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A lot of the SEO industry has embraced content marketing heavily over the last twelve months.
I'd like to say there is no connection with the Penguin update reducing the effectiveness of some low quality ways of getting links, but I think it did have a lot to do with it!
The funny thing is that content marketing has been around for a very, very long time. There are many people out there who are far better at it than many of the SEOs who are now embracing it, so we're playing catchup and trying to find the best route towards using content to get good results for our clients.
This is quite tough and we're going to make mistakes along the way, some content will fly, some won't. The goal for many SEOs is links and social shares and if a piece of content isn't quite right, it may not get either of these.
We need to try and reduce the risk of content not being well received by putting some hard work into the process for content creation. Therefore trying to anticipate potential problems as early as possible. This is what I'll discuss shortly and give some hands-on tips for.
Before we get into that though, I want to briefly discuss how SEOs think of content.
Content as an business asset
When you start thinking of a piece of content as an asset to your business, it puts a whole new perspective on things and importantly, the work you put into creating it. It is no longer a throw away piece of content that is there "just for links".
Instead, you're trying to create something that your client will be proud of and their competitors will be envious of.
You want to aim to create a piece of content where a competitor looks at it and says "Wow, I wish we'd thought of that."
Thinking of content as a proper asset can help towards this and make it mean more.
There are other benefits too:
- The asset isn't just for links, it can be useful for PR and social activity too which makes it a lot easier to get sign-off for.
- It is less likely to be a one-off piece of link building activity and more likely to be something that has the ability to get links for a long time.
- You're more likely to build content that is relevant to your client's customers which means that the benefit goes far beyond the links you get.
Hopefully you can see the benefits too. But what about the process for doing this?
Process for content creation
The words processes and systems can strike fear into the heart of some people because of negative experiences with them. If you're one of those people, I'd encourage you to take a look at this post on processes.
Hat tip to Will for showing me this. Not all processes are bad and when they're used in the right context, they can help protect against failure.
I want to share a simple set of questions and techniques that should help you produce content that attracts links and social shares.
Who will care about this content?
This is a tough question to ask, but answering it honestly can help ensure that you don't spend valuable time and resources on a piece of content that no one cares about.
Ask yourself who would read the content, who would relate to it and go and find them online to make sure there is an active community of interested people.
It is important to find an active community, otherwise you're probably not going to have many people who have the ability to link and hardly anyone to outreach to. This pretty much ruins your chances of getting links and social shares before you've even started.
Make sure that you expand this question beyond your team at the very least because sometimes, your team (and you) can be a little too emotionally invested in a piece of content which means that you're not the best person to judge how good it could be.
We're also very protective of our own ideas and want to see them through. So it is worth putting emotion and ego to one side in order to make sure that it isn't just you that loves the idea!
Why will someone care about this content?
Another tough question, but this is equally important and as we'll see, can help massively with your outreach if you decide to proceed with the idea.
There are any number of reasons that someone may care about a piece of content, here are a few:
- It's funny.
- It's informative.
- It's useful.
- It challenges the status quo.
- It answers a question.
Ultimately, a piece of content needs to trigger some kind of emotional response in order to make people care about it. Otherwise, the content will be opened and forgotten about very quickly, losing all chance of getting links and social shares.
This is another check that can make sure that a piece of content stands a good chance of getting links because it can be hard enough to get people to read content, let alone link to it. So if we can make them care about it, we stand much more chance of getting them to take the time to link to it.
Linking to something take a bit of time and effort so we need to make sure we're making each reader care enough to take the time to link.
In terms of helping with outreach, this step can help us too. When we craft an outreach email, we try to connect with the person we're contacting and make them care about what we're showing them. If we already know why someone would care, then we can work this into our outreach email and be confident that we will get some good responses.
Who will link to or share this content?
This is a super quick one that you can do when you first get an idea for a piece of content. When you first get an idea that you feel is quite solid, go and find ten people that you think would link to it - in ten minutes. If you can't find ten people in ten minutes, is it really such a good idea?
It also doesn't bode well for finding lots of other link prospects if you can't find just ten. It sounds like a harsh test, but it can really help weed out a good idea from a truly great idea.
Would the CEO be proud of this content?
This questions helps to keep yourself in check on a couple of fronts:
- It keeps the content on brand and in line with beliefs of the company.
- It ensures you're creating content that is relevant to the business.
- It makes you think about creating content that will attract real customers as well as links.
- If you ever have to present to the CEO on what you've been doing, you can be confident that they won't shoot down your campaigns.
This check is very much needed because we can sometimes focus a bit too heavily on getting links, without thinking about why we're doing it. If we ask ourselves this question, it is no longer 100% about links, it is about creating a great piece of content that is an asset to the business.
Outreach to a handful of external bloggers to get their feedback
If possible, this is a great one that I've used several times.
As mentioned above, we can often be a bit too close to an idea which means we're not able to objectively judge how good it really is. To truly test whether an idea is worthy of attracting links, why not ask the people who you want to link to it? Why not do it before you've even created the content?
It makes perfect sense to speak to bloggers before you finish a piece of content. You can even speak to them before you've even started on a piece of content. Not only are you getting a good sense check against your ideas from knowledgable people, but you're giving them a heads up on something they may want to link to.
So when the content does go live, it is far easier to ask for a link from these bloggers because they have already been involved in the process. They may have even given you a suggestion that you have now incorporated.
You can then go back to them and say how you've taken on board their feedback and created something really cool., this is a great way of building relationships with bloggers.
Examples of great content
I want to finish up with a few examples of great content that have got links and social shares.
Online Schools ebook
This is not only a great piece of content in itself, but it has been beautifully presented as an online ebook. It also appeals to the target audience of Online Schools which means that the value isn't just in the links it attracts. It can also bring real customers which is far more valuable to the business.
Who owns the most servers? By Intac
I love this because you can't help but keep scrolling down the graphic to see the sheer volume of servers owned by Google. Again, it is on-topic for Intac because they are a hosting company. Therefore the web geeks who may be interested in seeing who owns the most servers may also be interested in hosting services.
Hollywood data explorer
Imagine your client had something like this on their website, do you think you'd be able to get some links to it?! I would! I'd love to outreach something like this because it is super cool and useful for finding out a bunch of statistics about movies.
I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback, or other examples of great content in the comments or ping me on Twitter.
Paddy Moogan has just published The Link Building Book.