What is Content Marketing… And Why Should Writers Care?
If you’re a website owner, you’ve got plenty of different ways to get visitors to your site. You can pay for ads through Google Adwords and other PPC platforms, you can optimize your site to get it displayed in the search engine results pages using SEO techniques, or you can build up your social presence on sites like Facebook and Twitter in order to increase your referral traffic from these platforms.
But one particular traffic generation strategy that’s been getting a lot of attention lately – and that all web content writers need to be aware of – is “content marketing.”
Essentially, content marketing is the process of creating and disseminating high quality web content with the intention of generating inbound website traffic and improving brand recognition. Any of the following are examples of content marketing being carried out in real world situations:
- Website owners invest in creating “epic” long form blog posts and encourage readers to share these articles on social media sites.
- Website owners post funny and/or interesting videos to Youtube and other video sharing sites, hoping that they’ll “go viral” and send a flood of traffic back to their pages.
- Website owners create infographic images and distribute them across social media sites, infographic directories and as guest posts on other reputable industry sites.
Really, the mechanics of the strategy being utilized don’t matter. What’s important is a) the quality of the content, and b) the distribution techniques being used to ensure that the content is seen by a wide audience of potential website visitors.
The quality of the content is crucial because content marketing relies on the viral sharing of posts, videos and other types of files from person to person. Website readers aren’t going to take the time to share mediocre content, which is why the content pieces that are created for these types of campaigns must go “above and beyond” in some way to encourage social sharing.
At the same time, distribution strategies matter as well. Simply publishing a great blog post on an unknown website isn’t likely to lead to immediate viral success – website marketing is rarely an “if you build it, they will come” type of game. As a result, getting these high quality content pieces in front of people by creating a presence on popular social channels is another critical part of the content marketing process.
(Writers – don’t worry. You might not be too concerned with building web traffic, but I promise I’ll get to the reasons you should care about this strategy in a minute…)
Now, if you look at the individual content marketing techniques listed above, you might have noticed something – that all of them are pretty “common sense” practices that should fall under the headings of “things all webmasters should be doing anyways” or “good PR and marketing strategies.”
Indeed, there’s nothing revolutionary about the practice of content marketing – so why is it getting so much attention amongst today’s digital marketers?
To see why content marketing is gaining prominence as 2013’s “go to” promotional strategy, you need to understand a few of the major changes that Google has made recently. Specifically, writers and other content creators should familiarize themselves with both the “Panda” and “Penguin” algorithm updates:
- The initial Panda update rolled out in February 2011 (though there have been around 23 Panda-related revisions and changes since then). The Panda update was first known as the “Farmer update,” as its obvious impact was to crack down on article farms and other purveyors of “thin” or otherwise low value content. Around the same time, Google released a list of 23 questions all webmasters should ask themselves to determine whether or not their content would meet Google’s increasingly stringent quality guidelines (read it if you haven’t already).
- The subsequent Penguin algorithm change debuted in April 2012, appearing to penalize sites that had “over optimized” themselves in an effort to become more attractive to the search engines’ indexing programs. Pages that utilized keyword-stuffed content and low value backlinks to artificially manipulate their SEO equity were especially vulnerable to penalization by this update.
If you don’t quite understand what all that means, don’t worry. What you should take away from these updates is that Google has made a consistent effort over the past few years to close the loopholes that webmasters have used for years to get low quality content ranked highly in the search engine results pages.
(Still with me writers? I promise – we’re almost to your part in this process!)
What Google wants is to reward sites that publish high value, authority-level content with top rankings in the search results pages. But unfortunately, plenty of enterprising webmasters have been able to circumvent this process in the past by exploiting weaknesses within the search engine algorithms in order to get lesser quality pages listed in these top spots.
As Google and the other search engines close these loopholes, sites that publish high value content start to filter back into the top spots they deserve. Good content doesn’t need to worry about making use of dated keyword density parameters or artificial backlink sources – instead, pages that contain good content attract positive SEO signals naturally, making them less susceptible to changes in the search engine algorithms.
Obviously, we aren’t yet at a point where quality is the only metric that matters in search results page placement. Google’s algorithms aren’t yet perfect, which means there’s still no guarantee that good content will achieve high rankings based on merit alone.
That said, plenty of businesses have seen the winds changing and have committed resources to producing high value content pieces over other marketing strategies that have been more commonly used in the past. To see just how big a commitment some companies are making, take a look at Coca Cola’s “Content 2020” campaign, which aims to help double the company’s revenue by the year 2020 using the power of content marketing techniques.
Coca Cola isn’t the only company making use of content marketing. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s “B2B Content Marketing: 2013 Budgets, Benchmarks and Trends” report, nine out of ten marketers surveyed are already using content marketing techniques in their businesses. And writers – this is where you come in…
Somebody has to create all of this content!
This increased (and still increasing) focus on content marketing opens up a tremendous opportunity for writers and other types of content creators. As more and more companies begin to understand the value of well-crafted content, they become much more likely to seek out talented writers and to hire them at fair rates. As Google moves away from rewarding low value “content mill” articles, the companies that have used these services in the past must move towards better writers or else risk losing their competitive advantages altogether.
You can be that guy! Here’s what you need to know to position yourself appropriately to take advantage of the coming content marketing shift…
Understand content marketing theory
First things first… If you want to claim a part of the content marketing pie, you need to understand what makes an individual content piece “work.” Remember, webmasters that engage in content marketing campaigns don’t just want “good” articles – they want articles that their audiences will share with others, leading to viral traffic.
Just because you can write a “good” article doesn’t mean that you can write an article that will move readers to share it with others. To do this, you need to brush up on certain skills:
- Work on improving your headlines – Plenty of people will share an article on the basis of an intriguing headline alone. Therefore, if you haven’t put any effort into adopting good copywriting practices when it comes to headline creation, take a look at the following tutorial by Copyblogger and incorporate the techniques found there into your own work.
- Understand what makes an article “go viral” – While there’s no way to guarantee that an article will go viral and generate traffic via social sharing, savvy marketers have picked up on a few key commonalities that exist between past viral successes. SEOMoz, Buffer App and the Social Triggers blog all offer interesting viral article dissections that can help you to write more socially-appealing articles.
- Study content marketing case studies – To boost your content marketing knowledge, read through as many campaign case studies as you can get your hands on (the Content Marketing Institute, Mashable and Wordstream blogs all have a few to help get you started). As you’re reading these case studies, pay particular attention to the types of content each example company generated, as well as how each content piece contributed to the overall success of the campaign. Try to apply these lessons to your own articles in order to help replicate the success these companies have experienced.
Brand yourself as a content creator
Now that you have a better understanding of what goes into a content marketing article, you aren’t just a writer anymore – you’re a content creation partner!
A basic web content writer produces articles in order to save a webmaster time. A content creation partner, on the other hand, isn’t just a more efficient writing option – he actually has the power to bring the webmaster new website visitors, new sales leads and even new customers (aka, more money). There are plenty of webmasters who will pay dearly for writers who understand how to bring in viral traffic, so if you plan on going after this type of work, make sure this distinction is noted in every contact you have with potential clients.
When you email potential clients, make it a point to tell them that, “I’m up-to-date on current digital marketing practices and am confident that I can help you attract new customers through my written content.” Make sure this same information is noted on your writer website and any of your other web presences (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) in order to create a sense of continuity for your future clients when it comes to your skill set.
If you’re really serious about going after this type of work, consider putting the content marketing techniques described above into practice on your own website or blog. Make an effort to adopt content marketing best practices on the articles you write for your own web properties and then share the success you experience in increasing your own traffic with potential clients.
Trust me – they’ll make the leap in terms of understanding how you can apply this same success to their websites!
Build up your additional skills
Finally, keep in mind that good content marketing campaigns rarely feature articles and blog posts alone. The best examples incorporate written text with videos, images, infographics and other types of content in order to reach as wide a variety of consumers as possible.
As such, if you’re able to handle more of these additional tasks, you stand to significantly increase the amount of money you’re able to charge clients. For example, instead of simply writing articles, could you:
- Help coordinate a team of videographers, researchers and graphic artists to meet overall content marketing campaign objectives?
- Advise clients on the best way to promote the content you’ve written on social media websites?
- Handle any of these additional content creation tasks on your own (writer/videographer, in particular, can be a pretty killer combination!).
Of course, you don’t have to take on any of these additional responsibilities in order to find content marketing clients. Hell, you don’t even have to position yourself as a content creator to find web content writing work – there are plenty of old school webmasters out there who will still be happy to pay you for pages of cranked out content.
That said, there’s a huge opportunity for writers here, as webmasters begin to truly understand the value that good content can bring to their inbound traffic and marketing campaigns. If you take the time to improve your skills and position yourself correctly, you could see a major swing in your earning power as a web content writer!