I am relatively new to blogging. I actually wrote my first blog in April of 2013 right here on SEJ, so I am still learning and discovering new ways to make my blogs count. I try to make them interesting enough and engaging enough to make you want to follow me. I also want to write about what I’ve learned along the way. To help me on my blogging journey, lately I have been reading a bit about journalism. I recently read that traditionally, students are taught to write news stories in a format referred to as the Five Ws.
The idea is that a good story should answer five questions; the first word of each begins with a W — Who, What, Where, When, and Why. I think this is a good approach for digital content too, so I began using this format for some writing ideas and I want to present to you the five essential things I believe every great content marketer should incorporate into a blog to make it work.
It’s all about your audience. The point of content creation is to provide information that is useful to the people you are trying to reach, and you can’t do that if you don’t know something about them. This includes, of course, demographic information, but increasingly it includes something even more focused and that is psychographic information. Psychographics goes beyond age, gender, race, and other bare bones stats about the audience. It includes the gold standard of audience intelligence: interests.
Does your target audience like to garden? Shoot pool? Play online games? Are they readers or do they prefer to watch DVDs? What are their political views? What makes them anxious? Excited? These questions and many others are relatively easy to answer, courtesy of social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. If you’re selling potted plants, custom billiard tables, a candidate for public office or any one of a thousand other things, this information is extremely useful in developing a content and content distribution strategy.
It’s not just what you want to say, however intriguing or laudable you believe that is. It’s what your audience is able to hear. Notice I didn’t say that it’s what your audience wants to hear. While great content marketers do occasionally write specifically in response to an audience request, more often they develop content that informs, engages, and educates an audience. People go online for many reasons, and they don’t always know exactly what they want to read or watch or listen to. They’re probably interested in discovering or learning new things, but they need a frame of reference that helps them transition from the familiar to the new.
Another important thing I learned early on is that great content marketers monitor the content their audience consumes and then develops content that provides a deeper understanding of a topic or explores a related issue in context, so people can take in the new information.
Smart content marketers choose media that their target audience is already using. So take your content to the audience rather than spending all your time trying to lure the audience to just one company website. It’s far easier to get someone’s attention on a site that they already enjoy than it is to motivate that person to visit a new site. Many people favor an aggregation site such as HuffPost or a portal like Yahoo, or in my case, a site like Search Engine Journal or Social Media Today, where they can easily scan a huge quantity of content from a wide array of sources. This is how you gain followers.
Certainly, it is important to build an audience for your own site, but the best way to do that is to present great content (or links to it) on the mega sites your audience already uses. Those sites will differ, depending on your audience. Tumblr is great, for instance, if you want to reach the under 35 crowd. Older, professional types are more likely to read news and blogs at the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.
Once people follow a link to your site and sample your content, you will want to use the tried and true tactic of asking them to subscribe to your email list and your RSS feed.
You’re probably heard the expression, “Timing is everything.” This is certainly true in content marketing. Once you know where your target audience can be found, whether on Twitter, HuffPost, or another site, you need to know when they visit that site. There are several useful, free or low-cost apps to help you track and assess the impact of your content. For example, a tool called LikeAlyzer, offered free on the web by Meltwater, will analyze the ‘likes’ your content gets on Facebook and make recommendations for the best times to post in the future.
It’s true that some people still download and save content to read at a later time, so RSS feeds remain useful. Yet, as content becomes more bite-sized, many people dip in and out of the Web throughout the day, reading whatever they come across at the moment. That’s why it can be helpful to schedule the timing of your content to be in synch with your audience’s browsing habits. An app I use called Buffer offers a free version that is a good scheduler for posting links to your content in social media. Also, there are a number of good, paid content marketing platforms available.
Before you blow this questions off as self-evident, think for a minute. It may be obvious that you are creating content to get more customers for your business, but is that answer truly useful? Your answer to the “why” question is, essentially, your business goal. If that goal is simply, “to get more business,” how will you know what’s been successful?
The “why” is really about measurement. If you are going to measure your progress, first you must create clear connections between your content marketing tactics and your results. If you notice an uptick in e-commerce sales, for example, you want to be able to trace that increase back to a source. Did more business result from a content series you posted last month? From a LinkedIn ad campaign? Or from something else altogether?
The best time to evaluate the impact of your content marketing is not at the end of a campaign; it’s at the beginning, in the planning stage. Be sure that each piece of content includes a special offer, a unique URL or hashtag, or some other identifier that you can use to assess results. This may be the trickiest one of the Five Ws, but it’s well worth the effort because great content marketers learn from their experience.
Content marketing is a relatively new field and most of us are getting better at it as we go. If you have a story, comment or question from your own content marketing experience, we’d love to hear about it. Please leave us a message in the comments section below.
First image: shutterstock.com: Standard License: Purchased image 1/17/2014
Second image: Created by Search Engine Journal