7 Content Reputation Problems – as Explained by a Clevelander

As you might have figured out by now, I’m from Cleveland and I’m proud of it. I can’t claim this is the greatest city in the world, and it certainly has its problems, but it suffers from an unduly poor reputation, and it can’t quite shake it off.

What does this have to do with content marketing? Well, to be a successful content marketer, you can’t just slam your fingers on a keyboard and hope for the best. You have to actively build and manage a reputation in your industry, and if you suffer enough blows to that reputation (or fail to build one in the first place), you’ll never be able to fully recover.

Today I’m going to explain seven major reputation problems a content marketer can face, alongside analogous reputation problems faced by Cleveland.

  1. You don’t invest in yourself. First off, if you don’t invest time and/or money into your content strategy, you can forget about building a good reputation. You’ll look like you aren’t taking things seriously, and your material will be downright weak. Consider Cleveland’s reputation for being poor or impoverished—it hasn’t typically invested in its infrastructure or in innovative city improvements that would make it a better place to live. The idea is that it doesn’t invest in itself, so why would anyone else invest in it? (Personally, I think this is untrue of Cleveland—take a look at the Shoreway, parks, and city upkeep improvements in the past few years).
  2. Your content is inaccurate, misleading, or unreliable. If someone reads your content and encounters a few sketchy “facts,” they aren’t going to stick around to read more. The East Side of Cleveland has a similar “sketchy” reputation; all it takes is a handful of instances to instantly drive people away.
  3. Your content has performance issues. This is kind of a self-perpetuating problem; if your content isn’t getting shared or noticed, people aren’t going to pay much attention to it. You have to give it a jumpstart if you want to succeed. Cleveland’s sports teams are notorious at underperforming, and the shrinking fan base illustrates that.
  4. You made an egregious or offensive post. Be careful what you publish online—a miswording or inaccurate claim here and there won’t kill you, but a truly offensive or egregious post can ruin you. The Cuyahoga River set fire one time in the 70s, and people still associate the incident with Cleveland having a pollution problem 40 years later.
  5. Your material is inconsistent or has gone downhill. You have to keep the quality of your posts high—never sacrifice it to churn out more posts. Cleveland was once a productive, envied manufacturing hub. Now that it’s lost that raw revenue potential, it seems in far worse shape than if it had started with nothing at all. (We have newer industries on the rise now).
  6. You just aren’t as good as your competitors. It doesn’t matter how good your content is if you can never step out of the shadow of your competitors. If a competing site consistently publishes stronger material than you do, people are going to go with the competitor. Cleveland, as a “big city” in the Midwest, doesn’t have the glamour, size, density, or attractions that Chicago has, so we’re always the butt of the comparison.
  7. Your content is simply uninteresting. It’s actually better to have controversial or polarizing content than it is to have boring, vanilla content. If people think you’re boring, they’ll never read what you have to write. Somehow Cleveland’s made a name for itself as being a boring city—probably stemming from Ohio’s reputation as being a boring state. This reputation surprises me most of all, since our food scene, neighborhoods, suburbs, venues, and parks are anything but boring.

There you have it—who would know these content reputation problems better than a Cleveland content marketer? If your content reputation is in the gutter, or if you haven’t started to build one yet, reach out to me—we’ll work out a way for you to start recovering.

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Why PILES Is About to Be Your New Favorite Social Media Acronym

Social media marketing can be pretty complex, especially if you’re new to the ropes and want to get the most out of every hour you spend. Some people go the simple route, posting whenever they think about it and about pretty much whatever they feel like. Others try to rigorously control what they post, but aren’t sure what the most effective types of posts are.

In any case, most social marketers don’t have a clear idea how often they should post (or what they should post about). That’s why I came up with this simple acronym for personal brands—PILES—which outlines the five main types of posts you should be making.

P—Personal.

Personal posts are tied to your personality (and sometimes your personal life). Show off what makes you “you” (keeping it professional, of course), and people will trust and respect you more. Examples of posts in this category include images of yourself, your friends, your family, and maybe even your pets. You could also make jokes or commentary about current events, or participate in ongoing conversations.

I—Informational.

Informational posts are all about providing value to your users. They can be “quick facts,” like short tweets with random bits of information, or the presentation of an article that explores a topic in detail. The goal here is to provide information or resources to your followers, in whatever format you choose.

L—Local.

Your local posts are an offshoot of your “personal” posts, but have more to do with what you’re doing in the present moment. For example, you could attend an industry conference and use their hashtags to post about the experience, or talk about the new sandwich shop that opened down the street from you. The intention is to show that you’re an active part of the community, and to earn more visibility to similar community members.

E—Engaging.

This one’s a little trickier since technically all of your posts should be engaging. Posts exclusive to this category, however, are designed specifically to encourage audience participation. You can post questions, quizzes, contests, or even start an open dialogue—how you do it is up to you. As long as you’re getting responses, you’re doing it right.

S—Sales.

Finally, don’t be afraid to post a bit about your personal agenda. List a few products or services, offer a discount code, or just remind your audience what you do for a living. Never post “sales” related content more than 20 percent of the time—any more than that, and you’ll instantly alienate your audience. Instead, post these sporadically, and only in between other, more valuable types of social content.

Start implementing PILES in your own social media feed, and experiment to find out which combination works best for you. If you need some help brainstorming specific posts that could fall into these categories, don’t hesitate to contact me—I’m here to help.

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5 Things I Make Sure Every New Client Understands About Content Marketing

Nobody “gets” content marketing right away. It’s not something you can major in, and it’s not something you can study objectively for a few hours and suddenly come to a bold realization of how to implement it. Instead, it’s something that needs to be toyed and experimented with, gradually leading you to conclusions about which facets of your strategy work and which ones don’t.

Most people don’t have time for that. I’m a content marketer, so not only do I have time for it—it’s all I do.

Whenever I bring on a new client, I try to establish a high-level understanding about content marketing that establishes a foundation for our relationship. If there’s anything to know about content marketing, it’s these five core takeaways:

  1. Content marketing isn’t instant. Content marketing is a strategy that slowly yields better results over time. It usually takes at least a few months for momentum to start building, and the longer you spend making consistent effort in the area, the more you stand to benefit.
  2. Quantity doesn’t equal quality. When most people start with a content marketing campaign, they get excited and want to post as often as possible on as many platforms as possible. What’s important to realize is that quantity doesn’t equal quality—quality is far more important, especially in the early stages of a campaign.
  3. Traffic is the primary goal. Content can do a lot, but it can’t work miracles. Its primary goal is to drive traffic to a site and build a reputation for your brand. It can also increase conversions, but usually as a peripheral benefit.
  4. The results aren’t perfect or entirely predictable. I’d be lying if I said every client I brought on had the same awesome results. Some exploded in popularity after just a few weeks of work, and some took longer to develop. The course is different for every brand and every strategy.
  5. I don’t know what’s going to work. That’s right. I can make a pretty good guess at what’s going to work based on my experience, but I won’t know until I put it to the test.

If you understand these five facets of content marketing, you’ll have a solid foundation to move forward with. The rest of the details are bells and whistles that you’ll figure out with time and experience.

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5 Content Marketing Lessons to Learn From the Sopranos

Yes, I’m aware that it’s no longer the early-to-mid 2000s, but as most TV critics will invariably agree with me, The Sopranos is still one of the most memorable and well-crafted television shows of all time. There were a number of factors for its success, and those factors extend beyond the world of high-end television drama.

Much in the way that content marketers are responsible for producing articles, video, and infographics to please and appeal to their audiences, the crew on The Sopranos were responsible for attracting and retaining a target crowd. Learn from these five valuable lessons from the legendary TV series:

  1. Never become too predictable. Throughout The Sopranos, users are kept on edge, never being allowed to fully predict the next moves of the major characters or the season in general. Few people saw the twists coming near the end of season one, with the attempt on Tony’s life, or season five, with the fate of Adrianna. The minute your content becomes stale or predictable, your readers are going to abandon ship—no matter how loyal they have been to this point.
  2. Make emotions your priority. Tony Soprano is a violent, cheating, abusive, temperamental sociopath, yet at the same time viewers can easily sympathize with him. Emotional moments between family members—ranging from extremely positive to extremely negative—permeate the show and keep viewers involved for reasons beyond following a simple plot or waiting for onscreen explosions. Similarly, even though your content is going to be informational or entertaining, you need to keep an emotional appeal available to your readers at all times.
  3. Don’t get carried away with material. Part of the magic of the Sopranos was its conciseness. Its seasons remained at 13 episodes or less (now a standard for high-profile series), and it ended its run after season 6. More great content is rarely a bad thing, but try not to bombard your readers with overwritten fluff or too many posts to keep up with. Stay concise and to the point.
  4. Take risks. Conservatively following best practices and old strategies might keep you afloat, but the only way to become exceptionally successful is to take risks. For much of the first half of season 6, writers on The Sopranos put Tony, their main character, in a coma, where he experienced strange and symbolic dreams. It was a major risk that paid off in spades; had the writers stayed in safe and familiar territory, season 6 may not have been met with anywhere near the level of critical acclaim it still enjoys today.
  5. Stay true to yourself (and your brand). Finally, try not to worry about what everyone else is saying. Keep your content in line with your vision of the brand and your overarching campaign goals. The ambiguous ending of The Sopranos is still hotly debated and often criticized as being a “cop-out,” yet the show’s creators and writers stick by their decision. It’s impossible to please all the people all the time, but you have complete control over whether you stay true to yourself.

Apply these content marketing lessons to your own campaign in a live environment, and pay close attention to how they effect your ultimate results. As always, if you’re in need of some more specific advice (or a helping hand to ensure the proper execution of your own directives), you can reach out to me directly here.

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Why the World Would Be Better If Google Updates Applied to Everything

Google’s updates mean a lot of things to a lot of people. To most search marketers who were active between 2010 and today, they’re cursed things that ruin strategies and make life more difficult than it has to be. I must be the exception. I was surprised when my company’s rankings tanked after the Panda update in 2011, but once I figured out what was going on behind the scenes, I was pretty stoked about it.

The average user doesn’t notice because the changes have been so gradual and iterative, but the world of search today is much more convenient, accurate, and helpful than the world of even five years ago. It got me thinking—how much better would the world be if these updates could magically apply to the real world?

Panda

Panda’s goal was to make online content better. It rewarded sites with well-researched, well-written content and penalizes those with poorly written or spammy content.

I can think of about a million ways this could be helpful in real life. For one, social media profiles of people who avoid traditional linguistic or grammatical rules as if it will give them some sort of disease would all fall by the wayside. (I guess that’s technically online, but still). Texters who chronically mistype would find themselves forced to improve. And the people who pay attention to detail would be rewarded for their thoughtful efforts.

Penguin

Penguin’s goal was to make offsite recognition of authority better. It rewarded sites with natural, high-authority links and penalized those with spammy links or those built with shady practices.

Here, I think of recommendations by friends and family members. Friends who consistently give recommendations for movies that turn out to be bad would find themselves less able to give that advice (I think of some duct-tape-style contraption, but use your imagination). Family members who argue the merits of obsolete biases or legislation would find themselves muted temporarily upon using bad information. It would be wonderful.

Hummingbird

Hummingbird didn’t have a goal, per say. Instead, it introduced a concept called “semantic search,” which allows Google to analyze the intent behind a user’s query rather than the keywords in the query itself. Think of it as a form of natural language understanding.

If only I had a Hummingbird filter in my brain. The things people ask me when they have no idea what they’re talking about is somehow mind boggling. With a Hummingbird filter, I could easily process exactly what people are asking for, and come up with a reasonable answer. The Autocomplete feature in Google would also be nice, but that might be asking too much.

This was just a fun thought experiment, but I hope it’s helped you better understand the fundamental intentions of these updates and how they affect the search landscape. If you’re interested in more information about SEO, be sure to check out some of my other articles as well.

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8 Embarrassing Thoughts Every Search Marketer Has Had

Man. Being a search marketer over the past decade or so has been a roller coaster. Between changing technologies, new Google algorithms, and frantically flip-flopping customer demands, the average mental state of a modern search marketer borders on schizophrenic. No offense to schizophrenics.

On the outside, we’re talking about our business like we’re in perfect control of every facet of our strategy, but on the inside, we’ve got some embarrassing thoughts. Admit it. If you’ve spent any time in SEO or content marketing in the past few years, you’ve experienced at least one of these shameful thoughts:

  1. I have no idea what I’m doing. True or not, you’ve probably thought this at some point. Maybe when a new algorithm update disrupted your entire strategy. Maybe when you were first getting started in the game. It’s easy to doubt yourself, but try to focus on results.
  2. I don’t understand this new _____. I hated Twitter when it first came out, but that’s just because I didn’t understand it. Still, I bluffed my way into using it, and now I’m practically a pro. The same can be said for almost any new update or new technology. I, like most other search marketers, just pretended like I knew what it was all about until I experimented with it enough to actually know.
  3. I don’t know if I’ll have a job much longer. SEO always seems moments away from destruction. Panda was going to make our jobs obsolete. Then Penguin. Then mobile devices. Now it’s the Knowledge Graph and robot writers. Whatever. SEO will probably be around for longer than most of us think.
  4. Boy, this article is not my best work. No matter how high your standards for content are, there has to have been at least one piece that slipped you by and made you think “I really could have done better.” Don’t worry about it. They can’t all be perfect.
  5. Our rankings tanked, and I’m 99% sure it’s my fault. Oh yeah. I love this one. I’ve caused rankings to slip before, many times. I’ve always managed a smooth recovery, but boy do those initial feelings hurt. This is the result of experimentation—sometimes you’ll strike it big, but sometimes you’ll suffer in the process. It’s still a necessary institution in any SEO campaign.
  6. I’m not sure why that happened. We don’t have access to Google’s algorithms so it’s impossible to tell exactly why or how something caused us to rise or fall in rank. Those little ranking anomalies really are inexplicable—so don’t be embarrassed if you don’t always have an exact answer.
  7. I hate these buzzwords. ROI, organic traffic, and engagement are all buzzwords I hate but still use often. Sometimes, they just get the job done more efficiently. It doesn’t make me less embarrassed to use them.
  8. I sure hope this works. This is that feeling you get when you have a theoretically good strategy, but you have no realistic idea about how it will perform in real life. You cross your fingers, make it live, and hope for the best. We’ve all been there, and again, we shouldn’t be embarrassed. SEO is all about experimentation and educated guesses.

Hopefully, this article makes you feel more at home in the SEO world. We’re all in this together.

If you’re looking to bounce some ideas off someone or you’re just desperate to get a badass writer on your team, reach out to me!

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What Batman Teaches Us About the Power of Branding in Content Marketing

Usually I spend the first part of articles like this introducing the elements of the pop culture icon I’m about to dissect. But let’s be honest. You know Batman. I really shouldn’t have to explain who Batman is. But I do want to be clear about how I’m presenting the caped crusader—I’m not talking about the power of the “Batman” brand in our current society (which would be an interesting analysis all on its own). Instead, I’m talking about the power of the “Batman” brand in the comics.

If you look closely at how Batman presents himself, and how he operates successfully on a regular basis, you can walk away with some pretty powerful values to assign to your own content marketing campaign.

Identity

Batman has a clear identity. He’s associated with bats, with the color black, and with Gotham City—and that’s just for starters. Imagine if he didn’t have that consistent look and feel about him. Would we (the people of Gotham City, mind you) be talking about Bruce Wayne at all if he hit the street wearing a different colored suit each time, with no animal representative? I doubt it. Batman built himself into a legend because of his consistent commitment to character building, within his own universe. You’ve got to do the same thing with your content—okay, maybe you don’t have to choose a spirit animal, but your voice, appearance, and approach must be executed consistently.

Logo

The bat signal strikes fear into the hearts of Batman’s enemies (or the sane ones, at least). While you won’t be using your logo explicitly in the body of your content marketing campaign, you should be aware of its strengths and how it can be used in your promotional materials and social media campaigns. Give people visual or contextual symbols that they can associate with your brand—it’s a fundamental element of identity building that allows your consumer-brand relationships to flourish.

Mission

Nobody doubts Batman’s mission because he is regular and consistent. He’s out stopping criminal activity nearly every night, and has never wavered by, say, helping cab drivers find the best paths around the city. His mission is clear, whether you’re a fan of that mission or not. Similarly, you need to make it known in your own content that you have a specific purpose—to help your audience do ____. (You’ll have to fill in the blank yourself).

Target Demographics

What would you think if Batman started targeting jaywalkers in broad daylight? Or if he accidentally accosted an innocent old lady? You’d be pretty confused, wouldn’t you? That’s because Batman has a clear demographic; he’s after the shady dudes of the night committing violent or otherwise destructive crimes, and he wants to protect the good people of Gotham City. Similarly, your content needs to target a specific audience—the more specific the better—or you’ll run the risk of confusing and alienating people more than attracting them.

Weaknesses

Batman has a clear code of conduct; he doesn’t kill people, and he does whatever it takes to save innocent lives (among other rules that we won’t get into). Take a look at his archenemy, the Joker—the Joker takes every opportunity he can to prey on Batman’s weaknesses, the loopholes in his rules. He tries to force Batman to kill. He puts Batman in situations where he must allow innocents to die. This is all pretty evil stuff, but it illustrates something important; following a strict code of rules necessitates a few weaknesses. If you try to be everything, do everything, and speak to everyone in your writing, you’re going to fail. It’s better to select specific rules, specific topics, and a specific audience—even if that has some exploitable weaknesses—because it allows you to become more consistent and more easily appreciated by your fans.

Arkham breakouts aside, Batman does a pretty good job of keeping Gotham clean, and while his gadgets, improvisational skills, and combat experience all help, you can’t deny the role the “Batman brand’ plays in dissuading the criminals of Gotham. Apply these principles to your own brand, and you’ll readily reap the rewards.

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