Content Marketing: What’s all the fuss about?

 

Content marketing is the in-thing today – the answer to marketing in this digital age. First the disclaimer – I am no marketing expert. I am just a writer passionate about making content a differentiator for companies. And content marketing is very exciting to me simply because I am passionate about what lies at the heart of it – content. Quality content at that.

Content marketing is the use of content to attract interested audiences to your website and convert these interested people into customers. Content marketing goes hand in hand with, to use another jargon, inbound marketing – marketing efforts that attract people towards your brand rather than the traditional outbound efforts where the brand reaches out to its potential customers. The beauty of inbound marketing and content marketing lies in two things. One, this form of marketing often costs a fraction of outbound marketing. And two, it reaches out to people who are really interested in your product / service – the buyer segment that your sales team is most likely to “convert”.

You have probably read it so many times before. But let me explain the beauty of it just one more time. Say you post a blog about your latest product. The blog speaks about your product, whom it is meant for, and how potential customers can benefit from it. You strategically add in keywords that explain the problem your product solves. Soon somebody, somewhere searches for a solution to their business problem (using the keywords you’ve added to your blog) – the exact same problem your product solves. Your keywords make your blog post appear high on the search engine results page and, voila, you have a truly interested potential customer visiting your blog on your website. If your blog is well written, chances are the reader will now explore the rest of your website to read more about your product. If you have added the right kind of calls to action on your web pages, chances are this visitor will leave her contact details on your site or probably even download the free trial version of your product. In any case, you can hand over this highly qualified lead to your sales team for quick closure. And it all starts with a simple (well written) blog post!

Ironically, content marketing, accordingly to some, is already on its way out. This, I believe, is primarily because of overuse and commoditization of content. Content, far from being the differentiator, is becoming a commodity that is being manufactured in content factories and exported out by the dozens. The focus is on volume rather than quality. This contradicts the very essence of content marketing – marketing using quality content. And hence this rather sorry state of affairs.

The success of content marketing strategy lies in quality – not quantity. The success of content marketing lies in consistency and value – not volume or keywords alone. In order to make this great marketing strategy work for you, you need to go back to the basics and keep it simple silly!   

Finally We Bid Adieu to the Age of Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing – the horrible practice of stuffing keywords into online articles and blogs with no regard for the reader – is finally coming to an end. I had, many moons ago, written about how I thought Google was proliferating junk on the internet. In fact, the bad, and almost unethical, practice of keyword stuffing had kept TWL away from (the lucrative business of!!) SEO content writing. Google, the master of internet searches as we know it today, has made a series of changes in the last couple of years to ensure that those who publish bad content meant to manipulate search engine algorithms are ignored, even penalized. And so we welcome the age of quality and original content.

Quality Content: The Two Sides of the Coin

Simply put, quality content is a strategic mix of useful content and relevant keywords – content that is rewarding both to the publisher and reader.

For the reader, quality content is content that is compelling to read and useful. Let’s us take a few steps back. What do you do when you are looking for information using a search engine? You “ask” your question on a browser. Based on the keywords you use in your query, the search engine displays an array of web links where you can find relevant answers. More often than not, you would click the very first link you see. Or probably scroll down the first page at max. And when you visit the site, you expect that webpage to actually answer your query. The content on the page that you stumbled upon must be useful to you. And since you are not likely to spend more than a few seconds scanning the webpage to see if it is useful, the content on that page must be compelling and make for a good read. That is quality content from the perspective of the reader.

For the publisher, quality content is information that contains well researched keywords used (please note!) correctly, sparingly and in relevant places to make the information more findable during an internet search. The content would promote the company and its products and services through the “answer” it offers to the reader. That’s quality content from the publisher’s point of view.

Content, and Not Keyword, is Again the King

Even as the race to be that “first link” on the search page continues, quality content holds the key to internet marketing. The one aspect of internet marketing through quality content that I like the most is its longevity. Your content, once published online, remains there for eternity. So even several months after you publish a great article about an awesome product you have launched, someone, somewhere, may stumble upon it and go on to become your customer. Can any other channel, including some very expensive ones, give you such long term returns? 

What your Website Should “Say”

I routinely develop web content for customers. In a typical scenario, I am told that the sitemap for the website is ready and that I can start developing content for the finalized pages. But more often than not, after studying the sitemap, I find that the “final” sitemap doesn’t quite work for the company – for several reasons. And so I begin with first tweaking the sitemap to ensure that we say the right things in the right manner to indeed connect with our online visitors. Here are some tenets I follow when it comes to writing content for a corporate website: 

“What’s in it for you” as against “what we do”

We all take pride in what we do. Therefore, the typical thinking is that our website should talk only about our work, our services, our products, and so on. But think about it again. Given that your website is not for you, but for your customers and prospects, it is obvious that your content should be of interest to them. So, what could be of interest to your prospects? Obviously, the problems that you can solve for them or the value addition you can provide to their organization.

Clearly, your reader is more interested in the “what’s in it for them” part. Sure, the “what we do” bit is crucial. The trick is in making it a corollary to the “what’s in it for you” bit. You could, for example, first state the problems you solve / value you add for your customers – this generates interest and motivates the reader to continue reading – and follow it up with how exactly you solve that challenge – the “what we do” part.

Lesser is better; let’s not overstate

Coming from a content developer, this might sound ironic. But seriously, how much time do you spend reading content on any website (apart from your own or that of your competitor; and we’re not talking news and entertainment sites here)? 5-10 minutes? Perhaps lesser?

So realistically, the lesser words you use to quickly convey what you want to, the better are your chances of communicating with your reader. Publishing lesser content on your website also keeps your site navigation simple and your pages less intimidating and easier on the eyes.

Leverage your proven expertise

Once you are past the startup phase, there is no excuse for not leveraging your proven expertise – in the form of case studies, customer testimonials, and the like. After all, nothing sells better than recommendations from others in the industry. If you’ve been around for some time and have some good work to your credit, share it proudly on your website. I also recommend that the case studies and (at least some) white papers be available on the website without the need to register / send a mail / subscribe to the information. If you’re doing good work, why keep a secret and share it with a select few who leave their mail ids with you?

Share insights, not superlatives

When you recruit people into your company, you interview candidates, talk to them to understand how they think, how much they really know about their subject, how they articulate their thoughts, and so on. All other things being equal, you would obviously choose the candidate whose thinking and communication is better. Doesn’t that apply to companies as well? Sure, it does. Your customer is more likely to choose your company / solution / service, if they believe that you are more knowledgeable and, therefore more capable of handling their needs, than your competitors. This underlines the crucial role of thought leadership – white papers, opinions, and in fact, even blogs. I strongly recommend that you add some well-articulated white papers to your website to establish your thought leadership.

 

There are several more small and big things that go into developing the right kind of content for your website. I’d love to have your views on what kind of content works for your website.

Creating Videos: Steps Involved

The following are the steps I follow to create a video:

  1. Plan
    1. Understand the requirement
    2. Identify the audience
    3. Create a storyboard
    4. Write the script
    5. Validate the “story” with the customer before getting into execution mode
  2. Execute
    1. Shoot the video using a screen capture / recording tool
    2. Create animation slide (if applicable)
    3. Create Title and Summary screens
    4. Convert raw footage into a video project
    5. Record voiceover
    6. Edit and sync audio – this could be voiceover or background score or both
    7. Publish video in suitable format
  3. Deliver
    1. Obtain feedback
    2. Develop final version

I use Camtasia from TechSmith to create my videos. So some of the steps or terms (like project) I use may be specific to Camtasia. However, irrespective of the tool you use, you will definitely have to complete the steps explained above. The terminology and sometimes the order in which you approach them perhaps may change depending on the tool(s) you use. For example, if you use a stand-alone application to record voice, you may not necessarily have to do that after creating the raw footage of the video as I have stated.
I will talk about each of these steps in greater detail in the posts to come.

Creating Videos: An Introduction

In my last post I talked about how videos can add a whole new dimension to your documentation efforts and help you connect with customers, users, and prospects. If you think making videos is difficult, I want you to think again. Yes, making videos requires skill, creativity, and of course proficiency in using tools of the trade. But it’s no rocket science.

I made my first corporate video about 5 years ago. It was a marketing-cum-training video for a suite of products developed by my then-employer. I then went on to create a range of short How-To training videos that in essence covered all aspects of working with the products. It took a lot of time to get them done, particularly the first one. I think I spent almost a month on it.

I guess it took that long because that was the first time somebody was trying to make a video in the organization. I had nobody to look up to for guidance and more importantly, I did it as an “initiative” – not part of my regular appraisable tasks for the quarter.

Over the years, I have made several videos and have learnt to avoid mistakes that I used to make in the past. The quality of both the visuals and the audio is improving; and I must confess that I still have a long way to go. There is nothing like attaining perfection and you will always find somebody who can do it better than you. But that doesn’t deter me and I don’t want it to deter you either.

In my next post, I will share with you the steps I usually follow while creating videos. Do come back and read on.

TWL on YouTube

TechWritingLabs is on YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/user/TechWritingLabs.

I plan to post videos at regular intervals. I am also planning to continue the Tutorial series – first for MS Word and then for other tools relevant to technical writing as well.

Do check out the videos and let me know if you like them..

Why Videos are a Must-Have in your Documentation Arsenal

Videos have gained unprecedented popularity. I am not talking about the entertainment videos. I am talking about corporate videos – product videos, training videos, company profile videos, company presentations in video format.

Is this craze for videos just another passing phase or are they here to stay?

I believe in the latter – in fact I think this is just the beginning and that videos are soon going to take the domain of documentation and training by a storm. Of course, I don’t agree with those who say that videos will soon replace “written documentation”; I think videos and written documentation (in print or online format) will co-exist with videos being the primary touch point for user seeking help / information.

Perhaps a couple of years ago, when you needed help using a product, you would turn to the user manual for help. Today, if I were to purchase some product, I am quite likely to search sites like YouTube to see if I can “see the solution” to the problem rather than read it in the manual.

For example, I recently bought a new cell phone and found that it was so hip that I couldn’t even figure out how to open it to put the battery inside (It takes all kinds of stupid people, like me, to make the world!) I was too scared to try anything rash with the expensive piece and the 2D picture in the user manual didn’t help much really. So, all I did was log on to YouTube to see how someone else somewhere else in the world had solved the problem I was having. In less than 4 minutes I had found my solution!

This example applies to companies too. When looking for information about companies, we all gravitate towards their websites. A couple of years ago, I would have been happy to read about the company and its products / services. But today, when I see that the company has put up some video on their website (especially if it a short one), I almost never leave the page without seeing at least the first few minutes of the video. Videos are crowd-pullers and they definitely ensure that visitors spend more time at your website.

Think about a scenario:

1. You put up your product / company video for free on YouTube.
2. Somebody stumbles upon your video while searching for some keyword and likes what you’ve put up there.
3. He then visits your website to know more about your company and your product.

You have just landed a prospective, interested customer on your website – practically for free.

So you see? Videos don’t hurt. Spend some time and add some to your communication arsenal.

Is Google Proliferating Internet Junk?

Google is today the undisputed leader of the internet. People all over the world are figuring out means to get noticed by Google because it’s almost like you don’t exist unless Google say you do! Well, its certainly not a bad thing to have high visibility on the internet. What do I feel opposed to is the extent to which businesses are willing to go to increase their page ranks. Here are some bizarre internet marketing practices that make me wonder if Google is in fact proliferating junk content on the internet:

  • Posting innumerable articles each day on various portals with little concern for originality or relevance. 
  • Posting 3-5 press releases per day on free portals for press releases. Can any company realistically generate so much newsworthy content on a daily basis?
  • Leaving irrelevant comments on blog posts. Like leaving a comment on a blog post that provides tips on using RoboHelp that says “Great post. Check out the sports shoes I sell at my website….”
  • Choking website and blog content with keywords (sometimes as much as 2-3 keywords per line of text) to attain high keyword density.

 

Whatever happened to the concept of beautiful content that appealed to the reader / visitor rather than to the search engine?

I’m sure you too must have come across many such practices. Do share your thoughts / experiences. Lets shun these "shortcuts" and concentrate instead on improving page rank completely on the basis of superior products, customer satisfaction, and though leadership – conveyed through original, high quality content.

Ingredients of Good Documentation Summarized

Here is a quick recap of what I think are the 7 most important ingredients of good documentation:

  • Logical flow of information
  • Simple language
  • Intelligent Content for the Intelligent User
  • Judicious use of Screenshots
  • Hierarchical Table of Contents
  • Links
  • Accurate Information

You can, of course, read a more detailed explanation of each of these points in my earlier posts.

Ingredients of Good Documentation #7

Accurate Information
The one reason why technical writing is considered different from creative writing is that as a technical writer you must not get “creative”. You have to write about what your product / service does and not what you would ideally have liked it to do.

• Make sure to provide technically accurate information.
• Watch out for grammatical errors. Always run a spelling and grammar check.
• Don’t gloss over known issues and bugs; not mentioning them is akin to misleading users.
• Provide notes wherever necessary to highlight important information. Caution notes must appear right at the beginning of the topic, preferably using a different font size and color to catch the readers’ attention.