For Writers Only: Secrets to Improving Engagement on Your Content Using Word Pictures (and I Don’t Mean Wordle)

Posted by Isla_McKetta

“Picture it.”

If you’re of a certain generation, those two words can only conjure images of tiny, white-haired Sophia from the Golden Girls about to tell one of her engaging (if somewhat long and irrelevant) stories as she holds her elderly roommates hostage in the kitchen or living room of their pastel-hued Miami home.

Even if you have no idea what I’m talking about, those words should become your writing mantra, because what readers do with your words is take all those letters and turn them into mind pictures. And as the writer, you have control over what those pictures look like and how long your readers mull them over.

According to
Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene, reading involves a rich back and forth between the language areas and visual areas of our brains. Although the full extent of that connectivity is not yet known, it’s easy to imagine that the more sensory (interesting) information we can include in our writing, the more fully we can engage our readers.

So if you’re a writer or content marketer you should be harnessing the illustrative power of words to occupy your readers’ minds and keep them interested until they’re ready to convert. Here’s how to make your words
work for you.

Kill clichés

I could have titled this piece “Painting a Picture with Words” but you’ve heard it. Over and over and over. And I’m going to propose that every time you use a cliché, a puppy dies. 

While that’s a bit extreme (at least I hope so because that’s a lot of dead puppies and Rocky’s having second thoughts about his choice of parents), I hope it will remind you to read over what you’ve written and see where your attention starts to wander (wandering attention=cliché=one more tragic, senseless death) you get bored. Chances are it’s right in the middle of a tired bit of language that used to be a wonderful word picture but has been used and abused to the point that we readers can’t even summon the image anymore.

Make up metaphors (and similes)

Did you know that most clichés used to be metaphors? And that we overused them because metaphors are possibly the most powerful tool we have at our disposal for creating word pictures (and, thus, engaging content)? You do now.

By making unexpected comparisons, metaphors and similes force words to perform like a stage mom on a reality show. These comparisons shake our brains awake and force us to pay attention. So apply a whip to your language. Make it dance like a ballerina in a little pink tutu. Give our brains something interesting to sink our teeth into (poor Rocky!), gnaw on, and share with out friends.

Engage the senses

If the goal of all this attention to language is to turn reading into a full brain experience, why not make it a little easier by including sensory information in whatever you’re writing? Here are a few examples:

  • These tickets are selling so fast we can smell the burning rubber.
  • Next to a crumbling cement pillar, our interview subject sits typing on his pristine MacBook Air.
  • In a sea of (yelp!) never ending horde of black and gray umbrellas, this red cowboy hat will show the world you own your look.
  • Black hat tactics left your SERPs stinking as bad as a garbage strike in late August? Let us help you clear the air by cleaning up those results.

See how those images and experiences continue to unfold and develop in your mind? You have the power to affect your readers the same way—to create an image so powerful it stays with them throughout their busy days. One note of caution, though, sensory information is so strong that you want to be careful when creating potentially negative associations (like that garbage strike stench in the final example).

Leverage superlatives (wisely) and ditch hyperbole

SUPERLATIVES ARE THE MOST EFFECTIVEST TOOL YOU CAN USE EVER (until you wear your reader out or lose their trust). Superlatives (think “best,” “worst,” “hairiest” – any form of the adjective or adverb that is the most exaggerated form of the word) are one of the main problems with clickbait headlines (the other being the failure to deliver on those huge promises).

Speaking of exaggeration, be careful with it in all of its forms. You don’t actually have to stop using it, but think of your reader’s credence in your copy as a grasshopper handed over by a child. They think it’s super special and they want you to as well. If you mistreat that grasshopper by piling exaggerated fact after exaggerated fact on top of it, the grasshopper will be crushed and your reader will not easily forgive you.

So how do you stand out in a crowded field of over-used superlatives and hyperbolic claims? Find the places your products honestly excel and tout those. At Moz we don’t have the largest link index in the world. Instead, we have a really high quality link index. I could have obfuscated there and said we have “the best” link index, but by being specific about what we’re actually awesome at, we end up attracting customers who want better results instead of more results (and they’re happier for it).

Unearth the mystery

One of the keys to piquing your audience’s interest is to tap into (poor puppy!) create or find the mystery in what you’re writing. I’m not saying your product description will suddenly feature PIs in fedoras (I can dream, though), but figure out what’s intriguing or new about what you’re talking about. Here are some examples:

  • Remember when shortcuts meant a few extra minutes to yourself after school? How will you spend the 15-30 minutes our email management system will save you? We won’t tell…
  • You don’t need to understand how this toilet saves water while flushing so quietly it won’t wake the baby, just enjoy a restful night’s sleep (and lower water bills)
  • Check out this interactive to see what makes our work boots more comfortable than all the rest.

Secrets, surprises, and inside information make readers hunger for more knowledge. Use that power to get your audience excited about the story you’re about to tell them.

Don’t forget the words around your imagery

Notice how some of these suggestions aren’t about the word picture itself, they’re about the frame around the picture? I firmly believe that a reader comes to a post with a certain amount of energy. You can waste that energy by soothing them to sleep with boring imagery and clichés, while they try to find something to be interested in. Or you can give them energy by giving them word pictures they can get excited about.

So picture it. You’ve captured your reader’s attention with imagery so engaging they’ll remember you after they put down their phone, read their social streams (again), and check their email. They’ll come back to your site to read your content again or to share that story they just can’t shake.

Good writing isn’t easy or fast, but it’s worth the time and effort.

Let me help you make word pictures

Editing writing to make it better is actually one of my great pleasures in life, so I’m going to make you an offer here. Leave a sentence or two in the comments that you’re having trouble activating, and I’ll see what I can do to offer you some suggestions. Pick a cliché you can’t get out of your head or a metaphor that needs a little refresh. Give me a little context for the best possible results.

I’ll do my best to help the first 50 questions or so (I have to stop somewhere or I’ll never write the next blog post in this series), so ask away. I promise no puppies will get hurt in the process. In fact, Rocky’s quite happy to be the poster boy for this post—it’s the first time we’ve let him have beach day, ferry day, and all the other spoilings all at once.

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Reblogged 3 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

The Best of the Best: Celebrating the Top 10 of the Moz Top 10 for 2014

Posted by Isla_McKetta

Oh no, another year-end roundup! But before you click away, let me sell you a little on why this is the roundup you actually want to read.

You see, to compile the
Moz Top 10 over the last year, we probably read 50 or more articles EACH WEEK, that’s around 100 articles for every issue. We then spent innumerable hours curating and culling until we could share with you the very best of those articles in the bi-weekly Top 10.

So this is not just another listicle. This article is in fact the distillation of the very best content from all over the interwebs for the past year that has anything to do with digital marketing. Basically,
we read 2,600 (or so) articles so you don’t have to.

What does “best” mean?

There’s no formula for what makes an article Top-10 worthy. We look for the best content of each two week period and then try and winnow and fit it until each newsletter contains just the right balance of digital marketing tips, tricks, analysis, and inspiration.

We work to reach beyond SEO and find articles that will help people who specialize in content, social, design, UX, and more broaden their skill set and understand the work their marketing compatriots engage in. The mix and style changes as the author of this newsletter changes. I’m biased toward content marketing, Cyrus loves SEO. Trevor’s a sucker for a journalistic slant.

But whoever is writing the latest edition is trying to find that perfect balance so you come away from the newsletter having found at least one article that teaches you something new, changes the way you think about marketing, or makes your job a little easier.

We look for articles by authors new and old that are
well written, well illustrated, and comprehensive. Sometimes we publish something because it’s a really good resource or because it says the thing that needs to be said.

Some pieces make the Top 10 because they are
heart-achingly eloquent. And sometimes we include a little something fun, playful, or easy on the eyes (but still educational) at the end to finish your day off right.

Then news
breaks (ahem, Google) and we reconfigure it all.

The Top 10 of the Top 10

For the Top 10 of the Moz Top 10, we could have gone with the most newsworthy content—articles that claim
some tactic is dead
or some era is over, but Search Engine Land already did that, so I wanted to take a different approach.

Instead, I chose the articles from 2014 that endure. Below you’ll find articles that continue to inspire, how-tos and guides so comprehensive they deserve a revisit, and, yes, even a few tips and tricks that you should really get to. Without further ado, here are the best of the best…

1. Life is a Game. This is Your Strategy Guide

If you can master life, all that marketing stuff is a cake walk. Level up in your day-to-day with this thoughtful, comprehensive, and gorgeous guide from Oliver Emberton.

2. Announcing the All-New Beginner’s Guide to Link Building

Paddy Moogan knows a thing or two about link building, and here he’s teamed up with some folks at Moz to turn all of that information into an easy-to-follow yet comprehensive guide. I had no part in this project, so I can safely tell you I <3 the Zelda references.

3. No Words Wasted: A Guide to Creating Focused Content

From getting customer interviews right to nailing content promotion, this massive guide from Distilled covers everything you need to know about content strategy. I learn something new (or rediscover something I should never have forgotten) every time I read it.

4. Micro Data & Schema.org Rich Snippets: Everything You Need to Know

If you don’t know what micro data are and you haven’t figured out what to do with Schema.org, your content marketing is missing a crucial element for SERP success. BuiltVisible to the rescue with this amazing and easy-to-follow guide.

5. The Beginner’s Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization

If you suspect there’s a blockage in your sales funnel, it’s time to think about CRO. This guide from Qualaroo will tell you everything you need to know to start pinpointing (and fixing) your barriers to conversion.

6. 2014 Industry Survey Results

A survey so big we can only do it once every two years. Peek at salaries, tools, and trends to compare where the digital marketing industry was at the beginning of 2014 to where you are now for a peek at what the future may hold. 

7. UX Crash Course: User Psychology

Composed of 31 lessons, this online “course” will help you understand user motivation and how you can use psychology to massively improve your user experience.

8. A Geek’s Guide to Gaming The Algorithms

Sometimes looking at information from a slightly different angle makes it easier to digest. In this delightful piece, Ian Lurie teaches us when it’s okay to game the algorithms at the same time as he’s spelling out, in plain language, what each algorithm update was really about.

9. The Ultimate List of IFTTT Recipes for Marketers

Favorite part of this amazingly detailed post from SEER? The fact that it starts from a user’s perspective. So whether you want to “stalk your competitors’ stocks” or “keep track of industry meetups,” there’s an answer (in the form of an IFTTT recipe) here for you.

10. The Rich Snippets Algorithm

So much changed in the realm of rich snippets last year. AJ Kohn delves into the relationship between those rich snippets and knowledge graph results. It’s a heady post that just might offer some interesting insight into the future of SERPs.

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Sign up for the Moz Top 10

After you click that big red button, you’ll be taken to the Moz Top 10 page and asked to enter your email and hit “subscribe.” At that moment we’ll put you on the list for the very next edition, currently scheduled for January 13.

Submit to the Moz Top 10

And if you’re someone who’s writing Top-10-worthy content and we just haven’t found you yet, we want to read what you’ve got. So please send us your suggestions. Each edition of the Moz Top 10 only covers content from the most recent two-week period, so send that link while the content is still fresh.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 3 years ago from moz.com

When Is a Blog the Right Form of Content Marketing?

Posted by Isla_McKetta

You’ve heard the wisdom: 

“Your business should have a blog.” 

“Blogging helps your SEO.” 

“Why aren’t you blogging yet?” 

According to the experts, a blog will solve all your Internet woes. Blogging will increase your traffic, expand your audience, improve your engagement, position you as an authority, and allow you to shape the message in your space

In fact, blogging is so hyped as a panacea, you’d think that simply adding a blog to your site would also help you find the perfect spouse, cure the common cold, and even turn lead into gold. 

While I won’t deny the power of a good blog on the right site (seriously, as a writer, I’m pro-blog in general) to do all of those good things and more, you should always question anything that’s touted as the right answer for everyone (and everything). So should you blog?

When a blog is NOT necessarily the right form of content marketing

Now that you’re asking whether all that time and energy you’re putting (or planning to put) into your blog is really the right investment, let’s look at a few examples of when blogging is a bad idea (or is simply unnecessary).

1. You own your market

Johnson & Johnson. Amazon. Target. Google. These companies have already captured the hearts and minds of so many consumers that their names are nearly synonymous with their products. Here’s why blogging would only offer each of them a marginal benefit.

Traffic

Does Johnson & Johnson really care about traffic to its site when you already have Band-Aids (and all their other name brand products) in your medicine cabinet? Sure, they produce infographics, but there’s no real blog, and you were going to buy their products anyway, right?

Audience reach

Ordering anything from books to pet-waste bags online? You didn’t need a blog to discover Amazon, it’s so ingrained in your Internet history that you probably went straight there and those products will be on your doorstep in two days or less.

Engagement

Target mastered engagement when Oprah and Tyra started referring to the store as Tarzhay and shoppers only got more loyal as they added designer labels at discount prices. It didn’t matter that most of their products weren’t even available on their website, let alone that they didn’t have a blog. Their site has gotten a lot better in the past decade, but they still don’t need a blog to get customers in the door.

Authority

And Google… Sure they have a blog, but Google is such an authority for search queries that most of the consumers of their search results have no interest in, or need for, the blog.
So if you have little or no competition or your business is (and you expect it to remain) the top-of-mind brand in your market, you can skip blogging.

2. You have a better way of getting customers into the top of your funnel

A blog is only one way to attract new customers. For example, I live less than a mile from the nearest grocery store, and I can get there and back with a spare stick of butter before my oven even warms up. If the next nearest store had the most amazing blog ever, I’m still not going to go there when I’m missing an ingredient. But if they send me a coupon in the mail, I might just try them out when it’s less of an emergency.

The point is that different types of businesses require different types of tactics to get customers to notice them. 

My mom, a small-town accountant who knows all of her clients by name, doesn’t blog. She’s much more likely to get recommended by a neighbor than to be found on the Internet. If paid search brings you $50k in conversions every month and your blog contributes to $10k, it’s easy (and fair) to prioritize paid search. If you find that readers of white papers are the hottest leads for your SaaS company, offering a 50:1 ROI over blog readers, write those white papers. And if your customers are sharing your deals across email and/or social at a rate that your blog has never seen, give them more of what they want.

None of that means you’ll never have to create a blog. Instead, a blog might be something to reassess when your rate of growth slows in any of those channels, but if you’ve crunched your numbers and a blog just doesn’t pan out for now, use the tactics your customers are already responding to.

3. The most interesting things about your business are strictly confidential (or highly complicated)

Sure the CIA has a blog, but with posts like “CIA Unveils Portrait of Former Director Leon E. Panetta” and “CIA Reaches Deep to Feed Local Families” it reads more like a failed humanizing effort than anything you’d actually want to subscribe to (or worse, read). If you’re in a business where you can’t talk about what you do, a blog might not be for you. 

For example, while a CPA who handles individual tax returns might have success blogging about tips to avoid a big tax bill at year end, a big four accounting firm that specializes in corporate audits might want to think twice about that blog. Do you really have someone on hand who has something new and interesting to say about Sarbanes Oxley and has the time to write? 

The difference is engagement. So if you’re in a hush-hush or highly technical field, think about what you can reasonably write about and whether anyone is going to want (or legally be able) to publicly comment on or share what you’re writing. 

Instead, you might want to take the example of Deloitte which thinks beyond the concept of your typical blog to create all kinds of interesting evergreen content. The result is a host of interesting case studies and podcasts that could have been last updated three years ago for all it matters. This puts content on your site, but it also allows you to carefully craft and vet that content before it goes live, without building any expectation associated with an editorial calendar.

4. You think “thought leadership” means rehashing the news

There is a big difference between curating information and regurgitating it. True life confession: As much as I hate the term “thought leader,” I used it many a time in my agency days as a way to encourage clients to find the best in themselves. But the truth is, most people don’t have the time, energy, or vision to really commit to becoming a thought leader. 

A blog can be a huge opportunity to showcase your company’s mastery and understanding of your industry. But if you can’t find someone to write blog posts that expand on (or rethink) the existing knowledge base, save your ink. 

Some people curate and compile information in order to create “top 10” type posts. That kind of content can be helpful for readers who don’t have time to source content on their own, but I wouldn’t suggest it as the core content strategy for a company’s blog. If that’s all you have time for, focus on social media instead.

5. Your site is all timely content

A blog can help you shape the message around your industry and your brand, but what if your brand is built entirely around messaging? The BBC doesn’t need a blog because any reader would expect what they’re reading to be timely content and to adhere to the BBC’s standard voice. If readers want to engage with the content by commenting on the articles, they can. 

If you can explain the value that blogs.foxnews.com adds to the Fox News site, you’ve got a keener eye for content strategy than I do. My guess, from the empty blog bubbles here, is that this is a failed (or abandoned) experiment and will soon disappear.

6. Your business is truly offline

There’s one final reason that blogging might not fit your business model, and that’s if you have chosen not to enter the digital realm. I had lunch with a high-end jeweler in India recently where he was debating whether to go online (he was worried that his designs might get stolen) or continue to do business in person the way his family had done for at least three generations. 

If you are successful at selling your products offline, especially if your product has as much variation as a gemstone, an argument can be made for staying offline entirely.

When you should be blogging

Now that we’ve looked at some times it’s okay not to have a blog, let’s take a quick, expanded look at five reasons you might want to blog as part of your content marketing strategy (just in case you thought you’d gotten off scot-free by almost fitting into one of the boxes above).

1. You want traffic to your website

Conventional wisdom goes that the more pages you build, the more chances you have to rank. Heck, the more (good) content you create on your blog, the more collateral you have to showcase on your social channels, in email, and anywhere else you want to.

2. You want to expand your audience

If the content you’re creating is truly awesome, people will share it and find it and love it. Some of those people will be potential customers who haven’t even heard of you before. Keep up the excellence and you might just keep them interested.

3. You want to connect with customers

That blog is a fantastic place to answer FAQs, play with new ideas, and show off the humanity of all those fantastic individuals you have working for you. All of those things help customers get to know you, plus they can engage with you directly via the comments. You might just find ideas for new campaigns and even new products just by creating that venue for conversation.

4. You have something to add to the discussion

Do you really have a fresh perspective on what’s going on in your industry? Help others out by sharing your interesting stories and thoughtful commentary. You’re building your authority and the authority of your company at the same time.

5. You’re ready to invest in your future

Content is a long game, so the payoffs from blogging may be farther down the road than you might hope. But if a blog is right for your company, you’re giving yourself the chance to start shaping the message about your industry and your company the day you publish your first post. Keep at it and you might find that you start attracting customers from amongst your followers.

The gist

Don’t blog just because someone told you to. A blog is a huge investment and sustaining that blog can take a lot of work. But there are a lot of good reasons to dig in and blog like you mean it. 

What’s your decision? Do you have a good reason that you’ve decided to abstain from blogging? Or have you decided that a blog is the right thing for your business? Help others carefully consider their investment in blogging by sharing your story in the comments.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 3 years ago from feedproxy.google.com

A Content Strategy Template You Can Build On

Posted by Isla_McKetta

Picture it. A room full of executives from a company you never thought you could land as a client. They’re so engaged in what they are saying that they’re leaning forward in their chairs. The CEO looks poised to ask a question but you can tell she doesn’t want to interrupt your flow.

This is the moment content strategists dream of.

But if you’re like me, it’s easy to get caught up in how new the field is and wonder, “Am I even doing this right?” There are lots of posts to help you, such as 
How to Build a Content Marketing Strategy and Content Strategy: You’re Doing it Wrong. There are also comprehensive guides to creating content strategies. There’s even an epic list of content strategy resources. And there are books (my favorite is Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach’s Content Strategy for the Web).

Still, sometimes you just want to peek over someone else’s shoulder at a concrete example to see if there’s anything you can learn. This can be especially true if you’re working in-house and don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of.

So, I built a
template.

What a content strategy should look like

Content strategies take many forms, from a 50-page word document to an hour-long PowerPoint presentation. That means this template is not meant to be gospel. Instead, it introduces you to the many moving parts that make up a content strategy and gives you an example of how I, based on the years I spent consulting on content strategies for everything from stock photography to software as a service, would write it up.

Peek over my shoulder to get your next strategy started, or just to get a glimpse of how someone else approaches a strategy. Build on this template and make it your own. You’ll find that the template is written from an agency perspective (with lots of references to “the client”) but it works equally well if you are in-house and are writing for that one, all-important client—your boss.

What goes into a content strategy

The content strategy template walks you through researching and writing up the three key elements of a content strategy: what content looks like now, what it should look like, and the ecosystem in which content is created.

Content today

A strategy should provide an assessment of the client’s current content, as well as insight into their competitors’ content. That assessment may include any or all of the following:

  • Personas 
  • Stakeholder interviews 
  • Content inventory 
  • Content audit 
  • Gap analysis 
  • Competitive analysis

Content in the future

Then you want to show your client where the content should take them and how they can use various channels to get there. Some of
many places content resides are:

Onsite content 

  • Homepage
  • Landing pages 
  • Category pages 
  • Product descriptions 
  • Blog 
  • Error pages 
  • Etc.

Offsite content 

  • Emails 
  • Social media 
  • Brochures 
  • Packaging 
  • Invoices 
  • Voicemail messages 
  • Etc.

Governance (aka the content ecosystem)

Finally, you want to think about the environment in which the content gets created—the governance of content. This includes:

  • Brand, voice, and style guidelines 
  • Workflow analysis 
  • Best practices for writing on the web 
  • SEO tips 
  • Editorial calendar

See the template for more in-depth descriptions of all of these elements as well as some of my favorite tools to get them done.

Again, take these pieces and use them to create your own template. Each strategy you do will require its own tweaks, but this will give you the leg up to put your own stamp on this emerging field.

The storytelling of content strategy

My brand of content strategy, and you’ll see this reflected a little in the template, is that a content strategy is a story. For a deeper understanding of this, check out the Mozinar I gave a few weeks ago,
The Storytelling of Content Strategy.

Basically, I advocate for taking the elements of fiction and using them to get a fresh perspective on a brand’s journey toward a goal.

Here’s how the five elements of a story are also the basis of a content strategy:

1. Brands and customers are heroes

A content strategy can either be about a brand’s journey to land a customer (useful when a brand is new or has lost its way), or a content strategy can be about a customer’s journey and how the brand can help. See the webinar for an example of each.

2. Your current landscape is your ground situation

You can’t start a strategy until you know where your hero is coming from. Most of the initial research you do—from
stakeholder interviews to content inventories and audits—is to understand the starting point of your strategy. This is where the journey begins. You will be measuring all future success against the understanding you build of this landscape.

3. Goals articulate your central desire

You can’t plot a strategy if you don’t know what direction the brand wants to grow. Goals should come from the brand itself, but you might find that the brand needs a little coaching. It’s helpful if you distinguish overall business goals from content goals. They are related, but there are some goals (e.g. reducing employee turnover) that content plays a much smaller role in achieving. Setting specific goals for your content strategy also lets you get more granular about some goals in which content is the star player (e.g. increasing email open rate).

4. Competitors are antagonists

Even if you’re going to write the most TAGFEE content strategy ever, you still need to figure out where your competitors are and how you can learn from their example. And it’s important to remember that because of the way search engines work, your business competitors might be different than your SERP competitors. Ideally a content strategy will address both.

5. Plot is strategy

At this point in the story, you know who the players are, what’s working and what’s not, and have some ideas about how to move forward to achieve those goals.

When I write up a strategy, I think about them as though I were plotting a novel. Each tactic or channel is a way to move the brand closer to those goals. What obstacles might they encounter? Who are they competing with in the space? How can they master this tactic or channel? And how can content help them achieve their goals and ride happily off into the sunset?

Making a content strategy your own

Now it’s time to
download that template and see what story your content strategy is trying to tell. Once you’re confident in the strategy you’re presenting, you’ll have the complete attention of every executive in that conference room. And, with any luck, they’ll refer you to their friends. 

I want to learn from you, too. Is there anything you’d include in the template that I haven’t covered? Do you have any strategies for success in presenting content strategies or any lessons learned? Please share your ideas and stories in the comments.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 3 years ago from feedproxy.google.com

&quot;But How Do I Know if It’s Good?&quot; How You Can Evaluate Content Quality (and Ditch Content Anxiety)

Posted by Isla_McKetta

In a post-Hummingbird world, we all know content matters. But many SEOs are still trying to work around this update because we think we don’t have the tools to gauge content quality.  If you’ve said, “I’m not a writer,” or, “How do I know what will resonate with my audience?” And even, “Content is hard and takes time; do I
really have to?” You might be suffering from content anxiety.

Content quality anxiety can come in many forms:

  1. What is content, really? 
  2. I hired a content team or agency. How do I know if they’re any good? 
  3. How can I calculate the value of content?

Help is available.

Read on for your guide to understanding what makes good content (and improve your SEO in the process).

1. What is content, really?

First, just to make sure we’re on the same page, a quick operational definition: Content is the sum of all of the words, images, videos, and audio on your site, social pages, emails, and beyond. A good content creator is thinking about everything from the language on your newsletter subscription text to the tone in your order confirmation email or even the wording on your delivery envelopes.

2. I hired a content team or agency. How do I know if they’re any good?

In-house or agency, knowing if a content creator or team is up to snuff can be one of the most intimidating things for non-creatives. While there are a lot of tips and tricks to
creating great content, there is no secret code for recognizing great content. Use these guidelines and you’ll be golden.

Are the ideas original?

If you want your content to stand out in the crowded Internet (and who doesn’t), you’re going to need original ideas and content. Before you even decide whether you like the ideas, do a quick pass through your memory. If your content team’s first set of big ideas sounds uncannily familiar, dig deeper.

fall wedding ideas - original content

The tricky part about this is that every wedding provider in this SERP is trying to speak to a very common need that brides have: finding creative ideas for a fall wedding. But your content team or agency should be able to help your customer find that information in a new and exciting way. It’s okay to insist on originality.

Is the content appropriate for your audience?

You also don’t want your ideas to be so shockingly original that you and your audience can’t relate to them. For example, if I was to suggest an interactive game based around
Waiting for Godot for your dog food business, I’d expect you to cry bullshit unless your audience is entirely composed of literary professors and playwrights.

Do you feel like the content adds value to your site?

Shiny objects can be great for attracting new visitors to your site. Make sure that big new idea attracts the kind of attention you want.

Google birthday reaction

Big content is an investment. And while it’s great to take some risks, your content team should be able to convince you what value that content adds and make a case for how it might be received.

Does your content tell a story?

This one isn’t strictly a necessity, but do not underestimate how far a good story can go to making your content memorable. This can take the form of an anecdote that illustrates the point, or the whole page can be a story in itself. 

warrior ipa product description

In the case of Warrior IPA from Left Hand Brewing, the beer becomes a character. And while it would have been hard to fit a full beginning, middle, and end in one paragraph, hints of this warrior’s story pair perfectly with the illustration on the label. This product description is so good that the beer nerd info is purely a bonus.

Does it raise the hairs on the back of your neck?

Probably the best test of content ever: pay attention to how you feel when you first experience the content. Trust your gut. If you’re engaged and can’t get enough, it’s good content.
In
this example from the Distilled blog, Harriet Cummings reaches deep into the soul of someone who wants to be a better public speaker and pulls all the right strings to cement that engagement.

content that grabs reader's attention

You don’t have to know why a piece of content blows your mind (that’s the content team’s job), just pay attention to how it makes you feel.

Is it Internet-friendly?

Reading content online is a lot harder on the eyes than reading on paper. Breaking up the text with headings, bullet points, images, and shorter paragraphs helps keep your customers on your page.

internet-friendly content

As for non-text content, make sure your images, video, and audio all load well and as quickly as possible.

Does the writer use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation?

We’ve all seen examples of a gorgeous, well-planned infographic that’s perfect except for just a few typos. You may not be one of those sticklers who judges the work of others based on proper grammar, but you can bet that someone in your audience is using grammar, spelling, and punctuation as a measure of the quality of your content. 

typo in interactive

This is my final impression of one of the most gorgeous interactives I ever saw online. Sad face.

Do you immediately want to share the content?

One of your goals involves social shares, right? Or at least you wouldn’t be sad if you got a bunch of them. If you’re excited to share whatever you’re reading, others will be too. If you find it dull, well…

3. How can I determine the value of content?

How do you prove the value of something that’s everywhere, anyway? There are lots of possible answers. As an SEO, you probably understand most of these measures already, but here’s how to tweak them to evaluate content. You’ll likely want to use overall traffic plus a combination of the things below depending on what type of content you’re focusing on.

Attribution modeling

While content is everywhere on your site, the things most of us think of as content (blog posts, landing page text, and yes, even infographics) are rarely the last touch before a conversion. Attribution modeling helps you assign a portion of the value of a conversion to all the pieces of content that a visitor sees before converting.

For example, if they read a blog post, click through on an email, and read an FAQ, you can give each of those touches partial credit. Read more about
attribution models.

A/B testing

A/B and multivariate testing are great ways to measure the value of some forgotten areas of content like the text in form fields and pop-ups. These tests can also tell you when you don’t actually need content in those areas. Don’t forget that less can be more.

Social shares

Engagement matters and social shares are definitely one way to measure engagement. Of course social shares are probably a better measure of blog posts and product descriptions than of the copy you use in the checkout process.

Links

In a perfect world, great content earns links. Don’t assume your content is valueless if you aren’t earning links, but do celebrate when it does. Use Open Site Explorer to find and keep track of links.

Comments

Yes, it does seem like fewer people are commenting on blogs these days. But, as with links, this just means the comments you do get, usually a signal that a reader is deeply engaged, are all the more valuable. Dan Shure explains this in depth in
The Broken Art of Company Blogging (and the Ignored Metric that Could Save Us All).

One Metric

Our blog editor, Trevor Klein, has developed and refined a personalized metric for Moz called the
One Metric. This system combines a variety of the signals above and then weights them to give a quick overview of what’s succeeding and what’s failing. We’ve already been using that information to inform decisions about future content efforts.

Caveat

The success of content cannot always be measured in numbers, and if you invest only in projects that have a predictable rate of return, you’re missing opportunities. Rand calls this
serendipitous marketing. Just make sure as you’re considering the value of your content that you leave room for Serendipity.

Is this SEO?

Yes. Remember how I mentioned the Hummingbird algorithm up above? I know that this is the algorithm update most of us would like to forget, because we think it’s so much easier to spot spammy links than quality content. But it’s really a lot simpler than that. Google is looking for content that answers users’ queries. And according to Marie Haynes, “Google’s goal with all of these algorithm changes (Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird) is to encourage webmasters to publish content that is the best of its kind.”

So if you’re an SEO (or anyone else) with content anxiety, let it go. You have the tools to tell when content is good and to select a team that knows what makes it great. Go ahead and let that team try to sell you on an idea. You can trust yourself to make the final call on whether or not it’s actually worthwhile.

And if you’re part of a content team that’s trying to make the case for your big ideas, please join me on September 9 for “The Storytelling of Content Strategy.” This Mozinar will cover one method of creating more engaging (and persuasive) strategy docs.

Do you ever experience content anxiety? What are your measures of content quality? Has a particular experience with content made you either gun shy or wildly enthusiastic about content? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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Is that Mind-Blowing Title Blowing Your Credibility? You Decide

Posted by Isla_McKetta


Image of Tantalus courtesy of Clayton Cusak

What if I told you I could teach you to write the perfect headline? One that is so irresistible every person who sees it will click on it. You’d sign up immediately and maybe even promise me your firstborn.

But what if I then told you not one single person out of all the millions who will click on that headline will convert? And that you might lose all your credibility in the process. Would all the traffic generated by that “perfect” headline be worth it?

Help us solve a dispute

It isn’t really that bad, but with all the emphasis lately on
headline science and the curiosity gap, Trevor (your faithful editor) and I (a recovering copywriter) started talking about the importance of headlines and what their role should be in regards to content. I’m for clickability (as long as there is strong content to back the headline) and, if he has to choose, Trevor is for credibility (with an equal emphasis on quality of the eventual content).

credible vs clickable headlines

What’s the purpose of a headline?

Back in the good ol’ days, headlines were created to sell newspapers. Newsboys stood on street corners shouting the headlines in an attempt to hawk those newspapers. Headlines had to be enough of a tease to get readers interested but they had to be trustworthy enough to get a reader to buy again tomorrow. Competition for eyeballs was less fierce because a town only had so many newspapers, but paper cost money and editors were always happy to get a repeat customer.

Nowadays the competition for eyeballs feels even stiffer because it’s hard to get noticed in the vast sea of the internet. It’s easy to feel a little desperate. And it seems like the opportunity cost of turning away a customer is much lower than it was before. But aren’t we doing content as a product? Does the quality of that product matter?

The forbidden secrets of clickable headlines

There’s no arguing that headlines are important. In fact, at MozCon this year,
Nathalie Nahai reminded us that many copywriters recommend an 80:20 ratio of energy spent on headline to copy. That might be taking things a bit far, but a bad (or even just boring) headline will tank your traffic. Here is some expert advice on writing headlines that convert: 

  • Nahai advises that you take advantage of psychological trigger words like, “weird,” “free,” “incredible,” and “secret” to create a sense of urgency in the reader. Can you possibly wait to read “Secret Ways Butter can Save Your Life”?
  • Use question headlines like “Can You Increase Your Sales by 45% in Only 5 Minutes a Day?” that get a reader asking themselves, “I dunno, can I?” and clicking to read more.
  • Key into the curiosity gap with a headline like “What Mother Should Have Told You about Banking. (And How Not Knowing is Costing You Friends.)” Ridiculous claim? Maybe, but this kind of headline gets a reader hooked on narrative and they have to click through to see how the story comes together.
  • And if you’re looking for a formula for the best headlines ever, Nahai proposes the following:
    Number/Trigger word + Adjective + Keyword + Promise = Killer Headline.

Many readers still (consciously or not) consider headlines a promise. So remember, as you fill the headline with hyperbole and only write eleven of the twelve tips you set out to write, there is a reader on the other end hoping butter really is good for them.

The headline danger zone

This is where headline science can get ugly. Because a lot of “perfect” titles simply do not have the quality or depth of content to back them.

Those types of headlines remind me of the Greek myth of Tantalus. For sharing the secrets of the gods with the common folk, Tantalus was condemned to spend eternity surrounded by food and drink that were forever out of his reach. Now, content is hardly the secrets of the gods, but are we tantalizing our customers with teasing headlines that will never satisfy?

buzzfeed headlines

For me, reading headlines on
BuzzFeed and Upworthy and their ilk is like talking to the guy at the party with all those super wild anecdotes. He’s entertaining, but I don’t believe a word he says, soon wish he would shut up, and can’t remember his name five seconds later. Maybe I don’t believe in clickability as much as I thought…

So I turn to credible news sources for credible headlines.

washington post headlines

I’m having trouble deciding at this point if I’m more bothered by the headline at
The Washington Post, the fact that they’re covering that topic at all, or that they didn’t really go for true clickbait with something like “You Won’t Believe the Bizarre Reasons Girls Scream at Boy Band Concerts.” But one (or all) of those things makes me very sad. 

Are we developing an immunity to clickbait headlines?

Even
Upworthy is shifting their headline creation tactics a little. But that doesn’t mean they are switching from clickbait, it just means they’ve seen their audience get tired of the same old tactics. So they’re looking for new and better tactics to keep you engaged and clicking.

The importance of traffic

I think many of us would sell a little of our soul if it would increase our traffic, and of course those clickbaity curiosity gap headlines are designed to do that (and are mostly working, for now).

But we also want good traffic. The kind of people who are going to engage with our brand and build relationships with us over the long haul, right? Back to what we were discussing in the intro, we want the kind of traffic that’s likely to convert. Don’t we?

As much as I advocate for clickable headlines, the riskier the headline I write, the more closely I compare overall traffic (especially returning visitors) to click-throughs, time on page, and bounce rate to see if I’ve pushed it too far and am alienating our most loyal fans. Because new visitors are awesome, but loyal customers are priceless.

Headline science at Moz

At Moz, we’re trying to find the delicate balance between attracting all the customers and attracting the right customers. In my first week here when Trevor and Cyrus were polling readers on what headline they’d prefer to read, I advocated for a more clickable version. See if you can pick out which is mine…

headline poll

Yep, you guessed it. I suggested “Your Google Algorithm Cheat Sheet: Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird” because it contained a trigger word and a keyword, plus it was punchy. I actually liked “A Layman’s Explanation of the Panda Algorithm, the Penguin Algorithm, and Hummingbird,” but I was pretty sure no one would click on it.

Last time I checked, that has more traffic than any other post for the month of June. I won’t say that’s all because of the headline—it’s a really strong and useful post—but I think the headline helped a lot.

But that’s just one data point. I’ve also been spicing up the subject lines on the Moz Top 10 newsletter to see what gets the most traffic.

most-read subject lines

And the results here are more mixed. Titles I felt like were much more clickbaity like “Did Google Kill Spam?…” and “Are You Using Robots.txt the Right Way?…” underperformed compared to the straight up “Moz Top 10.”

While the most clickbaity “Groupon Did What?…” and the two about Google selling domains (which was accurate but suggested that Google was selling it’s own domains, which worried me a bit) have the most opens overall.

Help us resolve the dispute

As you can tell, I have some unresolved feelings about this whole clickbait versus credibility thing. While Trevor and I have strong opinions, we also have a lot of questions that we hope you can help us with. Blow my mind with your headline logic in the comments by sharing your opinion on any of the following:

  • Do clickbait titles erode trust? If yes, do you ever worry about that affecting your bottom line?
  • Would you sacrifice credibility for clickability? Does it have to be a choice?
  • Is there such thing as a formula for a perfect headline? What standards do you use when writing headlines?
  • Does a clickbait title affect how likely you are to read an article? What about sharing one? Do you ever feel duped by the content? Does that affect your behavior the next time?  
  • How much of your soul would you sell for more traffic?

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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