What Is Content? Back to Basics with Inbound Marketing 101.

Ashley Wilson-Rew

typewriter-801921_1920.jpgAround here, we talk a lot about inbound marketing and content marketing. We also mention that you need relevant, high-quality content for your marketing efforts to produce results. 

Let's take a step back. What is content? In this context, we're specifically focusing on web content: content created on and for the web and its users. 

Wordful defines web content as topics, ideas, facts, or statements on a webpage or website. Web content should do one of four things: inform, educate, entertain, or connect people. Most importantly, content should cause people to take some sort of action.

You're welcome to produce content just for the hell of it, but content without purpose won't bring results for your business. Everything you produce should further the goals of your online marketing strategies, or you're wasting your time.

There are tons of ways to achieve your goals with content; content comes in many different forms and has many different functions. Let's take a look.

Different Forms of Content

Contrary to popular opinion, web content isn't just written words. The umbrella of the word "content' also covers:

  • Images - photos, infographics, illustrations, screenshots

    Analytics-Screens.jpg
    Illustration

  • Video - demos, processes, promotions, interviews


    Promotional Video
  • Multimedia - webinars, slideshows, presentations, kits


    Webinar

  • Interactive content - quizzes, surveys, calculators, templates

    Here is an example of an interactive buyer persona template from HubSpot. 

  • Curated - stats, reports, quotes, expert predictions

    Content doesn't even have to be something produced by you. Content curation, or content aggregation, is the practice of collecting scattered pieces of information and offering them in one convenient location. Of course, all curated content should be linked back to the original source for copyright purposes. 

    Here is an example of a collection of stats about lead nurturing & workflows.

Even though there are tons of content formats to play with, written content is still the most popular across all industries. Here are some of the most common forms of written content:

  • Blogs & blog posts
  • eBooks
  • Whitepapers
  • Guides
  • Website copy
  • Research & reports

The Purpose of Content

Content should always have a purpose. As a businessperson, you want your content to grow your business, increase traffic and sales, and achieve any other goals you've set for your company. 

Style

Remember when, way back in seventh grade English class, you learned about the three writing styles? I learned them as informational, persuasive, and narrative. Content can contain bits of all three styles. However, there is generally one clearly identifiable purpose to any one piece of content.

Informational content aims to educate an audience about a particular topic. You want your content to be mostly informational. As a business, your readers are going to come to you for information first, opinions and stories second. The informational content that you create will be sneakily crafted to indirectly convince your audience to take a desired action.

Persuasive writing aims to sway the reader to a different viewpoint, or directly convince them to take a certain action. Persuasive writing can be useful, but it's usually too promotional to attract new customers.

The difference between informational and persuasive content is the difference between "Why grain-free cat food is healthier for cats" and "You should buy Our Brand cat food because it's grain free."

Narrative content focuses on telling a story. It can be useful if the narrative works to indirectly inform the audience about a problem or solution. The narrative version of the above statements would be something like "How my cat became healthy again after switching to a grain-free food."

Genre

Content forms are classified further by their genre and their niche. The genre describes what kind of  content is on the webpage based on its format and goal. The genre is what kind of content you're looking at.

A study by Paderborn University in Germany classifies web content into seven genres:

  • Article - this is the most common type of content for content marketing. Articles tend to have more text on one page than other genres. All of your blog posts count as articles.

  • Download - downloads are the most important content genre for businesses. Download pages generate leads, which you can nurture into customers (if you do it right). Downloads include but are not limited to eBooks, guides, spec sheets, trials, and software demos.

  • Portrayals - official content provided by companies, universities, and other public entities.  This includes home pages, contact info, mission statements, annual reports, and other content that describes the company and its purpose.

  • Help - pages that assist the visitor with an immediate problem or question. FAQ, directions, support, and Q&As are all examples of help pages.

  • Shop - any pages that offer product information or make sales. The vast majority of eCommerce websites are shop pages (Amazon, eBay, etc.).

  • Discussion - these pages offer a way for users to interact with each other. Forums and discussion boards facilitate debate and dialogue.

  • Link Collection - pages consisting mostly of links. Most often, you'll see link collections as archives of blog posts, reports, videos, newsletters, etc.

Niche

Similar to genres, niches categorize pieces of content based on their function as well as their writing style. A niche identifies what a visitor will feel and take away from the information on the page. The niche describes the communication style of the content.

Here are the seven niches in which most web content will fall:

  • News - news is the communication of interesting/breaking information on a current event or phenomenon. News is informational, objective (supposedly), and time-sensitive. The purpose of news is to inform the public about important events happening based on location, industry, subculture, etc.

    News can be valuable for your website visitors. You can talk about industry trends, events within your company, or evolving processes and technology. 

  • Education - educational content is the type of content you want to focus on as a business. Educational content is informational and teaches visitors about something related to the topic of the website. So, on a fitness website, the content may provide tips or advice on exercise, nutrition, and diet.

    On your business website, you want to teach your visitors about the problems your company can solve. As a marketing company, we focus on teaching readers about growing their business online, increasing website traffic, and identifying good SEO techniques. (Or learning about content! Meta!)

    If you're a manufacturer, you may want to teach your audience how plastic is better than metal for certain applications, or how certain processes can save them money.

  • Humor - humorous content aims to make people laugh. Humor can be used in any writing style, as long as your audience will appreciate it. Even manufacturers don't have to be stiff as a board all the time - just don't be offensive, avoid personal attacks, and know your audience.

  • Gossip  - when writing for business, you'll want to stay away from gossipy content. Gossip is fine for the entertainment industry, but it makes business look frivolous and unprofessional. 

  • Commentary - commentary, also known as rants or opinion pieces, is usually reserved for sports and entertainment. However, reviews and observations also fall under commentary. You could write a commentary piece comparing two similar machines you've used in your facilities, or an article comparing two similar services you've offered to clients and how they were received. 

  • Community - community content brings people together based on a similar interest. This type of content is often found in industry forums, LinkedIn groups, Facebook pages, etc. Community content often uses language that is exclusive to that group, and can be difficult for outsiders to understand.

    For instance, HubSpot offers three different blogs - one for marketing, one for sales, and one for agencies. Each uses its own language that is familiar to those groups, but can be confusing for outsiders.

  • Sales & Marketing - sales and marketing content is exactly what it sounds like. This type of content is used to promote or sell products and services. 

In a Nutshell,

Web content comes in all forms, styles, shapes, and sizes. It can have many different functions and appearances. It isn't just words on a webpage.

A savvy marketer will use as many of these variations as possible to keep visitors interested, while focusing on one type that appeals to their buyer persona. But that's beyond Inbound Marketing 101. 

Try playing around with some of the unfamiliar things listed in this post. You don't have to be a rockstar overnight, but your website should have more than one type of content resource for your visitors. That's one way you can increase your traffic, generate more leads, and make more sales.

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