A quick online search of “what is content?” will return a plethora of definitions, including this one from Dictionary.com:
“Something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts.”
The word content itself has been around for hundreds of years, but its meaning has developed in recent times to encompass the mass of content found online. According to Merriam-Webster, one such definition is:
“The principal substance (such as written matter, illustrations or music) offered by a website.”
So, then, content is the principal substance of something expressed through a medium. These days, that medium is often digital for everything from the written word to illustration to video, and an entire culture has grown up around it.
For example, looking at a simple web page, you can see there is a variety of content types (which I’ll go into more depth on later):
Why Content Matters
What is the point of this online collection of words, images and sounds that we call content?
The most obvious answer might be communication. But what does that mean in a world where countless individuals and organizations publish content on every topic, every day and to communicate with every type of audience? Will your content just end up as white noise?
It doesn’t have to. Content is your opportunity to stand apart from the competition. It’s a way to reach and build trust with a global audience while observing the best practices of traditional marketing.
One of those best practices is quality. Content matters as a means of communication, and quality content is how you make that communication effective. Creating and publishing content regularly will keep you visible; make that content high-quality and it becomes useful for customers, unique to your services and strategic for your brand.
First, be aware that plenty of low-quality content is trying to compete with you. Although Google updates its algorithms to help ensure quality in the top-ranking posts, content mills are still out there, producing large quantities of content for ridiculously low prices that are reflected in the quality.
Beyond that, digital content faces a complexity traditional marketing did not: search engines. Ensuring your content is high-quality doesn’t just make you look good to visitors—it makes it far more likely that those visitors will find you in the first place (see first link in the previous paragraph).
Different Types of Content
I mentioned a few different types of content in the introduction, but let’s dig a little deeper into the most popular kinds of online content.
Video is increasingly popular on a range of platforms. Not only can you create and/or share videos on your website, social media and elsewhere, you can also embed videos from YouTube and other sites into your blogs. Live streaming is also an increasingly popular option.
Videos are a great way to show up in organic search results (as opposed to paid ads), because Google often includes YouTube videos as one element in its content in the Universal Search results.
Webinars and online courses are becoming an industry of their own, and what better way to demonstrate your expertise and value than an online course? Some brands even partner with other companies to expand the audience reach for their online courses. It might take a lot of work, but it’s definitely not something all of your competitors are also doing.
Infographics are a great way to organize a lot of information into digestible chunks and maximize on your audience’s love for visual content. Think statistics and simple charts along with clean, simple graphics. Make sure you put as much thought and fact-checking into your visual as you would any written content.
Written content is the most traditional type of content, though the internet has expanded it into new formats. Here are some of the written content types and their uses:
Email marketing is a good way to keep in touch with those who have opted-in to communication from your brand. From a periodic newsletter to a drip campaign that targets a specific part of your audience, email is both traditional and effective.
Thought Leadership Articles and Blogs Posts
Thought leadership and blog pieces can be long form or short, and establish authority and give your brand personality. Blog posts are also a great way to keep your content fresh, which tells search engines that you’re a relevant and timely resource on a given topic.
Web Content and Landing Pages
Pages on your website work to inform or convert visitors to your site, and they should always be optimized with SEO in mind, such as including the Meta information attached to them.
Social Media Updates
Social media makes it easy to interact with customers and fans directly, and further develop your brand’s online personality.
White Papers and E-books
White papers and e-books are both more in-depth than blog posts or articles and meant to demonstrate your brand’s authority to potential customers. While white papers tend to be formal in tone and use text more than imagery, e-books are usually casual and include more graphics.
White papers can be incorporated into your sales cycle to reach out to new contacts and existing clients who might want specific information. E-books are often created from trending topics and available for download on a company’s website (in exchange for your email address).
Case studies provide anecdotes and data that demonstrate how effective your services are for customers. They highlight the challenges an organization faced and the results your services helped lead to, and often include a quote from the client and your company. Case studies don’t have to be long, and only need an image or two.
Research reports are a way to establish thought leadership through exclusive research on industry trends. In some cases, your reports can end up in niche publications and/or downloadable resources.
Press releases happen when you have something newsworthy to share. Rather than writing press releases for every little change in your company, keep content interesting enough that a journalist might feature it in a piece.
What are Content Standards?
If you’re going to create quality content, you need to observe certain quality standards in order to stand out. The web is still a sort of “Wild West” when it comes to standards, where everyone is responsible for their own quality. When done well, your content uplifts the quality of all web content, which is everyone’s responsibility.
In reality, though, not everyone is striving for high-quality standards on the web. This is why Google has stepped in to regulate and keep low-quality content off the first page of its search results. Ultimately, what’s good for your brand is good for the web, and it’s going to make Google happier and boost your SEO.
A good first step is selecting which existing style guide your company will follow, as style guides offer ready-made guidance on many writing elements, including numerals, names, capitalization and more. You can select from popular options, such as the AP, Chicago Manual, MLA or APA style guides. (Stay tuned for a post on AP versus Chicago—which should you choose?)
Beyond that, you’ll want to put your own spin on the style guide for your company by determining things like what sort of images your content includes, what fonts you prefer, where your logo will appear, etc. Finally, you’ll set the standard for your brand’s personality. Will your tone be scholarly and serious, or relaxed and sprinkled with humor?
Once you settle on your standards for style, aesthetics and tone, stick to them consistently. Make sure your team can easily access the elements of your style guide for any content project. You might even consider corporate-wide style guide training if multiple departments are creating their own content.
What are Content Services?
Now that you know what content is and what content standards are, you might be wondering what exactly are the “content services” you have heard about. Content services offer content creation from a third-party vendor that takes a strategic approach to support an organization’s marketing and business goals.
Many businesses outsource content to an agency to ramp up their quality and efforts and alleviate some of the resource strain in-house.
Content services should be executed with an understanding of the larger digital marketing discipline. Professional content service providers should work closely with a brand to create customized pieces that align with its audience. Great content professionals are experienced in creating high-quality written and visual content, and also know how to approach questions on SEO, style and other aspects of digital content.
More importantly, a good content team will talk to you about your overall content strategy, not just individual projects. This is important in creating a consistent image that your audience can trust.
If you’d like to know more about content and content services, check out the content services available from bizbuzzcontent.
How do you think of and envision content? Let me know in the comments below!