Standing out on the internet isn’t as easy as it was 15 years ago. You can’t just spam your website with keywords and expect to rank high in search results. After all, Google’s been penalizing “black-hat” SEO since their Penguin update and each subsequent iteration to Google’s algorithm makes it that much more critical that your content provides a valuable experience for the end-visitor. But this isn’t anything you haven’t heard in an Inbound Marketing 101 course. We all agree that “good” content is key to attract visitors and convert leads.
But here is the challenge: what type of content do companies need to attract and engage prospective visitors in the endless ocean of internet content? Furthermore, with more terrain than ever to explore on the web, how do you keep visitors’ attention long enough that they want to learn more about your products and services?
A great way to garner attention and, more importantly, trust, is by producing killer content that attracts an audience to your owned properties (commonly referred to as “inbound marketing”). Don’t churn out countless pages of content— it won’t get you anywhere if it’s being ignored. Articles and videos that simply end up being indexed by robots are useless. However, content that users love can transform them into habitual visitors and, ultimately, into customers. In our information-saturated world, valuable content is in high demand but low supply.
But if you hit the high demand/low supply sweet spot, your content will be shared on social media, receive increased traffic on search engines, get referrals from customers and visitors alike, and build brand trust. Amazing resources like Moz Academy and Hubspot Academy can help you get up to speed on the latest trends in creating content that converts.
More than 50% of all internet traffic occurs on smartphones and tablets. The person you are trying to reach is probably engaging with your content while jogging before work, riding the subway into the job, or cooking dinner for their family.
The best content is built with the fundamentals of how humans actually interact with the web, leveraging a combination of language, experience, storytelling, and search (L.E.S.S.). You need to create content that that will energize and engage your visitors. But what does that mean, and how does it inform the content we create for our visitors?
“Frameworks enable us to elevate our ways of working. As search engines and digital marketing evolve at a lightning pace, we love using L.E.S.S. as a memorable, actionable, and scalable way to plan, execute, and utilize content across all marketing channels.” – Our Founder Pete Sena
The L.E.S.S. methodology uses these four human pillars to create content that humans can connect with. Approaching content creation from a perspective anchored in L.E.S.S. could be the difference between success and failure. If you generate content around your users’ needs, language, and search habits, you’ll come closer to putting forward material that speaks to your company’s key performance indicators (KPIs).
To quote Steven Pinker, the Harvard linguist, “language is a miracle of the natural world because it allows us to exchange an unlimited number of ideas using a finite set of mental tools.” The awesomeness of grammar (namely syntax, morphology, and phonology) are part of the reason that computers have so much trouble understanding language. The complexity of spoken language has proven to be a major challenge for computer programs.
But after 80,000 years, humans are finally having conversations with synthetic intelligence on a daily basis (whether they realize it or not). Programs like the ones Google uses to crawl and index the web are finally starting to figure it out. Over the past 10 years, computer scientists have made remarkable strides in bridging the language gap between humans and computers.
Thanks to developments in natural language processing (NLP), computational linguistics, and machine learning, computers are becoming better at processing and understanding human language. Natural language search (NLS) is becoming the dominant form of interacting with search engines. In part due to the spread of AI assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google Now, we communicate with search engines like they are humans.
Users used to communicate with computers like they were...well, computers. In the early 2000s, we might have asked Google “distance earth moon.” But now, we might ask Siri, “how far is the moon from the earth?” or “What movies are playing at the closest theater?”
The rise of AI bots that can “meet” and be of service to the billions of users across mobile apps and social platforms will only further advance the conversational expectations of searchers. While most bots remain rudimentary, tech giants have invested heavily into NLP platforms that provide developers the tools they need to code messaging software that can better understand human syntax and interpret intent. Powered by Facebook’s Wit, Google’s Api.ai, and Microsoft’s LUIS, conversational bots are about to become that much more human.
When building websites or publishing material for your digital properties, you need to be aware that not only will your buyer of tomorrow be using conversational speech when browsing the web, but the machines that index web content, like Google, have already started favoring content that uses natural language when ranking content. Jargon is your enemy. Think in terms of language that your customer uses when speaking with a friend.
If you build content around the words, phrases, and questions that your customers use, you’ll produce content that will rank higher in search.
It may be cliche, but there’s no better way to learn than through experience. What we really mean is that we internalize data better through trying something than hearing about it.
Sublime content can elide the difference between learning and experiencing. It transforms the user from an outsider into an active participant. It’s like that car commercial of an adventurer rough riding his SUV through the Rocky Mountains. An outdoor enthusiast watching it says to himself “that’s me on my next trip to Colorado.”
Experience refers to both the vicarious process of relating to the content as well as interacting with it.
If you have 10 minutes to spare in between work meetings, you might use your micro-hiatus to look for a gift for your son’s 10th birthday. Since you’re pressed for time, you’ll have little patience for a slow loading website. That one snag might irritate you enough to go to another website to buy the toy instead of using the first one you found. It won’t matter that the former ranked higher in the search engine.
The double-edged sword of high-speed internet is that we’ve become more ADHD than ever. We are always looking for a fast, seamless exploration on a website. The downside for businesses is that if a user detects that your site is loading sluggishly, they will move on. Even if you offer just what the customer needs, you’ll lose him. Your potential users’ time is valuable.
Experience is all about making sure that you create a smooth journey for your user from when they first enter the funnel until they've converted into a customer.
An awesome user experience is not created in a vacuum. It requires engagement with designers, stakeholders, and customers, all working towards the goal of delighting the user. A strong user experience is not the result of one link, video, or blog post. It’s the sum of a holistic journey that permeates everything created. The visuals (or infographics), load speed, design beauty, smoothness of use on both mobile and laptop devices, and an easily navigable site add up to additional traffic and conversions.
Nothing grabs our attention like a great storyteller. Become one. If you tell a story better than your competitors you’ll give your visitor more meaningful content to connect with.
Great stories connect with the audience in a way that they feel like characters in the story, subject to the fortunes and failures of the protagonists.
For thousands of years, literature and myths have conveyed tales that allow us to feel for the characters. The stories transport us into their personas. Through the story, we oftentimes imagine ourselves as participants. When their hearts are broken, we feel loss. When they complete their quests, we feel triumph.
You want to tell stories in the content you create that elicit a strong response from your customer. It maybe laughter, sadness, self-reflection, nostalgia, or all at once. You want to generate a meaningful connection with your brand or product through storytelling.
Blog posts, articles, infographics social media, and web pages are all potential storytelling mediums. Think about how Buzzfeed’s Tasty videos visualize their 60-second recipes on Facebook. They are designed to be told without sound (since they often appear on newsfeeds which are silent); they produce elaborate recipes but in a manner that a cooking novice can follow; and the signature “oh yes” signals that the creation is complete and a delightful success. Buzzfeed’s Tasty content makes it easy for the viewer to imagine themselves making the recipes themselves. Viewers tell themselves, “that’s not too difficult! I can totally cook that this weekend.”
If you think in terms of stories, users can more easily connect with you.
Search engines have been a boon for humans’ innate curiosity and thirst for discovery. We live in a time where any question that pops into our head can usually be answered in less than 10 seconds — the time it takes for you reach for your mobile device or hop onto your laptop and then type your query into Google. Yep, we are living in a golden age of learning, greater than that produced in the Golden Age of Athens, the Scientific Revolution, and the European Enlightenment. If only Aristotle, Kepler, Newton, or Voltaire had had access to search engines! Just imagine what their micro-moments would have been like.
But this wealth of knowledge is not without hiccups. The uberification of knowledge has also made us more impatient. With all this information at our fingertips, we are less inclined to look farther than what appears on the first page of search results (SERP). We are so impatient that personalized results are already being replaced by predictive experiences that use advances in machine learning to anticipate needs and wants even before we hit search.
Search brings together language, experience, and storytelling. If you produce stellar content, your SEO (search engine optimization) will get better. Conversely, the better your SEO, the better your chances of making sure that users will see your kickass content. To borrow from Google, “focus on the user and all else will follow.” The search process begins when someone is curious to learn something. Maybe they type in “shoe sales” or “where can I find shoe sales.”
Search tools like Moz’s Keyword Explorer and Google Keyword Planner are great for helping you determine what keywords have high search volume as you try to increase your search rankings. These tools help you discover ways to connect with the humanity of your audience. What human behaviors do the pertinent high-ranking keywords reflect? It's first about understanding who your users are, how they’re using the web to discover content like yours, and then creating meaningful content that is designed for humans to engage those users.
Searching through link sharing services, social media, and other content discovery platforms will become more a part of the conversation. Moreover, the emergence of AI assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Now will change the way we search since these AI machines will “speak” rather “show” the search results.
Optimizing the ways that users discover and share will be essential for your inbound marketing game.
Inbound Marketing in 2017
Awesome inbound marketing is not synonymous with one trait. It’s about building exceptional content for humans. If you don’t, you risk falling into the oblivion of soulless internet content that exists for no reason other than that it exists.
L.E.S.S. gives your content meaning and ignites growth. L.E.S.S. guides your content creation, and helps light a path towards unpacking how inbound marketing intersects with SEO, by harnessing natural language, storytelling, and website infrastructure to create value for the humans who engage with your content. The aggregate of these parts is content that will attract users and up your visibility.
Less is more.
Want to learn more about how you can apply the L.E.S.S. framework to generate better content for your business? Let’s have a conversation.