Questions to Ask Before you Write your Website Content

Website content matters. Possibly more than many businesses appreciate. The words you use make all the difference to whether anyone can find your site and to what they do when they get there.

Yet I often look at business websites and wonder just how much thought and effort went into creating the copy.

If you’re having a new site put together, refreshing your existing one, or perhaps wondering why your on-line presence isn’t delivering the results you expected, here are a few questions and suggestions that could help you do a better job.

website content - the weakest link?
Is your website content the weak link in your online marketing?

Don’t Think About your Business

Your first instinct when planning the content for your site is probably to think about your business and to start listing all of the things you sell. You will then hopefully start thinking about how these products or services can be grouped and presented so that they are easy to navigate and make sense to your customers.

If this is what you do, your new website could be scuppered before you’ve begun!

Try making the customers you want to attract your starting point – before you even think about what you are going to write.

Things to think about:

  • If you’re selling to businesses, what size of business are you targeting? What expectations are they likely to have in terms of the professionalism of your marketing? A similar argument applies if you’re selling directly to consumers.
  • Are there some defining characteristics for your target customers that will help you choose the right words and focus your content on the appropriate audience? Our target audience is people or businesses who want to…
  • What will be motivating somebody to look for what you sell? Try to list 5 or 6 circumstances that would cause somebody to search for your products or services and would particularly attract them to your business.

Aim to use these ‘themes’ throughout your content. You might find that these themes are a better way to organise your content than providing the standard ‘description of what you do’ approach based around product or service categories.

Here’s something else you might notice. When you focus on themes and things that really matter to your customers you’ll probably find that many of the things you’d intended to include are insignificant details. They won’t have any influence on whether or not potential customers decide to get in touch and can be safely left out.

When your vision of who you want to sell to is as sharp as a freshly unwrapped razor blade you are ready to create your content map.

If you are selling services, try to avoid the easy and convenient content map that groups services under a descriptive title (eg Audit, if you’re an accountant).  Think about what your clients want to achieve by using your services and define and present them in those terms.

This might be harder work for you but it makes it easier for customers to relate the relevance of your offer to their situation and challenges.

Who and When?

The next step for most businesses is to decide which lucky members of the team get to write the content.

Sometimes you’ll find somebody who is keen to do it (which doesn’t guarantee they’ll be any good at it), and sometimes there has to be a bit of arm twisting.

If you are writing your own content (as most SMEs do), who’s going to do it? You? A member of your team? How much ‘spare’ time do they currently have? If they are fully occupied, what are they going to stop doing in order to get the content written?

Why this matters: Any web designer will tell you their biggest frustration and the biggest cause of delay is waiting for content from their client. The record from conversations I’ve had with designers currently stands at 18 months (can anyone beat that?).

I’ll leave you to work out the opportunity cost. Also, how effective is the content likely to be if it’s been ‘bashed out’ because the web designer is running out of patience?

Website copywriters who are experienced at putting content together still have to take a lot of time and care to perfect the words. They know that a simple word change can transform the impact of an entire paragraph and make a vital emotional connection with your customers; finding the right voice for your business is never easy – even for a professional.

And if professionals find it difficult – what does this mean for an amateur and how long they will need to create truly effective content?

How Well do you Understand SEO?

Search Engine Optimisation is increasingly intertwined with content, to the extent that you cannot have an effective optimisation strategy that doesn’t have content at its core.

Once you could buy in SEO as a purely technical service. Knowledge of how to optimise a site, fill it with the right keywords and procure back-links could get almost any site to rank highly in Google.

There’s still an important technical element in SEO but it’s now much more about creating valuable content and effective promotion through on-line networks. Trust, authority and reputation are becoming the main levers for improving search ranking and your content will be critical in earning these attributes.

You should have access to some keyword research that will give you insights into what people are really searching for. It  helps your visibility when you structure your website content around the questions that people are asking. But it’s more than just shoe-horning the keywords into any old content – you have to give convincing answers to those questions.

Writing intelligent and SEO friendly meta title and description tags is not easy. Integrating keywords into content in the most effective way, while still creating natural and easy-to-read copy requires skill. Is it reasonable to expect somebody who is taking a break from the day job to get this right?

Why this matters: Is there any point in having a website that nobody can find? Structure, usability and the reader’s experience are as important as selecting the right keywords in getting your site to rank well in Google. There’s no quick fix for this – despite what several emails in your inbox may be claiming.

Can you be Objective about your Business?

Your business may well be one of the big passions in your life. You are bound up in it and you are excited about your capabilities and your opportunities. Will a potential customer have quite the same perspective?

Sure, they want to know that you care about what you do – but they really want to know what you are going to do for them. Standing back and seeing what matters from an outsider’s perspective is difficult.

Why this matters: Content that engages and persuades is the difference between ‘having a website’ and having a website that makes a positive contribution to your business growth. An external resource will inevitably see your business differently.

This often makes it easier to identify and emphasize the critical arguments that will attract and persuade your target customers.

How confident are you in your ability?

Mercedez-Benz :-)

However you choose to produce the content, your website is a significant investment. It’s not just the money that you pay for design and hosting, it’s also the time that your organisation has to put in to make it happen.

Design matters; but even with the best design in the world your website will stand or fall on how easy it is to find – and how well it engages and persuades your target customers. Creating readable, engaging, persuasive and search-friendly content is quite an undertaking. Are you confident that you have the skills in-house to do all of that?

Why this matters: Writing is a bit like driving: people are reluctant to admit that somebody may be better at it than they are. But, while I can drive competently, I’m happy to acknowledge that Lewis Hamilton is a more skilled driver than me (there, I’ve said it). Choosing to write your own content might be like Mercedes asking me to drive their F1 car – both likely to result in a big crash and disappointment!

Photo: Paco CT via Compfight

Richard Hussey Freelance Copywriter South West England

Richard Hussey, Copywriter, Blogger and Content Marketer

I help smaller businesses market themselves effectively online through better website content, blogging and social media.


Intro photo darwin Bell via Compfight

Cultivating New Customers, Rather than Hunting them Down

At the dawn of civilisation we survived by foraging for food and by tracking and killing it. Effective, up to a point, but very time-consuming and ultimately limited in the size of population it could sustain.

What we needed was a more efficient way of feeding ourselves. Mankind arrived at a crossroads. And in many ways I think the evolution of marketing has arrived at a similar point.

content marketing

One fundamental issue for hunters was that most of the prey didn’t much care for the process of being hunted. Tasty animals went to great lengths to avoid their pursuers. Hours of tracking could be wasted by a careless noise that alarmed the animal or by a poorly aimed spear.

Gradually mankind got smarter and realised that cultivating food was a better and more efficient way to sustain a growing population. Less time spent hunting and gathering also meant they could build more complex societies, learn about things that didn’t revolve around the quest for the next meal, and invent things to make life easier.

Hunting didn’t cease overnight and, in fact, it still goes on. It just became less relevant and less significant. Only a few small, isolated tribes still get the majority of their food this way.

And perhaps marketing is at a similar stage of its evolution. Businesses are starting to understand that ‘hunting’ customers through traditional marketing techniques, advertising, cold calling and so on isn’t all that efficient. Many are learning to cultivate new customers by designing marketing plans that focus on publishing helpful and welcome content instead.

The hunter gatherer model

The hunter spends a lot of effort tracking down where to find their prey, learning their migration routes, where they like to feed, the water holes they use. A smart hunter might also use some kind of bait to lure their prey before launching their spear. But their aim has to be perfect or the opportunity is lost.

Gatherers are similarly restricted. Success is based on knowing where to find the best fruit bushes or vegetables and when to pick them. But ultimately you are restricted by what’s available in your foraging area and your ability to find it before somebody else.

The parallels with traditional marketing are easy to see. With a traditional model, market research tells us the most productive places to intercept (or interrupt) the activities of our quarry; and we become more successful by designing better spears (or campaigns), and learning how to throw them more accurately.

But it’s still hard work with an uncertain outcome.

The farming model

Instead of researching how to track animals, a livestock farmer learns what they like to eat, and how they need to be cared for. That way they can keep the animals in one place. For the beast there’s no incentive to avoid capture or to escape because you’re getting well looked after – life is easier.

Similarly, cultivating fields of the things you like to eat has to be better than going out and trying to find where they happen to occur. Creating fertile soil in which they can grow and providing the conditions where pollination happens more reliably will always be more productive.

Your marketing ‘farm’

Think of what this might mean for your marketing plan. If you want to cultivate rather than go hunting for customers, what should you do?

First, concentrate on understanding what your customers need for their own survival and well-being, and make sure you provide it.  Your customers will be happier and more productive. Aim to nourish them with content that is easy to digest, a pleasure  for them to consume and which helps them thrive.

If you want some ideas about how that content might look try this.

Second, cultivate communities like fields of corn by enriching the soil with helpful advice and insights. And let the insects of social media take care of pollination and propagation. Identify what business you want to grow and then create the most favourable conditions for that to happen – it has to be better than trudging around with a basket looking for the next fruit bush (or cold-calling).

And use networks like Google+ to improve your knowledge and understanding about how to make things grow and what your customers need.

In short, focus on the needs of your customers rather than the needs of your organisation. Feed your customers and you’ll get more food back in return.

Ultimately, that’s why I believe marketing is at a crossroads – just like the quest for food was for our ancestors thousands of years ago. Using content and social media to cultivate communities and customers will ultimately be more efficient and productive.

I’m sure some brands will continue to go hunting customers for some time – but they will become rarer and rarer. Who knows, one day they might even make documentaries about these isolated tribes teetering on the brink of extinction: The Lost Marketers of the Kalahari perhaps?

marketing plans


Richard Hussey, Copywriter, Blogger, Content Marketer

Circle me on Google+ and let’s carry on the discussion.


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How to Write the Blog Posts your Readers will thank you for

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming that you understand the value of having a good blog on your website. And what you really want to know is how you can make your blog better. How can you write articles that people will actually welcome?


Here are a few questions and pointers based on my experience of producing hundreds of posts for myself and for my clients, and from observing skilled bloggers.

Before I get into the detail though, here’s one principle that should direct everything you do: your blog only has value to your business when it has value for your customers. Which takes me straight to point one.

1. Should I write it at all?

When you next sit down to write a post, ask yourself why you’re writing that particular article; why that subject? If the answer is anything other than ‘I’ve got something really important to say that will help my target audience’, you might want to stop and think about it a bit more.

If the answer’s: ‘because we haven’t posted anything new in a while’, I would definitely stop. Go for a walk or sit in a darkened room until you’ve thought of something more useful. Better still phone one of your customers and chat to them about their business.

We are awash with content so don’t add to it with something  you haven’t really thought through. What’s likely to harm your business the most: having a few more days between posts or being associated with weak or meaningless content?

2. Spend time on the headline

And then spend some more time. What is your headline promising that will make somebody want to click on it? Is there something intriguing about it that people will find irresistible?

And not just anybody – the specific people that you have identified as the audience for that post.

3. What’s the point?

blog writing

What will people learn as a result of reading the post? Does your introduction make it clear what this will be, and does the structure build naturally to a conclusion?

If people don’t get the point of the post in the first few lines they won’t read on.

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If they’re not learning anything or being made to see things in different ways, where’s the incentive to come back for more?

As a result of reading this post I want people to… understand, realise, think more deeply about… what?

4. Ask questions

Have you ever wondered why some of your favourite bloggers ask so many questions in their articles?

A relentless stream of good advice, however valuable, can become mind-numbing. So what’s a really good way to break the monotony? How can you get people to reflect on the points you make and their own experience? By asking questions.

5. Use better words

More imaginative vocabulary reinforces meaning and invigorates your text. Don’t just ‘get’ something; sieze, grasp, win, earn or secure it.

Rather than ‘show’, can you reveal, expose or prove?

Don’t just say something is ‘good’. What, specifically, makes it good?

Don’t ‘change'; revolutionise, transform or even disrupt if these words do a better job of illustrating the scale or pace of the change.

Have a look in the previous section about asking questions. My first draft said ‘an endless stream of good advice’, I changed it to relentless because that did a better job of conveying the mental exhaustion you inflict on your readers if you don’t break things up a bit.

6. Use metaphors and analogies

Digital marketing involves many elements and you have to make them all work together. Or put another way it’s like a game of chess. Each piece has little power on its own but when you marshal and co-ordinate the whole set of pieces, guided by a clear strategy, and knowing what each one can an can’t do, you end up victorious.

Metaphors and similes accentuate meaning by drawing comparisons with other things – they don’t just keep people awake they help reinforce your point.

I recently did a presentation on the difference between social media and content marketing. I used a slide image of a peach cut in half. Social media was the tasty but short-lived bit around the outside, while content was the stone – with enduring value from which you could grow more peaches.

People remember images (even mental ones) better than they remember particular words.

When you have a competent first or second draft always go through it to see whether there’s more descriptive or emotive vocabulary you can use, or whether a good metaphor will make the point more memorable (or sear an appropriate image into the minds of your readers, if you prefer).

 7. Use images

OK, I know this is supposed to be about writing. But posts with pictures are more likely to get viewed. Pictures dotted throughout a longer post can keep people engaged and help them get to the end. That’s it, really.

8. Be informal

blog writing

Blogging is not a grammar test. If anyone tells you that your blog has to use perfect grammar, ask them to define what they mean and then ignore them.

Formal language is a turn-off.  Your blog should be a reflection of who you really are – and nobody speaks like a text book. Be personal and conversational and don’t get stressed about grammar.

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9. Use simple words

The point above about using more imaginative vocabulary isn’t about showing off or trying to impress, it’s about adding and reinforcing meaning. Avoid choosing a different word just because you think it sounds more important or ‘intellectual.’ All you do is alienate people.

Is it really a concept, or just an idea? Is it really a strategy, or just a plan? Is it a methodology, or just a process? And what the hell is a paradigm shift anyway?

10. Never post immediately

I’ve yet to find a post that couldn’t be improved significantly a few days after the initial draft was created. When you write something you know what you meant to say. And that’s what you read, even if it’s not exactly what the words and the punctuation say.

After a few days you will read your content more like a new reader. The imaginary punctuation has all gone and you read exactly what’s there.

Your subconscious mind has also been whirring away in the background and you’ll find you’ll have additional examples, points and insights that make the article much stronger.

Try to plan your schedule so that you draft next week’s post this week.

11. Chunky and punchy

Not the latest duo of cartoon characters, but principles of good blog writing. No more than 3 sentences per paragraph. Short sentences. And plenty of sub headings.

12. Don’t aim for perfection

This might sound a bit odd given everything I’ve said.  But you can spend so much time honing your words that you end up publishing virtually nothing. Also, the first draft usually has a purpose – there is a idea behind the words.

The more you tinker the more likely your piece is to turn into something else. Know when to say that does the job I wanted and is good enough to go out.


Richard Hussey, Copywriter and Content Marketing Specialist

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A World Without Google?

Google authorship
They took away my profile pic in SERPs

Imagine a world without Google. For internet marketers and many businesses that’s just about unthinkable. But can an obsession with satisfying the whims of the Big G cloud your judgement, distract your attention and even harm your business?

The Google brand, its search engine, Chrome browser, Android operating system and on-line tools are becoming so pervasive that you can almost get the impression that Google is the internet.

Google is where people go to get ideas and answers – for everything from cake recipes to consultancy services. And being as visible as possible in Google searches is important for just about every business. Which is why so many businesses focus internet marketing strategies around doing what they believe ‘works best on Google’ and get so upset when Google changes the rules.

Authorship – why can’t Google make up its mind?

There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth recently when Google announced  it was dropping profile pictures and circle counts from SERPs results. Many folks who had invested time in establishing authorship on their websites and blogs bemoaned the fact that that their faces would no longer show in search results.

There was a belief that links with profile pictures were more likely to get clicked. I got the sense that some people felt that the extra clicks were their reward for keeping track of Google’s developments and being the first to implement features such as authorship.

How could Google remove this feature so soon after launching it? The answer is simple: they did it because it suited them. They wanted to tidy up their search results pages to make them more usable, particularly on mobiles.

Why is Google so mean?

We’ve had similar uproars when they unleashed significant updates to their ranking algorithms.  Following what they believed were Google’s ‘rules’ and the advice of experts, businesses had invested heavily to get on page 1. Then, expensively assembled back-links and meticulously optimised sites plummeted down the rankings overnight. How could they do this, and without warning?

Because they can!

Google is not a free business directory or a business support service. Unless you pay for Adwords, it owes you nothing. Google giveth and Google taketh away!

This is not an anti-Google rant by the way. I think the company has done a lot to make the internet more usable and they provide some great on-line tools. I use Android and Chrome and I really appreciate the way that these join up my interaction with the internet across all of my devices. So I’m not an embittered Apple devotee.

But I also understand that Google is a business.  Having such a powerful search engine means that’s where people go to find things; and see targeted advertising while they’re there. If Google succeeds in making our lives easier through mobile apps and tools, there will be more Android devices sold.

Google never told anybody to over-optimise their site or go out and engineer as many links as possible. And if Google wants to implement another change tomorrow that will wreck your SEO strategy and search rankings, it will. Their loyalty is to their users and to their Adwords customers – just as your loyalty is to your customers.

I also don’t believe that Google is involved in some sinister plot to make the rules of search ranking so complex and dynamic that we’ll all end up paying for Adwords to get noticed.

So what does this mean? While we can’t ignore Google, we certainly shouldn’t be basing our entire on-line marketing around anything that they do or say. As well as not being your friend, Google is not the internet and is not some self-appointed guardian of it.

Why I still use authorship

So, using authorship mark-up meant a small picture of me and the number of Google+ circles I am in appeared when my content showed up in search results. Well that never mattered that much. Some claimed that it improved click-throughs but I never saw any evidence for this.

The reason I adopted, and still still use, authorship is that it allows me to establish ownership of my content. Google has stated that it wants to use authorship as one way to link content to specific authors and increasingly use the reputation of that author to influence rankings and personalised search results.

We know that Google wants to do this and is working towards it. I also know that they might change their mind, or that implementation of Author Rank, or whatever you want to call it, might prove too difficult. The potential benefits still make it a worthwhile investment of time and effort.

Whatever happens, Google won’t be implementing changes to reward me for slavishly following their rules, public pronouncements or even hints. They will be doing whatever their data tells them is best for their users and their business.

Like I said, they owe me, and you, nothing.

So where should you focus your energy?

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you. Focus your energy on understanding what your customers want and need to know about. Focus on creating the best quality and most relevant content you can to meet those needs.

Create the right content for the right reasons. I’m losing count of the number of times I hear people being told that they should have video on their site because Google owns YouTube so you are guaranteed great visibility. Nooooooo!

Create videos if that is the way your customers want to consume content. If that’s the best way to communicate with them and build a relationship.

And focus on using all relevant networks to nurture relationships with those customers, built on the foundation of your content.  Provide content that is so valuable that people share it with their contacts and opt in to your marketing.

Google matters; optimising your content for search matters; but these are far from being the only games in town.

Imagine a world where Google didn’t exist and start from there. Because one day that could be the world we live in.

Google authorship

Richard Hussey,

Copywriter, blogger and content marketing specialist

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It’s Content, but is it Marketing?

I am honestly losing count of the number of SEO agencies that are producing articles extolling the virtues of content marketing.  Fancy that! There’s more to on-line marketing than search rankings and organic traffic.

content marketing
Are you telling me content has always mattered?

Just be be clear, I’m not saying that rankings and traffic don’t matter. And a good technical SEO expert can still help your business – a lot! And I know that many SEOs do understand content marketing and the bigger picture of digital marketing. But, I do have some concerns about how the content ‘solution’ is being presented.

What worries me about some of the latest converts to the cause is that they can create the impression that content marketing is a substitute for SEO tactics that Google has started to frown on. Some of this possibly stems from SEO agencies being led into the world of content via link building initiatives or by a historical view of web content as a vehicle for keywords.

Content marketing is so much more than an optimisation and traffic generation tactic. It’s also so much more than just publishing content!

Which takes me to my second concern: there’s a danger that businesses get the message that publishing content is the answer. In fact, with the number of articles, seminars and discussions on the subject it could be hard to avoid getting this message.

As a result businesses could easily start publishing content without really thinking through what they’re trying to achieve: no objectives, no clear targets, and no clear messages.

So, how do you know if what you are doing is content marketing, or just ‘publishing content’? Here are a few ways you can tell the difference.

1. Know your customers

How clear is your picture of the people you want to engage? If you had to write down 5 characteristics of each of  ‘persona’ you want to reach could you do it?

If you had to list the things that matter most to these personae, (purists will love that plural) could you do it?

If you can’t do this, you are almost certainly just publishing content.

2. Know yourself

What does your business stand for? What are the unique values and characteristics of your business that will appeal to your target market? What is it that drives you to do what you do? Have you really understood where your expertise overlaps the needs of your potential customers?

Have you developed your values into consistent themes and messages that you weave into your content and throughout your on-line presence?

If you haven’t identified these values and you’re not using them consistently in what you publish, you are probably just publishing content.

3. Know your voice

Every organisation needs a voice or ‘tone’. It has to be representative of your business and it has to appeal to your target audience.  You have to think about the impression and the emotional reaction you want people to experience through your content and how your voice reflects that.

If you don’t understand how your voice needs to sound, you are probably just publishing content.

4. Know the journey

Content marketing has a clear picture of potential customers at each stage of the journey from awareness, interest, active consideration and through to the decision to purchase.  It understands the questions that have to be answered and the objections that have to be overcome at each stage.

Content marketing has a schedule for publishing content that addresses these critical issues and decisions at each stage of the process. Content marketing is configured to move people through the process by gentle persuasion.

If you haven’t mapped out the journey and haven’t addressed the needs of your potential customers at each stage, you are probably just publishing content.

5. Know where it fits

Content is one part of a marketing jigsaw.  How is your content publishing integrated with your activities to build your on-line reputation and influence? Is your social media strategy part of your content marketing strategy, or is that managed somewhere else? Do you have a plan to build your on-line networks and influence to promote your content?

Is your content strategy aligned with your other sales and marketing plans, including email marketing? Is your sales team fully engaged in the process and using the content you produce to cultivate leads, opportunities and relationships?

If content stands on its own, you are probably just publishing content.

6. Know what works

Not everything goes the way you planned or has the effect you intended. Content marketers review what works and what delivers the results they were after. Measurement and refinement is part of the process.

If you don’t know the subjects, headlines and approaches that are most effective at engaging and converting your audience, you are probably just … well you know the rest.

How can you move from publishing to marketing?

I’m pooling my knowledge and experience with fellow content marketing specialist Stephen Bateman to deliver a series of 1-day, intensive courses to help you get from publishing content to productive content marketing.

Training is delivered to small groups with a structured process to take you through all of the issues above. You’ll come out full of ideas and inspiration, and with a workable plan to market your business through content publishing.

The next event is in Exeter on July 1. Click on the link below for more details. Numbers are strictly limited so we can focus on your business, your needs and your plan – so book now to make sure:

Content Masterclasses

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Will Content Marketing Eat Itself?

Is the world of content marketing about to eat itself? You could easily think so.

copywriter UK
Too much content to handle?

On the one hand we have brands aggressively increasing their content marketing budgets; on the other we have informed and respected commentators warning of a ‘content crash’ -where consumers are unable to deal with the sheer volume of material being created.

Alongside all of this, of course, we have a significant percentage of businesses wedded to traditional marketing tactics. They’re probably wondering what all the noise is about and possibly thinking they’ve been smart in sticking to what they know.

So, does the popularity of content marketing inevitably sow the seeds of its own destruction? Or is it still the smart place to be investing your marketing dollars, pounds or euros?

Here’s why I believe it’s still not only advisable, but essential for brands to be investing in content; why I think that content strategies need to be refocused; and what brands need to do to ensure that their content creates value rather than noise.

There’s also one fundamental reason why content will continue to be indispensable in digital marketing, which I’ll come to later.

Content in crisis?

Study after study shows that brands are committing more money to content marketing each year. Meanwhile, Rand Fishkin reports that even a highly respected blog like Moz’s finds it harder to get comments and shares on its articles. Pumping out more content, he warns, is going to get us to a point where there are not enough eyes to go round.

I was also struck by comments by Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting in a recent interview which predicted a ‘long hard winter’ for 90% of content marketers. Many of these, he predicted, would need to find other careers; gulp!

The content marketers' future?
The content marketers’ future?

I can see how this might be dispiriting for any businesses thinking about embarking on a content marketing journey. Don’t despair – you are still doing the right thing! But you do need to think much more deeply about how and why you are doing it.



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Why content took off

If there is a crisis in the world of content marketing it’s simply because many businesses started doing it for the wrong reasons.

Sorry, I’ll qualify that.  The reasons they had for doing content marketing in the way they did it made perfect commercial sense. It’s just that it was a blind alley paved with short-term gains and they are now hurtling towards the brick wall at the end.

First of all, back in November 2011, Google issued a freshness update to its ranking algorithm.  Websites that hadn’t been touched for years probably, it reasoned,  contained low quality, out of date content, so they were downgraded.

This placed a strong SEO and hence commercial value on fresh content. So the message became one of starting a blog to keep your website updated with new content.

Here’s a classic example of how things get distorted when we start talking about search rankings. For some it didn’t matter what they were posting so long as it was new and (hopefully) unique content.

For people who had the broad vision of the value of content the freshness argument was in the detail, not the highlight. But SEOs paid on results sometimes saw it (and sold it) differently.

Blogging for links

And, of course, people realised that dumping (sorry posting) links to their content in forums and syndication sites had enormous SEO value. Even better if you could include your money keywords in the anchor text. Google placed (and still does) a big emphasis on the number of links pointing to a site when deciding where to rank it.

If you were a business that felt it needed to be on page 1 of the SERPs, industrial scale content production made perfect sense and gave you an outcome you could measure easily. More content, more links and more SEO juice. Mmmm SEO juice, the taste of success.

This type of thinking sometimes influenced social media strategies too. ‘Quick fix’ top 10 lists proliferated as these often get shared and sometimes, I suspect, without even being read.

Meanwhile, some folks were doing things differently

One question I always had for businesses employing aggressive SEO strategies was what, exactly, happens after you get the click through? Too often traffic became the end rather than the means. The quality of the content on the site people reached barely got a look-in.

Which brings me back to Eric Enge’s comments. My interpretation of them is that the 90% of content marketers who are likely to find the future difficult are the tacticians who have been splattering the internet with low-value content, rather than the people who have been ‘doing the right thing.’

Who are the 90%?

Content marketers who lack the skills to produce thought-provoking content, or the business understanding to interpret the interests and needs of customers will find it increasingly difficult to find a role; at least that’s my take.

Google is getting better at identifying low value content and low value links and the penalties are severe. Algorithm updates will continue to target unnatural looking links from low authority sites.

And recently SearchEngineLand reported on Google penalizing guest blogging network PostJoint, which wasn’t the first and won’t be the last to get clobbered.

Meanwhile, the value of publishing deeper, more imaginative and more intelligent content continues to grow, both in SEO and ‘real’ terms. But it is challenging. The main difficulties here are threefold:

  • this type of content is an order of magnitude harder to target and produce than the superficial stuff
  •  the skills required to produce it are not abundant
  • and it can still be a job to find the good stuff when some estimates put the number of new blog posts published each day in excess of 2.5m.

Why content still has value

The real values and benefits that drew enlightened brands into content marketing are still valid. And a lot of this is to do with building qualified website traffic that is independent of Google’s algorithms.

Brands that really embraced the spirit of content knew that it was about building an audience and creating trust.  They were creating content for that audience rather than for Google.

Yes, there were keywords and there was optimisation – that’s just good sense. But it was all driven by understanding who you wanted to attract and the information they were looking for, rather than just selecting the search terms with the highest volumes to get the biggest number of links and hits.

This type of customer-focused content still has marketing value because it is valued by your customers.

Why content matters more than ever

In my view, brands that are waiting for this ‘content thing’ to blow are taking a huge risk.

Duane Forrester, head of Microsoft’s internal SEO team recently rated content as the most effective way for any business to improve its search ranking - ahead of link building, social media and what we traditionally understand as SEO.

Duane’s focus is obviously Bing but the same general emphasis holds true for Google.

And despite Eric Enge’s concern for the plight of content marketers, his business at Stone Temple Consulting remains a massive producer of excellent content and a strong advocate of content marketing. They do it because it places the expertise and values of the organisation in the public domain – people can engage directly with the people behind the brand well before they enter anything that could be recognised as a sales funnel.

The keys to success are these:

  • Continuously improve your understanding of your audience and their information needs
  • Never compromise on quality in the interests of maintaining visibility
  • Embrace long-form content
  • Engage with people and be generous with your time and comments
  • Engage in an honest and authentic way with influencers who have an audience you want to reach
  • Use multiple formats: blogging, long-form posts on Google+, Hangouts on Air, video, etc.
  • Employ highly selective content curation, and add value through your comments

I’d also recommend the following:

  • Implement processes and assign clear responsibilities to your team
  • Work with professional content creators who have an empathy with your business and your customers
  • Invest in developing the content creation skills of your team

Why content has a future


Which all brings me to the single most persuasive reason for putting content at the heart of your digital marketing. Content is about answering questions. Your customers will always have questions and will be looking on line for whoever can provide the most informed and authoritative answers.

Your ability to answer real and important questions is what will earn you respect and trust. And whatever marketing tactics you employ, respect and trust are priceless.

This has an intrinsic value that has nothing to do with Google. Yet it’s also clear that the search giant is moving steadily and inexorably towards becoming a tool that serves up relevant and authoritative answers to real questions – rather than one that does the best job of keyword matching.

So content marketing does have a very rosy future; but only for those prepared to invest in doing it well and for the right reasons.

content marketing

Richard Hussey

Copywriter, blogger and hopefully one of the 10%


Sunrise image:Photo Credit: -Reji via Compfightcc


6 Ideas for Marketing Professional Services

I was recently addressing a group of management and chartered accountants and the discussion inevitably turned to marketing. All professional services providers face a significant challenge: how can businesses that provide broadly similar outputs differentiate themselves.  There’s a similar issue with law firms and, I guess, with web designers, training providers and a host of other services.

content marketing
More than just a number cruncher?

If this challenge sounds familiar here are six thoughts that might help. Including how content marketing could make all the difference.

1. Not ‘what’ but ‘how’

In the words of the song: ‘It’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it.’

In many cases people will understand what your business produces. Potential customers are often not all that interested in the details of the deliverables, particularly if the detail is the same as that provided by your competitors.

People are more likely to be interested in the principles that guide the way you work. They want to know how the way you do things will deliver added value. What are you looking to achieve for your clients over and above delivering their annual accounts or whatever other service you are providing?

2. The ‘positively good’

Legendary advertising copywriter David Ogilvy wrote about the challenge advertisers face when selling a product that is similar to competing products. It isn’t credible to claim that product X is superior to product Y because consumers will be able to see for themselves that they are pretty much the same.

His belief was that in these cases the job of the advertiser was to express what he called the ‘positive good’.  The challenge is to do a clearer, more honest, and more informative job of saying what is good about their product, rather than claiming that it is superior.

Can we extend this idea to marketing professional services? Would a clear, honest and informative account of how your professional accountancy services add value to my business be more persuasive than claiming that one set of management accounts is intrinsically better than another?

Understand how the things you do create value for you clients and state this clearly and with authenticity.

3. What appeals to your customers?

Why did your customers choose your firm instead of a competitor? Do you have a clear picture of the factors that made them decide you were the best fit for their business and their needs? Are there common characteristics among the types of customers you attract?

When you have trustworthy answers to these questions you are on the road to constructing a more targeted message. It will be a message that will appeal to certain types of customer whose specific needs you know you can satisfy.

Use a similar approach if you are trying to reposition your business. If you’re failing to attract higher value clients, for example, ask yourself what they are looking for that they don’t currently see in your marketing. This may not be page after page of content telling them what you do.

4. Content Marketing

Time for a sweeping generalisation. There is a high degree of risk aversion in many professional services firms – particularly lawyers and accountants. I believe that this is the most powerful brake on these businesses embracing an approach to marketing that seems tailor-made for businesses selling expertise: content marketing.

What I’m told is that if you’re an accountant or a lawyer there are potentially serious ramifications for publishing the wrong thing. I’m also told that management structures in larger firms make it difficult to adopt nimble or novel approaches to marketing.

I also understand that we are talking about very busy people with a high opportunity cost when they are writing a blog article rather than doing billable work.


Your business is not selling a mechanical process. It is selling experience, knowledge, principles and a distinctive way of doing things. Publishing regular, personalised content is the most effective way to help potential customers understand all of this.

Which brings me to the most fundamental question:

5. What is your brand?

Do your customers engage with the sign on the outside of your building or the people inside it? Blue chip corporations might engage with the big accountancy and law forms because the scale of their business offers a perceived security. But I believe that for most businesses the relationship is more personal.

The sign over the door, your logo, strapline, even your website, are just manifestations of something more organic.

Your brand is your collective expertise, your beliefs, the way you work and the principal objectives you have on behalf of your clients.

I don’t want to get too New Age here but this ‘soul’ of your business is what you need to find and need to express through your marketing.

Brand authority and SEO

The other big reason to be investing in content is SEO. A recent article on the Stone Temple Consulting blog  focused on a discussion with Duane Forrester, Microsoft’s head of SEO. He listed listed content firmly as the top priority for businesses wanting to improve or maintain their search rankings. You can find numerous similar statements from Matt Cutts at Google

Content is rated higher than social media, link building, user experience and on-page optimisation as an SEO technique.

Google is also using the Google+ network to evaluate the authority of individual authors as it looks to present the most relevant and respected content to its users. Imagine how a team of expert authors, each with their own on-line authority could contribute to your overall digital presence and on-line brand.

Actually, do that right now. Stop and imagine the impact that could have on your marketing and on your business.

In short, you can use individual personal branding and authority to build an on-line picture of the sum of the expertise you offer.

This won’t be a trivial task and the first step is to set up authorship and Google+ profiles for your team of experts. If you want to understand how to use authorship and Google+ this article has everything you need.

6. Appreciate the value of trust

Trust is the value that runs through all of these points.  Any professional service is likely to be dealing with critical areas of their clients’ business. Ultimately you work with people you trust.

With existing customers you have established trust through your working relationship and successful service delivery. But what about the customers you don’t yet have?

Is your marketing focused on giving people reasons why they should trust you? Or is it focused on explaining services and deliverables that they probably already understand?

Ultimately this is the biggest benefit you could get from a content marketing approach. Publishing content that meets a real need, provides answers and conveys a consistent picture of a business with clear values and principles. Now that’s how you win trust AND business.

content marketing

Richard Hussey

Copywriter, Content Marketer, Trainer

01823 674167

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

Persuading your Customers to do what you want

When you publish content on your website or blog your aim is to persuade somebody to do something. It might be to place an order, contact you for more information, download a guide, subscribe to your mailing list or follow you on social media.

persuasive content
An offer you can’t refuse?

There should always be an action in mind. Something you want people to do as a result of reading the content.

Which means that for on-line marketing to be successful it needs to be persuasive. But what do we mean by persuasion and how can you make your content more persuasive?

A basic truth

Let’s start with one fundamental and universal truth: people will only be persuaded to do something when they clearly perceive it to be in their interests. If you don’t build your content around this concept you are falling at the first hurdle.

This means that you have to tap into the needs, wants and desires of your target audience. And you have to do this at the start of the process. Fail to establish this connection and all else fails.

As copywriting guru Victor Schwab put it when talking about headlines: you have to convey how  readers will gain a meaningful benefit, or avoid loss, risk or something deeply unpleasant.

Put another way, you will engage somebody’s attention and get them to do what you want by starting with something they believe or want; not by talking about what you believe or what you do.

How dictators happen

Here’s a couple of non-marketing examples to illustrate. The reason that Hitler was able to seize power in Germany was because he identified what people wanted to hear at that point in history. Following the humiliating defeat in WWI they wanted to hear that their national pride could be rebuilt and that the situation they were in was not their fault. At any other point in history he would have been just another hate-filled crank.

Throw in a global financial crisis and hyper-inflation and people were even more ready for the message. Stir in a bit of civil unrest and the case for strong, authoritarian government seems compelling. Normal people got swept along because there were answers being offered to things that troubled them very deeply, not because they were inherently bad people.

Also, while I’ve never studied the speeches of Lenin and Trotsky in the run up to the 1917 revolution, I suspect they had more to do with not being hungry or pushed around by a remote aristocracy than they had with Marx’s theories of the relationship between labour and capital.

Understanding what matters to people, and framing your argument around those concerns, challenges and desires is a powerful force.

Back to marketing

Hopefully that diversion has convinced you about the power of tapping into the needs of your audience. You persuade people partly by focusing on what they want and showing them how they can get it, or by understanding what they most want to avoid and showing them how to prevent it.

I wouldn’t waste one more penny on marketing until you’ve put in the hard yards to really get to grips with the interests and needs of the people you want to sell to. Talking to existing customers to clarify exactly what convinced them to buy from you can also be revealing. The reasons might not be what you think they are.

A persuasive argument

Understanding what your audience needs to hear about is only part of the story. Your argument still has to be persuasive.

And despite what most people who call radio phone-ins seem to think, persuasion doesn’t mean repeating what you believe to be true, over and over, in an increasingly loud voice.

Persuasion has a number of elements:

  • The story: taking people on a journey from a promise (what they want to achieve), to a solution. Here’s what you need, here’s how you can get it.
  • Proof: why should people believe what you say?
  • Trust: why people should trust you to satisfy their needs rather than somebody else.
  • Objections: what questions and concerns will people have that need to be answered?
  • Being succinct: just tell people what they need to know. This doesn’t necessarily mean short, it just means taking out everything that doesn’t need to be there.
  • Seizing the advantage: why people should do what you want now rather than later.

Before going on, reflect for a second or two on the content on your website.  Would any of these elements be recognisable, or do you just have a description of what you do? If it’s the latter them I’m guessing that you’re not happy with the number of leads and enquiries it generates. Am I right?

The story

Every website project I’ve been involved with has started with some kind of statement about customer needs. These might be emotional or health related if I’m working in therapy or healthcare, or they might be operational, efficiency  or profit related if I’m doing something for business software or services.

Whatever the business does is always explained in relation to meeting those needs. Often this means taking out loads of detail that businesses think is really important and fascinating but frankly doesn’t influence their customers’ decision to buy in any way.

The content then takes people on the journey from their needs and issues to solutions.


Saying something doesn’t make it true, no matter how many times you say it. People are looking for proof and for reasons why they should believe what you say.  Statistics, testimonials, quotations from respected sources: all of these will help support your argument.


In the age of content and social media, the trust you have built by investing in content creation and publishing is a powerful asset. Through content you can establish your organisation as one that knows what it is doing, one that understands customers’ issues and one that offers workable solutions.

By turning your brand into a publisher you can establish the trust that you need to be persuasive.  You can turn the collective knowledge and on-line authority of your team into your biggest on-line marketing asset. I explored these issues in this recent article.

Other routes to trust include customer feedback, testimonials and statistical evidence of the results you have achieved.

Objections and questions

People will not just be swept along by the force of your prose.  While they are discovering more about how your product or service will help them they’ll have practical questions and concerns. If they still have some of these questions and concerns at the end of the piece then they are not persuaded.

Understand the thought processes and the critical questions. Try to look at what you do as though you were encountering it for the first time and never kid yourself that people will work out the answers to their questions for themselves.

Being succinct

Understand who you are selling to and what their real interests are, and focus on those.

Here’s an example based on a real situation. Say you are being asked to create content for a business that sells renewable energy technology to other businesses, schools, care homes, hospitals and so on.  The business providing the renewable energy solutions is largely driven by enthusiasm for the technology and by the environmental benefits it offers.

The people they are selling to, however, have different concerns. They want to save money, they want to be reassured about reliability and maintenance costs and they want security over their future energy costs.

Faced with this scenario, how much effort would you put into discussing global warming or the technology behind the solution?

And, once again, go back to your own marketing and see how much of it is really focused on your customers’ interests rather than yours. How much of your content is just a distraction from the things they want and need to know?

Seizing the advantage

Customers may have understood the benefits of your solution and may even be convinced that you can deliver the advantages they are seeking. But they will still need a final push.

Finish the argument by bringing everything together. Paint a picture of them using your product or service and feeling the benefits, summarise the proof you have offered, and then tell them how easy it is to make it all happen.

This will then lead naturally to your call to action. Which means, of, course, you need to start the process by understanding what that desired action is.

Every business needs persuasive content

There are many businesses that struggle to generate leads and enquiries through their websites and on-line marketing. The good news is that it can be fixed. By applying these principles you can take people on that journey from getting attention, through interest and consideration, and through to the point where they decide to take the next step.

persuasive content

Richard Hussey, Copywriter, Blogger, Content Marketer

Content that persuades rather than describes

call me on 01823 674167 or email


Image credits:

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5 Counter-Intuitive Habits of the Modern B2B Marketer

Social media and content marketing are arguably revolutionising the way businesses think about marketing and the ways in which they act. The most successful B2B marketers are now doing things that not so long ago were unthinkable and even today can seem counter-intuitive.

B2B marketing



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So, what are the emerging new habits of successful B2B marketing and why are they so successful?

1. It’s healthy to give away your expertise

For any business that survives by selling things  to other businesses your expertise is often your greatest asset – particularly if you sell services.  Traditionally, jealously guarding your expertise was vital. Keeping things to yourself was how you maintained your competitive advantage.  Expertise is also a commodity that can be traded through consultancy services, so why  would you want to give it away?

Successful modern marketers know that publishing content that is freely available is a great way to get yourself noticed.  Giving away at least some of your expertise through blog articles, videos and social media comments, plants your expertise and credentials in the minds of people who might not have heard of you or might not have considered talking to you.

The more meaningful and significant the information you give away for nothing, the more likely you are to achieve the desired results. Your free content can also be a gateway to deeper content that people have to subscribe to receive, so that they elect to join your lead generation and nurturing process.

However you capitalise on these contacts, you have to start by giving away something meaningful and of genuine value – something you would have billed for in the past.

2. It’s OK to help your competitors

Traditionally we kept competitors at arm’s length. And for some businesses there will always be cut-throat competitors where any type of constructive dialogue would be impossible – let’s be realistic. But, increasingly, I see examples of businesses you might think would be competitors commenting on, re-posting and liking each other’s content.

I think there are a couple of drivers behind this: one is mutual benefit; if I see somebody post a really good article on the benefits of business blogging I’m highly likely to re-post it because it helps make the case for content marketing.  If more businesses understand the potential of content then there should be more work for all of us who are involved in content creation.

I see the same thing going on with SEOs and social media experts where they quite commonly blog on each other’s sites and share each other’s content. The other point about sharing other people’s content is that it shows confidence in your own ability:

We’re not going to pretend that there’s nobody else out there who does what we do – here’s what they have to say, here’s what we have to say.’ 

If you have a clear sense of your strengths and USP and a clear understanding of where you add unique value, is acknowledging the reality that there are similar (but not identical) businesses such a big deal? People can always find this out on Google and LinkedIn anyway.

Talking to our competitors also opens up opportunities for collaboration. In reality expertise and experience are hardly ever matched exactly and opportunities often emerge for serving a wider range of clients.

Finally, by engaging with potential competitors through social media you are also engaging with their networks.  I see this spirit on Google+ in particular, and from what I see everyone seems to be benefiting.

Starting a discussion on LinkedIn could be an opportunity for a competitor to jump in and hijack the conversation; and I suspect this is what puts some businesses off engaging. But the ensuing debate can also be an opportunity for you to differentiate your business from your competitors.

Openness and authenticity

b2b marketing
What’s on the inside?

The net effect of points 1 and 2 is B2B marketing based on openness and authenticity.

In the old days a potential customer would have to research potential suppliers on Google or another directory. They would then have to try to penetrate the glossy shell of traditional marketing content on company websites to try to work out what each supplier was really like.

They might then organise a dog and pony show where potential suppliers roll up and give a traditional marketing presentation.

Now everything is laid bare. From the content a business publishes people can see who they are, what they think and what really drives them.  It’s easier for businesses to identify suppliers that best match their needs, philosophy and objectives. The discussion is then much more about details and price rather than: are you the right people for us to work with?

3. Don’t get obsessed with SEO

Or to be more precise, don’t get obsessed with individual page rankings. So much of on-line marketing has been about making sure your site ranks on page 1 for targeted keywords. As a result people have over-optimised their sites and acquired back-links that are now defeating the very goal they set out to achieve.

Successful modern marketers understand that part of the secret to succeeding on Google is to act as though it didn’t exist. Building vibrant on-line communities will reinforce your trust, reputation and authority. Your communities will earn you traffic that doesn’t depend on search; and your content and social media activity will make you less dependent on Google’s strategy and algorithms.

And guess what – all this on-line authority will ultimately help you get found by relevant people through Google searches too.

4. It’s not all about the message

Brand publishing

A traditional view of marketing has been heavily focused on getting the message out – the brand-centric approach of telling people what we do and why people need what we sell. This is usually accompanied by the sort of marketing communication that sells, persuades and attempts to force people through a sales funnel – isn’t that what marketing departments are for?

An alternative approach is to construct your strategy around building an audience, through creating content that they choose to engage with. Some experts like Brian Clark at Coppyblogger maintain that modern marketing is all about the media and not the message: build the audience and they will tell you what they want.

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 I recommend having a look at Brian’s New Rainmaker series of podcasts. You might not agree with every word (I don’t if it comes to that) but he will challenge all of your assumptions about marketing and make you re-evaluate what you are doing. That’s everything I want from a piece of content.

Perhaps that’s a bit too radical for some but it illustrates a fundamental difference in thinking: rather than marketing being something that we do to people it becomes a process that they are actively engaged in and feel in control of.

Which brings me to my final bit of ‘difficult thinking’…

5. Marketers are no longer in control

Should Marketing be in control of marketing? Until not so long ago it would seem self-evident that Marketing and PR should control everything that is published or communicated in a company’s name. Without that control how could you have consistency in the messages that are put across and how can you ensure that published material meets the required standards of professionalism and identity?

These are still very real concerns, by the way. I recently explored some of the challenges associated with brand publishing.  But, in 2014, with the opportunities created by content publishing and social media, are centralised control and micro-management of marketing still advisable or even tenable? Or does the effective modern marketer learn to let go and trust people a bit more?

Expertise and authenticity are the new currencies in on-line B2B marketing.

If expertise lies with the people ‘doing the job’ and centralised control and standardisation act against authenticity and spontaneity, does a traditional marketing approach help or hinder the process? People will not engage with content if it comes across as yet another bit of faceless marketing (even if it does have a picture of somebody’s face attached to it).

I would argue, therefore, that a modern B2B marketer shouldn’t try to control everything that looks like marketing.

A healthy debate

While I’m typing this I’m heavily conscious that this final point (indeed all of these points) might be controversial and far from a trivial debate. But a good debate is always healthy.

And if successful marketing is going to be so topsy-turvy and counter-intuitive, what is the role of the marketer? In my view marketers will deliver more value by learning to become enablers rather than controllers of a company’s marketing efforts.

Here are some invaluable things that professional marketers are best able to contribute:

  • Identifying the audience and creating customer personas. Whoever creates the content, it really helps to understand who it’s for.
  • Creating marketing themes that can be used to guide content creation.
  • Managing the assets, particularly owned media such as the website and blog, and the social media channels.
  • Strategy and metrics.
  • Advice and coaching – helping people create better content but not telling them what to write or telling them off when they get it wrong (whatever that means).
  • PR – identifying influencers and channels to amplify the content.

These are some critical tasks and I’m sure you can identify others. But what they shouldn’t do in my opinion is insist on writing, editing or approving every piece of content that gets published, which is the change they may find hardest of all.

B2B marketing


Richard Hussey, Copywriter, Blogger and Content Marketer

01823 674167


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So, Should CEOs Blog or Not?

There are some fascinating discussions going on at present about the extent to which CEOs and other employees should publish content on company blogs and social media platforms.  Respected commentators and SEO experts like David Amerland and Mark Traphagen are strong proponents of key employees and CEOs becoming authors and presenting a human face for their brand through content and social media. Some are not so sure.


Other, equally respected sources have very strong and entirely understandable reservations. Some corporate communications professionals throw up their hands in horror at the thought of untrained CEOs sounding off about anything that takes their fancy with no regard for the brand identity or message.

There are some really absorbing Google+ Hangouts On Air like this one if you want to know a bit more of the background.

Making brands ‘human’

The thrust of the argument is that there are solid marketing and SEO benefits from encouraging wider participation in a brand’s content creation. For one thing, people like to understand who is behind the logo. And as Google moves towards a semantic search environment, having a wide range of experts contributing their individual authority through Google authorship to that of the brand, should be a big boost for SEO.

If you want to understand more about semantic search, how it is affected by authority, and what this means for the future of SEO and on-line marketing I suggest you get hold of David Amerland’s book Google Semantic Search.

I have to say that I am heavily inclined towards the view that CEOs and key employees should be regular bloggers. In fact, I would say that it is essential and possibly inescapable.  But, as a business writer and frequent ghost writer, I can also see the potential pitfalls.

Writing is not easy

For one thing we know that company executives and specialists often don’t have the time or the skills to put together a well-structured and well-reasoned article; one that informs and leads to some sort of purposeful conclusion. As writers, we spent years learning how to do this. And even where the skills exist, operational issues and client priorities are always likely to take precedence.

The other difficulty that every copywriter and ghost blogger will have experienced is that business owners and CEOs sometimes struggle to distinguish between their interests and passions, and the content needs of their customers. Some get it and some don’t.  I’m sure this was the sentiment behind a comment I saw in a Google+ discussion about CEOs blogging: ‘They can, but nobody will read it.’

A very real concern would be about how a disparate team of non-professional authors, possibly with a passing knowledge of marketing disciplines, could be expected to produce content that engages readers  and reinforces consistent brand messages and themes. You can produce all the editorial guidelines you want, but will people stick to them? How do you get some discipline and consistency into the process without corporate comms and PR strangling the life out of it? There are some big practical issues for brands to address.

None of these difficulties, of course, discredits the view that effective content creation by a wide range of individuals, and CEOs in particular, has the potential to ‘humanise’ and strengthen a brand, and could ultimately be crucial for SEO.

Can the circle be squared?

Some CEOs and employees will take to the task like a duck to water and will instinctively see the link between the brand message and the interests, needs and questions of their customers. They may struggle with crafting polished prose and their grammar might be a bit ragged, but I don’t think that’s a problem.  (I think I hear a crowd of copywriters and grammar pedants approaching my door with flaming torches at this point, but carry on).

Authenticity and meaning is the name of the game, not finely honed copy.

But in many other cases ghost writing or significant editing seems to be inevitable. But, can ghost-written content ever be considered authentic and can it ever appear as such to readers? That’s a debate that will rage, I’m sure, and it is a really big issue.

corporate blogging
Whose words. whose thoughts?

As David Amerland points out, it certainly puts a premium on brands finding writers who can represent an authentic voice (or possibly voices) for their organisation. But other than a possible supply-side issue, I don’t see a problem with this. When I’m writing on behalf of clients I can think no higher praise than: ‘that content is us’ or ‘that’s exactly what I would have said if I could have found the right words’.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that every good writer can be a good ghost-writer for a business.

Blogging on behalf of a business isn’t about expressing our opinions or world view, it’s about getting inside the soul of the company and seeing things the way they do – and the way their customers do. I wonder how many of the writers with a mainly journalistic background who are becoming bloggers can really empathize with the culture of a business in the way they need to. Clearly ghost blogging works better when we see things in similar ways and there’s a natural affinity between the writer and the business. And maybe that’s the big challenge.

So what do I think?

First, I don’t think I’m going to have to put away the laptop and seek an alternative career handing out baskets at the DIY store anytime soon.  Even if brands accept the need to become large scale content creators, I think they’ll need some professional help.

Second, I can’t help feeling that within a couple of years we’ll have stopped talking about content marketing as if it’s something new and strange. It will be something that brands do, quite naturally, to build relationships and trust with their customers. I have little doubt that this will help SEO in the age of the semantic web and I have even less doubt that this is a really smart thing for brands to be doing anyway, right now.

content marketing


Richard Hussey, Copywriter and Blogger

01823 674167


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