The State Of Crappy Content (And How To Rise Above The Noise) With Barry Feldman Of Feldman Creative [AMP 101]
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Does your blog stand out from your competition? Does it provide experiences that make prospects want to come back? If your blog is boring, what does that say about your products and services? But if your blog content is engaging, imagine what your target audience will think about them.
Today, we’re talking to Barry Feldman, mastermind behind Feldman Creative. In this episode, Barry shares some tips on what to do and not do to create standout content, build an audience, and offer awesome experiences through your content marketing.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- Biggest impediment for content marketing success is tunnel vision, where companies focus explicitly on a blog but nothing more; expectations are unreal
- Think about the entire content marketing funnel – capturing emails, building a community, and building a relationship; a blog is just a piece of that process
- Build an audience; create assets that excite people and don’t depend on one channel
- Barry’s experience with The Article Factory, a cheap content farm; you get what you pay for
- Barry’s price for articles is higher because he understands SEO, writing, positioning, and conversion; he can help you reach your objectives
- Blogs should be educational, entertaining, and inspiring; make customers the stars of your stories and showcase in-house/guest writers with opinions
- High-quality content is so exciting that you want more of it; the purpose of a blog content is to get someone to subscribe to your Website
- Invest more time and resources to create quality content; bigger is better
- Successful content marketers position themselves as experts in their field; communicate authority with your posts
- Content Marketing: Keep trying, roll with the changes, take it seriously; success isn’t instant and you don’t hit a homerun every time
Nathan: Does your blog stand out? I mean, does it seriously standout from your competition? The goal of your blog is to provide experiences that make prospects want to come back again and again. Your blog is that frontline—it’s that first experience so many of your target audience engage with. If your blog is boring, that reflects on your products and services. If your blog provides valuable experiences that your target audience really loves, that reflects on your product and services. In short, when your target audience visits your blog, you want them to think, “Gosh, if their content is this good, I wonder how amazing their product and services are.”
If your blog doesn’t differentiate your company, or if your blog post feels boring to you, or if you have copycat content, this episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast is just for you.
Barry Feldman is the mastermind behind Feldman Creative. He’s credited as the, “Best Writer about content marketing on the web, by far.” That quote is from Marcus Sheridan, the Sales Lion himself, by the way. Today, Barry is sharing a few pointers on what not to do so you can focus on what you should be doing to create standout content, to build an audience, and to seriously build awesome experiences through your content marketing. I’m Nathan from CoSchedule. Now, let’s dive in with Barry.
Alright, Barry. Thank you so much for being on the show today.
Barry: Thanks for having me, Nathan.
Nathan: Well, I’m excited to have you, Barry, because I think this is going to be a pretty fun episode, and just to kick it off, could you tell me about you and Feldman Creative or anything else you’d like to chat about?
Barry: I am Barry Feldman. The brand is very obvious—Feldman Creative. I suppose you could peg me as a freelancer, though I call on resources. I work for myself and pay no one with a regular paycheck. I grew up in the advertising industry in–well, man, it’s a little embarrassing to say, I guess. In going on is advanced years, but in the late 80s, I worked in the ad agency industry until ’95 when I decided to hang a shingle called Feldman Creative.
I was a very busy freelancer for quite a long time in Silicon Valley, helping technology companies position brand and sell their wares. Nothing’s changed drastically. I don’t live there anymore. I’m not a technology specialist, per se. But I have been a writer forever. Do the math.
Since 2011, I think is a fair time to say, I’ve been a content marketer. As you know, great content marketing often comes from great writers. I focused on helping a pretty wide variety of companies with their content marketing strategies and content marketing execution. I supposed I’m one of many consultants and I’m one of millions of writers, but I’m probably a bit unique and that I’m both of those. Whereas some consultants often say, “Do this.” and then good luck.
I help people forge their content marketing strategies or reexamine ones that they’re struggling with, and then I get busy and create their content. Sometimes from beginning to end but always with the writing element. I’ve been doing that for, I guess since 2011 and I dig it. It’s what I do.
Let’s see, what else do I do? On my website, it says, I do content marketing, I do conversion copywriting, I do lead nurturing. I guess that’s part impartial with the program—writing emails and so forth. I do design and creative direction. When I last did pull a paycheck, I was a creative director. I help people with their personal brands. I like to think that I’m qualified to do that because my most recent book is specifically about personal branding. I do a little bit training and speaking.
Nathan: I follow you because of content marketing, and that just makes sense doing it since 2011. You’ve had the opportunity to work with tons of different companies on that. I’m just kind of wondering, from your perspective from the outside or in, what have you seen as one of those biggest impediments to content marketing success with the companies that you’ve worked with?
Barry: I think there’s a horrible amount of tunnel vision where people, I don’t know, content marketing directors or CMOs or what have you that are my clients, and the clients of people and companies I compete with that focuses explicitly on the blog and nothing more, where they’re expecting serious miracles. Because they read something by HubSpot that said, “You should blog, or you should blog at X. Clip this many per month or year,” or what have you, and they don’t see the results they want.
I think people are putting–especially now, unfortunately, every company blogs, right? If they’re coming looking to fix theirs or do it for the first time, their expectations are unreal. I think, to succeed with content marketing, you have to think about the entire funnel. The entire funnel certainly involves capturing emails, building a community and building relationships—and a blog is just a piece of that. If you put all your eggs in that basket and bet all your chips on blogging only, you’re likely to come away really disappointed.
Nathan: I couldn’t agree more about content marketing down the funnel, and it goes even beyond just content marketing. When you see companies thinking only about that blog, what do you kind of recommend to them to solve that problem?
Barry: Categorically, I suppose the answer is, you need to build an audience. But then, I guess the question becomes how do you do that? In digital, the obvious answer is to create assets that would incite people, invite people, excite people to opt into your email list. That’s the obvious answer, but you could build an audience on social media, and you could build an audience in person, at events, in communities. You could build an audience in a lot of ways, but depending entirely on any one channel, and again, putting all your chips on the blog, you may or may not build an audience. It kind of depends on how you do it and how well you do it.
I think if your problem is, “I’m doing content marketing, and it’s not really producing the results I had hoped for.” It’s probably because you’re failing to build an audience. A lot of my clients, again, overemphasize the blog. Their problem is they don’t have one, or it sucks. Now, you do have one, and it doesn’t suck. Where do we go from here? How do you get people to pay attention?
Nathan: Yeah. Something that you just kind of mentioned that I want to pick on because you made this video recently about a content farm. I think it was that you had bought five articles from them that they were supposed to do with $5 or something like that. Could you share that story?
Barry: I want my money back.
Alright. Buckle up, brother. I knew you’re going to ask me that so I’ve pulled this stuff up in front of me. I might’ve got an email, I might’ve got a LinkedIn message, and they’re both equally spamy. I probably spend 30 minutes of my time a day filtering out spam from one of those two sources that people are trying to sell me something or invite me to something or write a review or guest post or whatever. They’re called The Article Factory, sorry that we’re going to pick on you to that degree, but I knew that there was a story and I’m telling it really for the first time except from private conversations that I’ve had with friends in content marketing, but I’ve got to write about this.
The Article Factory is certainly, appropriately, titled because they are indeed a factory. They seem to have put robots in place. It said that the articles are $1. I’m like, “Wow. This is cheap.” and ultimately offensive, I think because mine costs a lot more dollars than those. I’m looking at their website now, and it says, “You won’t find a faster source for quality content online.” I’ll agree with the fast part because as you’ve said, I tried it, I couldn’t resist. I’m not going to agree with the quality part. Then, it says, “We have a professional staff. They can provide articles on any topic.” Note that it doesn’t say, “We have professional writers.” they just have a professional staff. I suppose they can provide articles on any topic is true. I like that their examples online—they have a portfolio. I don’t know how you justify having this portfolio.
There was a bunch of topics that I was not interested in at all and one was golf. That was the title of the post—Golf. Imagine that helping you somehow. I read it, and it was just hilarious, all the non sequitur just started off talking about golf as a good aerobic sport on the realm of all sports, it’s one of the more expensive ones, and then it started into how you can make a fashion statement with your bag.
Anyway, in the online protocol, it is indeed a $1 each. You can buy 5 for $5, 10 for $10, and 20 for $20. Those are pretty funny tiers. Basically, they’re $1 each, but when you get to 50, you’ll get a little break. It’s only $45.
I ordered five, and it says, “Put a keyword or two in, maximum of two, and I broke that rule. I put in three. I couldn’t wait for the results, but I didn’t have to. I put in these three words, cheap content farms, which I suspected they were one of, and there are a lot of them. Some of them probably have humans, I’d like to believe, but some of them don’t, and this company is one of them.
Here’s what I got. I got five articles in about five minutes. The idea that they have great writers that did research is obviously not true because that would not be possible. The title is, “New Step by Step Roadmap for Cheap Content Farms.” and here’s the first sentence, “If it is a directory website, take a look at the links and some of the principal directory headings.” I can’t synthesize that in any way. Most of the sentences that follow in a very dense paragraph that’s at least 100 words, they start with the word, “It’s.” The last sentence of that paragraph is the comical section. It says, “Poorly written content can be immensely bad for your business if you are careless.” Stay tuned even if you’re not floored by the comedy of that. I guess that’s just for us content geeks to see how ironic that is.
The next sentence starts into the wrong kind of farms. The next sentence is, “You may visit a farm and purchase directly from them.” then it starts talking about apples. Further down the page, it has a subhead finally, “Top Choices of Cheap Content Farms.” Here’s what that paragraph reads, “If your company gets unprofitable for a couple of years in a row, you might need to switch back to reporting it as a hobby farm. Otherwise, it is a company. Say you’re in a dry cleaning enterprise.”
Barry: Any further questions?
Nathan: That’s incredible that that actually exists.
Barry: I said, “Nathan must have wrote that.”
Nathan: Right? I’m out of practice. That’s hilarious, obviously. I couldn’t stop laughing that whole time, but I think there’s obviously some huge lessons that we should learn from that. I mean, just off the top of your head, I’m sure you’ve got a couple that you could share with us.
Barry: You get what you pay for. Content marketing customers, clients, they’re always price shopping. They get a little sticker shock for me, “Oh that costs more.” “Well, yeah. I know what I’m doing, I understand SEO, I understand writing, I understand positioning, I understand conversion, I’m going to write you things that are going to help you achieve your objectives.” How could anything that comes from this company who returns five articles for $5 in five minutes help me achieve anything?
Look, content marketing succeeds when the subject matter experts and talented creators, largely writers, but they could be designers, videographers, photographers, and so forth, come together. They can’t come together when you put one, two, or three words in a field and you return five articles that are just meaningless strings of non sequitur style crap.
Nathan: Barry’s back on in just a minute but for right now, I want to ask you for a quick favor. If you love learning from smart people like Barry on the Actionable Marketing Podcast, could you help us get more of these super smart people on the show? All you have to do is leave a rating and review on iTunes. Email me a screenshot of it, and in return, I’m going to hook you up with some cool swag from your friends at CoSchedule. Alright, let’s get back to it with Barry.
Obviously, the reason why I wanted to talk to you is that you’re a really great writer. There’s people like Marcus Sheridan, the Sales Lion himself. I grabbed this quote from your website, he calls you, “The best writer about content marketing on the web, by far.” That’s why I wanted to talk to you. It’s like, this sort of crap is out there everywhere, and I just want to talk beyond that.
Since we’re talking about anti-content marketing—like things you shouldn’t do, you also published something about a boring blog. I mean, if you get this crap from a content farm it’s going to be boring. What are some of the qualities of a boring blog that maybe we should avoid?
Barry: First, shout out to Marcus for one of the most flattering compliments I’ve ever received. He said that a couple of years ago when I was dragging my feet to get my new website up. I was certainly looking forward to the day that I did and quoted him on that. I’ve been on enough conferences where I’ve come to know him. Thank you, my man! The Sales Lion.
The Boring Blog, that’s a post, you might want to show people that. It’s sarcastic. I think that’s pretty obvious because I said so in the headline because I think blogs largely are boring. They don’t have the personality and the features that make them compelling such that I want to come back for more.
The list is pretty long of what separates a boring blog from a entertaining blog. I think blogs or content marketing, in general, that work are educational, entertaining, and inspiring. Bloggers that are going about it on the cheap or with the lack of talented resources that they need are making a ton of mistakes. I think the list is pretty long, but I’ll try to drill through it fast and get on with your next question.
Certainly, selling is the top of the list. Bloggers just don’t get it, repel people by talking about their brand and only their brand, and their customers, and they don’t make the customers the star of the story. Blogs are misinterpreted or misunderstood as places to take your press releases.
Generally, I see a very, very lack—I might call it like the personality lobotomy. The blog’s job is to teach and that’s good, but it’s authored by the name of the company, “By company.” It’s not by a person and it has a third person voice. It refers to the company as the company’s name. It refers to the user as the user, for the reader, their job title. It doesn’t have a conversation. It doesn’t have a personality. I think a lot of blogs are written either only by a company or either only by a single person. I suppose you got to start somewhere, but over time I think you should consider having guests, and other voices, and industry experts. I think a limited range of voices increases the boringness doing the same thing over and over. Even really successful blogs sometimes are so predictable that, while I might read them to solve a problem, I’m certainly not going to subscribe to them because it wasn’t fun. Sort of make decisions about your day based on whether things are fun or worthwhile.
A lot of blogs, particularly for big companies lack an opinion. I think the best writers, even when they’re teaching, are opinionated. Certainly, I am. A lot of blogs are poorly designed, just a wall of copy. That’s boring. It’s so boring that you can’t make it to the bottom because you can’t even start because you’re just looking at a wall of gray lines. If you can’t play a little bit of show and tell or inject various media, videos, slideshows, images, graphs, what have you, I think that repels readers.
Then a lot of blogs—this might be the second biggest problem or simply shallow, “We got to blog, and we got to blog frequently. We don’t care about the depth or the length of the research or the etc., and so we’ll just glean for frequency instead of quality.”
Nathan: I think we’ve all seen blogs like that. Contrast that. I want your opinion. What does high-quality content look like?
Barry: I think to each his own on that, right? You might be interested in cooking. You might be interested in travel. You might be interested in marketing technology. I think it looks like something so exciting in some way that I want more of it.
I like to say, and I’ve said a million times, the purpose of a blog is not necessarily to get someone into your website. That’s good, that’s better than not getting someone into your website, but the real purpose of a blog is to get someone to subscribe to your website. In the beginning of that conversation, we talked about building an audience, well, that’s how you do it. I don’t know what it looks like from a literal look point of view. What it looks like or feels like is a TV show or a YouTube show or a magazine or any content that I discover that I then want more of.
Nathan: To kind of dig more into this idea of high-quality stuff and especially compared to The Article Factory and what they were turning out, creating content that people want to come back to, content that people want to subscribe to, and consume more of, is probably going to take longer than creating something that’s substandard. I think that’s pretty common sense. But how do justify to your clients, how do you help them understand that they need to invest more time, more resources, into creating possibly even fewer pieces?
Barry: I guess I say bigger is better. Look at CoSchedule’s blog, there’s a process—obviously, I’m aware of it since I’ve written for you guys—that is, making it so that the investment that goes into creating it, designing it, adding elements to it that are conversion tactics, and downloadable assets, make it work. Bigger is better, whether people want to buy that or not.
Successful content marketers, in no uncertain terms, position themselves as experts in their field. Whether you blog once a month or every day, you’re only succeeding if you’re communicating your authority or expertise in that field. That’s what’s going to get me the buy from you.
Nathan: I’m sure you’ve encountered this with clients specifically if we’re creating these really long pieces or it’s purely educational. I’m sure you’ve heard of like, “Hey, we’re giving away our secret sauce in our marketing.” and that’s a bad thing. How would you respond to that?
Barry: The truth is, Nathan, I have heard that, but it’s been awhile. Maybe I’m doing some things right with content marketing such that they’ve seen my opinions and my point of view and realize that we’re going to dive in or we’re not going to do it at all. I don’t hear that that much. I think if I did hear that, I would say, “You’re not ready to do content marketing. Go read Joe Pulizzi’s books.”
Nathan: I follow everything that Joe does too. That’s awesome.
Well, Barry, I’m going to ask you just one more thing. This kind of dives deep because you’ve got some more experience in the field than I do. I’m sure you’ve learned tons of lessons working with all these different clients that you’ve had. What’s the most important thing, a content marketer can do to be successful?
Barry: Keep trying. Speaking of Joe, he once told me, I think he’s obviously documented this, that most blogs—it’s hard to believe this is true still—but it’s the information that he gave me or the data came from IBM, most corporate blogs have five posts. The boss said, “Is this working? How much sales have we garnered from those five posts?” and he said, “Not very many.” and they pulled the plug.
By keep trying, I don’t just mean like do it and do it relentlessly but keep trying, roll with the changes, take it seriously. That hurricanes back to what I just said about, “If you’re asking me questions about giving away the secret sauce then you don’t really get it yet, you’re not a serious content marketer or one that I can help.” Take it seriously such that content marketing is not just checking that box like, “Oh that’s a new form of marketing, and we don’t do it. Get that intern in here who can forge a paragraph or a sentence and let’s start blogging. Let’s get on Facebook.” that’s not how it works.
But despite all the tools, and formulas, and templates, and advice that you get from companies like from CoSchedule and Contently, and CMI—the experts in that field, you can’t hit a homerun every time. You’re unlikely to succeed right out of the gate. Put content together. Experiment with the channels and the promotion mechanisms—the voice, the writers, the style, the design, and figure out what is causing traction.
It’s hard to imagine there’s any secret that people that are loyal listeners of your podcast and readers of CoSchedule missed the fact that Garrett and the management team are endlessly experimental. Some of the stuff, kind of the 80-20 rule, or maybe like 95-5 rule, in this case, some of the stuff kicks ass. You don’t know it until you do it. Largely, at first, most of it doesn’t.
Nathan: I think that’s awesome advice, Barry. Yeah, I couldn’t agree with that more especially with the blog. Five posts isn’t even enough to rank for anything. It’s not enough to even build the skill of writing well.
Barry: Yeah. Your domain authority will be zero. This is digital marketing, right? We have working against us–everybody in the world is a publisher now. We have working for us–easy access, and endless access to data that reveals what is and isn’t working.
Nathan: Yeah. That’s really interesting too to just even circle back to blogging, in general, is like how do you differentiate yourself in this world that, it is oversaturated with blog posts. Maybe that is not the wave of the future.
Barry: Maybe it’s not. I don’t know. It’s competitive. Well, if you look it just like culture. My daughter’s boyfriend was shooting pictures of her a couple of days ago with a film camera. Back in his apartment, he has probably vinyl records. Everything old is new again. I think people are getting back into print, and back into direct mail. People are looking into doing things that everybody else doesn’t do. Is that a warning to not blog or get on social media? Probably not. You got to be where the people are. It does probably help and becomes an interesting challenge to figure out how you can zig when everybody zag.
Nathan: That’s great advice. Probably a good place to end this episode too, Barry. I just want to say thanks, this was definitely the funniest episode I’ve ever recorded. Thanks for that.
Barry: Funny because of the Article Factory story.
Nathan: I probably laughed through the first 10 minutes of this episode. That was awesome.
Barry: I hope your audience feels the same.
September 4, 2018