What is your content strategy?

You need to approach content strategically if it is to succeed. The problem is, what’s your strategy given that the world of content changes rapidly?

Content strategy concept

Content, content, content; that’s all we seem to hear about these days. You are bound to be asked things like “what kind of content do you get the most out of” or “how much content do you produce each month” or “where do you get your ideas for all your content”. You can find the hackneyed cliche “content is king” on more than one million web pages, according to Google. And that’s before you discover that there are over two million web pages saying “content is fundamental”. It’s all as though the world has gone “content crazy”.

Indeed, you might think that “content” was only invented in the past decade or so as an “Internet thing”. However, businesses have been using “content marketing” for centuries. Go back 25 years and the content was articles in magazines, corporate videos and handouts provided at events. Go back 50 years, and much content was oral, delivered by salespeople making their pitch. Go back 100 years, and there were billboards – the historical version of Twitter. And if you venture back a couple of thousand years, merchants and traders used stories as content. Businesses have always used content – words and visuals that help them sell.

However, it is different now to what it was like a couple of decades ago. Then you could use one piece of content, and it would last for ages. Now, with the voracious appetite of web users, you are lucky if an item of content continues beyond a week. You probably need to blog more than ever before.

What is your main business?

About 25 years ago one of my clients was a major international chemical company. They were “number one” in many of their global markets and were renowned having started in business in 1926. I am talking about ICI – Imperial Chemical Industries, which for much of its life was Britain’s largest manufacturer and a mainstay of the FTSE100. ICI produced chemicals, explosives, paints, dyes, fertilisers, insecticides and foodstuffs. However, shortly after I started working with them, there was a review of spending across the business which revealed something interesting. It found that the company’s second-highest level of spending after raw materials was not staff costs. Instead, most of the company’s expense was on publishing. It produced magazines for customers across dozens of different sectors, it had several in-house publications, it had magazines for pensioners, and that was on top of all the brochures, leaflets and documents it produced each year. ICI may well have been a chemical company, but its second most common activity was publishing. Who would have thought that?

The analysis made ICI think again about what was important. It was able to rationalise specific activities, find savings and improve communication as a result.

If a similar analysis were to be conducted today in many modern firms, you would probably find that producing web content is the company’s main activity. You could go to a car manufacturer or a firm of accountants, for example, and get them to analyse how much web content their employees were producing. It’s likely that across many companies, creating web content is a sizeable and significant activity. Yet the scope and size are probably not realised by many firms because it is spread around dozens of different departments and teams.

Hours of web content productionEven if you work alone, web content is probably a significant part of your work. How many hours each week do you spend on producing web content? Probably a lot more than you realise. All of my content production goes through Grammarly, which provides me with a report of my writing every seven days. Last week, I had written almost 61,000 words of content. That’s more than a book. In one week. And I am not alone – millions of people are doing the same. That’s why the web continues to grow by billions of pages every week.

Whatever the business sector is in which you work, your second most common activity is probably content production.

It’s not like the olden days

In the past, content was something a specialist department produced. If you were in sales, someone else created the leaflets. If you were in HR, another office, such as the graphics team, provided the “new starter” packs of information. Nowadays, content production is distributed throughout a company.

This has benefits, but also a causes problems. A significant advantage is that content is now being produced by the experts. Furthermore, timelines can be shortened as you don’t have to take your turn in some central production office.

However, there are also problems. In those olden days with centralised content production, it was easy to ensure consistency across the business. Those central content production teams could also ensure no clashes occurred. They could also advise on timelines and scheduling so that the company itself was not under undue pressure due to coincidental campaigns, for instance.

Now, with no-one effectively in charge, companies are facing content scheduling mismatches, the inconsistency of message and branding as well as some reduction in quality due to lack of checks before publication. Decentralising content production is highly beneficial, but it is not without its problems.

You need a content strategy

Many firms think they have a content strategy; they don’t. Instead, they have a content production plan. That’s not the same as a strategy.

Your content strategy needs to consider more than just what you are going to produce and when. You also need to ensure that you have the following factors covered:

  • Who is going to coordinate company-wide content?
  • Who is going to arbitrate on content schedules?
  • Who is in charge of editorial policy and branding for each element of content?
  • How will your content be publicised and promoted?
  • What will you be doing about non-physical content, such as audio information on artificial intelligence devices, such as Amazon Echo?
  • What is the purpose of each department’s content and how does it fit in with all other departments?
  • What is the agreed process for content naming and filing?
  • What are the minimum requirements for quality in each piece of content?

I could go on. There are several questions that need answering if your content is to work. It isn’t just about coming up with ideas and producing the material. Indeed, that’s probably the least of your worries.

Customers and suppliers agree at last on email marketing

Email users and businesses agree on one thing, it seems. Email marketing needs to improve.

Email marketing concept

There are two facts we know about email marketing. One: it is the most successful form of online marketing, as shown in study after study, all demonstrating that it leads to more conversions and more sales than any other type of Internet marketing. Two: it is the most detested form of online marketing, with survey after survey demonstrating that email users are frustrated and annoyed by the vast majority of email marketing messages.

These two facts are in direct opposition to each other. Email marketing works; people hate it. Mmmm. Imagine how much better email marketing would be and what it could achieve if people liked it…!

Thankfully, a couple of new studies show that we are getting closer to that happening.

It won’t come as a surprise, but the latest piece of research on what people want from email marketing is reliable, useful and valuable information. People do not want sales-based email marketing – even though they will use the emails to buy something. The research comes from Adobe which has found that the number one request, made by 40% of people, is that emails become more informative and practically useful. Of course, other studies have found similar things, but this latest research also shows that this request is pretty consistent across age groups.

Email marketing study graph

Notice too that people want content that is directly relevant to them and also material that is from users of the product or service being marketed. In other words, email users are happy to receive detailed and personalised information. They even want to be able to buy the item direct from the email. They just don’t want to be “sold to”.

Luckily, it would appear that email marketers are themselves beginning to get the message. Another study from the sales and marketing company Televerde shows that what most marketing experts want from their businesses is a combination of better messaging and better marketing materials. They also want more case studies and testimonials. What they want the least is better sales material. In other words, marketers appear to realise that the time has come to take a different approach to online marketing.

Televerde chart

The fact is, email marketing works. But given that most people on both sides of the equation want it to be improved, there is every chance that email marketing will gain even higher potential in the future.

True, the average number of emails received each day continues to rise – it’s around 300 emails per person per day at the moment. Together with improved filtering, better anti-spam software and increased awareness you would think that email marketing would be consigned to the annals of history.

Yet, as we get more emails each day and improve the way we use email, those marketing messages appear to gain even greater value.

It doesn’t make sense.

Or does it?

There is something else going on which is making email marketing more useful to marketers and more desirable to users. And that something else is, in reality, everything else that is happening online. There’s social media, messaging services like Snapchat, WhatsApp and a host of other systems for communicating with each other.

The result of all this additional online choice is that people are categorising communication. They are saying things like “I use SMS text messaging for keeping in touch with family” and “I use WhatsApp for my team communications” or “I use LinkedIn messaging for communicating with customers”. People are using different services for separate communications activities.

Which begs the question, what are people using email for these days?

It turns out that people are increasingly categorising emails as “for marketing messages”. It is rapidly becoming THE place where people want to receive marketing materials. In other words, when you send out marketing emails they end up in exactly the right place where people expect to see them. Put those messages on a social network, and it leads to confusion because users categorise something like Facebook, for instance, as for “chatting to friends”. Put a marketing message on social media, and you get lower conversions than through email. That’s because the mind of the user is not ready to receive a marketing message. But send the same message to them on email, and because they have pre-categorised email as the place for marketing, when they open your email message they are in the right frame of mind to deal with it.

So, in these days of increased email, massive competition for communications and rising user “savviness” you might think that email marketing has had its day. But the data continue to show otherwise. These latest studies demonstrate that marketers are beginning to get the message: content-based email marketing is the future for online businesses.

Forget video or blogging if you want to reach business leaders

C-suite business leaders are mainly interested in long-form written content and books. Videos and blog posts are of little interest.

Business leaders are busy people. All those individuals in the “C-Suite” have plenty to do. So you would imagine that in order to provide them with insights to help them improve their aspect of business they would want something “snappy”. You’d expect them to prefer a quick blog post, or a short video, rather than having to wade through thousands of words. After all, they are so busy at this level of work – juggling several different projects – you would think they would not have the time to consider lengthy articles.

But if you thought all that, you’d be wrong.

According to a new study from Forbes Insights, the C-Suite executive is more interested in lengthy, written material than anything else.

Forbes research chart

More than half the executives in the study wanted long articles, reports, books and briefing documents. Those are what you might call “traditional” methods of communication; they existed before the Internet. Meanwhile, blogs, podcasts, webinars, infographics only garner support from around 10% of C-Suite executives.

Just because you can record a video doesn’t mean you have to

Once again, this is further research confirming that the world of online video is not important to business decision-makers. Online video is massive. Billions of videos are watched every day. There are around 576,000 hours of video uploaded to the web each day. This would all suggest that video is important. It is. There is no denying that. But you need to dig deeper into what is being watched and who is doing the watching. Almost all online video that is consumed is entertainment or breaking news. Business video? Hardly worth a mention. OK, yes, it does have its place, such as in providing an alternative to instruction manuals and gaining the interest of consumers. There is a clear marketing value in a business video. But as a means of persuading C-Suite executives, they need to change? Forget it.

Why do busy executives want long content?

Given that the C-Suite team is busy, there must be a reason why they want to read long articles, reports and books. As ever, the answer can be found in thinking about psychological factors.

Those working in the C-Suite have to make significant decisions. What these executives decide could make or break a company. As a result, the C-Suite individual wants to make sure they have made the right decisions. That means they are always seeking to minimise the risk of their decision making.

[Tweet “C-Suite execs want long form content to minimise decision risks”]

Humans seek to minimise risk all the time. It is an inbuilt instinct that helps you survive. If you didn’t constantly analyse risk in the world around you, then you’d eat poisonous food, you would run in front of traffic and you might make foolish decisions.

One of the ways we seek to reduce risk is by getting as much information on something as possible. Information is key to risk reduction and this is why C-Suite executives want long-form content. A short video contains little information, so too does your typical blog post. But a 3,000-word article, or an in-depth report? Those are things that executive can “get their teeth into”.

Go for the “thud factor”

When you get something in the post and it is a flimsy letter,  you take little notice of it. But if it is a thick packet, that “thuds” onto your doormat as it lands, you pay more attention. Several studies have shown, for instance, that a 14-page sales letter achieves more take-up than a similar 7-page sales letter.

One of my friends in a pharmaceutical company thought he would try to save money by reducing margins and lowering the font size on his reports. They still looked OK but had almost half the number of pages of previous reports. The total content was the same, in terms of word count, but his colleagues were less impressed. His reports didn’t look as substantial as his previous ones and his colleagues felt they were being deprived of information. They wanted a report that “seemed” longer simply because their psychological instinct for as much information as possible was kicking in.

True, these days people are busier and do not want to read too much. But they still want to read a lot. The average length of a best-selling book is still 273 pages. It used to be 467 pages back in 2011. However, we are now buying more books than ever before, so our total consumption of pages has gone up. It all continues to point to that psychological desire for risk reduction by gaining as much information as possible.

How to influence the C-Suite

If you want to reach business leaders, those individuals who have a job title that is an acronym beginning with “C”, then you need to present them with as much information as possible. Far from putting them off with the amount of material to “wade through” you will be triggering their information desire, all part of their risk reduction instinct.

This means you need to produce such items as:

  • Long articles such as in-depth features
  • White papers
  • Reports
  • Analytical documents of trends
  • Research analysis reports

Each of these is the type of long document that will be preferred by the C-Suite. If you really must record a video, then do a short promotional recording to bring people’s attention to your long document.

Focus on long content

It may seem counterintuitive. While everyone else is rushing headlong into video or podcasting, you might think it is daft to go back to something so traditional and old-fashioned as a written report. Yet the research continues to confirm this is what is necessary. Two years ago there was research which suggested that writing was more important than video online. Three years ago, another study demonstrated the need to focus on text.

Now, with this new study from Forbes, it is further evidence that business executives want long articles and lots of text. That’s not because they are old-fashioned or out-of-date or not “on trend”. Rather, it is their psychological desire for reducing risks that is kicking in.

So what do you need to do now? Get writing…!

How to grab the attention of busy business people

Business people are increasingly busy. Grabbing their attention for your content is tough. Follow these guidelines to market your content to busy people.

Busy people need precise content

The people you are trying to contact are busy. They have hundreds of emails to cope with, as well as an increasing burden of social media activity, on top of all the usual meetings and the work they are supposed to do. Yesterday, I heard of a boss of an international organisation who has told his staff in the UK that he expects them to go home from work at the end of the day and then go back online to deal with emails, reports and so on, from 9 pm. Unpaid. Busy, busy, busy.

Your potential customers or clients are overloaded with material. They are stressed, and they are under pressure to stick to static or decreasing budgets. So, anything you can do to help them will be welcomed with wide open arms.

It turns out that half of all business people now rely solely on online content to make purchasing decisions for their company. That’s right – half of the people who buy things on behalf of their business are now so busy they rely just on what they have read online in order to make their purchasing decisions. The value of online content, therefore, cannot be underestimated.

But with so much content available online, how can you make sure those business buyers get to notice what you are producing?

The answer comes in a new study by DemandGen. This found that trust in the content, how it is shared and what it contains are three crucial elements in grabbing the attention of business-to-business buyers.

Trust is vital

The most important factor in determining whether content is of value is whether the source can be trusted. This finding suggests that whatever content you produce, your reputation is fundamental. An array of factors determine trust, but there are two psychological aspects of trust which are the most important. The first of these is to demonstrate that you see everything from the perspective of the audience you are targeting. Content that is self-focused is untrusted. Content that is entirely from the viewpoint of the reader is the most trusted. Your website, indeed everything your business does needs to be done from the perspective of the customer if your firm is to be trusted.

The other essential psychological component of trust is demonstrating knowledge. The more knowledgeable you appear to be, the more trustworthy you become. That means having a website that is crammed full of knowledge is vital in helping your visitors trust you.

This new study shows the immense value of having a knowledgeable website that is written entirely from the perspective of the visitor.

Sharing matters

The DemandGen study also revealed that the way material is shared is significant. If the material your company produces is shared by other, highly-regarded people, then your content is rated more highly. That’s “social proof” coming into play. However, the research found that it is the way this material is shared that matters most. For those in business, the primary method of sharing is email. Yes, that’s right, email. Business-to-business buyers are happiest with content that is shared with them through email. If that isn’t happening, then content on LinkedIn is the next most favoured. Twitter is used by almost two in three business folk, but after that, the other social networks are not deemed valuable by many.

Once again, this is yet another study which emphasises the value of delivering content through email. In spite of the growing amount of email read each day, it continues to be the preferred method for getting business-related content. Indeed, the research discovered that 94% of people were willing to share their email address, whereas only 33% of people were happy to give their phone number. This clearly shows that people want to receive business communication through email, rather than on the phone.

Preferred method of sharing content

Form of content is crucial

The final aspect of this study is in the appeal of particular kinds of content. What people want is material that shows them practical things they can do. The “7 steps” or the “how to” kind of content is loved by business-to-business people. Furthermore, they want content that is based on case studies. An article on the “7 steps” showing how a particular company achieved things with those seven steps is the kind of content that people want more frequently.

This is understandable from a psychological perspective. That kind of content is about “identity”. A business person wants to identify with someone like themselves and wants to achieve what people like themselves have done. So, seeing how a similar business produced a particular outcome appeals to this self-identity aspect.

The study also found that business people want content that is “solid”. They respect research, data, and factually-based content more than opinion or theory. Back up your content with research data, and it is more likely to appeal to business people than generalised information.

Three steps to grabbing attention

This research suggests you need to do three things to catch the attention of those busy business people.

  1. Produce much more content than you do at the moment. Content is the number one thing on which business buyers are making decisions. The content needs to come from a trustworthy source, which is a knowledgeable source. So, crank up the content production system and schedule more content.
  2. Market your content through email and get well-known people in your sector to share it via email as well.
  3. Research, study, get data. Fill your content with facts, evidence and research information. Demonstrate how these facts fit in with the outcomes generated by specific case studies.

In other words, it’s time to produce more content, on a more frequent basis that is so well-researched and based on real examples that people cannot help emailing it to their friends.

Inspire your website visitors before you do anything else

New research shows that the main thing that people look for online is inspiration. Do you inspire your audience?

Frankly, there is a great deal of stuff online that is garbage. It is poorly written or produced. Sometimes it is just plain wrong. At other times it is offensive or annoying in some way. There is literally tonnes of such material out there…!

When was the last time you felt inspired by something you read or watched online?

It turns out that this is what we are looking for more than anything else. A new study by AOL shows that the most frequently preferred “moments” online are those which inspire us.

Chart showing what engages people online

The study found that people are mostly inspired by fresh ideas or something that is new. This ties in with psychological research on what interests people online. We are much more interested in fresh and new things as a result of our survival instincts. These have developed to ensure that we only eat fresh foods, thereby aiding our survival in the avoidance of potentially poisonous material. That survival instinct for freshness kicks-in throughout your life. You want the latest news, the latest fashions, the latest football scores and so on. We are driven by survival to seek freshness in a whole host of situations.

So it is no surprise that online the desire for something fresh and new is a significant driver.

However, the AOL study also found that making people feel good was very important to users of the Internet. Again, this is not really much of a surprise – personal emotions are fundamental to almost everything we do. How you feel about things determines how well you accept them. Emotion underlies your customer purchasing decisions, and so it is too that triggering those personal emotions is essential in the web pages you produce.

Importantly, though, the research from AOL found that different “moments” as they call them appeal in varying degrees according to the sector. So, freshness was fundamental to people interested in fashion but was less important to people seeking medical information, who clearly wanted the comfort of reliability.

What this means – once again – for anyone with a website is that there is no “rule” that covers every eventuality. The AOL study confirms once more that you really need to understand your audience in great depth. The more you know about your website visitors, the more you can target them with appropriate content, delivered in the right manner for them.

So, the question is, how well do you know your audience? Do you know if they prefer you to have content that offers freshness over reliability? Or do they want to learn something new, before they even consider entertainment?

There is no simple answer to the content conundrum other than doing detailed audience research. How well do you really and truly know your website visitors?

Or are you just guessing?

Five ways to understand your audience

  1. Use your web analytics: focus on the detail of what people are searching for, what pages they stick on for a long time and where they go. Look at their behaviour patterns on your site so that you will be able to identify what triggers them.
  2. Check your social media: what are people retweeting or commenting on? Look at the kind of pages from your website that get shared and talked about. This will give you another clue as to what people prefer.
  3. Surveys and polls: conduct surveys and polls. To select survey software, check out this article from PC Mag.
  4. Use eye-tracking: Look at what they look at. You don’t need fancy studies, you can gauge what people are interested in using software such as Crazy Egg.
  5. Talk to them: you will find out a considerable amount about the desires and requirements of your audience by talking to them. Phone them up, meet them in person, attend the same events they go to, hold focus groups – do anything you can to speak with them. Ultimately, this is by far the best method of audience research as you will also get a “feeling” from speaking with people and will be able to assess what they really like using body language and so on.


Three surprising reasons you don’t need text with video

Content marketers often put videos on pages with lots of accompanying text. Research suggests that is a bad idea.

Web page design with videoHow much text do you have to accompany your videos? There is a school of thought that you need lots of text together with a video. The notion is that unless people can get an idea of what the video is about, they are unlikely to watch it. Furthermore, you get all those “SEO experts” telling you that Google needs lots of text to rank your pages, so if you don’t write 1,000 words to go with your two-minute video, the content will be virtually invisible. Tell that to the multimillion dollar “YouTubers” who only publish video content with no text….!

The real conundrum for content marketers is whether they are wasting time by writing the accompanying text. New research implies they are. Text and video do not work well together, it seems.

The study from Taiwan compared the engagement of people with a recipe page for which specific skills needed to be learned. Those skills were described in writing, but were also shown in a video.

The researchers looked at eye tracking results and also tested people’s ability to retain the relevant information, depending on which kind of page they looked at. Some people were given a static page with just text and a picture. Others had text and a video. The results were fascinating.

Text with a video leads to poor information retention

People who were given the recipe and a description of the relevant skills on a text-based page, with just a picture, were better able to retain the information compared with people who had a video and text to look at. It seems that people who had text and a picture glanced at the picture and then concentrated on the text. However, when there was a video present people tended to flick between the two, suggesting that they didn’t take in enough information to retain it. So if you want people to remember your content in a video, don’t include a lot of text – it confuses people.

If people don’t know a subject a video alone wins

It turns out that if people had previous knowledge which helped them understand the recipe videos in the study,  then they were better at retaining the new information if all they looked at was the text. But for students with low prior interest, the video alone appears to have helped retention of information best. So, if you know that your audience is new to the information you have in your video, publishing it alone without accompanying text helps them most.

People tend to ignore the text when a video is present

The study also showed that when a video was present it got much more attention than the text. In other words, when your page has a video on it, there is much less reading of the text anyway. So what is the text there for? If people are not looking at it, why are you writing it?

What this study suggests is that if you have video you are better off publishing it without much, if any accompanying text. Text will confuse people as they flick between reading it and trying to watch the video.

Ultimately, though, what this study implies is that content should EITHER be text OR video, but not both together. Remember too that the study shows that there is a high retention of material that is just text. Maybe you don’t even need to produce those videos after all..!


Why you need to be more accurate on your website

You need to be more accurate on your website, rather than emphasise expertise. Only people with low knowledge value expertise more than accuracy.

Be more accurate on your website - make time for factsAlmost everywhere you look for business advice these days you will find people telling you that you need to demonstrate you are an expert. However, new research suggests that it is better to focus on being more accurate on your website, with expertise being much less important to credibility.

The study looked at diet websites. It found that only people with a little amount of knowledge on a diet topic valued apparent expertise over the accuracy of information. The researchers found that regarding website credibility, it was the accuracy of information that was more important than obvious expertise. Also, when people knew even a little about the topic, it was this that determined whether the site was deemed expert.

What this study implies is that whatever we publish on the Internet, our readers and viewers are subconsciously testing us. If the information we provide is correct and accurate, then regardless of our expertise our website gains more credibility. However, if we focus on promoting ourselves as experts, at the expense of always being accurate, our website credibility can go down. The only people who will not be affected by the lack of accuracy are those who know nothing about the topic of your website. And unless you are aiming at complete novices in your field, then this is an issue.

How to be more accurate on your website

To focus on being more accurate on your website, you need to prioritise accuracy over demonstrating expertise. People will believe you more if you are accurate.

So, here are steps to take to ensure that your website is accurate.

Read information carefully. Avoid skim reading. Instead, make sure you read the source information thoroughly, making notes if necessary. Do not just quickly look at something else online and think “that will be good to use”.

Check the information source. What is the credibility and trustworthiness of the source itself? If it is from a refereed journal, the reliability of the information is likely to be high. Similarly, if it is from a professional media organisation, it will have already been “fact checked” before publication. But if your source of material is from an unknown blogger, perhaps you need to think more carefully and investigate further.

Triangulate your information. If one person says something, it might or might not be true. However, if several different sources are saying the same thing, then the information is likely to be more reliable. If you have a “lead” for something to write about on your website, check to see if other people are saying the same things.

Review what you have written. Once you have written your material check things within it. Make sure any facts mentioned are accurate, checking with reliable sources. Make sure that all links work too. Don’t just write something, spell check it and then assume it is all OK. If possible, get someone else to check your content before it is published.

Making sure what you have written is accurate sounds obvious to do. However, many websites appear to focus on showing they are experts in their field and in doing so can neglect accuracy. You will be trusted as an expert more if you focus less on that and more on the accuracy of your content.

What is the best kind of content for a website?

Choosing the right kind of content can be tough. Should you use text, video, audio, infographics, data…?

Notepad with words content marketing conceptContent marketing is not easy. At first, it seems as though all you have to do is prepare some material and publish it online. However, with the growing variety of types of content there is now another decision to make – what kind of content?

You could have text, or video, or even audio. But what about infographics? What about data? Even thinking about content in these broad categories is not enough. After all, you can have interviews – in text, in video, in audio, or the basis of an infographic. That’s before you consider lists or slides or interactive elements or webinars. If you can’t think of more than a dozen types of content, you are not thinking hard enough. Zazzle Media, for instance, has produced a list of 101 types of content.

Start with text

Research shows that people love to read. Even though billions of hours of video is available online, reading is still a favourite activity online. Focus on writing and you will get noticed on the web. However, people expect quality writing and they prefer relatively long articles, rather than short, snappy pieces. So, unless you have something good to say, that takes more than 100 words, and which is going to be well-written, then text is not really for you. Text is the most important kind of content online – but it has to be good, especially as there is so much competition.

Think of moving pictures

The reason video is so popular online is because human beings are primed to spot movement. It goes back to our days as hunter-gatherers; in order to get food we had to be fine-tuned to detect the slightest movement in animals that were potential food. Our eyes and our brain work together to spot the tiniest movements. Indeed, we often do not notice static things around us. You can see this for yourself when your vision is suddenly interrupted by a fly in the room, or by a curtain blowing in the breeze of an open window. You were not aware of either of those things until they moved. Then you spot them in a microsecond. Because our brains are so attuned to moving things, we love video. So, if you cannot produce text – then start recording videos or make animations. As “The Psychology of Moving Pictures” explains, video is no longer optional. Rather like text, it is a “must have” of content marketing these days.

Consider data

The fact that our eyes and brains have become so good at spotting movement also means that our visual sense is highly powerful. Indeed, we can often understand something when we see it visually, although we could not understand it when we read an article about the same topic. That means your website or blog visitors will be attracted to “infographics”, whereby complex ideas can be explained in a few images. Infographics are one of the fastest growing kinds of content, and as explained in “3 Psychological Reasons Your Website Needs Infographics” they are highly engaging kinds of content.

Text, images and movement are the basis of the best kinds of content that truly engage people. Various studies have been completed to discover what specific type of content gets the most engagement, but there is no consistency between such research. Some show that videos get the most attention, others show that “how to” articles are the best. Ultimately, you should not really worry about those fine details. What’s important is that the kind of content you produce has a good degree of psychological engagement and that it is good, really good. Concentrate on quality text, videos and images, and the engagement will follow.

Five ways to save time with content marketing

How to save time with content marketing so you can produce more content in less time. Five easy steps.

Calendar showing deadline
Image credit: Stuart Miles, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the main reasons that website owners do not produce enough content is because of lack of time. How to save time with content marketing is one of the most frequent topics that website and blogging teams ask about.

Time pressures for content marketing are significant. Not only do you have to produce a great deal of content to be noticed online, but that material has to be published quickly, preferably before your competitors cover the same topic. This is a dual time pressure on website owners and bloggers. You have to produce a lot of content in record time.

Here are five ways in which you can save time with content marketing:

Plan and schedule

Vast numbers of bloggers and content producers fail to plan. They react to events and have to find the time to squeeze in some content production around their other activities and work. Lack of planning and proper scheduling wastes time. In a recent exercise I conducted with students, I asked them to organise some material. Without planning, it took the students 20 minutes to sort out the information provided. I then asked them to do a similar task, but this time, to plan how they would do it. They took six minutes to plan and then completed the task in two minutes – a total of eight minutes, compared with 20 minutes without planning. The time you take to plan and schedule content is time well spent as overall, it saves time. The best way of planning and scheduling online content is with CoSchedule. That works whether or not you use WordPress.

Create systems and workflows

If you don’t have systems or workflows in place, you will waste time. That’s because each time you produce a new piece of content, you will do it in a slightly different way. With systems in place and established workflows, this speeds things up tremendously. Indeed, content production is akin to being in a “content factory” and as every manufacturer will tell you, they save time and money when they have efficient systems and workflows established. With an established set of procedures in place you will find that you get images when you need them, that approvals arrive on time and that content is edited and checked when it needs to be done. When content is produced in an ad-hoc way, it just wastes time.

Review your structure

Many blogs and content-driven websites are too complex. They have a range of features on each page; they have cumbersome and difficult navigation and tag arrangements too. What this means is that the producers of the content have to perform a number of additional tasks, on top of writing the material in the first place. Are all those tasks necessary? Do you need so many tags or categories? Simplifying your content’s structure can save significant amounts of time. Often,  blogs and websites expand and change over time, adding in tags, categories and functions that seemed like a good idea once-upon-a-time. Many website owners or bloggers do not review what they have done to their sites over time and the various features that have been bolted on over the years could now be time-wasters. A review of the structure of the site and the pressure that puts on content producers could be a major time-saver.

Create a bigger team

Many businesses already have people who could contribute to material, but who are not part of the organisation’s content team. Often, there are subject-matter experts within the building who could write blog posts, for instance, but they are not asked to because they are not in the content team. Time can be saved when a member of the content team becomes an “editor” and the content production is farmed out to “reporters”, who are other members of staff in different departments. The editor of your local newspaper couldn’t produce the 96-pages they need each week without a team. Sure, they have a small team of reporters, but even they could not provide the amount of material needed unless they too had a long line of contacts and “stringers”, feeding the system. Many websites suffer from time management issues because they do not extend the content team beyond the obvious.

Encourage guest posts

Good guest posts, clearly focused on your website or blog topic also help you save time. You are getting free content that you do not have to find the time to produce. You need guidelines for contributors and you also need clear editorial policies for the kind of external content you are willing to include. For instance, you can be a guest writer on my website if you wish. Not only do guest posts save time with content marketing, but they also enhance your website or blog by adding credibility from external sources. Furthermore, the guest writers will publicise their content, thereby providing you with additional traffic to your site.

So, there you have it. Five ways in which you can save time with content marketing. As you will have guessed, much of the time-savings you can achieve come from having an attitude that planning and organisation are probably more important than the content production itself.

How to grab people with fantastically stunning titles

You need fantastically stunning titles on all your digital content if you are to engage people in an information-rich world.

Woman surrounded by headlines Every day you see literally thousands of different headings and titles. These include email subject lines, search engine results listings, blog titles and newspaper headlines, amongst many others. Almost all of the titles that you see, you ignore. Can you remember any titles you saw yesterday, out of the thousands that you read? Most of the titles we read are bland, boring and basic, to say the least.

However, the title of your blog post, or the subject line of your email, or the headline of your web page are amongst the first things people see. They are the handful of words that need to grab attention in a world of information overload. The titles you use are the most important aspect of your digital content. So, the question is, do you give them the amount of time, care and attention they deserve?

Learn from expert headline writers

Tabloid newspapers understand the importance of headlines. About a quarter of sales of newspapers are from “promiscuous readers” – these are people who swap and change newspapers depending on the headlines on the front page. They are attracted to buy a newspaper simply because of the front page headlines. As a result, getting the right headline has a considerable financial impact for the newspaper. You’ll find that a typical newspaper has one person who spent a couple of hours writing the front page story, but there was a team of people who spent more time on the headline than was invested in the article beneath it.  Some tabloid newspapers employ individuals whose sole job is to spend the entire day coming up with the three or four words that will be the “splash” headline on the front. The newspaper owners know that investing significant resources in headline writing is money and time well-spent, as it pays off in attracting those “promiscuous readers”.

Online, though, we are all “promiscuous readers”. We search for something and click on any of the headings that attract us. Similarly, we scroll down our email inbox and pick out the things that entice us the most. Also, we flit from blog to blog, depending on the headings that we see.

Rather like newspaper headline writers, website owners and bloggers really ought to invest more time and trouble in writing the headings of their content, than on producing the material itself in the first place. Research shows that readers spend more time on the headlines than they do on the articles beneath them, so it makes sense to devote more of your efforts to writing titles than to the text beneath them. When you fire off an email, do you pay attention to the subject line as much as you should? After all, it is the only thing that people see in their inbox. Similarly, when you produce a new web page do you spend a long time crafting the right heading? That is what people will see in the search results listing, and if they are not attracted by those words, they will not click on them. Indeed, as the data integration company Bedrock Data recently demonstrated, you can even get people to focus on data by using the right report titles. Similarly, in a world when we are constantly bombarded with messages, we need to think about the wording we use in text messages, as shown in the article “Tips to make your texts more appealing than your customers.”

Three steps to great titles

The first thing to do in writing headlines or email subject lines is to devote the time you need. The more time you can spend on your titles, the better. Indeed, if you spend more time on the heading than on the content beneath it, you’ll get real benefits. You are not wasting time in doing this. So the first step is about attitude – realising that the heading or title of your content is more important than the content itself.

The second step is to consider all the words you might use. You will need your keywords, of course, but also those emotional words and the unusual words that are not common in everyday language. They stand out and make your heading more visible in an information-rich world. Emotional wording is also important – you need to trigger emotions in order to get engagement. Take a look at newspaper headlines and they will make you angry, happy, sad, titillated or fearful, for example; newspaper headline writers know instinctively how to trigger your emotions using the right words.

The third thing to do is to evaluate your headline. In newspaper offices, you will find the sub-editors constantly chatting to each other about their headline ideas, testing them out with each other. Talking to people around you can help, but there are also tools you can use to test out your titles to make sure they work well. One is the Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer from the Advanced Marketing Institute. The other is the Headline Analyzer from CoSchedule. These tools give you a percentage score showing how effective your headline or subject line is going to be. (If you are interested, the heading on this article scores 37.5% as “emotional value”, which makes it the same kind of level as a top advertising copywriter. The title also scores 77% on overall analysis – putting it into the A+ category for web-based headings.)

You should not skimp on title creation and headline writing. It is probably now the most important aspect of digital marketing and content marketing because people spend most of their time skimming headlines. You need to stop them in their tracks and get them to engage with your content. That’s why you need to put at least as much time and effort into writing the titles as you do to producing the content.

Focus on writing, rather than video, for your website

Websites do better when they focus on writing and written material. Videos help, but in spite of their popularity they add little value.

Vintage typewriter on old bookWriting – you either love it or loathe it. If you like writing, or employ writers in your organisation, adding written content to your website is not a problem. But if you dislike writing or cannot afford to hire writers, the thought of having to write more web content is very limiting. That’s probably why so many people prefer to record videos and upload them to YouTube. That’s so much easier than writing, it seems.

This is reflected in the sheer amount of video material uploaded each day. The latest statistics suggest that 300 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every single minute of the day. If you were to watch just one-day’s worth of YouTube videos back-to-back, it would take you 49 years. Video is immensely popular. But as a website owner, is it valuable?

There is no denying that video is attractive. We love moving images – we are attracted naturally to moving things. So it might seem that the moving pictures on our website are more interesting and valuable than the static words of an article. We certainly find it easier to remember things from videos, and we can become more engaged with topics. However, there is quite a lot of evidence also in favour of text. Video content marketing is worthwhile, but we should not neglect writing. Indeed, if you focus on writing, you can use that to come up with several ideas for videos.

Writing attracts website visitors

Even though billions of hours of video is watched online, vast amounts of material are read. As you read this, hundreds of millions of people are currently reading other web pages too. Studies conducted last year showed that for marketers it turns out that articles are the best form of engaging people. Indeed, video came way down the list after lots of different kinds of written material.

Meanwhile, other research has shown that people really value articles. Some of the most shared items on social media tend to be lengthy articles and blog posts. Another study from the Economist Group, highlighted in the article “Why you should stop drawing and start writing“, demonstrated that people value written material more than visual content.

There is also a fascinating study from Spain that compared the value of video with writing in an online newspaper. The research found that the video content added no journalistic value at all. Indeed, the readers commented that they preferred to read the articles, rather than watch the videos.

A study from Korea also found that instead of replacing reading with watching videos online, our love of moving images on the web is simply replacing our watching of video content from other sources. People are viewing less cable TV, for instance, and watching more YouTube. Our love of online video has not replaced our love of reading.

What this means for website owners is that video is an enhancer to your website, but not a replacement for your written material. Video content is essential these days, of course, as your website can look old-fashioned without it. But replacing writing with video appears to be a bad idea. It is not doing one or the other, but doing both that matters.

3 ways to consistently produce great content

Regular content is required for websites, but how can you produce great content consistently? Here’s how.

Content being handwrittenYour website needs content – lots of it – if it is to face up to the online competition. The more content you produce, the more you are noticed and the more visitors you get. There is plenty of research that shows websites that regularly add new, fresh and exciting content are the sites that get the most traffic and the greatest business. If you want to do well online, you simply have to keep adding more and more great content.

But therein lies the problem. How can you keep adding great content and remain consistently good?

Here are three ways that will help you consistently produce great content.

1. Produce more content….!

The more times you do something, the more you learn. Writing content only now and then does not prepare you enough for consistently producing great content. The best content producers are those who spend a great deal of time writing. They write a great deal and in doing so they learn how to write better, they develop techniques for writing more effectively and they are keen to find out more about the process of writing. The more you write, the more you want to write well. One thing holding content producers back is not producing enough content. Up your game…! Produce more content and you will become better at it, enabling you to be more consistent in creating great content.

2. Have a plan, a schedule and a strategy

Plan to add content every dayInstead of creating content when the muse takes you, have a plan. You can use tools like CoSchedule or my own Blog Planning Tool to help you plan, but before you even think about organising your posts each week, you need to have a strategy. You need different kinds of content. How often will you add blog posts? How many times a month will you be producing a video? How often will you have “long” content? These are things you need to consider. Then your overall strategy might be two blog posts a week, one video a month, four long articles a year, one white paper every quarter and so on. You can then enter these details in your calendar, and you can then spend time considering what you might include. Rather than thinking of content when you need it, there will be a “mulling over” process, thanks to the strategy, which will help you create great content consistently.

3. Read more – especially your competitors

Man reading book in living room smilingThere is a link between great writing and reading. The more you read, the more you can write well. Indeed, I made that point almost five years ago in this post on “how to write a great blog.” Read widely and you will absorb what makes great content, helping you produce even more good stuff yourself. It’s a process of osmosis. But also make sure you read your competitors’ websites and blogs. They will be producing content for similar audiences so looking at what they produce shows you the kind of thing you could be doing. Again, this will help you focus and, therefore, be more consistent in producing good content. You could also use a service like Buzzsumo. Type in a word or phrase and you’ll see a list of content and how widely that item has been shared in social media. This shows you what topics interest people, showing you what to write about more regularly, again helping you be more consistent. But don’t just look at the list – click on the links and read the articles that are widely shared. They are likely to be good articles; read them and learn from them so you can produce material of the same standard. The more content on your topic that you read, the more you will be able to produce consistently great content.

It isn’t that difficult to be consistent with the quality of your content. But you need to have a strategy and a plan, and then you need to write as much as you possibly can and read extensively. Ask a top author how they produce loads of best-selling books. They’ll tell you two things: I read every day, and I write every day. Simple.

Very tight deadlines will improve content marketing

Working to tight deadlines will improve your website content marketing thanks to two different psychological factors – naturalistic decision making and anticipated regret

Diary with deadline markedThe vast majority of websites in the world never get updated. A tiny proportion get new material every now and then, a really tiny proportion get extra content each week. An even tinier proportion of websites get daily updates. Where is your website on this spectrum?

The chances are your website is “average” in terms of its updating – which currently hovers around the once every ten days mark for a typical business website.

Website owners complain it is lack of time that is the real issue. “How can we update our website when we have all this work to do?” they ask.

Frankly, though, if they wanted to, they could find both the time and the money to update their websites more frequently.

It’s not a work issue, it is psychological

The real issue is a psychological phenomenon of “anticipated regret”. This is an almost instinctive part of our behaviour that prevents us from doing lots of things. We remain with the status quo because if we take some action we believe there might be a problem or difficulty that arises from that action. So we don’t do it. Much potential content is denied from the web because website owners subconsciously perceive some kind of potential problem if they were to add a blog post. They are unconsciously worried that they will regret adding the content, perhaps due to negative comments, or even no comments. Businesses appear to have collected “anticipated regret”, with everyone subconsciously aware of the potential difficulties that regular blogging might cause. So, guess what, it doesn’t happen. We often do not act because we subconsciously fear at some stage in the future we will regret taking that action. It is all part of our in-built survival instincts.

Anticipated regret appears to have a greater impact when we have longer to ruminate on things. If we have time to ponder on our actions, we can find all sorts of consciously thought-out reasons not to act. “I can’t blog today because I have to prepare for an important meeting this afternoon. ” Or “We can’t possibly blog every week because we mustn’t put our staff under such pressure, it would be unfair on them and become a health issue due to stress.” You get the picture. It is all about putting things off because we might actually in the future regret doing them now.

Quick decisions are good decisions

New research, however, points to another psychological factor which could be used to counteract anticipated regret. In a study of a simulated air crash, researchers investigated the decision-making taken by emergency services. There were 194 people involved in the pretend incident and they worked under the same intense time-pressure which would occur in a real incident. Such training practices take place regularly, of course.

One of the issues in such situations is that the decisions taken by emergency services personnel are literally life and death. You would think that under the pressure of time, their decision making could be impaired and that mistakes could happen. However, what the research found was that when under extreme time pressure our decision-making improves. We get better at making decisions when we have a really tight deadline, it seems.

This is partly because we start to rely on intuition – essentially we hand over decision-making to our subconscious brain. When we have the time to make decisions consciously we tend not to be so good at it.

Talk to journalists and many of them will tell you that their best stories are usually those which are under pressure, battling away against a seemingly impossible deadline to get something onto the front page or into a specific broadcast bulletin.

Sure, journalists are unlikely to have to make life or death decisions like the emergency services, but the principle is the same. The deadline enables their brain to work better. Of course if you say deadlines do not work for you, that you don’t respond well to them, all that is really happening is that you are consciously adding to “anticipated regret”. Research shows deadlines do help.

So, how can you use these two competing psychological factors in your business? The answer is to impose deadlines for content production. No more “can you produce a blog post sometime this week”, but instead, “I need your blog post by 2.35pm today”.  Deadlines work – even artificial ones, even ones you set for yourself. They make people think more clearly and they help reduce anticipated regret. The result is you will get more content on your website – precisely what you need.

If you want to be sure your website is regularly updated with content, start setting deadlines. And if you want to make sure you do set deadlines – do it now. Hey, I give you exactly 14 minutes from NOW to set your deadlines for the month ahead. That’s it, you have a 14 minute deadline to meet. Get on with it! If you meet that deadline, you’ll have set your blogging deadlines for the next four weeks. Of course, if you allow the anticipated regret of starting work now to take over, you won’t set any deadlines. So, get on with it, you only have 13 minutes now….!

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How to produce 486 blog ideas in 15 minutes

To produce content ideas you need to use a system. The Search Bootcamp in London showed how.

One of the biggest problems that anyone producing content has is coming up with ideas as to what to write about. However, it is much easier to produce ideas than you might think.


At the Search Bootcamp being held in London today, Pete Campbell from Kaizen showed exactly how you can produce a vast list of ideas very quickly. He asked the 54 people in the room to write down three ideas for a “boring” business – a sign manufacturer. Having written three ideas down,  the people then passed on their ideas to someone else who either built on those ideas, or used them to trigger other thoughts. A few minutes later, the growing list was shared again and each individual wrote down another three ideas.

As a result, each person had written down nine ideas in 15 minutes; with 54 people in the room that is 486 ideas.

Forget brainstorming
This was a graphic demonstration of the uselessness of brainstorming. Several psychological studies in the past have shown that brainstorming produces fewer ideas than thinking about things on your own. Businesses and content planners frequently fail to produce enough ideas because they rely on brainstorming sessions. These end up focusing on a small selection of ideas produced by a dominant personality in the room. Also, in brainstorming sessions, people tend to try to produce ideas that they think other people will like, or ideas that will please the “leader” in the room.

Producing ideas on your own is better – but you cannot produce many. If you were asked to come up with nine ideas for content for a boring client on your own you would be hard pressed to produce enough. Often in tests of doing such things, people produce a few ideas and then simply repeat earlier ideas with a different set of words.

With the technique shown by Pete Campbell today, delegates were shown how to produce several individual ideas. The passing around of ideas written down provides psychological triggers for individuals to generate new ideas.

How to generate content ideas
To generate ideas in your business you can use this technique. Get your staff together in a room and give them a sheet of paper each. Establish the topic you want ideas on and then ask each person, silently, to write down three ideas. Then they pass their paper to another person who has five minutes to write down three more ideas. You keep doing this until the sheets of paper have gone round the room.

If you only have five people in your team you will have produced 75 new ideas in 25 minutes.

So, don’t go telling me that you are short of content ideas..!

Is the media being strangled by content?

The more content that is produced by companies the less they will want to engage with traditional media.

Businesses are getting conflicting advice about online marketing. Soon that advice is going to collide and there is going to be one massive fall out.

Take a look at the latest data about the influence of “YouTube Stars“. It turns out that people aged under 24 are heavily influenced by them – more than by TV or film personalities.

YouTube Influence Chart

For years, of course, we have heard that every new media channel will kill off another. We were told that videos would see the end of cinema – it didn’t happen. We were told that radio would spell the end of newspapers – they are still with us. And we were told that email would stop real mail – yet the post offices are still busy sorting letters. Every time a new medium is invented it merely adds to the variety, providing people with more choice.

But online content is different. It has the power to produce one of the most significant changes in media history.

In the past if you were a big brand you could get your message out to the world by buying space in newspapers and magazines and having a media relations team that ensured your name got into the headlines whenever possible. Public relations is a key component of most major brands.

But PR is also an essential component of local businesses and small specialist services. They get coverage in local newspapers and specialist trade periodicals.

However, there is now a problem which did not previously exist. Online content.

In the “good old days” where brands held lunches with journalists, took them on fancy trips or invited them to swish press events, there was something in it for both sides. The brands got coverage and the journalists got material to fill their column inches or broadcast schedules. It was a deal that worked for everyone.

Nowadays, though, brands have their own outlets which compete with the media. Only yesterday I was talking with the Communications Director of a major sporting brand who has more than 30m people looking at their Facebook page each week. That channel is much more important to the company than the ten million who might be watching the TV news tonight.

Imagine now that you are that Communications Director and you have information you want your audience to get. What are you going to do? Are you going to – as you did in the past – hold a press conference and give it to the media? Or are you going to keep it to yourself and distribute it through your own channel?

The traditional media have gone from being partners for businesses communications, to being competitors – all because of the ability for brands to produce their own online content.

The result of this is that the traditional media are slowly being starved of the raw materials they need for their publications and broadcasts. Inevitably, this will lead to reduced value to the audiences who will go direct to their favourite online content instead.

However, eventually people will realise that what they are consuming is biased. When brands provided information to the media through PR, it at least went through an editorial process that helped provide a degree of balance. Now, online audiences only get biased material and eventually they won’t like it.

But by then, much of the traditional media will be polarised into aggregating material you can already find free of charge elsewhere or celebrity tittle tattle.

Yet there is another way for both businesses and the media. Analysis.

Newspapers, magazines and broadcasters are going to have to give up the notion of reporting business news. Thanks to online content we can all get the news we want direct from the companies we want to engage with. Instead, the traditional media needs to change to being more analytical – taking the content that the brands produce themselves and comparing and contrasting it and analysing it. That would provide a service to their audience and it would not compete with the businesses who have their own online channels of content.

And what does this mean if you run a business? It means that audiences are going to look direct to you for news content – so you had better start producing it. It also means that journalists are going to look to you for data and insights, not news. So you had better start doing that as well.

The YouTube Stars have realised this already. Have you?

Small businesses confused by online marketing

Survey reveals contradictory ideas from small business owners who appear confused by internet marketing options.

Hand pointing at a Internet Marketing illustration on blue background.What are the most important things to small businesses in terms of marketing? The answer is revealed in a study of more than 700 small and medium sized businesses in America and Europe. The most important things are “word of mouth” and “telephone calls”.

So guess what those small business owners plan to spend more time and money on during 2015…? You guessed it, Internet marketing.


The very people who value offline marketing the most are going to spend more money with online marketing, especially search engine optimisation. Indeed, four out of ten small businesses in the survey spent the majority of their marketing budget on Internet marketing, yet only a third of the businesses felt that such activity was really effective. A quarter of businesses said that Internet marketing was not at all effective.

Clearly there is confusion within the small business community. At one stage they are singing the praises of online marketing whilst also saying that offline activity is the most productive for them.

So what is going on?

The situation is due to  the psychological impact of “ease of use”. When we find something easy to use we tend to do more of it and we also tend to be positive towards it. A recent survey on email marketing found a similar effect.

It is relatively easy to find some keywords online, create some content using those keywords and then see our pages shoot up the search engines. It feels like success. So we believe it is valuable. It is easy to do, easy to get some kind of results and therefore we value it.

However, generating word of mouth recommendations that lead to appropriate phone calls is not easy. Besides which it can take a long time to achieve anything. As a result, we tend to feel this is tedious and difficult, so we avoid it.

Yet, in their hearts, small business owners clearly know the value of word of mouth and phone calls to their company. After all, they see the financial results of such activities.

But they also find Internet marketing relatively easy to do – often much easier than traditional marketing. Researching keywords, producing content, promoting things on social media all feels like activity and it can produce instant gratification. Consequently, small business owners believe they are achieving.

The problem is, they are not. Activity for activity’s sake is not the same as producing profit.

Small businesses are going to invest more time and money into Internet marketing this year at the same time as saying they value offline marketing. That contradictory and confusing position comes from the fact that online marketing tools produce a sense of achievement.

But the real sense of achievement for businesses should come when the bank balance increases. Some small business owners need to refocus, perhaps…?


Content marketing should be central to your website

Website visitors are increasingly looking for good content. Blogs, stories, articles and so on are vital to your web success.

Web visitors want more information from you

Hand sketching laptop and writing website content words for businessYou would think that with the ever-increasing amount of information around us we would all want short, pithy nuggets rather than extensive amounts of content. However, the more material that is published online, the more people want.

That’s partly due to our desire to minimise risks. When we have wide availability of information on any topic we want to check more of it to ensure that everything we have learned is true, thereby minimising the chances of making a wrong decision. When information is in short supply, we go with what we know. The mere fact that the web is growing at an amazing rate means our brains simply kick in with our risk reduction mode and make us want to check out even more information.

And boy oh boy, is the Internet growing…! Data from the company that produces WordPress, Automattic, shows that the number of blogs created in 2014 was up by 12.5% on the previous record year. Each day around 50,000 new blogs are created leading to over 1.5m blog posts being published every day – about 17 every single second. Even more significant is that these are only the figures that relate to WordPress.com – the hosted version of the blogging software. The data does not take into account the billions of blog posts produced by software downloaded from WordPress.org or from other content management systems, such as Blogger or Tumblr. The chances are that by the end of this week, more blog posts will have been written than the entire outpouring of writing during the whole of the 19th Century. The vast amount of content online cannot be underestimated.

This explosion in content is making us more interested in content. Never before have we read so much, or written so much. Content is now becoming central to our daily activity.

And that means it should become central to your online activity. If your website is not based around content, with new content being added regularly, you are not providing what web visitors want. Major firms, such as the global PR company FleishmanHillard, are restructuring to focus their businesses around online content. And marketing experts believe that businesses will increasingly have “content departments” much like they have other functional teams.

In other words, businesses are becoming more and more organised around content, with the production of content for the web being the centrepiece of their business.

The question is – are you doing the same? Is your business gearing up to focus its operations around the production of online content? If you are not doing that by now, you are already behind the times. After all, in the couple of minutes you have taken to read this far, around 2,500 blog posts have been added to WordPress alone. The web is content focused; if your business is not, you are not really providing what your web visitors want.

Get writing – people prefer articles

The main source of information in the B2B sector is articles. Other web content pales into insignificance.

Businesses say articles are the most helpful form of content

If you want to engage business owners and executives you had better get writing. New research shows that the most “helpful” kind of web content is the written article. Indeed, it is deemed ten times better than social media and 14 times more helpful than video. Yet, everywhere you go these days people are telling you to record video, produce podcasts or to Tweet like crazy. After all, if Robbie Williams Tweeted and video blogged his way through his new son’s birth, it must be something people want. Right? Well, not according to this study.

Chart showing various types of content and their perceived usefulness

The study shows where you should be putting your business priorities in terms of content production. Articles, reports, white papers and newsletters are the top of the tree. Notice too that people distinguish between blog posts and articles. It seems that  blog posts are perceived as short updates, whereas articles are obviously longer. This ties in with another recent study which showed that the most valuable length of content is around 1,600 words – much longer than the typical blog post. Google is also now highlighting “in depth” articles on search results pages because its own research has shown that such items get more clicks.

What all of this data tells us is one thing – people want in-depth material. They perceive social media and video as more superficial. Furthermore, the vast majority of online video is entertainment and is not generally useful to business.

There is another reason why people want long written content and that is involved with the psychology of risk reduction. We are constantly seeking to reduce our risks; it is a natural survival mechanism. When it comes to business, though, we still are risk averse and so we seek as much information as possible before making a decision. Furthermore, people want documentation to support their decision, so that should someone criticise them they can weigh in with all the “evidence”. If all they had was a Tweet or two and a couple of videos they fear they would get laughed out of the job.

Long articles, white papers, reports and so on help with this risk aversion. They provide evidence to support the decisions made and they also help inform those decisions because of all the detail they convey, thereby lessening the perceived risk.

If you want to engage with more business people, then more time spent writing will pay off.

Focus your website on who writes it not the content itself

Research shows that website visitors come back for the writers, not the content itself. You need star writers to get return visits.

Readers are highly interested in web content writers

I know this is going to be tough to believe, but there are people all over the world who go to every movie Tom Cruise makes, regardless of the subject matter. They love Tom Cruise so much, they want to see him in everything he does. Similarly, there are people who visit London’s West End theatre-land to see their TV idol in some musical show – yet these people would not normally be seen within 500 yards of a theatre. Why do these things happen? Because people find certain stars attractive to them in many ways and do not want to miss out on anything they do.

Person pointing to sign saying "News"

Now it seems that the same syndrome happens with journalists. Strange but true. A study from the University of Oxford has found that the number one reason people signed up for an online newspaper subscription was that they wanted to read the writing of particular journalists. The subscribers loved the work of these “star journalists” so much, they were ready to pay a subscription for the entire newspaper, much of which they might not be interested in. It is the same as the star-struck theatre-goers in London – they are not interested in the musical, or the other performers, but they will pay to see them because they really want to watch their hero on stage.

It is time to make your writers stars

The Oxford research is an important consideration for website owners. It suggests that making some of your content writers “star” could well increase the return visit rate to your website. People will come back to read what those individuals said, simply because they like their writing.

Many business websites have fairly anonymous content production. It is the “voice of the company”. Mmmm. How many people want to read the “voice of Amazon” instead of the “voice of Jeff Bezos”? How many people want to hear what Virgin Media is saying instead of what Sir Richard Branson says?

In fact, this study tells us nothing new. All it confirms is that people are people-centric. We love other people. We cannot help it.

Newspaper editors and broadcasters know that human interest is what drives their business. Goodness me, programmes like The X-Factor or Dancing With The Stars thrive on the “back story” of each of their contestants. It is the emotional pull of these human interest stories that brings in large numbers of viewers.

Now, this new research shows there is another twist to the human interest element; the writer themselves. What it means is that your website needs to highlight your top writers, to make them “stars” in your sector, so that people keep coming back.

[quote]If you want more web traffic, then focus on who writes your site.[/quote]

You need to add your content at the weekend – whoops…!

Blogging at the weekends could be beneficial if you want more people to share your content on social networks.

When is the best day to blog? What time of day should I add content to my website? How often should I write articles? These are the kind of questions that many website owners ask because they want to be sure they engage the highest number of people as possible.

Many “experts” suggest things like “you must blog every day” or “you must never add content on a Monday” or other such nonsense, even though it seemingly makes sense. The “anti-Monday” brigade, for instance, suggest that people are too busy catching up with email after the weekend to take notice of your blog. Sounds as though it makes sense, but do they have evidence to back this up?

A person drawing and pointing at a Weekly Calendar Chalk Drawing

Real, actual, substantial evidence has, however, emerged this week with the publication of “The Colossal Content Marketing Report” which looks at 1.2m blog posts from over 4,500 leading blogs. The report reveals some interesting facts which could well change your content schedule.

For instance, when it comes to sharing blog posts on social networks the majority if this happens at night and at the weekends. Yet most content is added during the day and on weekdays – precisely the opposite to when readers seem to be accessing content.

Similarly, many blog posts contain relatively short headlines, of up to 40 characters. Yet it is the longer headlines that lead to most sharing. That’s probably because they explain the content more clearly and therefore can be more easily shared.

What this study suggests is that people appear to be “saving up” their engagement with online content to times when they are less busy. It implies that if you want the greatest impact from your content then publishing it when people are most likely to see it is a good idea. (You may well see this article re-published and re-Tweeted late at night or over the coming weekend…!)

It is no coincidence that my newsletter is published on Saturdays.