50 Things Every Content Marketer Should Know
Fancy yourself a content marketer, or want to become one?
Here’s a big fat list of the content marketing skills and tactics you should know before you apply for that content marketer job or update the title on your business cards.
1. Good grammar and proper use of punctuation – Hopefully you learned this in school. If you weren’t paying any attention, it’s not too late. You can pick up a lot just from reading voraciously – like how the mermaid in Splash learned English from watching TV. I also recommend picking up a basic writing manual, because it would be very difficult to intuit all the finer points of grammar and punctuation through intuition. You’ll feel nice and superior once you know the difference between a hyphen, an en-dash, and an em-dash.
2. The difference between grammar and style – A lot of choices you make when writing aren’t technically about grammar but what editors call “style” – and I don’t mean whether your shoes match your belt. A “style guide” is a set of conventions that publishers agree to use for consistency’s sake. Most newspapers adhere to AP style while most book publishers adhere to Chicago style. Unfortunately, a lot of web publishers skip this step, part of the reason why many websites and blogs appear less than completely professional. If you’re serious about content marketing, make sure there’s someone on your team who understands the grammar/style distinction. Ideally, you’ll create your own style guide for internal use. An example of a style choice is whether you hyphenate “email” – for years, “e-mail” was the usual standard, but it’s now most commonly written without the hyphen.
3. How to create an outline – Good fences make good neighbors, and good outlines make good papers. It’s one of the secrets of good writers. Start with structure and build out from there.
4. How to write concisely – A new book called How to Not Write Bad (see what he did there?) by Ben Yagoda shows an example of a needless circumlocution: “The criteria that made this site able to be nominated are because of the uniqueness of the content it possesses.” Yagoda rewrites this statement as: “The site has excellent content.” Fluffing up your point with extra and longer words is a classic student paper move. It only has the effect of making you appear underconfident in your opinions. State what you mean as clearly and simply as possible (which is not to say there’s no room for personality in your content – see #4).
5. How to write in your own voice – Everyone talks in their own voice without thinking, but many people find it difficult to write in that voice. Though some types of content require a sort of generic, professional uber-voice, your blogging and social media efforts will benefit from showing some of your real personality. Don’t write sentences you would be embarrassed to say out loud.
6. The difference between concision and saying too little – There’s a persistent myth that web readers are lazy and won’t read long content. We’ve found the opposite to be true – the longer our content, the better our engagement metrics across the board (page views, shares, time on page, comments, etc.). So don’t use “concision” as an excuse for dull writing that lacks detail and analysis.
7. How to write scannable content – That said, not everyone will want to read every word on the page, so use lists, bullet points, subheads, boldface, highlighting, pop-out quotes and other formatting tricks that make your content easy to scan for high-level takeaways. Another good trick for long-form content: Create a table of contents with jump links so readers can skip right to the part they’re interested in and ignore the rest.
8. HTML – Most content management platforms have a WYSIWYG editor – i.e., “what you see is what you get.” That means they work like a Word document, with buttons to help you format your text, insert images, etc. But no WYSIWYG editor works perfectly every time, and you’ll find it incredibly useful to be able to look at the source code and fiddle around to get your formatting right. Bonus points if you can hand-code a table.
9. How to do keyword research – SEO keywords are still the cornerstone of content marketing. Familiarize yourself with some basic keyword tools and start using them regularly. I use Google’s tool and our own Free Keyword Tool as basic starting points, then delve into others for special circumstances.
10. How to find and use long-tail keywords – Keyword tools won’t always provide you with a lot of long-tail keyword options. Here are nine ways to find those longer, more specific niche terms.
11. The three types of search queries – Different types of search queries reveal different intent and demand different types of content. Know the three main types: informational, navigational, and transactional.
12. How to align content types with marketing goals – Some types of content drive lots of traffic. Others may get fewer views, but be better at converting new leads or customers. Knowwhat types of content are more likely to help you meet your business goals.
13. On-page optimization basics – I.e., where to put those keywords. Title and URL are no brainers. Then there’s subheads, images, your meta description, etc. – and obviously your keyword should be peppered throughout the body of the text if it’s actually relevant to the content. SEOmoz has a good analysis of on-page optimization factors to help you aim for the perfectly optimized page.
14. The anatomy of a SERP – You should know what a basic Google SERP looks like depending on search query type and be able to recognize anomalies, changes, and possible tests. What queries trigger universal results or the 7-result SERP? How much real estate is given to ads – above the organic results, on the right-hand side or even below the results? Are there product listing ads or just text ads? What queries trigger the Knowledge Graph?
15. The difference between page title and H1 – Each page on your site can effectively have two titles. You can choose to make these the same or vary them.
16. How to write a super clickable, shareable title – The viral marketing experts at Upworthy recommend writing 25 titles (you read that right, 25) for each piece of content to help you hit upon true title genius. Because the first 24 might suck.
17. How to write formulaic titles – Not every page on your site needs to be hyper-shareable. Product pages, for example, should stick to the basics, conveying maximum information while still being SEO-friendly. By hitting upon a title tag formula, you can optimize this high-volume pages in a scalable way.
18. The character/pixel limits for titles and meta descriptions – Up until recently, the thinking was that titles could be no longer than 70 characters, or Google will truncate them or, on occasion, substitute a completely different title (yay). Recent experiments suggest that characters per se are not the limiting factor, but pixels. (If you don’t feel like counting pixels, 70 chars is still a good rough guideline.) Your meta description should be between 150 and 160 characters.
19. How to write a meta description – Aside from knowing the character limit, know the purpose of this text. Google says it can’t and won’t affect your rankings, but since it might show up in the search results, it should accurately describe your content as well as “sell” it to convince them to click. It should be as relevant and compelling as a PPC ad. Also: Don’t use quotation marks in your meta description – a quote will make Google think your description is over before it is.
20. How to optimize images – Image search traffic, the other white meat! Know how to use keywords in your image file names and alt text in order to rank in Google image search.
21. When to link – and when not to – Links are a beautifully subtle, gently suggestive way to point readers to more information on related topics within your content. Use internal linking to keep readers on your site and foster flow among your various pages. Use external linking when it makes more sense to reference an outside source. Don’t overuse either or you’ll sacrifice readability, and piss Google off in the process.
22. The importance of inbound links – Links still matter, yes they do, we like links and you should too. Even if your team separates the content marketing and SEO roles, every web marketer should understand why links matter – and the kind of content that earns them.
23. How to write an outreach email – If your content marketing mojo is strong, you’ll get links without even asking for them. But it takes a while to get into that upper echelon. Initially, you’ll need to go out and seek the links. One way to do this is by writing an outreach email to potentially interested linking parties. After all, people can’t link to your content if they don’t know it exists. And the goal here is actually twofold – you’ll be building relationships at the same time.
24. How to use Google Alerts – Set up a Google Alert so you’ll know when people talk about you, your company, or your products, etc. on the web. You can also use Google Alerts to follow a “beat” – for example if you plan to cover some industry news announcement, you can keep up with the evolving story and the coverage elsewhere. (Note that in my experience, Google Alerts don’t work very well for low-volume queries.)
25. How to turn citations into links – If a site mentions your brand or cites your content without linking, reach out and ask them to provide a link. It’s one of the easiest forms of link building.
26. How to make your content easily shareable – You’ll get more social shares (on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, Pinterest, what-have-you) if you make it very easy for readers to share your stuff. Install social buttons and widgets that minimize the work for your visitors.
27. How to monitor brand mentions on social media – Don’t sign in to Twitter to tweet out your new content, then promptly sign out and never look at it again. Ugh! If you’re going to use social platforms to promote your content, make sure you’re also keeping up with conversations there, responding to questions and feedback, and occasionally promoting other people, content, and brands as well. In other words, be human.
28. How to respond to a complaint – If someone leaves a nasty review or flames you on social media, don’t get mad and don’t get defensive (at least not publicly).
29. How to moderate and respond to blog comments – This seems more basic than basic but a lot of content marketers get this wrong. If you never respond to comments, it gives the impression that you don’t care whether people leave them or not. And please don’t leave obviousspam comments under your posts. Major turnoff.
30. When to update old content – If you’re still getting search traffic to an old piece of content that is no longer accurate or up-to-date, take the time to update the content, or you’re wasting that traffic.
31. The importance of anchor text – Anchor text – the text that you make clickable when hyperlinking – is powerful stuff. You can even see it in action with less competitive queries. But tread carefully – many experts believe that anchor text is getting less valuable as a signal, and over-optimized anchor text could even get you flagged as a web spammer.
32. The importance of information architecture – It may not be part of your job to define the structure of your website, but at the very least you should understand why a well-organized information architecture is key in order to boost SEO and usability.
33. How to use Google Analytics – When Larry interviews SEO candidates, he asks them to sign into their Google Analytics account and poke around. This shows two things: a) how their site or blog is doing (which demonstrates if they can apply SEO) and b) if they know their way around the application (which demonstrates how much time they spend in Analytics). Don’t just create content; track and measure so you know what works and what you should do more/less of in the future.
34. How and when to leverage rich snippets – Rich snippets are the organic SEO equivalent of ad extensions in AdWords. They benefit some types of businesses more than others. For example, e-commerce companies should make use of the reviews and ratings snippets. Here is a list of the types of rich snippets that Google offers.
35. How to set up author markup – Specifically, as a content marketer, you should know how to take advantage of the author markup snippet so that your author photo shows up in the SERPs, which builds authority and can have a big effect on your click-through rate. Unfortunately (IMO) you’ll need a Google+ account to do this.
36. How to use the structured data testing tool – Use this tool to test how your snippets/microdata appear in search results.
37. How to set up an A/B test – A/B testing isn’t just for ads and subject lines. You can test titles, layouts, images, all kinds of marvelous things that could affect the way people interact with your content. There are some pretty robust software options out there for A/B and multivariate testing, but the easiest (and free-est) way to get started is with Google Analytics Content Experiments (formerly Website Optimizer).
38. How to write a press release – These are usually pretty boring and formulaic, to tell you the truth, but nonetheless you should know how to write professionally about a corporate news announcement. Know what information to include in a press release and how to set the right tone.
39. How to “spin” an article from different angles – There’s always more than one way to skin a cat and spin a story. I’m not talkin’ about old-school, spammy-crappy, no-value article spinning. I’m talking about re-writing an article or other piece of content with a different focus, so it has broader appeal to more audiences. Just make sure the different articles are truly unique with minimal overlap.
40. How to repurpose content in other formats – Similarly, know how to change the format of a piece of content to get more leverage out of it, without changing the “angle” per se. Turn a long blog post or series of blog posts into an e-book or guide that users can download as a PDF. Or turn the data in an infographic (visual content) into a written, readable article.
41. How to pitch a story – You’ll occasionally want to publish content somewhere other than your own site, to build your audience, expand reach as well as grow your link profile. Learn how to write a tactful pitch letter that demonstrates the value you can provide with a contributed piece of content.
42. How to build a slide deck – As far as I’m concerned, PowerPoint and Excel are necessary evils. As a writer, I’d always rather work in a good ol’ Word doc, but there are situations where you’ll need to present information in a different way. Webinars and online courses, for example, require slide decks. This presentation has some ideas for making better-looking slides:
43. How to find questions to answer with your content – Common questions make great starting points for content. Here are three ways to find questions to answer.
44. How to do an interview – It’s hard to get good answers if you don’t know how to ask good questions. Once you learn that skill, interviewing experts with a higher profile and larger network than you can be a great way to drive traffic and links and attract some attention. Another smart tactic is the group interview (AKA crowdsourcing).
45. What makes a good infographic – Like them or not, infographics are a type of content and as a content marketer, you should know your way around one. Not every kind of information lends itself to a visual presentation, but some data does, and when executed well, infographics make awesome linkbait.
46. What makes a good video – It’s often easier to rank for a competitive keyword with a video than with traditional written content, because fewer people are doing video. “How to” keywords often lend themselves to videos, for example.
47. When to outsource content creation – Your time is worth something, and it won’t always be cost-effective for you to handle every aspect of a content marketing project. Consider outsourcing when you want to create a type of content that’s not in your area of expertise. For example, I don’t know how to edit a video or execute complex design work – but I can write the script or do the research.
48. How to do a competitive content analysis – Before tackling a competitive keyword space, see who and what is already ranking. What do their backlink profiles look like? Do you have a hope and prayer of competing? How can your content be more awesome?
49. How to create and maintain an editorial calendar – The bigger your site, goals, and team, the more likely it is that you’ll need an editorial calendar to keep things running smoothly and on schedule. Here are some of the pros and cons plus mistakes to avoid when creating an editorial calendar.
50. How to troubleshoot a traffic loss – If a previously reliable piece of content suddenly falls off a Google cliff due to algorithmic changes, know how to troubleshoot and recover.
What did I miss? Content marketers, let me know in the comments!