Book Review: Content Rules

June 24, 2013

The phrase “content marketing” may well disappear at some point in the not-too-distant future. Not because the concept will fade away, but because it will be seen as redundant; there won’t be any marketing without content.

According to recent research, nearly 80% of CMOs see custom content as the future of marketing. And it’s not only marketing executives who are excited about content. The same study also showed that:

  • • 90% of companies are already doing some form of content marketing.
  • • 70% of customers said they “felt closer to a company as a result of content marketing.”
  • • 70% of buyers would rather learn about a company through articles than through an advertisement.
  • • 60% of people say they have been “inspired to seek out a product” after reading content about it.

Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. ChapmanAnd so it is that Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business has arrived at at opportune time. Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman have written the definitive guide to creating nearly any type of content, as well as adding life to traditional formats like customer case studies and FAQ pages. Content Rules is a must-read for anyone who wants to create compelling, useful information for their target audiences.

Creating relevant, quality, original content within a web presence optimization (WPO) strategy has become critical to marketing success because,  as the authors note, “overwhelmingly, consumers depend on search engines to help them shop online.” They cite research showing that “three out of five shoppers said they always or often use search engines when shopping online…more consumers use search engines than they do coupon sites, retailer emails, consumer reviews, or shopping comparison sites.” The figure is even higher for b2b and high-value, considered-purchase consumer goods.

The book works well on several levels, and though it’s most valuable to practitioners—those who actually envision, specify, create, repurpose, and promote business content— it’s also helpful for senior executives charged with developing content strategy and coordinating creative efforts.

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As the previous post here noted, Amazon.com has announced it will shut down its affiliate program in Minnesota at the end of this month. If this review, or any of the other book reviews here, inspire you to buy the book, please click on any of the book’s links within the post today to buy the book on Amazon. Thank you!

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Divided into four sections, the book opens with the case for content (though that’s increasingly superfluous), the basic “rules” of content creation, and wisdom such as the importance of giving content both “roots” (ground it “solidly in your unique perspective, voice, and point of view”) and “wings” (distributed, promoted and shared across the social web).

It proceeds through sections devoted to the “how to” of content creation, success stories (“with ideas you can steal”), and finally a brief closing section with next steps and a helpful checklist to help content creators follow the “rules.”

Among the authors’ insights:

  • • The benefits of content marketing compound over time. Jay Baer uses the phrase “information annuity” while Marcus Sheridan of River Pools calls content “the ultimate gift that keeps on giving.” This echoes the message that social media and content transform marketing from an expense to an investment.
  • • “The more valuable the information you can give to others, the more you will become viewed as an expert and therefore gain their trust…the person with the abundance mentality wins.”
  • • Stuck for a subject to write about? “Know your customers…and what keeps them up at night. What are their concerns and objectives? What do they care about? How will your brand help them in their daily lives?”
  • • Getting high-quality backlinks to your website is crucial to achieving high rankings in search. But traditional link building is all but dead; so how do you get those links? “By creating compelling content. Every time someone shares a link to your site in some fashion (by blogging about you or sharing a link on Twitter, for example), it boosts your search ranking. Make a video that everyone is raving about or write a blog post that people can’t stop talking about, and you’ll see your site start appearing much higher on the results page when search for…the things you sell.” Which is pretty much what WPO is.
  • • To differentiate their content, and companies, in a crowded market, content creators must “expand their traditional notions of corporate identity to include language, the words a company uses, and tone of voice. Branding, after all, is about differentiation. And describing a brand begins with words. Don’t rely on…worn-to-the-bone words and phrases and bland corporate tone.” Companies often struggle with this internally, particularly if the team has been in place for a while, but any decent consumer or b2b marketing agency should be able to assist in this effort.
  • • A bit more on tone (love this): “In business, it’s tempting (and easier) to use the same boring words everyone else uses. But you’ll be far more approachable (and a whole lot more engaging) if you lighten up a little. I’d worry less about shocking customers than I would about boring them.”
  • • “Literally speak the language of your customers. You want to appeal to them, certainly, but you also want your content to appear in search results when your would-be customers are looking for what you have to offer. How do your customers describe your product or service? What words do they use?” This is vital. Do keyword research, ask your sales force, and talk to your customers.

There’s much, much more on topics ranging from over-used buzzwords to avoid and methods for repurposing and re-using content to the six characteristics of great business storytelling and how to capitalize on events for content creation.

The authors provide such an effective and comprehensive overview of content development that it’s difficult to find fault with the book. A couple of minor quibbles regarding metrics though:

  • • In the section titled “Set Your Metrics: What Does Success Look Like?,” the authors mention number of subscribers, inbound links, comments and “social validation” as key metrics, but don’t mention two other key measures to track: number of blog visitors who then visit other key areas on your website (such as product pages) and the number who take some conversion action (e.g., registering for a webinar, downloading a white paper, or subscribing to your newsletter). (One of our clients was generating, on average, 10% of all leads via referral traffic from their blog within one year of launching it.)
  • • Similarly, on metrics for Ebooks and white papers, the authors cite number of downloads as a key metric—which it certainly is—but I’d add sources of traffic leading to these downloads as another vital piece of data to track.

All in all, this is an outstanding guide to creating, optimizing and sharing compelling, customer-focused information. Even if you’re an experienced content marketer, Content Rules will help you produce better content, produce content better, or both.

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2 Responses

  1. This is really a very nice article to remember most important things while creating online content. This will really help many people associated with this field. Thank you for posting this article.


  2. Tom 

    Hi Kathy – no problem, thanks for the positive feedback!

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