Andy Crestodina on (Effective) Content Creation
Can you explain a little bit about what you do at Orbit?
Sure, I’d be happy to.
I’m one of the co-founders here at Orbit Media, so I’ve worn a lot of different hats over the years. Currently, my role is about 50% marketing and 50% supporting the sales team. Our business is web design and development, so I do a lot of strategy and sales for some of our bigger clients where we're based in Chicago.
It’s the marketing side that’s the fun stuff though. I do a lot of writing, teaching, and speaking at conferences where I basically teach content marketing and strategy with a big focus on search optimization and analytics.
So we met not too long ago at a conference where you had a lot of great things to say about content creation and collaboration. In your experience, what kind of content gets results?
It’s my experience—and there’s research supporting this—there are two main types of content that buck the trend and get way better results than most content. The truth is that most content gets almost no results. The two types of content that beat the odds are:
- well-evidenced research (especially original research)
- strong opinion content (especially contrarian opinion)
The well-evidenced original research tends to drive a lot of links and mentions which give you a big SEO benefit. The strong opinion content leads to a lot of shares in social media. Additionally, the format of the content will give you strengths and weaknesses in different channels as well.
I’m big on search so I know how valuable targeted traffic can be if you build up an audience of people who are trying to find you for a certain topic. For that reason, I’d recommend—if at all possible—create some sort of original research in your content strategy. Produce a statistic or sound bite that exists nowhere else but on your website, especially one that answers an important question in your industry.
For us, we produced an article that showed how long the average blog post takes to write… that content didn’t appear anywhere else. As soon as you have that missing stat, it will lead to a huge amount of attention, attraction, shares, and the links that drive targeted visitors.
"The best source for content topics for any business is that business' audience."
Do you have any sort of tips, tricks, or exercises that you would recommend going through to brainstorm what that missing stat would in your industry?
The simplest, fastest way to get this result is by listening… especially someone like me who spends part of their time close to their audience.
Your audience may be telling you what they want you to write about. You might be writing emails every day that are perfect topics. I'd suggest taking a look through your outbox to see if there are any patterns in the information you're sending out.
The best source of topics for any business is that business’ audience. Just by listening to the conversations you have can trigger all kinds of great articles that could get great results in both search and social.
That plays into the importance of having marketing and sales strongly aligned because a lot of those emails you mentioned will probably be coming from sales, but marketing will be the ones taking action on it from a content standpoint.
Definitely. We’re a small enough business that we don’t have a problem with silos. It’s a big advantage.
Sales should be providing topics to marketing and marketing should be providing articles to sales. When it works well, sales is not just answering questions of prospects, but sending them links to pages that have all kinds of good stuff on them. Additionally, they’re listening and sending topics over to marketing for future content creation.
Are there any content pieces you see on a regular basis that you kind of just shake your head at... pieces that you know won’t produce results?
When I see topics that have already been written about a thousand times... it seems they just wrote something because they had a deadline. Pieces that are backed up with a weak opinion, or are poorly evidenced I'd guess don't do well also.
The other thing that I see is poor structure with huge blocky paragraphs. They’re not using the little things that get content more traction, things like:
- using short paragraphs
- using numbered/bullet lists
- internal links
Here's a great quote from Eugene Schwartz back in the 1950s:
“Great copy isn’t written; it’s assembled.”
You need to structure it so that it works well for scan readers. When I see a piece of content and there’s a big block of a paragraph right at the top—trust me—no one’s going to read that. People are going skip it, scan it, or just hit the back button.
With good content, the first paragraph gets you to read the second paragraph. The second paragraph gets you to read the third paragraph. It’s all broken up so that it pulls your eye further down the page with bullet lists, bolding, italics, internal links, multiple images, and sub-headers. Those things will all keep the visitor moving through the page.
"I’ve never seen a medium quality post go viral."
What’s your advice on how much content to publish in regards to the whole quality vs quantity argument?
I’m not sure that any of our audiences care much about quantity.
What works is a single piece of content that answers a question completely. Having one of those per month is going to get you better results than having a never-ending stream of average quality blog posts.
I’ve never seen a medium quality post go viral.
The great stuff is so much better than good stuff. It’s an exponential curve. The results you get for having something great is a hundred times as much as the results you get from having something that’s mediocre.
Sure we've got a publishing calendar, and we've got to hit our deadlines. For me, I write something every 2 weeks, and that’s enough. I don’t need to write something every day, but it gives me the luxury of spending six to eight hours on every piece. I work my butt off on each and every post making sure it's quality content with things like quotes from influencers, pictures, and original diagrams.
I’m a believer in quality over quantity.
I think probably a few years ago when content marketing was just on the rise, a lot of people were all about writing as much as possible. There was a lot of pressure put on getting a lot out, whereas now since there’s so much content everywhere, the only way to stand out it to produce quality work.
Yeah. I totally agree. Go bigger on your topics, the length, the quality, and your collaboration.
There are several websites that just tested the idea of publishing nothing for a month. They focused solely on promoting existing content for two weeks or a month and from what I know, it didn’t hurt their marketing in the slightest.
"Collaboration is the missing piece for a lot of people’s content strategy."
I'd like to shift the focus more towards getting your content spread across multiple networks... what are some tips that you found successful in getting your work spread around?
Collaboration is a great one because it’s like a combo trick. You get two for the price of one.
- the quality of content is improved
- the overall reach is improved
This blog for example; we’re having this conversation and when it's done this will be a piece of content that you and I are both invested in. I’m obviously going to be helping you promote, and (hopefully) by including me, it improved the overall quality. An ally in creation is an ally in promotion.
If you make part of your publishing standards to get a quote from at least one person for everything that you publish, your reach will expand. That way you have someone else who’s going to be helping you make that thing successful.
Collaboration is the missing piece for a lot of people’s content strategy. It gives you a significant advantage in social media promotion.
For those that have smaller networks, just starting out, do you have any tips to help get those well-known thought leaders onboard?
I think that most people—myself included—love to be interviewed. People love to answer questions and contribute.
There’s not a trick as much as just trying it. It can be as simple as sending an email that says “I’m writing about topic X. You’re an expert on that topic. Would you mind contributing a short quote to this article I’m working on.” From there you can give some details on the structure you're looking for.
I’ve done this hundreds of times and I’ve been turned down twice.
I get emails like that all the time. It’s well worth my time to take a minute out of the day and just respond with a nice detailed answer to whatever anyone’s asking me.
For those that are lucky enough to be seen as thought leaders, what's the proper response to this sort of outreach? How much time and effort should you invest?
Go big. You want to write the best answer that will be included in the piece. It might be a roundup, but you want your answer to stand out. Use the same formatting you'd use when writing anything else... bullet lists, bolding, links, and images are important.
You've got to remember that the level of work you put forward is going to make a difference in whether or not that person reaches out to you again, and whether or not people who read that piece are impressed by you.
Something else that got brought up at The Uberflip Experience is the fact that you'll accept every LinkedIn request you receive. Could you just explain why you do that, and why others (specifically content marketers) should think about doing the same?
Yeah. I love this topic.
LinkedIn started as everybody’s resume and private network of personal connections. It was really high-quality, partly because people really honor that, but when LinkedIn transitioned itself into a content platform, people didn’t make the shift.
I promote content on LinkedIn, which anyone should. It’s a business network that is a great place to interact and share, so why wouldn’t I want a larger network there to share my work with?
I couldn’t agree more. My LinkedIn audience is definitely something that I’m going to work on growing moving forward.
I'm interested in hearing what some of your favorite resources are:
Must-follow on Twitter?
He is a collaborator of mine, and one of the sharpest writers, my friend Barry Feldman.
He shares great stuff and his articles are very in depth and detailed. He doesn’t write every day, but when he writes, he covers that topic completely. He’ll stick his neck out and take a stand on certain topics.
I saw him once completely tear to pieces all of the headlines on all the marketing automation companies’ websites. Explained why each one of them was horrible — it was hilarious.
There’s a daily blog that’s absolutely worth reading, Spin Sucks. It’s a PR and communications blog by my friend Gini Dietrich.
Gini knocks it out of the park every day with big picture stuff. She has so many fans. Head over to spinsucks.com and read through some of her things.
I’ve got a new book that I’m very excited about, although it’s really nerdy. It’s called Google Analytics Breakthrough.
I’m actually carrying around a paper book (believe it or not). It's 600 pages. It’s like a college textbook and it’s awesome. It explains everything. It goes through and breaks down pretty much everything inside Google Analytics. It’s by the guys that work at E-Nor.
What is your favorite 90s dance song?
This is by far the hardest question.
I have memories of driving in a 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais singing at the top of my lungs, Walking Into Spiderwebs by No Doubt. I wasn’t dancing (because I was driving), but that's what comes to mind when thinking of 90's music.
Thanks a lot for doing this today, Andy!
Anytime, Dan. This has been a pleasure.