How to Improve Your Industrial Marketing Content Writing Process for Real Impact on SEO and Sales
Why do industrial companies like yours take the plunge into content marketing, the ongoing practice of generating content for your website?
That’s easy. It’s to improve SEO. And the purpose of SEO, of course, is to help customers find your content in order to increase marketing and sales effectiveness.
Not a bad idea! Quite often, though, the process of writing that industrial content is a source of frustration, and the SEO improvements, if they occur, don’t fully resonate across the continuum of the customer journey, through the cycle of education, consideration, and, eventually, a sale.
How industrial marketing content goes sideways
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably experienced frustration around content, whether you’ve been writing it or reviewing it. First drafts and revision cycles can cause a lot of stress. Maybe the content seems generic, or maybe it doesn’t represent the company’s point of view accurately. Maybe it falls flat because it was rushed, or it feels unfinished as if the writer only knows half the story.
What’s worse, the resulting content sometimes “works,” in that it improves SEO metrics, but ultimately it doesn’t actually move the needle in terms of marketing…and isn’t improving marketing (and sales) really the point of publishing content on your website?
While most SEO-focused agencies will gladly churn out thin but SEO-optimized content over and over, on a steady cadence of two skimpy posts per month, our goal at Windmill is to help our clients improve their marketing, not just their SEO. This has influenced our unique perspective on how to better approach written content.
Before we get into our recommended approach, let’s start by describing what is often the standard way to approach content. Admittedly, it’s standard because it’s the easiest and most hands-off for the client in terms of their involvement upfront, and it’s the most straightforward for the marketing agency.
The standard approach to industrial content
The standard approach starts with the marketing team doing some keyword research and identifying keywords that you, the client, want to rank better for—perhaps keywords that you see your competitors ranking well for while you fall short—as well as keywords for which you don’t (yet) rank well but that align perfectly with your positioning and your sales and marketing goals.
So far so good.
Then, the team comes up with a few topics that include those keywords, and a copywriter—who presumably has some experience in creating B2B technical or industrial content—is set to work. The writer takes the list of target keywords and proposed titles and researches the topic, consulting the material they can find on the internet and pulls together an article of the designated length, let’s say 800 words.
Next, the industrial marketer/client reviews the draft. A sense of disappointment, and possibly annoyance, begins to build. Yes, the keywords are there, and the facts are basically correct—or at least not incorrect—but the article is more or less an amalgamation of information widely available online. It isn’t saying anything new, it’s fluffy and surface-level, and it doesn’t uncover any novel facts or insights for the reader, who is probably a very smart, technically focused engineer. It doesn’t represent your company’s unique point of view or the nuances of how you do business—and let’s be honest, how could it? That writer would have to have been embedded within your company for years or be a mind reader, to be able to come up with a nuanced article that fully represents you and your company. Instead, they’ve been writing in a vacuum, without any input from you and other subject matter experts (SMEs) on your team.
As the reviewer reads the draft, before even fully registering that great and growing sense of disappointment and/or annoyance, they begin to edit the document, and eventually put so much effort into it that they feel like they ended up “having to write the entire article,” and what was the point, even, of hiring that writer in the first place? A couple of drafts go back and forth, and eventually, something is produced that is deemed “good enough” to publish.
Everyone feels frustrated with the process, but something got posted, the clock is ticking, and the team moves on to the next article topic, using the same process, hoping that the writer must’ve picked up some of the nuances of the company during this round, so surely things will be better next time.
The whole team claims optimism about the next draft, but secretly the reviewer is dreading going through this again. When the draft arrives in their inbox, they ignore it for a couple of days because they’re sure they’ll have to go through the same arduous process.
Several days go by, delaying the process, and while the draft is a little closer this time, the person providing feedback still ends up feeling like they’re having to write it all over again. Eventually, it gets published. Rinse and repeat, with bad feelings all around. But it’s all about getting those keywords out there, right?
Superficial content, superficial results
At first glance, good news: the website’s rankings for those keywords ARE improving, according to the analytics. You’re getting traffic to those pages. Curiously though, there isn’t much engagement, the bounce rate is high, and time on the page is low. The new content, while contributing to keyword rankings, isn’t converting to leads or closed sales.
This is because the content, while it does its job of attracting search eyeballs, doesn’t fulfill the promise of the keywords. It doesn’t provide users with the depth of knowledge that they’re seeking. It doesn’t contain your company’s take on the subject matter, your unique point of view based on your experience and expertise. The content doesn’t teach readers anything new, it doesn’t make them think of the topic in a new light, and it doesn’t make them come away feeling like you’re the expert and that you understand their problems and challenges more than they do themselves. The content is performing an SEO function but failing to connect it to the sales and marketing aspect of your website. Isn’t marketing and sales why all of this writing was happening in the first place? The intention wasn’t just to perform a keyword optimization exercise.
If the content doesn’t fulfill the promise of the search, the cycle of content marketing—from a Google search to a page visit to the user reaching out to your sales team—doesn’t work.
There is, in fact, a better way.
Like most better ways, it’s less of a “hack” or “quick fix” than it is something that will take a bit of discipline and time. Just as that gadget from the infomercial won’t improve your fitness overnight, but putting in regular time with a personal trainer and a personalized exercise program eventually will, the better approach to writing meaningful, effective content requires an investment of time and delivers significantly better results in the short and long term.
A better way to write impactful industrial content
The most impactful content marketing is not made up of articles that are a regurgitation of facts or a roundup of information already available on the internet. The most impactful content is written exactly to the unique personas, ICPs, questions, and pain points of your best customers and prospects, AND it provides your unique point of view. When they read your content, the customer or prospect should be able to get an understanding of your way of doing business, what you believe, how you do your work, and what it might be like working together.
Oh, and it can contain those important keywords, of course, to help improve your rankings for important searches, but it’s critically important that once that engineer finds their way to your content from a web search that they actually engage with the content. In B2B marketing, the “showing up in a search result” is usually the easy part, and that’s where many industrial content marketing SEO efforts stop and then fall short. For all of this effort to be of value, the content—if the searcher makes it as far as actually reading it—has to build trust. The content must convey that you can help them solve their problems and are worthy of becoming a trusted supplier, and it must inspire them to reach out when they’re ready. (Without making it feel like a hard sell because that’s not the kind of business either one of your companies is in.)
The better option is to communicate subject matter expertise and a point of view to the writer upfront.
When we go this route with our clients at Windmill, we still begin with keyword research, gap analysis, and the like. We carefully evaluate the chosen keywords and ensure that they align with your positioning and marketing goals. But rather than turning a writer loose from there, we’ll start with a transfer of knowledge— and this requires some “work” from the client-side. Because content writing—good content writing, anyway—can’t magically happen in a vacuum.
The sharing of subject matter expertise doesn’t have to be lengthy or painful. In fact, it’s going to be much less painful than the first draft review that happened in our last scenario. Transferring knowledge from your SMEs to a writer can be done in several ways.
For those who want to put the least amount of client-side work into the process, this can happen with a simple interview. A good writer with both a journalistic background and technical understanding can ask questions and elicit discussion that will help tease out your company’s unique take on a particular topic, fleshing out an article with not just facts and figures, but a unique point of view, and how the topic intersects specifically with your products or services, in a way that’s consistent with how your salespeople might talk to a prospect.
This might sometimes take two interviews, one with your engineers or product team, and one with someone from your sales team. For the best use of time and a deeper conversation, be sure that the SMEs being interviewed understand its specific purpose in advance.
Ideally, prior to the interview, you (as the client), will provide the writer with some background information. You might fill out a short content questionnaire, or even provide an outline for the article, to give the writer more context ahead of the interview, so that better, deeper questions can be discussed. If you have existing materials that are still accurate and reflect your company’s current brand voice, provide those to the writer as well. If these are materials that aren’t readily available on your website, like sales presentations, marketing emails, gated content, or even print materials, even better.
These steps do all require effort on the part of the client, but the investment is worthwhile. This prep time doesn’t take much more time than the rewriting of the first draft from the previous scenario, and the result is an article that’s much more meaningful to your target audience and much more likely to have a positive impact on your sales and marketing efforts. The world doesn’t need another superficial, SEO-driven article. Your very technical audience will appreciate finding a helpful, informative article that answers their questions and gets them one step closer to a solution.
The best way to write impactful industrial content
Although I’m writing this article as president of a marketing company, and you might think that my point of view would be that we should be selling you writing services, our take on this is actually different from most other agencies, particularly most SEO agencies.
We think the best way to generate unique, impactful content that’s reflective of your unique point of view, positioning, products, and services, and that resonates directly with your future best customers, is to write it yourselves—at least the first draft. A skilled editor can polish the draft and spot gaps in information or places where greater specificity or a concrete example or analogy would clarify the concepts.
You can get decent results with the “better” option described previously, and let’s face it, in the industrial space, you can often be light years ahead of your competitors just by doing average marketing. (Or really by focusing on marketing at all!) BUT, if you’ve been working that way for a while and want to step it up, or if you have someone on your team who’s a good writer AND an SME, combining that with a good editor and some sound SEO research and strategy is a dynamite package.
Tailor the process to your people
Choosing a way to approach writing industrial marketing content depends on the skills, aptitudes, and availability of your marketing team and the technical and sales SMEs. Sometimes, SMEs will protest that they’re “not really writers.” That can be just fine, if they’re willing to write a fact-filled, if possibly messy, draft and have an editor take it from there.
Plenty of brilliant people are not comfortable with writing. Some have the mechanics down pat but know that they don’t have a knack for keeping a reader’s interest. Others are happy to share their knowledge in a conversation, but find writing stressful and intimidating, at least if it involves something other than specs or a proposal.
If you’re taking the “better” approach, the form of an interview can be tailored to the people involved. Some SMEs are more comfortable answering written questions first, or perhaps conducting the entire conversation via email—which turns the process into something of a hybrid between “better” and “best,” while some strongly prefer to talk through the material and communicate more effectively that way.
“Better,” “best,” or a hybrid, improving your company’s process for generating meaningful industrial content might mean doing more work upfront, but it’s sure to result in less frustration and greater marketing and sales effectiveness later. At Windmill, while we do offer writing for our clients as part of website projects and ongoing marketing initiatives, we’d love even more to provide you with the research and strategy on the SEO and keyword side, collaborate with you, as the marketing manager, on the best keyword and topic focus for the next few quarters, and then act as your coach, editor, and guide through the process.