During the first webinar in the Content Conversations series we are hosting for Sitecore, a poll of audience members identified an interesting disconnection that mirrors the results of a global study called The State of Writing 2020.
Almost two-thirds of our audience members said they recognised good writing when they saw it, but an even larger number – 78 per cent – said their own organisations are only moderately effective at creating well-written content.
Which-50 asked presenter Sarah Mitchell, the co-founder and director of Typeset to explain the disconnect.
According to Mitchell, “I think it’s interesting that more people are saying they are effective than the number of people who say they know what good writing looks like. Again, these are subjective terms and maybe it’s an indication that the webcast attendees are experiencing results even if they’re not sure the writing is good.”
Content Conversations is a webinar series from Sitecore that brings together content experts and creators to discuss a variety of topics from why how to produce content for multiple channels, the renewed need for content collaboration processes in the remote-working world and the science behind the ROI of content. Mitchell was the first speaker in the series.
She said that business is generally accepting they don’t get a good return on advertising, referencing John Wanamaker’s famous observation, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”
Mitchell noted that baby boomers, many of whom are in decision-making roles, are comfortable with advertising, have had results with it, and understand it.
“What does this have to do with writing effectiveness? As we move into more content-driven ways to promote our business, the decision-makers haven’t understood content marketing well but they’re beginning to.”
She told Which-50, “They’ve been given activity reports that make it appear everything is ticking up, but they eventually start to ask about ROI. That usually comes when we ask for more budget. A lot of content marketers haven’t had to report on progress against business goals but that’s increasingly an issue we have to address.”
In fact, research from the Content Marketing Institute reveals that only 43 per cent of B2B marketers say they measure the ROI of their content marketing.
Of course, the assessment of effectiveness is always subjective. Marketers on the other hand, increasingly measure content effectiveness with reference to metrics like sales, or audience growth.
“This is where a documented content market strategy is so important. It should detail the goals of your content initiative along with how you’re going to measure and report progress. It’s essential to get these metrics agreed upon and established before you start producing content or there will always be disagreement about what’s effective and what’ not. I wrote about this very topic for Chief Content Officer Magazine.”
The types of metrics marketers should use depend on their specific business goals so there’s no hard and fast rule, says Mitchell, who, nonetheless is happy to offer some suggestions based on her experience working with her clients over the years.
- Sales data
- New customer acquisition
- Average customer lifetime value
- Reduction in the cost of customer acquisition
- Customer retention and loyalty
- Leads generated
- New subscribers to email lists or other lists
- Increase in backlinks to your website
- Increased domain authority for your website
“Without doubt, putting editorial rigour in place is going to help. At the very least, a regularly-scheduled editorial meeting and a shared editorial calendar is going to help content teams understand priorities and production schedules,” Mitchell says.
That rigour of course relies on some degree of control. Yet most marketers are not editor-in-chief and lack the right skills even if they have the time.
That begs the question about who is best placed to have editorial control on commercial content in a company and should input from other stakeholders be managed.
“As more brands become content producers, they need to adopt the same processes and workflows traditional media has always used. I think everyone needs a managing editor just like every ship needs a captain.”
This is a role you can outsource if you don’t need a full-time employee, says Mitchell. “It could also be a chief content officer who has editorial oversight. The only other way it can work is when there’s a tool that has built-in oversight, like a content hub (like Sitecore) but then you still need to make someone responsible for ensuring everyone is working within the system.”
Mitchell also address a number of questions from audience members including;
- How would you suggest a beginner writer to start writing quality content for their organisation? The first thing is to get a ‘content education.’ If anybody wants to read a book that I think is fantastic, it is Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes. She is a content marketer supremo and the Chief Content Officer of Marketing Profs. Another thing I would add is to get a copy of Content Chemistry from Andy Crestodina. He breaks down the science behind effective content better than anyone and does it in a way that’s easily understood.
- Not all companies have access to proofreaders but it’s important to review written work critically. What approaches can you recommend? First, give yourself distance from the piece you’re working on. Leave it overnight, or even longer, and then look at it again with fresh eyes. You’ll find errors you hadn’t seen before. Second, read your finished work out loud, in full voice. When you’re reading it as if to an audience, you quickly hear the inconsistencies and repetition your brain won’t catch when you’re reading it to yourself.
- When outsourcing content writing how can we make sure that the content writer actually understands what we do so the writing is relevant? If you’re going to outsource it, find a writer that you can work with repeatedly. It really goes down to building the relationship with the writer that you’re outsourcing to, being patient that it may take one or two pieces to get that brief right and to get that tone right. And you know what? You also get what you pay for. I think the gig economy hasn’t done businesses any favours. If you want a $50 blog post, you’re going to get a $50 effort.
- How do you convince decision-makers of the value of expert writers and proof-readers? Especially given the lag between starting a new content strategy and seeing the results. The writing that you’re producing for your organisation is a reflection on the brand. Why wouldn’t you want to put your best foot forward? And I think what happens is that people just assume writing is easy. It’s not easy. Writing is a profession, and to get it really right takes skill and it takes knowledge of both the art and the science of it.
- What are the 3 most effective things we can do to tame the approvals beast? This is where a managing editor is worth their weight in gold. First of all, people have to understand that writing and publishing content is not about you and your brand. It’s about the audience, and there will be people that will just continually want to throw their logo on everything and get all those key messages out there. It’s not going to produce the result that you want. Having clear style guides and having clear brand style guides, having all those things laid out along with the strategy, it’s all that up front work that does go a long way to helping smooth the approvals process. A good managing editor will fight for the audience and will go head-to-head with those people.
- Do you think SEO is only about the content? No, but organic SEO is about content. There’s a place for paid advertising but if you’re looking at writing effectiveness and publishing online, optimising your content for search is crucial.
- What are the unintended consequences of “writing for the algorithm” when chasing SEO outcomes? The most obvious thing is your writing is not appealing to the reader. I think we’ve all seen content that was so obviously working for the algorithm and it’s immediately obvious the writer doesn’t care about the reader. As soon as a reader doesn’t trust the information, or doesn’t trust your intention, they’re gone. Readers have so much choice you can’t afford to ruin that trust.
So what’s the bottom line on using writing to boost your bottom line according to Mitchell? “I can’t stress enough the importance of a documented content marketing strategy. The Content Marketing Institute’s research says only 41 per cent do this.”
This article was produced by the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit for Sitecore. Digital Intelligence Unit partners provide their insights and expertise for the benefit of our readers. Membership fees apply.