I’m a product marketing manager by day, which means I spend a considerable portion of my time reading, writing, reviewing, editing, and giving feedback on content (judgment-free!). As such, I have regular opportunities to witness great – and not so great – ways of presenting written content to consumers. Sometimes of my own creation.
Here are twelve items that might help you with your content strategy, whether you’re marketing your book or a widget you sell. I originally assembled this list four years ago, and these tips are as true today as they were then.
1. Is your content bragging about your abilities and services?
- Consumers want to trust you. But people are turned off by content that’s mostly sales pitch or just talks about how great your book is.
- Quality content shows that you understand your audience’s needs, not just your own abilities.
2. Did you focus more on SEO keywords than quality content?
- As a writer and someone in the online marketing biz, this content stands out to me like Waldo in a penguin colony. It’s repetitive and reads like the writer just bought a thesaurus: Do you like to travel to exotic places? How would you like a vacation to an unexplored world? Here at Journeyman Travel, we can jet you off to distant lands! You’ll voyage to foreign countries in one of our exclusive Exotic Vacation Destination packages! That is a content turkey stuffed with artificially-flavored keywords.
- To avoid unnatural-sounding sentences, write for humans, not computers. Quality content that engages people will build authority and trust, something that search engines reward. Learn more about Semantic Search.
3. Are you the target consumer for your business or book?
- If not, talk to them. Make no assumptions.
- If so, you should easily be able to create content you’d want to read. But do it wrong and you sound like you paid a poser to write it. Dude. C’mon.
4. Is your content tricksy or false?
- Even Gollum has the ability to recognize a liar. If this is your approach, I have no further use for your attention. You’re only a short step ahead of the algorithms and they’re getting smarter every day.
- Phony content might fool search engines, but people will feel misled when they get to your website. Each consumer visit is the beginning of a relationship. Start yours with trust.
5. Did you use industry jargon?
- If your audience is in your industry, cool. You’re building trust by speaking the language.
- As amazing as the word Honorificabilitudinitatibus is, unless you’re speaking to Shakespeare scholars, “able to be honored” will probably serve your audience better.
6. Did you use the appropriate tone for the message you’re conveying?
- If you’re selling Cthulhu t-shirts, a casual tone is more likely to win you customers than a formal one used in banking.
- Conversely, Somber John’s Funeral Home has rocksome coffins at fab prices! probably does not build the trust you need.
7. Are you following all the rules of high school English?
- Spelling: absolutely yes (Writer’s note: if you’re using phonetic speling to git yer poynt acrost, I might destroy the Internet to stop you). Don’t rely solely on spell-check.
- Grammar: maybe. This is connected to tone (#6) and will vary based on the nature of your business. I work in the legal industry, which requires a formal style that my past customer service writing job did not.
8. If you work with a content team, are you using words like “generate” or “produce”?
- If so, you might need to change your mentality. “Generating content” takes all the art and intelligence out of your writing because it evokes the idea that your team is pushing out as much content as possible.
- Lots of people write pages of directionless content that say very little. When your writers are reminded that they are creating content that real live people will read –that they are key figures in building consumer trust and developing a successful web strategy for you – the work becomes less about checking a box on a task list.
9. Are you writing differently based on web location?
- If you’re only thinking about written content in terms of webpages on your primary domain, you’re missing out. You have opportunities to put solid content on social sites, local directories, and a blog. This gives you more opportunities to get in front of consumers where they are, not just when they’re searching.
- Additionally, remember that your content might appear elsewhere than your site. Everything can be shareable. Consider writing for that.
10. Say just enough.
- For a post that exceeds 1,000 words, I probably need to follow my own advice. But I’ve already slimmed it down considerably. I’ve learned a lot from Stephen King (yes, the novelist, not some secret web writer we keep locked in the basement). His guideline of reducing your second draft by 10% will work wonders for you. Learn more here.
- You might have a million important things to say, but your audience doesn’t have the time to read them. Break up your content, be succinct, and help your audience consume as much of your content as they like, in the way that works best for them. That’s why this long post uses numbers and bullets, btw.
11. Is your audience mobile?
- Good lord, yes. Even if you think the answer is no, it’s yes.
- If your website looks like encyclopedia pages, imagine what it looks like on a smartphone. Putting your content in smaller chunks is more consumable, and perhaps more importantly, not overwhelming to the iPhone user who just landed on your homepage.
12. Are you curating your content?
- Gone are the days when you can publish content and ignore it while you reap web traffic rewards.
- Even content you might consider evergreen should be reviewed over time. Approach your published content as though it were a living document. It needs to be nurtured and updated to ensure it is always relevant. (This post was written August 2015 and last touched August 2019).
I hope you found this useful. If you’re looking for a way to summarize these tips into a single thought, always remember: Write naturally, write intelligently, and always – always – write for your audience.
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© Michael Wallevand, August 2019