“Content is king” was the phrase we couldn’t get away from in the earlier days of the web. The more we published, so the thinking went, the more traffic we’d get from search engines.
A series of algorithm updates throughout the last decade aimed to demote content that was thin, duplicate, and added little-to-no unique value. Google wanted to make sure that sheer quantity wasn’t winning out over quality.
So, what did Google want to rank instead? Things like original research, in-depth reports, and thoughtful analysis.
Google says they want to rank content that adds unique value, but what does that mean in practice?
According to Ashton, “Content that adds value must answer real questions that your audience has while bringing something new to the table.”
While the first part of Ashton’s definition may seem familiar to us SEO practitioners, the second half is often ignored. We not only need to write content that meets the searcher’s intent. We should also be bringing something unique to our articles. Otherwise, we’ll end up with content that looks nearly identical to all the other websites that are also trying to answer those questions.
“For us,” Ashton added, “content marketing is one of the most significant organic traffic drivers to our website. When we produce quality content that provides data-driven insight and helps our audience make a decision, and the content is built to rank on Google, it empowers our brand awareness and credibility overall.”
In addition to adding unique value, Ashton emphasized the importance of creating content for every phase of the marketing funnel.
“Our focus is to create content at every step of the buyers’ journey and to stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends. By staying ahead of the curve and being strategic, we can create content that our audience can genuinely use to succeed and trust our team moving forward.”
Despite Google’s clear directives to create content that adds unique value, we still see websites that publish low-quality articles.
Why is that?
According to Ashton, one of the biggest barriers is resources.
“Some of the most significant barriers to creating content that adds value are the resources available. To have data, you’ll need someone to pull that data. You’ll need a designer who can create imagery that catches your audience’s attention and does not look like every other content piece out there. You’ll need a promotion strategy and time to meet your audience where they are to avoid being spammy and reaching the wrong audience.”
In other words, it takes a village.
If you’re the solo content marketer at your organization, adjust your publishing cadence to fit your bandwidth. Don’t pressure yourself into publishing as much as a full content team produces on a weekly basis.
We’ve probably all heard the phrase “don’t publish just to publish.” What we don’t talk about as often though is how to identify that type of content.
According to Ashton, “If you can find basically the same blog article in numerous spots on the web, publishing ‘just to publish’ is probably happening. These articles often don’t include something interesting, new, or built off of data/experience.”
She also added that, while most organizations tend to think of their publishing cadence in terms of how many blog posts they can get out in a week, you can (and should!) be dedicating resources to other types of content.
What might that look like exactly? Ashton offered a few great examples:
If you weren’t convinced yet that publishing high value-add content is the way to go, Ashton had some words of warning for companies who opt for quantity over quality.
“If your content is seen as useless, people can see it as crowding up their social media channels and email inbox. They’ll unfollow and unsubscribe. In a worse situation, they can see your company as not innovative or trustworthy. They won’t want to work with you.”
At best, content can increase not only your traffic, but your brand awareness and trust. Get that wrong, and you can do some serious damage to your brand’s reputation.
There are plenty of organizations that may be just starting out and unsure how to structure their editorial calendar and publishing cadence.
For them, Ashton offered the following advice: “This comes down to what resources you have. If, with your resources, you’re only able to produce one great piece of content a month, do that. For us, with our current resources, we aim to produce one insightful piece a week on our blog and promote it thoroughly through social media and our newsletter.”
Whatever publishing cadence you choose, you just have to be confident that your content is worth the read. If you can’t confidently answer “yes,” then publish less frequently.
Selecting topics is another pain point for brands struggling to write content that adds real value. Add to this the fact that a brand has multiple channels at their disposal, and it makes perfect sense if your head is spinning just thinking about selecting content topics.
To help with this, Ashton shared her process with us:
“For topic selection, we find what keywords our audience is searching for, we stay up-to-date with industry trends, and we continuously talk with our sales team to find out what questions our prospects ask the most.”
“Additionally, for social media, how can you provide answers to your audience’s questions and make your posts ultra-digestible? What images make the posts shareable? One method I’ve loved for Twitter is creating Twitter threads that give me more room to share strategic content out and tell a story. Make sure you don’t get too wordy here, though. Keep each part of your thread punchy and to the point. Don’t be afraid to add an image to one of the tweets in the thread as an attention grabber.”
Once you have an idea, how do you execute?
Ashton shared the three-step framework she uses to develop content that adds value:
After you’ve chosen a publishing cadence, picked your topic, written the article, and released it into the wild, how do you know if it had its intended effect?
Here are the KPIs that Ashton uses to measure her content’s performance, and why she uses them:
At the end of the day, if you’re still unsure whether your content is adding real value or getting lost in the noise, ask yourself these two questions: “Do I personally find this piece interesting?” and “Does this help accomplish my company’s goals?”
If the answer is no, then it may be time to take a step back and reassess.