Posted by Dr. Pete

Mom with obnoxious sonWith every skirmish in the ongoing war over SEO hats, I inevitably hear someone say “I built great content, and no one cared – content marketing doesn’t work.” I’m not here to deny it – sometimes, “great” content falls flat on its face.

Part of the problem is that we throw around that word like it’s self-evident (“Build great content! Tada!”), but the other part is that we just don’t give our own content a chance to succeed. Too often, it’s not the fault of the content or even Googe, but what we do (or don’t do) after we create that content. Here are a few ideas for evaluating “great” content and putting it into action…

Don’t Listen to Your Mom

Before you even start promoting your “great” content, take a minute to make sure it’s as good as you think it is. Have you ever seen an American Idol audition where some kid came out spouting how they were God’s gift to singing and dancing and then proceeded to look like Charlie Sheen doing a one-man show? Apparently, they never performed in front of anyone but their mom. Don’t trust your fans, when it comes to the really important content. Find some critics and listen to them. The content that people will come back to time and time again usually didn’t get written in one draft.

What Does “Great” Mean?

Just the word “great” is a minefield of ambiguity. We all have some ability to judge quality, but too often our measures of greatness are based on hindsight – a blog post was “great” because it got a lot of traffic, Tweets, Likes, etc. I don’t think there’s any one recipe for great content, but I have seen some common themes, at least in my own content marketing successes. Most great content will match at least one of these:

(1) Great Content Has Credibility

As a consultant and subject-matter expert, my most successful content has been the pieces that really distill years of my own experience. Don’t cover a topic if you don’t know what you’re talking about. On the flip side, don’t underestimate the value of your own expertise, even if you think your subject matter is boring.

(2) Great Content Takes Real Effort

Not all great content has to cost a lot (plenty of unknown brands have proven that), but I think that most great content takes time and effort to create. If you know someone poured themselves into a piece, whether it’s a well-researched post, a well-edited video, or a gorgeous infographic, it says that they respect your time and intelligence. Real effort resonates with people. Respect your readers.

(3) Great Content Is Actionable

This is more a feature of informational content than link-bait, but great blog posts, for example, leave you walking away with something useful. Whether it’s SEO tactics, recipes, or home-improvement tips, if you leave with actionable knowledge, you’re going to remember that content. Give people useful information and help them put it into action.

(4) Great Content Begs to Be Shared

On the link-bait side, great content is something you instantly want to show others, whether it’s out of awe, disgust, or just to show that you’re cool. When you’re done creating a piece, are you eager to hit “publish” or are you just glad that it’s over and you can go home? Create content that you’re proud to share, not just because it might go viral, but because you’re the one who has to share it first (see below).

Market Your Marketing

The great irony of content marketing is that you have to market it. We’d all like to write content that everyone links to just by sheer virtue of its greatness. Some people will argue that that’s “pure” and marketing is somehow a stain on real greatness, but (pardon me) that’s bullshit. Wanting to be recognized solely for our virtues is nothing more than an ego trip. If you sit around waiting for a job because you think you’re a genius, but never apply or never talk to anyone, good luck. Your ego is in your way. The same goes for content. Content marketing requires marketing, and that starts with you.

(1) Reach Out to People

Remember what I said about creating content that you can’t wait to share? Well, here’s your chance. If you churn out crap just to build links, you’ll be embarrassed to tell people about it, and you should be. If you know you built something great, you’ll be eager to show your friends and peers. So, show them – contact people directly and let them know you have something great. Don’t just tweet it once and forget – email people, IM them, call if you have to.

(2) Time Your Launch

Too often, we put hours or days into a piece of content and then just hit “Publish” when it’s done, like 8pm on a Sunday when our whole industry is on planes to a conference that starts Monday morning. Plan your content publishing like you would plan a product launch: pre-announce that it’s coming, time your launch well, and don’t be afraid to re-announce. You’re not going to get anyone bent out of shape because you tweeted the same link in the morning AND the afternoon (as long as you don’t make a habit out of it). Only a small percentage of your followers are paying attention at any given moment.

Although I think timing depends a lot on your audience, Dan Zarrella has written some great content on the science of timing content. HubSpot also has a tool called TweetWhen that you can use to see when you’re most likely to be re-tweeted.

(3) Have a Promotion Plan

It’s funny how we’ll pour our hearts and souls into a piece of content, but then, as soon as it’s finished, we’re on to the next project. Then, we wonder why no one cares. I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of this one too many times. Don’t forget the importance of what happens after you publish your content. Better yet, build a marketing plan that covers those next steps. Hit your social media outlets, actively build links, do guest-posts on relevant sites, etc. We see content go viral and assume it just happened by magic – 10% of the time, that may be true, but the other 90% someone hit the streets and made it happen.

(4) Post It Somewhere Else

It’s tough to put a lot of time into a piece of content and not let it live on your own site, but sometimes you need to go where your audience is. Take Oli Gardner’s massive Noob Guide to Online Marketing published earlier this year on SEOmoz. Oli could’ve easily posted this guide on Unbounce, but he opted to target a slightly different but still very relevant audience. Over 4,000 Tweets and almost 100K visits later, it’s hard to deny that this tactic had a positive impact for his reputation and company.

Greatness Isn’t Instant

One last tip: At the speed of the internet, we tend to think that every success is overnight. Some content takes days or even weeks to make its mark. I think the days of trying to make Digg’s home-page left us with some bad habits, and one of those is giving up on content that doesn’t explode in the first hour after it’s published. It’s nice when it happens, but too often that explosion just left behind the charred remains of servers and nothing but some traffic logs to show for it.

If you believe your content is great, give it a chance. It could catch on because of a guest post, a well-placed link, an interview, or any of a hundred factors that happen in the days and weeks after the content goes live. Even if you finally decide it did fail, learn what you can from it. People want to bank everything on one-shot content, but even the best content marketers don’t succeed 100% of the time (I’d say they’re lucky to bat 0.200) – failed content still carries valuable information, and you can build the next piece of great content on top of it.

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