Is Your Content Marketing the Right Length to Touch the Ground?

The content marketing debate revolving around length makes me think of a story. A curious little girl is said to have asked Abraham Lincoln how long one’s legs should be. After a moment’s reflection, the tall and lanky president responded wisely, “just long enough to touch the ground.”

The content marketing debate revolving around length makes me think of a story. A curious little girl is said to have asked Abraham Lincoln how long one’s legs should be. After a moment’s reflection, the tall and lanky president responded wisely, “just long enough to touch the ground.”

He certainly could not have realized that he was creating an unassailable template used endlessly ever since to provide dimensions for just how short or long any form of communication should be. Thorin McGee, Target Marketing editor-in-chief, recently explored how to find the right length for your content here and concluded — rightly, I would suggest — that the right length was as long as you can keep your audience engaged. Because when they become bored, they leave.

“Think like a reality TV editor,” he writes, referencing popular media for couch potatoes. He might have found a better frame of reference in the novels of Dickens or Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’, originally published in weekly installments in the popular press. To be certain readers would come back and buy the next installment, each had to end with a cliffhanger — would the hero/heroine fall off of the proverbial cliff or be saved, just in the nick of time, to continue the story?

There is no question that if the copy is engaging or compelling, if it makes promises and poses questions you feel you must have the answers to, length isn’t a primary consideration. Guru Frank Johnson’s classic rule is:

Tell them what you are going to tell them.

Tell them.

Tell them what you told them and what to do about it.

It never fails. And whether you do that in 100 or thousands of words depends only on the type of product, the medium but — most of all — on the ability of the writer to increase the attention and interest of the reader as the narrative continues, never letting him get bored. Johnson liked to remind us that great copy “tracks” — like a train going to the next station, it has to stay on the track or you have a fatal derailment.

Try this from TheDogTrainingSecret.com:

Hi Peter,

It gets me every time …

You see a homeless guy on the streets, a dog cuddled at his side.

Life has clearly not been kind to the gentleman, he’s wearing the rattiest, dirtiest jacket you’ve ever seen and shoes so old, there’s no way his feet could be dry.

His life’s belongings are gathered at his side, in a small duffle bag and maybe a weathered grocery bag.

He’s collecting change in a paper coffee cup.

Maybe $1.25 so far today.

Not much.

And as a result of hard living, he’s painfully thin. Much too thin, for a man living on the streets. And life is bleak.

Except for the one obvious ray of sunshine in his life:

That misfit dog, cuddled up at his side.

A dog with nothing but love, admiration and adoration for his master, pouring from his heart and eyes.

Has YOUR dog ever looked at you like that?

Like you’re the center of his world, the only thing that matters, the only person he trusts, his rock and the one person who’s worth 100% of his love and attention?

I don’t know about you …

… But that look of love you get from a dog?

I tell you, it’s a gut check for me every time.

And it’s this feeling that inspired the next designer T-shirt in our line-up:

Be The Person Your Dog Thinks You Are.

Because wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all stepped up and lived this way? And loved this way?

This T-shirt comes in 3 styles … kids, women’s and unisex.

In a variety of stylish colors.

Check them out …

It’s just 275 words. Is it too long, too short or just right? Can you possibly get bored as the story unfolds?

OK, not everyone loves dogs or will buy the T-shirt, but I’d bet many do. (Disclaimer: I bought one.)

So what is the bottom line of the long or short content length issue?

To this maverick marketer, it is simply that every commercial communication must have an objective supported by a narrative engaging and compelling enough to take you by the hand and lead you to the call to action and to the action itself. All of the theorizing about generational differences in attention spans and similar research pales against one simple thing: Does the story accomplish the objective; is it the right length to touch the ground?

SEO Measurement Challenges Continue

The measurability of Web traffic has still stands as both a promise and a challenge. As an SEO practitioner who has covered many miles of digital road, I am still amazed at how often site owners are bewildered at how to measure the success of their organic search programs.

The measurability of Web traffic still stands as both a promise and a challenge. As an SEO practitioner who has covered many miles of digital road, I am still amazed at how often site owners are bewildered at how to measure the success of their organic search programs.

In my opinion, the measurement problems for search will continue to grow and expand as search options grow. For example, once upon a time, we only measured desktop traffic and did not have to think about tablets, phones or IoT devices. As search has integrated more deeply into our lives, the challenges have multiplied. It is not just the impact of a variety of devices that have swelled the problem, but also the complexity of what is offered on the search page.

When it was just 10 blue links, it was easier to work with and analyze search program success. Many site owners still rely on tools and thought processes that are archaic for their success measurement.

Casting Just a Wee Bit of Shade

In the early days, SEO practitioners measured success based on keyword rankings. Some of the earliest tools were ranking tools. These gave a clear measurement of where in the search results a site’s pages ranked for selected keywords.

Lots was missing from this approach, including how the page converted and whether the selected phrases were the right ones for the business. As the discipline has grown in sophistication, these early approaches have been abandoned by most savvy practitioners, but many site owners still cling to these keyword and page-placement metrics.

It is our fault as an industry that we have not clearly articulated new ways for how to measure optimized pages. This is incumbent on us. As a practitioner, I abandoned rank-checking as a measurement tool years ago. When Google took away the referrers to protect privacy (their claim), I stopped being able to use the keyword-focused data from the analytics. This pulled me further from my attachment to my beloved keyword data.

Where Now?

A quick tour of the Webmaster Tools Search Console will also show how transient and variable the keyword placements are in a given timeframe.

Some things have not changed. I still use a language-based optimization focus. This is because we still search using words — words matter.

Every site owner should have a clear view of what the site is about and be able to articulate it in very clear words. I have never forgotten a lesson I learned when, after reading an entire site, I still had no idea what the business did and had to call the site owner to ask some pointed questions about the business. I discovered that none of the language that actually described what the business did was on the site. My first recommendation was a site rewrite.

These clunkers are fewer and further between today, but a lack of clear focus is still a problem. When Google wants relevant content, it is a cry for clarity. How does this effect measurement? The single easiest measurement is in sales results that can be attributed to search. This may seem very simplistic. It is, but so too are the macro-econometrics of GDP and GNP. Once past this metric, the question of what to measure is as varied as the site’s intent.

Working in e-commerce, the measurement is easier and more direct. For the goal is get the cash, get the cash, get the cash.

But for other types of businesses the metrics may be more nuanced. The point is to stop measuring rankings and measure real results.

‘Travel’ Is a Terrible Thing to Market

The oft-used statement “I like to travel” is generally a lie. The act of traveling sucks. But the places you’re going and the experiences you’re going to have are magic. That’s what people really love about traveling. And that’s a lesson all marketers should learn.

This morning we recorded our next Marketing Garage podcast with Lauren A. Koenig, one of the founders of TWIP — “Travel With Interesting People.” (She’s also going to be on our Travel and Hospitality roundtable on April 6, click here to be a part of it.)

I’m not going to spoil much of the interview, which you’ll be able to listen to next week. But one of the things she said has been on my mind all day:

“Saying you like to travel is like saying you like to breath air.” It doesn’t say anything. How do you travel? Where do you like to go? What do you like to do?

Lauren’s point is that to understand travelers — and to connect them, which is TWIP’s main business — your focus shouldn’t be on “travel,” it should be on how they travel and what they want from it.

Travel Doge This is a lesson all marketers should learn.

Travel vs. Experience

The oft-used statement “I like to travel” is mostly a lie. Who really likes to spend hours trapped in a pressurized metal tube, crammed in like sardines breathing recycled air and praying no one’s kid starts crying? Are buses, trains or cars any better for long trips? Even boats are fundamentally uncomfortable things to be stuck on for long periods of time.

travel-uncomfortableThe act of traveling sucks. But the places you’re going and the experiences you will have are magic. That’s what people really love about traveling. And that’s what marketers try to capture in travel marketing.

Traveling is just a means to an end. The word “travel” gets emphasized as the name of the industry and often as the hook for the marketing because it’s a catch-all word that describes the ordeal one goes through to have the great experience.

So when you’re describing what you do, or what you like or what you’re marketing, should your focus be on the ordeal, or on the magic at the end of it?

Travel Not to Escape Life

The 4 Most Powerful Words for Closing Sales

We’ve seen the lists. All those words that grab attention and spark those triggers deep in our psyche that get us to buy sooner than later. You know what I’m talking about: free, limited time, guaranteed, exclusive, discount … the list goes on. But do you know the words that are most likely to close sales that have nothing to do with price?

Retail Sales UpWe’ve seen the lists. All those words that grab attention and spark those triggers deep in our psyche that get us to buy sooner than later. You know what I’m talking about: free, limited time, guaranteed, exclusive, discount … the list goes on. But do you know the words that are most likely to close sales that have nothing to do with price?

In 2000, social psychology researchers, Nicolas Gueguen and Alexandre Pascual, conducted a study to see what words resulted in the greatest compliance for doing a simple task. They asked subjects on a city street to give money to a cause and were only able to get 10 percent of those asked to comply. When they added the phrase, “but you are free to accept or refuse,” nearly 48 percent complied, and in many cases, the amount of the gift donated was greater than before. Subsequently, they found that by using these same words to get people to take a survey, the compliance rate was also substantially higher.

Why do the simple words, “But you are free” have such a strong persuasive impact on compliance? From a psychological perspective, we humans want to always feel in control, and when someone asks for something that is ours — our time, our money — we feel they are asking us to give up control of some of our most valuable necessities. From a marketing perspective, I believe the impact goes even deeper.

A mentor of mine, Charles Graves, a brilliant public relations thought leader, told me years ago to focus marketing initiatives on the notion that consumers want to be told, not sold. And while that does relate to our need to be in control, it also goes to our instinctive need to be involved, informed and valued for our own intelligence and ability to make wise choices.

A researcher for the University of Illinois, Christopher Carpenter, conducted similar studies on the But You are Free Compliance-Gaining technique. His work involved 42 studies and 22,000 participants and also showed that using this approach at least doubled the success rate in various scenarios.

While the implications of the BYAF concept may be more clear for sales, some of the ways this impacts marketing may not be. Think about how much research consumers do before buying just about anything. GE Capital Retail Bank’s second annual “Major Purchase Shopper Study” shows that more and more consumers research extensively to compare products, prices and financing options before making major purchases. The most recently study conducted in 2013 indicates that 81 percent of consumers go online before going to stores, and that number is up 20 percent from the previous year. On average, consumers spend 79 days gathering information before making their choices. This particular study focused on shopping patterns for purchases of $500 or more, covering a broad spectrum of categories including appliances, electronics, flooring, home furnishings and bedding, jewelry, power sports products and more.

Even with all this research, we still need validation that we made the right decision. We go on Facebook to see if our friends agree with our choice. We read consumer reviews on Amazon, Yelp and many more websites and so on. Even with all the decision support systems available for any purchase we make, we still need a lot of reinforcement. It’s just human nature.

When we feel we made wise choices, we transfer those good feelings to those who helped us make those decisions and to those who reinforce our choices. This is where BYAF works brilliantly for marketing. When you provide objective information and encourage customers to make their own choices, you become a partner. You’re that trusted advisor who makes them feel good about themselves and just as good about you! In fact, when you make others feel intelligent, wise and accomplished, you can trigger those hormonal releases of oxytocin and dopamine, and when that happens, you create bonds.