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My Managing Partner Does Not Care About Content Marketing

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The middle way of content marketing

The Managing Partner in your professional firm does not want to know about content marketing. She doesn’t want to know about the optimum use of your website. She doesn’t have any interest in a wider marketing effort on the internet. She thinks this is all a waste of the firm’s precious time, and….yes, time is not only money, it’s also time away from the needs of the firm’s clients. She’s tired of hearing of the latest book you have read about content marketing. She says the authors of these books are not lawyers (or accountants, finance or insurance professionals or planners) and have no idea about the culture of a professional firm or the needs of clients of a professional firm.

Then there’s that weird interest in Buddhism you (now regretfully) brought into the argument. You told her, “I understand your issues, but think of content marketing for our firm as a Buddhist Middle Way, a path between the extremes of doing nothing and doing too much too quickly. Get it?”

She did not.

You need a business case

Here’s where she’s absolutely right – those books are not written by practicing professionals. They are not written by people who have an intimate understanding of the professional-client relationship. Her skepticism relates to the misunderstanding of that relationship by people who sell services to retail and other commercial operators. As she said at the end of that last conversation (the one in which you raised Buddhism), “we’re not selling soap powder”.

Here’s what you need to make your argument. You need a Business Case.

First look to word of mouth

This is where you have taken the wrong path with your partner. To allay her concerns, which are legitimate, you should stop quoting internet marketing experts and explain your plans in terms that every professional will instantly comprehend. And that’s word of mouth. She’s right to criticise.

I have written before about some SEO (search engine optimisation) consultants and the dangers of their sales pitches.  The same issues could be raised about twenty-something “Content Consultants” who really don’t have enough life experience in general, and specific experience in the milieu of professionals firms, to create an effective dialogue with professionals or (by proxy) their clients.

Always first look to word of mouth. As Andy Sernovitz has noted in his excellent book Word of Mouth Marketing, to gain these referrals you ought to:

  • give people a reason to talk about you; and
  • make it easier for that conversation to take place.

Your partner will understand this argument because she knows, as every professional does, that word of mouth referrals are the mainstay of any professional firm.

Now let’s anticipate her follow-up question.

How does website content promote word of mouth?

You will immediately acknowledge that this is indeed an excellent question. The answer is  straightforward, and (thankfully) demands no reference whatsoever to Buddhism. Nowadays search engines (i.e. in practice Google) are the dominant professional directories, so a marketing effort that improves both word of mouth and search engine rankings is the best strategy.

The fulcrum issue is that these word of mouth conversations nowadays take place online and offline, and in fact interact to produce what has been called “Social Voice”.

Content Marketing represents a form of word-of-mouth marketing  in which readers consume, engage and share your useful brand content. A strong content marketing strategy hits closer to the 90% trust level than any paid banner ad at the other end of the consumer trust scale (Hatchd Digital).

Clients and prospective clients utilize your firm website as a means to gauge who you are, and often as a virtual “pre-interview”. To the extent that you can create a narrative, be useful, be educational and think strategically about the needs of clients and prospective clients, you will greatly increase your word of mouth.

This is the best approach to reluctant partners, an appeal to both the well-worn and trusted word of mouth and the online content development that supports it.

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50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals Part 6

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series 50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals

In the 1st five parts of this series we learned to look at content marketing from the clients’ view; how to write in the shoes of your client; the need to move to interact with clients and prospective clients; analytics, audits, and the ways we can manipulate content to our needs; and how to fill an ideas bank to keep the content flowing. Now, in our final installment, we look at putting your individual stamp on your website content to create a great marketing strategy for your firm.

Strategy Thirty-Eight – Find your voice, tone and style

Do you speak to every client in the same way? Of course not, you make determinations based on their needs, your face to face interviews, your experience and intuition. A family lawyer does not adopt the same tone with a distraught recently separated client as a Certified Practising Accountant seated across the table from a seasoned businessperson.

But how do you find the right voice in an anonymous online world? First, you should always write content that is helpful, straightforward, and uses plain English. That’s universal for all professionals who produce content for their websites. To do this consider the following:

  • Write with authority but without hubris.
  • Be clear, using Plain English techniques.
  • Write as though you are speaking to a single client – imagine yourself in a client interview.
  • Promote your services, not the firm, except as it clarifies the worth of those services (e.g. you can emphasize your expertise).
  • Always sell the benefits of your service, not the service on its own.
  • Don’t sacrifice grammar for informality, and never adopt a false persona. Don’t try to “sound intelligent”.
  • Be prepared to offer a balanced judgement, just as you would to a client in an interview, though online it may need to be more generalized.
  • If possible, teach your clients as you go. Clients and prospective clients are far more likely to deal with a firm that offers generous advice that has lasting value.

Strategy Thirty-Nine – Find the content strategy within marketing

Strategy is not the same as marketing – unfortunately people often use the terms as effectively interchangeable. They are not. You market your firm when you tell its story and draw the larger picture for your clients or prospective clients. That’s why you prepare all the content in the first place, because you want to have a relationship that goes beyond advertising. That’s the marketing side – its aim is to build relationships that add trust and word of mouth.

Strategy is about the framework, and it is (generally) the same for all your information provision. Canadian content strategist Rahel Anne Bailie describes it this way:

Content strategy deals with the planning aspects of managing content throughout its lifecycle, and includes aligning content to business goals, analysis, and modeling, and influences the development, production, presentation, evaluation, measurement, and sunsetting of content, including governance. What content strategy is not is the implementation side. The actual content development, management, and delivery is the tactical outcomes of the strategy that need to be carried out for the strategy to be effective.

Bestselling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin once famously noted:

If people aren’t talking about you, they’re not talking about you for a reason. And the reason isn’t that they dislike you. They’re not talking about you because you’re boring.

In a content marketing sense, the antidote to this is to tell a great story about your firm. But in a strategic sense, ask yourself where your content lies in terms of your goals and the type of client you want to attract to the firm. You should as much as possible try to align these factors. Remember, content works to further a content strategy, not for its own sake.

Strategy Forty – Always look at readability

I used to lecture about using the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease formula. I thought it was quite a nifty tool, but though I have long not used it on a daily basis, the thinking behind it remains valid. It was developed in 1948, so it’s passed the test of time, but in relation to the online world it generally favours text that has shorter words and sentences, which is always a good writing habit. Anyway, play around with it, there’s some worthwhile lessons.

Woops! Just entered this paragraph into a  Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease test tool and it was judged “difficult”!

Strategy Forty-One – Don’t over commit

As I know from my own experience, we all start our content strategy with grand aims. Often the higher the aim, the greater the fall. And after that? Never to be heard from again. For professionals, one of the main problems is a commitment to too many platforms, or the desire to use every aspect a platform has to offer.

As a professional you don’t need to take advantage of every opportunity afforded by the internet. I focus on blogging, a website, an active Twitter account and (less so) LinkedIn. I am certainly interested in Google + and its authorship benefits. For reasons not relevant here, I do not have a professional Facebook account, suffice to say I do not subscribe to it as a foundational strategy for smaller professional firms.

Take what will be to the best advantage of your firm and your clients. That’s the criteria that matters.

Strategy Forty-Two – Get Buffer

Buffer is a brilliant tool that once tried (it’s free in its more limited but still useful version) is hard to avoid. Basically, it shares content with your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. As a bonus it tracks the results of your sharing. Once installed, you only have to click the Buffer button to automatically send a post or other information to those who follow your account. The other benefit is that it queues these messages according to a schedule you have set, for example to send a tweet every two hours, or ten times a weekday and five time on weekends.

The Buffer extension is integrated into Twitter and Facebook, and for me the best feature is that it is partnered with a number of aggregators. So when I find a find an article on Feedly that I want to share, all I have to do is click on the Buffer icon and it automatically configures a tweet that I can send or first edit. For instance, if I open the first post in this series as it appears in Feedly, and then click the Buffer button, the following appears:

‘50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals – Part 1

I can add to this if I want and change it to:

’50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals Part 1 – #content#marketing for mature professionals’

This means you can use your aggregator (like Feedly) as both a means to learn more about your professional area, and as a tool to send out content to those who subscribe to your Twitter (and other social media) accounts.

Strategy Forty-Three – Get your firm’s buy-in

It is important to get the whole of the firm to buy into the plan. This can be done with a plain English guide that explains the strategy, our own MatureMedia Guides should suffice, especially the first three. A buy-in is sometimes a difficult task, made moreso because some partners, associates and co-workers will be resistant to change or any reallocation of resources. One time-tested way to get a buy-in is to do a dummy run of the intended content, perhaps a few blog post drafts and a mission statement for the website. Highlight the activities of competitors and independent third party articles by peers and industry experts.

An initial buy-in should not be too difficult. Content marketing has now penetrated every level of every profession, and there is no doubt that in the future the vast majority of professional firms will allocate greater resources because the arguments in its favour are compelling. Then there is the straightforward imperative that it is becoming pervasive – the earlier you start, the earlier you can join an inevitable marketing trend.

Remember, all professionals want to engage with clients, and especially for smaller firms, all rely on word of mouth referrals. As Andy Sernovitz has noted in his excellent book Word of Mouth Marketing, to gain these referrals you ought to:

  • give people a reason to talk about you; and
  • make it easier for that conversation to take place.

Professionals know that client referrals work. A happy client will generally share that experience with others (they’ll share the bad ones, too). As he so often does, marketing expert Seth Godin captured this perfectly: “Before advertising, there was word of mouth. Products and services that could solve problems got talked about and eventually got purchased.”

Strategy Forty-Four – Feed Google’s content habit

A lot has been written about the way Google is changing its search parameters. But here’s the bottom line – Google wants to see high quality content. Ask these questions to make an honest assessment of whether you have quality content that makes both your clients and Google happy:

  • Can you find a deeper analysis for your clients?
  • Does it contain stories and facts that are relevant to your clients?
  • Is it original information or largely copied from elsewhere?
  • Is it trustworthy?
  • Is it free of grammatical and spelling mistakes?
  • If it reflects a personal opinion, have you made that clear?
  • Have you anticipated questions from clients and answered them?

Strategy Forty-Five – Invite reciprocity

There are many communities, online and off, that actively look for members to bolster their ranks. Professional are fortunate to have well established representative associations, and without exception they are featured on the web. LinkedIn also supports many (many) groups for all professions, each with almost limitless opportunities to initiate or join discussions.

When you join an online group you establish a personality within it, just as you do in any real world association. Don’t neglect Twitter as a “group”. Twitter users love to receive a retweet or a “mention”, and though these tactics may begin with self-serving motives, you will quickly find yourself in a reciprocal arrangement with fellow professionals that grows organically.

Strategy Forty-Six  – Create evergreen content

There is nothing wrong with topical content, especially if you have an expert professional view, but it is best to focus on content that will pass the test of time. If you follow your website’s analytics, the articles that have highest traffic returns will be the ones that are not topical (unless you are professionally associated with a “hot” story) but instead deal with “evergreen” topics. You will also be able to identify which articles are most helpful to clients and will remain so. You can use social media (e.g. Twitter) to regularly post links to these evergreen articles.

Strategy Forty-Seven  – Create your own methodology

We mostly want someone to tell us the how of every new venture we undertake. Yes, there are many rules you can follow to produce content, and strategies galore, but at the end of the day you should develop your own methodology.

It must be your own voice that speaks to your firm’s clients and prospective clients. The problem with every commentary on the subject – and that includes the one you are now reading – is that at some point you have to take a leap into your own online adventure. To do this you should integrate others’ notions of content optimisation into a methodology that evolves into your own brand. Don’t worry, it will happen over time, but you must make a start.

It’s best to think of an expert’s methodology as a cheat sheet, something to reference when you are stuck or need some guidance, but not a rigid roadmap.

Strategy Forty-Eight – Do something unexpected

This strategy gets the biggest blowback from professionals. What can you offer that is surprising about your firm, your services, or your clientele? What is against type for you? Can you be disarming? If you write down a list of attributes of your firm, what can you come up with that showcases your services but goes (at first glance) against the grain?

I once saw a television report that featured an interview with an estate lawyer who spoke about Will provisions that are available to clients who want to secure the future of their pets. It was disarming in the sense that the lawyer, dressed in a conservative blue suit and surrounded by the classic bookshelf backdrop of legal texts, approached the issue with grim determination. Not for him snide comments about treating our pets as humans, nor a hint of anything derogatory to suggest that a client might be lacking a sense of proportion in wanting to include a beloved pet in a Will. If I had been a prospective client who wanted to achieve a secure “inheritance” for my beloved pet, this was precisely the approach that would give me the confidence to make initial contact with that lawyer. The interview was against type and successfully disarming for that very reason.

Strategy Forty-Nine – Avoid ambiguous links

Internal and external links in your content should make sense. If you want a client or prospective clients to contact your firm, it should be clear to the reader that this will be the result when they click on that link. So if you write “you can contact us to make an appointmemt for a free first interview”, but the link takes the reader to the home page (where they must then navigate to the contact details on the Contact Page) it will be frustrate the prospective client. Worse, it will reflect badly on the firm and you may lose a prospective client.

It’s also important to use action words – the link is better to read “make an appointment” than “click for an appointment”; “See my bio” is better than “Bio”.

Don’t be afraid to use longer links. “Read my blog post 50 Website Content Strategies Professionals Can Use Right Now” is better than “Read my post about website content strategy”.

Finally, never (never) use “Click here”.

Strategy Fifty – You have done so well…let’s hear it for you!

If you’ve read this far you are clearly an intelligent, efficient, high-achieving and wonderful professional who has garnered much kudos from clients. So tell us about it! Invite satisfied clients to offer a testimonial to your excellent services, and then share it on your website in a prominent location. Remember, you have no obligation to publish each one, so you can pick and choose wisely. For clients you know well, you can even send back a lightly edited version for their approval.

If at all possible, include a full name and location. “Bob from Smithville” doesn’t inspire much trust or attention. If you use direct quotes (“Geoffrey was really there for us when our son was injured”) all the better. Quotes work best when they are specific and believable (“Langdon and Rogers are the reason we were able to retire rich” is not believable).

In summary…..

Your online marketing begins with the 50 strategies we have canvassed. What niche do your clients want you to establish? What are their challenges, their pain points, the anxieties or unfulfilled dreams that keep them awake at night? Do they read what your firm sends them, and if not, why? What topics are they interested in that are directly and peripherally relevant to your firm’s activities? Do they want you to tell them about services from allied professionals they may need? What are the connections between your clients that provide an opportunity to create a community? Is there scope to educate your clients through a patient and compelling content strategy? What will hold their attention that they will perceive is in their best interests? Of the myriad of issues that concern your clients, what are the commonalities that allow you to focus your content strategy? Given your time and resource constraints, what issues should you prioritise in the order that best serves your clients’ needs?

Be assured, your website will become a far more useful tool in your marketing to clients and prospective clients if you utilize these strategies. Not all will be relevant to your needs, but on the whole, you will see a marked improvement in your online marketing. Good luck.

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50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals Part 5

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series 50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals

50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals – Part 5

In the 1st four parts of this series we learned to look at content marketing from the client’s view; how to write in the shoes of your client; the need to move to interact with clients and prospective clients; and analytics, audits, and the ways we can manipulate content to our needs. Now we look at sending your words beyond your website, and how to fill an ideas bank to keep the content flowing.

Strategy Twenty-Eight – Start a Blog Series

Google loves series articles. Once you begin to write an article, you may be surprised how quickly it turns into a longer piece suitable for a “series”. For instance, let’s say as a financial adviser you want to write an article about the advantages of managed funds as a retirement vehicle. In planning the article you break down the topic into the following:

  • Investment flexibility
  • Tax advantages
  • Comparison to real property investment
  • Tax penalties to watch out for
  • Self sustainable investment decision making
  • A cohesive investment strategy
  • Define your asset weighting

And there will be much more. In fact each is worthy of a blog in its own right. What you discover in the course of your research, and using your experience, is that there is a lot to cover, and the topics are of course interconnected. Interestingly, once you plant the idea of a series in your mind, you will increasingly find more issues you want to address – call it the “Blogging Law Of Attraction”. If you are using WordPress, there are many plugins that will arrange the series for you – I use the Organize Series plugin.

Strategy Twenty-Nine – Consider a redesign

Look around the web for designs you like that showcase a firm in a similar profession – the name of the designer will nearly always be mentioned (usually at the bottom of the home page). Are you satisfied with the design you have for your firm’s website? If not, show it to a good web designer and ask for an assessment. Check out the portfolio of any prospective designer, and ring a few you like to ask for an obligation free quote with some ideas. Many will sketch something for you.

Web design can be quite daunting, though it need not be. In fact, there are many aspects you can undertake yourself, though it will be a cost-benefit issue, and part of that cost is the time to learn the basics. However, before you begin to look at a redesign, do the following:

  • Do some research. Why do you like some websites of fellow professionals? What about the colour scheme (will a lighter tone make it easier for content to be read?). Make a list of the five you like the most. What about their navigation, is it straightforward?
  • Carefully read every line of your content. What is good (especially in retrospect), what is not?
  • Is your bio and/or About Us page up to date? Are you happy with each section? If not, can you rewrite it yourself,  or do you think you need professional help.
  • Have your goals changed since the launch of the site? Has the firm identity changed? Has the ideal client persona changed? Has the website kept pace with these changes?
  • Is the website “responsive?” That means it changes its functionality depending on the device from which it is viewed. Many older websites do not have this, which makes viewing on mobile devices a frustrating experience for clients and prospective clients.
  • Is it too cluttered? Do your clients really need the bells and whistles that may detract from the information you want them to read?

Strategy Thirty – Create strict deadlines

Do you remember how you reacted to strict work deadlines at school or university? Yes, you managed to get there, even if it meant cramming at the last minute, and often you were surprised by the quality you were able to achieve given your limited time.

Deadlines galvanize the mind. A posting schedule can achieve the same for a blog. Know what days you intend to post and stick to them, no matter what. Soon you will be amazed how you have managed to accumulate a large archive of content.

Strategy Thirty-One – Join Feedly

Yes, as a busy professional you have plenty to read already, but to pursue a content  marketing strategy you really need to keep track of what other professionals in your field are writing. And it’s easy to do.

Feedly is a news aggregator that has blossomed on the back of the demise of the best known aggregator, Google Reader. Sometimes called a “feed aggregator”, these are web applications that collect syndicated internet content, including blog posts, podcasts, news reports etc.

Let’s say there are twenty website blogs you want to follow on a regular basis. This is especially helpful if you want to know what topics other professionals in your field have covered. It is also invaluable if you want to get ideas and accumulate research for your own online content. You can imagine how much time you would waste if you undertook a manual search of these blogs every day. Instead an aggregator notes the blogs you wish to follow, and when a new article is posted, places it in your account, where it can be retrieved and read the next time you visit.

There are many aggregators available on the internet for free download. Feedly is the one I like. It’s also very easy to use.

Strategy Thirty-Two – Use Twitter strategically

Whether or not you choose to be on Twitter is a decision that requires thought and research. It’s not as straightforward as many suggest, especially if you want to use it as a marketing tool for your firm. The New York Times ran an article that addressed this issue with its typical journalistic panache:

Using Twitter sounds so simple. Type out no more than 140 characters — the maximum allowed in a single tweet — and hit send. That’s all, right? Not quite. Twitter’s interface may look simple, but it is not, and its complexity has turned off many people who tried the service.

I think this is the reason so many professionals discard Twitter before it a has a chance to prove itself. You will quickly become frustrated if you begin with the expectation that it is a simple tool. Instead start slowly, don’t expect it to be straightforward, and read a good guide (I like The Tao Of Twitter by Mark W. Schaefer).

If you choose to join Twitter, then use it as a two-way resource. Follow other professionals whose work you admire; check out the links of content they tweet; make regular retweets or comments on their work; after a while, send them a request to join your LinkedIn network, mentioning that you follow their Twitter account  – usually they will be prompted to follow your Twitter account too, and that will give you access to all the people who follow them. Look for leaders in your field who are active in blogging and online content, these are the people with whom you should seek to build alliances and networks. If they have a comments facility, then leave some!

Strategy Thirty-Three – Create an ideas bank

You are not going to find enough content ideas from a single source to maintain a blog. Yes, it will be fine at the start, but soon enough the ideas will dry up (at least the ones that are interesting to clients) and your output will inevitably diminish.

The exception might be if you are a business analyst who assiduously reads the business pages of the newspapers nationally and in your city. In that case you are in luck, because the business sections of newspapers appear to be one of their few growth areas, and of course you can read many more newspapers online (I subscribe to the New York Times and read it daily).

Use Feedly or another content aggregator to find articles that may be useful to create your own content. Twitter is also a good source for articles to feed your content ideas bank. Carry a small notebook (or whatever capture tool works for you – yes, okay, your smart phone) and write down ideas. There are programs like Evernote that make this easy, though an aggregator, social media and a dedicated Word file will also do the job.

And don’t ignore your clients and colleagues as a resource for your content ideas bank. For instance, how many questions do you get asked a day? Not just from clients, but from colleagues too? If you are a busy professional, the answer is likely “plenty”. Can you remember those question two weeks later? Probably not. Instead learn how to mine and preserve that database of collected wisdom. When asked something, take just a moment to place the question in a file, perhaps labeled “Questions for Content Ideas Bank” or whatever. And believe me, because the source is part of a back and forth discussion, the resulting article will follow quickly and easily.

On the other hand, don’t rely solely on industry magazines or blogs, some are better than others. Many professional journals are written for fellow professionals and drafted in a stilted (believed to be “professional”) style. They also tend to focus on technical detail. Your aim should be to explain technical issues to your clients in a discursive manner, ideally by telling a compelling story.

Strategy Thirty-Four – Practice multiple posting

Post blogs and articles on social media more than once. Marketing guru Guy Kawasaki is famous for this strategy, and tweets material four times in different time zones. Why do this?

  • Perhaps it’s obvious, but you will get more traffic.
  • You can make your mark in different time zones – let’s say you tweet a link to your latest post – as Kawasaki writes, “The reason for repeated tweets is to maximize traffic and therefore advertising sales. I’ve found that each tweet gets approximately the same amount of clickthroughs. Why get 600 page views when you can get 2,400?”
  • Content that remains relevant i.e. it’s not tied to a current issue, can be usefully sent out a number of times. Each time you hope to attract new readers, or jog the memory of current clients who may decide to pass it on, adding to your “word of mouth”.

There is of course a limit to this. Don’t repost the same link over and over again so that it is perceived as spam.

Strategy Thirty- Five – Aim for useful

Of course most professionals are ambitious – a positive attribute in the right context. Harness that ambition to produce the best content you can given the resources available to you, but remember you may not be able to compete with a much larger firm and its unlimited marketing resources. But within these limitations, aim to be useful to your clients, really useful. That’s what counts in online content marketing, especially for professionals. It is the marketing of helping people. Set attainable goals.

Strategy Thirty-Six – Play to your strengths

Is there anything worse than forcing yourself to do something you hate? Yes, we all do plenty we don’t like to fulfill our responsibilities, but it should not extend to your content production, which should have a strong element of creativity. It should not be drudgery.

If you really can’t write anything apart from a financial plan, letters, briefs or whatever is the mainstay of your professional output, then don’t. However, be wary this is not a golden oldie you may have learned back in your schooldays, accompanied by the hackneyed refrain, “I’m just not creative”. You’re older now, and though it’s indeed hard to pick at the scab of wounds suffered at school, you need to remind yourself that content optimisation is business all the way. As the brilliant Seth Godin writes, “We are all artists now, and the connection economy we’re living in relentlessly rewards those who do work that matters.”

But if you are unable to write useful content  that reaches clients and serves their needs, then ask yourself, “what are my strengths?” What do people say about you? That you are a good speaker and communicator? Then a webinar might be a better form of content  marketing for you. Do you have a talent for diagrams, is the whiteboard your favourite tool when explaining complex issues to clients? Then try an infographic or a SlideShare presentation. Are you a master of backyard videos that enthrall your family and friends? Then try aYouTube post, it’s not hard at all.

To be honest, its not that difficult to write a blog post if you follow a few straightforward rules, but if you really hate to write then don’t. But first at least make an honest try.

Strategy Thirty-Seven – Fact check your content

There will be many topics you can broach with complete confidence. If you are an estate lawyer, you know exactly how an estate is distributed when the primary beneficiary has predeceased the willmaker; if you are a financial planner, you know the differences between a conservative and speculative investment; if you are an accountant, you know why a particular expense can only be partly claimed as a business deduction; if you are a retirement fund expert, you know whether an investment is suitable for this long-term purpose.

However, be certain about it. And if you are unsure to any degree, then fact check what you have written. For professionals who want to protect their reputations, this is a no brainer.

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50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals – Part 4

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series 50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals

50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals Part 4

In the 1st three parts of this series we learned to look at content marketing from the clients’ view, how to write in the shoes of your client, and the need to move to interact with clients and prospective clients. Now we look at analytics, audits, and the ways we can manipulate content to our needs.

Strategy Twenty-One – Try analytics

Analytics measure website traffic, to and from your website, so they are more about website marketing than immediate design issues. In my experience the only smaller professionals firms to use analytics are those that employ someone to do it for them. Usually this is an SEO (search engine optimization) company taking hundreds of dollars a month or more to (potentially) get the firm website listed higher in Google’s search engine results pages. Analytics is an attempt to measure the performance of your website. It’s not an essential component of your strategy, though plenty of commentators will tell you it is absolutely so. This may be true for larger corporate firms who spend tens of thousands of dollars a year to promote their websites, but it is less so for many smaller or suburban professionals. However, it is nevertheless very useful and at times quite revealing. So this strategy takes a bet each way. Yes, it’s good to measure the performance of certain aspects of your website, but it’s not worth doing past a point of lower marginal returns, especially for smaller professionals firms with limited resources. If Google were a place and time it would be the United States in the early 1980s. The other superpowers have dropped away, the economy is booming, the education system is world class and technological innovation is really kicking in. Yes, Google is a search engine superpower without peer. It doesn’t mean this will always be the case, but for now it is monolithic. So it’s not surprising that this strategy opts for Google Analytics, though analytics are available for all search engines. It measures almost everything on your site and it’s free. You must first have a Google account – this is the central account that deals with all your Google products, and is essential to any internet user. You can create it at the Google sign up page. The installation is not always as simple as promised, but if you are comfortable doing some very basic coding, it is simple enough. The analytics home page contains all the instructions. If you use WordPress there are also plugins available – for example, the SEO plugin by Yoast allows you to automate the process (it’s also my preferred SEO plugin).

Strategy Twenty-Two – Do a content audit

Assuming you already have a website and want to institute a content marketing strategy, how to you get the lay of the land? As anyone who has tried to make a change in their life knows, you cannot move forward until you have made an honest assessment of your present position. Do the headings and sub-headings match the content? Is the information up-to-date, and does it reflect current thinking? If not, should it be updated? Does every piece of information support the goals of your firm? Does it accord with the style you want to project? Is it logically organized? Is the tone consistently what you want for your firm? Are the target keywords prominently placed to improve your search engine ranking? In what ways have you addressed SEO? What gaps need to be filled and what changes should be made? Are there calls-to-action? First you need to do an inventory of the site. It helps to have a visual representation of your site. Some commentators recommend a spread sheet, but it’s easy enough to create a document and track the site that way. For instance, you might outline the pages as “home page > About Us > Our People > Bob Jonston”. For each piece it is valuable to know who wrote it (you can source their notes and research) and what type of content  it is (article, blog post, static text on a page etc). Now for the audit i.e. what is the quality of the content? As I have done elsewhere, I like to assign a grading out of 5 and comment on each piece. Obviously the information needs to be up to date; the headings must be optimized; does it advance the marketing of the site; is it user friendly; what do the analytics tell us about the page and visitor experience; is the tone and voice consistent, especially if written by different authors; is the behavior of links consistent (e.g. they always open to a new page); what are the SEO concerns; length and timing of articles/posts; are links in the right places? The payoff is not only better content marketing, but also a greater appreciation of the content strategy that should be pursued and the professional assistance you might require.

Strategy Twenty-Three – Produce content  of varying lengths and types

Your website should contain content  of varying lengths, including short(ish) blog posts (about 500 words), longer posts (2000+ words), eBooks, White Papers, SlideShare presentations, infographics, webinars, curated content  etc. Ideally much of this content can be repurposed from an original source (see Strategy Eleven). Google now has a separate classification for in-depth articles. Google’s Pandu Nayak has written:

I’m happy to see people continue to invest in thoughtful in-depth content that will remain relevant for months or even years after publication. This is exactly what you’ll find in the new feature. In addition to well-known publishers, you’ll also find some great articles from lesser-known publications and blogs. If you’re a publisher or webmaster, check out our help center article and post on the Webmaster Central blog to learn more.

There is some argument that less than 500 words just might not cut it anymore. However, the real question is whether there is an ideal length for a blog post? Not your once a month in-depth article, but for your once or twice a week post? Is it better to write one longer post than two shorter efforts? There is anecdotal evidence that clients and prospective clients will “tolerate” longer articles by professionals. This is because they are not buying soap powder, it’s your human and professional expertise they’re hoping to judge. For those readers there should be a greater investment in the blog as a teaching tool, and though you should always be inclined to brevity, you sometimes need sufficient space to create a quality assessment of the topic. For instance, a tax accountant can list all the deductions that are not available to clients with regard to their use of a car, but what is truly helpful is the expert context, the why that helps them navigate the tax code for all their business dealings (if such a thing is possible!). That takes time, expertise and an understanding of your clients’ needs.

Strategy Twenty-Four – View everything as content

We tend to think of content as that function of our firm that conveys something in writing that is valuable to our clients. This might make it clearer for professionals – when it comes to your website, all content is marketing and all marketing is content. What does this mean apart from a smart-aleck aphorism? It means that everything you write on your website should be about marketing to your clients or prospective clients. That is the essence of “content marketing”. What type of content? Blogs, eBooks, FAQ, webinars, podcasts, media releases, images  – anything that is on the website, including the home page. Think of it as a conversation and not words on a page. Every part of your website can obviously be defined as “content ”, but every piece of that content should be judged for it’s contribution to an holistic “marketing” effort. However, it’s not the “what” that matters – it’s what the content achieves. Does it educate clients? Does it create an empathetic relationship with clients? Does it anticipate or alleviate pain points in their service transactions? Does it help achieve your strategic goals? This is a different model than the traditional online “brochure” advertising of most professionals. It requires an understanding of your clients’ wider needs. For instance, it is no longer enough to tell clients that they need adequate home insurance. To properly address those insurance needs, and to use content to get them through the front door of your office, you need to show them you have anticipated their underlying anxieties about the best ways to protect their assets and their families. That’s content marketing.

Strategy Twenty-Five – Be your own expert

Don’t undermine your online authority with misplaced anxieties about semantics. Whether you are an “accredited” expert or considered so by the votes of your peers, you can certainly (and ethically) be an expert resource if you actually have the expertise to back that claim. At the least you can be extremely helpful. You can also readily obtain an expertise as a writer of your own website content – as I am pains to reiterate, it’s really not that hard. Ghost writing is not a bad thing, I have written many articles and papers for politicians and commentators, so I can hardly take issue with it. However, for professionals – lawyers, accountants and all superannuation, insurance and finance professionals – that writer should at least have an intimate knowledge of the professional-client relationship. Not necessarily your specific profession, but at least a similar professional culture. Online content marketing relies on authenticity. One of the reasons professionals so readily hire writers to produce ongoing content, especially blogs and newsletters, is that they do not consider it a profitable use of their time. That’s understandable, but there are trade-offs as well. Finding regular sources of writing forces you to keep abreast of issues in your profession, it makes you invest in an expertise that will benefit clients and prospective clients, and allows you to find your own voice. These are tangible long term benefits. And as I constantly plead, content  production is not difficult for professionals if you follow a few simple rules.

Strategy Twenty-Six – Think like a publisher

Publishers create information to make a profit, just as you create online content to profit your firm. Published content is just another distribution arm for your firm, and with that subtle change in perception a torrent of ideas will follow. All that’s needed is a publishing mindset. If you are going to write a report for your clients to share, think like a publisher who knows the needs of their readers. Think in terms of user generated content, not content that is focused on your needs as a professional. Ask yourself, what are our client’s pain points? Wearing my publisher’s hat, what is the best way I can address this need? How can I make it interesting for them? I can already hear the screams out there. Think like a publisher? I advise people about retirement planning. What do I know about publishing? You know plenty. I don’t care whether you only read the newspaper sports section or religiously check out the New York Time Book Review on your iPad every Sunday. How about television commercials? Seen any of them lately? Do you pay attention to a particular news network, or read a specialist magazine? Do you listen to the radio? Have you noticed why some talkback calls engage the host while others are given short shrift? Consciously or not, you already know everything there is to know about the content you like and don’t like in the media. Now take that knowledge and put yourself in the shoes of your clients. Presumably you already know their needs, otherwise you wouldn’t have come this far in your professional life. For you, the only issue is which hat you wear when you fulfill that need. If it’s a service issue, you wear your service provider’s hat; if it’s a management issue, that’s the hat you wear; if it’s a design issue, you’ll be reaching for that well designed hat. And if it’s an issue that can also be advanced by an online content strategy, then a publisher’s hat will do nicely. Clearly your core business is not publishing, but for online content, that’s your core role. A publisher is a broker of information. That’s it. That’s your role.

Strategy Twenty-Seven – Have a realistic (but proactive) approach to SEO (search engine optimisation)

Optimise SEO to the extent that it is time and cost effective, but no more. If you have the capital (and the need) to outsource SEO, then that is an effective strategy, so long as you have a realistic understanding of the return on your investment. Be sure to get at least three quotes and be quite clear as to the services you will receive. SEO is a complex topic. You should do enough research to have a basic understanding of SEO, but there’s no doubt that at an advanced level it is best handled by trained consultants – however, you should know enough to be able to make a determination for yourself whether this expenditure is necessary. For most smaller professionals firms, the best strategy to achieve a higher ranking of your website is to write great content. And then write some more. So if you have a restricted budget, and that will be case for most smaller professional firms (which represent the vast majority of the total), then be careful where you allocate your resources. You can learn a lot about online content on your own, and that will take you a long way to a favorable place in Google’s heart. Google, certainly the dominant directory for your prospective clients, increasingly looks to high quality website content as the primary determinant of search engine rankings. For professionals it is really referrals, not ranking, that is the arbiter of good content. SEO experts will no doubt explain that the more eyes on your website the better, but that is not necessarily the most relevant consideration for professionals. What you want are happy clients who send prospective clients to your website, and for those new readers to become clients. So once again we refer to the template of excellent content that is targeted to your ideal client persona. If you liked this article please share it on Twitter – click anywhere in the box below:

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photo credit: The Nick Page via photopin

50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals – Part 3

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series 50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals

Website content strategy for professionals

In the 1st two parts of this series we learned to look at content marketing from the clients’ view and how to write in the shoes of your client. Now we begin to look at how we take our content beyond the boundaries of a professional firm’s website.

Strategy Fifteen – Tie content to social media