Spoiler: This post is not so much about Miley Cyrus or climate change.
It’s much more about what happens when writers use a perfectly good blogging tool as a replacement for understanding their audiences and delivering the information and knowledge those audiences need.
Knowing what to write about seems to be emerging as a big problem in content marketing. I’ve been a bit astonished at the number of recent posts on “blogger’s block” when, really, there should be more than enough stories to tell if a writer is listening to and genuinely participating in a community.
To their credit, content marketing and marketing automation companies like Hubspot have come up with automatic topic generators to help their customers along the road to blogging success. But any tool can be misused, and the Miley Cyrus headline shows just how quickly something good can go very, very bad.
The Rise of Lazy Content
Sensei Marketing got to the root of the problem late last year, in a post on what Sam Fiorella called lazy content marketing.
“The reality is that the race for eyeballs and top ranking through content marketing has created an abundance of unnecessary, redundant, and often inaccurate, unchecked data,” he wrote. Frequent, consistent blogging is one of the best ways to build an online presence, but “frequency and consistency require both fresh ideas and a lot of effort.”
So bloggers too often default to quantity over quality in their desperation to get something, anything into (virtual) print, leading to what Copyblogger calls the Zombie Content Apocalypse. Referring to the recent flurry of material on content shock, Geoff Livingston’s post this morning busted the myths that audiences are sick of content, and that Google will punish all content creators.
It’s lazy content that causes the problem.
“People want new, fresh content developed specifically for the evolving media devices they are using,” Livingston wrote. “The more natural and unique your content is, the more likely normal people will enjoy it. And as a result, so will Google.”
Content Marketing to the Rescue
Look no farther than the principles and practice of content marketing for an antidote to zombie content.
(Hmm. An easy antidote to apocalypse. Someone should be blogging about that!)
At its most basic, content marketing is about listening before you speak. Sharing valuable knowledge and resources on the topics that interest an audience, rather than trying to pitch a product or service. Understanding that that audience is actually a community, and making the effort to build genuine relationships.
For content marketers, it all comes back to picking relevant, useful topics and delivering value as part of a wider community. A random topic generator might help you frame your story. But if you don’t know what you want to talk about before you key in your three nouns, the headline is the least of your problems.
“If you are already producing quality content,” wrote Jenise Fryatt in yesterday’s post on Google authorship, “just keep churning out content that your audience finds interesting and useful.” But with recent changes in the Google algorithm, “if you are still trying to avoid creating quality content, your options for ranking high in search results have just become more limited.”
So What About Miley Cyrus?
So what does any of this have to do with Miley Cyrus or climate change?
When I decided to enter this post in Hubspot’s one-hour blog challenge, I wanted to play by the rules, and that meant using their headline generator to find a legitimate topic for the task.
When the site prompted me for three subject headings, I punched in our firm’s main specialties: Content marketing, social media, and climate change.
I was in a hotel restaurant in Montreal when I did this bit of research. When the site came back with Miley Cyrus and Climate Change: 10 Surprising Things They Have In Common, I laughed so loudly that the server came over to find out what was going on.
When I told him, he came back with: “Miley Cyrus and climate change. They’re both hot, right?”
Good answer. Really scary.
Or my daughter Rachel, a few days later: “They both come on like a wrecking ball?” Better. Much better.
This short journey has brought me to two conclusions. I can see the value of a topic generator if you know what you want to write about—and, even more important, why your community should want to read about it. But every tool has its use, and substituting a random list of headlines for deep knowledge of an audience is like using a hammer—maybe even a wrecking ball—in place of a paint brush.
Although I have to say…I’m curious to see whether our blog traffic goes up or down after a sudden, out-of-the-blue headline referring to Miley Cyrus. We’ll let you know either way.