Content Creation at Seattle HUG [VIDEO]
Hi, I'm Ashlee (not Frank like the author box says), and I'm here to introduce Frank's killer talk on Content Creation at the Seattle HUG. Frank Rocchio is our Copywriter and Conversion Specialist. At the last Seattle HUG, he presented our process for creating content (and how it worked for us) and conducted a pretty useful Q&A around writing and using content. We've included the [slightly modified] transcripts below, along with their accompanying videos.
And now... I'll get out of Frank's way.
Common Challenges With Creating Content
The common challenges that we have had clients run into the most (or the reason they seek our help the most) is that they have no plan or process when it comes to creating content.
The most common issue we see is that they have no idea where to start or how to go about it. They don't know what questions to ask or answer. They don't have a writing process. They don't have any process in place for that. They don't have any process for keyword research. They don't have any process for publication. A lot of it is processed based. The tools are out there. The knowledge is out there. They just really don't know how to go about it. And starting is the scariest part.
The second is a confusing brand message. If you're not able to clearly communicate with your customers how you make their life better, they have no reason to do business with you. It's as simple as that.
To answer that, you need a crystal clear brand message that communicates who you are, what you do, and why it matters. You are answering a question through your content. However, if you are positioning yourself as a brand that doesn't focus on the problem you solve and how you make their life better, you can kind of say goodbye to your hope of them ever converting into a customer. Because although the content you have provided may help them, they still have no idea who you are and how you do it differently. So make sure that you understand your business and that you communicate that well in a brief way. You should be able to tell customers the problem that you solve in their life and how you make their life better.
The third is no clear direction. Many brands have no clear goals or objectives established for what they want their content to help them achieve.
Years ago, I heard someone say, "Well, I just need content." I said, "Why?" To which they responded, "Content is important."
And it is.
But that's not going to get you anywhere. If you say content's important and you start writing content, you're never going to know if you're doing a good job or if you're meeting your business goals at all. So you do need to set goals before, and that comes in a variety of different ways.
You need to ask yourself, "What are we trying to do with this piece of content? Are we trying to gain more leads? Do we want more conversions on this product? Do we need to write about our product or service?"
Whatever it is, think about the content that you're writing beforehand, the problem that it solves, and what you want out of it. That's going to help drive what you're doing and help you break it up into categories, as well as create a plan about what you want to write because it's actually going to serve your business needs.
We use a pretty simple process. We start by answering common questions. So all around our team, that's what we do with our content process. It's really not that complicated. We get to start by asking ourselves, "What do our customers ask us the most? What do we feel like the biggest problems are that we can help solve? Let's write about that." And that's a starting place for us.
Second is using creative briefs for our organizational templates. There are a lot of questions that you'll discover while you're writing content. "Well, how do I go about that? How should I write? What's the basis of this project? Or should it be published or sent out to the media?" And so there are questions that you need to be able to answer for yourself internally that will help guide you through the process of what you're writing.
The third is drafting an outline. When you're approaching content, it can get really messy, especially since 2000 words is the average amount of content we should write. Most of the time, I find myself writing much more than that. And so it can get really messy, you can get lost along the way. And if you just start writing, you might get halfway through and think, "I'm not even talking about the same thing that I was talking about in the beginning. So I don't even know where I am." So by developing an outline, it's really simple. But it's a great way to make sure that all throughout the article, from beginning to end, you're answering the question that you set out to answer in a variety of different ways. And there's different levels to that.
That's the process for messaging. There are a couple of simple questions. I know that we don't have time to get too much into brand messaging. But there are a couple of questions we ask every client that we work with, because they're very powerful. If you can answer these questions, you likely can clarify your message.
- What problem is your prospective customer facing? We have to understand what issues they're having, what things are getting in the way of them seeing success, what things are getting in the way of them achieving what they want to achieve?
- How do you solve that problem better than anyone else? And not only do you need to solve that problem, but you need to communicate clearly how you solve that problem. How do you do it better than anyone else? Why should they work with you over anyone else? Is that your process? Is that the product that you have?
- In what ways do you make life better for your customers? A lot of what we see in the marketing messages that are presented to us, or when we go to help brands, is that they've never actually hit on what it looks like for customer's lives after they've done business with that company. But they have to understand what they're going to get to if they work with you? What will their life look like? You're answering that question for them. A lot of customers will not ask that question, but it is one that you need to answer and help them understand.
The third is starting with the end in mind. This was related to setting goals or making sure that you have a goal before you write. The first question is, do you want more leads? If you want more leads, you're going to create content that is aimed at people who are searching.
So if you're going for more leads, starting with questions that most people at the top of the sales funnel are having, like what they're searching for, maybe a general type of answer to their problem. They're not yet looking at different particular companies. They're just wondering if a solution to their problem is out there. Well, you might write content that's talking about that problem and different solutions to that problem and solutions that you offer. Consider creating valuable downloadable content, like PDFs or eBooks and longer content that prospects can come to your website to download and keep for themselves. Think of this as more of an A-Z piece of content.
I know this is a little bit outside the scope of SEO. But while we're on the topic, if you're writing long-form content for people to just get leads, covering a wide variety of pieces of information can be really, really helpful. Not only for them, but they're likely going to look to you for more information if you want more conversions, so this is going to be people that are a little bit deeper in the sales funnel. Provide great content that demonstrates the problem you solve and proof that it improves life for your customers. At this point, they're looking for specific companies to solve that problem for them. They know that the solution is out there, right? They know that there are companies who do it, they're now looking to who does it better, who does it more affordably, who does it more efficiently and helps them more. Write towards those individuals using specific language towards the differentiators that you have, working those into the piece of content that you write.
We usually get this question [on tools we use]. So I want to make sure to answer it is as far as keyword research. We're talking mostly about the process tonight and how to go about actually starting writing your content and even following that through. But there are a couple of great tools as far as keyword research.
One that we use pretty often is Clearscope. Has anyone ever heard of Clearscope? It's pretty much like Grammarly for SEO, and if you're familiar with Grammarly at all, it's like an in-editor writing program. Using keywords that you have found, it'll give you a grade at the end, similar to how Grammarly does. It'll tell you if it's good or if it ranks poorly, and you should probably add some more keywords into it. That's the limited capability of it. It's a great tool. But that's really all it does. It doesn't go outside of the scope of that.
The second is more popular, probably SEMrush. It's more similar to Ahrefs and some of the other ones out there, but that's a little bit more robust. It's all in one; you can do keyword research, web page authority, etc. Then with the dashboard, you can kind of see how all your traffic is being managed from a digital perspective and tracking keyword content over time.
Another is Uber Suggest. I don't know how many of you know of Uber suggest, but if you're looking for a free keyword research tool, it's great. Especially if you just started doing content, and you're not sure that you want to make a big investment in a tool that you may or may not use often. There are quite a few others, but I really like it because it'll give you just a very basic bar that you can type in what you're looking for and get keywords easily.
Okay, so, what I wanted to do tonight (and I'm going to give a few minutes for questions before we get started), but as I said, I wanted to take you guys through a little bit more of a personal interaction for yourself. So you get the chance to answer some questions for your own business, and then we'll go through our process a little bit. And by the time you walk out of here, the goal is, is that you have some ideas you can actually go home and write content off of. And we're going to be here to help you out a little bit. But before I do, are there any questions on some of the items that we had discussed? Or any questions you have about anything that we didn't get into?
Q: Is there a difference in writing directly on a website vs. writing a PDF or something? Is there a difference in how Google interprets that?
A: So are you talking about not actually posting the PDF on your site, but more of like a downloadable? Yeah. Google is not going to search that if it's really a part of your website. So it's not live content that they can actually crawl and it's not going to be able to search for that. So that's why we talked about the difference between organic and website downloads. Those are valuable people to people, and it's something you want to be able to write. But no, Google isn't going to rank those for SEO. The cool thing is, though, that if you write a PDF as a downloadable, I would highly suggest you take that content, change it up some, and put it on your website. Especially if you're writing a longe PDF, feel free to take some of that content and use it on your website as well. Maybe as a shorter blog or something. So if there are 3,500 words on the PDF, feel free to knock it down to 2000 and put it on your site. Or vice versa. Take something that you have on your website, expand on it a little bit, and turn it into a valuable PDF.
Q: What about adding creative aspects to it? Such as infographics and having stuff that's more interactive as opposed to just content alone?
A: Yes. Infographics and things that are adding value to the content that you write are still going to help you rank. On a technical aspect, as far as grading out for SEO, Google likely isn't crawling those images for keywords. So let's say just for example, you're talking about the five best social media channels. And you turn that into an infographic that has a bar graph of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and stuff like that. Google's not going to crawl the image itself where you're going to have keywords on it. But on a larger scale, they're looking more so at the value that the page provides. So infographics and other things that are very well known to gain attention are going to be helpful. So you still want to intermix those things. I would highly suggest using infographics and visuals because when more people stay on that page and save that page and share that page, Google's also ranking a lot of that. It's thinking, "Oh, this page is valuable. So some people must love it, and we're going to put it up on the top because people like it." So I would highly suggest you experiment with that. Just make sure that you're using the keywords that you wanted to use in the rest of the supporting content. Does that make sense?
It's called a skimibility score. So Google has a huge algorithm and tons of aspects and variables to it. And so they give you a ranking based on scalability. And so if you think of making it creative, making it interesting to read versus just a novel kind of deal printed, that's really boring. Most people are going to drop off at some point; they'll be bored. So if you have a really interesting page, people scroll through your entire page, and that's going to increase that specific metric in the algorithm.
Q: Say you were going to produce a 2,000-word article, and you know something about your topic, but you might have some research to do. How much time would you allocate to that.?
A: I'd say four to six hours total. Again, it really depends on how much you already know or how much you'd have to research something. I would probably do four to six hours, but sometimes it takes much less time and sometimes much longer depending on the topic you want to cover.
Q: Sometimes, I'll write a blog, and in the process, I'll realize that what I've said should have been said on a page on the website. So then I'll go back and tweak an internal page on the site and so the content is the same. Will I be penalized for that?
A: If it's a paraphrase or summary or headline, you're saying, it's always better to kind of tweak it a little bit or arrange it a little bit differently. It's a great question because some people will have, you know, maybe two different brands or something. And they'll just kind of release the same piece of content for the same deal. Or insurance agencies are very similar to this where they get a block of content from like their providers, and they just grabbed something and copy-pasted from their blog, but so have all the other providers. And so now there are 50 of the exact same blog posts. And those aren't going to necessarily perform very well because they're not unique. And Google doesn't know how to go, "Oh, well, why is this one better than this one?" It's the same thing, so then they're just going to cross them off. So it's best practice to make them unique based on like a landing page and blog. But if it's on your same site and you've got a page that isn't identical, then it's probably not going to penalize you too much, but best practice is to change it a bit.
Q: If you had advice for someone who only has so many hours in the day, what would you say I tackle first for content creation? Because it's 2020: videos are trending, PDFs are good, I heard SlideShare is good, and I'm pretty LinkedIn heavy. So what should I focus on?
A: I would still, I mean, as far as writing on your site, there's not too much that beats that as a priority, right? You want to be able to write on your site because that's what Google's ranking primarily for —content written on your website. Other content on top of that is really, really beneficial. Again, it depends on your outreach strategy and your marketing strategy overall. But as far as inbound traffic, writing content on your site is going to be the best bet.
I don't want to discourage other types of content, because those are really strong. And those are definitely ways to supplement the content that you're writing. But as far as what we're talking about in SEO and gaining inbound traffic, that's going to be the best way to go about it first.
Q: If I were to start tomorrow? Should I do a blog post? Should I update older blogs?
A: Yeah, I mean, if you have already have blogs that you've written before, I would go back and rework those. So before you even have to go write tons of new ideas and stuff like that, feel free to start going back through those. Use some of the tools that we've just talked about. Maybe think about that, try and do some keyword research, see what it's ranking for. If you have the content already, and you're not sure how it's ranking or performing, I would go back first before you have to spend the time on new content. That's probably going to be most effective.
We do that still. We wrote stuff years ago that, you know, we consistently go back to and make sure that it's up to date, which takes significantly less time than starting from scratch on a new article. So I would suggest that's the first thing to do if you have that.
But as far as medium, so like I'm videoing this one. So we'll transcribe the video, kind of massage the text a little bit to be a little bit more readable. We'll put the presentation in the Slideshare. And so then you can share that on LinkedIn. But the goal then is to have like a home base, so that then on those social platforms, you're directing people back to your site, so maybe we post a video on LinkedIn or something, but then if they want the slides, or they want to see the transcription or whatever, there's a link back to our site. So it's always good to have all those things connected.
Q: You showed that graph at the beginning that showed when you started testing strategy, and then when writing became a team effort. Can you talk a little bit more about the way that teams can co-produce content? You know, what's governance look like? And how do you sort of manage traffic? And ensure the quality is there, and strategy stays in place and those kinds of things?
A: So, we have our content team manage all of the governance. We come up with kind of the topics that need to be written. And it's wide open. Like if anyone has information based on their area of expertise, they're always welcome to do that. It's not based on this firm set of rules. In fact, it's pretty lenient in that way. But we do all the strategy behind it and make sure that all the ideas are kind of crafted for them. We lay out what they can write about in their specific fields. Like I said, we have buckets. And some of those are about strategy, or about content, or graphic design. And there other things that each person within our team feels confident in and offers value from their expertise. So we start with that.
As far as them writing it, it's really in their own voice. So I act as mostly our senior editor and stuff like that, and I want it to be all in their own voice. We post the author who writes it. And they all have their own personality that they can feel free to express. Now, we do have some brand guidelines and editorial style guidelines that we keep to. We published that quite a few months back to ensure everyone is staying in tune with that.
Everyone develops an outline first. And it goes through our content team to make sure that they are answering the questions, or at least it looks like they're answering the questions that we want to make sure we're providing value toward. And once they do that, they're free to write as much as they want. There are some pretty basic goals. As far as the structure of the content — what it should look like — you'll actually see some of that in a couple of minutes. And then once they're done writing the content, they send it through. I personally, most of the time, am the one who does the QA and edits. So the first round is a general edit where we'll edit the actual writing and the content itself. Then the writer can, you know, make changes. Or, if it's ready to go, we'll pass it through for QA for grammar and other things like that. Because our graphic designer's job is not to make sure that grammar is perfect. That's my job because I get excited about commas and em-dashes. And then we pass it through to go live.
It's kind of a beautiful thing that we really love. Because it's not just one person creating it. It's not just one mind that's creating it. And I'm really glad it's that way because I wouldn't have any idea what, you know, genius ideas our developers come up with and stuff like that, right? I mean, people still have those different questions, and we are a diversely-skilled marketing team, and we want to be able to take advantage of that. So yeah, we dish it out to them. There is definitely some governance from our content team. So if you're the one managing that, make sure that you don't put way too much expectation on them to be the ones that are managing the back end of it. But once it's set up for them, it's really easy for them to go in and kind of just bring their own ideas and bring their expertise towards it. And vice versa, pass it back to us and make sure that everything's good. And I send it out. And it's been really beneficial for us.
Q: This idea of answering questions makes sense. When you're writing, do you actually type the questions in your copy? Or is it implied? Is it important to you just you actually ask the question in the piece so that it gets picked up?
A: Yeah, sometimes we do. Again, it depends. It's more important in that sense for the keywords to be part of it, because that's kind of where the intent and keywords match together. But yeah, a lot of the times the way it turns out is the question that's being asked does show up in either a header or something because that's the easiest way to start off the article. From a purely copywriting standpoint, questions are some of the best ways that you can start off anything. They intrigue thought, and instead of just saying something, you're making someone think about something. So if I'm asking how to write content, or how should I go about writing content, I'll sometimes title the article: "How to Write Content," or something like that to either show that that's the answer to the question or will pose it as a question.
Q: So, I have a frequently asked questions page on my website that gets quite a bit of traffic, but it's only product-specific. Should I put more time into my FAQ page and make it more industry-specific, or is that too much keyword stuffing?
A: I think if people are navigating to that page, I mean, that kind of data is fantastic. And if you see a lot of people asking those questions are looking for that, you can get out ahead of it. And if you're having trouble getting leads, you can get out in front of it, and also position a much more in-depth answer to those questions. That sets you up to be a much more thorough problem solver for that person versus just maybe like a quick sentence or two that are answering those questions. You can position yourself as someone who opens up the problem for them and talks about the different ways that you solve that and why they should consider working with you. Positioning yourself as someone that can really help them and then calls to action, things like that on blog posts that you sometimes don't get the chance to do in an FAQ can be great. I'd love to hear Tyler's thoughts on the traffic portion of that.
A: Are you familiar with pillar pages? So pillar pages are going to be more of a directional type page. So it's going to have a little bit more insight on different things. And I would consider FAQ pages a type of pillar page, though it might not be the best type of pillar page, it's similar. And so I would suggest an FAQ having really short answers because most of the time people are just skimming through, they're not really looking to read, you know, for 10 minutes. But then having links in those to outside blog posts that are a further in-depth answer to that. For example, having different blog posts, and that kind of thing is going to be your best practice. And what that's going to do for Google, it's going to also then tell Google, "This FAQ page has a ton of value. Because it's this hub kind of model with all these blog posts surrounding it, all linking to it. Which then tells people, "Oh, this one must be an important page because there's a lot of different links to it." And it's at the center of that hub. So that kind of short paragraph linking out to more in-depth answers is going to be the best direction.
Q: I have a question that's similar to Ashley's, although in a different direction. You'd mentioned that Google has an algorithm that has a "skimmability score." So if you're an organization that is writing for a particular audience and say, either higher ed or technical, or the scientific community, does Google sort of respond to the reading level in the vernacular that's used in your content?
A: I don't think there's a ton of data on that, but based on the evidence, a lot of information like that people are still really looking for as far as positioning it. Sometimes defining it first is best. For example, we've worked with our developer, Cameron, to make sure that a lot of the more in-depth stuff he's talking about is set up with a definitive introduction in the copy. So my best piece of advice currently, with full transparency, I don't know the exact answer to that, would be to make sure that you're defining more difficult terms first. Because likely, if it's more difficult, people are probably searching for what it is. If it's not, they may not use that term precisely for a search.
Q: So I use a lot of slang and jargon. But is our performance hindered because we don't follow proper vernacular in different situations?
A: I would assume it's not. I don't think they're crawling for that. I don't think that's something they're looking for. It's more of the value of the page. So if you still have your keywords on there, it should be fine. If you talked about how to become a better dancer, and you cover flexibility, balance, coordination — things that are important in dancing — if you still have those as your headers, and you're answering the questions really well, I don't think that you would be punished. If that's still performing well, people are coming in to read that. But let's say you want to use flexibility as a keyword and your spelling flexibility incorrectly, I would consider not doing that. Because that's a term you're actually going to search for. I definitely would make sure it's on par with the key term or keyword that's ranking well.
Q: I just had a question of how much effort you put into looking at Google Search Console for building content around some search terms on there that you might want to do better?
A: We don't put way too much into it. We're more concerned with kind of where we're coming from a content process. As I said, we use mostly Clearscope and some other tools that help us rank out for that. That's worked for us, and the search intent is more of what we're looking at. I know some people on our team, one, in particular, has probably used that more than I have.
A: We use it mostly for updating page crawling. So anytime we publish a new piece of content will go to Google Search Console and make sure it's recalled if it's updated. Or if it's a new piece, then we're submitting the URL because Google doesn't crawl your same site like every day; it's normally once a month at the most. And then we're answering like more sales questions. So as people are coming through the sales process, we're answering the questions they have, and less so just targeting just for the sake of targeting them. So we're just using it differently.