A not so Svbtle reminder to own your words

It’s been a big day for both @Svbtle and @Medium—yet I refuse to use them, or any other hosted platform, as my main blog.

I think it is important to own your words both figuratively and literally.

Today, Svbtle gave me a great reminder of why I hold this opinion.

In their “Open for Everyone” announcement, they let slip a paragraph that should frighten writers everywhere:

We’re working on a way to guarantee that your written content will remain available on the web for at least five years.”

After I tweeted my amusement this section was hastily deleted, and no wonder!

That is not a guarantee, it is a warning.

How about instead I host my own work, keeping it available until I fall off the chair?

Don’t get me wrong, Svbtle and Medium are both gorgeous platforms. They also allow you to re-post work from your original site and possibly get it in front of a new audience.

But for consistent, serious publishers I fail to see the incentive to write something original on either platform.

They get the traffic from your hard work, and if their ship sinks, they are taking you and your archives with them.

The blogging world doesn’t need another Posterous fiasco, and I shouldn’t need to worry about switching platforms every other year.

Setting up your own site is ridiculously easy these days. WordPress (.org), Ghost, and Jekyll are all great options.

In short, I still wish both teams the best of luck, but I want to warn curious writers about what they are actually getting into when they decide to let someone else own their words.

Your favorite Italian,

Gregory Ciotti

PS: For those asking, I run 90% of my sites on WP Engine (aff), obviously hosting WordPress.

PPS: For added absurdity, I published this on Svbtle too.

Content Marketing with Bread (Deadly Serious)

If you’ve been subscribed to my newsletter recently, you know I’ve been going over some stupidly simply ways to make content work Breada little better for your startup.

It’ll be an ongoing thing for the next few months, given the response that my 30k subscribers in 12 months case study received (so, you know, sign-up and stuff).

Today, I wanted to elaborate on a bit of advice that I was first told about from the wonderful Pamela Vaughn, Chief Blog Astronaut at HubSpot (I may have made that title up). She and her team get all credit for the terms I’m about to use.

In essence, thinking about content in a “wheat vs. white” context has really changed the way I create content. It has helped me focus on what the secondary goal of a piece of content should have, other than “be good.”

Below I’ll explain the difference between the two types, and how you can put each into practice.

Creating “White Bread” Content

Although I’m not here to start a health-nut debate, let’s just make the assumption that actual wheat bread is better for you than white bread (Paleo fans, stay outta this).

In that sense, white bread isn’t “junk food” (crappy content), but it is a bit more “snackable” than wheat bread content. It’s easier to consume, easier to share, and the purpose of creating it is to simply get it in as many hands as possible.

Isn’t that the goal of every piece of content?

Not exactly, and that’s why this divide is often important to keep in mind.

The best way to create white bread content is to find topics that consistently stir up some sort of conversation in your industry. For Help Scout, that tends to be stories about really awesome customer service.

Though the customer service space in general can be a little slower than “marketing” or “lifehacking”, a viral customer service story (like this one from Lego) regularly makes the rounds on the big news sites and can easily go viral, so it’s obviously a popular sub-topic in our industry.

That’s why we recently decided to create an entire eBook full of examples:

(Above is our Customer Service Stories eBook, pure whitebread content that’s meant to be shared and passed on.)

Just like an infographic or a “listicle” article, the entire goal of this piece of content is simply to get in front of many people as possible. Takeaways are important, but they remain a secondary objective to creating something fun that has a lot of social currency and is a no-brainer to share and pass on to a friend.

No surprise then, that you are probably far more familiar with “white bread” content on the web than “wheat bread” content.

White bread material is made for social shares, and it generally performs really well in search. Take my piece on 15 Tips to Handle Customer Complaints. Easy to browse, read, and share, and currently ranks #1 for “customer complaints” and “handling customer complaints.”

As you can see, white bread content doesn’t have to be mindless or stupid (15 Cat GIFs), but it should be focused on bite-sized information that encourages people to hit a social button or two.

This in contrast to “wheat bread” content, which I’ll discuss next.

Creating “Wheat Bread” Content

As you may have already guessed, wheat bread content can be somewhat harder to create, depending on what topic you are addressing. It may even be a little harder for your readers to digest it at first as well (ok, no more food references).

First we need to clearly identify what wheat bread content really is.

Ideally, wheat bread content will do one of the following things:

  1. Create a repeatable process that solves a problem.
  2. Solves a tough problem once and for all.
  3. Takes a “deep dive” look at a complex topic.
  4. Addresses an important topic in your industry (with a fresh perspective).

It can be a mix of “thought leader” style content, or it can just be a great system that people will regularly use to solve a problem. The trick is that every time someone uses your solution, people will think of you.

Derek Halpern of SocialTriggers.com is one of those bloggers who is really exceptional at creating wheat bread content, especially of the first two varieties.

As an example, Derek wrote an article in the past that told bloggers to ask a question similar to “What Are You Struggling With?” whenever someone signed up for their newsletter (the question would go out as an autoresponder).

This is great advice because it gets blog subscribers to respond with an issue within your topic that is bugging them most, giving you content ideas and a great gauge on what sort of course/information they would pay for.

As “wheat bread” content, Derek’s advice in that post did incredibly well, even if it didn’t get as many social shares as his other posts (common for wheat bread material), because people actually listened to his advice, implemented his technique, and even talked about it, much like I’m doing right now.

That’s the real reason for creating wheat bread content—you forgo “listicles” in favor of mindshare. If someone implements your advice, they can’t help but form a connection with you.

Similarly, if you take a strong stance on an important/complex topic in your industry (examples 3 & 4) like Why Steve Jobs Never Listened to Customers, you’ll resonate with like-minded people on a deeper level than another “5 Tips Nobody Gives a Sh#t About” post.

Some of our posts that performed the poorest (pageview wise) often resulted in the most emails sent back to me. Articles like Measuring Customer Satisfaction may not have done as well as 15 Customer Service Skills, but they got people really thinking about their process, and possibly even changing their behavior based on what I said.

Before you shun white bread content forever and start getting too philosophical on your site, remember that white bread content doesn’t have to be dumb, and the style that it is constructed in helps it to do far better with social shares and in search, something wheat bread content usually struggles with.

The reason to include wheat bread into your strategy is because it helps break up the monotony and when it actually resonates, you may not be getting a ton of social shares, but you’ll have a lot of people incorporating your advice behind the scenes. That’s something that white bread content just isn’t able to do very often.

The post you are currently reading could be considered wheat bread. If you listen to this advice and apply it to your content strategy, you’ll think of that crazy Italian guy who told you to think about “bread” while you were writing. :)

That’s worth a lot more than a few extra social shares.

Striking a Balance

When finding a balance between the two, I don’t think there is really any formula (ie, 1 “wheat bread” for every 3 “white breads”).

The trick is simply keeping these two styles in mind when you are writing something, making sure to focus on the intended outcome of one or the other.

That will help you create pieces of content with clear objectives, and will allow you to better gauge results (just because a post didn’t get your usual amount of tweets doesn’t mean it failed).

Hopefully this has helped with your content strategy! As mentioned, big thanks to Pamela Vaughn for first introducing me to this topic.

Remember to subscribe to my newsletter for more advice on content/inbound/whatchamacallit marketing, I’ll be sending it out regularly.

7 Pricing Mistakes that Will Kill Your Sales [Research]

In one of my favorite entrepreneurial booksPriceless, the author William Poundstone makes a compelling case that when it comes to pricing, sometimes even bright entrepreneurs and marketers can fall victim to just ‘winging it’:

People tend to be clueless about prices. Contrary to economic theory, we don’t really decide between A and B by consulting our invisible price tags and purchasing the one that yields the higher utility. We make do with guesstimates and a vague recollection of what things are ‘supposed to cost.’

The truth is, spending time to utilize smarter pricing methods will go a long way in helping you improve your bottom line, because you could be losing out on a boatload of money simply because you are pricing your products incorrectly!

Below, you’ll see 7 common pricing mistakes that can kill your sales, and I’ll show you the research behind why they affect purchases and what you can do to fix them for good.

Ready to get started? Let’s dig in!

[Read more...]

The 5 Core Human Drives (Which Does Your Business Sell?)

Recently, I’ve been reading The Personal MBA (by Josh Kaufman), and my thoughts are so far that it’s an interesting book, but it’s definitely aimed towards folks who have had zero experience in the arena of self-employment.

That’s not to say that the book isn’t valuable, it’s just that each section reads a little too quickly and won’t dive into topics deeply (if that is what you are looking for).

That being said, there are some great fundamental discussions in the book.

I wanted to discuss the section on core human drives, and hear your thoughts about this categorization of what people want.

[Read more...]