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Posts Tagged ‘Content’

When Your Audience Hates Your Content Marketing Plan

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When Your Audience Hates Your Content Marketing Plan was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Any good decision-maker knows that it’s not what he or she likes when it comes to making sound business decisions. Sure, we know what’s in our gut, and we should trust that voice, but decisions are to be made with trusted data, too — whether it’s counsel, research or something else.

Businesses and their marketing tends to have a bandwagon mentality. We see and trend or a buzzword or a way of doing something, and if enough people talk about it, then it it so. This is why I love it when a target audience reveals something totally unexpected about what we’re doing — that we’ve got it all wrong.

Over the weekend, the Content Marketing Institute published a slide from recent research at ExactTarget. The slide shows the differences in what marketers want for their target audience and what the target audience wants from their brand. Check this slide out below, taking note of the data on email marketing, content about products and content about related topics.

ExactTarget Research Slide

While those initiatives were among the top by marketers, the audience was singing to a different tune. Plus one for email being both a top marketing initiative and the desired form of communication from the audience  But, at least for this audience, content about products and related topics were not on their must-read list.

And even though the survey choices seemed a bit misleading (some are related to content and some are related to channels the content is featured in), it got me thinking about what people want in content from a brand.

To me, the data paints a story:

  1. People don’t have time to go searching for the content they should care about — they want the brand to do the work for them.
  2. People want meaningful, personalized content delivered right to their “front door.”

So what does that mean to our content marketing? The more we can learn about our customers over time, the more data we can gather — whether it’s transactional data, survey data, interviews with our audience — the more we can tailor the content they really want and deliver it to them with a bright shiny bow.

When you think about all the noise we have to sift through every day, it’s mind-numbing. Don’t discount how special it is when you get that opt in from someone to receive communications from your company. This person is saying, “I trust you, and I’m willing to hear what you have to say.” So you better deliver the very best you can.

So how do you do that? Use as much data that is available to you to start understanding your audience. In an interview with Sundeep Kapur late last year, we talked about some of those tactics.

But here are a couple more tips for you:

  • Explore the conversion process inside and out. Get to know what that process actually looks like from initial inquiry to the close. No business is going to have the same path, so I can’t tell you to just go talk to sales or just go talk to marketing or just look in your analytics. But if it’s helpful, start from the end and go backwards. Whether you have a CRM tool or just Sally the office assistant — start mining data, start having conversations to understand what the engagement and conversion cycle. The information you uncover in this process will reveal a lot about your audience and the opportunities for improvement in customer service, marketing and more. These are the opportunities where content can really matter.
  • Understand the audience to the best of your ability. Who are these people? Why do they buy this product or sign up fro this service? Who is the extended audience — who is influencing the primary target’s decision? Who is funding it? Is it a personal purchase? Do they need a family member to make the decision for them? Does their company pay for it out of an annual budget? When you understand the circumstances around the conversion, your content can better speak to all of them, and better offer a solution in the form of content that matters.

Above all, I think what this particular data from ExactTarget illustrates is that we need to get personal and get to the point. Don’t make your audience work too hard for the content that will be meaningful to them

Bruce Clay Blog

Why Content Goes Viral: the Theory and Proof

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Posted by Carson Ward

Not all great content goes viral, but (with the exception of awesomely terrible videos) content that does go viral is great. No one can guarantee that any piece of content will take the web by storm, but we can make sure that a piece of content has what it takes.

Long-time citizens of the web can often tell from a first-reading or viewing that a piece is going to explode, but why? Opinions about what it takes to be viral are easy to come by, but let’s look at the facts with data to prove it.

Write long, in-depth posts

In a scientific, statistical look at what makes content most shareable online, two University of Pennsylvania professors looked at the New York Times’ most emailed list to see if they could determine what cause people to share article. You can download the entire PDF here.

The first finding is that longer articles tend to be shared far more often. The correlation remains strong even after taking the amount of site exposure into account. In fact, sheer word count was more closely correlated with sharing than any other variable examined. John Doherty found a similar correlation this past October, finding that long posts receive more than their fair share of links.

Correlation isn’t causation (sorry, the phrase is cliché for a reason), and it’s possible that there’s something else at work here. Perhaps the journalists tend to write longer pieces when they’re writing on hot topics, for example.

A causal relationship makes sense, though. I’m far more likely to email or tweet something from #longreads or /r/DepthHub than a 200-word summary on the same topic. Long posts have the potential to be immersive and thorough in a way that’s impossible for short pieces. If I care about the topic at all, I don’t want to share an article with friends or readers if it just skims over the surface. If you want your word to spread, cover the topic fully.

Long posts aren’t all flowers and sunshine though. While long posts appear more likely to be shared through email and links, a separate study on blog comments found that users are less likely to comment on long posts.

Inspire anger, awe, or anxiety

You won’t be surprised to learn that posts that spend a lot of time on the home page are more likely to go viral, but after adjusting for variables the study does a pretty good job of showing which emotions make a post more viral:

Content that inspires low-energy emotions like sadness is less likely to be shared, where content that inspires high-energy emotions like awe, anger, and anxiety is far more likely to be shared.

Anger wins the award as the most viral emotion studied. Before belittling and insulting your readers, note that anger is typically directed at the topic – not the author or publication. Inciting anger in readers typically requires some tolerance for dealing with controversial topics. The comment study also found that controversial blog posts receive twice as many comments on average. Still, many brands will want to avoid hot topics that could alienate customers and partners.

For most, awe will be the safest and most reliable path towards viral content. Awe is more than surprise – it’s the reason we can’t stop watching movies with big explosions and larger-than-life heroes. Creative inventions, completed labor-intensive projects, stunning design, and novel are all ways to fill viewers and readers with awe.

Prove you care

Emotion-filled posts tend to be shared more, according to the survey. Creating content with an emotional tone can be harder than it sounds, especially in professional writing. This has always been a weakness of mine – I don’t write my emotions, even on topics I am freakishly passionate about. Overly-professional and mechanical corporate writing does not get shared.

There are piles and piles of good, insightful, thoughtful content that no one ever cared about – much of it was just too damn bland. If you need inspiration, look to Ian Lurie for examples of writing that no one would consider bland. (That’s a compliment, I swear.)

Practically useful, surprising, and interesting

Content that is surprising, interesting, and practically useful receives more shares than the obvious, boring, and useless content. These might be the most intuitive of the findings, but it’s helpful to keep in mind the degree to which each variable impacts sharing.

interesting, practical, and surprising increase viral chances

Known authors

Being known by the audience had a large impact on whether a news article was shared. In fact, the fame of the author was just slightly more important that content that was surprising. Luke Clum recently said it best on the Distilled blog:

“…a common misconception has developed amongst SEO’s – mainly that good content speaks entirely for itself. While content is innately influential, it usually only carries the authority of its creator or publisher.” (source)

SEOs are experts in detecting credible content online, yet we sometimes forget that every piece of content is at least partly considered based on its author’s reputation – or lack thereof – and credibility. If a piece of content is intended to go viral, an industry authority (aspiring or current) will usually be better off taking charge of it. Otherwise, content may need to make a special effort to inspire trust (e.g. through introduction and stories).

Female authors

The NYT study also suggests that female authors had a greater chance of going viral, but the underlying reasons are unclear. Do women choose more viral topics than men? Is the Times better at hiring female journalists? We may never know.

The easy answer: humor

Most obviously, content that is truly and broadly viral is almost always funny. One study interestingly titled “From subservient chickens to brawny men” found that despite 62% of ads being aired by Fortune 500 companies, 60% of viral ads were being generated by the smaller companies. The discussion continues:

“Humor was employed at near unanimous levels for all viral advertisements. Consequently, this study identified humor as the universal appeal for making content viral.”

Humor isn't always the answer, but it's essentially a pre-requisite for a viral ad. Small companies win more than their share of attention because they're willing to be a little more interesting and less sterile. Take Mike Pantoliano’s advice: shut up and be funny


As I’ve said, these studies looked at correlation (which is not necessarily causation). Further, quantifying human response is enormously difficult, and not everyone is the same. I am by no means suggesting that the viral checklist is applicable to every single person on the planet. Still, I’m pretty comfortable with the research behind the checklist, and it passes the common-sense test.

A viral checklist

Two months from now it’s going to be easy to sit down and create content in the same habits we always have. Not all content needs to be viral, but when that’s the goal, make sure that you accomplish all of the following.

  • Did you sufficiently cover the topic? Is it long enough? (24)
  • Does the content inspire a high-energy emotion like awe (16), anger(18), or anxiety (18)?
  • Did your tone convey emotion? (12)
  • Is it practically useful? (16)
  • Is it interesting? (14)
  • Is it surprising? (8)
  • Does the author have fame/credibility? (8)
  • If it’s supposed to be funny, is it actually funny? Are you sure your friends aren’t just being nice? (∞)

You can’t always have all of these factors, so I've added a maximum score in parenthesis to help prioritize those factors that research has shown to be most important to sharing. If you rate your content at or near 100, it's likely that it has a far greater chance of going viral.

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3 Ways to Align Your Blog Content with Your Target Audience

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3 Ways to Align Your Blog Content with Your Target Audience was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

It’s the question that’s on many people’s minds when they have a blog – who is our audience? What matters to them? If you have a niche blog – one that’s already focused on a particular subject matter – you already know your audience is interested in that, but how do you:

  • Continuously hold their attention?
  • Give them what they want?
  • Draw in new readers?
  • Align content with business offerings?

Understanding your audience is at times a guessing game. Your theories about who you’re talking to are made stronger by incremental data gathered over time. But you have to start from somewhere, right?

So before you start tracking your popular content in analytics, you have to think about what’s even relevant to your audience. What to write.

So let’s have a starting point. And that starting point is your business. What are the things your business offers its community? What are the things your brand is known for? How can you align your content to the people who need what you have, in a way that offers value to them?

Today, that’s what we’re going to talk about – a path for creating content for your blog.

1. Segment your audience by your products/services.


You have services and/or products. Who buys them? Start thinking about the differences in your audience by the service/product type (or groups of services/products). When you think about the differences, the persona sometimes becomes very clear.

Ask when they use your products and services and why? What are they trying to achieve? If you have the resources to do a branding exercise, this can be super helpful. But if you don’t, that’s OK, too. Brainstorming on your own or with your team can give you a great starting point.

Let’s use BCI as an example. Our audience type typically varies based on our products and services. We have a category of those who engage in services with us, and then another category of those who take SEO training, use the SEOToolSet and buy our books.

And then we have another audience, our industry. And this category is important to us, too. We also have an audience that will likely never buy from us, but they consume our content, like the blog and newsletter.

These audiences have different interests in the content they want and a whole different set of problems from one another. Some of them may need 101-level content, some may need more advanced content. Some may want tactical how-to info and some may need strategic plans. And some may just want to connect with us on a human level.

Go through this exercise with your business. Write up a persona profiles based on what you know about your audience, and add to it as time goes on. The more data you collect in analytics or by talking to your audience in comments or in social media (where the audience often overlaps), the more defined your persona profiles will be.

2. Know when your audience will crossover to another segment.


There will usually be overlap with your audience. And it’s important to recognize this overlap. Expanding on the BCI example we spoke about in the previous section, we know that sometimes people who buy the book will eventually sign up for training.

When you’re thinking about the behavior of your audience and what they need, think about the stages they go through during the span of their engagement with you. What first might be a book purchase could lead to a training class could lead to services.

It might be helpful to quickly sketch a diagram of the type of customer (segmented by product/service) and what path they are likely to go on during their relationship with you.

For example:

  • Reads blog or newsletter > Buys book, attends training, signs up for tools
  • Bought book > Attends training, reads blog, signs up for newsletter
  • Attends conference training > Signs up for extended training
  • Takes training course > Buys services
  • Signs up for tools > Buys book, attends training

This type of information can be particularly relevant if you are doing email marketing, but you can also align your blog content with the journey of the customer as well. The types of information they want at different stages of their engagement with your brand varies.

Which brings me to the next point …

3. Know what they are searching for.


Keyword research and audience go hand-in-hand. The information you uncover about who your audience is and what they want fuels your keyword research.

It’s important to know what your audience is searching for because you want to attract new people to your blog with the content you create surrounding the products or services you offer.

Once you have a good list of keywords, segmented by product/service/audience, you want to begin thinking about what sort of content is appropriate for that audience.

This is not only important for attracting new readers to your blog at the moment they are looking for that information, but also because you want to connect with your existing audience and give them the type of information they need.

This is where the personas you’ve already written up can come in handy. And you can also bulk them up in this stage, too. What do these people need at this point in their journey? What are they expecting from your brand? How can you help?

For example, you can make the inference that someone who buys your book (let’s use our book as an example), is a do-it-yourselfer, a small business owner, a budding SEO.

When you understand what challenges your audience faces at what stage, you can begin assigning topics to keywords and building that content into your editorial calendar to offer content to this type of persona.

And don’t forget about the different ways people learn. You can further tailor your content by taking into consideration the many ways people like to consume content.

Did you find this post useful? Do you have comments or ideas? Do tell below!

Bruce Clay Blog

A Question of Creative Content Ethics

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A Question of Creative Content Ethics was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

I was going to do another one of those roundup blog posts today. And I cringed at the thought of it, as the past few weeks have been nothing but roundups of 2012 and predictions for 2013. But I was going to do it anyway. And do you know why? Because it’s an easy win.

Paper in a Wastebasket

That was, until I read a brilliant piece this morning by Jonathon Colman on how we can do better with our content. But more on that later.

Yesterday, I shared my 2013 marketing resolutions with you. One of them involved experimenting with new ways of writing and content production that tried to hit the sweet spot in terms of what an audience wants and what we can give them.

Serendipitously, as I was writing this post, senior SEO analyst Bradley Leese walked in and asked a question that made me think: “How do you create content people want to read?”

Wow. Great question.

My first thought was: As a writer, it’s intuitive. You think, either this piece is great or it totally sucks. But that’s just your opinion. So what ends up happening when you’re in the business of marketing content, is that you base the content’s worth on how many people share it and talk about it.

Then I thought about Mashable. Look at how big their captive audience is. They can say “poop on a stick” and it will be shared thousands of times. (No offense to Mashable, as I know they take a journalistic approach to timely and relevant topics). But their brand is their catalyst. So which came first – the content or the brand?

Quality vs. Efficiency – Which Wins in Content?

Ethically, I believe the content producer, not the brand, is responsible for great content. But then there’s the question of schedules, calendars, projects and resources. Who wins then – quality or efficiency?

It’s a vicious cycle, trading originality for visibility and time-savings. Sure, people may be interested in the same old how-to information or a roundup of others’ ideas, but how much does it really make a difference?

Did you know it takes me about 5 hours on average to put together one of my in-depth blog posts? The problem is time. I don’t always have the luxury of spending several hours each time I write a post to research, write, edit, optimize, upload, format, and promote when I have a million other competing deadlines.

But we want to create content we can be proud of and that adds value. And I’m sure many of you out there feel that way, too. However, the output must be within the confines of our limitations – our schedules, timelines and other deliverables.

I was recently inspired by Seth Godin’s blog. His posts are succinct and to the point (like 200 words succint), but also make you think. This week, he had a post about “the drip.” Don’t try to be brilliant all the time, he said, just be brilliant enough to be remembered and make an impact over time.

Here’s an excerpt from that post:

“When you commit to writing regularly, the stakes for each thing you write go down. I spent an hour rereading Gary Larson’s magical collection, and the amazing truth is that not every cartoon he did was brilliant. But enough of them were that he left his mark.”

Even though I have serious internal battles about writing shorter posts (mine usually average 1,500 words), I also vowed 2013 would be the year of experimentation. And after spending some time in Seth Godin’s blog, I was convinced this was a new path I was going to experiment with — more frequent posts with less pressure to try and be brilliant every time a post is created. Yes, that sounds better.

That is, until I read this post by Jonathon Colman that stopped me dead in my tracks.

It stopped me from posting another roundup (which is ironic, because I found it in a roundup). And it brought me right back to the existential crisis I was having about quality versus quantity.

Content marketing is the culprit. We are in the business of vying for visibility and attention through content. Figuring out how to make that content compelling amongst all the noise is the million-dollar question.

And the creative process is not an easy one. I don’t know what giving birth feels like, but I know there’s both pain and joy. And this is what I go through every time I sit down to create content.

See, content creators are not robots. If people want content churned out without any creative process behind it, then perhaps a team like this is more appropriate:

So what’s a content professional to do? I think the balance lies in:

  • What you have time for, and pushing yourself — pushing your skill set and creativity to figure out how to make that time you have for content creation as meaningful as possible to still share useful, valuable and effective ideas — even if it’s not 1,500 words.
  • What your readers (are willing to) have time for, and how to create content that resonates with them in the brief time you have with that person.

What do you think? And how can you help?

Bruce Clay Blog

The Content Marketer’s Shortest Day: Inspirations to Let Content Be Your Light

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The Content Marketer’s Shortest Day: Inspirations to Let Content Be Your Light was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

On this Shortest Day of 2012, I am a sad observer watching the aftermath of last week’s tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. The winter solstice also known in the northern hemisphere as the darkest time of the year has special meaning for me. While we celebrate the days that will slowly start getting longer, we must also acknowledge the darkness in the world around us. The solstice is my time to do that.

My social channels are jammed with messages that make it clear:  people are trying to make sense of this dark tragedy by creating and sharing content. We are not new to national tragedy, but we are new to a world where the aftermath and reaction is no longer localized. Social networks and new media tools are now vehicles for anger, sadness, solidarity, insight and more. What happens next is the result of how we participate — through content.

Content with intent is, after all, what we seek to do in the business world. There is much to be learned from the imaginative ways people have responded commemorate those who were lost:

With these examples of people (ordinary to famous) using content for change, there are elements we can take forward into our content marketing strategies for the New Year:

#1 Question creation. Sometimes the most engaging content is best produced by your customers. In 2008 I was part of a team that launched the Cisco Learning Network, a social learning resource for IT professionals pursuing Cisco certification. People worldwide signed up and their enthusiasm created a community for information and peer-to-peer education. We also seeded the community with original and technical learning content and hand-curated IT career information. But the peer-to-peer element made the site sticky and created brand loyalty. The community is now more than 500,000 members. Can you give your brand enthusiasts a stake in your content creation process?

#2 Human touch. Content is king because of the human touch. Content that you curate and publish should in some way carry your company’s perspective on why the information is important. If you’re a B2B company, make the information an integral resource your customer can use in his workday and you’ll reap the benefits. Brands are becoming publishers in part because customers are looking (and searching too, of course!) for content that helps them make buying decisions or informs. Content is your tool to assist them in the process. It’s no surprise that companies like Coca Cola are publicly declaring a shift from “creative excellence to content excellence.” Help your customers make sense of the industry around them.

#3 Filtered or curated? Both matter tremendously. In 2010 Gwen Bell predicted that the need for filtering technology would rise in the next 5-10 years. It’s happening even sooner than that. As brands become publishers, they do so in a realm where a Facebook “Like” = consent. Of course, that’s changing.  Like filtering, curation also reduces the overall volume of content but to instead include it in a mix. Both challenge marketers who must often compromise by investing in certain content channels (social networks, for example) and not others. Fresh (recent) content, new perspectives and original thought are the qualities that keep content value high, be it curated or original.

#4 Thought leadership. It’s not just for breakfast anymore. Thought leadership can be built from a compelling mix of original and curated content. More content increases the likelihood of SEO-positive audience engagement. The technologies you need to create your content mix are out there! LinkedIn’s recent launch of its Thought Leaders Program is a great example of a brand starting to publish as a way to engage its 187 million members in 200 countries. Their challenge is a double edged sword of opportunity (content attracts) and challenge (many industries are present in the LinkedIn network).

#5 Create collaboratively. More is in fact, merrier. Positive expression can be contagious. This summer, I participated in a flash mob convened by a local dance studio. The purpose? Just have fun. No marketing fliers or promotional materials, just joy — as much as we could muster for a bustling Saturday farmer’s market. We danced for 5 minutes to choreography and music curated from the instructors. Classes leading up to the event were practice embedded right into the product. In a recent article, David Cooperstein shared some interesting ideas about pushing digital into the physical realm. Does your industry offer an annual tradeshow where people gather in person? Who can you invite to collaborate to craft a memorable experience?

Wishing peace, healing and the return of the light upon those reading, grieving, creating and participating in the human experience as the wheel of the year turns.

Bruce Clay Blog

What’s In Store for Content Marketing in 2013?

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What’s In Store for Content Marketing in 2013? was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

The Content Marketing Institute last week released 2013 predictions, where more than 80 marketers (including yours truly) weighed in on where the discipline was going in 2013.

Some predictions we heard over and over again:

  • Journalists will have a new home in the corporate or agency environment.
  • Visual content ramps up in the form of video and graphics.
  • Creating content for mobile is key, along with other multiscreen options.

My take on the emerging themes from the survey:

  • Great business content that’s on par with big publishers will be key.
  • The way we want to receive information is changing from the device (mobile) to the medium (visual) to the delivery (concise).

Here’s the report on SlideShare. Scroll down for hand-picked predictions plus my take on them.

Journalists Predicted to Be Big Players in Content Marketing

We heard a lot of predictions in the CMI report about the demand for journalists, and how they will now have a home in the corporate or agency environment due to the brand publishing explosion.

Sarah Mitchell Prediction for Content Marketing in 2013

If the predictions are true, businesses will be putting a high value on writers – trained writers – and especially those that can use objective writing as in journalism, as well as investigate the company to find the stories and then go tell them.

I loved Paul Conley’s take on the future of brand journalism, and I think it’s a highly likely scenario:

Paul Conley Prediction for Content Marketing in 2013

And while the journalist skill set in a company’s marketing and publishing department is a fantastic addition, it doesn’t necessarily mean a successful content marketing department.

Businesses should turn to journalist skill sets as a viable options for well-written content and storytelling, but those journalists may not have the digital marketing strategy to execute content marketing on a full scale.

Which is why I see it a little differently than Jason’s comment below:

Jason Falls Prediction for Content Marketing in 2013


My prediction is that businesses will need a healthy mix of skills sets on the content marketing team – publishing, journalism, editing, analytics, SEO, social media, writing, user experience, design and videography, and other Web marketing disciplines.

In fact, here’s my prediction from the CMI report:

Jessica Lee Prediction for Content Marketing in 2013

At the helm of all those skill sets I mentioned previously should be someone who understands how all the moving parts fit together within a healthy digital marketing campaign; someone who can speak to the strategy and make sense of all the data to balance the content production with the business goals and audience.

This is similar to what Nicholas Kinports is saying:

Nicholas Kinports Prediction for Content Marketing in 2013

I particularly loved the following prediction because in order to be successful, businesses need to define what content marketing means before they go after it:

Justin Lambert Prediction for Content Marketing in 2013

How We Create Content Is Predicted to Change

Several marketers predicted the way people wish to receive and produce content is changing and will continue to do so. Many statements had to do with the rise of video production and visuals, as well as more sophisticated execution of those types of content.

So just as journalists will be in demand, I say graphic designers and videographers will continue to have a home as the need for visual storytelling becomes more and more important.

Then there’s the rise of mobile consumption of content. Many predictions talked about the devices people will use to consume content, which means content needs to be responsive for multiscreen use.

Ian Lurie Prediction for Content Marketing in 2013

Tom Bishop Prediction for Content Marketing in 2013

And on top of it all, you have waning attention spans. One of my favorite predictions by Roger Parker was on simplifying the message:

Sarah Mitchell Prediction for Content Marketing in 2013

I also agreed with the predictions on Slideshare being a driver of content consumption. Think about it: Why wait until you have a presentation that you’ve unveiled to an audience? Any topic you have in your head can fleshed out in a PowerPoint, and the succinct nature caters to thin attention spans. Could slide decks be the new blog post?

In a prediction by David Dunworth, he talks about visuals trumping the written word as a form of learning. I would add to that comment by saying that I believe we are going to have to take into account various personas and learning styles to cater the content deliverable (words, visuals, video) we present on the same topic.

David Dunworth Prediction for Content Marketing in 2013

All of this is to say that the way we think about creating our content will need to change, from the way our text is laid out, to the type of content we create and the way content is written and delivered, where simplicity, entertainment, ease of use and engagement could trump in-depth, how-to content for the purposes of authoritative content.

Does this mean that the entertainment factor will trump thought leadership in our content production? I guess we’ll find out …

What’s your prediction for content in 2013? Weigh in in the comments below!

Bruce Clay Blog

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