Head terms, content curation and the limits of content strategy
The weekly newsletter for content marketers seeking exponential growth in their work and personal lives.
🔥 Can You Still Blog Your Way to Visibility & Credibility? [SparkToro]
Most of Rand's SparkToro articles follow a similar theme: content marketing is harder than ever, and it's time we started radically rethinking our approach. This post compares the difficulty of amplifying content, relative to a platform's popularity, with one big takeaway: in an era of digital monopolies, small, niche platforms offer the best return.
"Blogging is one potential way for talented content creators to reach their audiences, but not the only one, nor the best one..."
Ever wondered how high-profile marketers climb their way to prestigious, senior roles? Ada Chen has the answer: treat your professional development like a long-term marketing campaign.
"How do you establish a strong career trajectory in a market where everything is constantly moving? My answer was to think about myself as a product, and make intentional changes to the perceived brand attributes of my “product” in order to optimize its appeal to the job market."
🔥 How to Grow an Audience Through Curating Content [Nathan Barry]
As thousands of hyper-successful newsletters, articles and social media accounts can testify to, content curation offers a disproportionate return on investment. Nathan Barry draws on his experiences curating iOS Design Weekly, and offers advice for kicking off your own curation strategy.
"Curating is a great way to both build your audience and improve your taste. Focusing your time on finding and sharing great products will give you a better understanding of why a product or idea is good. Improving your taste that you can apply back into what you create."
🔥 How to rank for head terms [Distilled]
Distilled's Tom Capper offers contrarian advice for ranking for "head terms" - hyper-competitive, high-volume keywords. His evidence suggests that many of our fundamental SEO assumptions begin to break down when we consider ultra-high-volume keywords - and different types of keyword have different ranking factors.
"My hypothesis in both cases is that head terms are no longer about ranking factors, and by ranking factors I mean static metrics you can source by crawling the web and weight to decide who ranks."
💥 Job Opening: Content Marketing Manager [Google Hire]
Looking to start 2019 in a swanky new role? Hire by Google are looking for a Content Marketing Manager in San Francisco. You'd work with a stellar team and a stellar product. If you know anyone that would be a great fit, please share the link with them!
I've been playing with this non-stop since it launched last week. It's a completely free Chrome extension from the team behind the awesome Keywords Everywhere plugin (another staple in my toolstack), and it makes a ton of laborious SEO tasks - finding broken links, revising meta data, analyzing on-page SEO - super quick and super simple. It even has a sweet live SERP preview feature.
The limits of content strategy
Creating content without strategy is a bad idea. You spew ideas and thoughts straight into the void, without taking the time to structure and understand them. You spend lots of money. You achieve little in the way of traffic or customers.
Once a marketer realizes this, they delve into content strategy, exploring models and frameworks to help contextualize and improve their work.
For some marketers, these models provide a useful heuristic. For others, they become a crutch.
Every article must be targeted at a carefully constructed buyer persona. Each resource must fit somewhere within the three-tier structure of ToFu, MoFu and BoFu. Keywords are reduced down to a handful of dimensions, like traffic and difficulty.
Left unchecked, this over-reliance on strategy causes serious problems for even the savviest marketers:
They develop false confidence in their strategy, and struggle to respond when performance doesn't match their prediction.
They become paralyzed by indecision, spending more time tweaking and refining their strategy than actually creating content.
Watching these problems unfold, I'm always reminded of struggling through my Economics undergrad:
In first year, we were introduced to beautifully rigorous and complete models that perfectly explained how the economy functioned.
In second year, we introduced dozens of caveats that made them less rigorous and complete.
In third year, we introduced something called a "random walk:" a variable used solely to introduce chaos and noise into the model, and in doing so, better emulate the real world.
The deeper we delved into economic modeling, the more we realized that our best models are terrible, terrible approximations of the real world.
The same applies to content marketing: there is no such thing as a perfect, complete model. Content strategy will never eliminate the chaos of unknown variables. Your best strategy can - and will - create results you never anticipated.
Content strategy is a guide, and a rough guide at that. It is only as useful as its ability to help you create effective content. As the statistician George Box put it,
"All models are wrong, but some models are useful."
If strategy stops serving that purpose - if it hinders your creativity or limits your output - it's time to take a step back, and take a less strategic approach to marketing. Exceptional results come from unconventional tactics, and an unwavering adherence to established models is a surefire way to suppress those types of moonshots.
In short: if you find yourself ditching radically inventive ideas because they don't fit into your framework, it might be time to ditch the framework.
As Nate Silver explains in The Signal and the Noise:
"The key is in remembering that a model is a tool to help us understand the complexities of the universe, and never a substitute for the universe itself."