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What’s the Difference Between Content Writing and Copywriting?

The world was a very different place when I graduated college in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in Advertising. The internet was still more than a decade away from widespread usage and personal computers weren’t very common yet.

I can distinctly remember using a typewriter in college and during the first couple of years in my first job before we finally got IBM 286 PCs. These were just glorified word processors, but man they were cool if all you’d ever written on before was a typewriter!

Copywriting Dream … Derailed

My dream when I finished college was to be a copywriter at an advertising agency and work on big-time national ad campaigns. Think Don Draper and the gang on Mad Men. To get some real-world experience, I took a job as an editorial assistant at a newsletter publisher and figured I’d switch to an ad agency after a year or two.

Instead, I ended up spending 12 years at the publishing company. By then I’d pretty much forgotten about advertising since I’d gone so far down a different career path: that of a content writer.

I thought about all this while reading several articles this week about the difference between content writing and copywriting. Because if I’d ended up working for an ad agency instead of a publishing company, I would be a very different kind of writer today.

They’re Not the Same

At first glance, content writing and copywriting might seem like the same thing. But in practice, they’re very different.

In simple terms, copywriting is what ad agencies do. The goal is to get readers to take some sort of action — this is why it’s sometimes referred to as direct response copywriting. The action can be anything: call a toll-free number, reply to an email or click on a link that leads to a landing page, for example. The goal is for this action to lead to a sale.

With content writing, the goal is very different. Instead of prompting an immediate action or response, content should be written to educate, inform or entertain your readers. If you’ve heard the term “value-added” content before, this is what it means: Content that literally adds value for the reader.

An entire new industry known as content marketing has sprung up that’s devoted to just this. The idea is to build relationships with customers and prospects and position the business as an expert in the field by providing soft-sell (or no-sell) informational content that readers find valuable. This content usually takes the form of blogs, articles, whitepapers, FAQs, Q&As and the like.

Exhibit A: This Blog

The blog you’re reading right now is the purest form of content writing. I’m creating something of value (at least I hope so!) and not only publishing here on my website, but also itemizing it to marketers and influencers who make decisions about hiring freelance writers.

Instead of trying to generate an immediate response, I’m trying to build relationships and position myself as a subject matter expert when it comes to content creation and writing. My hope is that if a marketer or influencer ever needs to hire a freelance writer who specializes in business and finance, he or she will remember me and reach out.

Now contrast this with copywriting. If this were the approach I was taking, I would be telling you all about my vast copywriting experience, proven results and happy clients I’ve worked with. Then I might make some kind of special offer and conclude with a strong call to action like dialing a toll-free number or clicking on a link to take advantage of it.

Content Can Sell, Too

“Now hold on just a minute, Don!” you might be thinking. “Isn’t the goal of content writing to sell something too?”

Sure it is! One of my goals in writing a blog and sending out an e-newsletter is to eventually “sell” my freelance writing services to organizations that need them. But I’m doing this in a very soft-sell way. I’ll never make a direct pitch for my services in an article or blog or toot my own horn in an effort to generate a direct response.

My friend Jacob McMillen says freelance writers he works with sometimes do just this by trying to force a product pitch into a blog post. “I’ll be reading through the post they did and there will just be this random product pitch pigeon-holed into the content,” he told me. “If left unedited, this would completely ruin the piece of content.”

Copywriting, on the other hand, needs to be super-focused, super-tight and super-intentional. “Every single word and line is important — you can’t afford to take tangents or say more than you need to say,” Jacob says. “But when writing content, you can go off in different directions and have additional information that’s just interesting if you think it enhances the value to the reader.

“When you’re writing content, everything needs to be focused on delivering the value the reader was looking for when they navigated to your piece.”

8 Ways to Improve Your Email Copywriting

Last month I shared some copywriting tips from freelance copywriter and SEO marketer Jacob McMillan. They must have been pretty good because the open rate for last month’s newsletter was the highest open rate for any issue I’ve ever sent out — and I’ve been sending out this newsletter since 2012.

So I thought I’d go back to the well and prime some more good copywriting stuff from Jacob. Here are 8 tips from Jacob for writing great inbound marketing email copy.

#1. Figure out who you’re writing to.

Or in other words, identify your target audience. This is really Marketing 101 but it’s surprising how many marketers don’t bother with this critical first step. Just as important, determine what you want recipients to do after they read your email.

Once you identify these things, “make sure every part of the email is focused on resonating with the ‘who’ and persuading them to do the ‘what,’” Jacob says. “If any part of the email doesn’t seem like it will resonate with the target audience or move them toward the objective, delete it.”

#2: Write a short and snappy subject line.

Jacob calls subject lines “the headlines of the email world.” There are countless headline writing strategies, but Jacob emphasizes one that’s probably the most critical for inbound marketing emails: length.

He points to a study that found the sweet spot for email headlines is between 6 and 10 words. These had an open rate of 21% in the study. The longer the headlines, the lower the open rates — so when in doubt, shorter is better than longer.

#3: Make a clear promise in your subject line.

There’s nothing fancy or creative about this strategy. You simply tell readers what they’ll gain and why they’ll benefit by opening and reading your email. For example, in this email I promise to share tips to improve your email copywriting  … and here they are!

MarketingSherpa decided to test promise-based email subject lines with creative subject lines. The emails with straightforward, promise-based subject lines won hands-down, generating a response that was 541% higher than the emails with creative subject lines.

#4: Align the body copy and subject line.

This gets to the heart of why promise-based subject lines generate such higher response rates than creative subject lines. It’s all about alignment, according to Jacob.

“Promise headlines use the body content and the overall content deliverable to form a promise,” he says. “The subject line is taken straight from the summary of the body copy, which means they are going to automatically be in alignment.”

#5: Tell a story in your email.

Everybody loves to read and hear stories. This is true even in a B2B context — in fact, you could argueespecially in a B2B context. “Stories seem to uniquely outperform other types of content via the medium of email,” Jacob says. “Given the limitations of email content, stories outshine nearly anything else you can stack up against it.”

Statistica surveyed B2B marketing leaders to determine the most important factors in email marketing success. “Engaging and compelling storytelling” was ranked just behind “audience relevance” and well ahead of factors like originality, SEO and reusability.

#6: Use “power” words in your copy.

Jacob says that certain words “tend to evoke sharper emotions and have a larger effect on our mental and emotional state. This is why using power words in your email copywriting can help you influence readers to have the desired response or take the desired action.”

Emarketer Sumo.com says that power words like “instantly,” “mistakes” and “hilarious” are key to evoking high-arousal emotions and triggering curiosity. They’re the reason you respond to clickbait ads even when you know what you’re going to get. Here’s a list of 401 power words from Sumo.

#7: Avoid spam trigger words.

Spam filters are programmed to look for words like “free,” “home based” and “opportunity” in email subject lines and move these emails into the spam folder. Jacob says that while using these words doesn’t guarantee that your email will get dumped in spam folders, it’s still a good idea to avoid them when you can. Here’s a list of common spam trigger words from Hubspot.

However, all bets are off if you’re running a spammy email marketing campaign. “The best solution for avoiding the spam folder is to send worthwhile emails and maintain good email marketing practices,” says Jacob.

#8: Be willing to experiment.

All the research in the world and every best practice in the book will only get you so far when it comes to writing effective marketing email copy. As Jacob puts it: “At the end of the day, it’s all just a guess until the data comes in.”

Creating effective inbound marketing email programs requires trying different things to see what works best. The easiest way to do this, according to Jacob, is to split test subject lines. Most email service providers include this capability.

Seven Top Tips to Improve Your Copywriting

I’ve been at this copywriting thing for awhile now, coming up on 35 years. During this time, I’ve read countless books and articles and attended more seminars and workshops about how to improve your copywriting than I can count.

But I don’t think I have come across a more clear and comprehensive copywriting guide than the one I received recently from Jacob McMillen. Jacob is the son of a good friend of mine who also happens to be one of the top freelance copywriters and SEO marketers in the country.

Last week Jacob sent out his “Holy Sh*t That’s Too Many! Megalist of 102 Copywriting Tips.” His full list is 15,000 words, so I thought I’d save you a little time and summarize what I think are his top tips. But click here if you’d like to read the full list.

#1. Identify Your Target Audience

Without a doubt, this is the first thing you should do before putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). This will influence every aspect of your writing, including your style, tone, focus, emphasis and the content itself.

For example, most of what I write is targeted to business owners, corporate executives and high-net-worth (read: wealthy) individuals. So I use a fairly sophisticated style and tone in most of my writing as opposed to the more casual and informal style I might use if I were writing to a different audience.

#2: Keep the focus on the reader’s needs and desires.

Jacob says the main copywriting mistake he sees is writers who focus too much on their business, brand or subject instead of the target audience. He puts it bluntly: “In most cases, they (readers/customers) don’t care about you or your business at all.”

Instead, they care about theirneeds, theirdesires and what you can do for them. They’re only interested in your business to the extent that you can meet these needs and desires for them. Therefore, everything you write should connect to these needs and desires.

#3: Write Like You’re Talking to a Friend

I really like this tip. As Jacob puts it, “Good copy reads a lot like a well-spoken person talking to a friend. It has a casual, straightforward tone and gets to the point without rushing itself.”

In particular, you should avoid jargon and “business-speak” in your copywriting. I really have to guard against this myself given the technical and business focus of most of what I write. After you’ve written a paragraph or two, read it out loud to yourself to see how it sounds. It will be pretty obvious if you’ve crossed over the line.

#4: Write with Clarity and Purpose

Lots of copywriters think that their copy should be written to persuade people to take action, like clicking on a link or picking up the phone. However, clarity and purpose tend to be more important than persuasion when it comes to writing effective copy.

Jacob explains: “Product/market fit is what sells things. The goal of the copy is simply to make it very clear to those people that the product is a great match for what they already want or need.”

#5: Remember the KISS Rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

Some copywriters think the more words they use, and the longer and fancier these words are, the better. Actually, the exact opposite is true. In fact, it’s usually harder and takes longer to write short, simple and concise copy than long, flowing, wordy — and ineffective — copy.

I’ve said it before: Never use a 10 dollar word when a 10 cent word will suffice. Copywriting isn’t the place for impressing people with your extensive vocabulary and complex sentence structure. Instead, “you want to be as simple and succinct as possible,” Jacob says.

#6: Write with Rhythm

I discovered this secret back when I first became an editor and was working with young staff writers. I started noticing that often something wasn’t quite right with a piece but couldn’t put my finger on it. Then it hit me: The rhythm was off.

“Rhythm is important in copywriting because it acts as a kind of reading inertia,” Jacob says. “It engages your audience. It captivates them and compels them to read the next sentence. And the next.”

Writing with rhythm means varying the length, structure and style of your sentences and paragraphs. Again, reading your copy out loud can help you here. I do this a lot — my wife probably thinks I’m crazy talking to myself all the time!

#7: Throw Out the Dictionary

I’ll finish with this tip because it’s something I’ve never thought of. Jacob points out that Google has now become a verb while Flickr and Lyft are misspellings of common words that have become well-recognized brands.

“Set your mind free and play with different ways to say what you have to offer,” Jacob says. “Get creative with misspellings if you’re naming a product or campaign or think of ways to repurpose words to grab your audience’s attention.”

Is There Still a Place for Print Newsletters in Your Marketing Quiver?

This year marks 35 years since I walked across the stage at the University of Florida in Gainesville to receive my college diploma. Ironically, this is also the year that my daughter Natalie will walk across the stage to receive her college diploma from Georgia College University. Natalie has a double-major in mass communication and French and hopes to get a job as a radio DJ.

While I was thinking about these milestones this week, I also thought back to my first job out of college in 1985. I was hired by a publishing company in Ft. Lauderdale that created newsletters for banks and credit unions. I remember getting the call offering me the job and thinking, “What the heck is a newsletter anyway?”

I found out soon enough, spending the first 12 years of my professional career learning everything there is to know about how newsletters can be an effective marketing tool.

E-newsletters Overtake Print Newsletters

By the late 1990s, the explosion of the internet had most marketers rethinking traditional newsletters. Digital technology had made it easy to produce and distribute newsletters via email at a fraction of the cost of print.

With e-newsletters, there’s no postage, paper or ink. The only real production cost is creative, along with an internet connection that you already have and an e-newsletter management system like Constant Contact or Mailchimp. So it’s not too surprising that e-newsletters soon started proliferating while print newsletters became scarcer.

Of course, e-newsletters are commonplace now. In fact, when they hear the term “newsletter” today, most people think of something they receive in their in-box like you’re reading right now.

But what about print newsletters? Is there still a place for them in your marketing quiver? Absolutely, positively yes.

Email Overload

Think about it. Everybody today is bombarded with email and e-newsletters. Chances are there are several sitting in your in-box right now that you haven’t read yet, assuming you didn’t just delete them as soon as they came in.

Campaign Monitor performed comprehensive research to generate a bunch of email marketing benchmarks. According to their report Ultimate Email Marketing Benchmarks for 2020, the average open rate for e-newsletters across all industries is 17.8%.

This varies by industry, but on average, you can expect fewer than one out of five people who receive your e-newsletter to open and read it. Frankly, I’d be surprised if it’s that high for many of the e-newsletters I get.

I receive two or three e-newsletters that are exceptional, such as this one published by Michael Katz and this one published by Peter Bowerman. But other than these, I just hit delete on pretty much every other one I get. This includes the e-newsletter sent to me by my bank — which I won’t name but it starts “Bank of” and ends with the name of the country we live in.

So What About Print Newsletters?

Now think about the last time a print newsletter landed on your desk. Chances are, you don’t get nearly as many of these as you do e-newsletters so they’re probably much more likely to grab your attention.

A financial consultant I know mails out a simple, two-page print newsletter to his constituents two or three times a year — and he has for almost two decades. Why? Because people read it!

Does mailing a print newsletter to a couple thousand customers and prospects cost more than hitting the “send” button in the Constant Contact or Mailchimp platform? Sure it does. But as the consultant told me, cost is a relative concept. Whether it’s print or electronic, sending out a newsletter than nobody reads is very expensive.

I used to get a really nice print newsletter in the mail from a local financial advisor. It was well-written, well-designed and had lots of great content and I read every issue. Then they decided to save money by sending it out as an email PDF attachment — and I haven’t read an issue since.

E-newsletters Have Their Place, Too

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t send out an e-newsletter. After all, I send out this blog every month as an e-newsletter.

But I am suggesting that if it’s been awhile since you thought about publishing a print newsletter, maybe you should reconsider. Of course, budget is an issue — so is the size of your mailing list. If your list is fewer than 1,000 recipients, sending out a print newsletter might not be cost-efficient.

If your budget allows, the best solution is to send out both a print and electronic newsletter. This will double your exposure and the chance that your content gets read. This is a no-brainer if you’re producing a print newsletter already since it will cost little if anything to send it out electronically.

10 Tips for Writing Better B2B Marketing Copy

In the world of marketing, all customers and prospects can be divided into one of two broad categories: retail and business. Similarly, all marketing efforts fall into one of two categories: business-to-consumer — or what marketers cleverly call B2C marketing — and business-to-business, or B2B marketing.

During my career, I’ve written content targeted to both B2C and B2B audiences. However, most of what I’ve written and continue to write is within the realm of business.

So this month I’m sharing a few thoughts on how to write better B2B marketing copy. Here are my top 10 B2B marketing copywriting tips:

1. Know and understand your audience.This is absolutely critical to good B2B marketing copywriting. If you don’t know your audience — and I mean reallyknow your audience — it’s going to show in your writing. I guarantee it.

For example, I’ve been writing a newsletter targeted to owners of automobile dealerships for the past six years. The auto dealership industry is very different from any other industry I’ve ever written to. I’ve had to learn this industry inside-out in order come up with good article topics and write content that’s accurate and relevant to this audience.

2. Don’t be too jargony.It’s easy to fall into jargon when writing B2B marketing copy. Some of the most annoying jargony phrases I see far too often are synergies, best practices, deep dive, game changer, paradigm shift, push the envelopeand solution oriented. Use these sparingly in your B2B copy, if at all.

3. Keep it simple.There’s a misconception among some B2B marketers that business writing should be complex and sophisticated to show customers and prospects that they’re smart and know what they’re talking about. I disagree — strongly.

I’ve written copy targeted to some of the most complicated industries out there, including financial services, information technology and employee benefit plans. The biggest challenge when writing to these industries is making very complex topics interesting and understandable. Remember: There’s no need to use a 50-cent word when a 5-cent word will suffice.

4. Focus on your readers, not your business.This is by far the biggest mistake I see in B2B marketing writing. The copy is all about the business: how great their products are, how knowledgeable their staff is, how long they’ve been in business, how wonderful their service is. You get the idea.

I’ve got news for you: Your readers really don’t care about any this. They care about one thing: What’s in it for me? So B2B marketing copy needs to focus on the benefits to customers and prospects of doing business with you. Or even better, it should add value by educating readers — for example, about how they can manage their finances better or boost their sales and revenue.

5. Use the right style and tone.This will differ based on the type of industry and the image your business wants to convey. Financial services firms, for example, usually (but not always) lean to the conservative side in their marketing communications. On the flip side, industries like travel and leisure, fast food and alcoholic beverages often use a more informal and creative tone and style.

6. Write a great headline.One study found that eight out of 10 people read headlines, but only two out of 10 read the body copy. If you don’t grab readers’ attention with a great headline, then it doesn’t much matter what else you’ve written because not many people are going to read it.

Your goal in writing B2B headlines is simple: Get people to read your copy. There are lots of different headline styles, like numbers or lists, questions and how-to’s. Any one of these could work for your content. Just make sure your headline is compelling enough to draw readers into the copy that follows.

7. Follow it up with a compelling lead.If your headline is good enough to draw readers into your body copy, the next challenge is to keep them reading. This requires a strong lead that gives people a reason to keep reading past the first paragraph or two.

There are many different ways to do this as well. For example, you can tell an interesting story or anecdote, share a relevant statistic or data point, or lead with a quote from a famous person. Just make sure that whatever you write is compelling enough to draw readers into the meat of your content.

8. Eliminate sloppy mistakes.In our world of texting and tweeting, spelling, grammar and punctuation errors have become acceptable to many people. But there’s no room for these in professional B2B content … period.

So be sure to proofread all your B2B copy carefully before publishing or posting it. Better yet, have someone else proofread it because it’s hard to proofread your own writing. There’s not enough time to proofread, you say? Make the time — you simply can’t afford to take shortcuts here.

9. Don’t be a grammatical stickler.At the risk of raising the ire of my high school English teachers, I’m going to suggest that you break a few grammatical rules occasionally in your B2B copy. For example, it’s OK to start an occasional sentence with But or And. The same goes for writing incomplete sentences and one-sentence paragraphs.

Don’t go overboard with these techniques, of course. But when used in moderation, they can be very effective in B2B copy.

10. Write using the active voice and in second person.Writing in the passive voice severely weakens B2B copy, as does writing in the third person. There are very few situations that call for passive or third-person writing, so you should avoid it in almost every instance.

How to Create a Content Marketing Program from Scratch: Part 3

The past few months I’ve been talking about how to create a new content marketing program from scratch. The last article described how to build a content marketing team and create a workflow map to ensure that your content is published and distributed on a regular basis.

Today I’m going to conclude the series by discussing how to generate topic ideas, whether or not you should curate content, how to promote your content, and the importance of measuring the results of your content marketing program.

Generating Topic Ideas

For many organizations, the biggest challenge to maintaining a successful content market program is generating a steady stream of topic ideas. Countless programs have died on the vine because no one was responsible for creating an editorial calendar.

There are no shortcuts here. Making sure you have enough good topic ideas to feed your content engine will take time and effort on the part of one or more team members. It might make sense to assign this task to several different people and hold regular brainstorming sessions to kick around ideas. This will remove the burden from one person and help ensure that you get new ideas from several different perspectives.

The best way to keep your idea funnel full is to stay on top of the latest news and trends in your industry. Subscribe to industry trade journals and newsletters. Regularly visit industry websites. Listen to industry-focused webinars and podcasts. And attend seminars and trade shows that discuss issues pertinent to your industry.

My focus industries are business and finance, so I have a subscription to The Wall Street Journal and read it every day. I also cover several niche industries, including automobile dealerships, so I stay on top of developments here by subscribing to industry newsletters and blogs and regularly visiting industry websites like WardsAuto.com and NADA.com.

It’s helpful for me to maintain idea files for the different industries I cover. Whenever I see something that might be a good topic for one of my clients, I print it out or save it in an Outlook folder.

Curating Content: Pros and Cons

Content curation is the process of compiling and organizing content created by others to share with your readers. For example, an e-newsletter or landing page might include links to a number of different articles, blogs and videos that are all related to a certain topic.

While there might be a place for some curation in a content marketing program, I don’t recommend using this as your sole method of content generation. There’s only so much value you can add to a bunch of links that you’ve copied and pasted from somewhere else.

If you do opt for content curation, make sure that the material you link to is of high quality and relevance to your audience. It’s usually a good idea to add your own commentary to the content so you’re offering readers something more than just a long laundry list of links.

Promoting Your Content

The greatest content in the world won’t do you much good if nobody ever sees it. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to promote your content so it’s viewed by as many people as possible.

Most e-newsletter publishing platforms include buttons you can click to automatically share your content on popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. (In Constant Contact, it’s called Simple Share.)

But don’t stop here — there are numerous other ways to promote your content, both online and offline. For example, you can share links to your content in forums and discussion groups, print and online ads, press releases (both digital and physical), direct mail pieces and emails. Also build relationships with industry bloggers and influencers who will help promote your content for you.

Measuring Results and ROI

One of the best things about content marketing is your ability to measure the results. This can help you gauge the return on investment (ROI) for the time, money and effort you’ve devoted to your program.

Go back and review the business objectives you set for your content marketing program (read the first article in the series for more on setting goals and objectives). For example, do you want to build brand awareness, boost customer loyalty and retention, generate quality leads or cross-sell products and services?

Based on your objectives, decide which metrics you’ll use to measure ROI. These might include things like:

  • New subscribers
  • Online form completions
  • Resource downloads
  • Social media shares and comments
  • Qualified leads
  • Website metrics (e.g., page views and time spent on the site)

Remember that not all the benefits of a content marketing program can be measured by digital metrics. For example, it’s hard to put a number on the value of enhanced brand awareness. The most important things to remember when gauging the ROI of a content marketing program are: 1. Give your program enough time to generate results, and 2. Choose metrics that are directly related to your business objectives.

Creating a Content Marketing Program from Scratch: Part 2

Last month, I started a new blog series that describes step by step how to create a new content marketing program from scratch. The first article focused on the importance of committing to your program, defining the audience for your content, creating a strategy and selecting the right distribution channels.

Click here to read the first article if you missed it. Today we’re going to talk about building your content marketing team and creating a workflow map to ensure that your content is published and distributed on a regular basis.

Build Your Content Marketing Team

Keeping a content marketing program running smoothly requires a dedicated team of individuals who are responsible for handling specific responsibilities. This team may consist of staff members, outside contractors and freelancers, or a combination of both.

Content marketing programs usually require team members to accomplish the following tasks:

  • Project management and oversight
  • Topic idea generation
  • Creative, which includes both writing and design
  • Content optimization to maximize Search Engine Optimization (SEO) results
  • Content distribution and promotion
  • Metrics review and determination of content marketing ROI

Depending on how large and complex your program is, team members could include the following:

  • Chief content officer— Responsible for content planning and overall program performance.
  • Content writer— Creates the right content to support program goals.
  • Editor— Ensures that the content is accurate and matches the desired style and tone.
  • Designer — Ensures that content is presented in a visually pleasing manner and meets all corporate style and branding guidelines.
  • Content strategist— Creates content calendar and chooses the right distribution channels.
  • Content optimizer— Performs keyword research and provides writer and editor with short-tail and long-tail keywords to be used strategically to boost SEO results.
  • Social media manager— Manages and promotes content across key social platforms and oversees online comments.

Carefully critique the skills sets and capabilities of your internal staff to determine who would be best suited to handle each of these roles. If there isn’t a staff member who seems capable of handling a particular role, start looking for an outside contractor or freelancer you can hire.

Create a Workflow Map

Let’s face it: Creating and managing a content marketing program can seem daunting, even to an experienced marketing pro. Even after you’ve covered the basics like creating a strategy, defining your audience and building your team, there are a lot of different moving parts to coordinate.

The best way I’ve found to get everything organized and keep a content marketing program running smoothly is to create a workflow map. Here’s a sample workflow map that was used by one of my clients recently for a weekly blog:

  1. Content strategist creates editorial calendar for the next quarter’s weekly blogs.
  2. Content optimizer provides writer with short-tail and long-tail keywords to be used in each blog.
  3. Content writer drafts week one blog and sends to editor for review.
  4. Editor tracks changes to the blog and returns to writer, who sends edited blog to designer to select graphics.
  5. Writer loads copy into content management program (such as WordPress) and alerts designer.
  6. Designer adds graphics and alerts chief content officer that the blog is ready for final review.
  7. Chief content officer approves blog or requests any final changes from writer and/or designer, then schedules release.
  8. Rinse and repeat the next week.

Note that this is a simple, bare-bones workflow map for a single weekly blog. It doesn’t include multiple back-and-forths that could occur between steps, or content promotion and metrics review that should occur after the blogs are released. All of these could double or triple the number of steps actually involved in publishing a weekly blog.

Next month we’ll discuss topic idea generation in more detail, as well as content promotion, a content marketing budget and measuring the ROI on a content marketing program.

How to Create a Content Marketing Program from Scratch

I’ve been writing a lot about content marketing lately, since that’s what I specialize in. Last month I shared some tips for creating better content and before that I talked about content marketing trends that are hot right now.

Now it’s time to really dig in to the “meat and potatoes” of how to create a content marketing program. This month I’m starting a new series that walks through the process of creating a new content marketing program from scratch.

Can You Commit to a Content Marketing Program?

Before you commit to creating a content marketing program, you should first make sure that content marketing is the right strategy for meeting your goals. Successful content marketing requires a significant investment of time and money and a long-term commitment. So be sure you’re prepared to make this kind of commitment before launching a content marketing program.

Content marketing tends to work best for businesses and industries where customer education is crucial. The financial services industry where I specialize is a good example. Financial and investment products can be complicated and lots of folks are unsure about how to manage their personal finances. So there’s ample opportunity for creating content that helps educate people about money management and investing.

An effective content marketing program can help you accomplish a wide range of business objectives, such as:

  • Building brand awareness.
  • Boosting customer engagement.
  • Generating quality leads.
  • Improving customer retention.
  • Cross-selling and upselling products and services.
  • Establishing thought leadership.

The idea is to educate customers and prospects so that they trust you enough to do business with you. Content should notbe hard sell — in fact, just the opposite. You want to demonstrate that you are the expert in your field and readers should hire your business to help them solve a particular problem or take advantage of an opportunity.

Define Your Audience and Create Your Strategy

Start by defining the audience for your content. In financial services, we often segment audiences based on their income or assets. Content targeted to lower-income and less-wealthy readers is written at a more basic level, while content targeted to what we call high-net-worth individuals is written at a more advanced level.

With your audience defined, it’s now time to create a content strategy. This starts by identifying content themes, buyer personas and the voice, tone and personality you want to convey with your content.

A wealth management firm I started working with earlier this year sent me a detailed content strategy document that contained an analysis of six broad topic categories. The analysis included SEO data for search terms related to each topic, the seasonality of the topics and potential article ideas categorized by topic. We then created an editorial calendar with specific articles scheduled to be published each month for the rest of this year.

Don’t neglect the importance of voice and tone when it comes to your content strategy. You may have worked hard to create an image and personality for your business in the minds of customers and prospects, and this should be reflected in the tone of your content.

Think of Rocket Mortgage, for example. They’ve created a fun, whimsical image for their brand with their goofy TV commercials and print ads. So have insurance companies like Progressive, with Flo the blue-bibbed insurance lady, and Geico, with the gecko and the caveman.

On the flip side, traditional financial services firms usually convey a more conservative tone with their messaging. Who can forget the Smith Barney commercials where the distinguished-looking John Houseman, sitting in an elegant restaurant or standing in front of a historic mansion, says that Smith Barney “makes money the old-fashioned way — they earnit.”

Choose Your Distribution Channels

The next step is to identify your content distribution channels. These typically include the following:

  • Your business website and email
  • Industry-specific and special-interest websites and discussion boards
  • Social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter
  • Image-sharing platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and SlideShare
  • Video-sharing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo

One of the great things about content marketing is that once you’ve created content, it can be repackaged and reused across many different channels. For example, this article I’m writing now is posted as a blog here on my website and I’ll also send it out as an e-newsletter. And I’ll include links to it on my Facebook and LinkedIn pages and my Twitter feed.

Next month I’m going to dig deeper into the content creation process itself, including how to generate topic ideas and how to devise a workflow that ensures you have a steady stream of new content to fill your pipeline.

5 Tips for Creating High-Quality Content

In last month’s blog we looked at some of the interesting (at least to me!) data contained in the Content Marketing Institute’s recent B2B Content Marketing: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report. This is an extensive report that’s chocked-full of valuable data, so I spent some more time this week combing through it.

Two statistics from the report really jumped out at me. The first one is the fact that the average business today is spending a quarter of its marketing budget on content marketing. That’s amazing when you think about it because a decade ago, “content marketing” didn’t even exist as a formal marketing discipline.

The other stat that grabbed my attention was this: The main success factor cited by businesses with successful content marketing programs is high-quality and efficient content creation. In other words, they’re producing great content, and they’re doing so in a way that doesn’t tax their financial or human resources.

Defining High-Quality Content

I guess it’s logical that high-quality content is critical to a successful content marketing program. But let’s stop for a minute and answer an important question: What exactly isquality content?

To me, quality content checks each one of these boxes:

• It’s well-written. I’m constantly amazed at how much poorly written content there is on the web today. For some reason, there appear to be different writing standards for print vs. online publishing. Crappy content you’d never dream of seeing in print is all over the Internet.

• It’s relevant. For example, most of what I write is for business and financial services clients. I have to know and understand these industries intimately, as well as a number of niches within them, in order to write content that’s relevant and useful to readers.

• It’s timely. The best content has a shelf life and expiration date. That’s not to say there’s no place for evergreen content, but the more timely a piece of content is, the more likely it is to draw eyeballs.

Creating High-Quality Content

So how can you go about creating high-quality content in a more efficient way? Here are 5 tips to get you started:

1. Sharpen your writing chops. There are no two ways around it: If you want to create higher quality content, you have to improve your writing. And there are no shortcuts to becoming a better writer: It takes lots and lots of practice.

Start by studying good writing. Which publications and websites do you think are especially well-written? You might also invest in some professional training, such as taking a writing course online or at your local community college. Most importantly, you should make regular writing a part of your routine, even if it’s just a few minutes a day.

2. Keep an idea file. Great content starts with great topic ideas. And you’re going to need a lot of ideas if you want to feed an ongoing content marketing program for more than just a few months.

Start a new file (either paper or electronic) for storing topic ideas as they come to you. For example, whenever I see articles in The Wall Street Journal or some of the industry niche publications I read that I think would be good topics for my clients, I print them out and put them in a manila folder.

This is old school, I know. But having paper copies makes it easier for me to keep my ideas organized and easily accessible.

3. Follow current developments in your industry. As noted above, quality content is tightly targeted to your industry niche. So you need to stay on top of what’s happening in your industry in order to create content that your audience finds useful and relevant.

To do so, you should be reading industry publications and websites regularly and subscribing to industry-focused e-newsletters and podcasts. Also attend industry trade shows and conferences whenever you can and take advantage of opportunities to pursue continuing education opportunities in your industry.

4. Learn the fine art of repurposing. Keeping a content marketing program humming along smoothly requires a steady stream of fresh content. One way to keep the content pipeline full is to repurpose content you previously created.

For example, I once combined a series of articles on cash flow management into a more comprehensive whitepaper on the topic. You can also take the opposite approach by breaking up a whitepaper into a series of articles and blog posts to be sent out in your e-newsletter and posted on your website and to social media.

5. “Have a take … do not suck.” Sports talk radio host Jim Rome used to say this to callers. What he meant was that callers should have their own unique thoughts and perspective on an issue and not just parrot what they heard other people, especially so-called “experts,” say.

The same thing applies to your content. It’s easy to just rehash research or curate content from a Google query, but the best content brings something more by adding your own unique observations to the topic. This also helps position you and your business as a thought leader in your industry.

Keep These Tips Handy

If yours is among the 91% of B2B organizations that has a content marketing program in place, you need to do everything you can to boost the quality of your content. These 5 tips are a good starting point — keep them handy so you can refer back to them easily while you’re creating new content.

3 Content Marketing Trends You Should Know About Right Now

In last month’s newsletter I featured an interview with my friend and Internet marketing expert Jeff Powell, Vice President/CFO of Prosperous Internet Marketing, a full-service digital marketing agency in Pensacola, Fla. Click here to read the article if you missed it.

He stressed that content marketing is an integral part of any Internet marketing program today. “Publishing quality content is vital to ranking high in Google and the other search engines,” he said, adding that creating consistent, fresh and relevant content is one of the most important things they do for their clients.

Digging Deeper into Content Marketing

Jeff’s comment prompted me to dig a little deeper to find out more about what what’s going on right now in the world of content marketing.

For starters, how many organizations today are using content marketing? The answer: Almost all of them. According to B2B Content Marketing: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends, 91% of B2B organizations use content marketing. Among the 9% that don’t, more than half said they plan to launch a content marketing initiative in the next year.

But how effective is content marketing? Pretty effective, it turns out: About six out of 10 content marketers said that their content market programs are more successful this year than last year. Even more encouraging, about a quarter of the respondents said the overall impact of their content marketing programs was either “very” or “extremely” successful.

So what technology tools are organizations using to manage their content marketing programs? According to the B2B Content Marketing report, the top 5 content marketing tech tools and the percentage of organizations using them are:

  • Analytics tools (87%)
  • Email marketing technology (70%)
  • Content management systems (63%)
  • Marketing automation software (55%)
  • Webinars and online presentation platforms (43%)

Meanwhile, the most common distribution methods for content are email (cited by 93% of respondents), social media (92%) and blogs (79%). And the most effective types of content used by B2B content marketers are e-books/whitepapers (50%), case studies (47%) and social media posts (41%).

As a freelance writer (i.e., content producer), I found it interesting (and encouraging!) that nearly half of content marketers are outsourcing their content creation. Higher quality and more efficient content creation was cited as the number one reason for greater content marketing success.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

I hope I didn’t lose you with all these statistics and data, but I wanted to demonstrate just how far content marketing has come in just the past decade.

So what does all of this mean? What are some big-picture trends when it comes to content marketing? Here are a few that I discovered while doing some research:

1. Question optimization is replacing keyword optimization. The evolution of Google’s algorithm is making optimization of keyword strings less effective than it used to be. Google can now evaluate the context and intent of Internet searches without analyzing matching keyword strings.

Question optimization is building content that answers niche questions. For one thing, questions are more similar to natural spoken language, which optimizes content for voice searches. And Google now features questions with its “People Also Ask” feature that lists web pages that best answer search queries.

2. Dynamic personalization has become more common. This isn’t customer segmentation, but rather content personalization that customizes the online experience for each individual. A good example is the personalized, artificial intelligence-generated content suggestions made by Amazon and Netflix.

Most organizations don’t have an Amazon-sized budget for this level of AI sophistication, but you can still accomplish dynamic personalization by personalizing calls-to-action with the contact’s first name or making personalized product recommendations. Personalized CTAs can increase on-page interactions by more than 200 percent, research shows.

3. Measuring return on investment is becoming essential. It appears that the days of just throwing content out there and hoping this leads to increased sales are coming to an end. According to the B2B Content Marketing report, more than half of the most successful B2B content marketers now measure the ROI of their content marketing initiatives.

For example, most of them say that they can demonstrate how content marketing has increased audience engagement (77%), the number of leads (72%) and overall sales (51%).

Benchmarks for Measuring Your Efforts

I’ll conclude with some more data from the B2B Content Marketing report to drive home what the most successful content marketers are doing right. Nearly all of them are highly committed to content marketing and focused on building audiences for their content.

They also allow time for content marketing to produce results and are realistic about what content marketing can achieve.

These are good benchmarks against which you can measure your organization’s content marketing initiatives.