacity, you’ve probably run across some of the following advice:
- Develop a content strategy.
- Entertain, don’t sell.
- Write “good” content.
It’s laughable how useless some of this advice is. You could develop a content marketing strategy, but that doesn’t mean that it will be a good strategy, or that it is related to your corporate goals.
You could develop content to entertain and never sell, but what if people really want to buy from you, or want to learn about how they can use their purchase better? What if they want to know cool things about your products and services and don’t have time for entertainment?
As for “good” content, what constitutes “good” isn’t necessarily universal. (For example, I’m unusually critical of online statistics, but many people aren’t.)
Here’s my point: A lot of the content marketing advice out there is either too broad or too specific to be of value to most people. I want to identify 11 content marketing mistakes you should avoid. (I’ll caveat that by saying that each tip should be specific, applicable to most and correctable.)
1. When editing, you’re too focused on optimizing content.
We’ve all experienced click-bait. When a sensational title leads to a less than sensational post, we feel angry, but when a less than sensational title leads to a sensational post we feel nothing—probably because we never read the post.
No matter the medium, a compelling headline can generate more interest in your content than nearly anything else. Think of the leading websites. They all have popular articles and less-than-popular articles, due almost entirely to a headline’s ability to compel readers to click.
Treat your headline as the premium real estate it is, and give it curb appeal.
2. You have poor form.
Would you consider a college term paper content? In a sense it might be, but a term paper would be out of place on a website or blog. The reason is visually evident: Great digital content has strong structure.
One of the most important articles about content structure is Cyrus Sheperd’s post for Moz. He describes a well-structured post’s ability to generate more than 100 times the interest of an essay-style post. His advice:
- Write for power skimmers
- Use headline formulas
- Use numbers (statistics)
- Use powerful words and phrases
- Use images
- Use subheadings
- Use lists
- Use block quotes
- Use bold, colored and italicized text
This extends to video and audio content as well. Moz’s “whiteboard Friday,” the “Invisibilia” podcast and “Ukelele Mike” videos all have familiar structure and use story, dynamics and inflection to make each video or podcast interesting.
3. You’re trying to reach the wrong crowd.
I recently wrote an extensive guest post about social media for PR professionals for a PR blog. Right before sending it, I slapped myself on the forehead. A PR firm’s blog isn’t writing to PR professionals about PR problems. It’s writing to clients about PR problems. I rewrote the article.
Less conspicuous examples of this occur every day. A YouTube video doesn’t get a lot of traction relative to others on your channel (or relative to a competitor’s channel). Readers exit your blog in a matter of seconds.
There are many feedback mechanisms to determine whether your content is reaching your target audience. The key is to adjust your content focus when this happens.
4. You’re making me wait.
I recently worked with a nonprofit whose site took 10 seconds to load. This was because of the file size of the site’s images. I was able to decrease this with a simple image optimization plug-in. (The nonprofit also tried to serve video directly from its site rather than upload to YouTube and embed.)
There are various technical issues that can bog down your site, but with tools such as Pingdom Website Speed Test and Google Page Speed, there’s no reason you can’t identify and correct page speed issues quickly and with little effort. Tools such as Cloudflare can serve cached content from their servers, which speeds up load time as well.
Don’t let technical issues stop readers from accessing your content.
5. Your content doesn’t work well on mobile.
A lot has been made about Google’s push to include mobile usability prominently in its algorithm. Less talked about are the reasons for this, namely that 90 percent of adults have a cell phone and 42 percent of adults own a tablet. Mobile is the primary way we consume and interact with some types of digital content.
Google is having a conversation about mobile, but it’s not about Google so much as it is about your customers’ ability to consume content on the device they prefer. Fortunately, Google has three great tools to help you gauge and fix your mobile usability issues:
- Mobile-friendly test: This is a tool Google designed that will study your Web pages one by one and give you feedback about whether the page is optimized for mobile. If not, it explains how you can adjust it.
- Webmaster Tools: Webmaster Tools extends the mobile-friendly test to the entirety of your site and shares all of the pages that aren’t mobile-optimized. (Twenty-two percent of my personal website isn’t mobile-optimized, so I have some work to do.)
- Mobile Emulation tool: This is a Chrome DevTools feature built into the Chrome browser that enables you to emulate any of many different mobile devices to see what users see from your site. There are other third-party tools that perform the same function.
As more and more people consume content on mobile devices, it becomes increasingly important to make sure mobile users can see and interact with your content.
6. Words, words and words
You may be a great wordsmith, but a picture, video or media file can significantly enhance your content. One of the revolutionary things YouTube did was allow webmasters to serve media content from external servers (we generally refer to these as embedded files).
There is so much external stuff you can use to augment your content. You can embed YouTube videos, SoundCloud files, tweets, Instagram posts, Slideshare presentations, memes and more.
Incidentally, the converse is true as well: Augment your media files with words to give readers and search engines additional context.
7. You’re not editing or proofreading.
When you’re reading a Facebook post and your friends misuse or misspell words, it can be pretty difficult to overlook-and those are your friends. When brand managers use poor grammar or misspell words, they don’t enjoy the good will that your friends do.
Proofread your copy. Edit your content. If someone finds a mistake (and inevitably someone will), correct it immediately.
8. You are the sole contributor to the content marketing department.
Good content is difficult to create, and it can be even more difficult when you’re the sole person responsible for it, or if you have limited resources to accomplish a lot.
Fortunately, there is a surplus of great content on the Internet. One tactic to diversify your content offering inexpensively would be to syndicate other people’s content. Of course you need permission and you must follow Google’s guidelines to avoid a duplicate content penalty, but generally people are open to increasing their content’s distribution after the initial distribution has run its course.
Of course there are other ways such as content curation tools to expand your content beyond what you produce internally.
9. You aren’t measuring what matters.
Here’s a thought experiment: Your YouTube video has 2,000 views. How did it boost sales?
If you answered that question, consider how many assumptions and leaps of logic you had to take to come up with that.
The challenge for marketing and PR is to find meaningful metrics that tie our tactics to the organization’s goals. What content marketers should do is to engineer the metrics they need into their process. Pioneers in this area include Johna Burke of BurrellesLuce and Shonali Burke (more on their insights here). Both Burkes encourage delineating corporate responsibilities and expectations, as well as finding a way to measure the specific expected result.
The key takeaway here is that the extent that content marketing serves its intended purpose should be meaningfully measured.
10. You won’t cede any control of your content to your customers.
You can get lulled into a false sense of control when you’re writing or recording content. It’s not unlike new parents who assume they have full control of a sentient being. (Spoiler alert: In both cases you have little control.)
Readers will not always agree with you. Readers will have questions. Readers will want elaboration or to elaborate on their own points. In any event, once you publish your piece, that “baby” is no longer yours. You still have some control, though:
- You can encourage comments. This may seem counterintuitive to the ultimate control (to turn off comments), but it’s a matter of having the conversation in a familiar place.
- You can interact around the content on social channels. Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Facebook-these are forums where content is discussed every day. Participate, listen and validate what people share around the content you create.
- You can update content based upon new insights. There have been a few times when I’ve changed my content based upon a reader’s comment. If you think everything you write is sacrosanct, you’re wrong.
- You can encourage collaborative content with your readers. Anything from soliciting feedback for content posts to hashtag campaigns. (John Oliver does fantastic work with hashtags around his segments on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.”)
It may go without saying, but it’s important to let go of your content. The worst discussions and hurt feelings tend to happen when we feel so defensive about what we’ve written that we dismiss other ideas about it.
11. Your audience never saw your stuff.
How do you promote your content? Social media? Email newsletters? Word-of-mouth?
All these are relatively inexpensive, but they’re not as effective as paid promotion. Social media platforms and search engines (to a lesser degree) are designed to make you pay for advertising and distribution. There is no free ride, unless you consider reaching 2 percent of your fans a success.
If you’re serious about using content as a marketing tactic, you should distribute it appropriately. This means that in addition to free platforms, you should budget for paid distribution.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Cision blog.