There is a place on the Internet where no business wants to be, a space full of 404 errors, broken links and content mills. A digital graveyard, perhaps, where redundant tactics of old are laid to rest. Lingering on the outskirts of this vast wasteland, you will find the practices that have long run their course, but have not yet been let go by all too many businesses.
Here, from the ashes of keyword-stuffed landing pages and clickbait headlines, rises a new incarnation of content marketing. This is the long-overdue rebirth of content with integrity.
Except really, this is not a new strategy at all – nor should it be considered a controversial proposal – because content has always been (or should have been) about providing value to the reader.
In order to survive in digital marketing, creating content with integrity is essential. This is an integral part of what we marketers like to call ‘online reputation management‘. But what exactly does this mean, why is it important, and how can you achieve it in your written content? Read on to find out.
What not to do
Digital marketing is no longer a game of checking boxes and fitting formulas – today it is people-centric, smart and subtle. Churning out content for the sake of doing so is no longer enough.
As Digital Doughnut points out, “Today, buyers are smart and discerning. They have been exposed to Internet marketing in one form or another for many years, and will see through any attempt to mislead. You must earn their trust.”
Web content written purely for search engines is painstakingly obvious to the reader. Think about this when you’re writing – does it come naturally? If it doesn’t ‘feel right’, it won’t read right, either.
The old adage – “write for people, not search engines”, is relevant today more than ever.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should disregard SEO entirely – far from it. After all, there’s no point having pages full of fantastic content if no one can find it because you haven’t utilised the relevant keywords. Rather, this is about using SEO naturally throughout your content – and knowing what is appropriate, where. An experienced SEO agency knows the importance of using SEO best practices as the essential foundations from which you build high quality, value-led content.
Here’s an example of what NOT to do. Several years ago I worked in an in-house marketing role where I was instructed to ensure the first paragraph of every page included all five target keywords. They were almost identical. It was impossible to make this flow naturally, and I knew that, was I the reader, I would click off the page straight away. But I did as instructed, assuming that the algorithm knew best.
Do not fall into the trap of writing content solely for some elusive algorithm whose formula could change next year, or next month. Whilst that company’s CMS may once have rated those pages as perfectly-optimised (because there were simply so many keywords at the top of the page), today, Google would heavily penalise such ‘spammy’ content. And readers wouldn’t even get past the first paragraph.
Clearly, writing for computers alone is not a sustainable strategy.
It might seem appealing at first to embody everything you think search engines want to the furthest extreme, but in reality this technique will only hold you back. It will end up proving a bad fit, just like that pair of jeans where you force up the zip but spend the rest of the day uncomfortable and inflexible. You know how they tell people to dress for the body they have, not the one they want?
Well, a comparable rule applies here – write for the audience you have, not just the traffic you want. Write content that is informative, engaging and – importantly – honest.
What is integrity in content marketing?
Content integrity is fairly self-explanatory – it’s all about creating valuable content that readers can trust. Content Science provides a good overview of what it means to create content with integrity:
“Content specialists have historically defined content integrity as quality content created and delivered in a timely way, with alignment to audience intentions and actions. While this is a good start, the definition assumes there is a simple audience and company relationship that functions in isolation. This definition neglects to embrace the wider digital context that has matured and evolved over the past decade to include laws, regulations, and competitive advantages.”
There are methods that provide a guaranteed way of getting your ad in front of customers at the time of interest – PPC being the primary tool used by digital marketers. However, you can never quite assure this instant volume of exposure with content marketing, nor should you try to force it by ramming your content full of keywords and misleading drivers.
Essentially, this is not the role that written content should seek to fulfil. Instead, written content is a way to connect on a deeper level with your existing and prospective audience.
Why is content integrity important?
Whilst you might turn to a service such as Pay-Per-Click advertising for immediate visibility, content marketing is all about building a longstanding relationship between company and customer. In other words – it is about fostering brand loyalty, and providing value to your audience – whether or not they end up converting.
This is particularly relevant for blog content. On your landing pages, you will obviously want to show up at the top of search engine results for your targeted key terms – so you will need to intelligently distribute them throughout your page whilst effectively describing what you offer. Blogs, on the other hand, are more about providing more holistic value to your readers.
Think of blog content not as an advert to sell your product and services, but as a way to promote your brand values, your ethos, your USPs, whilst providing readers with useful information or entertainment. Consider who your audience are, and talk to them about the topics you have ‘in common’.
Doing so is also valuable from an SEO consultant’s perspective, because now even search engines are rewarding user-friendly, valuable content. Blogger Melissa from Media Marmalade sums this up well, saying:
“As social media turns to algorithm based platforms and genuine engagement (versus faux follower stats) starts to lead the way, as the choice for content becomes even more competitive, vast and limitless and people start to be more selective about what content they choose to read and engage with, in the end it’s integrity that will bring true stand out and success in the long run.”
After all of this, you will find the rewards abound – you will foster stronger customer relationships and your brand will appear more authoritative than ever.
How to achieve value
So how can you begin to provide customers with more value through enhancing the integrity of your written content? There are several aspects to consider.
The first thing any content writer should seek to achieve is originality. This is not just because of intellectual property ethics (although this is important) – but also because your blog post or landing page simply won’t show up in search engine results if it doesn’t offer anything new to the reader. For this reason and many others, it is essential to ensure all of the content you publish is organic and original – even if it’s just a new take on a popular topic.
Paired with this originality in delivery is a need for thorough research. Good content is informed content, making it wise to reference other (non-competitor) sources in your blog content in particular. Moreover, it is key to provide readers with useful information based on what they actually need to know. Think about what questions your audience will be asking, and how you can answer them. You can use this information to work out how to incorporate key terms naturally throughout the copy.
According to Cohn & Wolfe, 75% of consumers surveyed across 14 markets believe that companies are not open and transparent. The Cohn & Wolfe survey cited earlier found that among consumers, authenticity from brands would earn them more loyalty. Consumers would also be more likely to refer to friends and family, and invest in the company.
Of course, you don’t have to take this to the extremes that some brands do. Sometimes, honesty can create noise around your company, like when Hyposwiss bank skipped the posturing with their ads declaring, “We like our clients because of their money. They like us because of our honesty.” The campaign was risky, but very successful – perhaps unsurprising in an industry that can be so confusing for many clients.
Writing for TopRank blog, Ashley Zeckman comments, “The content that you create shouldn’t just be about your brand and what you offer. Instead, your customers should be able to see themselves in the story that you are telling through content.” Storytelling is vital in good content – creating a sense of brand identity and showing customers how it fits with their own identity. This will make your business instantly recognisable, and far more memorable.
Here at Roots, we know that giving out a strong and integrated brand message is essential in building the foundations of a strong marketing presence – hence our name. This is vital everywhere from creative design to content writing, and must be conducted with the audience in mind. However, in the case of web and blog content, there are particular challenges that businesses should seek to address in order to achieve integrity. Check back for our next blog to find out about this important and growing field of content integrity…
To find out more about the content writing and search engine optimisation services we offer as North Devon SEO consultants, contact us today on 01237 479 233.