In my career I have been titled Content Marketer, Content Strategist, Content Specialist, and Content Guru.
And I’m here to tell you: STOP PRODUCING CONTENT
“A rose / by any other word would smell as sweet” – William Shakespeare, Content Marketer
When exactly did “writing” start being “content”?
Has anybody asked JK Rowling why Harry Potter is such successful content?
Where are the essays celebrating the brilliance of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn content strategy?
And where are we with the long-running search for Shakespeare’s elusive content calendar?
Buzzwords, Banalities, and Bullshit
If that sounds ridiculous to you, then take a slightly harder look at what you are hoping to achieve when you ask for content.
Are you hoping to be a thought leader? Are you looking for something snackable, sharable, or viral?
Can you actually tell me what any of that means in terms that a non-marketer would relate to?
I’m reminded of a brilliant cartoon that one of my clients shared with me recently:
“Content” has become one of those things that you order without thinking. “Hello, I would like a hamburger with a side of content please”.
Stop producing content. Start writing.
Here’s a great rule of thumb: replace all instances of the word “content” with “writing”. This will start to get you thinking about the level of rigour that is required to do it well.
Let’s take an example. You own a small business that sells lawnmowers of every shape and variety. You’ve heard that content is critical for online success, so you hire a digital agency and ask for some content around lawns and lawnmowers. “No problem!” they cry, and pull out a masterful content strategy that will soon have you the internet’s leading authority on all things grassy.
Top 10 Tips for Keeping Your Lawn Thick and Lush
Lawnmower Self-Care: You’ll Never Need a Professional Again
Three Exciting Garden Trends for 2019!
Let’s start again and see how that works if we instead think about writing, not content.
You’ve heard that
content writing is critical for online success, so you start thinking “ok then, what do I want to write about? Well, I know that tons of my customers seem to think electric lawnmowers are more expensive than petrol lawnmowers because the lithium battery is so expensive. But they don’t realise that petrol motors need to be serviced regularly, not to mention the cost of the fuel itself. So, over the long run, they tend to be quite costly. If I had a dollar for every time I’d explained this to a customer I could retire!”
Now you go looking for a writer who can pen a detailed piece that talks about all the differences in cost for the initial purchase, maintenance, parts, and fuel. You look for a writer who wants to get into the details, who quizzes you on some of the subtle differences, who wants to know about your experience with customers, and who loves writing.
And you get 1,500 words of passionate discussion on a topic that you already know your customers want to know more about. Success.
Why is this change in perspective so powerful?
To the average consumer, content carries connotations of prosaic marketing, mysterious keyword research, and stiff audience personas (seriously, when was the last time you heard a non-marketing person talk about “looking for some content”?)
Writing carries connotations of rigour, passion, a desire to know more, a need to communicate, and a love of words.
Be honest now. Which of these two approaches makes for a great website?
That’s all well and good, you say. But where’s the proof? You’re being pretty bold here, telling me to ignore all the conventional content marketing advice.
To which I would reply, I’m not being that bold really. I’m just advocating that you think about this a little bit differently (writing, not content).
Let’s look at three examples from my own agency experience.
Example #1: Health Advice
I work with many clients in the health space. Health is a field where there is quite a wide disparity in quality of online material—to the extent, in fact, that Google named its latest major update “Medic” in an effort to combat poor quality information in this space.
One of my clients commissioned a piece through a professional (and expensive) health content agency all about fighting stress. It was one of those thin “top tips” kind of articles (think snackable content), that actually spent most of its short word count talking about the symptoms of stress, not how to fight it. I provided feedback saying that surely someone who clicks that article already knows what stress is, that’s why they clicked it. Right??
So, how did the article perform, on a website that receives tens of thousands of visits a month?
Conclusion: think about what your reader wants, don’t just produce content on that topic, write something that helps them.
Let’s go to the other end of the spectrum:
Example #2: The Tradie
From one of my biggest clients, to one of my smallest. This client is a tradesman, and he has a simple website to advertise his products and services. While planning some new pages for his website, we asked if he could give us a few pointers as to the most important things for his customers that we should talk about. He is an experienced professional, so we figured he could give us some solid guidelines.
What did we receive? A long, rambling document with no coherent grammar, most words spelled incorrectly, sentences that didn’t go anywhere, the works.
And it was brilliant.
My editing skills got a workout for an afternoon and at the end I was left with a detailed, polished document full of in-depth, intricate advice straight from the mouth of someone who has been working with customers’ demands for decades and who knows exactly what they need to be aware of.
And how did it go?
Regular, steady improvements, as users gradually got to know the value of the site’s expertise.
Conclusion: leverage your expertise, use this to inform the thoughts you put on paper more than any content marketing advice. And hire an editor.
Example #3: Doctor Doctor
Finally, I want to talk about one of my favourite projects. The client is a doctor who owns her own medical practice. What an amazing opportunity to work with someone who has such a complex and highly sought skill set!
We did our own detailed research in house, and presented the findings to the client (with clear quantitative reasoning), and then asked for her thoughts based on her experience. She was able to spot ideas in our research that easily resonated with patients’ common queries, while spotting other ideas that were less relevant to her business. Together we arranged a strategy and co-managed the authorship (authorship, not content production).
Every month, we researched and wrote two in-depth pieces and sent them to the client for feedback. And every month, the client used a voice recorder to send us thoughts and knowledge for two more pieces, which we then fleshed out and turned into fantastic written resources.
With this process, we built a small library of information that covered every major aspect of a particular medical procedure.
And how did users respond?
Massive growth from month to month, roughly quadrupling the traffic to that part of the site in a few months.
Conclusion: combine digital research with genuine expertise, infuse your writing with honest passion and care for your patients/customers/readers, and watch the results roll in.
Use your understanding, don’t forget your customers.
Showcase your knowledge, don’t dumb things down.
Publish your passion, don’t pretend to be boring.
Stop producing content. Start writing.