Beyond Blog Posts – A Guide to Innovative Content Types
Posted by Tom Critchlow
Producing great content is a high ROI activity. Too often however I see people focused on producing individual pieces of content aiming to get links and attention. Putting together a content strategy requires much more than a single piece of content – it requires a vision and strategy for how you’re going to publish your content, why type of content you will be publishing, how your audience will engage with it and so on and so forth.
I like to think that instead of focusing on pieces of content - you should focus on the content platform. This shift requires lateral thinking, research and creativity. In this post I’m going to break down some alternative content types that I’ve been consuming recently. I’ve provided examples but try and look beyond the individual posts and focus on the underlying platform and think about what makes it succesful.
Q&A content is getting some explosive growth recently – primarily down to Silicon Valley’s love affair with Quora. It’s quite undervalued for generating marketing buzz, but there can be gold in Q&A sites. Here’s some of the power of Q&A content.
1) A quora thread which is answered by a Google employee with amazing details on why Wave failed and how it was developed in the first place:
2) The ever excellent Stackoverflow, with so many awesome questions it’s difficult to pick one. From recent times I love this one on how Stackoverflow optimised their load speed:
3) Of course, we practice what we preach at SEOmoz and we are pumping out some awesome Q&A content. I love this thread on SEO secrets:
We’re seeing a lot of growth in our Q&A at the moment, if you’re not hanging out in there asking and answering questions you’re missing out!
4) The Reddit AMA sub-reddit is my favourite daily-read and has some super awesome threads. Going on right as I write this post is an AMA from John Resig, creator of jQuery:
I know what you’re thinking – what place do stale powerpoint presentations have in blog posts? Well quite a lot it turns out. Rand regularly embeds his presentations in blog posts and they make for popular posts. In particular I love his recent 4 presentations with tips, graphics and data you can use.
So presentations work well online – and I’m a big fan of how BusinessInsider are innovating in this space – they have full screen presentations you can flip through (enabling the use of arrow keys to scroll through them and # URLs is very slick too). For example here’s a recent survey of ipad users:
Or, if you prefer, the hilarious fake color.xxx pitch deck.
I’ve been a big fan of content curation and storytelling online – I think it’s a largely untapped niche that steadily growing and will explode sometime soon. In the meantime, some pioneers are paving the way forward.
1) The Atlantic Wire is a phenomenal aggregation of hot news and information. It’s a combination of reporting, journalism, investigation and curation. They publish all kinds of different media depending on what’s relelvant to the story. They transparently cite sources and aren’t afraid to post short-form content where it adds to the conversation. For example this post about Obama having an ipad is just a link to the Whitehouse flickr stream and a paragraph of text:
2) I’m a big fan of personal storytelling and Storify is an awesome app that let’s anyone quickly and easily create a story out of curating content that appears elsewhere. A perfect example is Danny Sullivan’s awesome recap of the guy who live tweeted the Osama news:
I also published a quick example showing off a series of tweets about the new Google Analytics page load speed tracking.
Magazine & Longform content
Let’s jump from short-form content to long-form content. I’m a huge fan of the more editorial and in-depth content pieces and although these are more effort they can produce excellent rewards.
1) A List Apart – is an online magazine that’s been running for years and has a wide audience. They produce phenomenal long pieces which are very well written and thoughtful. Of course magazine and long form content has been around for a long time but it still delivers for you and I think it’s relevant to highlight people still doing this well online. For example this recent excellent pieceon Orbital Content
3) #Longform and #Longreads are two excellent curators who purely surface in-depth articles on a wide range of topics. This culture of longform curation however has spawned some very innovative startups such as Byliner which aims to publish very longform content about current events:
Imagery and Photojournalism
Say what? Your list of innovative content includes images? Aren’t they a little dated? Not at all. We’re only just scratching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to images.
1) The Atlantic’s In Focus & The Boston Globe’s Big Picture are leading the charge for high quality online imagery and photo journalism (incidentally both started by the same guy, intially at the Boston Globe and more recently at the Atlantic – read a fascinating reddit AMA with him here). Who would have guessed that amazing high quality photos could be so appealing? For example this series of photos from previous royal weddings:
2) Cinemagraphs – unless you live in a hole underground or don’t follow me on twitter you will have seen me raving about these awesome classy animated GIFs. Yes, you read that right – I’m including animated GIFs in my list of innovative conttent types. Created by the stunningly talented duo Jamie Beck & Kevin Burg, just take a look at this GIF (watch closely):
There are more innovations in video than I can cover in this blog post so I’ll stick to a few of the more attainable ones.
1) Interviews, Mixergy style. These video interviews are very low-budget and simple but also very effective. The key here is in understanding your target audience and really getting interviews that your audience are hungry to watch. For example, this great interview with Paul Graham:
2) Live Video! 2011 is going to be a big year for live video events. There are a lot of big players all pushing for live coverage and streaming media which I think will shake up the way we consume content online. Youtube is obviously making a push for live streaming with YouTube Live. As you read this Google I/O is likely streaming right now!
But live streaming of events isn’t just for conferences – as ever entertainment is pushing the boundaries for what’s possible. I really enjoyed the idea behind the recent live music video from Death Cab For Cutie:
You can read a little bit more about the background on Mashable.
3) Of course, it’s hardly innovative but again we’re practicing what we preach at SEOmoz and our whiteboard fridays and webinars attract a lot of attention. Crucially they also seem to have their own audience independent of the blog audience.
Are infographics dead? Hardly. Chris Bennett said it best at our #LinkLove conference in NOLA when he said that infographics are alive and well, it’s infocrapics that are dying out. It’s so true, and applies to any content form – if the substance is sub-par then you’re not going to have success. That said, there are some very exciting interactive infographics coming out at the moment. My favourite of which recently is where did my tax dollars go:
This is an excellent example of how you can turn complex and large data sets into something that is not only interactive but also personally engaging. I encourage you to go and lose 30 minutes of your life browsing the data. I’ll wait.
Using products as marketing is nothing new but there’s a few really awesome examples of this.
1) The Moleskine Artist Marketplace. Everyone at Distilled is a huge fan of the Moleskine brand and they’re doing some innovative online marketing at the moment – for example they launched their Artist Marketplace:
I really really love this concept for inbound marketing – it has all sorts of benefits from gaining links, growing a userbase of brand evangelists, generating social media buzz and also appealing to the hacker/etsy crowd. By the way – if anyone from the Moleskine marketplace is reading this and wants to create some Distilled branded moleskines for me that would be super awesome
2) Threadless. An olide but a goodie and worth including since they’re pretty much the perfect example of building a marketing plan into their product.
This really caught me unprepared but it’s such a genius marketing tactic. The New Yorker published a story from author Jonathan Franzen on a Facebook page which you can only access if you like the New Yorker Facebook Page. There’s a fascinating writeup on Business Insider, but suffice to say they gained over 17,000 facebook likes and links from all over the place including Mashable, Forbes and The Atlantic.
Why Everyone Needs A Marketing Oracle For Their Content Platform
SEOmoz are currently hiring for a Marketing Oracle. What is this position? Simply put, it’s someone to help steer the SEOmoz content vision. Think about this question – "how would you innovate the SEOmoz content model?". We’re looking for someone who’s excited about tackling that question.
Taking lessons from a lot of the above content types there is a strong editorial leaning and I think someone from the world of journalism would fit very nicely into the SEOmoz vision. Do you fit this criteria:
- A TAGFEE attitude
- Passionate about creating content
- Strong editorial vision for SEOmoz
- Deep understanding of social media
If you think you would fit the job apply now
It’s not just SEOmoz that needs a marketing oracle though – if you’re producing content to aid your inbound marketing then you should think long and hard about what your content strategy looks like. There’s value in building a content platform, defining your target audience and building something that’s going to provide long term value for you. Think about becoming more like a media hub than a blog.