If you want to use your content to reach a bigger audience, generate leads and convert clients, and you don’t want to sound like a formulaic slimy internet marketer… listen up.
To start, don’t fight the “rules.”
You’ve gotta learn them before you break them.
I don’t mean the superficial how-tos: the “trained monkey” level, the mindless implementation that churns out regurgitated copy that makes people appear slimy.
I’m referring to the underlying reasons behind those “tactics” that inform your decisions.
The principles that guide these rules are sound. The perceived restriction comes from the “codification” of these rules, the dilution as a result of intellectual laziness, and the perception that if you don’t paint-by-number you’re screwed (thanks to a whole lot of regurgitated sales copy.)
Content marketing is often a balancing act of discernment.
Discern what’s needed at the specific stage of your business, what’s in alignment with your message, and what’s meaningful for you and your audience.
Challenge the many rules that make it sound like we have to sacrifice how we truly want to communicate, just so we can check some arbitrary metrics off the list.
What’s the point of having your cake if you can’t eat it too?
Here are 4 “80/20 rules” to help you balance priorities that seem to oppose each other at first glance, and find that deeper layer at which either-or becomes both-and:
1. 80 Human / 20 SEO
The ultimate goal of publishing content is to get it consumed by the right audience so they’ll take the next step with you.
It’s no longer enough to use some SEO trick to get people to click through if your content is not valuable and relevant for the target audience. In fact, they’ll leave your site quickly and the low dwell time will tank your ranking.
First and foremost, write for human beings, not Google. Remember, the goal of content marketing is to build trust and relationship with your audience so they’ll eventually convert.
Yet… if you want to get people to read your stuff, you DO need to pay attention to SEO so you put yourself in front of the right audience.
That means understanding what drives SEO is important. Good news is, as search engines get smarter, content that is relevant, valuable and user-friendly (aka, designed for human beings) ranks higher.
Relevant and valuable content, crafted with an understanding of how search engines work, will give you the best of both worlds.
2. 80 Conversational / 20 Authoritative
Your tone and voice are the secret sauce to making you relatable to your audience.
You want your content to build trust and relationship with your readers, so being conversational makes sense.
However, part of the trust factor also comes from positioning yourself as an authority.
That means you need to be friendly and authoritative at the same time.
It’s not as contradictory or tricky as it sounds.
Credibility doesn’t come from puffing up and using big words.
Authority stems from a subtle and natural confidence in your tone when you can articulate what you do, how you do it, and why you do it. You can inspire credibility without puffing up to sound authoritative.
Your authority comes from a deep level of trust, not from using stiff language or jargons.
You can also “borrow” authority from trusted sources in your area of expertise. This can help anchor your approach in what your audience already knows, as a starting point to take them through your narrative.
You can step down from the pedestal and still be considered credible. You can build a trusting relationship with your audience by being conversational in your content.
Everyone is talking about building relationships with the audience, I want to dig deeper – what’s your relationship with your audience? How do you want to relate to them? Who do you want to be for them?
E.g. A big sister who’s a few steps ahead and always looking out for them? A welcoming aunt who’s always there with a nice cup of tea and a good story? A fellow warrior who’s in the trenches ready to give a hand?
This specific relationship determines what type of “conversational” tone you’d apply to your content… instead of throwing around random slang.
You can’t be someone you’re not, so map who you want to be for your audience to an audience looking for that kind of relationship in their quest for transformation.
3. 80 Quality/ 20 Frequency
Without unlimited resources, quality vs. quantity seems to be an inevitable trade-off.
The important thing is to find your groove by establishing a rhythm that allows you to do good work while also consistently showing up in front of your audience.
If you don’t produce good quality content that adds value to the conversation, you won’t be able to cut through the clutter and demonstrate your relevance to your audience.
At the same time, if you don’t show up consistently you aren’t building the necessary connection with your audience.
Most content creator with a big audience would tell you that showing up consistently is one of the most important things that contribute to their success.
To add to that, I’d say showing up consistently with meaningful work is critical.
“Showing up” means getting in front of your audience. There’s no point posting an article a day if you don’t promote your content to those you want to reach.
Let’s change the conversation from either-or to both-and.
You don’t have to write a post a day, just don’t go a month without creating any content. “Consistently” doesn’t have to equate “annoyingly frequently.”
Instead of one mediocre post a day, why not create one quality post a week – one that you’d be proud to promote? Or even start with every two weeks?
Writing not your thing? Try video or audio.
You have to find your groove and hone your skills. Find out what works for you and what works for your audience. Probably they don’t want to be reading a 1,500-word article from you every single day either;)
There’s no substitute to actually taking action if you want to get good at it (think: Turning Pro, Tipping Point and the like.)
4. 80 Succinctness / 20 Word Count
Your content has to get the point through… without making your readers go around in circles.
There’s a difference between sharing in-depth content and adding value to the conversation, versus stuffing your posts with words out of fears of not looking like an expert.
If you’re just coughing up words without adding value, you’re wasting your readers’ time and energy. Keep doing that, and you’ll lose your audience altogether.
Seth Godin publishes a pithy 200-word post every day, and every single word is gold.
On the other hand, most of us probably need more runways to elaborate our POVs and unique approaches.
Here’s a general rule of thumb as a reference point – articles with word count around 1,500 words tend to do well with SEO.
If it’s good content and visitors stay on to read your article, you score SEO points for good dwell time – the duration visitors stay on your page to consume the content.
When I write for clients, the sweet spot is typically around 1,000 – 1,500 words. It gives us the space to set up the conversation and share some in-depth information so my clients’ unique perspectives come through while still succinct enough to be consumed quickly.
When you present information that your audience can’t get anywhere else – because it highlights your unique approach and speaks to their unique worldview and circumstances – it becomes a reflection of your experience in the subject matter because there’s no way to just “make things up” without having been doing it for a while. This solidifies your credibility and expert positioning.