Suite Seven is publishing a series of articles on the eight hallmarks of content quality. This article on relevance is the first article in the series.
The very definition of content marketing by the Big Kahunas at Content Marketing Institute is “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined understood target audience — with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
That’s a lot of marketing mumbo-jumbo, but the phrase I want to call out here is “relevant and valuable.” You see these words everywhere these days. I find myself saying them over and over every day, so much so that they start to sound trite. So I thought it might be helpful to revisit exactly what we mean by relevance (and value).
Why humans and machines love relevance
Search engines by their very nature are designed to algorithmically determine relevance — to serve up a list of pages that are as close as possible to what the user was trying to find. Traditionally, search engines have determined relevance by crawling text and reading keywords that were the same or similar to the search query, and also by evaluating relationships between a webpage and linked pages (both within the same site and to or from other websites).
In recent years, search engine companies (Google most publicly) have continued to refine their algorithms to more accurately determine relevance — with the goal being to reward high-quality content that users will find helpful, rather than pages “optimized” to trick users into visiting a page. The Panda update in 2011 was Google’s dramatic shift toward taking the relevant substance of a page into account when ranking.
Perhaps most notably, performance metrics such as bounce rate, click-through rate and “dwell time” (the amount of time a user spends on a page after arriving there) are all major considerations in a page’s ranking. Another Google update in 2013, dubbed Platypus, also filters for red flags like plagiarism and spelling and grammar — so to all those who insist proper English no longer matters, think again, haters.
What exactly does this change mean? When bounce rates are high and time spent on a page is low, it means people aren’t finding what they’re looking for, and they’re fleeing. This is bad in itself, because your primary goal is to engage visitors and get them to stick around and do more with you — so they’ll eventually buy. But Google’s update means that you’re not only losing potential customers with poor content, you’re actually additionally getting dinged in your search engine rankings because you’re losing those prospects.
That’s why relevance can be the one-two punch of your content’s success — and lack of relevance can deliver a double-whammy you definitely want to avoid.
Content results require relevance
Digital marketing has come a long way, but too many marketers are still solely focused on traffic and eyeballs, which is why “Can you fix our SEO?” is still a common ask. Unfortunately, many marketers are so fixated on search engine results they forget to ask themselves if they’re attracting the right visitors, and if they’re giving those visitors what they want when they arrive at the site.
Here’s an example from our own client base. One of our clients is a technology company that also happens to run a venture capital fund. VC funding isn’t widely available to people and companies who use their technology — it’s managed separately.
Content about the venture fund drove a ton of traffic to their website. But the client was scratching its collective head about why it wasn’t converting these visitors to customers. We recommended removing this content and instead developing rich content about its actual solutions, and about the issues and challenges its audiences were focused on day-to-day. While overall traffic dropped, the time spent on pages and the number of conversions dramatically increased, suggesting we were finally driving true prospective customers to the site.
Relevance requires you to get inside your customers’ heads. Speak their language, and think about things the way they do. You might spend months getting your marketing messages just right. But if you can’t deliver those messages in a context that makes your audiences care, they’ll fall flat.
How to create relevant content
- Get to know your audiences. No, I mean, really get to know them. Don’t make assumptions. You can invest money in focus groups or market research. Or you can just talk to them. Go on sales calls. Listen in on customer care calls. Grab someone at a trade show and have a cup of coffee with her. The more you hear from customers, the more you can walk in their shoes when developing your content.
- Understand how to interpret your data. Set up your website analytics to understand where visitors are coming from, what they’re looking for and what they’re doing once they get there. You may be missing opportunities to further engage them by providing related content that gives them a reason to spend more time on your site — or even fill out a lead form.
- Put things in context with how they think. Use terms they use to describe concepts. No matter how hard your product managers fight it. And think about what questions they might have, how they’re looking for information to solve their problems, and what’s likely to get them excited or intrigued. Don’t assume they’re setting out to find your company and your product. Assume they’re window-shopping for how to fix something that’s bugging them. Be the one who offers up the interesting perspective on how to solve it.
- Be as unique as you can. Now that everybody’s a content marketer, back-to-basics topics are typically pretty much covered by all your competitors and then some. Think about how you can put a fresh spin on a tired old topic. And offer something new: some insight from your own experience, a video conversation with a customer about how he solved a similar problem, a teaching moment based on something happening in the news. Fresh and unique content that’s relevant is the most likely to get linked to and shared — and shareable content wins big with the search engines.
- Segment and personalize as much as you can. A lot of marketers, especially those with limited resources and budgets (and let’s face it, isn’t that most of us?), wince at the word “personalize” — because personalization requires a lot of work. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but taking the time to segment your lists and deliver the most relevant content to each of your audiences will bring you more engagement over time.
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