Data is a good servant, but a terrible master. And that’s coming from us who are in the business of providing data to marketers. Here’s why.
Data driven decision-making is one of the most popular marketing buzzwords at the moment. Everyone loves to have data to back their claims. Heck, it would be ignorant not to make any sort of claim without backing it up with some sort of research.
But when it comes to writing content, there’s a difference between relying on data for insight and basing your entire content strategy completely on nuggets of data you find in random articles on the internet. Or in words of Austin Knight, The Road to Mediocrity Is Paved with Best Practices (a must-read).
Recently I came across a blog post by Doug Kessler on different types of writers they reject. The author called one type a search slut. The term made me giggle for three minutes, but also got me thinking.
SEO is just one of the many “most successful”, “most relevant”, “most proven” tactics advertised on the internet. I’m not opposed to SEO or SEM or any other data backed advice businesses can use to generate content and make better decisions.
But, I’m questioning if strictly data based content is withholding (some) authors and their businesses ideas or visions from generating actual impact.
More often than not, SEO optimized writing (disclaimer: not talking about technicalities here, just plain text manipulation to make it more search friendly) is about changing the writing style to make it friendlier to the masses and robots (crawlers). In most cases, it will result in a clean, easily skimmable text providing the most information in the least amount of time. Definitely practical. And in tech writing, often brilliant. But it also impacts the word flow. When reading a good piece, one gets lost in the illusion of a beat and melody that words create. When strictly following advice of shortening a paragraph to up to 4 sentences, it gets impossible to immerse in the illusion.
But still, while a good copywriter needs to know SEO writing, there seem to be too many content makers, marketing ninjas, wordsmiths and others who completely base their writing on search ranking tips and tricks. This makes every blog of theirs bear an uncanny resemblance to an IKEA instruction manual.
To avoid eye rolls, when your message isn’t about providing a quick summary on what’s new, before you publish your data driven blog post ask yourself a couple of questions:
- Is it creative?
- Does it even need to be?
- Are product-related blogs worthy of the time needed to make something that counts?
- How to make something good come out of machinery, cosmetics or SAAS?
Is it creative?
The first question is hard to answer due to the blurry definition of creativity. For the purpose of this blog, I’ll keep to the short answer “it can be”. Basing some of your creative decisions on SEO, keyword clouds, Google trends and best practices isn’t what kills the essence of your creativity. Giving up on your ideas because it can’t be proven they work does.
There’s not much point in getting too much in the discussion on what creativity is, but the answer “it can be” is based on the fact that creativity takes skill, knowledge and effort. So does content – even when commercialized. Taking best practices as an easy way out shows lack of either of the three criteria.
Does it even need to be?
As someone who does write and loves doing it, I give the most certain yes. Creating content is something like the start of the road. It’s with content that we attract and nurture users in hope of them becoming customers. Every single reader, user, customer or even a bouncer is part of the content marketer’s story. And that story needs to be creative because, among other things, it means it was created with care. No one can create good content without caring about it. And while relying strictly on data doesn’t equate with lack of care, it allows for it. Strictly speaking, when talking about content generation, there are enough tips on subject, header, main body and conclusion to create something from scratch without even beginning to think on how something sounds. You will get an excellent SEO score but it will still be just another piece for your not-quite-successful-but-almost-there drip campaign.
Our content needs to be creative because we first need to care about it if we want others to care about it as well.
Are product-related blogs worthy of the time needed to make something that counts?
The answer to this one is easy. If you don’t have the time to do something right, just don’t do it. Time is precious. Yours as well as everyone else’s. Mass content production and waiting for that best practice combo that will bring you some extra traffic and hopefully conversions can be called a valid tactic. But not time-saving and not to success. Having hundreds of company blog posts may seem like a better strategy than having a dozen, but it’s only so if they don’t irritate and waste time of the readers. Internet is a great place to be, and even the lousiest content (and lousiest puns) can find its audience. But by aiming low, you’re certain to stay low.
Quality beats quantity every time.
How to make something good out of machinery, cosmetics or SAAS?
Making content that stands out isn’t easy nor is it possible to make it with every single one of your babies. There’s also no reason to expect people to recognize the brilliance of each and every one of your work. Which is never a reason to stop trying.
One of the most used excuses is one about the boredom of the industry. You just can’t make anything besides technical manuals out of hydraulic pumps. *sad sigh*
That kind of thinking is so wrong on so many levels. The first thing I think of when hearing this type of excuse is that someone didn’t do their homework. There’s something fun, punny* and interesting about every industry. True, components may not be the most exciting thing to interest the general public if the goal is brand awareness. But what about the employees? How about time-savings on new technologies applied in your work? Maybe the environmental actions or social causes the company takes might be more inspiring than yet another “How to” SEO friendly blog you just need to publish because the competitor did the same.
Show some interest in every aspect of your business. If the product you’re selling is good, there are bound to be great people and processes around it. Driving attention to those steps that made the greatness that you’re marketing is the sure way to succeed. Even if there’s still no data backing it.
How does data come to play?
The problem: It can’t be argued that data works. Best practices are the best because they work the most times. If there’s a chance for something to work right, optimization through well paved roads will make it a safe bet that it won’t be subpar. But not subpar doesn’t make excellent, successful or inspiring. It’s far away from disruptive, and is virtually never a deal changer – which happens to be a motivation behind every single action a marketer makes.
Deal changers mostly thrive on innovation. Not necessarily on product innovation, as the product itself can be something previously seen, used, or even forgotten.
Does anybody remember that the first tablets were made 10 years before the iPad? It’s funny how previous data showed that there’s really no interest in that kind of device – as it was tried and failed. Until Apple made them pretty, chic and an absolute must have.
We may further argue that amongst the most successful startups of today there are those not working in business of innovation but optimization, i.e. Slack, one of the most popular tech startups built on the age-old need to chat. Yet, though technically not innovative, the way it was developed, presented, marketed and further improved to suit every team’s need made it a prime example of innovative approach needed to succeed.
There is no doubt that most, if not every, success story used a lot of data analysis to start and improve their business. But I’m willing to bet that it’s not the data that made them successful – for the simple reason that it wasn’t there. The marketer’s job isn’t just keeping up with all the new trends and following them. It’s about creating them.
Data works. But it’s not the only thing that works. So in addition to backing your decisions with data, as a marketer, try to create some data to back future decisions.