A Guaranteed Secret to Becoming a Better Writer

There’s really only one way to become a better writer, and that’s to write every day.

Okay, that’s not really a secret, but if you’re not doing it right, you could write every day for years, and never get any better. Meanwhile, other newbie writers are leaving you in the dust, improving by leaps and bounds in a matter of months, because they know a shortcut.

And that’s the secret.

It starts with understanding how elite musicians, athletes, and artists all achieve great results in a relatively short amount of time

Start with Deep Practice

The toolkit of the writer: pen, notebook, and laptop computer

Every good writer tries to write every day, practicing their techniques deliberately.

In his book, The Talent Code, author Daniel Coyne breaks the pursuit of talent and skill into three “easy” steps: 1) Chunk it up. 2) Repeat it. 3) Learn to feel it.

Coyne is a believer in highly-targeted error-focused practice.

In the book, Coyne uses an example of a young clarinet player who’s learning a particular piece of music. She struggles on one passage, and works over and over to get it right.

A poor musician would just play the entire piece, start to finish, over and over, mistakes and all, until she’s put in her required practice time. But a good musician, like this girl, follows Coyne’s three steps.

She stops when she makes a mistake, backs up a few measures, and works on the part that gave her trouble. She runs through the fingering a few times, making sure her fingers understand what they’re supposed to do, then plays again. But she plays it slower, and does it a couple of times before moving on.

Once she makes it through the difficult part, she continues on until she reaches the next trouble spot in her song, and repeats the process.

The researcher Coyne interviewed for this example said that just 10 minutes of this deep practice was more effective than playing the song straight through, over and over, for an hour. In other words, our musician is getting better in one-sixth the time of a poor musician.

Athletes do this as well. They focus deliberately on different problems and facets of their technique. They don’t just mindlessly do the work or go through the motions.

A professional basketball player doesn’t just shoot free throws to say he practiced his free throws. He visualizes what he’s about to do, focuses on technique, and analyzes what he did right and wrong each time. It’s not just a matter of shooting the ball 100 times in a row, it’s a matter of purposely, intentionally, deliberately practicing proper techniques.

My youngest daughter, an aspiring illustrator says when professional illustrators are learning a new figure or character, will create character studies and draw the same face over and over. Or they’ll “rotate” the head, drawing it from every angle; it’s called a “turnaround.” They’ll repeat the studies and turnarounds until they feel comfortable enough to do it on their own.

How this Applies to Writers

While every writer is told to “write every day,” they usually think it means to schedule a special private writing time, say, one hour in the morning or over lunch, and just churn out words. They focus on quantity of words created, not technique. Once the hour is up, they’re done.

They’re missing all kinds of golden opportunities throughout the rest of the day, and if you capitalize on them, you’re not limited to that one hour a day to get better.

(And if we’re following the 10,000 hour rule, you’ll become a literary phenom much faster if you can practice five hours a day, not five hours a week.)

Writing is writing. Regardless of the reason you’re tapping out words on your keyboard, you’re writing. Every time you write something, you have an opportunity to practice.

When you write an email, that’s practice. When you post a lengthy response to your cousin’s stupid political rant on Facebook, that’s practice. When you write a report for a client, that’s practice.

Whatever you’re doing, pick a technique you’d like to improve, and work on it in everything you write.

Not just during Special Private Writing Time. Not just on your preferred genre and style. If you’re a fiction writer, but send a lot of emails during your day job, use that time to practice background narrative. If you’re an aspiring TV writer, use texts and chats as a way to practice dialogue. If you have to create a lot of reports for work, practice journalism-style writing by writing short, easy-to-read sentences.

And that’s the big secret: If you can harness deep practice, and use it consistently everywhere, you can greatly improve your writing. Just like our clarinet player, if you can do deep practice for 10 minutes, you’re racing past anyone who’s just doing poor practice for an hour.

And best of all, you’re writing every day. You’re following the writer’s maxim, and you’re doing it better than those who save it only for Special Private Writing Time.

Five Ways to Make Your Written Content Suck

I’ve had an epiphany. Content marketers don’t really care if they create excellent written content. That’s the only explanation I can think of. Despite the mountains of classes, webinars, books, and “FIVE TIPPY-TOP MOSTEST IMPORTANT CONTENT MARKETING SECRETS IN ALL THE WORLD!!” blog posts, content marketers aren’t listening.

They seem to think, “Oh, that doesn’t apply to me. Not old Stevie*. I can keep pumping out dreck, because my stuff is different/better/important, and my readers are big fans/generously forgiving/mindless drones.” And they double down on their bad content like a politician after a racist campaign gaffe.

Maybe they actually want to be bad. Maybe that’s their goal: to produce something so execrably bad that you can’t help but read or watch it — the Sharknado of content marketing.

If that’s your goal, here are the five best ways you can make your content marketing suck out loud.

1. Use lots of jargon.

Gill's Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon

Gill’s Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon

Use words that sort of sound like English, but not entirely. Use words that end in -ize whenever possible. And turn verbs into nouns and nouns into verbs.

“We’re going to incentivize learners to dialogue with their classroom practitioners as a way to optimize learning methodologies.”

If you use words your readers can easily recognize and understand, you’re not trying hard enough.

2. Use adverbs and adjectives.

Because no one believes what you have to say, unless it’s really super amazing and awesome.

“Our bleeding-edge new Mapplethorpe app isn’t like the other 900 photo filter apps. It lets you take some of the bestest, most breathtaking, wondrous, aneurysm-inducing photos you’ve ever taken. Until we release version 1.5.”

This is especially useful if you’re writing a press release, because it tells the journalists your product isn’t like all those other products in all those other press releases. You mean it! You have real news!

Combine these previous two tips to crank your content’s Suck knob up to 11.

3. Publish your first draft.

Writers — real writers, that is — are never quite happy with their work. They’re always wasting time, rewriting and improving their work, trying to squeeze blood and tears out of every word.

Which means you shouldn’t waste your time doing that.

Just splooge out whatever pops into that fancy brain of yours, hit Publish, and bada-bing, bada-boom! Blog post!

This is especially useful for those content marketers who try to publish something every day. Your practice of writing all five blog posts in 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon has been working perfectly for you. Keep up the good work.

4. Why use one word when five will do?

Journalists, especially newspaper reporters spend many long years honing their craft, learning to cut a lot of needless words from their written work trim the fat. So wWhy should you let all those extra words go to waste? They’re just lying around on the ground, waiting for someone just like you to pick them up and use them in their own work. Why can’t that someone it be you?

See all the mistakes I made there, all those fat juicy words I struck out? My sentences are usually spartan and simple, but this one was a ready-to-burst tick, until I ruined it.

One of the best ways to make your written content suck is to create a lot of it. Fill your articles with extra words. This way, you can write less, but their bloatedness adds to your weekly word count, and that’s all that really matters.

People are going to quit reading your stuff anyway, so why not make your message harder to find? Maybe they’ll stick around and search for it. It’ll be like a treasure hunt.

5. Why use one syllable when three will do?

Not only is it incumbent upon you, esteemed content marketer, to utilize an increased number of words, it’s imperative you leverage the greatest number of multi-syllabic words as possible.

Because if there’s one thing people love to do, it’s slog through a Master’s thesis answer to a simple question. If they ask you what time it is, explain how to build a watch. In German.

So retrieve your thesaurus and make extensive preparations to dazzle your readership with your encyclopedic knowledge concerning your lucrative speciality. I’m positive they will express their warmest gratitude to you.

* I’m not actually picking on content marketers named Stevie. I just needed a name to put in there. So if you’re named Stevie (or Steve), don’t worry, I’m not calling you out.

Photo credit: Joe Mabel (Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License)

Don’t Let Data Drive Your Content Marketing

Too many people are bragging about doing “data driven content marketing,” and they’re missing out on the most important aspect, the human element.

There are times you have to throw the data out, and make decisions based on your gut feeling. Rather than being driven by data, why not let random chance and serendipity do its thing once in a while.

People who are driven by data will never make a decision without consulting the analytics oracle, and as a result, will miss great opportunities because the data didn’t give them permission.

Data should measure what you’re doing and tell you if you’re doing it right or not. Data should not make your decisions for you. You don’t work for data, it works for you. If you’re one of those people who consults spreadsheets about where to go for lunch, let alone what kind of content to publish, unclench a little and try something new.

Content Marketing Starts With Small Blocks

My son at the Lego Store in Orlando. There are all kinds of Lego statues throughout the store.

My son at the Lego Store in Orlando. There are all kinds of Lego statues throughout the store.

First of all, content creation is not hard. It starts with small building blocks — a blog post, a tweet, a photo, or a two-minute video. It’s not just 30 page white papers or 2 hour webinars.

Any 12-year-old Lego builder can show you amazing creations built with the smallest of blocks. Eventually, they’ll all combine for some epic large-scale creations that were pieced together one block at a time.

This is as true for Legos as it is for that single piece of content you’ve agonized over — tested, revised, A/B tested, subjected to committee review — for the last three weeks. You can build a great campaign with a lot of little blocks in a way that you can’t with five giant slabs.

When it comes to the small content blocks, there’s no time for the data to tell you what every single post and tweet should say. If you do, you’re overcomplicating things.

Your data should influence the overall theme those content blocks will become, but human intuition should be the driving force. The data should tell you whether it’s working.

Sometimes You Just Have to Ignore the Data

A few years ago, I was working with a client whose SEO specialist had created an editorial calendar based on SEO data and predictions. We decided to ignore writing about their product and cars for the umpteenth time. One of their dealers did a lot of work with boats, so we thought we’d see what happened if we wrote about that for a change.

“No one visits our site about boats,” said the SEO specialist, citing the data.

“That’s because we’ve never written about boats,” I said.

Two months later, our boats post was the second-most visited page on the entire blog, behind the main page. And the total traffic for the next three posts didn’t even equal that of the boats post.

Had we listened to the data, we never would have written about boats. Had we let the data do all the driving, we would have missed a great opportunity. As far as we can tell, the client has been one of the only companies talking about this particular issue, and it’s benefitted them greatly.

When you let data drive your content, you’re just one short step away from “we’ve always done it this way.” That’s when things get super boring, and your audience leaves or dies in their sleep.

For years, the data told web editors wanted shorter and shorter blog posts, until the #longreads movement began. Now people are digging into 2,000 – 10,000 word stories and sticking with them until the bitter end. “The data” told us people didn’t want long stories, but now “the data” is showing us how wrong it was.

If people had listened to “the data” the first time, the art of long-form writing could have disappeared for many people. Instead, by trying something new — by letting humans do the driving — we now have the chance to read long read stories from BuzzFeed, LongReads.com, and Grantland.com, ESPN’s website created to meet the growing demand for long stories.

If you’ve ever abandoned a story idea because the data didn’t support it, ignore the data, publish the story, and see what happens. The worst thing that will happen is “nothing.”

Nothing will change, nothing will move. No one will abandon your brand because you wrote a single blog post that deviated from the data-driven editorial calendar. But you may find a whole new rich vein of ideas and topics that you can mine for weeks and months.

If you’re letting your data drive your content calendar, the wrong person is in the driver’s seat. You have creative people for a reason. Take the keys away from the bean counters, and let the creatives go to work, and then measure their results. Let’s see what happens if you put data second and ideas, and people, first.

Content, not SEO, Should Rule Owned Media (Guest Post)

Sean Sullivan is a digital marketer in Indianapolis, specializing in content marketing and analytics. He’s also a good friend. Sean is publishing guest posts in several places, and I’m going to start contributing to his site. This is his latest submission.

Writing should be storytelling. The Internet should throw papers on your door step every morning. Writers should expect their paper articles read. Since the Internet, content overload diminishes what the public can see. Readers want information now. And businesses scramble to publish where readers are.

Old News

Marketing is not an instant solution. Marketing takes a lot of trial and error. Companies need a balanced media approach. This would include owned, paid, shared, and earned media strategies. Since you can’t control earned media, and paid media gets expensive, let’s focus on owned media.

What is owned media?

Owned media includes content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). As the publishing company/entrepreneur, you “own” these medias forms because it’s your website and your content. Many industry experts are saying SEO is in the past, and content marketing is the future. That is not true. All media forms are important, and SEO sometimes means not doing certain things as much as it means using certain tricks. (SEO is not dead yet.)

For the last 15+ years, Google still makes the rules. And you have to follow those rules. Google created the sandbox. And we all have to play nicely. Or we get put in time out. Here are a few ways to play.

View Google Traffic as a Bonus, Not the End Goal. SEO has taken such a beating, and it’s such hard, ongoing work, that it’s not an effective long-term strategy any more. Don’t play old SEO tricks either, because Google will drop the ban hammer on your site. Instead, figure out how to build on online business by connecting with people. Look at Google traffic from inbound marketing as a bonus. You can build your business on SEO, but it can be hard if you don’t have the time to dedicate to always changing and adapting to Google’s new algorithms.

SEO Depends on Content. SSEO is a competition between people finding the best tactics and using them better than anyone else. Content has the potential to go viral and be shared by people who like it, but monkeying with SEO might prevent it from going viral, because Google can penalize your efforts. SEO can help, but your best content — your “hero” content — takes a whole lot more work to create than the actual SEO. It’s your hero content that people want to share and talk about, and that will always be more powerful than traditional SEO.

For Converge Street, I get much better organic traffic when writing about a name or a concept, but that doesn’t help SEO. Writing more quality content and sharing that with my networks is what wins traffic.

Editorial Writing and Tracking. Write in a news/editorial style while linking credible outbound links — link to help with editorial content, not because SEO says you need X number of links. Track results to expand your focus — check page views and time on site. Figure out who likes your writing (i.e. who reads and shares the most) — count social shares, social networks, and even regular sharers. This way you know what people and search engines like. Then, give them more of what they want.

Having good content and using SEO does’t mean readers will flock to your website. Those are just two legs of the three-legged stool. Understanding the different media channels will definitely help. Know where your audience is, write the things they want, and share it on the places where they’re found.

SEO impacts inbound marketing but it’s not main the reason people come to your website. SEO, analytics, and social media lands your paper on people’s doorstep. But good content compels them to pick it up and read.

Photo Credit: @Doug88888 via Compfight cc

How to Get Discovered by Brands (GUEST POST)

This is a guest post written by Tamar Weinberg, VP of Customer Success of influencer marketing platform The Shelf, a tool that ensures that brands connect with the most relevant influencers. The Shelf’s technology includes patent pending brand and ecommerce indicators.

Get Discovered By Brands

Are you a blogger looking to be discovered by a brand for collaboration opportunities? We totally understand the challenges you’re facing.

I’ve worked with a sizable number of bloggers in the past, having written a book on social media marketing with an entire chapter dedicated to blogging. Many people start their blog and come to me immediately after two or three posts, thinking that money and recognition will come immediately.

It won’t.

There are over 200 million blogs—and that’s just one platform. However, even though the space is extremely competitive, there’s a lot of noise and not enough signal. For you as a blogger, that’s a great thing. Discovery will take time but it is doable.

My key piece of advice for all people trying to start a blog: keep at it. Work really hard and post consistently.

But more so, network! Let other people discover you by engaging on their content. And above all, keep your attitude positive and your head held up high. These days, engagement on blog posts is low. Blogs in 2015 don’t get as many comments as blogs in 2010. However, as you keep up on blogging, your social proof as a personal brand will go up. Your Twitter follower numbers will rise. Your Facebook Likes will increase. You will be recognized by people who will be interested in who you are and what you do.

Now you have an established following and brands are taking notice. A few have reached out to you and want to work with you–but you may want to work with others. One of the biggest challenges you will have is how to effectively pitch and collaborate with brands. I totally recommend making the first move.

As long as you have the social proof, you’re in a position to effectively pitch and build upon these brand relationships that benefit both you and your brand. Here’s how we suggest that you build the relationships:

Do Your Research

Look at what other bloggers in your niche are covering. Are they working with other brands that may be interested in your audience as well? If so, take a look at how they’re collaborating with these other brands and feel them out. Was it a giveaway? Affiliate offer? Sponsored post? Once you have a solid understanding of what type of collaboration they are working with, you’ll have a solid foundation for formulating your pitch.

Take a look into the brand’s marketing initiatives. Are they working on any existing campaigns it may be helpful to align with? It may help to check out the brand’s social media channels where you may find promotional materials that help you learn about current campaigns that are worth participating in.

Develop Your Pitch

On top of your research, you may already have a few brands in mind that you want to work with. They could be products/services that totally jive with your audience and your interest level. By now, with both of these, you should have a pretty solid understanding of the types of collaborations that have been done before with the brand and other bloggers, if at all. (And if not, just make the first move and ask!)

Why does your blog align so well with their brand personality? It’s helpful to communicate this particular point in your pitch. To stand above the crowd, you may wish to get creative and offer some other ideas on other types of collaborations.

After you’ve jotted down your thoughts, create the pitch: include a short overview of who you are, how the campaign benefits the brand, and any deliverables you’ll give them. Make your email short and sweet, and if you’d like, include a media kit so that the brand knows about your audience, your social followings, and your positioning in the marketplace.

Be in constant contact

Assuming your pitch is good, those brands should be able to get in touch with you quickly. If they schedule a meeting or phone call to discuss the scope of the project further, take it. Be open to hearing as much as possible from them so that you fully understand their objectives so you know exactly what they’d expect from you and how you could realistically help them. By having this meeting, you should be able to get all the information you need to craft a formal proposal with requested compensation.

If they didn’t get back to you, try again. I hate to say how many times I’ve dealt with people who are good people but are just bad at responding to emails. Maybe they were reading your initial contact while under the covers at 11pm. Maybe they were in a meeting. (Maybe they suck.) But don’t be afraid to try again and be politely persistent until they respond. In fact, if you’re passionate about them, show them you’re already engaged with the content. Feature their brand in an article. Tag them on social media. Engage with their posts and show them your love of the product.

And if you’re already in communications with them, that’s a tipping point! Your blog has now become a professional medium, and it is important to be professional with your communications with these brands to keep these collaborations coming. This is the best step toward a long term relationship that benefits everyone and puts you in a great light.

Initially, it will feel like quite an intimidating process to be involved in this next step with brands. But at the end of the day, the brand gets visibility and you get some benefit through product, payment, and affiliation as well. After all, you’re an influencer. It would be silly not to interact with people who had the If you don’t have the courage to reach out, the opportunity may never present itself.

12 Techniques to Improve Your Writing in 2015

It must be frustrating for beginning writers who want to hone their craft, but aren’t given much direction beyond “write every day,” and “read a lot.” It’s been my experience that if you want to improve your writing, you have to start with one tactic and do it every day.

But which ones? What order should you do them in? Are they all important?

Here are the 12 big ones I see a lot of beginning writers need to work on. We’ll start simply and move from there.

Start with the first one, work on it all through January. Make it a habit, and learn to not only recognize it in your writing (and others’), but learn to recognize it before you put it down on paper. Practice the technique on everything you write, not just your Special Private Writing Time. In your blog posts, your emails, your monthly TPS reports. Everywhere.

As you work these writing muscles, you’ll find you can improve your writing everywhere you put pen to paper and finger to keyboard.

  1. Get rid of That: This is the first place that I have most new writers start. This is one of the worst habits that we get into as writers, but it’s easy to spot and break. It’s not incorrect, but it makes your writing loose and clumsy. If you can strike it out, and not affect the sentence, do it.
  2. Avoid other filler words: This is much harder to do. I’ve spent the last 15 years of my writing career working on this particular habit, and I’m still not great at it. I usually take 2 – 3 edits before I’m satisfied with the final result.
  3. Eliminate adverbs and adjectives: Don’t describe verbs, use a descriptive verb. If you use words that end in -ly, chances are, you can get rid of them, and replace the offending verb too. Instead of saying someone “eats noisily,” say “they chomped their food.” So it goes with nouns. Rather than describing the noun, like “the thick hamburger,” rewrite the sentence to show how thick it was. This brings us to our next technique. . .
  4. You can learn from Tom Waits as a way to improve your writing.

    Tom Waits in Prague, 2008 (Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

  5. Show, don’t tell: Eliminating adverbs is fairly easy. Eliminating adjectives takes a little more work. Instead of describing how thick a hamburger is with a bunch of adjectives, try this: “Jason always bragged about the size of the hamburgers at this place, but I never believed him until I heard my jaw pop when I tried to eat one.”
  6. Metaphors & similes: Once you’ve started down the slippery slope of showing-not-telling, start using metaphors and similes. They help you explain complex ideas or add punch to your writing. For example, Tom Waits’ song “Putnam County” is rife with powerful metaphors. He describes roads as “asphalt dance floors,” talks about women with “swizzle-stick legs jackknifed over naugahyde stools,” and how a band “moaned in pool hall concentration.”
  7. Practice Dialog: The ultimate in showing-not-telling. When our kids were little, we told them they would learn a lot more by listening to conversations than interrupting and asking questions. You can reveal ideas and thoughts to your readers without ever explaining a thing just by making them pay attention to conversations. Learn to master dialog.
  8. Stop talking to your reader: You’re writing to them, but don’t talk to them. Stop nudging them with parenthetical asides, like you’re sharing a secret (I know, I know, you’re probably asking “what do you mean?”) <-- THIS! This right here! Stop doing that! It adds extra words to the piece, and doesn’t actually help the story. Plus, it’s an amateur move.
  9. Write like people talk: Like Elmore Leonard said, if what we learned in school interferes with our writing, tough shit. It means to adopt an informal tone. Use contractions and end sentences with prepositions. It means to use words normal people use, not markety language or legalese.
  10. No more business jargon: Do you speak in business jargon? Do you say phrases like “we have to recontextualize mission-critical relationships?” If you don’t, then don’t write that way either.If you do, this is why no one likes you.
  11. No infinitives or gerunds: If you have a habit of ending words with -ing, edit and shorten to eliminate them. They don’t add to your writing, but their absence can enhance it.
  12. Avoid nonsexist language: I hate he/she and him or her, and s/he is not even a word. Nonsexist writing can be some of the worst and hardest to read. Instead, alternate between male and female examples and terms. If you use a “he” in one example, use a “she” in the next. Or, use the singular “they.” Writers shouldn’t be judged just because they chose one gender over the other, as long as they balance it out. If you alternate between “he” and “she” over your general body of work, you’ll be okay.
  13. Use specific examples, not vague generic ideas: As my friend and owner of The Geeky Press, Brad King, says “don’t tell me about a dog dying. Tell me about the day your dog died.” If you call yourself a storyteller, this is the way to do it. People respond to actual stories, not vague babblings about lofty concepts.

Did I miss anything? What other techniques have you done to improve your writing? What would you suggest for next year? Leave a comment and let me know what writing techniques you want to work on.

Screw the Long-Term Strategy! Smart Content Marketing is Agile

There’s an old story about an architect who was hired to design an entire campus of buildings surrounding a large empty quad. When the buildings were done, the administrators asked the architect to lay out a series of sidewalks between buildings.

He decided to wait instead. As he waited, people walked between the buildings, finding their own way, eventually wearing the most efficient paths into the grass. Then the architect had the sidewalks installed on the paths the people had made, saying they were more efficient and useful than anything he could have created himself.

How many times have companies created a long-term strategy for content marketing or social media marketing, only to scrap the entire plan after two weeks because of a crisis or major event.

I’ve talked with companies that will schedule everything — blog posts, Facebook updates, and even individual tweets. I’ve seen spreadsheets of scheduled tweets, three per day, five days a week, which took days and weeks to create, all thrown away because of a change in a law, regulations, or even a CEO or CMO.

There are plenty of reasons to have a long-term strategy, but plenty more reasons to avoid the strategy and be more agile. Here are five ways you can be more agile with your content marketing.

1. Create a topic checklist.

Marathon Checklist signFor some clients, we’ll blog about particular topics each month, but the actual titles of the blog post are wide open. We’re more concerned about the general theme of the month, but we don’t script each individual post. For example, a men’s clothing line might have a topic checklist like this:

November

  • 2 posts on dressing warm for winter
  • 2 posts on hats
  • 2 posts on scarves
  • 2 posts on winter suits

The blog posts themselves could be about how to wear a suit in the bitter cold, which kind of hat to wear to the office, the proper way to tie a scarf, and what materials are warmest in the winter.

This method lets the content marketing manager decide what to write about, taking input from product managers, as well as PR and marketing staff. It’s also flexible enough to change if problems or news stories arise. For example, if hats became suddenly more popular, they could drop a couple posts on suits and scarves, and write more about hats.

2. Watch your analytics

Google AnalyticsGoogle has stopped telling us what keywords bring people to our blogs, but you can still get a good idea by looking at the pages that get the most traffic. If you spot a pattern, you’ll understand what people are turning to you for. This means you should put more energy into those topics.

Keep an eye on your Google rank as well. Use a service like WebCEO to find your true Google rank for certain keywords and topics. Write about the areas you want to shore up, as well as write more about the things you want to improve.

3. Answer customer service and tech support questions

People who ask questions are usually a smaller subset of people who have a particular problem. That is, if 10 people ask a question, there may be anywhere from 100 – 250 people with the same problem. Write blog posts and create videos to answer those questions. As people search for the answers to their questions, they’ll find your content and visit your site.

Search your email for questions that start with “how do I. . .” Talk to your customer service department to find out what people are calling about. Rewrite and publish FAQs and tech support knowledge forums into blog posts. Use screencasts and videos to show people how to complete a particular process or fix a problem.

4. Monitor the industry news

As David Meerman Scott says, newsjacking is about injecting your ideas into a breaking news story. It’s about becoming the “second sentence” in a news article.

Newsjacking chart

As soon as you hear about breaking news in your industry, write a response story that includes your take and your ideas on how it affects your customers and your industry. It should be the second sentence in your blog post or press release. At the very least, your customers will appreciate you alerting them to the issue. At best, journalists will see you as one of the authorities on it, and call you for a response.

Be a voracious reader of little-known and industry insider sites. Create RSS feeds of your industry’s thought leader blogs and news sites. Set up Twitter lists of those people and monitor them constantly.

Most importantly, be prepared to jump on those news stories immediately. Take a crisis communication approach: Be first, be right, be credible. That means writing blog posts as soon as things happen, or even assigning someone to be a dedicated content marketer whose primary responsibility is to write content. (This may mean giving them a “get out of meetings free” pass.)

5. Think like a beginner, or ask your beginning customers

You work in a particular field day in, day out. You’ve talked about your work so much, you’re sure everyone knows the most basic information about what you do. It turns out, most people know nothing about your industry, your company, or your specialty. They come to your website because they have those basic questions and they need answers.

Ask your salespeople to explain their sales pitch, and look to your FAQ. Come up with lists posts like “Five Things to Consider About _____,” “Five Things to Avoid When Buying _____,” or “Five Reasons You Need _____” to answer those beginning questions.

Many of my clients are surprised to see these beginning posts are some of their most-visited posts. They figured “everyone” knew all about the subject, but it turned out no one did. I’ve helped clients scrap entire content marketing strategies because they had to take it back to the beginning.

Rather than spending a lot of time and effort creating a content calendar, leave yourself open to serendipity and happenstance. An agile content marketing approach lets you change directions and go with the flow when responding to events as they arise. It lets you provide more value to your customers and clients than a fully-developed and strictly-followed content calendar will ever do.

Photo credit: