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Ask MarketingSherpa: Finding and hiring content marketing writers

August 29th, 2019
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We frequently receive questions from our email subscribers asking marketing advice. Instead of hiding those answers in a one-to-one email communication, we occasionally publish edited excerpts of some of these conversations here on the MarketingSherpa blog so they can help other readers as well. If you have any questions, let us know.

 

Dear MarketingSherpa: What factors should I consider when hiring a content marketing writer? Do you have any recommendations for content writing services or other ways of finding content marketing writers? We produce a lot of content internally but are aiming to scale by outsourcing. We’ve used a few providers in the past (freelance writers and an online writers’ marketplace, for example) and currently use a content writing agency, though I’d welcome any other suggestions.

 

Dear Reader: From our limited experience, there is no content writing service that is head and shoulders above the rest for every industry and topic area that we could recommend without reservations. It doesn’t mean they’re not out there, it just means we haven’t encountered them yet.

The best you can do is try them out and experiment to see what is the best fit for your unique company and industry. For example, you might commission ten articles from ten writers from three different services, and then narrow it down based on their ability and dependability. Obviously, it will be highly variable based on their pay rate.

Here are a few questions you might want to get aligned on internally when outsourcing content marketing writing:

What is your brand voice?

What type of content should your brand be producing and how should it sound?

Can the writer do interviews? Storytelling? Human interest stories? Profiles? Case studies? Entertaining writing? Humor? Technical writing? Work with busy executives? Are they fluent in your industry? Or do they focus just on basic factual information?

Some writers are more flexible than others and can do many things effectively. Others focus on a specific niche and can do an amazing technical white paper but couldn’t do a personality-driven piece well. You’re not just looking for general skills and dependability, you also need the right fit for your brand and value proposition.

How important is the human connection when customers consider purchasing from us?

Consider the importance of the human element when looking at the type of writing the writer does. The human element to content writing can be especially important if you have a services-based business. You need a writer who can interview your subject matter experts and clients well and tell that compelling human interest story, even when talking about basic industry information. With a services-based business, customers aren’t only looking for expertise but also are going to make a human connection with your consultants if they hire your business.

What level of expertise do customers expect from our brand?

One word of caution, for a website or product that requires a certain level of expertise, you may want to be careful about hiring the lower-cost SEO type of writers. I call their style of writing “book report writing” because it’s like a basic regurgitation about a topic, no real insights.

This may not be a good fit if people are buying your expertise, even when it’s just software and not an actual human interaction. The cheaper writers can be better for simple consumer goods products that rely less on an expertise sale, like headphones or mattresses.

You could even see which freelance writers are engaged in true journalism and take a brand journalism type of approach. You can learn more about brand journalism in this blog post (while this post discusses a direct hire, you could do the same with freelance).

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Inbound Marketing: Do you care about the quality of your brand’s content?

August 20th, 2019
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If I had to break down the world of content marketing into two groups, it would be these:

  • Those who care about the quality of their content
  • And those who don’t

Ouch. Seeing those words in writing, my statement is a little harsh. So let me try to rephrase:

  • Those who only see content as a means to an end
  • And those who view content as an (often free) product that should have value in and of itself

To further refine this split, we could say there are two content marketing approaches we can simply label:

  • Quantity
  • Quality

Of course, every piece of content offers some level of value. You need a certain level of consistent production for even the most high-quality content. And there are shades of gray between the two extremes.

That said, I’ve noticed more and more of a focus on the “high quantity/means-to-an-end” approach as the content marketing industry has matured. Brands that seem like they don’t care about the quality of the content they’re producing, or at least not nearly as much as the volume. I thought this would make a fitting topic of exploration in today’s MarketingSherpa blog post.

This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa inbound newsletter.

Content pollution

Content marketing has shown impressive growth as a marketing tactic. One reason for that is the proliferation of digital platforms and the growth of computing power allowing for less expensive production of content.

If you’ve ever listened to a talk by content guru Joe Pulizzi, you know that content marketing isn’t necessarily new. But when the means of production transitioned from a printing press and six-figure Avid system to a free blogging platform and smartphone, it was inevitable for content marketing to grow.

But there’s another reason it grew as well. It was effective. And it was effective because it was disruptive.

The traditional advertising and marketing model was built around selling to the prospective customer. The core of content marketing is helping the customer. When done well, customers sell themselves.

The low barriers to entry and “free” cost compared to paid media led to explosive growth in the amount of content. This has created plenty of helpful content. But content creation has also been used as part of a major quantity push by companies viewing it as a means to an end to attract traffic.

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Content Syndication: How to get wider distribution of your content marketing

May 30th, 2019
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There was a legend called El Dorado. An ancient lost city of gold. The legend drove many an adventurer to risk it all for the possibility of riches beyond their wildest dreams.

I think of El Dorado anytime content syndication comes up. A legend, passed down from content marketer to content marketer. All you need is content syndication to get endless golden traffic flowing to the content on your site, more demand than you can handle.

If only it were that easy.

But, the search for El Dorado led to the discovery of what had been foreign to the European explorers. It was the incentive they needed to map areas that were new to their countries. Without that legend, would they have driven as hard and far? Would they have taken the risk?

Perhaps content syndication is the same way. It’s not the easy untapped city of gold. But if it drives you to create content marketing so appealing that you can merchandise it to other websites and publishers and get them to share your content, then while the journey may be arduous, it will have been worth it in the end.

(OK, this copy is overwrought, I agree, but I think it’s a much nicer way of saying, C’mon, did you really think content syndication would be that easy!?)

It’s not that easy. There is no magic “content syndication” button. But with a smart approach, you can bring more attention to your brand’s content and ultimately find the results you seek. Here are insights from four smart marketers to help you do just that …

This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

 

 

The absolute biggest key to getting content syndicated is to make sure that it’s something valuable to your intended audience(s)

Erin Well, Senior Marketing Manager, Shipwell:

As someone who worked in the trenches as a content marketer for at least 30 very unique clients targeting many verticals, there is no silver bullet.

Pushing out a press release through the myriad of distribution platforms will not yield the kind of results a hands-on, intensive content ideation, production and media relations strategy will provide.

Build strong relationships with writers relevant to the content you’re creating and offer them sincerely valuable content their readers will enjoy. Use social media to engage with them and be sure to share their pieces (and tag them of course).

As you brainstorm ideas for a content marketing campaign, consider what digital publishers you’ll be pitching it to. Build out pitch lists of sites you’ll want your content to appear on. Research writers, their beats and what they’ve been writing about. Ask yourself honestly, can you picture your content featured as an article on their site?

When you have a good idea of what sites you’ll be pitching to, you can start to map out where their natural and organic syndication goes.

Using Google News (free), you can plug in a headline of an article to see which sites (like Yahoo, Benzinga, etc.) picked up the story automatically. Or, using a platform like Buzzsumo (paid), you can also plug in the URL to an article and view the specific backlinks to map out their syndication network. Large, well-established sites like the New York Times or Business Insider will be more likely to automatically syndicate across the internet. But, there are some loopholes, such as local news sites, that have potential to syndicate nationally across sister sites.

You’ll also want to see how organic syndication plays out for a site or blog’s articles.

For example, you might notice a high-performing story on Refinery 29 gets syndicated organically by other writers over at similar women’s interest sites. Why? High-performing, interesting, relevant content is so much more likely to get more eyeballs by writers when they know other writers in their vertical are covering it. But to get it there, it all goes back to creating content that has the viability to be picked up initially and subsequently syndicated.

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Marketing 101: What is big rock content?

November 10th, 2017
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I had three hours to kill before my next flight to Dallas departed. While sitting in an airport café warming my hands around a mocha, I overheard snippets of an intense conversation in the booth behind me.

“It’s all about your big rocks. They are the most important. What are your big rocks?” 

At the time, I hadn’t heard of Stephen Covey’s analogy, so I had no idea what these two young marketers were discussing. Later, I was enlightened.

In brief, effective people prioritize their goals beginning with the most important (the rocks) and moving on to those of lesser importance (sand). Because when you think about it, if you try to fill a jar with sand before filling it with rocks, you will have troubles fitting the rocks in. Begin with the rocks and fill in the spaces with sand. It’s good advice and can be applied not only to marketing but our personal lives as well.

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They Won’t Bite: How talking to customers helped Dell EMC turn its content strategy around

October 12th, 2017
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“What we were finding was that a lot of our content was very product focused, and really quite technical. It’s not that we didn’t need that, but we weren’t engaging with customers at the top of their decision making,” said Lindsay Lyons, Director, Global Content Strategy, Dell EMC.

Lyons and her team came to the same content revelation that many marketers do — “we were talking about what we wanted to talk about, and not talking to customers about what they wanted to talk about,” she said.

In this content effort, they overhauled production efforts to ensure that content went through a stringent and honest assessment. This ensured that the content was not only in the tone that customers wanted to speak in but also in the spaces that they were already interacting in.

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Content Marketing: You must overcome The Jackson 5 Effect to find subject matter experts

May 19th, 2017
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Subject matter experts (SMEs) are crucial to content marketing success, especially in B2B. Whether accountants advising about amortization or IT managers contemplating the cloud, vital information that will help your audience — and thus help you create great content — lies trapped in your SMEs’ craniums.

It’s your job to tap into those big brains and free the content.

There are many well-noted challenges to working with SMEs that you’re probably well familiar with. They’re busy. They don’t know how to create content. They don’t create good content.

However, today on the MarketingSherpa blog, I wanted to bring up another point I don’t see discussed as much — you’re overlooking a plethora of untapped SMEs.

Sure, your CEO is a SME. The head of Sales. You likely have someone in an evangelist role of some sort who is also a SME. But what about the customer service rep? The middle manager? Credentialing specialist? Purchasing associate? Transportation coordinator? Senior systems manager?

They (and many inglorious but essential functionaries in your organization) are all victims of what I like to call: The Jackson 5 Effect.

We value least what we interact with most

Before Michael Jackson was the King of Pop, he was a kid in a family band — The Jackson 5.

Jackson_5_tv_special_1972

Source: Wikipedia

Eventually, Michael would go on to become one of the most famous and successful singers the world over. So successful that he had his own theme park and monkey. But while he was in The Jackson 5, did Tito and Jermaine really appreciate Michael’s skills, ability and knowledge? Or, did they just look at him as their annoying little brother?

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Content Marketing 101: How to write compelling content in five tips

February 16th, 2017
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Picture your ideal customer deciding where to spend his or her time and energy. They want something good for even a small time investment. Your headline, emphasizing value, gets their attention. They invest a click and continue reading.

That is the ideal scenario. But once your customer has clicked through to your full content, that’s when the real battle begins. How do you make it so impactful that not only do they read the whole thing, but they actually stay on your page and continue through the funnel?

Tip #1. Never bury the lead

We all know abstractly that people are busy, with a lot of other content competing for their attention. But when it comes time for pen to hit paper (or fingers to tap keys), many marketers don’t know where to begin.

There’s no need to be mysterious — tell them why they’re here and why they should stay. For example:

Why you’re here: You’re trying to find some marketing content motivation and/or tips.

Why you should stay: I have four additional tips coming (and boy are they good!), honed from years of writing over 2,000 pieces of (mostly) successful content for MarketingSherpa.

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Trust Your Customers to Raise Their Hands: How to use non-gated content to more than double high-quality leads

January 20th, 2017
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Challenged to measure ROI on every program and hit a certain number of leads per month, some marketers make potential customers fill out forms to get access to gated content.

Instead of forcing form fills, Chris Keller, Vice President of Marketing, Health Catalyst, and his team set their content free in order to increase shareability and lead quality while more than doubling leads during a three-quarter period.

“We’re trying to be the non-marketing marketing group,” Chris said. “We’ve taken a controversial approach to educating the market.”

For Health Catalyst, a healthcare analytics company, aggressively educating customers was a key aspect of its strategy to deliver a high-growth pipeline of leads. However, in a crowded healthcare IT market, Health Catalyst wanted to establish leadership, not generate cold leads.

This led the team to take a different approach: as few lead forms as possible. Because they wanted a pipeline of sale-ready leads, they put their trust in prospects to raise their hands when they were ready.

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Marketing Basics: Don’t overlook these 5 digital marketing tenets

May 17th, 2016
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There are so many impressive things you can do with your website these days. Augmented realty. Rich animations. Micro-interactions. Interactive infographics.

But I like to think of it like this …

When the quarterback throws a 90-yard touchdown pass, the camera cuts to the wide receiver doing a celebratory dance, and then to the quarterback pumping his fist. What they’re not showing you is the right guard who picked up the blitz to allow the quarterback the time to heave up that bomb.

Your website, content, and digital marketing is often presented the same way. Advanced, flashy user interfaces are great. But looking in our own analytics, I was reminded there are probably a few unheralded, down-to-Earth, un-buzzworthy basics that should still power your online marketing.

 

Basic content

“Basic” has become slang for “limited,” “rudimentary” or any number of other negative connotations. To quote Kara Brown on Jezebel, “Being basic just means that you aren’t that dope.”

And you probably feel that way about the content on your site as well. You are steeped in the latest, most advanced things going on in your industry. You focus on the breaking news. You spend your waking hours thinking about the coolest features of your products, and most advanced capabilities of your services.

But is that what your customer is looking for?

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Content Marketing: How to help subject matter experts come up with blog topics

April 19th, 2016
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Let’s say you’re an intrepid marketer at a company. You’ve read about the power of inbound marketing, have started your company’s blog, and … now what? How do you get these subject matter experts (SMEs) to blog? And what should they blog about?

Or perhaps you have an established content marketing blog — you’ve been going for years. But your SMEs are running out of ideas for blog topics. What should you do?

Keep reading (and then send your SMEs this blog post).

 

The analogy

Photo: Cirofono

Photo: Cirofono

Now that we’ve established the problem, let’s look to an analogy laced with a pop reference to help give you an approach to solve it.

When George and Jerry are pitching the idea of the “show about nothing” to NBC executives on “Seinfeld,” George asks …

George: What did you do today?
NBC Exec: I got up and came to work.
George: There’s a show! That’s a show.
NBC Exec: How is that a show?


The Seinfeld Method

If your SMEs don’t think they have anything helpful to blog about for your audience, ask them, “What did you do today?”

Their day-to-day role likely spurs many topics that would benefit your ideal customer but are hidden in the four walls of your company. In fact, are you read this blog post, your SMEs are probably:

Almost everything done in their job is content.

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