How to Create Boring-Industry Content that Gets Shared

Posted by ronell-smith

If you think creating content for boring industries is tough, try creating content for an expensive product that’ll be sold in a so-called boring industry. Such was the problem faced by Mike Jackson, head of sales for a large Denver-based company that was debuting a line of new high-end products for the fishing industry in 2009.

After years of pestering the executives of his traditional, non-flashy company to create a line of products that could be sold to anglers looking to buy premium items, he finally had his wish: a product so expensive only a small percentage of anglers could afford them.

(image source)

What looked like being boxed into a corner was actually part of the plan.

When asked how he could ever put his neck on the line for a product he’d find tough to sell and even tougher to market, he revealed his brilliant plan.

“I don’t need to sell one million of [these products] a year,” he said. “All I need to do is sell a few hundred thousand, which won’t be hard. And as far as marketing, that’s easy: I’m ignoring the folks who’ll buy the items. I’m targeting professional anglers, the folks the buyers are influenced by. If the pros, the influencers, talk about and use the products, people will buy them.”

Such was my first introduction to how it’s often wise to ignore who’ll buy the product in favor of marketing to those who’ll help you market and sell the product.

These influencers are a sweet spot in product marketing and they are largely ignored by many brands

Looking at content for boring industries all wrong

A few months back, I received a message in Google Plus that really piqued my interest: “What’s the best way to create content for my boring business? Just kidding. No one will read it, nor share information from a painter anyway.”

I went from being dismayed to disheartened. Dismayed because the business owner hadn’t yet found a way to connect with his prospects through meaningful content. Disheartened because he seemed to have given up trying.

You can successfully create content for boring industries. Doing so requires nothing out of the ordinary from what you’d normally do to create content for any industry. That’s the good news.

The bad news: Creating successful content for boring industries requires you think beyond content and SEO, focusing heavily on content strategy and outreach.

Successfully creating content for boring industries—or any industry, for that matter—comes down to who’ll share it and who’ll link to it, not who’ll read it, a point nicely summed up in this tweet:

So when businesses struggle with creating content for their respective industries, the culprits are typically easy to find:

  • They lack clarity on who they are creating content for (e.g., content strategy, personas)
  • There are no specific goals (e.g., traffic, links, conversions, etc.) assigned regarding the content, so measuring its effectiveness is impossible
  • They’re stuck in neutral thinking viral content is the only option, while ignoring the value of content amplification (e.g., PR/outreach)

Alone, these three elements are bad; taken together, though, they spell doom for your brand.

content does not equal amplification

If you lack clarity on who you’re creating content for, the best you can hope for is that sometimes you’ll create and share information members of your audience find useful, but you likely won’t be able to reach or engage them with the needed frequency to make content marketing successful.

Goals, or lack thereof, are the real bugaboo of content creation. The problem is even worse for boring industries, where the pressure is on to deliver a content vehicle that meets the threshold of interest to simply gain attention, much less, earn engagement.

For all the hype about viral content, it’s dismaying that so few marketers aren’t being honest on the topic: it’s typically hard to create, impossible to predict and typically has very, very little connection to conversions for most businesses.

What I’ve found is that businesses, regardless of category, struggle to create worthwhile content, leading me to believe there is no boring industry content, only content that’s boring.

“Whenever we label content as ‘boring,’ we’re really admitting we have no idea how to approach marketing something,” says Builtvisible’s Richard Baxter.

Now that we know what the impediments are to producing content for any industry, including boring industries, it’s time to tackle the solution.

Develop a link earning mindset

There are lots of article on the web regarding how to create content for boring industries, some of which have appeared on this very blog.

But, to my mind, the one issue they all suffer from is they all focus on what content should be created, not (a) what content is worthy of promotion, (b) how to identify those who could help with promotion, and (c) how to earn links from boring industry content. (Remember, much of the content that’s read is never shared; much of what’s shared is never read in its entirety; and some of the most linked-to content is neither heavily shared nor heavily read.)

This is why content creators in boring industries should scrap their notions of having the most-read and most-shared content, shifting their focus to creating content that can earn links in addition to generating traffic and social signals to the site.

After all, links and conversions are the main priorities for most businesses sharing content online, including so-called local businesses.

ranking factors survey results

(Image courtesy of the 2014 Moz Local Search Ranking Factors Survey)

If you’re ready to create link-earning, traffic-generating content for your boring-industry business follow the tips from the fictitious example of RZ’s Auto Repair, a Dallas, Texas, automobile shop.

With the Dallas-Forth Worth market being large and competitive, RZ’s has narrowed their speciality to storm repair, mainly hail damage, which is huge in the area. Even with the narrowed focus, however, they still have stiff competition from the major players in the vertical, including MAACO.

What the brand does have in its favor, however, is a solid website and a strong freelance copywriter to help produce content.

Remember, those three problems we mentioned above—lack of goals, lack of clarity and lack of focus on amplification—we’ll now put them to good use to drive our main objectives of traffic, links and conversions.

Setting the right goals

For RZ, this is easy: He needs sales, business (e.g., qualified leads and conversions), but he knows he must be patient since using paid media is not in the cards.

Therefore, he sits down with his partner, and they come up with what seems like the top five workable, important goals:

  1. Increased traffic on the website – He’s noticed that when traffic increases, so does his business.
  2. More phone calls – If they get a customer on the phone, the chances of closing the sale are around 75%.
  3. One blog per week on the site – The more often he blogs, the more web traffic, visits and phone calls increase.
  4. Links from some of the businesses in the area – He’s no dummy. He knows the importance of links, which are that much better when they come from a large company that could send him business.
  5. Develop relationships with small and midsize non-competing businesses in the area for cross promotions, events and the like.

Know the audience

marketing group discussing personas

(image source)

Too many businesses create cute blogs that might generate traffic but do nothing for sales. RZ isn’t falling for this trap. He’s all about identifying the audience who’s likely to do business with him.

Luckily, his secretary is a meticulous record keeper, allowing him to build a reasonable profile of his target persona based on past clients.

  • 21-35 years old
  • Drives a truck that’s less than fours years old
  • Has an income of $45,000-$59,000
  • Employed by a corporation with greater than 500 employees
  • Active on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter
  • Consumes most of their information online
  • Typically referred by a friend or a co-worker

This information will prove invaluable as he goes about creating content. Most important, these nuggets create a clearer picture of how he should go about looking for people and/or businesses to amplify his content.

PR and outreach: Your amplification engines

Armed with his goals and the knowledge of his audience, RZ can now focus on outreach for amplification, thinking along the lines of…

  • Who/what influences his core audience?
  • What could he offer them by way of content to earn their help?
  • What content would they find valuable enough to share and link to?
  • What challenges do they face that he could help them with?
  • How could his brand set itself apart from any other business looking for help from these potential outreach partners?

Putting it all together

Being the savvy businessperson he is, RZ pulls his small staff together and they put their thinking caps on.

Late spring through early fall is prime hail storm season in Dallas. The season accounts for 80 percent of his yearly business. (The other 20% is fender benders.) Also, they realize, many of the storms happen in the late afternoon/early evening, when people are on their way home from work and are stuck in traffic, or when they duck into the grocery store or hit the gym after work.

What’s more, says one of the staffers, often a huge group of clients will come at once, owing to having been parked in the same lot when a storm hits.

Eureka!

lightbulb

(image source)

That’s when RZ bolts out of his chair with the idea that could put his business on the map: Let’s create content for businesses getting a high volume of after-work traffic—sit-down restaurants, gyms, grocery stores, etc.

The businesses would be offering something of value to their customers, who’ll learn about precautions to take in the event of a hail storm, and RZ would have willing amplifiers for his content.

Content is only as boring as your outlook

First—and this is a fatal mistake too many content creators make—RZ visits the handful of local businesses he’d like to partner with. The key here, however, is he smartly makes them aware that he’s done his homework and is eager to help their patrons while making them aware of his service.

This is an integral part of outreach: there must be a clear benefit to the would-be benefactor.

After RZ learns that several of the businesses are amenable to sharing his business’s helpful information, he takes the next step and asks what form the content should take. For now, all he can get them to promote is a glossy one-sheeter, “How To Protect Your Vehicle Against Extensive Hail Damage,” that the biggest gym in the area will promote via a small display at the check-in in return for a 10% coupon for customers.

Three of the five others he talked to also agreed to promote the one-sheeter, though each said they’d be willing to promote other content investments provided they added value for their customers.

The untold truth about creating content for boring industries

When business owners reach out to me about putting together a content strategy for their boring brand, I make two things clear from the start:

  1. There are no boring brands. Those two words are a cop out. No matter what industry you serve, there are hoards of people who use the products or services who are quite smitten.
  2. What they see as boring, I see as an opportunity.

In almost every case, they want to discuss some of another big content piece that’s sure to draw eyes, engagement, and that maybe even leads to a few links. Sure, I say, if you have tons of money to spend.

big content example

(Amazing piece of interactive content created by BuiltVisible)

Assuming you don’t have money to burn, and you want a plan you can replicate easily over time, try what I call the 1-2-1 approach for monthly blog content:

1: A strong piece of local content (goal: organic reach, topical relevance, local SEO)

2: Two pieces of evergreen content (goal: traffic)

1: A link-worthy asset (goal: links)

This plan is not very hard at all to pull off, provided you have your ear to the street in the local market; have done your keyword research, identifying several long-tail keywords you have the ability to rank for; and you’re willing to continue with outreach.

What it does is allow the brand to create content with enough frequency to attain significance with the search engines, while also developing the habit of sharing, promoting and amplifying content as well. For example, all of the posts would be shared on Twitter, Google Plus, and Facebook. (Don’t sleep on paid promotion via Facebook.)

Also, for the link-worthy asset, there would be outreach in advance of its creation, then amplification, and continued promotion from the company and those who’ve agreed to support the content.

Create a winning trifecta: Outreach, promotion and amplification

To RZ’s credit, he didn’t dawdle, getting right to work creating worthwhile content via the 1-2-1 method:

1: “The Worst Places in Dallas to be When a Hail Storm Hits”
2: “Can Hail Damage Cause Structural Damage to Your Car?” and “Should You Buy a Car Damaged by Hail?”
1: “Big as Hail!” contest

This contest idea came from the owner of a large local gym. RZ’s will give $500 to the local homeowner who sends in the largest piece of hail, as judged by Facebook fans, during the season. In return, the gym will promote the contest at its multiple locations, link to the content promotion page on RZ’s website, and share images of its fans holding large pieces of hail via social media.

What does the gym get in return: A catchy slogan (e.g., it’s similar to “big as hell,” popular gym parlance) to market around during the hail season.

It’s a win-win for everyone involved, especially RZ.

He gets a link, but most important he realizes how to create content to nail each one of his goals. You can do the same. All it takes is a change in mindset. Away from content creation. Toward outreach, promote and amplify.

Summary

While the story of RZ’s entirely fictional, it is based on techniques I’ve used with other small and midsize businesses. The keys, I’ve found, are to get away from thinking about your industry/brand as being boring, even if it is, and marshal the resources to find the audience who’ll benefit from from your content and, most important, identify the influencers who’ll promote and amplify it.

What are your thoughts?

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Should you Track Competitors by Subdomain, Root Domain (or Home Page)?

Gabrielle Benedetti asked a brilliant question the other day: Why is Gabriele Asking? When using Majestic, there is a drop down (or if you have personalized your settings, radio buttons) after you hit the search button: This drop down does not appear by default on the home page, as we interpret what we THINK you…

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Reblogged 4 years ago from blog.majestic.com

How to Provide Unique Value in Your Content – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Marketers of all stripes are hearing more about providing unique content and value to their audiences, and how that’s what Google wants to show searchers. Unique content is straightforward enough, but what exactly does everyone mean by “unique value?” What does that actually look like? In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand illustrates the answer.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!

Video transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat a little about providing unique value in your content. Now I’ve been known to talk a lot about what you need to do to get to the kind of uniqueness in content that Google wants to index, that searchers want to find, that is likely to earn you amplification and links and all the signals that you’ll need to perform well in the rankings, and to perform well on social media and in content marketing of all kinds.

The challenge has been that I’ve seen a lot of people adopt this attitude around, yes, unique content, unique value, but merge those two and not view them as two different things and really not understand what I mean when I say unique value at all, and it’s not just me. A lot of the content marketing and SEO industries are talking about the need for unique value, and they may say other words to describe that. But unfortunately, as an industry, we’ve not yet coalesced around what that idea means, and so this Whiteboard Friday is to try and explain exactly what a lot of these best practices and experts are talking about when they say “unique value.”

Modern criteria for content

So let’s start by talking about our modern criteria for content, and I have a slide that I like to show a lot that kind of displays this, and many other folks in the field have as well. So if I’m going to be producing content, I need to meet these five criteria.

One of a kind

One of a kind is basically what we meant when we said old unique content, meaning that the engines have never seen those words and phrases and numbers and visuals and whatever in that order on a page on the web previously. It’s been written for the first time, produced and published for the first time. Therefore, it is one of a kind, doesn’t appear elsewhere.

Relevant

Relevant meaning it contains content that both searchers and engines interpret as on topic to that searcher’s query or their intent. Sometimes you can be on topic to the query, meaning you’ve used the words and the phrases that the searcher used, and not be on topic to their intent. What did they actually want to get out of the search? What question are they trying to answer? What information are you trying to get?

Helpful

This one’s pretty obvious. You should resolve the searcher’s query in a useful, efficient manner. That should be a page that does the job that they’re hoping that that content is going to do.

Uniquely valuable

This is the one we’re going to be talking about today, and what we mean here is provides information that’s unavailable or hard to get elsewhere — I’m going to dive into that a little bit more — 

Great user experience

This means it’s easy and pleasurable to consume anywhere on any device.

You meet these criteria with your content and you’ve really got something when it comes to a content marketing strategy or when it comes to content you’re producing for SEO. This is a pretty solid checklist that I think you can rely on.

Unique value and you (and your website)

The challenge is this one. Uniquely valuable has been a really hard concept for people to wrap their heads around, and so let’s dig in a little more on what we mean when we say “unique value.”

So these are kind of the three common criteria that we mean when we say “unique value,” and I’m actually going to show some examples as well.

1) Massive upgrade in aggregation, accessibility and design

The first one is a massive upgrade versus what’s already available on the web in aggregation, accessibility, and/or design. Meaning you should have someone who views that content say, “Wow. You know, I’ve seen this material presented before, but never presented so well, never so understandable and accessible. I really like this resource because of how well aggregated, how accessible, how well designed this resource is.”

Good examples, there’s a blog post from the website Wait But Why on the Fermi Paradox, which is sort of a scientific astrophysics, “why are we alone in the universe” paradox concept, and they do a brilliant job of visualizing and explaining the paradox and all of the potential scenarios behind it. It’s so much fun to read. It’s so enjoyable. I’ve read about the Fermi Paradox many times and never been as entranced as I was as when I read this piece from Wait But Why. It really was that experience that says, “Wow, I’ve seen this before, but never like this.”

Another great site that does pure aggregation, but they provide incredible value is actually a search engine, a visual search engine that I love called Niice.co. Not particularly easy to spell, but you do searches for things like letter press or for emotional ideas, like anger, and you just find phenomenal visual content. It’s an aggregation of a bunch of different websites that show design and visual content in a search interface that’s accessible, that shows all the images in there, and you can scroll through them and it’s very nicely collected. It’s aggregated in the best way I’ve ever seen that information aggregated, therefore, providing unique value. Unfortunately, since it’s a search engine, it’s not actually going to be indexed by Google, but still tremendously good content marketing.

2) Information that is available nowhere else

Number two is information that’s available nowhere else. When I say “information,” I don’t mean content. I don’t mean words and phrases. I don’t mean it’s one-of-a-kind in that if I were to go copy and paste a sentence fragment or a paragraph and plug it into Google, that I wouldn’t find that sentence or that paragraph elsewhere. I mean unique information, information that, even if it were written about thousands of different ways, I couldn’t find it anywhere else on the web. You want your visitor to have experience of, “Wow, without this site I never would have found the answers I sought.” It’s not that, “Oh, this sentence is unique to all the other sentences that have been written about this topic.” It’s, “Ah-ha this information was never available until now.”

Some of my favorite examples of that — Walk Score. Walk Score is a site that took data that was out there and they basically put it together into a scoring function. So they said, “Hey, in this ocean beach neighborhood in San Diego, there are this many bars and restaurants, grocery stores, banks, pharmacies. The walkability of that neighborhood, therefore, based on the businesses and on the sidewalks and on the traffic and all these other things, the Walk Score out of 100 is therefore 74.” I don’t know what it actually is. Then you can compare and contrast that to, say, the Hillcrest neighborhood in San Diego, where the Walk Score is 88 because it has a far greater density of all those things that people, who are looking for walkability of neighborhoods, are seeking. If you’re moving somewhere or you’re considering staying somewhere downtown, in area to visit for vacation, this is amazing. What an incredible resource, and because of that Walk Score has become hugely popular and is part of many, many real estate websites and visitor and tourism focused websites and all that kind of stuff.

Another good example, blog posts that provide information that was previously unavailable anywhere else. In our industry I actually really like this example from Conductor. Conductor, as you might know, is an enterprise SEO software company, and they put together a phenomenal blog post comparing which portions of direct traffic are almost certainly actually organic, and they collected a bunch of anonymized data from their platform and assembled that so that we could all see, “Oh, yeah, look at that. Sixty percent of what’s getting counted as direct in a lot of these websites, at least on average, is probably coming from organic search or dark social and those kinds of things, and that credit should go to the marketers who acquire that traffic.” Fascinating stuff. Unique information, couldn’t find that elsewhere.

3) Content presented with a massively differentiated voice or style

The third and final one that I’ll talk about is content that’s presented with a massively differentiated voice or style. So this is not necessarily you’ve aggregated information that was previously unavailable or you’ve made it more accessible or you’ve designed it in a way to make it remarkable. It’s not necessarily information available nowhere else. It’s really more about the writer or the artist behind the content creation, and content creators, the great ones, have some artistry to their work. You’re trying to create in your visitors this impression of like, “I’ve seen stuff about this before, but never in a way that emotionally resonated with me like this does.” Think about the experience that you have of reading a phenomenal book about a topic versus just reading the Wikipedia entry. The information might be the same, but there are miles of difference in the artistry behind it and the emotional resonance it can create.

In the content marketing world, I really like a lot of stuff that Beardbrand does. Eric from Beardbrand just puts together these great videos. He has this gigantic beard. I feel like I’ve really captured him here actually. Eric, tell me what you think of this portrait? You’re free to use it as your Twitter background, if you’d like. Eric’s videos are not just useful. They do contain useful information and stuff that sometimes is hard to find elsewhere, but they have a style to them, a personality to them that I just love.

Likewise, for many of you, you’re watching Whiteboard Friday or consuming content from us that you likely could find many other places. Unlike when Moz started, there are many, many great blogs and resources on SEO and inbound marketing and social media marketing, and all these things, but Moz often has a great voice, a great style, at least one that resonates with me, that I love.

Another example, one from my personal life, my wife’s blog — the Everywhereist. There are lots of places you can read, for example, a history of Ireland. But when Geraldine wrote about her not-so-brief history of Ireland, it had a very different kind of emotional resonance for many other people who read and consumed that and, as a result, earned lots of nice traffic and shares and links and all of these kinds of things.

This, one of these three, is what you’re aiming for with uniquely valuable, and there are likely some others that fit into these or maybe that cross over between them. But if you’re making content for the web and you’re trying to figure out how can I be uniquely valuable, see what it is that you’re fitting into, which of these themes, hopefully maybe even some combination of them, and is that defensible enough to make you differentiated from your competition, from what else is in the search results, and does it give you the potential to have truly remarkable content and SEO going forward. If not, I’m not sure that it’s worth the investment. There’s no prize in content for hitting Publish. No prize for hitting Publish. The only prize comes when you produce something that meets these criteria and thus achieves the reach and the marketing goals that you’re seeking.

All right, everyone, we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Content Flow: The "Melodic" Fix for Your "Broken" Content Marketing Strategy

Posted by SimonPenson

In a world now overflowing with ‘content,’ standing out is critical to breaking through.

And while almost all digital marketers are aware of the challenge that presents, the solution chosen simply extenuates the very issue it was designed to fix. Unfortunately,
too many people see the answer to standing out and achieving reach as becoming a ‘shout louder’. But that’s an approach that misses so many critical strategic objectives.

Maturing markets, as the ‘content market’ now is, require subtlety of approach and refinement. A campaign plan based on an unconnected series of ‘big bang’ content is unconnected from the very audience for which it was really designed to attract and retain.

The answer to this disconnect lies in something I call ‘content flow’, or ‘content dynamics’, and this post is designed to share the concept to allow you to give it a go.

What is content flow?

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” – Aristotle

This quote eloquently ‘sums’ up the true value of content strategy. Your content marketing strategy is not hundreds or thousands of connected stories. It’s one story with a lot of scenes.

The only way of creating any kind of long-term connection with your audience is to introduce variation into your content strategy and connect those important bigger campaigns, or pieces, together using smaller pieces. The best way of visualizing this is to imagine the smaller ‘everyday’ content pieces you produce as ‘whispers’ that keep the campaign alive in between the larger, campaign-led ‘shouts’.

The music of content flow

To understand how to create the variation any good content strategy needs to work, we should look for a moment to some of the greatest content creators to have lived: classical music composers—the masters of the concept of ‘whispering’ and ‘shouting’ to create impact.

Listen to any ‘great’ piece and you will immediately notice that it has quieter periods followed by great crescendos, utilizing something called dynamic note velocity to create an absorbing ‘journey’ through the composition.

We can clearly see this is we look at the sound wave profile of such a piece. Below is a Beethoven composition with clear
crescendos and diminuendos that make the piece so absorbing. This is why classical ‘songs’ can go on for so long without losing your interest.

If this were content strategy, or an editorial plan, the ‘peaks’ would be those ‘big bang’ campaign ideas, while the ‘troughs’ would be the ‘everyday content’ that glues your big ideas together in a seamless and absorbing way. The result is a coherent composition that allows the user to feel the full range of your content marketing strategy and still experience it as a whole.

Content dynamics in marketing

Given that we now understand how content flow works in a musical context, we must now look at how those key principles can be applied to content marketing. The first step in creating the right flow of content is in understanding its importance, but the second is in the planning and measurement of your own work.

To do this you should start at the beginning, with the ideation process. It’s critical here to have a sound process for coming up with ideas that produced, consistently, enough of the right ideas that can fit the ‘peak’ and ‘troughs’ concept.

This is something I have worked on for the past ten years and the resulting process is something I have shared
right here on Moz previously. Since that time, however, the process has been updated even further and you can find the latest version here.

This process is designed to ensure you have enough of each type of content to enable the second phase—editorial planning.

Building your editorial plan

Once you have enough content ideas from your brainstorm the next phase is to begin ‘grading’ them into either ‘small’, ‘medium’ or ‘large’ ideas. You can do this manually as I’m about to explain now, or make use of the free and brand-spanking-new
Zazzle Media Content Flow Generator tool, which is designed to do the hard work for you.

Manual testing

To test out your best laid content plan is a simple process and it begins at the initial ideation phase.

Once you have your initial list of ideas, you should note them down in a simple Excel column. I’ve created an example below with some ideas for a fictional finance brand.

In the right hand column you will see a number. There is no ‘science’ here, just a simple scoring system to highlight the ‘size’ or, more precisely, the amount of time and resource that will go into the creation of each piece.

The purpose of this is to enable the plotting of your content on a chart that will allow you to understand how it flows.

The next stage is to then plot the suggested publication dates so you end up with something like this:

From here select the dates and scores and select the ‘Charts’ function from the menu bar of Excel (I’m using Mac in this example).

Select the ‘Line’ option and you should see the data in a chart that looks a little like this:

content flow chart

You can then use the various formatting options to make it more clear, or play with the numbers, more importantly, to get the ‘flow’ right.

The ‘right’ wave dynamic

Of course, you need to know what it is you are looking for to be able to decipher if your initial content plan is laid out correctly.

In simple terms there is no ‘perfect’ shape as every business has different objectives but whenever in doubt we should refer back to the initial learning from those classical pieces.

The strategy should be to create a handful of ‘big bang’ ideas per year surrounded by a cacophony of brilliant everyday content, which both entertains and informs and ties together your symphony.

The work above should then create something that looks like the chart below. The important part is in ensuring that the ‘big bang’ campaign ideas are evenly spaced and do not drown out the overall picture. There are few worse mistakes then simply creating a large number of ‘big’ ideas as we discussed earlier in the post.

The reason for that is simple and it comes back to the same rules as those that are applied to TV, radio and print when it comes to achieving perfect ‘content flow’.

Learning from print

We can reverse engineer this in practice by taking a look at how something like a magazine is put together. Having worked in the industry for many years I know first hand how content works over the long term, and it’s all about consistently delivering surprise and variation.

The best place to find this is on the cover. An example of this can be found below with this
Men’s Health cover:

You can clearly see how the cover lines correspond to the needs of the audience:

  1. Those that want to improve their body
  2. Those that want to improve their mind
  3. Those that want to be better lovers

And you can clearly see that the editorial team understands its audience in great detail and knows precisely how to deliver content in a way that keeps all elements of its readership entertained and informed.

That doesn’t happen by accident. It starts with the
persona creation process to segment the key interest sets. These then manifest themselves as regular ‘cover sells’ or ‘content pillars’ as I like to call them.

These concepts are then covered monthly within the editorial plan and how each key subject is covered will vary each time it is covered. So, in month one the ‘improve your body’ concept will be covered in a long form feature, looking at something like ‘the science of muscle growth’, while the next month it may be a quick-fire, shorter piece forming a 20-minute circuit training session. It’s this variation that creates ‘content flow’.

If you want to learn the tricks yourself all you have to do is reverse engineer a couple of magazines. To do that all you need is a ‘flatplan’ template – or the document many editors use to plan out the ‘flow’ of their issue.

You can then take a copy of the magazine from your sector and mark off the general schematic make-up of the edition a little like the example below:

You can then simply test that ‘layout’ for your own digital strategy.

Mobile

The testing phase shouldn’t simply stop at your overall plan, however, as content consumption is quickly becoming a ‘mobile first’ game. That means that thinking about how you plan your strategy for the various devices is also critical to success to ensure that the way in which you cover your key ‘pillars’ creates a compelling mix of content types for ALL devices.

I wrote about this aspect of the content strategy in
this earlier Moz post if you want some more detail.

Final plan

Like anything in digital there is no ‘perfect’ template to use when it comes to planning the right delivery for your brand but by sticking to the principle of ‘ebb and flow’ in your content flow and working hard on ideas you will quickly see how easy it is to grow a truly valuable, and engaged audience, over time for your site.

Six steps to nail your content plan

For those that like steps to work to this is the general process I work to:

  1. Start with a data dig to establish your key audience personas. Utilize a good persona template to record the key information.
  2. Work through a
    structured content ideation process to ensure you create ideas pinned to the key audience need.
  3. Work this data into a content plan and record in a
    calendar.
  4. Test how that content ‘flows’ using the checker tool I mentioned earlier. You find help as to how to lay your content out from magazines.
  5. Run the plan over a six-month period and then review based on the changes you have seen in key engagement metrics such as bounce rate, returning visitor numbers, time on site, etc.
  6. Change and repeat, constantly looking for the right ebb and flow for your audience and commercial goals.

Having got this far, I genuinely hope you are now keen to integrate content flow checks into your overall content strategy and marketing process. With most content discussions surrounded by ‘data’ and ‘ideas’ it is useful sometime to step back and remember that it is, ultimately still an art form, and always will be. That means you must ensure that any strategy you create is focused in not just on the buzzwords but the foundation too. By doing this you’ll turn your content creation process from a gaggle of ideas into a true symphony for your audience to enjoy.

And if you want to have a go yourself, here’s a reminder of that free Content Flow Checker tool. Click below to try it out on your strategy and let me know how you get on.


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The Danger of Crossing Algorithms: Uncovering The Cloaked Panda Update During Penguin 3.0

Posted by GlennGabe

Penguin 3.0 was one of the most anticipated algorithm updates in recent years when it rolled out on October 17, 2014. Penguin hadn’t run for over a year at that point,
and there were many webmasters sitting in Penguin limbo waiting for recovery. They had cleaned up their link profiles, disavowed what they could, and were
simply waiting for the next update or refresh. Unfortunately, Google was wrestling with the algo internally and over twelve months passed without an
update.

So when Pierre Far finally
announced Penguin 3.0 a few days later on October 21, a few things
stood out. First, this was
not a new algorithm like Gary Illyes had explained it would be at SMX East. It was a refresh and underscored
the potential problems Google was battling with Penguin (cough, negative SEO).

Second, we were not seeing the impact that we expected. The rollout seemed to begin with a heavier international focus and the overall U.S impact has been
underwhelming to say the least. There were definitely many fresh hits globally, but there were a number of websites that should have recovered but didn’t
for some reason. And many are still waiting for recovery today.

Third, the rollout would be slow and steady and could take weeks to fully complete. That’s unusual, but makes sense given the microscope Penguin 3.0 was
under. And this third point (the extended rollout) is even more important than most people think. Many webmasters are already confused when they get hit
during an acute algorithm update (for example, when an algo update rolls out on one day). But the confusion gets exponentially worse when there is an
extended rollout.

The more time that goes by between the initial launch and the impact a website experiences, the more questions pop up. Was it Penguin 3.0 or was it
something else? Since I work heavily with algorithm updates, I’ve heard similar questions many times over the past several years. And the extended Penguin
3.0 rollout is a great example of why confusion can set in. That’s my focus today.


Penguin, Pirate, and the anomaly on October 24

With the Penguin 3.0 rollout, we also had
Pirate 2 rolling out. And yes, there are
some websites that could be impacted by both. That added a layer of complexity to the situation, but nothing like what was about to hit. You see, I picked
up a very a strange anomaly on October 24. And I clearly saw serious movement on that day (starting late in the day ET).

So, if there was a third algorithm update, then that’s
three potential algo updates rolling out at the same time. More about this soon,
but it underscores the confusion that can set in when we see extended rollouts, with a mix of confirmed and unconfirmed updates.


Penguin 3.0 tremors and analysis

Since I do a lot of Penguin work, and have researched many domains impacted by Penguin in the past, I heavily studied the Penguin 3.0 rollout. I 
published a blog post based on the first ten days of the update, which included some interesting findings for sure.

And based on the extended rollout, I definitely saw Penguin tremors beyond the initial October 17 launch. For example, check out the screenshot below of a
website seeing Penguin impact on October 17, 22, and 25.

But as mentioned earlier, something else happened on October 24 that set off sirens in my office. I started to see serious movement on sites impacted by
Panda, and not Penguin. And when I say serious movement, I’m referring to major traffic gains or losses all starting on October 24. Again, these were sites heavily dealing with Panda and had
clean link profiles. Check out the trending below from October 24 for several
sites that saw impact.


A good day for a Panda victim:



A bad day for a Panda victim:



And an incredibly frustrating day for a 9/5 recovery that went south on 10/24:

I saw this enough that I tweeted heavily about it and
included a section about Panda in my Penguin 3.0 blog post. And
that’s when something wonderful happened, and it highlights the true beauty and power of the internet.

As more people saw my tweets and read my post, I started receiving messages from other webmasters explaining that
they saw the same exact thing, and on their websites dealing with Panda and not Penguin. And not only
did they tell me about, they
showed me the impact.

I received emails containing screenshots and tweets with photos from Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. It was amazing to see, and it confirmed
that we had just experienced a Panda update in the middle of a multi-week Penguin rollout. Yes, read that line again. Panda during Penguin, right when the
internet world was clearly focused on Penguin 3.0.

That was a sneaky move Google… very sneaky. 🙂

So, based on what I explained earlier about webmaster confusion and algorithms, can you tell what happened next? Yes, massive confusion ensued. We had the
trifecta of algorithm updates with Penguin, Pirate, and now Panda.


Webmaster confusion and a reminder of the algo sandwich from 2012

So, we had a major algorithm update during two other major algorithm updates (Penguin and Pirate) and webmaster confusion was hitting extremely high
levels. And I don’t blame anyone for being confused. I’m neck deep in this stuff and it confused me at first.

Was the October 24 update a Penguin tremor or was this something else? Could it be Pirate? And if it was indeed Panda, it would have been great if Google told
us it was Panda! Or did they want to throw off SEOs analyzing Penguin and Pirate? Does anyone have a padded room I can crawl into?

Once I realized this was Panda, and started to communicate the update via Twitter and my blog, I had a number of people ask me a very important question:


“Glenn, would Google really roll out two or three algorithm updates so close together, or at the same time?”

Why yes, they would. Anyone remember the algorithm sandwich from April of 2012? That’s when Google rolled out Panda on April 19, then Penguin 1.0 on April 24,
followed by Panda on April 27. Yes, we had three algorithm updates all within ten days. And let’s not forget that the Penguin update on April 24, 2012 was the
first of its kind! So yes, Google can, and will, roll out multiple major algos around the same time.

Where are we headed? It’s fascinating, but not pretty


Panda is near real-time now

When Panda 4.1 rolled out on September 23, 2014, I immediately disliked the title and version number of the update. Danny Sullivan named it 4.1, so it stuck. But for
me, that was not 4.1… not even close. It was more like 4.75. You see, there have been a number of Panda tremors and updates since P4.0 on May 20,
2014.

I saw what I was calling “tremors”
nearly weekly based on having access to a large amount of Panda data (across sites, categories, and countries).
And based on what I was seeing, I reached out to John Mueller at Google to clarify the tremors. John’s response was great and confirmed what I was seeing.
He explained that there
was not a set frequency for algorithms like Panda. Google can roll out an algorithm, analyze the
SERPs, refine the algo to get the desired results, and keep pushing it out. And that’s exactly what I was seeing (again, almost weekly since Panda 4.0).


When Panda and Penguin meet in real time…

…they will have a cup of coffee and laugh at us. 🙂 So, since Panda is near-real time, the crossing of major algorithm updates is going to happen.
And we just experienced an important one on October 24 with Penguin, Pirate, and Panda. But it could (and probably will) get more chaotic than what we have now.
We are quickly approaching a time where major algorithm updates crafted in a lab will be unleashed on the web in near-real time or in actual real time.

And if organic search traffic from Google is important to you, then pay attention. We’re about to take a quick trip into the future of Google and SEO. And
after hearing what I have to say, you might just want the past back…


Google’s brilliant object-oriented approach to fighting webspam

I have presented at the past two SES conferences about Panda, Penguin, and other miscellaneous disturbances in the force. More about those “other
disturbances” soon. In my presentation, one of my slides looks like this:

Over the past several years, Google has been using a brilliant, object-oriented approach to fighting webspam and low quality content. Webspam engineers can
craft external algorithms in a lab and then inject them into the real-time algorithm whenever they want. It’s brilliant because it isolates specific
problems, while also being extremely scalable. And by the way, it should scare the heck out of anyone breaking the rules.

For example, we have Panda, Penguin, Pirate, and Above the Fold. Each was crafted to target a specific problem and can be unleashed on the web whenever
Google wants. Sure, there are undoubtedly connections between them (either directly or indirectly), but each specific algo is its own black box. Again,
it’s object-oriented.

Now, Panda is a great example of an algorithm that has matured to where Google highly trusts it. That’s why Google announced in June of 2013 that Panda
would roll out monthly, over ten days. And that’s also why it matured even more with Panda 4.0 (and why I’ve seen tremors almost weekly.)

And then we had Gary Illyes explain that Penguin was moving along the same path. At SMX East,
Gary explained that the new Penguin algorithm (which clearly didn’t roll out on October 17) would be structured in a way where subsequent updates could be rolled out more easily.
You know, like Panda.

And by the way, what if this happens to Pirate, Above the Fold, and other algorithms that Google is crafting in its Frankenstein lab? Well my friends, then
we’ll have absolute chaos and society as we know it will crumble. OK, that’s a bit dramatic, but you get my point.

We already have massive confusion now… and a glimpse into the future reveals a continual flow of major algorithms running in real-time, each that
could pummel a site to the ground. And of course, with little or no sign of which algo actually caused the destruction. I don’t know about you, but I just
broke out in hives. 🙂


Actual example of what (near) real-time updates can do

After Panda 4.0, I saw some very strange Panda movement for sites impacted by recent updates. And it underscores the power of near-real time algo updates.
As a quick example,
temporary Panda recoveries can happen if you
don’t get out of the gray area enough. And now that we are seeing Panda tremors almost weekly, you can experience potential turbulence several times per
month.

Here is a screenshot from a site that recovered from Panda, didn’t get out of the gray area and reentered the strike zone, just five days later.

Holy cow, that was fast. I hope they didn’t plan any expensive trips in the near future. This is exactly what can happen when major algorithms roam the web
in real time. One week you’re looking good and the next week you’re in the dumps. Now, at least I knew this was Panda. The webmaster could tackle more
content problems and get out of the gray area… But the ups and downs of a Panda roller coaster ride can drive a webmaster insane. It’s one of the
reasons I recommend making
significant changes when
you’ve been hit by Panda. Get as far out of the gray area as possible.


An “automatic action viewer” in Google Webmaster Tools could help (and it’s actually being discussed internally by Google)

Based on webmaster confusion, many have asked Google to create an “automatic action viewer” in Google Webmaster Tools. It would be similar to the “manual
actions viewer,” but focused on algorithms that are demoting websites in the search results (versus penalties). Yes, there is a difference by the way.

The new viewer would help webmasters better understand the types of problems that are being impacted by algorithms like Panda, Penguin, Pirate, Above the
Fold, and others. Needless to say, this would be incredibly helpful to webmasters, business owners, and SEOs.

So, will we see that viewer any time soon? Google’s John Mueller
addressed this question during the November 3 webmaster hangout (at 38:30).

John explained they are trying to figure something out, but it’s not easy. There are so many algorithms running that they don’t want to provide feedback
that is vague or misleading. But, John did say they are discussing the automatic action viewer internally. So you never know…


A quick note about Matt Cutts

As many of you know, Matt Cutts took an extended leave this past summer (through the end of October). Well, he announced on Halloween that he is
extending his leave into 2015. I won’t go crazy here talking about his decision overall, but I will
focus on how this impacts webmasters as it relates to algorithm updates and webspam.

Matt does a lot more than just announce major algo updates… He actually gets involved when collateral damage rears its ugly head. And there’s not a
faster way to rectify a flawed algo update than to have Mr. Cutts involved. So before you dismiss Matt’s extended leave as uneventful, take a look at the
trending below:

Notice the temporary drop off a cliff, then 14 days of hell, only to see that traffic return? That’s because Matt got involved. That’s the
movie blog fiasco from early 2014 that I heavily analyzed. If
Matt was not notified of the drop via Twitter, and didn’t take action, I’m not sure the movie blogs that got hit would be around today. I told Peter from
SlashFilm that his fellow movie blog owners should all pay him a bonus this year. He’s the one that pinged Matt via Twitter and got the ball rolling.

It’s just one example of how having someone with power out front can nip potential problems in the bud. Sure, the sites experienced two weeks of utter
horror, but traffic returned once Google rectified the problem. Now that Matt isn’t actively helping or engaged, who will step up and be that guy? Will it
be John Mueller, Pierre Far, or someone else? John and Pierre are greatly helpful, but will they go to bat for a niche that just got destroyed? Will they
push changes through so sites can turn around? And even at its most basic level, will they even be aware the problem exists?

These are all great questions, and I don’t want to bog down this post (it’s already incredibly long). But don’t laugh off Matt Cutts taking an extended
leave. If he’s gone for good, you might only realize how important he was to the SEO community
after he’s gone. And hopefully it’s not because
your site just tanked as collateral damage during an algorithm update. Matt might be
running a marathon or trying on new Halloween costumes. Then where will you be?


Recommendations moving forward:

So where does this leave us? How can you prepare for the approaching storm of crossing algorithms? Below, I have provided several key bullets that I think
every webmaster should consider. I recommend taking a hard look at your site
now, before major algos are running in near-real time.

  • Truly understand the weaknesses with your website. Google will continue crafting external algos that can be injected into the real-time algorithm.
    And they will go real-time at some point. Be ready by cleaning up your site now.
  • Document all changes and fluctuations the best you can. Use annotations in Google Analytics and keep a spreadsheet updated with detailed
    information.
  • Along the same lines, download your Google Webmaster Tools data monthly (at least). After helping many companies with algorithm hits, that
    information is incredibly valuable, and can help lead you down the right recovery path.
  • Use a mix of audits and focus groups to truly understand the quality of your site. I mentioned in my post about

    aggressive advertising and Panda

    that human focus groups are worth their weight in gold (for surfacing Panda-related problems). Most business owners are too close to their own content and
    websites to accurately measure quality. Bias can be a nasty problem and can quickly lead to bamboo-overflow on a website.
  • Beyond on-site analysis, make sure you tackle your link profile as well. I recommend heavily analyzing your inbound links and weeding out unnatural
    links. And use the disavow tool for links you can’t remove. The combination of enhancing the quality of your content, boosting engagement, knocking down
    usability obstacles, and cleaning up your link profile can help you achieve long-term SEO success. Don’t tackle one quarter of your SEO problems. Address
    all of them.
  • Remove barriers that inhibit change and action. You need to move fast. You need to be decisive. And you need to remove red tape that can bog down
    the cycle of getting changes implemented. Don’t water down your efforts because there are too many chefs in the kitchen. Understand the changes that need
    to be implemented, and take action. That’s how you win SEO-wise.


Summary: Are you ready for the approaching storm?

SEO is continually moving and evolving, and it’s important that webmasters adapt quickly. Over the past few years, Google’s brilliant object-oriented
approach to fighting webspam and low quality content has yielded algorithms like Panda, Penguin, Pirate, and Above the Fold. And more are on their way. My
advice is to get your situation in order now, before crossing algorithms blend a recipe of confusion that make it exponentially harder to identify, and
then fix, problems riddling your website.

Now excuse me while I try to build a flux capacitor. 🙂

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