Which 3 would you pick?
For me, it’s the barista, the lunch and the chocolate. Or maybe the WIFI.
The inherent reason that graphics like these are so darn jarring is because we want it all. Who right now isn’t silently creating validating internal arguments to justify making a fourth pick? I caught you, didn’t I?
Now for an even harder one.
Which 3 would you pick now?
I’m going to make it really easy on you: Pick the content. Every single time. Over the giant email list, over the highly engaged Facebook page, over the endless paid budget that would drive endless views to your products.
Fine, if you’re wheeling and dealing, try to get that unlimited paid budget as well.
But I’ll stand by my assertion: great content always wins.
For many years, I worked as a content strategist at WeAreTeachers. WeAreTeachers is a resource media site for teachers, and after years of hard work, we had built what many would consider the ultimate trifecta of marketing: We had a huge, engaged social audience, a rapidly growing opt-in email list and a website that almost always ranked in the first page of Google for our top keywords.
We were doing great, and it showed in our steadily increasing numbers. Day after day, week after week, month after month, our traffic, our social numbers, and our lists slowly but steadily increased.
And then, in August 2018, one of our amazing writers uploaded a piece that changed everything.
We all knew the article was good from day one, but we didn’t realize its greatness until a month or two later. The piece was about Lawnmower Parents. You may remember it. It was, after all, picked up by The Today Show, by USA Today, by Inc.com and by hundreds of other media publications. In the Autumn of 2018, it was all over social media, the internet and TV.
My husband (a high school principal) came home from work one day with the article printed out. “I printed this out so you could read it after we talked about it in our staff meeting. It sparked like 20 minutes of conversation and I think you’d be really interested in it. Maybe we can talk about it tonight after we put the kids to bed.”
I definitely rolled my eyes at him. “Do you see the URL on that article? Do you even know where I work?”
But I digress.
The point is, that one single piece of great content increased our traffic, our social media numbers, our email list, our everything exponentially. We went from slow-and-steady to skyrocketing. Even with an unlimited paid budget, we could not have bought the traffic and list increase and social engagement that we got from that one piece.
What’s more, we were able to take the content in that one piece and splinter it into at least 20 other pieces that served to engage our audience at a deeper level. These new pieces kept traffic up for years and continued to drive new users of our content and new sales for our agency.
I’m definitely not saying that the other marketing components don’t matter (after all, I let you choose three), but I will say one thing:
Great content always wins.
Before you go off to create your content masterpiece, let me remind you not to be Tommy Tutone.
Who is Tommy Tutone, you may be asking?
Does 867-5309 ring a bell?
Most people worldwide know that 7-digit string of numbers… although very few of us know the name of the singer who sang that famous song. Same goes for the companies behind other great pieces of content. You may remember ideas, components and parts of great pieces of content that you have read, but you only really remember the brand behind that content if that brand is consistently, regularly and intentionally creating great content on a regular basis.
It’s hard to create great content. It’s even harder to create great content that people want to read and share and then read some more. And while you may be tempted to pour your heart, soul, and mind into creating that one perfect piece of content, don’t.
No one is buying CD’s or t-shirts or posters of Tommy Tutone.
That one-hit-wonder of a song simply gave him a one-hit-wonder.
Not a singing career, not a brand, not a fortune.
Same goes for you and your content. Yes, you should create great content. But before you do that, create a content strategy and then a content empire that empowers your content creators to really dig in and create pieces that are meaningful and powerful.
Because while it can get you some good solid traction off of one or two great pieces for a time, in the roller coaster world of business, that’s akin to spending your entire monthly ad budget on one paid ad.
It doesn’t do much for your brand long-term.
Great content strategies don’t come easy.
At WeAreTeachers, we had that one, company-changing piece of content. We also had hundreds of other pieces that did great things for us—picked up millions of page views and gathered hundreds of thousands of followers. But we also created hundreds (okay, thousands) of pieces of great content that produced ho-hum results. Pieces that writers and video producers and designers poured their hearts and souls into only to garner hundreds of page views instead of millions.
Yet some pieces blew up the internet… and some just disappeared with hardly a pageview.
A great content strategy consistently draws in an audience, engages them, and keeps them wanting more. But the key word there is consistently.
It doesn’t skyrocket into the blogosphere one day and fizzle out.
Instead, companies who choose to be great at content are great at content every single day. Always.
Hint: It’s not SEO.
Yes, I said it.
I know that we at DigitalMarketer have said for years that SEO is a key to generating organic traffic for content marketing. And we’ll stand by that assertion: SEO is important. But it’s not where you should start. Instead, it’s where you should finish.
A few years ago, I was trying to hire a writer for a content creation job. A freelancer (we’ll call him Daniel) submitted a resume that claimed he was able to churn out “more than 20 pieces of keyword rich content every week.” I was intrigued. I called Daniel in for an interview and asked him to bring a sampling of pieces.
When Daniel arrived, he was confident and convincing. He explained his writing process involved searching for high-interest keywords and then writing pieces that utilized those keywords in a variety of ways to increase SEO value. That all sounded great.
I asked him to show me a sample.
Now I obviously didn’t copy his work, but it read similarly to this:
A good content strategy is a good way to build good content. You start with a good content strategy and then strategize how to create good content. Your strategy should start with some ideas on how to create good content and then should evolve into a process that enables you to implement your good content strategy.
Needless to say, Daniel didn’t get the job.
But there was a time where writers like Daniel were in high demand. Back in the early days of internet content (about in the same time period when I had to walk uphill each way in the snow to school), back when Myspace ruled social and back when the backend tools on Livejournal.com were second-to-none, marketers and business owners started paying attention to blog content. And at about that time, Google started paying attention to keywords.
It was around this time that writers like Daniel began honing the skill of writing keyword-rich content. Writers would research the top ranked keywords for their topic and then do their best to weave the keywords into their writing in a way that boosted SEO.
But at that time, boosting SEO meant repetition, repetition, repetition.
Which resulted in a whole bunch of content that was keyword rich but value poor.
Basically, Google loved the articles, but the readers didn’t.
And so writers had to evolve. They had to learn to weave keywords into story and story into tactical writing and tactical writing into cohesive, powerful pieces.
So back to the original question: How do you get great content? The answer: Get great writers. Great content creators write, write and write some more. Then they read books and articles written by great writers and then, you guessed it, write some more.
Anyone can write like Daniel—no, really, go find any 12-year-old off of the street and ask them to write a paragraph about content strategy and I guarantee their paragraph will sound exactly like Daniel’s. Maybe a little better.
But great writers… well, they write like no one else, but relate to nearly everyone. They take ideas, keywords and current events and turn them into stories that people want to read again and again.
Great writers turn words into magic. Oh, and that magic? They turn it into money, traffic, conversions, brand advocacy and much more.
So onto that much, much more: Once you have great writers creating great content, then you can work on splintering that content into more content, creating content clusters ultimately, building your SEO credibility so that you can rank on Google.
But start with the good content.
The rest comes later.
If you want to create great content, you have to invest in it.
Did you see how I literally valued great writers higher than an unlimited paid budget? I truly believe that a great writer is worth a fortune. Which means that if you want great content creators, you have two choices:
A few weeks I listened to a podcast that featured the team behind Morning Brew newsletter. They talked about how they hire writers. Their process starts with a writing sample—they don’t care how much experience the candidate has, what their publishing background is, where they have worked before. Every single writer starts on a level playing field and is judged on one thing: How well they can write a simple 150-word piece.
I love this.
The 12-year-old has the same opportunity as the multi-published author.
And the multi-published author has to show his chops regardless of how many advanced degrees he has.
As soon as I heard about this assignment, I had my team of writers here at DigitalMarketer do the same assignment. Not because I was trying to hire new writers, but instead because I wanted them to practice being great writers. For the assignment, I asked them to pull one piece of relevant marketing or business-related content from the internet… and then to expound upon it for 150 interesting, conversational and tactical words.
It sounds easy. It’s not.
But in the process of working on it, I’ve already seen my writers growing.
All that said: The first step to growing great writers is to have them write. A lot.
At my first writing job, I worked for a major media company. It was big—midtown New York, lots of writers, lots of editors, lots of red ink. There, we had to write a piece nearly every day. Half of those pieces were rejected. Half were demolished by the editors. But the final result? We only published good content.
Same goes for you and your writers: Write.
Write some more.
Up next: Reading.
I’ve never met a great writer who doesn’t read. Not only should your content team be reading books about the craft of writing, but also books about marketing, books about business, and books about everything else under the sun.
Great writers read.
Another tip to help writers become better writers is to have them read viral articles. Have them analyze the articles not based on the content, but based on the writing. Have them try to figure out why that article was so great.
There are hundreds of other tips on how to train great writers, but we’re going to leave it at this: Great writers aren’t born. Great writers don’t just happen. Great writers work at it.
So if you want to write great content, help your writers to be great.
It takes time.
It takes effort.
But it’s worth it.
So you have great writers, great ideas and a great product, you have the trifecta, right?
There is one tiny (okay, giant) problem with this: The content-consuming world is fickle.
Consumers of content—especially marketing content and business content are super savvy. They know what they are talking about and they know what works. They also want cutting-edge, tactical content that will help them to be better marketers, salespeople and business leaders.
So having great writers isn’t enough.
Having great content ideas isn’t enough.
You also have a content strategy that gives your team what they need—training, process and marketing expertise so that they can consistently churn out great, thought-provoking, tactical content.
That content strategy varies from team-to-team and business-to-business.
At DigitalMarketer, our content strategy starts with the 12-week year strategy. Once we have our 12 “weeks” roughly planned out, we use Trello to keep our editorial calendar up-to-date. From there, we have a team of writers who work on timely, tactical and easy-to-read content based on those guidelines.
They key here is we don’t have them just write pieces to check boxes on the calendar.
Instead, we have them use the calendar as a guide and from there, dig in to create really great pieces influenced by current trends, marketing best practices and personal experiences and expertise.
Then we splinter those pieces out into other pieces. Pieces that dig even deeper into the topic.
This strategy has worked for us. But we don’t want to come out to say that this is the one and only perfect content strategy and we guarantee that if you follow our 126-step plan you will have one viral post every 46 days.
Because if we said that, we would be lying.
Content strategy is much harder to nail down than other things like paid budget, an email list or even social media because it is so contingent on what the reader relates to.
A strategy that may work perfectly for one business at one time, may not work at all for another. And likewise, the strategy that has worked for us in 2020, may not work anymore in 2021.
I know that I’m being a bit evasive here. I’ve basically told you that you need to invest in great content, and that the way to do it is to invest in writers and to invest in a content strategy.
But I didn’t give you straight tried-and-true tactics.
And I didn’t give you a perfect plan or playbook.
Not because I don’t want to—if I could come up with a surefire way to guarantee viral content, I’d be rich.
I’m not giving you an exact plan because there isn’t one.
The best content strategies are both extremely thoughtful and intentional, while also being moving and flexible. These strategies incorporate writers who content, love marketing and, love to write. Editors who are willing to press writers to do more, to make changes, and to dig deep. And business leaders have to be willing to invest in training writers, marketers and, editors to make sure that content is the best that it can be.
We plan to write a whole lot more about content strategy (See “splintered content”) in the coming weeks. We plan to share tactics on training writers, on building a content calendar and on how to make sure you create a content strategy that lends itself to viral content.
For now, though, we’re going to give you one simple to-do: If you want to create great content, start with great writer and follow that up with a great content strategy. Make the investment into content.
We promise it will be more valuable to your business than hiring an onsite barista. (But man it would be nice to have my double mocha cappuccino hot and ready for me every day when I arrive in the office.)