If you are actively pursuing an SEO strategy for your website, you are most likely aware of the need to create unique, compelling, and original content on a regular basis. Any SEO practitioner will tell you how critical content publishing is if you want your website to get found by the search engines. Content is King has become the mantra of SEO.
You probably also know that you need to think like your target audience in order to be found by them. This means using words they’re likely to be searching for, and addressing needs they can relate to. Nothing new for anyone in sales or marketing, right?
Actually, it is new — especially for many small businesses. Compelling online content needs to go beyond traditional sales & marketing speak; it needs to provide standalone value, not just sell your products. It needs to speak like a journalist, not a sales person. It needs to be educational, not promotional. In short, it needs to be about your audience, not about you. Sounds simple, right?
Making the Content Leap Easier
Creating online content can be a tough leap into new territory, even for experienced marketers. Many business owners have plenty to say about their own products and plans, but are challenged when it comes to creating audience-focused topics. “What else can I talk about besides the subject I know best?” a small business owner asked me recently, meaning, of course, his own products. I asked him to think about what publications his customers read every week – and then become one of them. He gave me a blank stare.
If you’ve been in business a long time, it’s tough to step outside the traditional selling mindset and begin thinking like a publisher. But if you want to be found in organic search results, publishing – not selling – is the best approach. Here are some steps to make the transition easier:
Keyword research. Every business knows what its customers’ needs are in some form, since they’re in business to satisfy a need. But you might be surprised to find your customers don’t use the same words you do to talk about it. Google’s Keyword Research Tool will help you find words and phrases your target visitors actually search for, and how many other websites are competing for those terms. Use this tool to find the ‘sweet spot’ of popular phrases, relevant to your business, and least competed for as a starting point for your content topics.
Customer interviews. If you have trouble stepping out of your selling mentality, try interviewing a handful of your customers. Take the conversation away from your product area and find out more about their business, what challenges they face, their current frustrations and needs, their longer-term plans and dreams. This will help you think bigger-picture, write from a sympathetic perspective, and address topics they care about.
Freelance writers. If you’re too busy to struggle through writer’s block, or find you can’t step out of your own perspective, hiring a freelance writer may be the best way to produce content. If you’re selling to a consumer market, a freelance writer can master your content readily and bring some fresh creativity. If you’re a B2B company, you may need to train a writer on your industry specifics, but you’ll find that many freelancers are former (or current) journalists and will come up to speed quickly. If you’re busy running your business or writing fills you with dread, this is your best option.
Industry publications. Read your industry publications. Notice the trends, tips, and general topics they cover. This is probably your best research for what topics readers find interesting, since publishers are in the business of selling content to your target audience, and they know what sells. Follow their example and you’ll be off to a good start.
The new age of content marketing is just beginning and most marketers are trying to find their way with limited guideposts and no experience. Several websites – Hubspot and Copyblogger being my favorites — offer volumes of good advice on how to do it well. But if you don’t want a full course on the topic and just need some pointers on creating good online content, try these approaches and learn for yourself. Web analytics will give you real-time feedback on how well you’re doing and allow you to adjust as you go.