Being Actionable Vs. Phoning It In
This is a rant about writing good stuff. It started with a tweet, some snark, and eventually settled as an opinion (and intention) leading to this content.
Microblogging is quite different than blogging. It has to be – it’s a soundbite or headline vehicle at 140 characters. But I believe writers have the responsibility to keep their audience from drowning in an ocean of ennui. Take AJ Kohn’s offerings of TL;DR summaries, or Tom Critchlow giving the “cliff notes” right up front in one of his recent posts. As Frank Zappa would say, this gets us right to the crux of the biscuit. To be clear though, it’s not so much about where or how you decide to layout the actionable “point,” but making sure you have a clear one somewhere in your document.
I’ve cried about it before on this blog: SEOs abuse “content is king.” Pause, and ask yourself what the last really good content you produced did for the reader. Did you copy and paste someone’s idea, regurgitate a concept, or try to cash in on something that others are being successful with? Or did you invent something? Did you make noise, or did you forge a new trail?
In the tweet above, John and Joel made some good points. I tweeted that out after reading another “top x link building tactics” list. A fluffy, chewed up piece of tactics we’ve all seen before. It didn’t claim to be written for beginners – which would have at least described the intended action of the content – but it was just more noise that wasn’t helpful for a reasonably experienced SEO. It was also praised in the comments and shared quite a bit… but so are the annual “SEO is dead” posts, and I’ve yet to find a new takeaway from that topic either (yes – us curators and contributors need to think about the actionability of our role too).
It’s like a Nicholas Cage movie. They come around every once in a while, and you always want your time back after you sit through it. Listen, if one more person tells me that sponsoring an event is a great way to get links, without telling me how, or why, or what the level of effort was, or how they got client buy-in, or giving me a real world example or formula to follow, I’m going to kick a puppy. Hard. It will be your fault. I believe this link building tactic came out of reality, but I don’t believe many people are actually doing it. They’re just regurgitating something they read. They’re curating, not blogging effectively.
Using the above example, this is really relevant to SEOs. It’s a worm on a hook. We want to know more. When a tactic like that comes from Seer, you can be damn sure you’re going to get some color around it. How did Wil and his crew get where they are? They’re proving themselves as experts. They’re not afraid to share their secrets, and they’re proving their experience.
Our industry is to market to clients while (apparently) marketing to our peers. Branding is part of marketing, and some of us are heavily about ourselves. That’s fine. But the rules don’t change when you’re writing on behalf of your client’s industry. You should be writing content that doesn’t leave people asking more questions than they started with. When I watched Superman II in the 80’s, I remember asking my father how Clark Kent could change into Superman so fast. He told me Clark was wearing his Superman suit under his work clothes. But even his boots? He was wearing penny loafers over his boots? I called bullshit, and I was only eight years old. I wanted the movie to address that. But that’s fiction. Most of us are writing things that have a purpose, a goal, and an agenda. What’s a better place to provide something actionable and answer some questions?
By the way, in case you misinterpreted the crux of the biscuit in this rant, I’m not totally against “top lists” – I love using bullets in my emails to get a point across. I like structured content. Paddy Moogan had great intent at Mozcon with his Top 35 tips, and he’s often credited as a highlight of that convention. I just want the intent to be actionable content, and I notice that a lot of “top” lists are considerable rubbish.
TL;DR – The action I’m trying to encourage is to get you to think about your content (if you’re a typically thin writer), and do everyone (especially your client) a better service by answering needs. Be a marketing superhero and save the interwebs of crap villainy.