Content Marketing: How to produce the best performing content.

Teddy Craig • 16th Nov 2016

I’ve worked for SEO agencies, I now work for The Lane (known for our creativity in advertising, branding and digital marketing) and I’m also a member of the PR professionals’ body – the PRCA. That means that when I think about Content Marketing, I think in pretty holistic terms. I want to make sure every piece content produced has been optimised to produce the maximum possible impact.

In this article I’ve explained how I’d (given the opportunities of budget, time and resource) do that. There are some angles in here that you may not already be taking advantage of but, equally, I’m sure there will be some techniques that I’ve missed out. Please feel free to let me know your own ideas in the comments section. The more we all learn from each other, the less poor quality content there will be cluttering up the web in future. Hopefully!

I’ve broken things down into different stages.

1) How SEO gap analysis can find you the best content marketing opportunities:

At one of my previous SEO agencies I was introduced to gap analysis. What does gap analysis mean? Well, as the title would suggest, it’s looking for a relevant topic which your website doesn’t currently cover, that there’s low (or simply ‘beatable’) competition around when it comes to search engine rankings. Research is important for successful Content Marketing as it helps you to focus your efforts on achievable targets. It’s easy to become disheartened if you’ve spent time and money targeting a topic that proved to be too crowded to make a breakthrough.

Even if you’ve found a term that it appears relatively simple to rank for on Google though, it still needs to be attracting enough search traffic to make producing content on it worth your while. When deciding upon that, bear in mind that more specific search terms will naturally generate lower volumes of search traffic… but they may be more relevant to the specific product or service provided by your website. A narrower search may indicate a greater degree of interest and intent. A warmer lead. That’s something you have to decide based on your knowledge of your own site and sector.

How can you find these traffic volumes? Google’s Keyword Planner tool has recently become a bit peskier to use but I’ve just started a trial of Ahrefs and am finding it very useful so far.

2) How to come up with the best title for social media:

You can use BuzzSumo to research the most socially shared content from your own site or from competitors’ sites. As well as researching by domain, you can search for the most shared content pieces around your core topics. This will give you a feel for the title and format of the most shareable pieces of content.

You can do this across all social media channels but you can also choose to view popularity by specific social channels. That way if your social presence is focused on Facebook, you can get a clear picture of what content seems to work best on that platform.

You can also go a step deeper on BuzzSumo by selecting the option of a ‘content analysis’ which will provide you with various charts to help inform your choice. These include showing you the type of title that generates most social shares around your topic (e.g. ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘list’). You may have selected a topic through search traffic analysis but it’s important to choose a title that’s likely to have appeal on social media as well as offering clarity for Google. Here’s what BuzzSumo has to say about the topic of Bananas:

Let’s say you want to be found for “Ways to use a banana” (and why wouldn’t you?). Another thing that works well on social media is putting content into a ‘list’ format. Odd numbers have also been shown to be more likely to generate a click that even numbers. Hence, “Why these 9 ways to use a banana will change your life” could combine search benefit with social impact.

3) Content can take different forms – how do I choose what will work best?

I mentioned earlier that BuzzSumo would give you a steer on what format of content has most impact on your preferred social channel/s. However, I’m a big fan of the idea of elasticity of content. That is, being able to use content in more than one way. That’s why I recommend blending different formats within your content. That way, you have video assets and image assets that can be shared separately on social media to either work as standalones or to build buzz for the parent piece of content.

For Google, the ideal content would be copy that’s clear (think broken up into bite size chunks using relevant headings) and informative (relevant to the title and useful to the people who click on it), with the addition of clearly tagged images and a relevant embedded video.

And for social? Pretty much that too. After all, when you share the link on Facebook, you want it to load with an image. Social posts containing images generate higher engagement rates than those without.

Producing these combined assets might sound daunting but it doesn’t have to be. Images could be stills from your video, rather than having to produce both photos and video. These images could be further ‘jazzed up’ (for separate use on Instagram, say) by taking an appealing quote from the video or copy and adding it to the image.

Even the copy could, in places, just be a transcript of parts of your video.

After all, we’re all different. Some of us prefer to consume by reading, some of us prefer to watch a video… and some of us prefer to scan an article by looking at the pretty pictures.

If you want to reach as many of your target audience as possible then appeal to as many of them as you can (without compromising the quality of your content).

4) Can you find a PR angle?

PR means getting attention for your content from other media. In other words, getting publicity through ‘earned media’ (coverage from external sources) rather than from owned media (your own website and social channels).

One of the mistakes brands often make is in assuming that everything they put out is automatically newsworthy. In fact, for something to be newsworthy it has to reveal something startling, informative, important or entertaining. So, rather than your brand ‘just saying something’, can you reveal the results of research?

For example, if you turned that banana content piece into a questionnaire asking which of the 9 different ways the reader has actually used a banana, (plus a box in which to put ‘any others – please add’) then you’d be likely to generate some eye-catching results. Especially if you added a couple of outliers into those multiple-choice options.  

Now, rather than trying to pitch a story of ‘Company X published a blog about ways to use a banana’, the story becomes ‘17% of people have used a banana as a weapon’. Your post starts life as a search & social oriented piece, but it also serves the purpose of harvesting results that could bring you a PR impact.

I’m using a facetious example (though one that I think probably would generate some coverage…) but it can be applied to more serious topics. The principle remains, one way to generate PR attention is to conduct research and present a startling finding.

Unconvinced? I’ve just plucked a random percentage, 74% and typed it into Google News:

5) You’re going to need influencers – but why should they share your content?

A common pitfall in successful Content Marketing is content being produced fully and then passed on to someone working in Outreach who’ll have the thankless task of trying to get a blogger or social influencer to share it. I say thankless task because it’s much easier to earn shares from influencers if you’ve considered them while you were actually creating the content.

If you want an influencer (be it an individual or an organisation) to share your completed piece of content, why not include them in the creation of it? There are different possible layers to this. If I stick with the bananas angle (I’m already regretting that the further I get into this – if only I’d thought to plan my content properly) then first I could establish who I’d like to share the content.

As it’s fruit and seems to lend itself to healthy eating and nutrition, let’s say Joe Wicks – otherwise known as The Body Coach. To be honest, his profile is now at such a level that he’d expect to be paid for collaborating on a piece of content. However, let’s say that I’d managed to get in touch with him a few years ago when he was still working his way up. He’d have a had a decent profile but may still have been open to some mutual brand building.

I could have gone to the extent of filming him using bananas in those 9 ways. Or I could have organised a photo-shoot of him doing it. Or I could just have asked him for some quotes on how he uses bananas. Or, if I couldn’t get in touch with him at all, I could have found a quote from him about bananas and added it to the content in a relevant and useful way.

Any of these routes would have given me an opportunity to nudge him on social media when the content was published. As he would have either been involved directly or quoted, it would have been in his own interests to share the content. Being shared by someone with a large and relevant following would have given a strong organic social bump to the content

6) OK, so now I just publish my content and forget about it?

No, you can continue to get a search and social benefit from your content for years to come. In terms of search, keep an eye on your rankings for ‘ways to use a banana’ (I have a horrible feeling this piece might end up ranking for that). If it drops down, look at what rises above it. Let’s say it’s a piece called ’11 ways to use a banana’ – in that case you can update your piece to include even more ‘ways’ and add extra value over the competition.

Just remember to add in a note at the bottom saying when the article was updated. That will also act as a subtle signal to your visitors that your site is being regularly updated in general.

As for social – look for the context in which to reshare your content. For instance, if it’s World Banana Day (I’m not even going to bother googling it – I’m 99% sure that will actually be a thing) that would be an ideal opportunity to reshare that content.

When your content has a longer lifespan it makes the effort that went into creating it all the more worthwhile.

7) There’s an important thing that I forgot to mention – MAKE IT GOOD!

Checklists can be useful but they’re only really useful when you’re applying them to something really good. The point of this piece isn’t to lead to a spew of formulaic marketing content but, rather, to help ensure that good ideas and big effort don’t go unnoticed.

If you’re producing copy then make sure that it’s human and engaging. If you’re producing video content then make sure it’s either slick and perfect or rough in a way that ideally serves the context of the piece. If you’re adding or creating images then make sure that they’re beautiful or (intentionally) hilarious… or evocative in some other way.

This checklist isn’t ‘a hack’. It’s meant to be the icing on the cake.

And apparently the cake’s made of bananas.

8) And seriously, once again, remember to research the competition first.

Looks like my banana idea’s just split:

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Teddy was a stand-up comedian for 16 years before moving into the Marketing world. He is now Community Manager at The Lane, where he oversees the agency’s Social & Content offering. He has created successful social media content for top UK and global brands and also advises on content strategy.

His own tweets have been featured by The Sun, The Metro, The Independent, The Herald, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Huffington Post. Still also active in writing for BBC Radio, he was nominated for ‘Best Writer’ at the 2016 Scottish Comedy Awards.

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