Historically, when digital marketing agencies venture into content creation, it’s with the hope of increasing the number, or strength, of backlinks. This post however, aims to challenge you to think more broadly about the value of your content.
We, as digital agencies, are not traditional advertisers. Yet global ad agencies are increasingly edging into our field of play, for example, producing integrated campaigns with far-reaching social effects. There is clearly a demand and need for this type of work. But on top of this, it may well be time to use your content for more than just a link-generator anyway. At SearchLove San Diego this year, Tom Capper presented a balanced argument for why it’s possible that links are becoming increasingly unrepresentative of how Google choose to rank your pages. One of the key takeaways is that in order to continue getting in front of our audience, we will probably have to start winning at brand awareness and perception. So, how can we do this with creative content?
1. Learn how to differentiate between content for link-building vs. content for brand-building
Typically speaking with link-driven campaigns, it doesn’t matter whether or not the people engaging with a piece of content remember the brand behind it. At the end of the day, it’s down to whether or not publications decide to cover and link to it. And actually, this oftens means downplaying the brand presence, so as not to deter coverage. For example, this can mean hosting a piece on its own page without company headers and footers, keeping the client logo small and unobtrusive, and generally not having to adhere to their usual brand guidelines. Because of this, it also means that the theme of the content can be quite tangential to the brand. For example, for Magic Freebies, we created an online ‘Spot the Christmas Movies’ quiz. This piece bears little direct connection with their brand and offering – a site which compiles free samples and free competitions – however we judged that it was something which would peak the interest of their target audience and publications. I would consider this as content for link-building.
Pieces for brand-building on the other hand require a much stronger connection between the content and the brand in question. However, unlike traditional advertising, this is not necessarily about parading a product or service in front of your audience. For example, with Rasmussen College – a private college in the US – our work for them was not about directly selling their courses, instead the strategy was to create pieces, e.g. “The Healthcare Career Matchmaker” shown below, which would help them become an authority in the career and education sector. The content aimed to be engaging and highly relevant, and therefore brand-focussed. If you go and explore the wider Rasmussen site, you’ll even notice that it sits within their usual site framework and the colours and font follow their brand guidelines too.
As far as targets go, it’s pretty obvious that the aim of a link-building campaign is getting links! This is a pretty straightforward and easy-to-track metric. With brand-building campaigns, though, ‘getting more brand’ isn’t exactly a thing. So what are the tell-tale targets that distinguish a piece as one that’s created for purposes beyond clocking up a site’s link count? That is precisely what the next section of this post is aimed at uncovering.
2. Think big, but start small
The trouble with content for brand-building is that because it has the word ‘brand’ attached to it, it immediately brings to mind associations such as brand awareness, brand sentiment, or brand trust. These are all things which a campaign could, and should, result in improving. This is the ‘think big’ part. But without a hefty sum to inject into expensive surveys and polls (which is mainly what advertisers rely on) it’s very tricky to arrive at any meaningful results if all you focus on is 'increasing brand awareness' – what even is the proof of success?
And so I would encourage you instead to start small. You can do this in a number of ways. For example, create a campaign which focuses on achieving one of the following:
Grow your social following.
Build a Facebook retargeting pool.
Drive targeted traffic to a specific part of your site.
These are all micro-conversions. They are the small things which happen in the lead up to a full conversion. More importantly though, what’s great about these is that they can all be easily tracked and assessed.
Oliving the Life is the perfect example of this. The campaign itself was created to promote a new range of healthy cooked meats from Hans Smallgoods, an Australian consumer brand.
The challenge, as outlined in their case study, was to 'increase brand awareness'. Despite this, they set their sights on measurable goals. Of the subsequent results that were published, all of them hit a specific and concrete micro-conversion:
Reached more than 6 million Australians and was engaged by 2.6 million targeted users.
Generated 1.78 million Facebook video views – 198% more than the projected figure.
Produced more than 93K engagements (likes, comments shares).
Average time on site was 1min 21sec, with a bounce rate of 34%.
Created a retargeting pool of 924,000 of engaged users who can be retargeted in the near future.
Another example is the following video campaign by Shutterstock.
Most people who know Shutterstock will think of them as a paid stock image library. A lesser-known part of their offering though is their extensive range of stock video footage. Which is why to combat this, they created a series of videos, exclusively using assets from this library. Not only was there a high engagement rate with the videos (165,000 views in the first couple of months on Youtube alone), but this then inspired 4000 clicks specifically onto the footage section on their main page. A result that Kashem Miah, the global director of social media and content marketing at Shutterstock, was very pleased with. He was later quoted as saying ‘There is definitely a business case that we have made for these videos and why we’re pushing them so hard…the campaign is an opportunity to showcase what’s possible with Shutterstock.’
The bottom line is that it’s far better to start small and focus your efforts on micro-conversion-based targets, and trust that in doing so, over time you will inevitably influence people’s perception and awareness of your brand. Note that I say ‘influence’ rather than ‘improve’ – this isn’t a given. The last thing you would want to do is to foster negative sentiments towards a brand! To combat this, you have to be sure that whatever campaign you’re attaching your brand’s name to is worthwhile and is something people will genuinely care about.
3. Consistently deliver value to your audience
If someone has been generous enough to spend time with your content, it can’t just be beneficial to you, it has to be valuable to them as well. But how do you judge whether you’re consistently delivering value? This is where the following framework comes into hand.
This triangle represents the types and the corresponding amount of content a brand should be aiming to produce. The link-building creative campaigns we’ve become known for at Distilled tend to fall into the 'Wow!' bracket at the top of the triangle (more on this below). However, in order to deliver consistent value, with content that is always relevant and available, we need to consider content beyond these bigger hero pieces.
Starting at the bottom, there is the ‘How?’ category. It basically stands for: How can you help your customers? This type of content makes up the base of the triangle because it should form the bulk of your offering that’s available 365 days a year. Think of it as laying down the foundations. One of the most obvious ways of offering value to your audience is to pin down the useful things they want to know and delivering on it. Figure out what questions they might ask, related to your brand, and create content which answers them. This can be in as simple a form as a blog post or resource page.
'Now' content comes next. This is about offering your audience things where the value lies in its topicality, and rewarding their engagement by keeping them up to date with the latest trends, news or data. Of course, this isn’t just about repurposing the news; it has to be relevant to your vertical in some way. If there’s an interesting news story or emerging trend where your brand can contribute to the conversation in a way that’s relevant this is the time when Now content can be really powerful. It can demonstrate that your brand is on the pulse and dependable. Because of the nature of this, there will naturally be less of this type of content than 'how', since you’ll be publishing this as and when something is topical.
Last but not least there is 'Wow!'. As mentioned above, these are closer to the bigger, hero-type pieces, and furthermore, it’s rather self-explanatory from the name what this category is about. The value this type of content offers is that it’s entertaining and wows your audience. It is typically characterised by being more visual, e.g. in the form of styled infographics and quizzes. It’s positioned right at the peak of the triangle because these pieces can form as little as 10% of your overall content offering. Our benchmark at Distilled is to schedule in no more than 6 of these types of pieces a year for our clients. Because of this, you have more time to experiment with new formats and create truly sensational things.
Using the above framework, the job site – Monster – were able to grow pageviews on content by 18 million and increase the number of people searching for jobs through them by 28% in just over a year. You can read more about their success story here.
Once you’ve mastered the above, measuring the success of your campaigns, based on whether or not the brand awareness needle has indeed moved, is a whole art in itself. But it is one which you should get to grips with, in order to prove the worth of your content, and make a business case for continuing to do more. To learn more about this, Tom Capper’s summary of how to get started is worth a read.
If you’d like to find out more about the points discussed in this post, my slides from SearchLove San Diego – Success Beyond Links: How to Make Your Content More Valuable – go into more detail. The full video of the presentation is also available to DistilledU members. If you have any further questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you below.