You don’t need to be a great writer to succeed in SEO (considering content writing as a part of it). In fact, you can hate writing and still be good at SEO. During my professional career as a freelance contractor I’ve been encountering some companies and online marketing agencies whose main SEO strategy was to write several posts a week with dubious usefulness (aka content-spamming) thinking that increasing search engine crawl rates, having tons of URLs for a domain and filling it with keyword rich posts to target long-tail searches could help them rank better and improve their SERP. Yes, it does… but the slow and hardest way. Albeit don’t worry, the strategy will eventually work. Why? Let’s go to the root of why these posts will someday work. The secret is that one in a thousand of these articles will be eventually useful to the user. That’s the key, to be useful. You can write a lot of posts and hope that someone finds one of them worth it or you can focus on spending your time to create few big useful things.
And what a good post needs to become useful for YOU are two things: a Purpose and an Action. The Purpose is what you are trying to accomplish and the Action is what comes from it. There are four main Purposes:
And there are 3 Actions:
Actions are carried by your readers and as you can see, they have exactly one end, to spread the word and get links to our site. That is something everyone knows and we can’t really control since -get your white hats on- it happens naturally although it is worth mentioning which one of these actions are preferable.
The Actions of a post
Sharing, bookmarking, mentioning… or even printing in a wall-sized poster. All these are actions carried by our readers when our purpose has been successful. The value of the action depends on our readers (their network, influence and popularity) although one thing is clear. We want them to spread the word for us in a natural way.
You can also create actions artificially by creating buzz with your company accounts but that is not natural at all. I am not saying black hat or grey hat techniques shouldn’t be used, depending on each situation it may be useful, but simulating users “liking” something is lying to yourself and you should cope with it and improve your strategy.
Going back to natural ways to promote actions, philanthropy is one of the strongest essences in humanity and everyone has an inner desire to help others hence sharing something useful is natural, just as I will recommend to my friends or coworkers the chicken sandwich I just ate at the restaurant around the corner.
We cannot really control which actions will be carried away by our readers although it is good to know which ones will be the most valuable. Someone mentioning our post in an article is the best link back we can get, specially if the blog is highly ranked and has a lot of readers since a chain effect can happen. Sharing is not as broad as a blog article and it is ephemeral, but it is a link back and you have some chances someone reads it and gets inspired to mention it or to re-share it with their own network. Bookmarking is also another action that can happen and it is not that useful as the link will remain in a collection box for individual use (note that services like Delicious are Bookmarking and Sharing actions since the bookmarks are somehow ‘public’ although Google Bookmarks is just a Bookmarking action since it is essentially for private use).
If you can somehow trigger the action you desire you have the key to a successful article. I personally cannot control which precise Actions will happen since they depend on too many factors although I know for sure that having a definite Purpose will trigger one or more of these actions. You also need to make sure the actions can be carried away easily by providing sharing buttons and promoting them.
The Purpose of a post
Every article needs to have an objective in mind: help the user find a solution to a problem or question, inform the user on any news or new knowledge, entertain the user or create an emotional state in their souls.
There are several ways to create Helpful posts, you can help a user by providing an answer to a question or problem they have or to show them how to accomplish something, an example would be Disabling multitasking in an iPhone. A different approach to a helpful article is to provide people with a tool or information that will make their lives easier, for example, an Agile SCRUM Spreadsheet which helps projects managers and freelancers to organize themselves or Facebook lists to control your privacy.
Informative posts can be segmented into several ones: the first one is about time, targeting recent events or news and explaining them is a good way to get attention bursts. Although it will work on a short term basis it is quite useful to get some links and mentions. Another type of informative posts is to provide an interesting point of view on a subject, it doesn’t need to be a popular subject and your point of view doesn’t need to be necessarily good, it just needs to reflect a way of thinking which users may find shocking, curious or interesting, worth mentioning. As a rough example, see Google has been cracked. The last type of Informative posts is the compilation one, which is basically a task of grouping a lot of information on a subject and making it available in an easy, clear and legible way. This last one is by far the easiest way to bring something useful to the user since you don’t really need to create something new but to organize existing knowledge and do the research for the user so they don’t need to Google around. A good example I wrote ago which has got a lot of popularity is when amateur programmers come up with some character displaying errors in MySQL, another example would be designing an infographic.
Informative posts are mostly bookmarked and also shared in professional networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn as well as mentioned in other websites and forums.
Entertaining posts may be a bit more difficult to create since not everyone has the talent and creativity to do so. The first and most successful type of entertaining posts are the funny ones. People love to laugh and if you can make them smile in front of their computers that’s a big high five for you, they will share it with their friends and talk about it. But it can be tough to come up with something worth a laugh. The second type of an entertaining post is to create something beautiful or unique, something that people will enjoy watching, reading or playing with. This can be a simple game or a beautiful drawing or photograph. It may sound difficult for non-talented people but it is not, it is just a matter of time until you find something worth it.
Entertaining posts are mostly shared, specifically in personal networks like Facebook and Twitter and forums.
Emotional posts are a bit fortuitous since you never know exactly how your reader will react. The easiest emotions to evoke are Anger and Hate. Writing something controversial that people will hate you for is something that gives a lot of buzz although if you talk cheap it may lower your reputation so it is not recommended for companies or public profiles. You should write about a controversial thought or an unexpected belief, something that doesn’t make you look like an moron but like a freak, someone a bit out of his mind. Then, with a bit of technique and meditation, turn that into your advantage by making it look like an innovative way of thinking, a hype or the way that no one thinks about, yet. Second type of emotional post is to stimulate the heart of the reader by providing something related with love, passion or friendship. This is a commonly used technique in a lot of personal blogs but using this carefully in a corporate environment can give you a lot in return. Not only the customer point of view can change dramatically as your brand name impersonates into a full-hearted live being but by differentiating yourself amongst other competitors and getting yourself more human, approachable and warm to your customers in such a way that they find it impressive. Emotional posts are mostly shared in personal networks and forums.
Rethinking your online marketing strategy
As you see, there is nothing really difficult on creating something useful that will boost your website to the next level, it is just a matter of time to come up with an original idea. Creating tons and tons of content will not help. Actually, you may eventually come up with something divine every million words but I assure you it may be better to hold your horses and spend that time on processing and refining an article through one of the different Purposes I have defined above.
Now stop writing that boring and useless article and rethink from a reader’s point of view, a reader just like YOU. What content do you bookmark? And why? Because it’s got a purpose in it.
And stop spending money on directories to get your link there, Google has learned that this doesnt mean a website is useful and they are tracking directories down and downgrading the relevancy of those links. With the farmer update, Google are giving more power to Twitter and other social network links where people share content which indeed has a Purpose. But don’t start spamming Twitter now, focus on your article.
Photos by Rami Al-Khowaiter, Will Schrimshaw, Diego Sevilla, Rolands Lakis and Luis Hernandez using FlickHoldr Generator