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We're nearly halfway through 2012 and there are some clear content trends emerging.

Here are the top six hot issues we’re discussing with content owners…

1.  Can you COPE?

COPE, as in Create Once Publish Everywhere. Originally this phrase was simply a sell for clever publishing software. It’s now become shorthand for planning and creating content that can be published and re-used across many platforms, ideally cutting the cost of creation, production and (especially) translation and localisation. Lately we’ve heard it bandied about a lot in editorial meetings.

Obviously if you are going to publish the same content (or elements of the same content) across many platforms, you’ll need to indulge in some pretty sophisticated content planning work first.

If your company operates in a series of content silos, with one team ‘doing email’ and another responsible for ‘social’, you’ll struggle to get this off the ground. But if you can join your internal content owners up to develop a truly inclusive content strategy, then COPE may well prove efficient for you.

On a practical level, for written content, this will usually mean coming up with highly adaptive modular copy formats that everyone signs off on and subscribes to. Cue stakeholder pistols at dawn… 

2. Post-Panda SEO for peanuts?

You can’t stuff your content with keywords any more. So what now? Those whose businesses stand or fall on their search results are out there trying to source content that will both keep customers engaged and satisfy a Google algorithm that rewards content quality. But how much are they willing to invest in it really?

As far as we can see, the SEO copywriting market has polarised. While we can report a recent large influx of clients prepared to invest in quality copywriting, along with the editorial planning, format work and quality control that requires, we also notice a proliferation of extremely low-cost content providers.

There will always be people prepared to churn out repurposed gobbledegook for buttons (£6.50 for 700 words, anyone?) and also those who insist that software could “seriously, like, replace Shakespeare”.

But the truth is that anyone who is prepared to write you an on-brand, optimised, customer-facing, usable piece of content, mapped to your business objectives, legally compliant, sub-edited and proofread for a fiver, is either living in a country where that’s a day’s wages, living off a trust fund or has repurposed it from someone else’s work.

Really good content costs. Sorry.

3. Micro-content fixes

The rise of the copy nudge. The double-dip has forced companies to focus even more on the bottom line. So what content gives the greatest return on investment?

Last year we started suggesting that budget-strapped content owners identified quick copy fixes with high ROI. After all, if your conversions increase as a result of your emails, then why not focus on a more compelling email sign-up, or on messages which dissuade customers from unsubscribing?

Re-working a key call to action, a button, or split-testing the benefits on a product page is quick to do, requires minimal design input and can produce instant results.

The king of all quick copy fixes is the online form. We have case studies showing up to a 35% increase in conversions from fixing the reassurance and instructional text in transactional areas.

So maybe instead of that big ambitious content migration, you should simply ‘sweat the small stuff’ instead?

4.  Mobile, tablet and yet more mobile

Making content mobile and tablet friendly is definitely what’s keeping content owners up at night. Last year, Jakob Nielsen revealed that content is twice as hard to understand on a mobile device. "When reading from an iPhone-sized screen, comprehension scores for complex web content were 48% of desktop monitor scores," he reported.

So what is the answer? In short: write short, clear sentences. What’s the problem? This is very hard to do well, especially when summarising the terms and conditions of a home contents insurance policy.

And what about tablet? While we’re still in learning mode as to what works best, certain content issues are already pretty clear. Overly-long lists and menus, information ‘too small to tap’ and serving up splash screens are all out. It appears you do need a distinct content approach for tablet after all…

5. Govern or be damned

"Quality is doing it right when no one is looking," said Henry Ford. Unfortunately, all the best editorial set-ups rely on lots of people looking. Looking, editing, checking, and then looking again in fact.

While most content teams weren’t initially set up with anything like this kind of QA process in place, we are seeing a rise in demand for content training and guidelines which support governance and help benchmark content quality.

For many clients this is ensuring that (a) best-practice samples and execution guidelines exist for each content type and (b) someone is making sure they actually get followed. For others, this means regular content auditing followed up by training and mentoring.

It’s fantastic to finally see the old-school rigour of print publishing being embraced by the digital world. Better content should come of it.

6. Content ideas brainstorm boom

The trend to embrace content marketing as a discipline in itself continues apace. But this is primarily an editorial endeavour. And great editorial depends on an ongoing flow of high-quality ideas. When the ideas run out, it’s all over.

As original ideas can be hard to find (especially for the more complex B2B brands), the ability to brainstorm clever content ideas, formats and executions has become powerful content-marketing currency.

What marketers are after is ‘ideas with legs’, workable series of content that can be replicated week after week without flagging. Content mapped to customer needs and interests that is truly useful, usable and builds long-tail relationships.

In his post-Panda blog post  Google fellow Amit Singhal advises content owners to avoid ‘mass produced’ content that is ‘shallow in nature’, and to strive for high-quality ‘original content’. He urges us to produce articles full of ‘interesting information that is beyond obvious’ and remove low-quality content from our websites.

And this is the biggest content trend of all: the culling of poor-quality content is finally beginning to happen. And we can’t wait to see the results...

Catherine Toole

Published 18 May, 2012 by Catherine Toole

Catherine Toole is Founder and Managing Director of Sticky Content, and a contributor to Econsultancy.

10 more posts from this author

Comments (12)

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Dominic Brenton

This sounds like a good plug for an Econsultancy course! :)

Seriously, though, what stands out for me from this is the need for discipline: writing regularly; focusing on what will interest your readers; using language they will understand; building your brand as a source of trusted, relatively impartial advice and, above all, avoiding trivial typos that will undermine the quality of your content. It's a very timely article.

over 4 years ago

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Emma

Great article up to the typo in point five.

over 4 years ago

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claire axelrad

Fantastically interesting and useful. Your first point especially resonates, as I've been telling everyone who will listen that they need to centralize their content strategy and repurpose content across channels. I love the COPE acronymn. Thanks so much!
-Claire

over 4 years ago

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Charlotte

Great round-up of the issues that surround content and copywriting in 2012. Personally the Google Panda update couldn't have come at a better time - it means that 'repurposed gobbledegook' as you so elequoently put it will finally become a thing of the past. I hope it means businesses of all sizes will think seriously about investing just as much time and money into the content as they do into the design and IA.
Thanks for a very informative post!
Charlotte
http://www.cavatica.co.uk

over 4 years ago

Tom Griffiths

Tom Griffiths, Digital Team Lead at Browser Media

Good article, singing the good copywriting hymn that digital strategists, planners, copywriters, PRs, SEOs, designers, devs - anyone digital - and the client should be singing together.

It does seem to focus on copy rather than 'content'. Content is videos, images, it's testimonials, reviews, web apps (calculators, image-manipulation, games that then lead to further shares of 'content').

Feels like the whole article should refer to 'copy' rather than content, but that the processes outlined in the article (point 6 in particular) could be applied to multi-format content. Good stuff, we just need to be aware that content is more than just words!

over 4 years ago

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Malcolm Gibb

Good post. Totally agree with the mobile case study, everyone is rushing on the mobile bandwagon and why not... volume is big and you need to be there. Yet many don't take into account the nature of the device and deliver the same content they utilise on desktop to a tiny device. It needs an entirely different content strategy, the rewards of this will be worth it.

over 4 years ago

Geraint Holliman

Geraint Holliman, Planning Director at DirectionGroup

As good as this argument is it highlights the problem (which Tom Griffiths also identifies) that most people mistake 'content' for 'copy'. Of course good content can be good copy but not all good copy is good content.

Good 'content' is something which adds value to the customer's life or job role: anything which provides a foundation for meaningful conversations with customers; rather than simply ramming selling messages down their throats - well crafted or otherwise.

over 4 years ago

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Jeremy Head

Great piece. Only thing I'd question is your comment about 'the old-school rigour of print publishing being embraced by the digital world' - can you give examples? I personally have yet to see it.

over 4 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi catherine.

Thanks for the article.

I personally think that anyone who produces content (copy, images, video etc) just to appear in Google is missing the point. The content you need is the stuff that is going to attract real people who are relevant to what you are promoting. Quality wins over quantity - just because you've got a listing in Google, doesn't mean you're going to get high quality visits and any positive impact on KPIs. So I'm all for the recommendation to focus on quality, just a shame that for some content producers it has taken Google algo updates to force their hand.

Re the content ideas brainstorming, that's also a useful process to go through. Web owners should get as many people, from as wide a set of people as possible, involved to get different types of input. And never forgot to ask your customers - content isn't just about acquisition, it's also a wonderful retention tool. Speak to the people who are the end users of the content and find out what they like/dislike/want to see/could produce themselves.

For content quality signals, you can also turn to your analytics and social sharing data to learn what type of content gets the most love. If your blog is in tumbleweed mode, find out why and repair it, or if your audience just doesn't do blogs, find out what content will really thrill them.

Thanks
james

over 4 years ago

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Catherine Toole

Thanks very much to everyone for their interesting comments - much appreciated.

To respond to Jeremy about 'old school print publishing rigour', I agree there is still a long way to go. While I know British journalism hasn't been getting the best press itself recently, I still believe that in terms of editorial quality control, digital still has much to learn from print.

What really bothers me is companies that have grown to be content publishers on quite a large scale having so little editorial hierarchy or control in place. And for those of you banging the "content isn't just copy" drum, the editorial planning and quality control I'm talking about is relevant to content of all kinds.

When I worked on newspapers, both broadsheet and tabloid, there was a publisher, an editor in chief, a section editor, deputy editors, picture desk editors, sub editors, proofreaders (not me clearly, Emma) and every piece of content went up and down the quality control ladder - and was also checked in situ - before it ever saw the light of day in print. Just as importantly, there was huge commissioning control, coming from a central place, out of a well-thought out editorial strategy.

I don't think it's any coincidence that many of the people producing top class, effective digital copy today are either following a version of those editorial team processes, or have that background themselves. After all, it's hard to create and maintain high quality content isn't it? But how much harder for a content manager desperately trying to control and improve the output of a company full of self-publishers with a few days' CMS training and no editor to hold them back.

over 4 years ago

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Piero Tintori

Re: point 5, “Govern or be damned”

I think it’s important to maintain a coherent and structured content strategy, and the right CMS can play a vital role in achieving it. Some content management systems don’t allow the editing of components smaller than a page and naturally, this has an effect on your content output. A more powerful and flexible CMS is necessary when it comes to a strong content strategy, as it will enable content can be re-used, and, crucially, repurposed.

about 4 years ago

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Lise Janody

You mention you have case studies which show 'up to 35% increases in conversions from fixing the reassurance and instructional text in transactional areas'. Any way we can access these? They would certainly be useful....

about 4 years ago

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