Content Isn’t King. Trust Is King.
Posted by becole
This post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc.
As you likely already know, the goal of content marketing is to build up familiarity and trust with your prospective customers. In this case, the content isn't designed to sell a specific product or service, but rather to sell you, and to interested potential customers.
People buy from people that they know, like, and trust. And if you haven't heard it yet, let me be the first to tell you that "familiarity" breeds trust.
Content marketing certainly isn't new, but it's been getting a lot of new attention online lately (and for good reason). Small business owners across the globe are re-discovering these tried and true marketing practices, and using them to get a big leg up on the competition.
One of the really big advantages small business owners have over the titans of industry is that you can get much more personal with your target audience than they can. You have a face and a voice. You can be human with your audience. And, as it turns out, one of the best ways to do that is by talking to your customers. One of the best ways to get a feel for some of the best-practices around the industry is to follow and watch how others are succeeding. As such, I've cherry-picked some of my favorite content marketing tips from experts around the web.
1. Don't build on rented land
Publish your best content on web properties that you personally own (i.e., your own self-hosted website). Social media has hit the business world like a freight train, and there is great value in spreading your message far and wide via these cheap media channels. The point of all that chatter, though, is to get all those eyeballs back to your own site. Once they're there, it's time to convert them, either into customers or, at the very least, into email list subscribers. Social media is for mingling and chatting (and, obviously, marketing). Your own site is where the magic should happen. That's where you answer your potential clients' questions in depth. That's where you create loyalty.
Social media is great. Use it aggressively, but never forget what you're using it for: to get all those eyeballs back to your own site for conversion.
"Before you create a single piece of content, think about where that content will live and how audiences will get to it. Effective content marketing takes work. You'll need energy, thought, and time to create good content. This means that nearly all of the content you create needs to live on a domain you control, using a platform you can do as you please with. That means you're not producing the bulk of your creative content for Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, and you're not publishing on a "website in 20 minutes" solution that forces you to use someone else's domain. If your domain isn't www.YourWebsiteName.com, you don't own your platform. If you can't publish what you please, with the wording, sales messages, and images you please, you don't own your platform."
2. Help, not hype, your customer
The goal of content marketing is to allow the potential customer to develop a trusting relationship with you. One of the best ways to develop that trust is by answering customer questions and offering information in a clear, honest, and transparent way.
If the product or service that you offer is part of that message, then feel free to reference it. But if your content comes across more like an advertisement or a sales letter, then you're not doing content marketing; you're doing sales and advertising.
Trust is not built by pushing sales. Trust is built by selflessly helping people looking for help. In fact, anything but hard selling will probably do just fine. Some people tell personal stories. Some people seek to entertain. Some people seek to inform. It all depends on your target audience. What are they interested in? What do they care about? As long as you're not selling, the possibilities are pretty much endless.
"Content marketing is not just about amplifying your message to your customer, it is about helping them find what they are looking for. Discover your customer needs by searching what they are looking for online and what they are saying about your category/sector. Provide them with a program to meet these needs, whether it directly impacts your business or not. Your audience will find the help useful and you will become top of mind when they are looking for someone in your sector. And don't forget the power of the face to face contact or 'just asking' the question."
3. Write what people want to read, not what you want to write
If you're planning to succeed in your content marketing efforts, there is one big thing that you have to understand right from the start: it's not about you. It's never about you. It's not about your company. It's not about your product. It's not about your service. It's not about how great your company/product is. It's not about the amazing charity work your president does. It's not about how fun it is to work at your company. It's NEVER about you. And the minute you try to make it about you, that's when you lose their trust, and that's when you lose another potential customer.
Repeat after me: It's ALWAYS about them, never about you. This is content marketing. It's not sales, and it's not advertising. If you want to do sales and advertising, that's perfectly fine, but just don't do it in your content marketing. Write for the reader, always.
"Your content should always have an audience in mind. That means you should have their needs in mind, too, not your own. Remember, content marketing should provide something valuable to people. So although you may want to write about how terrible your day was or how someone should do something about the lines at delis in grocery stores, that's not the kind of thing people will want to read. They want to read something that's written about the things they're thinking about. So ask yourself what concerns and delights your audience, then go from there."
4. Reference industry influencers
Even if you are the undisputed thought leader in your specific niche or areas of expertise, it doesn't mean that you are the only person with something valuable to add to the conversation. In fact, you make yourself seem more trustworthy and confident when you reference other players in the marketplace.
I'm not saying that you have to specifically cite your direct competition (although sometimes that's a great idea) but people are way better informed these days than you might think they are. Customers are savvy. They know that you're not the only expert, so if you try to pretend that you, are guess what? Say it with me this time: they start trusting you less.
Referencing other experts is also a great way to show that there are others that agree with what you're saying. This is huge. Guess what else? Search engines love it, too. And just in case you're not fully convinced yet, try this one. The people that you reference will be thrilled that you mentioned them, and will likely help promote your content for you for free! Ahhh, viral marketing, sharing…everybody wins!
"When discussing a specific topic within your content marketing piece, it can be helpful to reference and cite individuals who are known to the audience and have authority on the topic. People love to see their own names published and will likely promote the content on their own for free, thus further spreading the exposure and influence of your brand and its expertise."
5. Create content for all types of readers
Branch out from your normal niche and target readers in a wider variety of related niche. This doesn't mean that you go way off on a huge tangent from your core demographics, but people do have other interests. For example, accountants aren't just interested in accounting.
Let's say you're a real estate broker. What things, other than buying a house, are people moving to a new city interested in? People with houses often have pets. Where are the best dog parks in your area? People with houses often have kids. Where are the best schools in your area? Best restaurants in the area? Best home improvement contractors in the area? Best landscapers in the area? Best doctors in the area?
Let's also revisit #4 here for a minute. How thrilled do you think the local contractor/doctor/restaurateur will be with you and your company if you reference and link to them in a piece of your marketing content? Especially if it's a 'best of' type post, you'll come out ahead.
That may have been an easy example, but use your imagination for your specific industry/niche. What other things are your target customers interested in? You know your customers better than I do (right?).
Another point is that people have friends, and you never know who will see your content and pass it on to a friend that they think it will be more useful for. I do this all the time, and I'll bet you do, too. I may not care about buying a house, but if I happen to see a post entitled 'Best Pizza Shops in Yourtown, USA' written by a local real estate agent, I may just tell my friends that are looking for a new house how cool I think your real estate agency is for writing such a post.
These actions go a long way toward showing your customers that you care about them and that you're trying to help them, not just trying to sell them on your company. That, more than anything else (arguably), builds massive trust.
"The cardinal rule of content marketing says that you need to create content for your ideal reader in order to attract the right leads and customers. Most companies follow this to the T, no matter how niche their industry is. So even though their content is excellent, it does not get seen by too many people. Content marketing success takes time and I suggest that you create content for readers other than your ideal reader so that it attract more traffic to your website and social media pages. Instead of focusing on creating just one type of content for your target audience, create some popular content to service other readers."
6. There is more to content than links
Content marketing is so far above and beyond the classic SEO link building tactics of the past. These days, it is likely better to think of links in terms of the direct traffic you'll get from them, rather than any SEO benefits they may or may not contribute. I'm not suggesting that backlinks are no longer important for SEO. What I'm suggesting is a change in mindset. Links that will actually get clicked through to your site are the better ones for SEO, anyway.
That being said, if you think of content marketing as a way to get link juice, you're doing it wrong. Content creation is all about engagement building and trust building. Let the SEO benefits work themselves out. What's good for engagement and trust is also good for search engine optimization.
A link from a reputable site is valuable because of the number of people that will click on it and come learn more about you and your company. And it just so happens that the search engines will love it for that exact reason too; win-win.
"Content Marketing is so much more than getting links. It's the glue that holds your funnel together. It's the reason a prospect visits your site, it's the reason they choose to move further down the purchase path, buy a product and return to your site time and again."
7. Don't forget the "marketing" in content marketing
Until now, I've talked mostly about content creation, but there is one other huge piece to this content marketing puzzle: content promotion.
It's incredibly shocking, but one of the biggest problems I see is that small business owners seem to be embarrassed about promoting their content. None of them seem to have any trouble trying to promote their products and services within their content, but once the content has been created, they're timid about telling people it exists.
My best guess is that they're not proud of their content. Maybe that they don't think their writing is very good, or that their content is boring, or something along that vein. If that's the case, let me try to help you a bit with that.
In general, if you're being helpful, people don't really care if your writing is a little rough around the edges. If you're getting people the information and answers that they're looking for, they will very easily forgive non-perfect writing. In fact, very often it can make you seem even more human to them.
Furthermore, the more you do it, the better you'll get at it. Nobody starts out being a great writer, a great blogger, or a great content marketer, but the sooner you start 'practicing,' the sooner you'll get better at it. I promise, it gets a lot easier very, very quickly. As a matter of fact, read my I Hate Blogging post here and you will see I am in the same shoes as many people who struggle with writing.
You don't ever have to be perfect; you just have to help and/or entertain your readers. If you do that and keep working at it, you'll be fine. But you must promote your content. If you don't promote it, then no one will ever read it, in which case, it's useless. The days are long gone where you could just post a new piece of content and hope that people would find it via search (or because you had built boatloads of spam links to it).
As discussed in point #1 above, this is where social media and your social media connections come in. Use your social channels to guide traffic back to your freshly minted content. If people like you on social media, they'll want to learn more about you. Give them a way to do that.
If you're just starting out on sharing your content through social media, here's an example of what you can say:
"Hey there folks, I just wrote up a quick post about some cool local resources I've been working on recently. If you have a moment, take a quick peek and let me know what you think. I'm just getting started with this whole content marketing thing, so any feedback you can give me will be greatly appreciated. Here's the link, thanks!"
This may be the one piece of advice I can give you that will determine your fate in content marketing more than any other. If you are too embarrassed to promote your content, then you may as well give up on the whole idea of content marketing right now. Go do PPC instead.
"Do you know why your content marketing campaign is going to fail? It's not because you can't write great content… it's actually because you don't know how to promote it. You can learn how to write great content, but if no one reads your content and links to it, there's no point in putting it out there."
8. It's all about relationships
If people can see you actively participating and being a team-player, then they will treat you accordingly; as a member of the team. [ Insider Tip: That's the goal! ] The bottom line with social is this: you have to be an active member of the team. It's not enough to just stop in and share a few things here and there, a day or two before you're going to need those same people to share your stuff for you. You have to be active. You have to be part of the team; a member of the community. It's not a wishy-washy kind of thing. It's a commitment; a commitment to your community. Your network depends on you to be there for them, just like they are there for you.
This doesn't mean that you have to be on social sites all day long. This also doesn't mean that you have to promote every piece of content that every member of your social network produces. It does mean however, that you stay involved and engaged consistently.
If people see you actively sharing and promoting other people, they will be that much more likely to share and promote your stuff when the time comes. The time to make friends on social media channels is way before you need them.
"I've heard this mantra a lot, but it wasn't until my first crack at this that I really understood how crucial relationships were. The people who were ultimately the ones to contribute something to the post were the ones I built the best relationships with. They were the ones that (for whatever reasons) responded to comments I left on their blog posts or replied to my tweets in the initial weeks. They were the ones who I was able to engage with in a personal way over email. And now they're the ones who are appreciative of the opportunity and exposure and are interested in working with me again in the future."
9. Think like a publisher
Whatever business you're in, your website and/or blog is now a venue for that industry/niche. That's just pure fact; no way around it. The trick, though, is learning to re-train your brain to treat it as such. Go down to your local book store and grab a few magazines that catch your eye, and then study them. Study their format, study their layout, study their focus. Whether you like it or not, you are in the "online magazine" publishing business now. The fun part is that you get to talk about stuff you're already an expert in.
Use your site to engage, entertain, and inform. That's all you really have to do. The hardest part is remembering to do that every time you sit down to write another piece of content. One of the quickest/easiest ways to do that is to write content that answers common customer questions. That sounds simplistic, but it's incredibly useful and engaging for people seeking answers. And if you can do that in a fun interesting way; all the better.
"You are not an advertiser [emphasis added]. An advertiser disrupts but a publisher educates and connects in a two way communication. Don't put too much emphasis on your brand. The goal is to engage your visitors and in due time, your brand will get the proper recognition. Always put value in your content. To be accurate, content is not king but value is. It's not enough to have content that is readable and no grammar mistakes. What matters is the substance of the content. What's in it for your visitors? What value will they get?"
10. Use other sites to find out what kind of content people want
I saved this one for last because it always seems to be a major sticking point with small business owners, and I wanted it to be fresh in your mind as you finish up this post. Small business owners oftentimes think that they have nothing to say, and nothing to write about.
We started this conversation in #2 above, and then again in #9 talking about answering customer questions in a fun, interesting way (and that should get you started in a big way), but eventually, you'll probably want to start branching out a bit with your topic ideas. The best way to do that is to watch what your competition is writing about, and also what other industries closely related to yours are writing about.
Read other good blogs on your topic and then just write similar articles with your own opinions and insights on the same topic, and try to make it better. I'm not suggesting that you copy anything from them obviously; just that you get inspired from them. This is also a great way to incorporate #4 and #8 above.
Everyone does this. Everyone gets inspiration from things that they see (and read) elsewhere; it's how the world works. Inspiration comes from building on top of what has come before.
This very post is a perfect example. I was inspired by the people that I quoted here. I read their posts, I picked my favorite tips from each of them, and then I added my own thoughts on the topics. I didn't have to quote and cite them, this post would have been perfectly fine on its own, but I did quote and cite them because it makes for a more interesting and engaging article. Plus it helps with a bunch of the other tips mentioned above.
"Sometimes it's hard to know what people want to read about. One way to find this out is to visit sites within your industry. Check their blogs and see what posts get the most tweets and shares. In the internet marketing niche, social media is all the rage. If you write a post about Facebook or Twitter, it's guaranteed to get more shares. Do some research to find out what kind of post are popular in your industry and write that type of content. You don't want to write these types of posts every time, but it's a great way to boost traffic when it fits into your publishing schedule."
It’s a wonderful time to be a small business owner. The Internet and content marketing has made it possible for us to stop chasing the media, and instead, become the media. You are now a magazine publisher for your own industry (and/or a local niche). Your voice can be as big or as small as you want it to be. It can start small and then grow. Or it can just stay small and that's okay too. You are in total control here. There's no reason to ever feel intimidated by the process because you control the process.
Just remember, the goal of content marketing and its sidekick social media marketing is to inform and entertain prospective customers in a way that inspires them to trust you for the right reasons; authentic, legitimate, deserving and well-earned trust. When the time comes for them to buy something, they buy from people they trust: you. Which, as I may have mentioned once or twice already, is the whole point of all this stuff. Trust, trust, trust; burn that into your brain. Content isn't king. Trust is king. Content is just how you get there.
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