Your Google results are littered with concrete evidence that some pieces of content should never see the light of day.
No content marketer wants to be a contributor to the onslaught of terribleness online, so before you hit “Publish,” ask yourself these five questions.
Consider the answers carefully, then it’s time for a harsh content marketing truth: you may need to hit “Delete” instead of “Publish.”
#1: Did I write this just to sell my readers something?
Please, can we all agree to stop doing this? Selling something is not a valid reason to create content.
If your brainstorming meetings center on which of your products/services each piece will be promoting, just stop it.
You are ruining it for everyone.
Readers everywhere are getting so jaded by this practice that they are becoming suspicious of all content everywhere.
Remember what happened to guest blogging? It was awesome, helping content creators cross-pollinate their sites for mutual benefit. I post something fresh on your site, with a link back to my site. Then you could do the same. Win-win.
Then people started gaming the system. Google got upset and imposed restrictions on the process. In the end the bad apples tainted the well so much that many people simply won’t guest blog now for fear of the potential SEO ramifications.
Folks, let’s not do the same thing to content marketing.
I’m not saying you can’t create content in support of a product, service, or brand.
That’s what content marketing is for, after all. But creating something “in support of” a product and something “to sell” a product are not the same things.
Content marketing is about reciprocity: you create great content, people consume and enjoy it, and they develop positive feelings about your company/product/service, which leads to a purchase.
The fatal flaw in the plan is when you don’t take the first step and create great content.
Now, let’s be clear. It’s okay to request a reader’s email address if they liked your content. It’s okay to offer them a product in an unobtrusive way within your content.
It’s not okay to further pollute the internet, where we all have to live, with self-serving, uninteresting content that screams, “Buy This!”
#2: Am I only publishing this to target a high value keyword?
Keyword volume should not be the sole driving force behind your content strategy. I’ll be the first to admit that I look at keyword volume when I’m writing, but that’s only after I have a helpful article topic in mind.
The keyword volume, while important, should be incidental to your overall goal of providing useful, relevant content to your readership.
For some “content marketers” this may be a shocking suggestion.
Of course, most of us want to actually have a readership, which means we need to be targeting fairly high volume keywords (and optimizing both our content and our website as a whole).
But the priorities for content marketing should be first to make things people want to read, and then to make sure they can find it.
#3: Will my audience be interested in reading this?
You’ve just finished writing a piece of content, and now it’s time to start proofreading. Do you have feelings of dread and boredom in the pit of your stomach? This is a clue about your content’s quality.
If you can’t stand the thought of reviewing your content twice, it’s probably not very interesting.
Still unsure? User stories and personas can provide a good gut check for your content marketing’s appeal.
Imagine you’re one of your personas, and that you’ve arrived on a page. Maybe it showed up in your search results, or your Twitter feed, or somebody emailed it to you.
Take a good, hard look at the content. Do you care? Are you intrigued? Are you annoyed? Do you want to get away as fast as you can?
Be honest, and then revise (or delete) as necessary. Your fellow internet dwellers thank you.
#4: Does my title and header structure truthfully represent my content?
There’s nothing worse than seeing a title in your search results, being elated that it precisely answers your question, and then clicking on it only to find that the title is a bald-faced lie that doesn’t actually relate to the content on the page.
When this happens, it creates an unacceptable level of distrust in “the internet” in general.
This benefits no one. Honest titles only from now on.
An easy way to check this on written content is to pull your title and all your headers (h1, h2, h3, etc.) out of the article and into a separate document.
Read them all in order, and determine what the article they are part of should contain. If your piece of content doesn’t match up with the story your title and headers are telling, it’s time for a rewrite.
Want to check whether or not you’re guilty of this kind of bait-and-switch on your existing content? Take a look at your bounce rate. Those numbers can be cruel, but they don’t lie.
Keep in mind that it only takes one broken promise like this to set back your content marketing efforts significantly.
Readers remember sites that don’t deliver on their titles, and they won’t come back. They are wise and just.
#5 Have I read this article on five other websites?
We’re not talking about plagiarism here. That’s off limits for sure, which hopefully goes without saying.
The content marketing sin of repetition is almost worse than plagiarism, because it’s regurgitated muck masquerading as fresh content.
When you’re guilty of infractions #1 and/or #2, it’s very easy to add this one to your list of offenses because you aren’t writing with readers in mind. All you want to do is churn out something that will help sell and/or target a keyword.
But here’s a secret you may not be aware of: internet users are pretty savvy.
They’ll figure out that your content sounds a whole lot like the other three websites they just visited, and they’ll beat a path to the exit.
If you can’t come up with a new take on a topic, pick a different topic.
When Your Content Sucks, Seek Feedback (And You Should Always Seek Feedback)
Pixar has what they call a “brain trust,” a group of very smart, very talented people who review their movies to keep them on track and help directors succeed.
The reason that this group has evolved, according to Pixar president Ed Catmull, is that:
“early on, all of our movies suck. That’s a blunt assessment, I know, but I make a point of repeating it often, and I choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions of our films really are.” 1
So don’t despair, fellow content marketers. No matter how bad your content may seem at any point, it can always be saved through honest reflection and feedback.
We only have one internet, and we all have to use it. Let’s all agree to stop committing these egregious breaches of the unspoken rules of content marketing.
Instead let’s join together to make the internet a better place for future generations.
1. Catmull, Ed. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. New York: Random House, 2014.
Other Articles You Might Be Interested In:
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