If you’re a marketer, advertiser, or even just an entrepreneur with a website for your small business, you know the value that long-form written content adds to your site.
Long-form content exceeding more than 2,000 words, like blogs or articles, add authority to your content and give your audience a great reason to stick around and engage with your site.
It also gives you plenty of high-performing shareable content, which can increase your reach and drive attention to your brand, and tends to rank higher in Google, which can further boost brand exposure.
But it can be a struggle to figure out exactly what will work.
There’s nothing worse than the feeling of investing hours of time and energy into an article that fails to resonate with your audience, whether because they don’t care about what you’ve written, or because it’s just plain bad. If you want to create content that resonates with your audience and works for your business, there are a few key things to consider before you pour your heart into a long piece of written content.
First and foremost,
the content has to work with your overall business strategy.
Always consider the goals of your business when creating any kind of content, and how the content you’re creating helps you achieve those goals. Next, your content also needs to be authentic. Your audience can tell if you weren’t actually considering them when you wrote an article. And finally, your content needs to be true to your brand. The voice of your brand should always be consistent.
Create Strategy-Driven Content
Before you post any content on your website or social media channels, whether visual or written, you need to consider your goals. What do you want your business to achieve? Do you need more exposure for your brand? Are you trying to reposition? Is your business mature and well known, but inching towards decline and in need of a boost?
Your business strategy will guide your marketing strategy, and in turn, your content creation. When the creative process doesn’t start at the top, with the goals of the business in mind, it fails to achieve those goals. And if it fails to do what you need it to, what’s the point in wasting your time making it?
Strategy-driven marketing requires collaboration across all departments of a company. “We identify a single common goal each year, which keeps us on track and continually moving closer to our goal,” explain the writers at Four Winds Interactive, adding, “We create initiatives around our people, products, and customer interactions. We also have metrics in place to ensure we follow through, or can quickly pinpoint where we need to make improvements.”
If you’re a creative in your company and you’re detached from the overall goals of the business, start asking questions or digging into the resources available to you.
Without a clear content strategy, you’re just guessing what your customers want to see,
which is inefficient and unproductive. Look at available marketing research, or conduct some yourself if it’s not already been done by someone else in your company.
After you’ve gotten a profile of your average reader, or maybe a few profiles if your audience is segmented, dig deeper into what is important to them. Look at different facets of your industry or niche to discover unique angles in which to direct your content that resonate with your readers’ values and interests. Try moving your content away from being focused purely on your business, and expand into content that addresses more loosely related topics that can attract a wider audience.
Stay True to Your Brand
After you clearly understand the goals of your content, you should consider how you can achieve those goals while adhering to your branding standards. “From a branded content standpoint, a brand voice is core tenet for creating every piece of digital content, be it a blog post, tweet, newsletter, or infographic. Brands that communicate successfully are successful brands. And in order to communicate successfully, you have to distinguish and define your voice,” notes Melissa Lafsky, writer for Contently. What exactly that voice sounds like is driven by your business strategy.
Branding depends on consistency, across all facets of marketing. Branding is one area where creativity might be fine during the establishment phase, but can hurt you when allowed to overrun content creation. It’s important to strategically develop branding guidelines in accordance with your business goals and follow through with them during content creation.
It’s common for businesses to develop visual branding guidelines, but if your company hasn’t developed standards for written content as well, it’s time to start. Customers want consistency — they want to know what to expect when they come to your brand for content. Consistency builds authority, professionalism, and trust. Particularly when multiple people work together as creative team, a brand guide establishes standards to ensure that all content is coming from the brand, not from the individuals working for the brand.
A written branding guide should identify the voice, tone, and technical standards for the written content representing your company. Some marketers find it helpful to create a representative persona surrounding the brand, and consider all content to come from that persona. This can help writers separate themselves from branded content.
Content that fails to meet this requirement confuses the audience. Your content doesn’t need to always be the same, and consistency doesn’t mean your content has to be boring; it just means that you have clear vision for what your brand is and what it aims to achieve.
Be Authentic and create High Quality Content
While all three of these attributes are essential to successful content, failing to execute this one is perhaps the quickest way to set yourself up for failure when it comes to your written content. Content that fails to work for your business goals, or isn’t true to your brand, won’t necessarily hurt you in ways you can’t fix later, but it won’t help you either. Poorly written content will quickly degrade the value of your brand, because it sends several negative messages to readers.
When you publish blogs or articles on your site, your audience assumes that content represents the voice of your brand. Your brand is directly speaking to your audience, even if you don’t necessarily present the content that way — for example, by attaching an author to the articles. Readers assume that content posted on your website and social media channels is coming directly from the brand, not from John Smith in marketing.
“Bad” content can be a few things: it can be sloppily written or edited, whether because of a lack of skill on the writer’s part, or laziness in vetting the content through a thorough editing process. It can also be blatantly inauthentic: sales driven, full of promotional language, adding nothing for the reader, and wasting their time. At it’s worst, it’s both.
You’re pretty much guaranteed to have encountered some of the worst already — it’s everywhere. When your audience has great content from competitors just a click away, it’s essential that your content be both higher quality and more authentic than who you’re up against. If it isn’t, wave goodbye to your conversion. Poorly written and inauthentic content sends two messages to your audience.
First, it shows them that you don’t care about them. It tells them you don’t care about wasting their time, and you’re really just after their money. It is, quite frankly, insulting to them. High-quality content shows the opposite. It draws in your audience, and builds relationships through trust and engagement. “Fully engaged customers feel an emotional investment in the brand in which they are engaged. Remember that loyalty which is actually an emotional state despite the fact that we tend to measure it in transactional outcomes,” note the marketers at StayNTouch.
Second, it shows that your brand is not trustworthy. Your audience can’t count on your brand to be concerned about providing them with decent content — how can they count on you to do anything you should be doing?
Bad content degrades your authenticity.
Write content that your brand would be proud of and represents the brand you want to be. Your readers will thank you in the form of more conversions, more time spent on your site (which boosts search engine rankings), and more shares.
Put It to Work
The three of these essential aspects of long-form content — strategy driven, on-brand, and high quality — are also hierarchical. Successfully executing long-form written content requires you to start at the top, with your strategy, which in turn will guide your branding. Authenticity and quality come after, but should never be a question, as any content that’s less than great is a waste of your time, money, and energy.
If you’re just beginning to try long-form content on your site, keep this guide in mind as you work through your first articles. If you’ve already been using a marketing plan that incorporates long-form content, try reassessing the content you already have accordingly. If a piece of content doesn’t meet your standards, rework it or replace it with one that does. You’ll improve your relationships with your audience, take steps to further establish your brand as an authority in its niche, and see the results in the form of more conversions.
About the author: Victoria is a freelance writer who lives in the northwestern United States. She enjoys exploring topics like consumer psychology, UX, and the good and bad of the marketing realm. You can find her here.