Let’s do this list-style. No one can resist a list, right? Full disclosure: I’ve been working in the consumer packaged goods and recipe space for the majority of my career, so all references within will include a cake or dinner idea. Without further preamble, here’s what I know about creating engaging, effective digital content.
1. Know your audience.
Duh, of course. While that goes without saying, I’d be remiss not to start at square one.
My world revolves around Ashley and Nick—personas based on the psychographics and demographics of our two key audiences. There isn’t a piece of content created or distributed without ensuring it will serve Ashley or Nick in a meaningful way.
It’s likely you’ve heard of the persona concept, and maybe you even have your own, but one thing to keep in mind is: Basing personas on demographics alone isn’t enough. (Not all millennial-aged moms with 2.5 kids share the same interests, after all). Digging deep into psychographics allows you to understand not just how your key audience operates, but what they like, what they don’t, how they consume your content, when and where they’re most receptive to it and so on. By editorializing personas, you automatically provide more relevant content.
And just like in any real-life relationship, it behooves you to continuously put effort into getting to know what makes your audience tick. This is where analytics are gold. (It’s a bummer they aren’t available for real-life relationships.)
Based on a treasure trove of performance data we’ve collected over time, I can tell you Ashley’s preferred dessert, down to the flavor profiles and specific ingredients she does and does not like, and that Nick turns to Facebook around 3:00 p.m. for dinner ideas, preferably with no more than five ingredients.
One more obvious but imperative statement to drive the point home: Knowing exactly who you are creating content for means knowing that your work will matter.
2. Recognize that you’re a focus group of one.
To the point above, if you don’t know your audience, you’re likely to develop content based on your own inclinations. Your personal experiences are not representative of your audience—the success of your content depends on your awareness of this fact.
3. Make fast friends with an SEO expert.
You’re spending time getting to know your audience and creating content for them, but who is spending the time to make sure it’s showing up in Google search? SEO experts! The list of ways in which they can help you and your content is longer than the line outside of Ben & Jerry’s on free cone day.
SEO was at one point a completely separate discipline from content development, but in the past few years the two have become BFFs. SEO and other digital research—such as social listening—gives us a glimpse into what Ashley and Nick are looking for, when they’re most likely to search for it or talk about it and how that may have changed in the past two years. Content folks can then write to meet those preferences—and add a little extra insight to boot.
4. Stop thinking website-first.
With search engines, social media and the rest of the internet now at the world’s fingertips, our job is to meet audiences where they are, with what they need, when they need it—and that’s NOT your website’s homepage, even if you’re hand-curating all of your best content and updating it regularly. I promise; check your analytics.
The idea that a website is the end-all, be-all—from which every piece of content originates and to where all audiences are driven back—isn’t that linear or simple anymore. Therefore, planning that focuses on the cadence of website updates leads to missing almost all of your audience. Instead, create a distribution plan that puts your content where your audience is: YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and so on.
5. Don’t kill yourself creating new content. Optimize! Repost!
Think quality not quantity. Having one really good post that’s SEO-optimized is better than having 13 pieces that deliver the same message with slightly different headlines. So, before you create a new piece of content, consider if there’s something in your archives with the same idea that could be edited and optimized.
And if you have pieces of hard-working content that are in tip-top shape, keep resurfacing them and reposting to attract additional eyeballs.
6. Automate, don’t curate.
Programming areas of your site to pull in content based on algorithms saves hours of curation and publishing time. Similarly, using social tools that build and share a library of evergreen content using an automated queue system removes the need to schedule every individual piece.
Letting data do the work saves countless hours curating (especially that homepage we know few people are visiting) and frees you up to optimize old content and create new as needed.
7. Write authentically or not at all.
Advising you to write authentically (and to create authentic content) is another statement that’s so obvious it doesn’t seem helpful. However, when you receive inputs from a variety of sources—SEO insights, business objectives, stakeholders’ personal requests—I’m certain you’ll be asked, at least once, to create content that is not appropriate, significant or true to your audience.
Be warned: The internet will call you out—fast. Google does not accept content pretending to be something it’s not, so it's better to raise the flag and fight for authenticity than to create the content, face the internet’s backlash and be asked why you didn’t put a stop to it in the first place.
How do you know if it’s authentic? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Does it sound human and conversational or more like a fluffy marketing message?
- Did you write the content for your persona based on what you know about them, or did you write it for a mass audience?
- Would you want to read it?
- Is the content more about what you want to say than what people want to hear about?
8. Build trust with your audience.
Trust comes from creating authentic content, being a reliable resource and replying to questions and comments in all channels. It also doesn’t hurt to act on the suggestions and complaints of your audience. A two-way relationship is what sets content marketing apart from advertising. Use it, don’t abuse it.
9. Ask the next question.
You have to be the advocate for your audience and protect the trust you’ve developed. When clients, partners and coworkers come to you with ideas that sound more like solutions, it’s up to you to ask the next question: What is the problem that needs to be solved?
Nothing in this list is earth-shattering or revolutionary, but the fact is, it’s hard to do—and when you’ve done it well, it looks easy. Hopefully the points are validating and solicited a head nod or two. After all, I wrote it authentically—based not just on my own experiences—to build trust with you, dear reader, who may have Googled “how to be good at digital content marketing.” And to also highlight MSP-C as a leading content marketing agency, with the understanding that it will be promoted multiple times, across a variety of channels—and maybe even on the homepage. By all accounts, my work here is done.
About Kayla Knudson
An advertising copywriter-turned-digital editor, Content Director Kayla Knudson has spent almost her whole career in the consumer packaged goods/recipe space on a never-ending quest to find the world’s best chocolate chip cookie recipe. A host at heart, she lives for a good dinner party (especially when Port is involved) and a great playlist—preferably with lots of Van Morrison.