The Top 3 Questions I Hear In Every Content Marketing Class - Insights

The Top 3 Questions I Hear In Every Content Marketing Class

by Brian O’Connor Co-founder, Mr. Finn Content Works

6 minute read

When my business partner and I teach content marketing classes at General Assembly and at Wix Workspace, the profiles of our students are wide-ranging: a marketer who works with a small team at a company; a writer or editor looking to learn new tricks; an owner of a bootstrapping startup; people from non-profits; and publishing execs.

We get the following three questions all the time – so there’s a good chance it’s a question you’ve always wanted to ask.

Q: Everyone’s blogging about everything all the time. How do I make the voice of my blog interesting?

Data geeks have been circulating the idea that 27 million pieces of content go live every day, and by 2020 we’ll see 500% more data on the Internet, a large part of which will be content. It’s easy to see that the chief reason people will forget the content you create is because they didn’t pay attention to it to begin with.

So the mere fact that you recognize the need for a “voice” suggests that you have benchmarking instincts, and are already thinking about ways to make your content memorable.

#1. Understand who your readers are and what they care about. Without this key insight, anything you write will be without purpose. It’s always helpful to understand some neuroscience as it relates to content, of course, and the reasons why the brain would rather not think.

Besides, to write without purpose is not only bad for your business, but it can also lead to existential anxiety.

#2. Locate your clichés and zap them. The one thing that makes copy ordinary is the hackneyed phrase (“food for thought,” “lion’s share,” “part and parcel,” etc). These are always “first draft” terms, the first thing you think of to describe a common occurrence or emotion. Cliché-finding tools come and go (a cliché!), but the best cliche finding tool we’ve ever seen is a human editor.

#3. Have a point of view. Unlike journalists, marketers tend to think in terms of positive outcomes, so the challenge is to think differently—to think about a subject in a way that’s not anticipated, to take an assumption and turn it around. It’s the foundation of clickbait.

For example, if a restaurant wins a James Beard Award, think about how winning the award might have a negative impact. Will the chef become more desirable to others and get poached? Train yourself to do this and readers will migrate to your site to “think with someone else’s brain.”

Q: How do I attract a younger audience to my website?

Recently, a woman in her late twenties attended our class and asked this question. She was running a jewelry company that her father had founded in the 1970s. They had adopted e-Commerce and had a somewhat stale looking website, and had made some attempts at blogging.

The problem, she said, was that the brand looked old, as it still reflected the values of her father. It’s a problem that many legacy brands and businesses face, very often when an owner is contemplating a succession plan.

So we challenged her to find someone in her company who could be an ambassador to a younger audience. Maybe it was her. Maybe it was a staff member. But it’s the first step in getting the CEO and founder to buy in to the idea of institutional change, which is usually represented by adopting social media.

I cited a conversation I had recently with Robert Michael Murray, who for five years was the VP of digital at National Geographic. His task was similar to our student’s—be more relevant to a younger audience.

The first thing Murray did when he came on board at NG was to monitor social media channels and find what was being said about the brand. It turned out that millennials, attracted by NG’s mission, were indeed paying attention. (Our student with the jewelry company, as it turned out, told us that young couples buying engagement or wedding rings represented about 20% of their customers).

Murray was fortunate. He didn’t suffer from what many legacy organizations struggle with: C-Level buy-in.

“Our executives may have not known about social media, but they knew the potential impact and they brought in an executive level position to lead the strategies,” Murray said. “By having that endorsement from the CEO and the president at the time, it helped empower me to be able to do things.” 

Still, not everyone gets such buy in. More frequently, you’ll get a “What’s the ROI on social media?”

Murray says that as he started to develop a relationship with the executives and showing them the progress he was making, he was able to tell them that “What’s the ROI on social media?” was the wrong question.

“It’s not, ‘How do you monetize social?’ it’s ‘How is everything else that we do social?’ That is an important shift in the lens,” says Murray. “The C-level began to realize that social media wasn’t an advertising vehicle, that actually it was meant to initiate a relationship and sustain a relationship.”

Q: I have no idea what keyword to try to rank for. Where do I start?

I just read a stat that Google handles 100 billion searches every month. If you do the math on that and break it down to minute by minute, that’s…a lot.

Of those searches, 15% of them have never been seen before, so there’s a wide variance of new phrases, or words that didn’t convert for a while. An SEO colleague at a financial institution threw his hands up in joy a couple years ago when he began to see a wide variance away from “money markets” toward a keyword that didn’t exist the year prior and which became a large traffic generator: “high yield savings account.”

Many people will tell you to think about who your buyers are and guess what their challenges are and figure out what they’d search for in Google. We recommend best practices, too—doing interviews of your customers, your own sales staff, quizzing your customer service department if you have one, or at the very least, see what the most frequently searched terms are on your website.

But, before you do that, we suggest a simple hack to gain some footing. Simply take your competitors URLs and punch them into SEMrush. The free version will give you a handful of organic search terms that your competitor is ranking for.

Then, take these keywords and pump them into This will produce dozens of long tail keywords associated with each term. Take these terms and pump them into Google Adwords to see what the search volume is and the difficulty ranking.

At the very least, it will give you an idea of terms that you can build questions around when you eventually do persona interviews.

Class dismissed!

Brian O’Connor is a journalist, columnist and co-founder at Mr. Finn Content Works. His company publishes Fantastic Magazine to help brands and businesses understand how content can help achieve their business goals.