A Simple Content Strategy for People Who Hate Content Strategy

There’s a great scene in John Cusack’s Better Off Dead where he gets skiing advice from Curtis Armstrong: “Go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.”

I can think of no better advice to give someone who wants to do content marketing, but hates content strategy: “Create content for your customers. If something unexpected comes up, deal with it.”

For one thing, too many people put a lot of stock into developing complex content strategy. They draw up battle plans and strategies that would make military planners weep with envy. They overanalyze, overplan, and create year-long calendars of what they want to say on a particular day at a particular hour when Venus is in Gemini.

It’s quite a sight to see a spreadsheet with 500 or more tweets scheduled over a 12 month period.

It’s heartbreaking to see someone’s look of emotional devastation when the entire calendar has to be deleted because of a fairly minor change to the business, their industry, or industry regulations.

(You could hear the screams two counties over.)

A content strategy shouldn't look like a military strategyOver at Contently.com, Joe Lauzakas wrote about the importance of content strategy in Ask a Content Strategist: My Boss Wants Me to Write Blog Posts Without a Strategy. What Do I Do?

He cites all kinds of important statistics like, “According to a 2017 Contently survey, 98 percent of marketers believe that “having and following a content marketing strategy is important for content marketing success.” and “Per CMI’s 2018 B2B Content Marketing Trends survey, 62 percent of content marketers who rated themselves as very successful or extremely successful have a documented content strategy.

And he’s not wrong. But those strategies don’t need battlefield maps and years-long spreadsheets. You should be able to articulate your strategy in less than 30 seconds or on a single piece of paper.

Here’s a quick and dirty content strategy that should see you through an entire year, never need revising, and cover nearly every contingency.

1. Pick 2–3 main benefits of your product.

Or 2–3 services you provide, or 2–3 verticals you serve. These are the three things you’re going to write about the most. In fiction writing terms, this is your A story, B story, and C story. That is, you’re going to write about your main point (A story) the most, second main point (B story) second most, and so on.

Think of a sitcom: the A story takes around 13 – 14 minutes of a 22-minute episode, the B story is going to get 4 – 6 minutes, and the C story is going to get the remainder.

Your content should get this same kind of attention. The thing you’re known for the most should get two-thirds of your attention, and so on.

And if you focus on the services or verticals, you should still write about the 2 – 3 main benefits you offer each service/vertical. For example, if your main clients are lawyers, mystery shoppers, and dachshund wranglers (a dachshund literally just walked by as I wrote this), then you need to talk about the 2 – 3 benefits that lawyers, mystery shoppers, and dachshund wranglers will get from your products. Now you’ve got anywhere from 6 – 9 running topics for blog articles.

Nearly everything you write about should stick to one of these three benefits. You can occasionally deviate from it, writing about company history, special awards, or notable events. But otherwise, everything needs to focus on your 2 – 3 regular topics.

2. Pick 3 or 4 THEMES for your content strategy.

These are the kinds of articles you’re going to write; they’re going to fit into one of these themes, but still focus on one of the categories mentioned above.

Let’s say you own an IT consulting firm, providing computer networking and troubleshooting to small businesses. You could pick a theme-based calendar as follows:

  • Week 1: Write a how-to article.
  • Week 2: Write a client case study.
  • Week 3: Write about computer security.
  • Week 4: Write about IT industry news.
  • Or if you’re a dachshund wrangler, your content calendar would look like this:

    • Week 1: Write a training article.
    • Week 2: Write a story about your own experiences and adventures (a personal case study).
    • Week 3: Write about dachshund health and diet.
    • Week 4: Write about the dachshund wrangling industry.

    Next, come up with a Twitter schedule to tweet about these four themes on a rotating basis. Or you’re going to skip the case studies, and tweet curated articles about topics 1, 3, and 4 once per day (Don’t forget to tweet and post updates about your own blogs too.)

    Just keep it loose and flexible. If you have some breaking industry news that has to publish in week 2, swap it out with the case study that month. And if you ever have a major emergency or important announcement (like a product launch), that supersedes everything. You don’t have to make up the missed days, just pick it up the next time it comes around.

    Or publish two articles that week. There are no rules to this!

    Don’t forget to connect to people who have IT or dachshund wrangling questions (item #4). Communicate with them like real people, and answer their questions. Don’t pepper them with an all-news format. That’s boring and people hate it.

    3. Commit to using all content

    Lauzakas’ article also said, “According to SiriusDecisions, 65 percent of all content that brands produce goes unused. There are a few big reasons for why: content is hard to find, unknown to users, irrelevant, and low quality.”

    First, I’m not going to say “produce high quality content” because that’s stupid advice. I shouldn’t have to tell you that. It’s like telling you to “drive safely” because I think you’re going to go careening all over the road. (You’re not, so the advice is pointless. You’re not going to intentionally produce shitty content, so telling you to write good stuff is pointless.)

    But I will say that it’s absolutely necessary that you commit to using any piece of content you produce. If you write an article, publish it. If you write a tweet, post it. If you produce a video, put it on YouTube. And then promote it.

    If you don’t use it because it wasn’t good enough, then that’s on you. That’s not a lack of a strategy, that’s because you’re not willing or able to, well, produce high-quality content.

    4. Create a basic human-centered social media promotion strategy

    This isn’t that hard either. As Jason Falls is fond of saying, “Share good shit.”

    These days, social media seems to be more about blasting out one-way marketing messages that don’t engage anyone. But you need to rethink that, since it’s clearly not working.

    Think about your TV viewing habits. Do you fast forward through all TV commercials? Of course! We all do! We hate ads. And that’s how people feel about your marketing blasts.

    Stop treating Twitter and other social channels like an advertising medium. Stop posting “hey, read this!” messages over and over. There are Twitter bots that do nothing but post article after article after article, sending over three dozen tweets in a single day that aren’t engaging or interesting. (And if it’s real people doing this, they should be ashamed of themselves.)

    Instead, communicate with people. Talk with them. Have conversations. Ask and answer questions. Share their posts. Treat people like people, not like advertising viewers. Then, when you do occasionally have something of your own to promote, they’re more likely to read it and share it themselves.

    Guidelines, Not Strategies

    To be honest, this is the kind of content marketing strategy I use for all my clients. We focus on a few recurring topics and themes, we use all blog posts that we write, and we promote everything. We even have a basic calendar that says “we’ll write X number of articles about this topic, and Y number about that topic.”

    Other than that, there’s no need to create a complex content strategy. Remember, if you can’t articulate your strategy in less than 30 seconds, or on a single page, it’s too complicated.

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

    Content Marketing: Winning Google Searches for Lawyers

    A lawyer friend told me once, “No one likes lawyers until they need one.”

    It was a good reminder about the function lawyers play in today’s society, solving problems, or preventing them. And that people don’t want to think about them, until their problem becomes all-consuming, and they can’t think about anything else.

    I saw an interesting article recently on content marketing for lawyers that reminded me of my friend’s statement. I especially was struck by the headline, “People Search for Lawyers, Not Law Firms.” It reminded me that people look for lawyers the same way they look for any other service provider: they want a solution to a problem.

    If you have a leaky faucet, you call a plumber. If your car isn’t working, you call a mechanic. Maybe you worked with one in the past, maybe you have a friend who recommends one. But chances are, unless that mechanic or plumber put a lot of money into marketing, you’re basing your decision on a relationship you/a friend have with a particular plumber or mechanic.

    Barring that, you’re basing it on a Google search.

    Chris Grant wrote on Passle.net about how lawyers can ensure they’re more easily found online, by using LinkedIn, blogging, videos, and Twitter to promote their personal brand.

    . . .[P]eople are interested in people, and [this] hammers home the importance for lawyers (and other professionals) of having a really good online presence! Your potential clients are out there, searching for an individual that can help with the problem they have

    Did you catch that last bit? Your potential clients are searching for those who can help with the problem they have.

    When You Don’t Have Large Advertising Budgets

    Of course, there are some law firms you’ve heard of. The giant ones in your city or state that spend a bunch of money on TV advertising, and coughed up several thousand bucks just to be on the back cover of the phone book. We’ve all heard of those firms.

    But what if you don’t have back-of-the-phone-book money? Don’t worry about it. Instead, ask yourself:

    1. When is the last time you reached for the phone book? And if you did, did you look at the back cover? And did you look at the back cover at the exact moment you needed a lawyer?
    2. When’s the last time you watched TV commercials? When’s the last time you did it without fast forwarding or running off to the kitchen? And when is the last time you watched a TV commercial at the exact moment you needed a lawyer?

    That’s not to say advertising is ineffective. It creates awareness. People will remember who you are when they do need you. But I’ll bet that many people who used the phone book and watched the commercials didn’t remember the name or phone number right off the bat.

    I’m more willing to bet they Googled it until they found the right name.

    Content Marketing: Providing Solutions to Problems

    Search engine friendly content factory notebook and Macbook

    Write down your blog post ideas whenever you think of them, and write them later.

    I’ve done content marketing for three different law firms, in three different cities and states, and covered three different practice areas.

    One was for a general small-town attorney, who wanted people to find his firm when they were in trouble. We wrote blog posts about “what to do after you have an accident” and “should I represent myself in court?”

    Another was for an employment law attorney. He wanted people to find his firm when they had been wrongfully terminated. So we wrote articles about “how to tell if I was wrongfully terminated” and “my supervisor is sexually harassing me.”

    The third was for a major medical malpractice and personal injury attorney. He wanted to be found if someone had been seriously injured during a medical procedure or major accident. We wrote about what to do after a surgical procedure went wrong, or if an insurance company wanted to give a small settlement.

    For all three clients, we had three goals in mind:

    1. To win local Google searches. Google looks at where a particular search is taking place, and then shows the results closest to the searcher. Try this as an experiment: pull out your phone and do a search for a plumber. I’ll bet the plumbers that come up are all in your city. Google provides those kinds of local search results, but only the best optimized websites — and those with a Google Business listing — will show up first on those local results.
    2. To demonstrate their expertise in their field. Once people find you, they need to know you know your stuff. It’s already assumed you do, since you graduated from law school. But what if you work in a highly specialized field? Or a very competitive field?
    3. To solve people’s problems People don’t just go searching for attorneys willy-nilly. It’s not like their three favorite online time wasters is Facebook, Candy Crush, and searching for law firms. No, people only search for lawyers when they need a lawyer. If you go back and look at the attorney examples I used above, you’ll see these are all questions or issues people have at a particular moment. And they’re searching for the answers online, not the phone book, not late-night TV commercials. So if you can demonstrate that you know the answer, at the time people need the answer, you’re the one they’re going to call.

    I knew an attorney who specialized in intellectual property, and he often wrote about IP issues, partly to educate the inventors he wanted to appeal to, but also to show them that he knew more than the other IP attorneys they might be checking out.

    Another attorney specialized in large-scale alternative energy issues. She was sought after by investors and utility companies for her expertise in that field. And she was able to demonstrate that by writing repeatedly about different local and national alternative energy issues that were happening around the country.

    Attorneys who don’t have a lot of money to spend on advertising can reap great benefits from content marketing. You can boost your search performance and personal branding if you can write one or two blog posts per week. It gives you some great exposure and gets your ideas out there for your potential clients to see.

    The Seven Mudas (Wastes) of Content Marketing

    Lean Manufacturing, which spawned America’s Agile business movement, is based on a Japanese management philosophy. It was further developed by Taiichi Ohno as part of the Toyota Production System. Ohno identified seven different areas of waste, and said that if companies could solve these problems, they could improve profits and productivity.

    One of the tenets of the Lean Philosophy is to avoid mudas, or wastes. In manufacturing terms, these are the different pinch points that have an impact on the manufacturing process. For example, Inventory means you’ve tied up a lot of capital in having extra raw materials or finished products on hand, which crunches your cash flow. Over-processing means you’re putting more time and energy into each unit than you will see in profits.

    While the Seven Mudas are applied primarily to manufacturing, they can be equally applied to content marketing. They are Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over-Processing, Over-Production, and Defects; they spell TIMWOOD.

    Transportation

    Transportation is one of the Seven Wastes of Content Marketing as well as Manufacturing.

    This is an example of the Transportation muda. Products can get damaged during transportation, which wastes time and money.

    What it means: Every time you move raw materials or a finished product, it can be damaged or lost. You also have to pay for each time you move it with labor and equipment costs, but those don’t add to the value of the product.

    How it applies to content marketing: If you edit your content by committee, if you have layers upon layers of approvals, if you have a system that does not trust two grown adults to write and edit a piece of content, you’re wasting everyone’s time and energy. The Transportation muda is the time and resources wasted by passing a piece of content between three or more people who need to approve before it can be published.

    How to solve it: Set up a system where one person writes, one person edits, and then it gets published. If you require a third person’s approval, these are symptoms of a bigger inefficiency. You presumably hired intelligent, responsible adults, and if you can’t trust them to make intelligent, responsible decisions, that’s a management problem, not an employee problem. Before you ever start a content management program, create an understanding of what you can and cannot discuss on your blog or social networks.

    Inventory

    What it means: Storing up raw materials or completed products. They don’t make you any money, and won’t until you sell it, which is wasted capital and labor. This is the problem that just-in-time inventory systems usually fix.

    How it applies to content marketing: Storing up a lot of articles in advance can cause publishing problems because you either have to pay your writers up front (tying up capital), or you could lose the content because other issues and industry changes arise. You’ve paid for all of this great content, only to bump it further down the publishing queue until it’s out of date or completely forgotten.

    How to solve it: Don’t store more than one month’s content in your inventory, because you never know when your editorial calendar is going to change. Instead, revisit your editorial calendar once a month, and make sure you’re still on track.

    Motion

    What it means: Similar to Transportation, Motion is about the movement of workers and machines. Too much motion makes people prone to injury, and machines are prone to damage from wear-and-tear through continual motion.

    How it applies to content marketing: I’m going to reverse this one. The problem with a lot of content is over-automation. It’s a lack of motion. People look for the shortcuts and easy way out. But you’re sitting on a comfy chair, typing on a computer, and the only thing that actually moves are your fingers and wrists. What kind of shortcuts in life do you actually need for this job?

    How to solve it: If you want good content, it’s going to take some effort on your part. You’re going to have to read, research, edit, and practice. You’re going to have to be creative, and come up with new ideas. You can’t automate this, and you can’t take shortcuts. Don’t copy-and-paste tweets into Facebook status updates. Write something different for each channel, and take advantage of its uniqueness.

    Waiting

    What it means: The opposite of Motion is Waiting. If products are not being transported or made, it causes delays in the line. Delays mean employees are Waiting, which means you’re paying for non-performing labor.

    How it applies to content marketing: Waiting is often caused by a bottleneck in your creation process. Either your writer is too slow, or your editor is taking too long. Maybe they have too many projects, or they don’t have enough work. Or you have way too many meetings. (Or you completely ignored me on the Transportation thing, and your compliance department is taking their own sweet time.)

    How to solve it: Look at your content staff’s typical productivity, and see what they can normally handle on a good day. If they have less work than that, you need more clients/projects. If they have more work, you need to more people. But don’t create busy work just so they have something to do. Focus on high quality first.

    Over-processing

    What it means: Doing more work than is actually needed. This not only has the problem of extra Motion, but it also adds additional labor costs.

    How it applies to content marketing: Any. Committee. Ever. Do not assign content creation to a committee. The fewer people involved, the better.

    How to solve it: Content creation should be between the writer and the editor. (Of course, dont’ forget the client, if you have one.)

    Over-production

    What it means: Sometimes called the worst muda, because it creates so many other problems. If you work ahead, you have a problem of Inventory. You have to move the product to its Waiting place, which means more Transportation. More production means more Motion. Plus, you run the risk of creating more Defects.

    How it applies to content marketing: Don’t confuse this one with Inventory, although they’re two sides of the same coin. Inventory has its own problems, but Over-production is the process of getting to that point. Are you adding bells and whistles to every piece of content? Are you repurposing old content to the point that you’re just copying-and-pasting, and slapping a different title on it? I see this when a marketer turns a blog post into a podcast into a movie into an infographic into an ebook into a one-woman show at their local fringe theatre festival. It’s tiresome and more than a little lazy.

    How to solve it: Figure out what your readers want, and give it to them. Focus on creating original ideas, backed by original research, and make everything the best it can be. Rather than recycling and repurposing that content into 17 different forms, pick one or two and stick with it. Repurposing only contributes to the content shock.

    Defects

    What it means: In manufacturing terms, Defects are broken products that result from bad materials, poor employees, and even problems of Transportation and Motion. Remember, it’s not just poorly-made products; it’s also a unit you stuck a forklift through during Transportation.

    How it applies to content marketing: These are your typos, your grammatical errors, misused punctuation, and so on. While a misplaced apostrophe won’t waste a blog post, it can affect your credibility. I’ve seen articles on websites that claim to have strict editorial controls, and they demand excellence from their writers. And yet, I’ve seen misspelled and missing words in their work. So much for “excellence.” These are also articles with bad information, poor research, poor logical arguments, etc. And don’t even get me started on just plain old terrible writing.

    How to solve it: Work with professionals. Hire professional writers and editors. Don’t just pass it off to the younger staff because it’s “that new-fangled online stuff.” Pass it off to them because they love to write. Pay for training for your staff, give them opportunities to develop further, and help them get better at their jobs. Or, just outsource the work to the pros.

    Did I miss anything? Any descriptions you would agree or disagree with? Any interesting stories you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments below, and let me know how you would describe your own Mudas of Content Marketing.

    Photo credit: Astrid Groeneveld (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

    Should You Publish on LinkedIn, Medium, and Other Publishing Sites?

    Marketers seem to suffer from the Shiny Object syndrome more than most. They’re distracted by the newest, shiniest toy dangled in front of them. Seriously, my dog gets less distracted when I jangle my keys.

    Content marketers are just as bad. I’ve seen people jump on Medium, LinkedIn, Ello, This, Inc, Forbes, Entrepreneur, and the Huffington Post, only to jump back off weeks later.

    They’re all looking for that elusive publisher, that one tool, that will solve all of their marketing and publishing problems.

    If I publish on LinkedIn, people will read my stuff.

    If I publish on Ello, people will buy from me.

    If I publish on Medium, I’ll be a star.

    Take the Fair Face of Woman, and Gently Suspending, With Butterflies, Flowers, and Jewels Attending, Thus Your Fairy is Made of Most Beautiful ThingsHere’s the secret none of those publishers will share: they’re not doing anything special.

    They don’t do anything more than any other publisher is doing.

    Oh sure, Medium created an app for people who like to think deep thoughts over soy lattes, while LinkedIn is reaching a huge business audience because Richard Branson and Gary Vaynerchuk publish there. But Medium is not the message.

    These are still just publishers. They don’t have Magical Publishing Fairy Dust that makes people read your work. You do.

    Don’t Build on Rented Land

    For years, I’ve said you need your own place to be the central hub of your social media and personal branding. You need some place to send people, some place that is yours and yours alone. Some place that you control, aren’t at anyone’s mercy, and aren’t subjected to the fickle winds of the market.

    That’s your blog.

    That’s not a spot on Blogger or WordPress.com. (I had a client blog get shut down years ago without warning, because Blogger didn’t like our outbound links. Two years’ of content, gone in an instant.)

    That’s not your Facebook business page. (Facebook pleaded with everyone to launch a business page, only to shut down their reach unless you pay up.)

    That’s not This.cm. (They shut completely down on July 31.)

    That’s not LinkedIn, Medium, or Ello. (Read the previous three paragraphs.)

    It’s your blog on your server with your version of WordPress. (Or, God help you, Joomla or Drupal.)

    You have no control of your content when it’s on someone else’s site. You can’t stop them from deleting your content, limiting its reach, or shutting down completely.

    But if it’s on your blog, you’re in control. It’s your site, it’s your content, and you get to say what you want.

    If you still want to use those other sites, go ahead. Just post to your blog first, wait a day or two, and then post to those other sites.

    That’s because you want your content to get all the Google juice. If it’s published first, Google will see it as the canonical material. If it’s not first, Google won’t even notice it.

    It’ll be like me at my high school dances all over again.

    (Secondary publishing: the high school band nerd of content marketing.)

    But, even that won’t sprinkle the Magical Publishing Fairy Dust on it.

    IT’S STILL ABOUT YOUR SOCIAL NETWORK!

    Social media is the thing that separates average writers with huge networks from great writers with small networks.

    If you don’t push your content on social media, people won’t see it. If you don’t promote your work, no one will read it. If you don’t tell people, they won’t care!

    Regardless of where you publish, you need to tell as many people you can about your work. They don’t care where you’re published, they just want to see it.

    Social media, not some hyped-up blogging software, is your Magical Publishing Fairy Dust.

    Do you want to be widely read on LinkedIn? Share your LinkedIn posts on Twitter and Facebook a few times a day. People aren’t always on Twitter or Facebook when you post your messages the first time.

    Want your Medium post to reach a larger audience of like-minded readers? Follow your favorite authors, leave smart, personalized comments, and share their work. They’ll check you out, and if they like what you’ve done, they’ll share your work in return.

    We’ve been saying this since 2007, when we first started telling people how to reach a wider audience. And it hasn’t changed. The tools may have changed, but the techniques have not. People will read your stuff if you a) have something worth reading, and b) tell them about it.

    Bottom line: I’m not saying don’t publish on LinkedIn, Medium, or other places. Publish there second, publish on your blog first. Don’t give up final control of your work to someone else’s so-called magic.

    Photo credit: Sophie Anderson, Take the Fair Face of Woman (Wikimedia Commons, painting, public domain)

    Three Questions Marketing Agencies Should Ask (and One They Shouldn’t) When Hiring Writers

    Hiring writers at marketing agencies can be a crapshoot if you’re not careful. There’s really no one path that makes someone suitable to be a writer. But too many times, agencies think they need someone who fits a specific mold.

    When they find the mold-fitting writer, they find he or she just wasn’t quite what they were looking for. The problem is, a candidate may look good on paper, but when you get down to it, they’re not even close to being an acceptable fit.

    Maybe they studied English grammar, but they suck at story telling. Maybe they’re a brilliant creative writer, but they know absolutely nothing about business. Or maybe they’re a trained journalist, but they specialize in news writing, which isn’t just dry, it’s Sahara arid.

    And maybe the best available writer was turned away because they didn’t have the “correct” qualifications.

    If you want to find the best possible writer for your marketing agency, here are three questions you should ask every candidate, and one you shouldn’t.

    1. When did you first call yourself a writer?
    Search engine friendly content factory notebook and macbookThis is a tricky question, because a real writer has struggled with this question for years. (It’s how you can tell the real writers from the poseurs.) And you have to ask it in this way — “when did you first call yourself a writer?” — because real writers have a story about their answer.

    We’re not quite sure when we “have permission” to call ourselves writers. For some, it’s when they publish their first book; for others, it’s the first time they sold a story or article. But the point is there’s a journey and a realization that goes along with finally calling ourselves a writer. And if someone has that story, they’re a real writer.

    People who call themselves a writer without giving it any thought don’t give writing any thought either.

    Don’t worry if a candidate still struggles with calling themselves a writer. That’s a good sign, because it means they take their craft so seriously, and they want to do such a good job, they won’t just slap that label on themselves without proving themselves first.

    (In my own business, when I hire freelance writers, this is the only question I really pay attention to. It’s a strategy that has served me well for six years.)

    2. What do you do for personal enjoyment?
    Regardless of whatever else they say, one of the things they list must be “reading.” If they don’t read for fun, they’re not serious about writing. Every good writer I know does two things: 1) they write every day, and 2) they read every day for fun. It’s a form of practice.

    High-performance athletes often use visualization as a form of practice. They imagine certain plays, techniques, or moves, or they watch game film. To sports psychologists, visualization is a form of practice that’s almost as effective as the actual physical practice.

    When writers read, it’s like Peyton Manning watching hours and hours of game film: we’re still practicing, we’re still learning, we’re still honing our craft. We’re not just putting words into our brain, we’re absorbing styles, techniques, and new ideas.

    3. What kinds of things did you write in college/What kinds of things do you write outside of work?
    You want your candidates to have extra writing experience, and not just in the classroom or for work. A recent grad may have worked on the school newspaper, literary magazine, or school comedy troupe. A veteran writer may have a regular column in a sport fishing magazine. But they need to have something else in their portfolio.

    Even if they regularly submit work to literary magazines that gets rejected, that’s fine. You just want to know they believe enough in their craft that they put themselves out there with it. You want the person who loves writing so much, they do it as a hobby as well as a job.

    A computer engineer once told me the only college grads he hired were those who also did tech — software, robotics, whatever — for fun at home. It meant they were continuing to learn, and didn’t just limit their knowledge to whatever came from the classroom. He said these people knew more about their jobs than those who only did their coursework.

    And the question you should avoid. . .

    4. Do you have a degree in English, Journalism, or Communication?
    These are supposedly the three writing degrees, but having one doesn’t necessarily mean the person can even write. I knew someone who had a journalism degree, but was hands down possibly the worst — and slowest — writer I ever met.

    Having a degree does not equal having the ability.

    Having one of these degrees could even mean the candidate studied 18th century British literature, specialized in photojournalism, or studied interpersonal communication.

    Having a degree does not even equal having the knowledge.

    Meanwhile, I have a B.S. in Philosophy and an M.A. in Higher Education, but I have a writing career many trained writers would envy. Yet, some marketing agencies won’t give me a second look because I have the wrong degrees. Don’t let your HR department dictate the kinds of people you get to interview.

    Writing is a skill that can be mastered without the benefit of training and “proper” education. Plenty of famous and outstanding writers learned how to write without having a degree in the Big Three. They did it by reading a lot, writing as often as they could for as many publications as possible, and overcoming the struggle of whether to call themselves a writer.

    If your marketing agency — a place that most likely prides itself on creativity and thinking outside the box — is looking for a new writer, ask these three questions (and skip the 4th) and you’ll find the best writer for the job.

    Blogging and eCommerce: Guest Post by Lloyds of Indiana

    My partner, Paul Lorinczi, left Professional Blog Service in 2013 and went to work for Lloyds of Indiana, a former client of ours. I’m pleased to be able to share this guest post written by Garry Jones, owner of Lloyds.

    Years ago, Professional Blog Service came to us and suggested we start blogging to support our eCommerce site. We are an online retailer of Print Finish Equipment. We supply print shops and small offices with things like binding machines, binding supplies, laminators, laminating supplies and some larger equipment like uv coating machines and the uv coating fluids that go with them. It’s pretty boring stuff, yet highly technical. We were skeptical like most people. You would not think that blogging would be worth doing, but it ends up being a primary driver of traffic.

    Lloyds of IndianaProfessional Blog Service set us up with the Print Finish Blog. It was one of the best things we ever did. The Print Finish Blog is one of the biggest referrers of traffic to our eCommerce site. We offer tips on servicing laminating machines, how to best manage your uv coating machine, what uv coating fluid works best. We try to help people assess the cost of operating certain machines and their economic benefits for automating. See, many buyers are looking for in-depth knowledge of how their purchase could benefit or not benefit their business. Bombarding people with marketing material only will not help them in the end.

    So, what is the benefit? The majority of traffic to the Print Finish Blog is through organic traffic. Since, people searching are using long tail keywords, the blog content gets good positioning in the search engines. While most of the content is non-marketing, the blog does provide links to the lloydsofindiana.com website. So, on average, we can get 25% of our traffic referred from our blog properties in addition to organic traffic. Often times, those blog visitors end up becoming customers. They tend to be buyers. The one constant that is true today as it was 10 years ago, buyers use keyword phrases, shoppers use keywords.

    The Print Finish Blog has been good for business. Blogging for eCommerce can help find those buyers out there. It pays to become an authority in your space. Professional Blog Service helped us see the light years ago and it has paid off.

    Five Steps for Surviving Google Authorship’s Death

    I was pretty pissed when Google canceled their much-loved Authorship.

    For one thing, they did it less than a week before an advanced content marketing seminar I was leading, which killed about 25% of the entire presentation, which sent me scrambling for another solid 15 minutes. I mean, I had a great graphic with Chuck Norris, bacon, and a cartoon of a bear riding a shark, and They. Killed. It.

    Second, this was the one thing that was going to make honest writers out of all the meh-diocre hacks and spammers. Rather than allowing anonymous drones to fill up the Internet with less-than-acceptable articles, the good writers were going to be rewarded with high search engine ranking.

    And now they killed it. Killed it dead. Deader than any show Ted McGinley joins.

    Google search results for Ernest Hemingway bloggingBut as I’ve had time to grieve and process my feelings, I’ve realized that Google Authorship’s demise does not mean the end of quality writing or content marketing. Yes, it will mean we all have to work harder, but it’s not impossible.

    Google Authorship played a very important role in SEO: it drove people to Google+. If you wanted to take advantage of Authorship, you had to link to the network, and use it properly. But not enough people embraced Authorship (or Google+), and so they shut it down.

    That doesn’t mean we’re going back to the SEO old days, where keyword stuffing was all the rage. Google is is putting extra nails in that coffin with their Panda 4.1 release.

    If anything, they’re still beating the “write better” drum, and giving favor to small and medium businesses that make content creation one of their top priorities.

    So if you want to catch Google’s attention, do it right the first time.

    It’s Still About Personal Branding

    Ted McGinley from his appearance on Happy Days.

    Oh, the stories this guy could tell. If only he’d keep up his blog.

    Authorship did one thing: it put a writer’s picture on the Google search results, and included the author’s name. That’s it. Yes, that was helpful because it added a semblance of trustworthiness and credibility to the article, but just because your face appeared next to a result didn’t mean it was any good.

    It also told Google who the good authors were, in the hopes that they would give preference to those writers who did it right and followed all the rules. But they still have ways of knowing. They’re just not going to show that favoritism via photos and names.

    Google has also killed the benefit of guest blogging, especially for backlinking purposes, which has all but eliminated the dearth of guest posts appearing everywhere on the Internet. So it’s actually become a viable personal branding strategy again, even though it’s finished as an SEO strategy.

    This is where being a good and connected writer, or hiring them, comes in handy.

    According to CNBC’s article, “Want to lift your Google ranking? Hire writers,” writing guest posts in places with high visibility adds to your reputation and credibility as an expert in your industry.

    Writing is a central part of Jamie Walker’s job. Her San Francisco-based start-up SweatGuru, which develops Web-based software for fitness instructors and personal trainers, counts on Google for over half its traffic and has virtually no marketing budget. Instead, Walker is frequently penning blog posts for the Huffington Post and the site SheKnows.com, offering advice to yoga teachers and techniques for running. It’s about establishing herself as an expert, without pushing SweatGuru’s products.

    I’ve said many, many times before, I think “write good content” is a galactically stupid strategy (it’s a way of life, not a checkbox you tick off or a thing you decide to do, as if it’s optional). But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If you’re writing for highly-visible sources like Huffington Post, that’s not a place to drop your Buzzfeed-quality articles. It needs to be some of your best work, because that’s the first thing people are going to see. That’s what will win converts to you and your brand, not pumping out a lot of low-quality work just to meet an artificial-yet-ineffective deadline.

    You need to write well, because Google will reward it. People will read your work, share it, and spend more time on your site, which are all factors in Google’s search algorithm (along with 200 other signals). Don’t settle for good enough, because people will ignore it in favor of stuff that’s better.

    If you can’t write well, learn it. If you can’t learn it, outsource it. This is not a place to cheap out or screw around. If your business depends on the quality of your content, make sure it’s the best damn content you can put out there.

    While you’re creating that top-notch content, don’t forget these four other tactics.

    1. Write guest posts on influencers’ blogs and outlets. The more visible the outlet, the better, just don’t do it for the backlinks. If anything, stick a single link to your main page or Twitter page in your bio. Google won’t even count it, but stick a rel=”nofollow” tag in there so they know you’re not trying to be tricky. But don’t put your best eggs into that basket. Save your best content for your own blog.
    2. Join an allied industry group on LinkedIn where you can serve and provide value. Do this in addition to joining your industry’s groups. Write information for the allied group, not your industry group. Don’t worry about trying to impress your colleagues, focus on impressing your potential customers. Your industry colleagues won’t hire you, allied group members will.
    3. Curate insider information. Curation should only take up 20% (1 day out of 5) of your total content marketing. It should not be your entire strategy. This means you need to find the best and hardest to find information, not the Mashable article that everyone’s already read. Share that information with your allied groups so they can do their jobs better.
    4. Embrace social sharing. It may be old hat, but there ain’t no hats like old hats. The best way to get people to see your content is to share it on social media. They’re not going to stumble upon it by accident. There won’t be a grand awareness of your latest article. And the social media fairies won’t sprinkle it with their magic dust into your networks. You have to tell people, several times in fact. Post it two or three times over two days. Remember, not everyone is on Twitter at the same time. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and possibly once in the evening or the next day at lunch time. Google still pays attention to social sharing signals, so the more your content is shared, the better.

    Authorship may be gone, but if you’re an effective content marketer, that shouldn’t matter. If you’ve already been doing it right, you’re still able to keep doing what you’ve been doing. It’s like taking a nail gun away from a carpenter. As long as he’s still got his hammer, he can keep working.

    If you’ve still got your blog or website, you can keep working too.