Live on the road and want to get news of what you’re doing out there? Then content marketing is a no-brainer. It’s markedly cheaper than traditional marketing and gives you about three times as many leads. What’s more, you’ve already got the one thing most people struggle with – content. What else would you call do you call a life filled with beautiful places and interesting adventures? That gives you a massive leg up on your more sedentary competition.
Of course, you already knew that. It’s why you’re reading this article, right? You don’t need to be told that it’s a good idea. Instead, you’re here for guidance on the execution. How do you make sure that your attempt at content marketing does not disappoint?
To help you in that regard, here is what I’ve learned from a year of content marketing on this site and elsewhere. None of that regurgitated crap from other websites, where I have no idea of the effectiveness but I rehash it because it sounds good. No. Only tried and tested ideas here!
Sound good? Then let’s stop dipping our toes into the water and jump on in.
There is a lot of competition
You’re competing with millions of blogs in general and thousands in any particular area. This is a particularly big problem in travel. For example, Dave’s travel corner has a list of travel blogs with more than eight and a half thousand entries in it. And that’s the tip of the iceberg.
It’s because travel blogs are so obvious. When I tell travelers I travel and I write, about half of them will respond they too have plans to travel blog or to write for travel magazines.
All of those people are clamoring for the same audience. Sure, it’s a big audience. There are a huge number of people interested in everything related to travel. The thing is, readership does not spread out equally. In fact, to say the biggest blogs get the lion’s share is an understatement. The top 1% gets the whole cake, leaving the other 99% to fight over who gets to smell the plate.
And so, to get anywhere you need to climb up into that one percent. There are a bunch of things that you need to do. One of the most important, however, is to develop your own voice. For only with one of those will you able to rise above the clamor and be recognized.
How to find your voice
Read a lot of writing advice. Writing advice is useful. It can help you sidestep a lot of problems, which many newish writers fall into. Like assuming that because you understand what you’re writing about your audience also will.
The thing is, there is a lot of bad writing advice out there. In fact, writing about writing is super obvious. And because of the Dunning-Kruger effect every nitwit thinks they can write them. That means there is a lot of bad advice out there. To sidestep that minefield, learn to ignore random writing-advice articles. Instead, only follow the suggestions of people whose writing advice you actually respect.
Be incredibly skeptical of the advice you read. Even if you do find a writer who you like, don’t blindly follow what they’ve got to say. There are two types of writing advice. The stuff that is fundamentally important (like readability and accessibility). And stuff that’s stylistic (like if you use ‘said’, split your infinitives or start sentences with ‘and’ or ‘but’). The thing is, many people will put stuff from the latter category into the former and make out things as important that aren’t.
Following stylistic advice often only accomplishes one thing – it undermines your voice. And how are you going to build an audience if you sound like everybody else? There are already way too many people whose writing is about as interesting as a soggy tissue. Don’t become one of them.
How do you do that? When you get introduced to a new rule, try breaking it and see what happens to your style. Is it still fine? Then it’s a bad rule. Is your writing worse when you break it than when you follow it? Then the rule might have some value. Accept it provisionally. Don’t be afraid to try breaking it again in the future, though.
Practice, practice, practice. You can’t learn to write by only reading other people. Sure, it can teach you a lot. What it won’t do, however, is give you the feeling for language you need. That only comes through writing and then writing some more.
You can take that from me. I’ve improved as much as a writer in the last two years as I did in all the many years of writing I did before that. And it’s not just me saying that. Complete strangers have started to compliment my writing out of the blue. That has never happened before.
The big difference?
How much I’ve written. Previously, I wrote at most a few thousand words a week. Now I write that many almost every day. This has helped me in many ways.
- It’s forced me to write more intuitively and to trust my guts more. That’s important, as that kind of writing feels far less forced.
Also, the more you write, the more often you can see your words on the page and decide whether you like something or not.
The more you write, the more detached you become from what you’ve written. That’s important if you want to objectively weigh what works and what doesn’t. It also makes it far easier to accept criticism and incorporate it.
So write. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. It doesn’t matter if you’ll never read it again. Just write. If you can do that, you’ve taken an important step towards developing your voice.
A distinctive voice isn’t enough. You also have to find some area to write about where you’ve actually got a chance of breaking through. There are plenty of areas where you’re going to struggle. For example, there might be too many people competing for the same audience. Or, some writers have already claimed the vast majority of the audience out there.
- People are conservative. They will stick with their established habits (even if they can get rid of them). That means you’re not only struggling to overcome the established writers. You’re also trying to change people’s unconscious routines. No wonder it’s so hard for new writers to break through!
Attention is the resource all websites, social media sites and websites compete for. And some of them are very good at it indeed. They’ve got whole teams of people to pull their intended audience’ attention their way. If you try to compete with these people on their terms, you’re going to struggle (to put things mildly).
The way to sidestep that is to find a niche where people’s needs aren’t yet fulfilled. Then you don’t have as much incumbency to struggle against and people aren’t satisfied with their habits. So think very hard about what you’re going to write about.
What to consider when you’re deciding on your niche
The first part of ‘niche’ is the topic. This is a bit of a tightrope walk. It’s great if you can find an area where the competition isn’t too fierce. That’s going to be easier if you take a smaller topic range. So, instead of travel, you focus on the over 50 travel crowd, or rather than starting another blog about photography you focus on film-only.
At the same time, you don’t want to go too niche, as then you’ll end up with an absolute audience that’s still tiny even if you do corner it all. The best advice I can give you is to leave yourself some space for your niche to evolve.
Also, make sure that your niche fits your customers. This is a more common mistake than you might realize. Often, people confuse who they want to talk to and who they want to sell to. And so, lawyers write content that’s aimed at other lawyers, while writers give advice to help other writers (I’m guilty of this one myself). The thing is, that’s your competition. They’re not going to buy your product or your services. So courting them, while it might feel good, won’t help you much with the bottom line.
In that case, you’re not doing content marketing. Instead, you’re writing a blog. That’s fine, but at least be honest about it.
The other side of ‘niche’
There is another side of niche that’s not discussed often but that’s as important. So far, we’ve talked about ‘what will you write about?’ The other side is ‘how will you write about it?’ People don’t just have topics they prefer. They also prefer how the topics are presented.
Some people prefer long, dense articles. Other people prefer them shorter and more to the point. Then there are people who prefer video to the written word. Others will prefer podcasts, images or Morse code (Hey, there’s going to be somebody).
Of course, you can experiment with your format as you go. Half the fun in doing this is figuring out what engages your particular audience. For example, I’ve discovered that longer articles work better for you all (and my voice). It could as easily not have, in which case I would have had to try something else.
Of course, content marketing is made up of two words. So far I’ve only spoken about the first one. That’s because, to be honest, I’m far better at that. Though I’ve written a little bit about marketing, I’m not a star. My strategy has been to focus on the writing and hope that I get more traction (with mixed results).
Still, I have a few things to say about it, which you don’t hear often enough when you’re starting out and yet are important.
One visit isn’t a habit. If you want to build up a reader base the most important statistic isn’t how many people visit your website. It is how many people keep coming back. The more often they come back, the more likely it will develop into a habit. And on the back of people who come back repeatedly, you can actually build a following. What’s more, through such things as the mere exposure effect, they will come to like and trust you more. That will make it far more likely that they’ll actually purchase your product.
So your goal should never be ‘lots of people’ your goal instead should be ‘lots of repeat visitors’.
The number of visitors you get isn’t all that important. This is in the same vein as above. You’re not after visitors. You’re after fans or customers. Sure, visitors can become the other two, but that connection is far more tenuous than it’s made out to be. It depends on where they come from, what they’re looking for and whether your site actually offers it.
This means that not all visitors are created equal. Sometimes you’ll find a place to put up your article, where you’ll draw hundreds of visitors. You’ll think that’s a better option than, say, somewhere that draws in 30.
The thing is if those hundreds visit once and then never come back while half of the 30 come a second time, then the second location is the better one. So that’s where you should focus your effort. But you can’t figure that out if you only pay attention to how many visitors you’re getting.
Instead, track how many pages people view, how many bounce and how many come back again (through cohort analysis). You can use UTM parameters to that end. These allow you to track where visitors come from, like which Facebook add or which comment section. From there, you can find out what actually works for you.
The best marketing is where you build relationships. People have lost track of this last one. It’s become so easy to check the raw numbers that they ignore the people behind them.
Particularly when you’re starting, you want to focus on getting followers who keep coming back and share what they like. This serves many purposes.
- It will give other people the feeling that people are engaging with your content. That will boost the value of what you’re saying in their eyes (we like what other people like). It will also raise the chance they’ll comment themselves (we do what others do).
Established fans act as multipliers. When they share or comment on your content, it often ends up in front of people that otherwise might not have seen it. What’s more, the fact that they share it means their friends are going to give it more attention (we trust our friend’s opinions).
They can help steer your content by asking questions and offering up suggestions. This will help you find topics that you otherwise might not have. It also can steer your content into interesting directions.
The most effective way to create these kinds of followers is straightforward. Engage with your visitors. That means responding to questions or comments. Starting conversations where you can and in other ways getting involved.
Content marketing is a long game
The thing that you’ve got to realize is that content marketing takes time. It can take months to build up a bit of a reputation both among readers as well as in Google (which is a great way to generate traffic).
A lot of people assume that for them it will be different, that for them it will take half the time. If that’s you, you’ll most likely be disappointed (I was). That can mean you end up abandoning the strategy as it starts to bear fruit (I almost did). So don’t do that. Instead, work hard and don’t put all your eggs in the content marketing basket.
A mixed strategy is a much better idea. Here, you rely on many forms of marketing, such as AdWords and Facebook ads, as well as content marketing. Then, as your stories and articles get traction and begin to attract audiences, you can slow down your other marketing efforts. You can even redirect some of that cash towards getting a bigger audience for your content.
You see, there is one big advantage to content marketing being a long game. That is that once you reach a tipping point, those same habits that kept people away from your site will keep them coming back. And as they like what you’ve got to say, they’ll likely share it with their own social circles. In this way, you become enmeshed in a network that will continue to get your content in front of new people.
That means you can take your foot off the marketing gas. Instead, you can write high-quality content an rely on your fans and followers to get it out there.