Creating content is easy. Creating great content? That’s much tougher.
Just 10 short years ago, the barrier to entry was much lower for companies. Content marketing wasn’t even a thing. But once 2010 came around, it started exploding, as seen on Google Trends:
In the past six years, the amount of content has grown exponentially. Everyone has bought into the now clichéd mantra: content is king.
Yet, although brands, businesses, and publishers are cranking out more content every year, conversion rates aren’t increasing. Why?
It goes back to the first sentence: creating great content is hard!
Yet for all the changes we’ve seen, there are many basic things that are often overlooked by companies looking to generate traffic and leads from their content marketing efforts. Here are 10 of them.
1) Your headline is boring
Headlines are the most important element. It’s the first thing people see. You need to hook them instantly or risk losing them permanently.
There are a variety of headline types you can choose from – news, opinion, how-to, question, listicle, etc. – but your headline must accomplish several things.
Let’s use Tereza Litsa’s excellent post on ClickZ, 15 writing tips to rank higher on social and search results as our example.
- Set expectations for the reader. When I click on this story, I expect that I’m going to discover a list of 15 tips about writing. Sure enough, there are 15 subheadlines that deliver on my expectation.
- Convey a reader benefit. The benefit here is ranking higher on social and search results. Who doesn’t want that?
- Include a keyword. In this case, “writing tips” jumped out at me, but perhaps the keyword is something more like “ranking higher in search results”. It might have been more helpful to target a phrase like “content writing tips” or use “SEO” or “Google” rather than the term “search results”. (Nitpicky, I know, but it could be the difference between a good amount of traffic and a great amount of traffic – think about how a user will find your article via organic search).
There is one missing element from this example, however: an emotional hook. Words that convey happiness, awe, urgency, curiosity, fear, or anger can be incredibly powerful and get more people to click on your headline.
A great headline can be positive or negative sentiment, but above all is must be one readers find impossible to ignore.
Tip: If you have trouble writing interesting headlines, run it through one of my favorite tools, CoSchedule Headline Analyzer. CoSchedule analyzes for word usage, length, emotional impact, keywords, and sentiment.
The headline tool ranks Litsa’s headline at 65, which means there’s room for improvement (I always shoot to have headlines that score a 70 at minimum – such as my headline for this post, which scored a 75).
2) Your content is vanilla
Content that dares wins. Yes, you want to make sure your content is educational, entertaining, inspiring, or informative – but there’s no excuse for being boring and just sticking to facts or having the dull, robotic tone of a poorly written textbook.
Have an opinion. Throw in some humor. Show your own personality.
Give your content a fun theme. Do something that separates you from your competitors and helps you stand out in your industry.
Just look at Larry Kim, who is as much known for his obsession with unicorns as he is for his obsession with PPC marketing. The topic of search can be a bit boring at times because it’s often approached in a technical way – yet he finds a way to make his content stand out.
3) You make your content too hard to share
I’m still amazed when I come across publications and blogs that either don’t have social media buttons, or make them hard to find. Don’t make it hard for people to share your stuff!
If you make people click on a “Share” link or button to access the ability to share your story via Twitter or Facebook, that’s an added step that increases the odds people won’t share it. Reduce friction for your users! Put the share buttons right on your website.
Just look at SEW. This publication makes it super easy to share a post, with buttons right below the headline, and even within the article:
If you post long content, it might be worth having share buttons at the bottom of your post as well – or you could anchor your share buttons on the left side so people can share at any point they want.
4) You failed to properly promote your content
Don’t just promote your article once. Promote your article multiple times on all relevant platforms.
For example, one tweet on Twitter is not enough. Have you tried pushing out a new tweet for the same piece of content (perhaps with different copy) every three hours to reach people in different time zones?
Don’t just tweet about your content one day. Tweet about it for a week. And it never hurts to promote older content on Twitter as well – only a small percentage of your followers see all of your tweets.
If your posts aren’t getting enough organic visibility on Facebook – and it’s pretty like you aren’t – consider boosting the post. Facebook has lots of great ad targeting options.
Also, make sure your content team and company are regularly promoting your content with their personal networks. Suggest they set up a tool like TwitterFeed to automate the process and share articles automatically anytime they publish.
If you’ve got a really good piece of content, don’t be afraid to send an email to your industry friends or influencers – perhaps even with some pre-written text that they can simply cut, paste, and schedule. A simple, “Hey I just posted this really cool thing, check it out” could help your content get some great traction.
5) Nobody knows your brand
The old idea if you create great content it will be found has been thoroughly debunked. You won’t become the next Mashable or BuzzFeed just by writing about social media or pumping out listicles about things I won’t believe.
Established brands with existing audiences have a clear advantage – they have become a habit. It’s like trying to convince a Google search user to switch to Bing or an Apple user to switch to, well, anything else.
If you’re a new brand, you’re at a big disadvantage. In addition to creating great content consistently, you must also grow your audience. It can be done, but it will take time and will greatly depend on how much you’re willing to invest. It may take years to escape obscurity and start really growing your following.
- Using display ads and remarketing.
- Running social media ads.
- Attending and networking at conferences or meetups.
- Speaking at industry conferences or events.
- Growing your personal network – online and offline.
- Teaming up with other brands.
- Writing content for large and influential websites, blogs, or publications.
- Building relationships with the media.
6) Your content is ugly
Many web pages are simply ugly. Just long blocks of text. Ick.
Break up your text. Make it look pretty.
Use short sentences. Try to limit your paragraphs to 2-3 sentences.
Use formatting smartly to make your text for scannable and less overwhelming to readers:
- Unordered or numbered lists.
- Bolding and italics.
7) Your content is too promotional
Content that is designed simply to promote your brand won’t perform well. People will see through it and be turned off by it.
Create content that helps your audience. Create content that answers questions or provides helpful information.
Content isn’t about you. It’s about them (your audience).
8) Your content fails to spark an emotional response
A great emotional response goes beyond just the headline. Your content must also make readers feel something, whether it’s happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, or disgust.
According to a Fractl study, one of the top reasons people share a piece of content is to make their friends feel something. This is even more true for women.
Facts are far more impactful when you can put a human face on it. Tell great stories that evoke emotions.
9) Poor grammar and spelling
Nothing is worse than clicking on an article and seeing a typo in the first sentence. A small error can turn a great piece of content into worthless content.
When I was editor of Search Engine Watch and a typo slipped through, we heard about it! You’d see comments like, “I was going to read this article, but I stopped after I read the typo in the second paragraph. I expect more from Search Engine Watch!”
Poor grammar and spelling wrecks the reading experience. This is why it’s so important to make sure you have a great editor and an editorial team that is laser-focused and dedicated to writing well.
Maintain high editorial standards. Or else you risk looking unprofessional, ruining your reputation, and losing readers.
10) You don’t have a strategy
Content may be king. But content without strategy is the equivalent of the town drunk.
Make sure you know who your target reader is and what you want them to do after they read your content. Remember, you may have several different targets within your existing audience.
For example, Bas van den Beld looks at audiences based on actions they are likely to take. Those are:
- Seekers: People who are searching for information. These are “top of funnel” people who may not yet know about you or your brand.
- Joiners: This is your community and your loyal audience. People who know you and like the content you consistently produce, so they’ve decided to follow you on social media or sign up for your email newsletters.
- Sharers: These are people who help spread your content through their personal networks.
- Buyers: These are the people who have bought from you or are ready to buy from you.
There may be some overlap in these, or there may be none. People might read your content and never sign-up for buy from you. Or you may have people who discover you, subscribe to your newsletter, follow you on Facebook or Twitter, share your content with their personal networks, and eventually purchase your product.
Have a purpose for every piece of content you create. Your content strategy should help you achieve your larger marketing and business goals. So make a plan, measure it, and learn and adjust based on your successes and failures.
Danny Goodwin is a content strategist at L&T Co., a brand publishing company. A professional editor, writer, and ghostwriter with over 10 years of experience in marketing, he has created content for SMBs and global brands alike, spanning all things search and digital. He was formerly the editor of Search Engine Watch. Follow Danny on Twitter.