In the connected economy, where relationships matter, content is currency. There are two trends that bind everything across the online/offline divide, and they’re both inescapable: Personalization and Context.
Inevitably we have gone from the “Content is King”, slogans that were also floating around a lot back in 2005 to the realisation that content now needs to resonate with its audience if it is to have a chance to calls to be “exceptional” and create the kind of content that will make you stand out. Each time we focus on “the new shiny” there is a torrent of information making the rounds with concerns being amplified and a little distorted.
In the semantic web everything is connected. Each activity we undertake has an impact on other things we do. The ten questions below are the ones most frequently being asked by content creators today.
1. Do I have to be a writer? – This is the most common question of all. A lot of content is writing and because there is no escaping having to create content any more the fact that someone is not a writer suddenly looms into view. And it becomes an obstacle. Embrace the fact that you will have to write, at some point, in order to communicate with your audience and focus on getting your message across with clarity, accessibility and real value for the end user. Online communication today is a lot like a conversation. It is more important to say something that is valuable than to focus on how to best say something.
2. Must I post content every day? – Well, here the answer is that you can, if you want to but you no longer have to. In the past posting frequency, the length of posts and the total number of posts contained on a website were signals that search used to rank websites. As a result they gave rise to a mode of working online where if you had a blog, you had to blog every day and each post had to be of 300+ words length and you had to have as many posts as possible in each category of your website and so on. The focus now is on quality. What you say is more important than how often you say it. This puts the emphasis on quality and it also raises the point that now you’re really only as good as your last post so posting frequently means nothing if all you’re doing is posting mediocre or low quality stuff and driving people away from your site.
3. Does content have to be my own? – Originality was another one of those ranking requirements of the pre-semantic search web. It still is, to some extent, but it is difficult to be truly original in a web that sees terrabytes of information being created every day. As a result the emphasis has shifted on value. Within that curation, the resharing of other people’s content in a metadata sort of way that allows them to be viewed in a different context is good. As always this has to be used from a value to the end user point of view as opposed to an easy way to create content that is of low quality.
4. What if I only do video? – Content is content no matter what and you no longer have to just write. There are content creators who are more comfortable creating video blogs (or Vlogs) or photographs or a mixture of the two and there’s nothing wrong with that. Again the questions regarding content creation have to be: does it deliver value to your audience? Does it help them identify who you are? Does it clearly spell out your message on values and identity? If you’re answering an enthusiastic “yes” on all this then you’re in the clear.
5. How do I brand myself? – There is a whole science that revolves around branding but in broad strokes you brand yourself with content by making sure that it has your own unique voice (see external links at the end of this piece for tips on how to discover it), it projects your own unique set of values and, generally speaking, markets who you are, what you do and what you stand for in the same way you would if you were standing there in person, talking to someone.
6. How can content create trust? – Trust is a difficult quality to talk about because you know it only when you see it. Having said that, when it comes to a content creation strategy for the semantic web trust is generated through consistency in your message, a clear communicating style, transparency of purpose and the ability to establish engagement based on commonly shared values. If any of these lack in your content creation strategy you are, unfortunately, only half-doing what you should and trying to use style to draw attention away from the missing substance.
7. Do I have to have structured data on my pages? If you can mess with code then it’d be silly not to. Semantic search however is Google’s answer to the lack of structured data on the web. Google is in the business now of extracting information from pages on the web that have unstructured data and indexing it in a structured data format in its semantic index. So, if you can’t code don’t lose any sleep over it. Just make sure that you’re doing everything else right.
8. Does Google Authorship matter? - In a word: “Yes”. Google Authorship allows you to lay claim to your content on the web and have it featured in search alongside a thumbnail of you. It is not a ranking factor in the search engine results pages (SERPs) but it is a huge marketing aid (you’re leveraging search as a marketing tool with your picture on it) and it does lead to an increase in Click Through Rate (CTR) which is a ranking factor. Implementation has now got easier. One note of caution, Google has said that implementation of Authorship is not an easy win. It still needs to be a page that contains high quality content so do not assume that this is a shortcut to producing well, erm… high quality content. Update (2018): Fast forward four years and I now need to update this to reflect the current focus of Google search which is rich snippets and structured data. The evolution of Google search follows the evolving way we use search. Mobile and Voice Search have changed the gameplan significantly so that authorship is no longer in the picture. This is not quite the same as to say it does not matter. As always the ability to be recognized via your content is a key aspect of your content creation strategy and branding. You should always strive to make your content stand out in a way that is uniquely yours.
9. How can I get inspiration? – You shouldn’t need inspiration in fostering communication between your business and its target audience. Thinking that you do sets the content you create, somehow apart from what you should be doing in the day-to-day running of your business and it shouldn’t. Communicating online, through whichever means you first find the easiest should be part of your business activities.
10. How can I create quality content? – I left this question last because it crops up again and again, right alongside the ability of machines to judge quality in content. While quality in content creation might be judged along the lines of technical proficiency or innovative approaches or even virtuosity of use, ultimately the only thing that really matters is how useful the content you create is to the audience it reaches. That also becomes the litmus test of success for your business. So really, the answer here is that quality content is created the moment you translate the passion you feel for your business and your desire to be the best into content that simply resonates with your audience, helps them achieve something with it, in their lives and addresses their questions and needs.
For an insight into how personalization, context and content work together check out the video below: