E-MarketingStrategy: Read This Article Before Putting Anything Else on the Internet!
The world of content discovery has changed. As I explained in my last article, Content Discovery Optimization [CDO] has replaced Search Engine Optimization [SEO] as the best way to make sure your books and content are discoverable online. Where SEO focused on the technical aspects of search engine manipulation (keywords, link-building, etc.), CDO emphasizes quality content, sharing and community interaction.
The tools we use to find content are changing and becoming more intelligent. Google can now distinguish between content that people find actually useful and content that has been perfectly optimized to game their system. Obviously, it is in Google's interest not to be gamed. Their goal is to return the most useful Web pages to searchers. CDO is on the right side of Google. SEO is on the wrong side. In fact, during a panel discussion during South by Southwest Interactive in March, Google's Matt Cutts revealed that the search engine now has plans to begin penalizing "over-optimized" Web pages. Of course, "over-optimized" is a fuzzy term, and I'm confident that anyone reading this article is not in danger of "over-optimizing" any Web pages—but, the move makes clear Google's feelings about SEO.
Content is the key element in effective CDO. So, with that in mind, I've put together a list of the top five questions you should ask yourself before posting content to the Web—whether it is original content, content from a book you're publishing or an article from an author. Print these out. Pin them up beside your computer, next to the water fountain, and in each intern's cubicle. Take a photo of these five questions hanging on the wall and tweet me (@jsmcdougall) the images. I want to see that you've done it.
1. Will anyone care?!
There are a few ways to ask this question. I prefer the abrupt, "Will anyone care!?" But, you could also ask, "Is this useful to anyone else?" Or, "Is this more content than it is marketing?"
The answer to all these questions must be yes. Press releases, commercials and the majority of book trailers are created with the publisher's interests in mind—not the audience's. The content you post must offer value to those you wish to read it, or it will reflect poorly on the book and author it is promoting. People really only share and discuss advertisements once a year… and you can't afford air time during the Super Bowl.
2. Does this content lead back to the source?
All content—whether it's a video, an article, an op-ed, an interview or a quote—must lead any interested people back to where they can find more. Our goal is to use free content to sell paid content. The free content is distributed to prove to your audience the value of the paid content.
Consider this: An up-and-coming photographer, whose book of "tigers cuddling with babies" photos you've just published, releases a photo to the Web of a snow-white tiger snuggled up to 14 newborn children in tiger pajamas. It's the most adorable and simultaneously terrifying thing anyone has ever seen, and it goes massively viral. The image, due to the photographer's unquestionable artistic integrity, was not watermarked with some sort of identification—a link, a name, a book title, etc. Now, the image is on 1 million websites, and it sends the viewers absolutely nowhere. Yes, it's valuable content—people love it! But it is doing no work to sell the book. People see the image, and desperately want more, but cannot find their way from the image to your book.
Always include links within the text of your articles, on your images, in your videos, spoken as an introduction on any audio you post, and so on. When content is reposted it is often stripped of its accompanying data and attributions. Bury the links inside the content so it can't as easily be taken out.
3. Is this appropriate for my –audience?
This is a loaded question. It assumes that you know your audience, and that you've targeted your social media, email and blog outlets to that audience. If so, you must make sure you're not abusing the audience's trust by posting something that you REALLY want them to see...but that they simply do not want.
This is an instance where it can be extremely tempting (believe me, I know!) to fire off an excerpt from your hot new gardening book to the 30,000 people on your cookbook mailing list. Big numbers are dangerously alluring. Don't do it. Those 30,000 people have elected to get your cooking content. Gardening isn't "close enough." If you want to keep them, build (or buy) a separate gardening list.
4. Will my title grab anyone's –attention?
Websites are not read. They're scanned… quickly. People dart around the page looking (frantically) for their next click. Your content's title must stand out. And it must convey the value of your content in an instant.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon is not limited to websites. Often, when your content appears in feeds or aggregators or tweets or emails, the only bit of your post that readers will see is the title. The most popular news and content readers of the day—Zite, Currents, Flipboard and others—display your title and a photo in a list buried among other publishers' content. In order for your content to be selected from that list, you need to spend all the time you need to come up with a title that prompts clicking.
What prompts clicking? This depends on your audience, the language you use, what's popular that day and so on. Post timely content that's relevant to the larger discussion of the day. Use language in your title that conveys the content's value in an instant: "Learn to…"; "How to…"; "Watch a tiger…"; "The Top Ten Best…" and so on. And, make your titles short. Feeds and aggregators will chop off anything beyond a certain number of characters, so be sure to put your punch up front!
5. Does this pass the scan test?
As I said above, a website—and unfortunately most digital content—is not read. It is scanned. People will pass their eyes over your content to see if they can find the interesting or valuable tidbits. It is important that you give them plenty of visual tidbits to find. Don't bury your value.
Use bulleted lists. Use blockquote call-outs. Use section headers. Use bold. Use photos. Make sure the default image for any of your videos is interesting. If your content is a block of visually impenetrable text, readers won't stick around to slog through it. And, now that Google is incorporating site usage data into their rankings, it's important to minimize the number of times people come to your site and then bounce right back to Google. Google has always known when that happens. And now they're using that "time spent on site" data to rank you. BB
J.S. McDougall is the author of "#tweetsmart: 25 Twitter Projects to Help You Build Your Audience" (O'Reilly, 2012) and "Content Marketing: The Definitive Guide to Making Your Content a Valuable Marketing Tool" (O'Reilly, 2012). He is a digital strategy consultant to the book publishing industry and can be reached on Twitter at @jsmcdougall or through his company's website at catalystwebworks.com.
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