Are you including content as a cornerstone of your marketing plan? Are you blogging? Do you have a podcast or video blog?
Maybe you are sharing resources with your customers by curating links from other online sources. Or maybe you’ve published a white paper or ebook to position your company not just as a seller of stuff, but as a reliable and perhaps interesting source of information—someone worth doing business with.
I’m hoping you shouted a resounding yes to at least one of those questions, because creating and sharing the right kind of content can set your business apart.
It’s publish or perish. As my friend Joe Pulizzi, author (with Newt Barrett) of Get Content, Get Customers (McGraw-Hill 2009), says, “The one who has the more engaging content wins, because frequent and regular contact builds a relationship” that offers lots of opportunities for conversion.
Of course, creating or curating content is only one part of the equation. Another part is sharing it—making it easily accessible, allowing for interaction, letting others share it for you. So the next question might be: Are you accessorizing your content? Or said another way, are you adding bling to both attract and engage your audience?
By the way, I used the word “blog” in the headline, mostly because the flexibility of a blog platform allows for easy publishing and tweaking (and because “blog bling” has nice alliteration). But, just so you know, the bling I talk about here could nicely augment any kind of online content.
1. Subscription options
You probably have this covered, but of course you want to encourage visitors to sign up to receive your latest content however they wish to receive it: via email, for example, or RSS. An RSS feed is particularly handy, as it allows readers to get updates from your site along with any others they subscribe to, allowing them to aggregate feeds from many sites into one place.
Adding as RSS feed to your content can also improve your SEO, because it provides a kind of autobahn for search engine crawlers to find and crawl your content, says Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing in Minneapolis. (Lee actually said RSS feeds create a “structured format.” That works, too.)
What’s more, “when the RSS feed URL is part of your blog or website domain name, third-party links to the feed can pass link popularity to the rest of your website,” Odden says. Of course, online (and in life, too, I suppose), popularity is generally a good thing.
2. Social sharing and social validation
You’ve seen the buttons that invite you to amplify a blog post or other piece of content on Twitter (there’s one on this post, in fact), or to “Like” it on Facebook, or share it with your network on LinkedIn, and so on. (You can use a sharing and bookmarking plug-in like AddThis, which aggregates sharing on a bunch of different platforms at once. But, at the very least, you should enable sharing on the Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.)
Most sites also offer readers an ability to comment, and some blog plug-ins will display the number of views in addition to the number of times your post been shared socially.
Something like the toolbar Wibiya is another option; Wibiya is a kind of one-stop shop toolbar that enables blogs and websites to integrate a huge variety of tools and features, including Facebook and Twitter, Google Buzz, Smart Share, and so on.
Obviously, those buttons and plug-ins and comment fields are designed to ease and encourage people to interact with, and to share things they like, with other people they are connected to in their networks—thereby spreading your stuff exponentially.
But I especially like them because they also act as a kind of subtle reminder that your content (and by extension, your company) invites interaction. It sends the message that you want to know what your customers or audience thinks, and you value their input and want to talk back. And so you should make it a habit to respond publicly and prominently, in the comments field. I like the way the Playstation blog calls out its replies to readers, in red. How quickly should you respond? Well, as quickly as you can manage, but at least within 24 hours.
The number of tweets, views, and shares also acts as a kind of social validation for those visitors who stop by, flagging the stronger content. In other words, it sends a signal that entices visitors to pause and ponder.
3. Speedy preview options
It’s handy to give your visitors the ability to preview longer content you might publish (like white papers or ebooks) to allow them to judge whether the information is going to suit their needs. I’m a big fan of this approach, because it’s respectful of your readers; it gives them a peek at the content before they commit to downloading a beefy PDF. (I don’t know about you, but I’m always disappointed whenever I register and then download a promising PDF only to realize it’s not really in line with what I was looking for.)
Box.net allow you to embed a document for easy previewing so that, prior to downloading, your visitors can flip through a document without leaving your site; Google docs offers a similar embed option.
5. Reviews and ratings
Adding reviews or ratings (like 1-5 stars) also helps a visitor judge the value of the content. In addition to comments, you might solicit testimonials or feedback from those who have found the document helpful, asking them to be precise in what, exactly, they liked about it.
Check out the way Marketo solicits reviews—the site calls them “Endorsements”—from people who have some stature in the marketing industry (or whose companies do). Check out its Guide to Lead Nurturing here.
This approach, combined with the Box.net embed explained earlier, paints a clear picture of the content you’re offering, all from the guide’s landing page.
6. Sifting and sorting
Sites that have a rich and deep library of content might want to include sorting options, because it can be both frustrating and disheartening to wade through page after page of a list of content archived by date.
Include some tools that will allow your visitors to sift through your content other than by category or keywords. It’s handy to sort a site’s content by (for example) recency, top-rated, or most-viewed. For instance, the Imperial Sugar Company allows visitors to its newsroom to sort by recency, popularity or topic.
7. Goody bags
I can’t compliment my mother-in-law, Berjouhi, on her cooking without her subsequently packing a big portion of whatever I liked for me to take home. Think of your content in much the same way: Are you offering ways for your visitors to take it home with them, to their own sites? Are you developing objects to be socially shared, or giving your content “handles,” as Chris Brogan says?
Sites like YouTube and Slideshare and Scribd do this really well. They allow anyone who fancies a certain video or presentation or document to grab the bit of necessary code to embed it on their own site. But other companies are developing social objects for their fans to embed as well: ExactTarget has a nifty little interactive tool that allows for easy embedding. And you can see how Mack Collier embeds on his blog all of the MarketingProfs articles he’s authored (see the widget in the middle column).
Your turn: What else would you say? What other bling can you outfit content with to help your visitors get engaged with the stuff you publish?
Image credit: mzarzar
Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and the co-author of the upcoming Content Rules (Wiley, 2010). Follow her on @marketingprofs.