Hearing Users through the Noise of Advice
If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know that content marketing is like Hansel… so hot right now. It’s a blessing and a curse for those of us who spend our lives in this industry, because while its incredible to have thousands of new minds join the conversation every day, even your aunt Mable who just got her iPhone 4 working has an opinion on content best practices.
Indeed, it has gotten to a point where every classic best practice has common exceptions, avid supporters and passionate haters. For someone just looking to do their best with the information available to them right now, the advice available online can seem confusing and even contradictory. So who to believe? Who to trust?
Much like deciding which street vendor to buy your lunch from, the trick here is to follow your gut. In MediaVision’s content team, we have a mantra that you’ve no doubt heard in some form before. “Write content for users, not for Google”. Amidst all the advice from SEO heavyweights, cryptic announcements by Google employees and aunt Mable’s heady floral perfume, its remarkably easy to forget this mantra. You’re a human, creating a resource for other curious humans. To accept that as the primary guiding principle in your content marketing is to take the power back from shaky advice, Google algorithm updates and the relentless pace of change in digital.
So in this blog, I’m going to use two examples to demonstrate why no best practice, no matter how popular or widely accepted, should ever take precedence over creating content to please and appease users. Let’s do it!
Length and Format
We’ve already discussed how everything in content is an argument right? This point is no exception, but most SEOs and content marketers agree that long format, image-rich content stands a better chance of ranking than shorter, text only posts. This is correct in the majority of cases, but what happens if you’re creating content for an audience that isn’t looking for content in that format?
Rand Fishkin presents a great example in his recent Whiteboard Friday presentation. Let’s say you’re targeting users searching for “healthiest granolas”. Far too many content marketers start by buying into the fallacy that Google is going to present users with posts which are most compliant with best practices… Nope, Google is way smarter than that. Users will be presented with the posts that have proven most useful or popular among other users. Posts that fulfil the user’s needs most efficiently and completely.
In support of this, top ranking results for “healthiest granolas” are almost invariably short, comparative lists of granola brands, with clear and concise health rankings. Writing a 10 page tell-all study about granola’s nutritional value and commissioning Banksy to create stylish illustrations of ingredients might tick all the best practices boxes, but it’s not going to help you rank for that search term.
Language and Jargon
I’m a devoted advocate of the “simpler is better” approach to writing. In the vast majority of cases, using simple language and getting straight to the point will always trump being long-winded and trying to be clever with your writing. Furthermore, using jargon that you don’t really understand is a one-way ticket to online rejection, so you’re usually better off avoiding it entirely. You’ll read similar advice on countless blogs and aunt Mable will definitely back me up on this.
Once again, this best practice needs to be thrown from a high window when you’re writing for an audience who is expecting in-depth information, or input from an expert. The most common topics which require this approach include those that Google categorises as YMYL (Your Money or Your Life). Financial and health issues.
In this context, being overly concise can be perceived as being irresponsible and give the impression that you are not sufficiently researched. Similarly, failing to use the correct technical terminology or industry jargon can, in this case, make your writing feel amateur and disconnected. When users are looking for solid information to answer a question that can heavily influence their lives, jumping straight to the conclusion without justifying and explaining each step can be a grave mistake.
We could look at so many other examples of where best practices need to give way to the wants and needs of the users, but I don’t think my readers really want to see so many examples (see what I did there?). You just need to remember to “write content for users, not for Google” and you’ll do fine.
I know what you’re saying to yourself; that’s all very well, but how do I know what the user wants? Now you’re asking the right questions! Here’s our top tips for working that out.
- Stop saying you’re data-driven and be data-driven. Research should make up the vast majority of the time you spend on your content. Join relevant communities, devour research papers and transform yourself into someone who has something genuinely valuable to say. If research is quick and easy, you’re doing it wrong.
- Don’t invest another cent into analytics tools until you’ve invested in great analysts. Having the data is only halfway to being able use it. Hire people with a flair for interpreting data, or consider training existing staff.
- Watch what all the cool kids are doing. Check out the highest ranking content for your targeted search terms on Google. Look past the content and notice format, presentation, linking and page features. You’ll be surprised how much you can pick up.
Apply these tips and tricks and in no time, you’ll be creating content that far outranks anything built purely on industry best practices. And remember, if you ever need someone to do all this for you, hit us up.