In the past week alone, I’ve had three prospects tell me they need my help with distribution.
The thing is they don’t need my help… with distribution.
They need my help with content.
But… we’re publishing consistently…
But… we don’t have a lot of resources…
But… our posts are long…
But… our content is good…
“…We’re just not focusing on distribution.”
Insider Secret: Distribution is ridiculously easy when your content is good.
Fun Fact: Every single one of my blog posts that were syndicated were syndicated because the publication’s editor or writer EMAILED ME.
I RARELY do outreach.
I HATE asking for things, hence the reason why I despise (and don’t do) “link building” and all outreach that involves emailing someone I don’t know with a shitty piece of content that they are never going to link to or share because it sucks. And then my name is associated with shit from there on out. No thank you, ma’am. Not for me.
Another fun fact: I don’t have a ton of best friends at large media outlets who are just waiting for their phones to ding with another blog post from me. In fact, when I have successfully reached out to pitch a piece of content, I’ve emailed the general contributors’ email.
It’s actually smarter to do this when you have a great piece of content because it’s typically a forwarding address going to multiple editors in different departments. I PROMISE you, they read every email. I know they do because I get responses (and I track the opens).
The reason you don’t is not because you suck at distribution. It’s because you suck at content.
I think people like to believe distribution is the problem because it sounds a lot easier and a lot cheaper (think $2/hour VAs building lists of unexpected targets and building alias emails to pretend they’re the CEO themselves — thanks Tim Ferriss and Noah Kagan; NOT) to solve than actually creating good content in the first place.
So because everyone in charge appears to have little to no clue what constitutes good content, I’m going to break down every single element of good content and then provide you with a ton of examples of good and bad content from around the Internet.
We’ll also have a brief chat about consistency — stuff you probably haven’t heard before.
If you decide to give this good content thing an honest shot…
… Or if you just want to know if your current content does actually suck (or if I’m just a super mean person on the Internet with no basis for my argument), you’ll want to read this section to learn which metrics to review.
Before we dive into all that though, let me briefly explain why you need good content AKA why good content will help you reach your marketing goals.
Why publish good content?
Aside from the very important reason that content is a public facing entity that your audience will associate with all aspects of your brand?
Or aside from the fact that, “78 percent of consumers believe that companies focused on custom content are more trustworthy than companies that simply churn out generic content?”
Aside from the fact that you never get a second chance to make a first impression? (First impressions are incredibly important; 48 percent of consumers report that they are more likely to become loyal to a brand during the first purchase or experience.)
Or aside from the fact that your content is an opportunity to build an emotional bond and connection with anyone who engages with it? (Which is HUGE, considering just 7 percent of consumers think brands positively or meaningfully contribute to their lives and 63 percent say they only buy products and services that appeal to their beliefs, values or ideals.)
So yeah, aside from those facts, which most people in charge consider secondary, here’s the main reason why you should publish good content (that most people will care about anyway).
Because Google’s algorithm looks for good content.
According to Google, RankBrain is its third most important ranking factor.
“RankBrain has become the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query.”
And according to top SEO expert, Brian Dean, RankBrain is only going to become increasingly important in the year to come.
Here’s an excerpt from Dean’s post, which I HIGHLY recommend reading:
RankBrain is a machine learning system that helps Google sort their search results.
That might sound complicated, but it isn’t.
RankBrain simply measures how users interact with the search results…
…and ranks them accordingly.
For example, let’s say you search for “cold brew coffee” in Google.
The #4 result looks especially enticing. So you quickly click on it.
And when you get there…wow! It’s the best darn article about coffee you’ve ever read. So you devour every word.
RankBrain is going to take note…and likely give that #4 result a rankings boost.
On the other hand, let’s say that you do the same search. But this time, you click on the #1 result without even looking.
But the content is TERRIBLE. So you bounce from the page after a few seconds. And you click on the #4 result to find something about coffee that’s actually worth reading.
RankBrain will also notice this. And if enough people quickly bounce from that result, Google will boot it from the #1 spot.
As you can see, RankBrain focuses on two things:
- How long someone spends on your page (Dwell Time)
- The percentage of people that click on your result (Click Through Rate)
Let’s ignore No. 2 for the purpose of this post, and focus on No. 1 for a moment.
Dwell time refers to how long a Google searcher spends on your page.
Google confirmed it pays A LOT of attention this, saying RankBrain measures when “someone clicks on a page and stays on that page, when they go back.”
And again, as Dean points out, an industry study by SearchMetrics’ supports this statement, finding that the average dwell time for a top 10 Google search result is 3 minutes and 10 seconds.
As I’m sure you know from reviewing Google Analytics, a 3+ minute dwell time is good. Therefore, it’s not surprising that pages with high dwell times rank highest.
If you spend a long time on a page, you probably like the content on that page. And if enough people feel the same way, Google will rank that content higher to make it easier to find.
So good content = Rank high on Google
The Elements of Good Content
You know your idea is original if you include original data or insights, if it’s covering something a lot of people haven’t written about yet or if you’re presenting a different viewpoint and actually adding something different (and of course valuable) to the conversation.
If you have nothing new (or valuable) to say, don’t write it at all.
Have you heard about The Skyscraper Technique?
If you haven’t, it’s an SEO tactic, where you find content that’s ranking well and create something better than it.
You should have this mindset for EVERY post you publish. Your writers should do EXHAUSTIVE research to make sure they are writing something way better than everything out there — stuff even on the second and third page of Google.
Better can mean a lot of different things, but usually, it means more comprehensive.
Google’s No. 1 job is to deliver the best search result, and the best result is not usually a piece of meatless, keyword-stuffed content. Instead, with comprehensive content, searchers get everything they need from one place — it’s like a one-stop shop for content.
A study by Brian Dean confirms this.
Fresh content is good content.
Your content pieces are living documents and should be updated as such. And no, I don’t mean automatically changing the dates at the top or bottom of your post to say it’s updated everyday, when I (and Google) know that’s a damn lie.
Or at least enjoyable to read.
Be honest: Which content piece below would you rather read just from the look of it?
I’m willing to bet the one on the left.
Because it has lots of white space, making it easy to focus on the content, and there is a nice mix of content (video, various images, quotables). Oh, and the font is big enough to read without clicking zoom a million times.
I’m not even going to get into the one on the right because it’s too much of a hot mess.
One last tip before we move on though: Stay away from overused stock imagery.
I’ve worked with SEO consultants who would try to remove links to sources in articles I wrote because “It’s SEO best practice.”
This may be “SEO best practice,” but it is most definitely not the overall content best practice, which overrides SEO best practice
Link to your sources to back up your arguments — to prove to your readers what you’re saying is true. And don’t link to the homepage. Link to the actual piece of content where you found your information.
You should link to data, facts, expert quotes and whatever else will make your content stronger and more compelling/convincing.
Just make sure you’re linking to *good* sources.
To identify good sources, use good judgement, and ask yourself:
- When was the last time this source was updated?
- Who wrote it? Might they have a motive for writing it?
- Does the piece seem unbiased?
- Where are they getting their information from?
- Do a lot of people trust this site?
- Did you verify this source’s information with Google to make sure the information in question is consistent with other sources?
“The problem with most content is that it is created for the boss. It isn’t created for the audience you are trying to reach, engage and convert.” (source)
I’m totally flabbergasted by how many people in charge don’t see the benefit of creating nonchalant content — i.e. content that isn’t directly about them. It’s something that should be common sense.
Let me be frank: Unless you’re a really cool brand/company, no one is going to care about your brand-centric content.
This is the very problem content marketing was created (and proven) to solve.
By genuinely helping your target audience, instead of spamming them with ads and promotional junk all about YOU, YOU, YOU, they are naturally going to like you more and more over time as you increasingly gain their trust.
I mean c’mon, guys, this is like life 101. What did Dale Carnegie teach us in How to Win Friends and Influence People?
He taught us that you will make more friends in two months by being interested in others, than in two years by trying to make others interested in you (And the harder you try, the more annoying you become and the more turned off they get.)
The only way to make long-lasting, quality relationships is to learn how to get over your “me-first” mentality and be genuinely interested in/helpful to others.
Not only does branded content repulse customers, but it also repulses writers and editors, who see this type of junk way too many times per day. Therefore, one of two things will happen when you try to build links and get PR mentions with branded content.
- Editors will ignore you, and make sure to flag your email as junk.
- Editors will let you know you can pay mad money for a native ad or sponsored post on their site, and send you their media kit. (FYI: Sponsored ads aren’t cheap, folks! In fact, I’ve been quoted no less than $15,000 by a few places.)
Reader-centric content teaches your audience something they care about learning that is nonchalantly related to your industry.
It’s actionable and relatable to readers and helps them solve a problem(s). It helps them learn something new that they didn’t before.
Reader-centric content helps people without expecting anything in return except the gift of knowing you’ve helped someone learn something about whatever it is you’re passionate and knowledgeable about.
To understand what well-written means, check out the examples of *good* content below, and/or read this brief article on writing tips.
Good Content Examples
Zapier is “a blog about productivity, workflow automation, company building and how to get things done with less work.”
This is the perfect nonchalant blog theme for Zapier because its product is workflow automation (If this, then that) software that saves you time on mundane tasks.
Its audience is a smart group of folks. They’re developers, entrepreneurs and marketers — all of whom are obsessed with efficiency, also making this the perfect theme for them.
Here’s a post I pulled from the Zapier blog and broke down each component that makes it good content.
A Guide to Optimizing Gmail: 30 of the Best Tips, Tricks, Hacks and Add-Ons
- Link: https://zapier.com/blog/organize-search-automate-gmail-inbox/
- Word Count: 4,935 words
- EST read time: 25 min
- Readability: Graduate level
- Signature post: Tutorials, tips, tricks and hacks
It starts with a great headline.
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
Zapier writes phenomenal headlines, combining headline best practices in every title, including:
- Using numbers – people love numbers
- Using superlatives, such as best
- Using rationale, such as tips, tricks and hacks
- Using trigger words, like guide – readers love to learn
- Using a keyword, like Gmail, that works for your specific audience
The introduction is compelling, and easy to digest.
- Make your readers feel their pain/problem you’re about to teach them how to solve.
- Tell readers what you’re going to teach them.
- Organize sections into a clickable table of contents, which scrolls to each section.
The main section/body is well-formatted.
The body is the longest part of the post.
During the average page visit, site visitors only read 28 percent of the words, which is why Zapier is smart to make their posts easily scannable by creating clearly defined headlines and breaking text up with helpful visuals, such as screenshots.
They also make their blog posts more scannable by using bullet points. Here’s an example:
Zapier’s first H2 — “Optimize Your Inbox” — is good to begin with because it’s the promise they made to readers in the blog post title.
The headlines nested under “Optimize Your Inbox” are H3 headlines.
Zapier loves screenshots because they’re teaching people how to do things in their posts so screenshots make the most sense and obviously add to the content.
I use Nimbus to take screenshots.
The marketing is nonchalant.
You’ll notice that Zapier has a scrolly, MINIMAL sidebar that offers readers the opportunity to try Zapier for free. It also has a nonevasive slide-up box as well at the bottom.
Finally, the post ends with a question to drive engagement (comments).
And finally, once you reach the bottom, there’s a signup form, with my information (prepopulated), making it super easy for me to register for Zapier, in a non-annoying way.
First Round Review
First Round Review is *the* standout startup blog. Instead of taking the tired approach of having its investors/partners write about startup trends, First Round Review’s Camille Ricketts had a better idea.
On First Round Review, the biggest distinguishing factor is the way the meaty content focuses on other people, regardless of whether they’re affiliated with First Round or not.
“Because so many talented entrepreneurs are drawn to this idea that if they work with a particular VC they will get all of this awesome service in return, it’s becoming a huge selling point for VCs,” Ricketts said. “If they see that excellent content is coming out of First Round and that we’re really knowledgeable about certain things and we have a lot of connections, they’re much more likely to work with us, frankly.”
Let’s break down another post — this time on First Round Review.
Influencers Aren’t Born, They’re Built — Here’s How
- Link: http://firstround.com/review/influencers-arent-born-theyre-built-heres-how/
- Word Count: 4,816 words
- EST Read Time: 25 min
- Readability: College (13-15)
- Signature Post: Insightful and actionable storytelling
It starts with a big, beautiful image.
According to Jeff Bullas, articles with images get 94% more total views than articles without images. And in one of Jakob Nielsen’s usability studies, he discovered that pictures of people are one of the most engaging forms of web content.
Not only does this post have a giant, beautiful image of the person the article is about, but it also provides context for its readers.
Look at the San Francisco bridge in the background. It gives readers a taste for the result they’re going to get → becoming an influencer.
The introduction is compelling because it makes you feel like you need this person’s advice, and it plays on the exclusivity hack (i.e. you can’t get this information anywhere else.
The marketing is nonchalant and relatable.
Bad Content Example
The Ladders reminds me of Inc — all fluff, no meat and questionable advice.
Let’s break down one of its posts.
9 types of people who never succeed at work
- Link: https://www.theladders.com/p/29332/nine-types-of-people-who-never-succeed-at-work
- Word count: 1,006
- Reading time: 7 minutes
- Reading level: High school
Before I begin breaking down this poor piece of content, I’d like to point out that this is a blog by a company that touts helping professionals who make more than $100,000 per year.
I would think its blog then would cater to a higher reading level. And, people, remember URLs are part of your design — keep them short and visually appealing. Also, avoid numbers.
You can see my comments in the marked up screenshots below, but here’s the TLDR version of why this is bad content.
First, it asks for way too much stuff up-front. Like you on Facebook? How do I know I even like you yet?
Second, it uses irrelevant imagery, and imagery that won’t appeal to its audience.
Third, the post is mislabeled because this post offers NO advice whatsoever.
Fourth (and big one here), the author does not link to his “facts” so how do we know these are correct?
Fifth, the format is inconsistent and the headings do a poor job of describing each section.
Sixth, the post ends with a weak solution that benefits the author, not the audience.
Overall, this post delivers absolutely no value to readers, and that’s why this post is a prime example of bad content.
What about consistency?
How do you consistently push out good content all the time? I thought we were supposed to post four or five times per week.
In my opinion, it’s much better to post good content less than mediocre content more.
Subscribers and anyone familiar with Wait But Why *know* that when they see a link from this domain, the content is going to be badass — every time.
I used to think the same thing every time I saw a blog post from Sumo. But now, because they are focusing on QUANTITY, naturally, the quality has sort-of tanked.
If you read this Inbound Original, then you’ll know a lot of the posts they’re writing aren’t actually for its audience, they’re for search engines.
Notice how the SEO articles get significantly less traffic than the ones meant for people. The ones meant for people are still badass, so I only visit every other Monday from now on to find the new growth study.
The rest are not worth my time because obviously they’re not for me — they’re for Google.
I understand where Sumo’s coming from here — trying to optimize for long-term SEO traffic — but I can’t help but wonder what those SEO-articles dwell times and bounce rates will be like.
Who knows. Maybe they’ll be great, but I’m still with Wait But Why and Ali Mese on this one: I will only publish content when I have something important to say.
I recommend doing the same.
For those of you who still aren’t convinced your content is bad, let’s look at the data.
I would look at Google Analytics (GA), and install Hotjar, if you haven’t already.
In GA, I would review time on page and bounce rate.
If time on page is less than two minutes on average, that isn’t good. If bounce rates are high, that also isn’t good.
As for Hotjar, I’d install heatmaps on my blog post pages to see how far down people are reading my content.
Next, I’d install video recordings so I can see how people are actually engaging with my content.
And last but not least, I’d add a poll to my blog posts. To improve your content, Hotjar recommends asking visitors the following questions:
- If you could change just one thing in [name], what would it be?
- What other content would you like to see us offer?
- How would you rate this article on a scale of 1 – 10? (NPS Question)
- If you could change anything on this page, what would you have us do?
I also forgot to mention one other place I like to check. And that’s the popular read-it-later app Pocket.
If you visit the explore tab, and search for the topic your blog post is about, sometimes your post will pop up in the results. It will proceed to tell you how many saves it has, like in the screenshot below:
This gives you an idea about how many people want to revisit your post or actually take the time to read it when they have more time. I think that speaks volumes.
Do you still want my help with distribution?
If you’ve read this far, I hope I’ve convinced you that you don’t need help with distribution. You need help with content.
Many of you will ignore my advice, and patiently wait for the traffic gods to send an influx of visitors your way. All I can say is: Don’t hold your breath.
As for the small fraction of you, who want to actually make a productive change to your content that produces results, hit me up, and I’ll see if I can help.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below. Always happy to respond to *nice* people.