I’ve long thought that the discipline of search engine optimization (namely, the art and science of getting your web site positioned high in search engine results for specific keywords) offers great lessons for PR and content marketers. A blog post on SEOMoz today titled “What Kind of Content Gets Links in 2012?” offers an unusually rich trove of data and ideas for communicators to consider, and it got me thinking about different the different types of visibility our content generates.
Some readers skim quickly over content, others spend a lot more time on the page. Some readers will share links to the content you publish, others will click through the links you serve. With some readers, the opportunity to connect is fleeting. Others may make a greater commitment to your content, such as bookmarking it for future reference, or linking to it from their blog.
The Linkers & the Sharers
For simplicity’s sake, let’s create two audience groups – the Sharers, who consume and share content at high speed, and the Linkers, who engage with content more deeply. (Admittedly, these two groups are very generalized, but for the sake of this discussion, we’ll focus on commonalities, not particulars.) The Sharer and Linker behaviors are different, and a lot can be learned from asking how they differ, and why.
Marketers would say the Sharers are at the top of the marketing funnel – in the Awareness stage. They are like butterflies in a field of flowers, flitting about and sampling many. They haven’t committed. The Linkers are further along in the content consumption / decision making process, moving into the Consideration (and maybe even the Preference) stages as they mull over, click through and re-read your content.
Both represent vitally important audience groups. The Sharers may one day evolve into Linkers. In the meantime, this group helps amplify your messages when they share links to your content on social networks. The Linkers, especially when they link to your content from their blogs, create lasting traction that search engines value. And, of course, they represent a qualified audience that’s valuable to the organization, because they’re more likely to take the action the company is encouraging, whether that’s registering for an event, buying a product or subscribing to a service.
Is it possible for communicators to serve both?
In an earlier post, I talked about embedding multiple calls to action within press releases and other content, in order to appeal to (and engage) different audiences. Chris Sietsema, in a recent post on Convince & Convert titled “Creating Social Substance: Talkable & Useful Content” starts to plumb this issue, discussing the differences between creating talkable and useful content, which my context, appeal to the Sharers and Linkers, in that order. I believe we can take that a step further, and appeal to different types of readers, by paying attention to how we format our content.
The best practices for press releases and other content we’ve long advocated on this blog are especially important when it comes to attracting sharers’ more fleeting attention. To garner readers, the following tactics are especially important:
- Write a headline that’s around 120 characters and put your most important keyword within the first 65 characters of your 120 character headline.
- Include an image in your content.
- Embed an anchor text link (or two) in the text to give readers who are interested a path to follow.
- Make it easy for readers to scan the content – use bullet points, numbered lists and paragraph sub-heads.
However, appealing to Linkers requires longer, more complex and robust content. In fact, the SEOMoz post today backs this up, finding a correlation between longer content, and the number of web sites that had drawn links to the content: longer content elicited more inbound links. This might seem surprising, given that many SEO gurus and purveyors of blog best practices suggest we eschew longer-form content on our digital properties. Clearly, even in today’s sound-byte, 140-character communications culture, there is still real demand for more detailed, useful information.
In my mind, the charge for communicators is pretty clear. We shouldn’t shy away from the longer content that attracts Linkers, helps create more qualified leads and, as SEOMoz noted, can be a valuable source of inbound links. Nor should we go overboard. Our content portfolios should contain a mix of content – in terms of length, character, purpose and medium. But crafting content that is designed to support people who are moving from the Awareness stage into the Consideration and Preference stages of the buying cycle is good practice. We should certainly still adhere to the best practices noted above when we create longer-form content, in order to attract some Sharers while also serving our Linkers well.
Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.