There are so many contrasting views on content marketing and creation, that it is impossible to find your way out, unscathed and unaffected.
While some say ‘tis the year of video marketing, others insist email marketing was and is the best way forward. On top of that, there is an ever-going war on the length of written content – whether it should be customer friendly or SEO friendly, snack-sized or long form, and so on.
For someone who is not intimately involved with content marketing, selecting amongst the divergent routes may look especially daunting.
So here we are, with no-bullshit, bitterly honest reviews for a few content strategies (revolving around different content formats) that worked – or didn’t – for some companies.
1. The Long Answer to SB Nation’s Longform
No sports fan would be a stranger to SB Nation’s immersive game threads and biting news. The site boasts more than 80 million unique visitors and great content, on and off-season.
A while back, they introduced long-form content in addition to their usual news bytes and short commentaries. These included in-depth profiles, memoirs, essays and thought-provoking editorials.
You may wonder who has time to read all this. And your fears are not ungrounded as there is the ever-present risk that your post will meet a tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) fate. But a well-thought, timely piece has more chances of being loved and shared as compared to short posts.
Now let’s understand how a long-form content strategy worked for SB Nation:
- Long-form content is very engaging with more chances of creating an immersive experience for fans. On average, SB Nation’s long-form content is shared and commented more than their short posts.
- Their long posts are almost revered – gobbled up as soon as they are out. For instance, this post on the birthplace of NASCAR was shared 24,000 times on social media with several positive comments!
- The best part about long content is it doesn’t come across as a hard sell. From extended TV commercials to YouTube videos, from webinars to ebooks, the future is bright for all forms of long content.
- Most importantly, long-form content performs better on search engines.
The greatest disadvantage of long form content is that it’s a time-sucker. Not all long posts are created equal, because it is difficult to maintain consistent quality. So while some of your posts may garner a thousand shares, others may be lost in obscurity. And the effort you spend creating them could have been better spent elsewhere.
It seems that very short and very long content are considered to be more shareable on social media. And unless you’re Seth Godin, you can bid goodbye to those 800 word blog posts and instead focus on creating long, insightful posts.
What it means for you
The best content strategy for you would of course depend on your conversion goals, but if you are writing regular medium-sized posts, I would recommend elongating their average length, and consistently coming out with a double-length post at regular-intervals.
2. Bread and Butter from The Kitchn
The Kitchn is your go-to site for all things cooking and food. From delicious recipes to simple tutorials, from feel-good facts to interesting videos, it has all the ingredients of a good content strategy.
However a major part of their content mix is made up of How To recipes and videos.
I used BuzzSumo to track their social media shares and was surprised to see that this Christmas post (picture below) was shared 30,000 times, whereas their usual How To posts and recipes were shared 5-7k times on average.
So why doesn’t their strategy include repeating such high-performance posts in their mix instead of doing the same old How To routine?
The reason they lean heavily on How To posts is that these bring in a reliable, steady flow of visitors to the website. Holiday posts, themed posts, etc. may result in rare traffic spurts but regular content is responsible for winning your daily bread.
The idea here is to find what brings your bread (with some butter) every day.
For instance if you are a SaaS provider for cloud storage, your content strategy would focus heavily on industry news and articles on backup, data protection and file storage strategies. From blogs to whitepapers, your content mix would revolve around these topics; so these would be your daily bread and butter.
You need to innovate and improvise while striving to maintain a steady flow of reliable content with a uniform tone. However, you can sizzle up things from time to time with curated conent, funny content, cartoons and memes, deviating from the usual.
Being in a specific business, people expect you to come up with certain kind of content. For instance, some of the first things I do while checking out a software company’s website is to see their blog and look for whitepapers. However, I won’t be expecting to see whitepapers in a sports or a gossip website.
Imagine reading these on Perez Hilton:
- Assuring Application Performance on Stage: Cues from the Miss Universe Fiasco
- A Step By Step Guide to Mastering a Hilary Duff Hairdo
- Improving Service Delivery the Kardashian Way
If you don’t have anything new to say after a while, things may become incredibly dull. This is why it is incredibly important to keep a steady flow of news, interviews and interactive content that keep things interesting.
Pick any website, check out their blogs, videos and other content, and you will find a typical pattern of repetition. The ratio of such posts may waver depending on the site’s popularity, industry and focus, but invariably those bread and butter posts will be found.
What it means for you
Bread and butter content, no matter how boring, is the mainstay of your content strategy. Even if it doesn’t bring the astronomical conversions most marketers boast about, don’t drop it just yet.
If you are running out of ideas to generate daily content, think of lateral ideas that might not be seemingly connected but can help the end user. For instance, Shopify is an ecommerce website platform, but its encyclopedia section contains useful information on retail, merchandising, branding, manufacturing, and so on; even if Shopify has no direct connection to manufacturing, it recognizes and analyzes the needs, wants and intent of end users and tries to create content that is relevant to multiple scenarios in the ecommerce industry.
3. 101, Video Avenue
One look at the top performing video channels and you will agree that this is where the reach is:
But hold your horses.
Most businesses struggle to manage a decent number of views for their videos despite the hard work and preparation that goes into making them. Case in point, a real estate company posted over 90 videos last year, but with dismal results:
This is just one example where videos have been sitting idle, hardly getting any views. But there are thousands of such instances on the internet.
So before you carve out space in your content calendar for creating videos, let’s look at the pros and cons.
- Videos are interesting to look at. The whole audio-visual sensory thing too works in your favor. They are highly shareable compared to blogs and articles.
- The possibilities are limitless with loop animations, videos to gifs, funny videos, home videos, etc. So you have a wide scope for creativity.
- Also, amateur videos are doing exceptionally well on social platforms that are “in” – Instagram, Snapchat and Vine.
Creating any form of video content (even 6 second-vids) may look like an easy task but is not.
From brainstorming for good ideas to finally creating a professionally passable video, the whole process is time consuming with lesser chance of success than other forms of content. Also it is not inexpensive, despite what the whole web will have you believe. Most branded videos that actually get shared are usually created by someone who knows how to get lighting and sound right, and has access to a multitude of equipment and software.
Yes, video content is awesome. But whether it fits your content calendar or not is a choice you have to make based on your type business, your brand messaging, and the resources available to you.
What it means for you
For businesses that have ample time, expertise, ideas and budget to create videos, I say – it’s time you show your awesomeness! For those, who lack any of these, I suggest you work on building up these resources in 2016 before you put in place a video marketing strategy for your brand or business.
We reviewed three different content strategies in this article: SB Nation’s focus on long-form content, how to’s and other “regular” content from The Kitchn, and A&M real estate and their property videos on YouTube (which is sort of their bread and butter).
It’s safe to claim that long-form content is not absolutely necessary at the moment if you don’t have the time, resources or expertise to dig in your heels. But that’s not an excuse for not publishing unique or in-depth content – you should definitely fill in the void with multiple, informative short posts.
There is no way you can ignore regular content features like quick guides, industry news, learnings, etc. You simply have to have a consistent stream of industry-focused posts relevant and valuable to your core audience.
Video content – unless you can afford to create it for the “fun factor” or unless it is the best format to educate your customers – it is still deep water for most businesses. You’ve undoubtedly come across more than a fair share of bad “company” and “product” videos. Unless you can hire a skilled video editor, I’d advise you not to “jump on the bandwagon”.
What’s your content strategy and how is it going so far? Please share your views (and data) in the comments!
Guest Author: Rohan Ayyar is a creative content strategist and CRO specialist at E2M, digital marketing firm par excellence. He doubles up as the resident UX authority at Moveo Apps, a premium app dev agency. Rohan is also an avid business and tech writer, with articles featured on The Next Web, Fast Company, and Adweek.