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Value content quality over quantity: experts share why

August 13th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Rare consensus: content quality over quantity

Quality rules!

We’ve all heard some version of this old joke: put ten experts in a room and you’ll get eleven different points of view. And, it’s largely true – in part because each human being has his or her own perspective. It’s also true because, in today’s noisy online world, having a different viewpoint can bring you much-wanted attention.

So consensus . . . it really gets our attention.  

We’ve noticed strong consensus on one particular issue, and that’s choosing quality over quantity when creating content. What’s interesting is that this consensus is built across disciplines as we’ll demonstrate below.

Let’s hear from HubSpot

Hubspot, a well-known inbound marketing platform, published the following advice (with the bolding appearing in their text): “Don’t dilute your high-quality content with mediocre or low-quality content. The consequence for doing so is the cheapening of your audience’s overall perception of your content and, thus, your brand. And who wants that?” (Content Quantity Diminishes Quality [Research] by Pamela Vaughan)

This isn’t simply Pamela’s – or HubSpot’s – opinion. Instead, it’s a conclusion based on studies that show how “coupling a high quality item with a low quality item diminishes the perception of both items’ overall quality.” This text is also bolded by HubSpot, which shows how important this concept is to the inbound marketing giant.

And, while we’ve known for years that Google holistically discounts sites that contain low quality content, these studies show that the human brain does, as well.

A blunter perspective

Content marketer Cairbre Sugrue from the United Kingdom says the following in his article, Content Spoils Broth: Quality Not Quantity: “Hastily crafted content with weak messages and little meat on the bone will inevitably end up dumped on the waste pile.

“I would go further and say that the content-marketing hype cycle is firmly wallowing in its own ‘trough of disillusionment’, because this obsession with content has clouded the true value of digital engagement. This is driving targeted – and therefore more efficient – engagements with customers that will ultimately increase customer intimacy and drive sales.

“At the heart of a successful strategy must be this focus on quality.”

From a public relations standpoint

Ragini Bhalla, a former journalist, shares the secret to PR success in her article, Don’t Bully Your Content Into Favoring Quantity Over Quality. Her perspective reads as follows: “So what is the secret to PR success? As Henry Ford once said, ‘Quality means doing it right when nobody else is looking.’ In today’s competitive marketplace, a brand’s PR success can live and die by its ability to tell and build its stories through content that is smart, authentic, compelling, useful, informative and engaging.”

Socially speaking

In the latter part of 2013, LinkedIn invited influential people to comment on the biggest trend for 2014. Tara Hunt, social digital leader at MSLGROUP, titled her perspective Big Idea 2014: Content Shifts to Quality Over Quantity.

Although it’s somewhat shocking to think that this could be considered a new idea in 2014, we agree wholeheartedly with Tara’s point of view. Part of it reads like this: “From my experience, there is a still a lack of understanding that goes into the creation and production of content…especially content that goes beyond the pushing of ad messaging through various social channels. The questions are too often, ‘How many posts on how many channels will I get for $x?’ and ‘How many fans can you get us?’ Companies are still viewing social media as outbound channels to acquire eyeballs and push messages and, therefore, attaching traditional notions of ROI to it. I look at this and think, ‘This relationship won’t end well.’”

Visual perspective

Finally, we want to share what Issie Lapowsky says in Upworthy Gets Smart About Quality Over Quantity: “the insanely fast-growing purveyor of inspiring video content wrote that it was taking a new approach to gauging success, one that’s based not on unique visitors, page views, or time on the site, but user engagement. They’re calling this metric ‘attention minutes.’”

And what captures our attention in a video clip – or in any other form of content – is not how many pieces exist, but the quality of the content that we’re looking at right now.

Question for readers

What do you think? Is there a case to be made that quantity is more important than quality? Or can we finally put this issue to rest? Leave a comment below. 

How effective listening skills are at the core of SEO

August 5th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Effective listening skills are at the core of SEO

Listening is the core of SEO

“I make progress by having people around me who are smarter than I am and listening to them. And I assume that everyone is smarter about something than I am.” Henry J. Kaiser

Listening served Kaiser well. He became known as the father of modern American shipbuilding (Kaiser Shipyards, Kaiser Steel and Kaiser Aluminum). He also created Kaiser Permanente to provide health care benefits to his workers and formed two auto companies that focused on safe design.

He also:

  • Became involved in the construction of civic centers and dams
  • Initiated the Kaiser Family Foundation to help solve tough health care issues in a non-partisan way
  • Kaiser listened well, no doubt. All too often, though, we listen for what we expect to hear, rather than hearing what is actually being said. All too often, we’re formulating our replies when we should be seeking to understand another point of view.

    And, who can educate you the most about what your business needs? According to John F. Smith, former CEO and president of General Motors, the answer is your customers: “We listened to what our customers wanted and acted on what they said. Good things happen when you pay attention.”

    Here are eight ways that listening is at the core of SEO:

    Listening tips for SEOs

    1)   You can listen to how your clients and prospects talk about issues that your products and/or services can solve through:

    1. Keyword research
    2. Keywords used to find your site
    3. Questions/comments (email, social media, in person)

    2)   Use a good portion of your copywriting time to address the issues being raised – by answering the questions actually being asked along with any deeper questions that you can discern. Remember that “the most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said” (Peter Drucker, a consultant who contributed greatly to the formation of the modern business corporation).

    3)   Carefully read the comments made on your blog and provide a personalized answer to each person until you have so many that you need to be more selective. Which posts generate comments and which ones don’t?

    4)   Listen to what’s being said about your company online and then respond appropriately. You can monitor these comments by setting up Google alerts, Twitter searches and more.

    5)   Set up A/B and/or multivariate testing on your site, and then experiment with different messages, images and so forth. You can listen in on your visitors’ preferences by seeing how successful each message mix is.

    6)   Site visitors send messages, loud and clear, by how long they stay on your site, how many pages they view, how quickly they leave your site and so forth. So, view your Google Analytics data often – with an open mind and listening ear. Leave your preconceived notions behind.

    7)   What are people saying about your company or your content on social media sites? How often are they sharing your content? What types of content performs the best? What doesn’t resonate?

    8)   Survey your customers and prospects, using tools such as SurveyMonkey. Ask targeted questions, make sure you have a statistically significant sampling – and then heed what is said.

    Note: if you’re not hearing negative messaging about your company on your blog, in social media or the search engine results pages, that’s good. But, are you hearing any positive messages – or is the reality that people aren’t talking about your company at all?

    If the silence is deafening, then you’ll need to step up your content creation and promotion, along with your interaction with social media fans and followers.

    Listening test

    “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” Doug Larson

    How good of a listener are you? Take this listening test for some interesting insights. What can you do to improve this crucial skill? Also discover why clarity is at the heart of SEO.

    What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below!

    Discover the ideal length for your online content

    July 26th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

    Schizophrenic advice about the length of online content

    Ideal Content Length

    We often get asked, “How long should my blog post or article be? What’s the best length?” There is, however, no magic number. Instead, it should be as long as necessary to provide the quality needed in today’s competitive online world.

    With online content, here’s the reality: you need to make the call about optimal length by taking into account what Google rewards, how people read in 2014 and how people are consuming (or not consuming) content on your site.

    Here you’ll find:

    • Five advantages of writing longer content
    • Five advantages of writing shorter content
    • Ten recommendations on how to walk the content length tightrope
    • What to do when you’re between a rock and hard place

    Five advantages of writing longer online content

    1)   Because of all of the online competition and noise, it’s virtually impossible to dash off a quick piece that’s better than what’s currently available online.

    2)   In August 2013, Google began rewarding and highlighting in-depth content, each of which is typically 2,000 to 5,000 words in length.

    3)   These highlighted in-depth pieces are not being pushed down the search engine results pages as Google adjusts rankings. Instead, they remain on page one.

    4)   Google spiders read text, not images; so, even though images are great, text is crucial.

    5)   Google rewards sites where visitors have longer on-page time and lower bounce rates, something you can achieve with engaging longer content.

    Five advantages of writing shorter content

    I’m so overwhelmed!

    1)   People are skimming and scanning content now more than ever before.

    2)   People are clicking off content faster than ever before, reading only 20 to 28% of a post.

    3)   When content is longer, it’s easier for readers to lose sight of the main point.

    4)   You can often write more posts in the same amount of time that it takes to write one longer post. More posts help to feed into Google’s need for fresh content.

    5)   Shorter content is easier to consume and therefore may be read by a greater number of people.

    Ten Recommendations

    1)   Do not sacrifice quality simply for the sake of shortening content. However, write the quality material in the most succinct way possible.

    2)   Structure your content so that it’s easy to scan.

    3)   Use clear headings and subheadings.

    4)   Use bullet points and numbered lists whenever relevant/possible.

    5)   Add eye-catching images, charts and graphics. Original is best.

    6)   Include useful authoritative outbound links whenever they would help your readers. Avoid putting them early in the post; instead, give your readers time to become engaged in your copy before linking out.

    7)   When adding external links, make sure that the linked-to webpage opens in another window so that readers can easily return to your post.

    8)   Monitor the success of each post in Google Analytics to see which posts are most popular. Does a certain length seem more appealing to your readers?

    9)   Monitor the social sharing of each post. Does a certain length seem more appealing to your readers?

    10)               Consider finding skilled beta readers who will review your posts before they are lived. Did a post drag somewhere? Do some cutting. Did the post have information gaps? Fill them in.

    Rock and a hard place

    Sometimes one of the suggestions given above will conflict with another. Given the two realities (Google rewarding longer content with online visitors increasingly scanning and skimming), there is no perfect answer – but here is a useful way to balance the two:

    1)   Write engaging and relevant content to captivate readers and entice them to read the entire blog post.

    2)   Put attention-catching material near the top and fill in with supplementary info later on; that way, people who want more info can choose to read on while those who are skimmers can still get the best of what you offer.

    3)   Follow the ten recommendations listed above whenever you can.

    4)   If there is an ethical reason why you need to break a recommendation – say, to provide a link early in a piece to avoid appearing to take credit for someone else’s idea – ethics wins, every time.

    5)   If breaking one of these recommended rules hurts the clarity of the piece, then choose clarity.

    How do you determine the best length for a blog post of article? Leave a comment below. 

    12 ways that clarity is the heart of SEO

    July 22nd, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

    12 Ways that Clarity is the Heart of SEO

    Heart of SEO: Clarity

    1)   Before you ever begin to “SEO” your site, you will need a crystal clear business plan and set of business goals. While search engine optimization can help your site gain visibility and traffic, it can’t create a business for you.

    2)   Ensure that your site has logical structure and navigation paths. This makes it easier for prospects and customers to find what they need – and earns you thumbs up from Google.

    3)   Make sure that you use the most relevant terms and structure for your URLs.

    4)   Place right-sized content on the right pages. For example, if you sell widgets, gidgets and gadgets:

    1. Your home page should include high-level content about all three products
    2. Individual category pages should provide high-level content about that particular category of products; for example, your widget category page should provide high-level content about that type of product and link to gidgets and gadgets category pages (each of which also has relevant high-level content and logical internal links)
    3. Individual widget pages should describe what’s unique about a particular widget and make it easy for prospects to find other widgets that they might like as much or better; likewise for each individual gidget and gadget product page

    5)   Content should contain keywords used by prospects. Yes, this attracts targeted search engine traffic, which is great – but, more importantly, you’re speaking in the language of the people that you want to communicate with and please.

    6)   Highlight your products and services in the best way possible while still being 100% truthful. In other words, belief-proof your content.

    7)   In most instances, avoid jargon. Jargon is typically so vague that it adds nothing to a conversation and can confuse prospects. (Here is one exception to that rule.)

    8)   Use A/B or multivariate testing to make sure that you’re providing the best conversion pathways; in other words, clear away conversion roadblocks.

    9)   Set up appropriate KPIs in your analytics program so that you can clearly see what strategies are working for your site – and which ones aren’t.

    10)               Offer multiple methods for prospects to contact you so that you can answer their questions and clear up any confusion or misconceptions.

    11)               Craft succinct targeted title tags.

    12)               Create compelling and clickable meta description tags.

    How else is clarity the heart of SEO? Leave a comment below. 

    Transformational case study examples: use the magic of “because”

    July 15th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

    Transform case studies with the magic of “because”

    Moment of transformation

    Let’s say that I’m writing for a health and fitness blog with this audience: women who want to start working out but need motivation.

    I therefore decide to share the following experience: When I was in high school, our gym teacher told us to jog through nearby neighborhoods for 30 minutes. My friend and I, though, had a better idea. We trotted half a block to her house and then drank lemonade on her front porch, timing it so that we returned to the school at the right moment, slightly out of breath. A few years later, though, I realized that exercise was important and I found out that I actually enjoyed jogging.

    So, how’s that for a testimonial? Non-exercising women could relate to the lemonade strategy and would be encouraged that all was not hopeless.

    Well, you could use it. But, it’s not ideal. In this anecdote:

    • Two things happened:
      • In high school, I didn’t exercise
      • As an adult, I do
      • But these two things are not directly related

    What if the scenario had been different?

    Let’s say that:

    • When I got back to school that day, my teacher somehow knew that we’d spent our jogging time sipping cool drinks.
    • He told us that missing one day of exercise certainly wouldn’t hurt but added that regular exercise helps to prevent heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.
    • I inwardly rolled my eyes and headed home.
    • When I got home, I saw an ambulance in my neighbor’s driveway.
    • Overweight, he’d just suffered a heart attack – and didn’t survive.
    • At that moment, I totally got what my gym teacher was trying to tell me.
    • So I committed to a regular workout program.

    In other words, I started to exercise regularly because of what had happened that day and I continue to enjoy a healthy lifestyle today.

    So, because of those events:

    • I changed in a fundamental way.
    • I had an epiphany.
    • I had a transformational moment.

    And that is the core of the most compelling case studies: capturing the precise moment of transformation, the moment when the light bulb finally turns on.

    Starting en media res

    Fiction writers are often told to start their stories “en media res,” meaning “in the midst of things.” In other words, start the novel or short story:

    • with the moment that your main character empties his mailbox and hears a package tick suspiciously
    • when a woman slams the door in the face of a sheepish-looking male, shouting, “I told you I wouldn’t tolerate that behavior anymore!”
    • when a woman looks at the results of her pregnancy test and bursts into tears

    In each of these cases, we don’t need to know someone’s life history to know that something is wrong, just like you didn’t need to hear my life’s story from birth on to know that, pre-lemonade day, I didn’t have the best attitude about exercise. A well-told story can start en media res and readers can catch on quickly without extraneous details.

    Using en media res in case studies

    Using techniques in case studies

    If you’re a bank wanting to encourage more savings, you could share the story of the woman who looked stunned at a cash register. Her credit card was denied and she had no other way to buy her son presents for Christmas.

    Let this woman share how this disaster caused her to rethink her spending habits and begin to budget her money. You could start your case study at the cash-register moment, without needing to share unnecessary back matter.

    But where do I get all of this material?

    Through case study research, which is nowhere near as complicated as you might imagine.

    You need to talk to your customers. Lots of them. The reality is that not every customer you chat with will have a life experience that translates well into a case study. But, if you talk with enough customers; if you talk with them often enough; and if you truly listen to what they have to say, then the cream will rise to the top.

    So:

    1)   Talk to customers – lots of them – often.

    2)   Train yourself to become attuned to listen to stories that will translate well into the best case studies.

    3)   When writing up a case study, share the event that leads to an epiphany that causes a shift in how someone thinks or lives.

    4)   Capture that moment of transformation.

    5)   When done well:

    • You can start en media res
    • You won’t even need to suggest products and/or services in your copy because the point is clearly made through storytelling

    And that’s the real beauty of case studies. Presented well, THEY make the case for products and services, which makes for very compelling marketing, indeed.

    Have you tried this type of case study research and writing? How did it work for you? Please leave a comment below.

    StoryBranding takes a fresh look at brand marketing strategies

    July 9th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

    StoryBranding: a fresh look at brand marketing strategies

    What brand marketing strategy should your company use?

    If, in 1891, you were suffering from a “bilious” or “nervous” disorder, apparently all you needed to do was take Beecham’s Pills, the “most marvelous antidote yet discovered.” In fact, it would also take care of your weak stomach, sick headache, impaired digestion, constipation and disordered liver. Wow. What a deal!

    Better yet, this miracle cure was “sold by all druggists” (which makes you wonder why they included a mailing address at the bottom of the ad to purchase the pills “if your druggist does not keep them” but, oh well). Or you could choose to take William Radam’s “Microbe Killer” that would “Cure All Diseases” with its formulation of sulfuric acid and red wine – a liquid that, taken in large enough quantities, was quite poisonous. Besides that, it just plain didn’t work.

    Fast forward to the mid-20th century when advertising was, in theory, much better regulated and, hopefully, more well-thought out. However, when looking at that era’s ads, you’ll see:

    • Camels cigarettes boasting that more doctors smoke their brand than any other
    • Babies sealed in clear plastic with the phrase “The Best Things in Life Come in Cellophane” embossed over their images
    • A wife being unreservedly spanked by her husband because she’d bought “flat, stale coffee” rather than Chase Sanborn

    It’s no wonder that marketing can feel . . . sometimes dishonest, sometimes desperate and sometimes downright sleazy in its attempts to grab the customer’s attention and get the almighty dollar. That’s why it was so refreshing to find an e-book titled StoryBranding: Creating Stand-Out Brands Through The Power of Story by Jim Signorelli that suggests a much better approach.

    I have to admit that, when I first saw this book, I was skeptical. I’ve read so many books/e-books/articles/blog posts/white papers/whatever on content creation and seen so many shady and/or distasteful marketing tactics that I didn’t really expect a fresh and straightforward perspective – but I was quickly proven wrong. Read the rest of this entry »

    To create more content, should you start working in your sleep?

    July 1st, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

    More content . . . better content . . . MORE CONTENT . . . BETTER CONTENT

    Can you create content in your sleep? The Search Guru examines the possibilities

    It’s as if Google was the super-sized cousin of the Cookie Monster, devouring more and more content while demanding better tasting copy with each chomp and gobble.

    Yes. As mentioned in our post about writer’s burnout last week, the content treadmill can be exhausting.

    It’s not surprising, then, that I’m seeing increasing numbers of articles about . . . yep. You guessed it. Creating while you sleep.

    Strange as it may sound, it’s not a new notion. In fact, surrealist painter Salvador Dali would nap in a chair while holding a spoon in his hand. Underneath the spoon was a tin plate. When he’d fall asleep, he’d drop the spoon and the clattering noise would wake him up – and he’d hurry to capture the vivid images from his subconscious mind. Dali’s famous painting from 1931, Persistence of Memory, involved the artist recreating the melting clocks that appeared in his dreams.

    It’s been reported that more than one of the Beatles used this technique, with John Lennon being inspired to write the chorus of the best-selling song #9 Dream from a dream. Meanwhile, legend states that Paul McCartney crafted the melody of Yesterday from a dream that he’d had in 1964. Stephen King admits to using dream material – and so did Edgar Allen Poe, the latter way back in 1839. So, the idea is definitely not new.

    Perhaps these men deliberately intended to create while they slept or perhaps they’ve simply taken advantage of dream material – or maybe it’s a combination of the two. Regardless, it is possible to assign your subconscious brain tasks and then reap the benefits. Here’s more.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Overcoming burnout: recognizing and dealing with symptoms of burnout.

    June 24th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

    Overcoming burnout: tips and strategies for writers from around the web

    The Search Guru talks about writer burnout and strategies to overcome it

    When you’re excited about a new writing project, you’ll probably have so many great ideas that your fingers can’t type fast enough to capture all of your thoughts – but that’s okay because you’ve got lots of adrenaline to keep you going. Sometimes, when I’m eager to write, my wrists actually tingle.

    You may find yourself writing late into the night, or before dawn or when you’d normally take a lunch break. You think about your fantastic idea as you fall asleep, and the notion even finds its way into your dreams.

    Unfortunately, many of us have also experienced the lack of these feelings – disinterest, fatigue, lack of focus – which means that we may be experiencing symptoms of burnout. Job-related burnout is real phenomenon, recognized by places as diverse as Psychology Today magazine, the Mayo Clinic and Forbes and is a real danger in today’s “we need lots of quality content and we need it right now to please Google” world that we live and write in.

    If you aren’t sure if you’re suffering from this condition, Cheryl Reifsnyder offers a short quiz in her post, Writers’ Burnout Quiz: Do You Need a Break?
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Belief-proof your marketing copy with these ten tips.

    June 17th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

    Belief-proof your marketing copy

    The Search Guru shares tips on how to ensure your marketing copy is believable

    Our high school was putting on the musical, “No, No, Nanette.” While others vied for acting and singing parts, I knew exactly what I wanted: to be the pit orchestra’s only flautist. I was happy when that happened – plus, my good friend Megan was playing first violin. The two of us would create much of the musical’s background melody.

    The orchestra practiced in the evenings and all was going well. Then, one evening, when we got a break, one of us – I don’t remember who, so let’s say Megan – came up with this idea: let’s use the air from the bathroom’s hand dryer so we look like those models whose hair blows in the breeze as they trot down a sunny beach.

    Aiming streams of air towards our hair sounded easier than it was. When we sat beneath the dryer, we were too close to the gunk on the floor (eww), the air burned our scalps – and, yes. It also blew our hair straight down. So, we tried twisting the direction of the nozzle upward – but could only move it a smidge. Maybe, we thought, if we twist the nozzle AND sit on the edge of the sink counter – nah, that didn’t work, either.

    Plus, we suddenly realized that we were late back to practice. So, we hurried to the auditorium, where the conductor stopped everyone else from playing music (without the melody, remember) and gave us that “where were YOU?” look that teachers must perfect on day one.

    We started to respond but, before we got out, “Well, what happened was . . .” we realized how ludicrous our explanation would sound, even though it would be factual. So, we mumbled something like, “really sorry” before slinking back to our seats as the conductor sighed and rolled his eyes.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Improve your writing structure by boosting the muddle in the middle.

    June 10th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

    Improve your writing structure: fixing the muddle in the middle

    The Search Guru discusses phone anxiety and how to overcome it when conducting interviews for site content

    In 2006, I needed to start writing optimized blog posts for a client in the car sales industry. I wanted to write something better than what currently existed in that online space, so I looked for blogs from competitors and:

      1)   There wasn’t much out there.

      2)   The blog posts that did exist were only about 150 to 250 words long.

    Fast forward eight short years, and we now have Google rewarding in-depth posts, which tend to be at least 2,000 words long – with some as long as 5,000 words or even more.

    Yes. Content standards have changed, in large part because of the increasing amounts of competition. According to NM Incite, a Nielsen/McKinsey company, the number of blogs has increased in this fashion:

    • October 2006: 35.8 million blogs
    • October 2007: 61.4 million blogs
    • October 2008: 78.7 million blogs
    • October 2009: 127 million blogs
    • October 2010: 148.5 million blogs
    • October 2011: 173 million blogs
    • October 2012: 181+ million blogs

    Read the rest of this entry »