By Mark R. Hinkle
The reason people publish content on the web varies: to promote a product, their company, or themselves as an expert. If you are looking for a shortcut to fame and fortune stop reading. Publishing and promoting your content should be looked at as a process with a distinct goal in mind. Gimmicks and other tricks are short-sighted unless you want to be the next Tommy Tutone or Devo it’s worth your time to come up for a complete content and promotion strategy.
Once you establish that goal, work backwards. For example, you may want to establish yourself as or your company as the leading expert in purple widgets or you want to sell purple widgets. You need to put yourselves in the shoes of your audience. Think about your audience and do some research on what already exists on purple widgetry. Do a Google search, check out what’s being said on blogs on Technorati or Blog Pulse, and figure out what element you bring to a conversation that doesn’t already exist. Also, don’t plan on becoming successful via a single post. When you publish a piece of content think about the process that yields your desired result: Content Development, Search Engine Optimization, Marketing, and Community
Think Like a Reader: Developing Engaging Content
First the easy part. Suppose you want to establish yourself as the world’s biggest expert in purple widgetry. Think about how you can develop a story that’s appealing to the readers and is both unique and relevant. Think about what supporting materials you might need to make your content compelling. One technique is to think of your marquis content as a collective work. Write a few pieces of supporting content before publishing your premiere content to help emphasize your point without taking away from the story. These are supporting content pieces that can be referenced via links in your narrative (use good anchor text and full URL links). They may be explanatory pieces that describe an element of your story. Three pieces of content feeding a single manifesto has the benefit of keeping your piece relevant, informative, and prevent rambling sidebars. It also can be a source of traffic that traffic that helps link back to your piece (see more below).
Choose your words wisely Use words that people are searching for, small changes in your wording can make a big difference in your search results. The SEO Book Word Suggestion Tool is excellent (it cross references Google, Yahoo, and WordTracker). You might also consider well as other tools like Compete, SEODigger, and Google Keyword Optimizer to determine your niche. Google Trends is a also great tool for seeing how popular you topic is and get ideas of what other people are saying.
Most web publishers aren’t writers they are experts in some subject, so turn to the people who are good writers for advice. Blogs like CopyBlogger offer tips from copyrighters about how to improve your content and make it more compelling and useful to readers and search engines alike. Another tip in lieu of an original topic you might want to consider going negative on a popular topic. Taking a contrarian point of view, marketing and PR writer David Meerman Scott has an excellent post on the power of going negative even if it is just in a tongue-in-cheek way.
For marquis content I like to take my topic and create an outline that includes my key points, links, and keywords to be used throughout an article (more on this later).
Think Like a Search Engine: Search Optimization
Okay maybe search engines don’t think but they do follow a process for looking at your content. First make sure you understand all the elements that are relevant to SEO, Rand Fishkin’s Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization is a great place to start.
Once you understand all the elements of how to optimize your content go back to your outline for your article. Include the results of your keyword research and use that to inform your title, meta-description, and meta-keywords and include that in your content outline from the content development plan.
Make sure that your content is indexable you can check your website using Google simply type cache:www.yoururl.com in Google then click on the Text link (This only works if your site has been cached by Google). This is how Google sees your page and can alert you to poor design elements and other errors. I also like the Firefox Firebug extension which allows me to inspect a page and alerts me to errors before I publish it. Once you have an idea of what your content looks and how it should be formatted start thinking about how you are going to promote it.
Think Like a Marketer: Promoting your Content to Search Engines and Beyond
In the old west pioneers used to set up towns along trails. One of the first fixtures to go up was a general store followed by saloons, and hotels. Due to the Westward expansion these stores thrived as traffic passed by. These stores flourished because they got there first and there was little competition. There are very few places on the web where you can be first and there is more competition for readers and traffic then every before. Therefore passively waiting on search engines to find and drive traffic to your content alone is a sucker’s bet. I look at the the art (Or is it the science?) of building web traffic very methodically. Developing content is usually the easiest piece for subject matter experts. There are also a ton of resources for search engine optimization, making your content readable by spiders. etc. In my experience the best return on investment for driving traffic is to actually marketing your content to both search engines and readers.
The Power of Submit News – It seems like these days there’s a new portal popping every few minutes. Most of them are much smaller than larger user-driven portals that make up the holy grail of website traffic Digg or Slashdot, or Sphinn for the SEM crowd. I do recommend submitting your content to these sites if relevant because of the huge amount of traffic they can send but keep in mind the chances of making their front pages is very low. It’s the less popular more specialized that seem to have a highest return on investment. They are a good source of targeted readers and the portals are typically hungry for news. Many of them have a Submit News form that allows you to resubmit your stories or in the ideal situation submit a lead to your content with a link back to the original. I have a list of 50 sites saved in a document along with submit URLs and passwords that are relevant to my topics that I submit my marquis content to, this has a dual benefit (search Google for your keywords plus “Submit News” to find them). I get a good relevant and in most cases a high quality link. Second, I tap into an audience that has a fairly high chance of converting on my site.
Advertising and Pay-per-click (PPC) – Pick your poison here, Google Adwords, Yahoo! Marketing, or maybe TextLinkAdds and do a little advertising. Don’t forget the huge opportunity for advertising on misspellings of your keywords at a very affordable price. I have found for bloggers and companies that want eyeballs and mind share StumbleUpon can be a powerful way to jump start your content. For five cent per stumble you can drive a lot of traffic albeit with a fairly high bounce rate. Though once you stumble a link it can continue to produce traffic long after your advertising budget is completed.
Using Link Currency – Linking is the currency of the web and should be provided as a service to your audience. If you are writing a piece that would benefit from a third party link to a concept given the choice of linking to Wikipedia or a blog where an industry expert helps make your point, link to the blog (especially one that supports trackbacks). This instantly creates a link on a site for your newly generated content and it is an easy way to tap into a readership that is likely to be interested in your message.
Reinforce with Video – While I don’t preach about gimmicks since Google has acquired YouTube video seems to show up disproportionately high on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Use this to your advantage. When appropriate create a complimentary video. Video promotion services like Hey!Spread will distribute your video to numerous video sharing sites and help create links and attract users in a very leveraged way. It should go without saying but make sure to link to the content your are trying to promote in the description of and within the video.
Call to Action – Anyone who sells things on the web understands the importance of the shape, size, presentation of their call to action. Nothing is worse than driving a bunch of traffic to your site and have those viewers be unsure what to do. Once again, think about your desired result, if it’s to gain readers make sure that a subscribe button is important, if you are selling purple widgets then the buy button might be important. If you are selling information you might want to direct viewers to something that whets their appetite for your juicy premium content. Whatever the desired result make sure that call to action exists and that it’s clear to the reader what the benefit is to them.
Think Like a Community Manager : Build a Community
If you develop content on your own its a lonely task and you reap the benefits of one persons work. If you build a community these people enhance your content (through comments on blogs or posts in forums) and they provide more content to be indexed by search engines. They also typically provide value that makes your site worth linking too without your interference. Building a community of readers is a powerful tool that wielded appropriately can yield a considerable amount of traffic. Your community can provide leverage in your marketing efforts and they can help develop and even unknowingly optimize your content. I struggled with using the term social media marketing but it is a popular search term so I caved here. The emphasis is promote participation and to promote participatory activity on your site.
Pick Your External Communities – Every day seems to bring a new social network, a new Facebook widget, or a new forum. It’s not practical to participate meaningfully in each one but picking the right communities for your interests and then participating in a meaningful way can yield good results. For example, if you are developing technology content, Slashdot has a large following that values commenting and meta-moderating as their preferred methods of participation. However, linking back to your content as you demonstrate your expertise can have a great effect on gaining traffic and readership. Don’t spread yourself to thin or you likely won’t get a very good return on your time investment. Most of these sites have faculties for sharing information, or providing shout-outs. If you are a good and responsible community member you can leverage your off site community to bring users to your site.
Twitter – Twitter is white-hot right now but it’s very effective. Pairing a Twitter feed with your website is very effective way to send messages to your community. Google seems to love this micro-blogging tool as well. Having a Twitter account that is dedicated to the topic of your website is a very effective technique. The key beyond promoting content on your site is to also promote your category in general. For example, if you love open source software sharing links that are interesting but not on site is a service to your readers “retweeting” the posts of others. You can also post links to your content. If you schedule content to be released at a later time you can use the TweetLater service to make sure you don’t forget to promote the link to your community.
Run Contests – Contests are an invitation for participation, engaged readers can help bolster your content, and provide other value to you like links and buzz. Beyond that it facilitates conversations and helps engage your readers to a greater extent.
The Bottom Line Get Results: Measuring and Resetting
At the end of the day you produce content for an intended result. To improve results in the future you should consistently monitor and measure the performance of your content using whatever analytics package you care to (I prefer Google Analytics). I keep a number of documents that list my website “marketing plan” they highlight what steps to take and provide a checklist associated with content production that ensures a consistent result. I also measure my results. I keep a dashboard of key metrics that I used to measure and reset my expectations periodically.
Page views – Just as the name implies, its not very helpful on it’s own unless you are selling pay per view ads (does anyone do that any longer?)
Unique Visitors – This is much more interesting and helps infer how engaged your readership is number of page views divided by unique visitors gives the number of pages per visit and is a measure of reader engagement (in some cases it also can be a indication of how hard it is to navigate your site)
Time on Site - Amount of time the user spends on site, if it’s a few minutes you have yourself an interested reader, if it’s a few seconds you most likely are attracting the wrong type of visitor.
Bounce Rate – This is the number of readers that come for just one page and leave (It’s a good indicator to how your calls to action are working)
Referrers – This tells me where traffic comes from and helps inform the value of my linking strategy. It’s a good way to measure your submit news results from your marketing plan.
Keyword Conversions – This tells you how your content is performing and helps you understand
Community Members – For bloggers you likely use Feedburner to publisher your feed and number of subscribers, if you run forums you might consider registered users, if you have a newsletter you might consider your subscriber numbers as metrics for how many people simply stop by your website and how many are truly engaged.
Conversions – The goal of getting people to your site is take take some action (e.g. to subscribe to newsletter, join your community, or buy something) all these other metrics should help inform how your process is working. Tracking conversions to some goal is a key metric. Google Adwords recently improved their Adwords Conversion tracking tool and Google Analytics has a Goal Conversion and Tracking faculty to see how people are meeting your goals for a website other services and analytics packages have similar tools but in my experience Google’s are useful and integrated into my dashboard.
Once you start tracking your results this can inform your future plans. If you continue to meaure, reset your expectations, and hone your process you will see steady improvement in your results. Participating in gimmicks and fads for web promotion is a high risk and short sighted strategy. Developing a plan that you continually refine and improve that works for your niche is the best way to insure success.
This is an entry to Marketing Pilgrim’s 3rd Annual SEM Scholarship contest.