Digital Spaghetti: Creating Content that Sticks

Digital Spaghetti: Creating Content that Sticks

Most of the people in my blog universe know me as someone who really likes storytelling and creative writing. What you might not know is that I’m also a major data geek. That’s what makes working in digital marketing so fun — I get to write fun copy for social media posts, website pages, and blogs…but I also get to soak up my fair share of color-coded spreadsheets and number analysis.

Such is the life of a social media and web content specialist.

Admittedly, many of the finer parts of things like search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising are new to me — but one thing the past two days at the Digital Summit in Detroit has taught me is that they’re new to a lot of people. Everyone is trying to balance gaining engagement through content that their audiences care about, but that’s still relevant to their brand and company…and most of us are just throwing digital spaghetti on the wall and hoping something sticks.

With the amount of information that surrounds consumers today, how do digital marketers like me cut through the noise and deliver a message that resonates? How do we use the technical tools available to us to elevate the content we create in an authentic way, while maximizing reach? Is there an approach to business-to-business (B2B) marketing that isn’t boring AF????

Don’t worry, friends. I now have (some) answers!

Make SEO Your Bitch with Sticky Content

SEO is one of those words that makes most people’s eyes glaze over in staff meetings. You know it’s important, because it’s part of almost every conversation surrounding digital marketing, but most of us don’t know exactly what it means (or how to do it properly) — even those of us in the digital marketing industry!

Basically, SEO is the practice of delivering content in the most user-friendly, search engine-friendly form. Making spaghetti stick to the wall starts with making sure it’s cooked properly; the same is true for driving quality traffic to your website. Your content must be properly crafted (in a user-friendly, search engine-friendly form) to get it to “stick” for your audience.

I attended an AM Workshop on the first day of the conference called “SEO of Today: What Really Moves the Needle” by Hannah McNaughton of Metric Marketing that made SEO feel a little less scary and made “sticky content” feel more attainable. McNaughton’s presentation, along with “Four Concrete Steps for a More Perfect SEO + PPC Marriage” by David Doran of Oneupweb, gave me the most bang for my data nerd buck (especially when combined).

McNaughton managed to make a four hour workshop on search engine optimization feel engaging, relevant, digestible, and dare I say fun. She approached the daunting process of SEO in a way that was accessible for a digital marketer on day one, without feeling condescending for someone who’s been in digital marketing for years. She stressed the importance of research-based target personas and keywords as the foundation of any SEO content strategy intending to increase (qualified) traffic to your company’s digital spaces.

While it’s easy to get lost in the data weeds when tackling digital marketing, the fundamental truth that content drives everything remains just as true for your website as it does for your brochures and booklets. Without quality content, you’re not going to get the SEO results you want — regardless of how well-researched your personas are or how popular your keywords are.

So how do you make SEO-friendly, “sticky” content? Use your research as a launchpad to understand your audience’s goals, desires, and needs. From there, tailor your keyword research: What questions do your users need answers to? What answers are you providing? What words are your competitors using to target your audience? What words aren’t they using that they should be? What content gaps exist in your industry and how can you help fill them?

Once you have a clear understanding of who your audience is (again, a data-driven understanding — guesswork is not good enough when it comes to true marketing strategy) and the keywords that connect your business with audience questions and your answers, determine relevant content themes that encompass your keywords. McNaughton said you should look at your website as a book and your content themes as chapters; everything relates back to the main idea (your “book”), but it’s organized into strategic groupings of like information (your “chapters”).

Sticky content balances on the fulcrum between cognizance of keywords without boxing your content in, creativity in approach without sacrificing relevance, anticipating user behavior and needs without becoming tired and cliche; content that is purposeful, well-researched, organized, useful, and engaging.

Marketing exists to solve your audience’s problems, not promote your business. Keeping user needs front and center when creating content, and organizing it in a way that gives you the highest likelihood of getting in front of the people whose questions you answer, is what SEO is all about. You don’t crack the SEO puzzle with a magic algorithm or with the most popular keywords — you make SEO work for you by having the best answers to your audience’s questions, and by making your answers as easy as possible for them to find.

If My Content is Sticky, Why Do I Have to Pay to Play?

Optimizing content for web is a daunting enough task — and then you throw in paid advertising. It is incredibly easy to look at the SEO and PPC advertising as separate entities; SEO is all about optimizing content that already exists to make you easier to find, and PPC advertising is about creating campaigns that convert your keywords. Sometimes, PPC can feel antiseptic or “calculated” but, in reality, if you aren’t leveraging the strengths of SEO and PPC (and using those strengths to inform your practice with the other), your digital marketing efforts aren’t living up to their full potential!.

SEO relies on developing compelling copy, allows you to optimize content that already exists, and gives you insight into user behaviors. PPC shows you which keywords convert user actions valuable to your company, lets you quickly test headlines, calls to action, and new copy, and provides the flexibility to launch exploratory campaigns with low effort on your part.

SEO gets at the root of your content strategy, and PPC gives you greater insight into the engagement tactics that work best for your audience. Plus, leveraging both optimized content and paid advertising helps reinforce brand trust among consumers — if a search engine results page (SERP) turns up both an ad and a front page search result, chances are that audiences will trust your company to know its stuff.

Doran’s presentation on the marriage between SEO and PPC discussed how highly-optimized content leads to better paid advertisement results, and vice versa. When leveraging SEO and PPC together as part of a company’s digital marketing strategy, click through rates (CTR) for keywords improved by 72% and 79% for organic search results and paid advertisements, respectively; the payoff for both is only strengthened further when you take the time to use both, and use it well.

Determining how to integrate paid advertising into an existing digital strategy is obviously a task for your company’s marketing team and leadership — whether you dip a toe in the PPC waters or jump in headfirst depends on your needs, budget, and resources. But to ignore paid digital advertising completely because it’s scary, or confusing, or seems like a waste of time, is to ignore the reality that digital marketing is, at its core, advertising —  if you want to reach your audience, you need more than just good content. You need to leverage the methods available to connect with users and fill the gaps in your industry’s digital presence, which means being willing to invest in paid strategies. Without them, your content will never reach its full potential (and, in many cases, might not reach your audience at all).

B2B Can Still be Sticky

I work for a B2B company, and I’ll be honest: it can be intimidating to find the balance between sticky content and the “dry” reputation that often haunts B2B marketing. In “The Future of B2B Marketing: Trends for the Contrarian Marketer,” Peter Weinberg of LinkedIn discussed ways to humanize B2B marketing and step outside of the “it’s what we’ve always done”/”it’s what everyone else is doing”/”B2B is boring anyway” box.

Marketing, we’ve already established, exists for your audience — but Weinberg reminds us that most marketing today is not customer-centric, as it should be. Actual customer-centric marketing, he argues, is “radically individualistic” and driven by data at every possible turn: he uses Netflix as an example, whose marketing strategy is so radically individualistic that consumer data determines every single detail of the Netflix homepage, right down to which cover image is chosen to promote a particular movie in a consumer’s feed.

While it’s impossible for many companies to market down to such a minute level of data as Netflix, there are still opportunities for user data to invigorate a tired B2B marketing strategy. Most B2B customer personas, Weinberg said, are driven by guesswork based on either no data or strange third-party data. Because marketers go in with the assumption that B2B is impersonal and boring, many of our strategies become impersonal and boring (if we even have strategies at all). The starting point is to actually do the work to research who your audiences are, beyond “Rachel from Research,” “Sarah from Sales,” or “Peter from Procurement.”

Further, Weinberg argued that B2B marketing is actually more emotional that business-to-customer (B2C) marketing: at its heart, B2B is about selling your company’s solutions to the people making decisions for their businesses. People, Weinberg said, are more likely to make the decision that “won’t get them fired.” The stakes are simply not that high for a customer choosing a given product. B2B marketing is about selling your solutions to the people who need them most — does it get more emotional than that?

When it comes to success in the B2B sphere, it’s all about reclaiming the creativity that marketers are so quick to shake off when they hear B2B. It’s about arguing why your company provides the best solution to the problem they face, and using creative and data-driven content to cut through the noise of an awareness-inundated digital world. Once you do that, don’t forget to optimize that content and integrate your paid strategy to get your content in front of the right consumers and build brand trust.

Throw Your Content-Optimized, Heavily-Researched, Creative-Problem-Solving Spaghetti at the Wall!

Once you’ve optimized your content by researching your personas, selecting relevant keywords, and developing content themes; once you’ve determined a strategic way to integrate paid marketing to expand your reach and improve your (SEO-friendly) content’s performance even more; and once you’ve broken out of the idea that B2B marketing is impersonal and unemotional, you’re ready to roll.

There will always be elements of haphazard spaghetti-throwing when it comes to digital marketing, because the online world is constantly evolving and still relatively new when compared to more “traditional” marketing mediums. But digital marketing will only become a more prevalent business tool as digital spaces become more ubiquitous in our every day lives. The trick isn’t eliminating the spaghetti-throwing — it’s getting smarter about how and when you toss it at the wall.

Knowing how to make sense of the digital marketer’s toolkit of scary alphabet soup helps you make better content and ensure it’s being seen by who you want to see it — and once you start to figure it out, it’s often not so scary after all. So understand what you can to get better at seeing when your pasta’s done, and don’t be afraid to throw it at the wall to make sure what you’re doing is working.

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