What Does ‘Quality’ Really Mean in Content Marketing?

Quality in Content Marketing

Have you heard the good news about quality content? It’s the latest innovation that’s sweeping the nation. It’s going to revolutionize your content marketing efforts. If your current strategy is to crank out crappy content, then quality content is going to blow your KPIs away!

Okay, sarcasm aside: Every content marketer knows their content needs to be good to be effective. We call it “quality,” or “value,” or “usefulness.” But all of these traits can vary widely depending on your audience. For example, conventional wisdom might say that 500-word blog posts don’t connect with readers. But that word count may be just the right length for the people you want to reach.

So, when we get into the specifics, quality is relative and highly subjective. But it’s possible to define quality content marketing in a more universal way:

Quality content demonstrates to your audience that you are listening to them.

It’s that simple. Well, one step further:

Quality content demonstrates that you’re listening and you care.

We often think about what action we want readers to take. That’s a valid question; in fact, it’s the foundation of content marketing strategy. But for quality content we need to consider the flip side: How will the reader’s life be better after reading this content? Or, to really boil it down: What’s in it for them?

That’s the essence of quality content. And here’s how you can make sure your content passes the test. First, at the broadest level, there are two minimum requirements for quality:

All Content Marketing Should Be …

#1: Hyper-Relevant

We talk a lot about best answer content at TopRank Marketing, content that:

  • Serves a proven search need
  • Addresses a customer’s burning questions
  • Is substantial and comprehensive

Basically, it means that you’re putting in time and effort into researching your audience, what they need and how they’re searching for it. Then you’re crafting content that acknowledges that search and makes a genuine attempt to give them exactly what they’re looking for.

#2: Non-Promotional

It’s hard to convince people you’re listening to them if all you can talk about is how great you are. Quality content has to be non-promotional. Now, some brands take this advice to heart, but create content that’s still promotional, just with a thin veneer of solving a problem. They’ll publish a “10 Ways to Be Better at X,” but each way just leads to their solution. That’s a cheat.

Real customer-centered content gives away valuable information that people can use even if they never buy from you.  For example, here’s Quicksprout’s “Advanced Guide to Content Marketing.” It’s massive. It’s ungated. Only a tiny fraction of it is related to the solutions they sell.

Advanced Guide to Content Marketing Example

Of course, your content mix should include some bottom-of-funnel content that will show how your brand solves a problem. But the majority of your content should focus on the reader.

It’s hard to convince people you’re listening to them if all you can talk about is how great you are. – @NiteWrites #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

So, quality content demonstrates to your reader that you’re listening and care about them. It does this by being hyper-relevant and non-promotional. It’s a good working definition, but still a little vague. Here are five ways you can approach content to guarantee quality:

Five Ways to Create Quality Content

#1: Tell a Story

Humans are storytelling animals. We’re wired to process narratives, to get pleasure from a good tale and retain the information within it. This is why people have a favorite novel or movie, but few have a favorite white paper or instruction manual. Tell a story that shows your reader you understand what their world is like. Tell a story that shows you understand what they wish their world was like. Even better, make them (or someone very much like them) the star of the story.

We’re wired to process narratives. This is why people have a favorite novel or movie, but few have a favorite white paper or instruction manual. – @NiteWrites #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

Read: Be Honest Like Abe: How Content Marketers Can Build Trust Through Storytelling

#2: Show Vulnerability

One of the quickest ways to make an emotional connection is to reveal your own shortcomings. Everyone has moments of failure; they’re what makes us human. Use your brand’s failings, and the lessons learned from them, to connect with the reader and help them improve.

The Buffer team is great at the kind of honest, meaningful discussion I’m talking about here. Their “5 Times We Failed at Diversity Big Time (and How We Fixed It)” is a good starting example.

Buffer Quality Content Example

#3: Help Them Look Smart at Work

What do most working people have in common, regardless of industry, function or seniority level? We all want to look good in front of our boss. If you are the boss, you want to look good in front of shareholders. Everyone can benefit from a little competitive edge, a tip or a trick or a bit of wisdom they can pull out at the next meeting.

#4: Help Make Their Job Easier

Another thing all working people have in common is that we would prefer to not work so hard. Anything that can help us get the job done quicker, with less effort, without sacrificing quality, is incredibly valuable. Keep that idea in mind when writing checklists, tools and tips, or how-to posts. It’s not just “here’s how you do this,” it’s “here’s how you do this better, regardless of your current skill level.”

#5: Help Them Improve Themselves

Your audience’s lives are bigger than their interaction with your brand. They’re bigger than the pain points your brand has the expertise to solve. If you can reach out to the broader sphere of their life experience, you can bring quality in new and unexpected ways.

This piece from LinkedIn’s* Jason Miller, “How to Survive a Mid-Career Crisis in Marketing,” is a stellar example. It’s a guide that’s not really about marketing at all; it’s about finding your true voice and pursuing passion. Bonus: Notice that the piece tells a story and shows vulnerability, too.

LinkedIn Quality Content Example

Quality Is Job One

Have you ever said to anyone, “I consumed some quality content the other day?” I sincerely hope not. Instead, you likely said, “I saw the greatest article,” or “Check out this cool video.” When content is useful, valuable, and meaningful, it’s not part of the deluge of content that surrounds us. It’s signal, not noise.

That’s the only type of content we should be in the business of making. Not just because it gets better results — it does, but that’s only part of the equation. When we create quality content, that means the work we do is useful, valuable, and meaningful. Personally, I wouldn’t waste my time doing otherwise.

When content is useful, valuable, and meaningful, it’s not part of the deluge of content that surrounds us. It’s signal, not noise. – @NiteWrites #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

Create content that connects. Check out these 10 powerful lessons in resonance from some of the industry’s top marketing minds.

Disclosure: LinkedIn is a TopRank Marketing client.

Becoming a Better Marketer by Embracing Your Passions Outside the Office

How Our After-Hours Passions Elevate Us as Marketers

In the first post I ever wrote for the TopRank Marketing Blog, I reflected on the marketing lessons I’d picked up through my baseball blogging hobby. Helping build an online community at Twins Daily has instilled many important fundamentals that, I feel, make me better at my day job.

I’m always fascinated by this interplay. We spend so much of our time each week alongside our coworkers, but are often unaware of the interests and side hustles that drive them outside of the office. Those very passions can be such integral parts of who we are and how we operate.

More recently, this has been a topic of focus for our friends at LinkedIn*. In April, Jason Miller wrote a piece about following your dreams while staying committed to your career, and in June, Sean Callahan profiled a LinkedIn marketer who moonlights as a DJ.

The subject of Sean’s piece was Ish Verduzco (aka DJ Ishh), who says that spinning the turntables on weekends has helped him learn how to get in tune with online audiences as a social media marketer. Incidentally, Jason and Sean themselves are great examples of this dynamic — Jason is a rock-and-roll photographer whose creativity and energy infuse the content he produces, while Sean is the author of several children’s books with a knack for conveying information clearly and understandably.

These posts from LinkedIn inspired me to learn more about my own colleagues here at the TopRank Marketing office, and how their outside hobbies or passions help shape them professionally. So I asked around:

What activities occupy your time when you’re not at the office, and how do they help make you a more clever, curious, and courageous marketer?

Hopefully their answers will inspire other marketers to fully embrace their own passions, and think about ways in which their personal pursuits can fuel their professional success — or vice versa.

The After-Hours Passions that Elevate Our Team Members’ Marketing Skills

Improving Through Improv

Josh NiteJosh Nite, Senior Content Marketing Manager

His jokes and puns are cherished staples during the workday, and Josh puts his sharp wit to good use after it ends by participating in improv shows and competitions. He believes that these comedy performances make him a better marketer for two primary reasons.

“First, they force me to carefully consider words, how they have an effect on people, how powerful they can be. Second, they’re performed live in front of an audience, so I can see whether or not I’m making a connection. It really helps me have a mental image of the reader in mind when I’m writing content.”

Making a Habit of Being Helpful

Debbie Friez, Influencer Marketing Strategist

Debbie is very active at her church, Spirit Garage, where she applies her professional skills to help out with marketing functions.

“I serve on the marketing committee, so that has me looking for new ideas,” she says. “I subscribe to a few newsletters and I’m active in Social Media Shepherds, a group of church communicators.”

In turn, Debbie’s community work through church and other endeavors — she picks up garbage at local parks on Earth Day, participates in a book club, and serves cotton candy during street festivals, for example — helps her develop rock-solid relationships with influencers and clients.

Finding Focus on the Fairway

Anne Leuman, Content Strategist

As someone who regularly covers SEO-related topics on the TopRank Marketing Blog, Anne understands the importance of links (she recently wrote about examples of link-worthy content). And on the weekend, she likes to unwind by hitting the links.

“My No. 1 hobby outside of work is golf,” Anne says. “Golf, believe it or not, requires a great amount of imagination. If you can see a shot, you can make the shot. Playing the sport allows me to hone my imagination skills, leading to more creativity and well-thought-out content strategy.”

She also adds that the sport’s individualistic nature helps her focus on self-improvement. Bolstering your score on the golf course is all about looking inward and making the right personal tweaks, which is also true of content creation.

“Similar to working on my golf game,” she starts. “I’ll take lessons, ask for advice, or spend hours writing each day to ensure I’m above par.”  

Managing to Make a Difference

Elizabeth Williams, Account Manager

As a mother raising two young children of mixed race, Elizabeth feels strongly about doing her part to create a more accepting and fair environment for individuals of all ethnicities and backgrounds.

“As a marketer sometimes it’s hard to see that direct impact on ‘making a the world a better place’ in your day-to-day. But, it’s something I crave. Having that reason behind what we do inspires us to keep going when we’re feeling frustrated or overloaded.”

She continues: “My ‘making the world a better place’ is working toward MLK’s dream — for a world where people will not be judged by the color of their skin. In my family, we experience racism nearly every time we’re in public, whether it’s big or small.”

And so she commits much of her energy outside of work to advocating for the cause of social justice. A marketer’s understanding of how to engage and influence proves helpful in this regard.

“I love applying my knowledge of digital marketing to my activist communications,” she says.

Making Creativity is the Name of the Game

Patrick Pineda, Motion Designer

If you watched any of the awesome 8-bit videos he whipped up for our Content Marketing Combos series, you might peg Patrick as an avid video game enthusiast. But his real passion is for tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and World of Darkness.

Earlier this year, he collaborated with Anne to create a blog post around content marketing lessons from the realm of D&D, such as the value of originality, the pitfalls of corralling an audience, and the importance of customization — something that is incredibly important and top-of-mind for marketers today.

“The best Dungeon Master doesn’t just create a good story, but they also help players reach their goals,” Patrick noted.

The Rabid Researcher

Lane EllisLane Ellis, Social & Content Marketing Manager

Working remotely from northern Minnesota, Lane conducts plenty of helpful research for the team at TopRank Marketing, and his proclivities in this area are deeply ingrained.

“Since 1994 I’ve been doing family history research, including several years as one of Duluth’s few professional genealogists, which has taught me many research-related lessons that I try to apply to my social media and marketing career,” he explains.

As someone who was using the internet for research before many of us were using it at all, he’s very adept at quickly finding what he’s looking for.

Harnessing Healthy Results Like a Boss

Lee OddenLee Odden, CEO

Employees at TopRank Marketing are accustomed to the occasional week or two where Lee isn’t in the office, given the amount of traveling he does for speaking engagements around the world, but recently we’ve noticed that we’re seeing less of him — literally. The agency cofounder has been on a major health kick over the past several months, and the impact has been visibly evident in his physique.

“I’ve found diet, cardio and other exercise have direct correlations to goal-setting, discipline, quality of effort, time management, and optimization of marketing performance,” Lee explains.

In particular, he’s sees parallels in the ways success is measured for fitness and marketing. In neither case should vanity be the name of the game.

“I found it interesting not to focus on weight loss, but clothing size, energy level, and quality of life improvements since those are the real goals,” he says. “I think there are lessons there as a marketer in measuring performance. Views, shares and impressions are like sugary candy metrics that give spikes of endorphins, but don’t really reflect the real goals of leads, deals, and revenue.”

What Drives You?

At TopRank Marketing, we’re lucky to have a team with diverse interests and hobbies. Working with these folks on a daily basis, it’s easy to see they are keeping their marketing skills sharp through after-hours activities, even if that’s not necessarily the inherent rationale.

Meanwhile, staying busy and focused on other things outside of work helps us stay refreshed and rejuvenated once we arrive each morning. So, I ask you, too: What passions outside of work make you better at your job?

Let us know in the comments section below.

Disclosure: LinkedIn is a TopRank Marketing client.

How to Rally Around ROI & Prioritize Your Digital Marketing Efforts in the Face of Budget Cuts

Prioritizing After Marketing Budget Cuts

Ask any marketer if they’ve ever had to contend with the shrinking or deep cutting of their budgets, odds are you’ll get a deep sigh and a “more than once” response.

Organizations are always looking for efficiencies and ways to tighten their financial belt, and marketing departments are among the first to be placed on the chopping block because it all comes down to ROI—something many modern marketers find hard to prove

In fact, according to a recent report from Demand Gen Report and BrightFunnel, 58% of B2B organizations surveyed said their current ability to measure and analyze marketing performance “needs improvement” or worse.

So, if you’re staring down a budget reduction, don’t panic. This is the time to evaluate and prioritize your efforts so you can revamp your integrated digital marketing strategy to include a tactical mix that will not only refocus your strategy to reach your objectives, but also improve how you measure and achieve ROI.

If you’re staring down a #marketing budget reduction, don’t panic. This is the time evaluate, prioritize, and focus. – @Alexis5484 Click To Tweet

Here are four key actions you’ll want to take:

#1 – Evaluate your existing data against your goals.

While it may seem obvious, the first step is to evaluate how you’re performing against your objectives; what’s working and what’s not. However, you can’t rely solely on high-level or vanity metrics like overall traffic. In order to really dig into what’s working, you need to map each of your tactics and/or channels to closed business—and total revenue numbers if you can.

Not only will this help you focus on where to revamp and hone your strategy, but also put you in a better position to consistently measure as you move forward. So, when the next budget cut comes along, you can better prove the ROI of your marketing activities and make a stronger case for keeping your budget.

#2 – Narrow your targeting.

Every marketer knows that understanding your audience is key to developing and executing a strategy with impact. But audience characteristics, preferences, and habits—as well as the market you operate within—can change overtime. As a result, you may be wasting precious marketing dollars on the “wrong” people. So, it’s time to redefine and zero-in on who your ideal customer or buyer is and who are most likely to convert.

With the budget and resources you do have, it may be worth investing time and money in a survey or analysis of your existing client or prospects to better understand their preferences and pain points.

This will not only give you a clearer picture of what channels or tactics are working—but which may have the most potential based on who your customer is, where they’re interacting with your brand or other brands, what they’re interested in, and what moves them to a conversation.

If you’re facing #marketing budget cuts, it may be worth using the resources you do have to analyze your customers and prospects to hone in on their needs, preferences, and paint points. – @Alexis5484 Click To Tweet

#3 – Place safe bets if your data is limited.

Effective measurement is a problem that’s plagued marketers for years. As a result, you may not have all the data to inform your decision making. In this case, we’d suggest making some “safe marketing bets” based on tried-and-true tactics.

For example, email marketing. Email marketing is perhaps the oldest digital marketing tactic around, but still one of the most effective. Not only does it deliver helpful information to your clients and prospects, when segmented and constructed correctly, it helps nurture them toward the sale. In fact, three-quarters of companies say email offers “good” or “excellent” ROI.

In addition, SEO and content marketing are consistently rated by marketers as top channels with the best ROI.

That said, be careful not to stake your success on simply following what’s “always” worked. The safe bets you place should be a temporary strategic solution as you work to get better measurement and data practices in place so you can continuously optimize your strategy.

#4 – Invest in efficiency.

Efficiency isn’t about doing more in less time, but rather making the most of your time by doing the right things. As the old saying goes: Work smarter, not harder. From our perspective, there’s three core investments to consider:

1. Technology

Whether you want to optimize your workflow or automate time-consuming processes, investing in the right technology for your needs can make a major positive impact on efficiency.

2. Training

Your marketing spend is likely not the only item that took a hit. You may have also needed to cut internal resources. As a result, investing in training for the team you do have is a good play—whether you want someone to expand their skill set or level up his or her existing skills—to help your team work more efficiently and ultimately drive more ROI with less.

3. An agency partnership

Oftentimes, partnering with an agency can help you stretch your budget for maximum ROI. Rather than solely relying on your in-house team for expertise, execution, and strategy—an agency can be a robust extension. You get access to an entire team of digital marketing experts, made up of individuals with a range of skill sets—and often at a lower cost than having the equivalent depth of knowledge as internal hires.

Efficiency isn’t about doing more in less time, but rather making the most of your time by doing the right things. – @Alexis5484 Click To Tweet

Focus on the Opportunity, Not the Loss

Budget cuts are no fun. But they’re not the end of the world. After all, we marketers can be scrappy—and we live to innovate.

So, use recent or near future cuts to redefine your marketing strategy from both a tactical and measurement standpoint, and work to put better measurement in place. Hopefully, this will not only help you avoid bumps in momentum as you deal with less financial resources, but also help you get better ROI data so you can defend against future cuts.  

How can you prove the value of your content marketing efforts to your CMO? Check out our three steps to proving content marketing ROI.

Calling All Content Marketers: Sound Off in Our Content Marketing Planning Survey!

2018 Content Planning Survey

We’re all in this together.

Granted, it might not always feel that way. The current environment we operate in as marketers is a competitive one. But we do have the power to collectively drive our discipline forward, toward greater efficiency and productivity. This begins with sharing knowledge, and improving our understanding of the most prevalent challenges and obstacles being faced.

In this spirit, we’ve partnered with our clients and friends at DivvyHQ to whip up a new 2018 Content Planning Survey, and we’d love your input.

What’s Inside the Survey

The idea is to gather data from a wide range of marketers in efforts to form a clear and accurate picture of how today’s content teams operate and where the key opportunities lie.

“One thing marketers can do to improve their content planning is stop planning each piece of content. The key to an effective editorial plan is committing to a publishing cadence.” @brennermichael Click To Tweet

Topics covered in this quick, five-minute survey:

  • Content planning processes and tools
  • Content team structure and collaboration
  • Content marketing tactics and metrics

Insights Content Marketers Will Gain

The more responses added from pros in the trenches like yourself, the more useful the results will be. Among the enlightening findings from DivvyHQ’s 2017 Content Planning Report:

  • 64% of respondents cited “developing a comprehensive content strategy” as a top challenge
  • Only 10% identified “creating clear defined objectives” as a successful aspect of planning
  • 58% of respondents said they were “too busy” to collaborate with peers
  • The most utilized content marketing tactics were email (89%), blog articles (88%) and video (80%)
  • 28% of respondents said they do not conduct regular content planning meetings

“There is such a thing as a bad slow in marketing. But there is a critical need for a good slow, too.” @annhandley Click To Tweet

So please, add your voice by filling out the survey. The best part? While you aren’t required to provide an email address, if you do, you’ll receive exclusive early access to the report generated from the aggregated information.

A Fresh Look at Content Planning for 2018

What’s changed this year? Where will we be able to identify trends and prevalent changes in focus? By submitting your own survey, you can be among the first to find out.

Armed with these insights, you’ll be able to better assess how your team measures up against the content marketing world at large, helping to guide your strategy onward and upward.

Together, we can take content to new heights.