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Being Actionable Vs. Phoning It In

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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.Tweet - @billsebald @dohertyjf @cstechjoel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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).  

nicolas cageIt’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.

supermanOur 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.


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    Comments

    The comments are do-follow. However, any comments that use keyword anchor text as the name will be removed.

    1. Deb Nystrom
      August 27, 2012

      The crux of this for me: “I notice that a lot of ‘top’ lists are considerable rubbish.”?

      What a relief after all that Internet Marketing formulaic stuff. A few are good, most are NOT.

      I like the AJ Kohn referral as well. Thanks!

      Reply


    2. Mark Ginsberg
      August 27, 2012

      Thanks for the thoughtful piece Bill – as an independent consultant trying to deal with clients and do actual SEO work, while trying to grow a business and bring in new leads, you walk a narrow tightrope. You need to fill your content with blog, produce on a somewhat regular basis, and keep up with everything else. While I haven’t blogged in a while on my site, I do understand the temptation to find a pattern and continue to churn out mediocre stuff so that clients and potential clients see activity on the site and your positioning yourself as a person who knows what they’re talking about. I agree that quality should trump quantity and frequency, I’m just saying I understand the other side’s perspective and the temptations.

      Reply


    3. hannah
      August 28, 2012

      I laughed out load at kicking a puppy. Not an advocate of kicking puppies but share the frustration. Content for content sake and there most certainly seems to be a lot of “talk” at the moment with very little that is transferable.

      Reply


    4. Ian Howells
      August 28, 2012

      Who taught you what ennui means?

      Reply


    5. @billsebald
      August 28, 2012

      Stay away from my posts, “anonymous”.

      Reply


    6. Jeremy McDonald
      August 30, 2012

      I often feel the same way as “Meet Your SEOs” posts. Feel that people often lack creativity when it comes to writing blog posts.

      Reply


      • @billsebald
        August 30, 2012

        If you mean Alessio’s posts, I like those (and not just because I was in one) – I see their value as industry entertainment with the intent of helping the industry get to know each other, each person’s concentration, and helps me find more people to follow for industry insights.

        If there were a bunch of copycats, well, then I’d feel the same. Maybe there are copycats that just haven’t gotten on my radar yet.

        Reply


        • Jeremy McDonald
          September 10, 2012

          Fair Enough, I’ve have read yours and enjoyed it (not just due to the giant green cocunut).

          But have seen some rushed copy cat ones pop up on lower level blogs where the SEO’s provide no insight. I just think that every post needs to offer some value

          Reply


    7. @billsebald
      August 30, 2012

      If you mean Alessio’s posts, I like those (and not just because I was in one) – I see their value as industry entertainment with the intent of helping the industry get to know each other, each person’s concentration, and helps me find more people to follow for industry insights.

      If there were a bunch of copycats, well, then I’d feel the same. Maybe there are copycats that just haven’t gotten on my radar yet.

      Reply


      • Jeremy McDonald
        September 10, 2012

        Fair Enough, I’ve have read yours and enjoyed it (not just due to the giant green cocunut).

        But have seen some rushed copy cat ones pop up on lower level blogs where the SEO’s provide no insight. I just think that every post needs to offer some value

        Reply


    8. Jamie Salcedo
      September 12, 2012

      Thanks for the article, Bill. I have committed the sin of using a list in my own sites in the past, but I’m at a point now that if I see that a site’s content is a wall of generic text and keywords, I’m going to forget that site existed. I can’t be a hypocrite an make the same mistake as well.

      Reply


    9. Vance Bell
      February 2, 2013

      Unfortunately, it’s easy to conflate those “top 10,” “5 Best,” and “8 Biggest,” style articles with the similar curated resource/informational posts, for example “25 Web Site using Full-Screen Background Photos” or “Five Non-Standard Uses of GitHub.” There’s many an instance where a grocery list is more useful than a deeper exposition.

      Reply