Editorial Content Manager, Co-host of Content Lab, 15+ Years of Writing and Teaching Experience
September 26th, 2019
We see it time after time.
A company is ready to go all-in on content marketing, but they're stymied by self-imposed impediments that stop them from moving forward.
The truth is, many people are very self-conscious about their writing.
They get flashbacks to English class and copious edits in red ink.
However, according to IMPACT Content Marketing Consultant Jolie Higazi, content does not need to be perfect to be successful.
Personality and candor go a long way.
John Becker: Wait, are you saying you don’t need to be a perfect writer to be successful?
Jolie Higazi: First off, there’s no such thing as a perfect writer, in any domain. But I think the question still stands, “Don’t I need to be a reallygood writer to see success with my content?”
Well, if you’re trying to write a book or make the New York Times Best Sellers list, then yes, but when we're talking about the blog content that businesses need to create to drive traffic, leads, and sales, it’s a different ballgame.
You don’t need to be an expert writer; you just need to know your product or business and be able to talk about it.
So, no, you don’t need to be an award-winning writer. Anybody can create this content. From there, it’s just about learning and implementing the best practices for SEO and things like that.
JB: What's the effect of feeling that way — of thinking ‘I don't know how to do this’?
JH: What a lot of business leaders see as a result is that they never publish anything. If they never write anything, it’s because they have the perfect excuse: they're just not the one for the job. They're not a good enough writer to do it. Or, maybe they have content on hand that they've written but they haven't published and it's just waiting there for some magical time in the future when it’ll be “perfect.” In the words of Brian Fanzo at IMPACT Live 2019, they just can't push the button.
They just can't publish.
JH: I think it goes back to the perfectionist mindset. People have such high expectations that their content needs to be absolutely perfect — as if perfect is this stationary target somewhere in space they need to reach — and they're so afraid they won’t be able to reach it, so they don't try.
JB: You’re right. Someone might be hindered by their own perfectionism, but then there's also this hive-mind of perfectionism. It seems that sometimes an impediment to publication is not only that the writer has to think it's perfect, but everybody else does, too — my boss, the CEO, somebody else in a different department.
Do you see that happening as well?
JH: Yeah, some businesses have a dozen people who need to approve every single detail. It's funny because that’s something I even remember from back in journalism school – that you don't want too many cooks in the kitchen. Even if you have all the Michelin Star chefs of the world in one kitchen, I doubt that dish is going to be the greatest meal ever. At some point, it's a detriment. It's not enhancing the outcome because everyone has their own flavor and process that gets in the way of each other. There’s no one right way to do it.
I remember doing this with my college application essay. I was so obsessed with getting into a certain school and writing this perfect essay, I lost sleep and I sent it to everybody that I respected to try and get their feedback. In the end, my writing suffered because everyone had different feedback and I took all of it, and I lost the me part.
People tend to do that with their blog content, too. There can be a mentality that everybody needs to think the same thing and say it in the same way. But there is no perfect blog. It's about showing a little bit of who you are through your content. You should have some personality and your own way of explaining things that’s true to your voice.
JB: Can you talk more about how perfectionism can be a personal hindrance?
JH: Of course you want to create the best possible content that you can, but you can spend months working on a single blog and perfecting every single detail. If you do that, at the end of the day you're missing out on months and months of results and learning opportunities.
As content consultants, we hold businesses accountable to getting content out there. Of course there are best practices that we want to make sure are included, things like SEO, optimized structure and formatting, proper header tags, addressing the topic fully, and on and on.
As long as you have those best practices in place, you can create content that can drive results. Because that's ultimately what we're trying to do. We're not trying to reach the New York Times Best Seller list. We're trying to create content that's going to drive results for our business.
JB: We've differentiated the problem: that there are individual impediments AND institutional impediments. How do companies get over this hurdle — both as individuals and as an organization?
The second aspect is streamlining the content approval process. Maybe you're in an organization that needs the legal department to review everything. Okay, but that’s not most businesses.
The key is to limit the number of hands something needs to go through. It should really be just one or two. When you start having handfuls of people each offer their ideas and opinions about every little detail and expect each of their suggestions to be taken, that's where you end up in a tough spot and may have a hard time ever publishing.
It’s like that college essay all over again.
Remember, the goal is not to win a Pulitzer Prize. The goal is to get an article that's going to rank on Google and be useful to the sales team as they're working to answer people’s questions about your product or company.
JB: So what about as an individual? How do you fight that tendency to want to, as you say, win the Pulitzer?
JH: This question so hits home for me because I consider myself a writer, and at times I can struggle with “hitting the button” just as much as my clients.
The two things that are most helpful is to have deadlines and someone to hold you accountable. That accountability of, “Hey, whether it's beautiful or not, this is the day that this needs to get out there for the world to see.” There’s that saying that the deadline is the ultimate inspiration, and you need to really have the integrity to stick to it, come hell or high water.
But what’s even more powerful than that is having that someone who you're going to have to answer to if you don’t meet the deadline (and it doesn’t hurt if you’re even a bit scared or intimidated by them).
I relate it to going to the gym. If I'm putting money out there for a trainer to work with me, I'm less likely to make the excuse to sleep in. If there's someone there that's going to be waiting for me, I’m going to drag myself out of bed and go.
JB: So, what is successful blogging, in your opinion?
JH: It's about talking honestly about the topics your prospects want to know about and putting it on your site in a clear way, but then also optimizing it to increase your ability to rank high in Google so that people actually find it.
JB: What seems like a really common discouragement for a lot of people is they want results overnight. They think, "I worked so hard on this, why isn't it ranking? Why isn't it driving traffic?" It seems like blogging is more of a lifestyle choice that you have to commit to.
JH: I definitely understand the frustration about not seeing rankings improve overnight, but yes, it’s definitely a lifestyle or business philosophy. It’s that commitment to thinking like a buyer and building trust by educating them and giving them the answers that they need.
The thing with content is that ranking on Google is often seen as the only success metric, but there are other factors involved. Success is also how your content can help your sales folks and enable them to shorten the sales cycle, educate prospects, do assignment selling. So, even if it's not ranking in Google yet (it can take a few months), it doesn't mean that it can't be useful to your team.
JB: Blogging is a way of describing and organizing the collective knowledge of the company. Even if that doesn't necessarily rank, that's hugely useful.
JH: Yeah! I even see companies that when they have a new staff member who needs to get up to speed about the business, they say, "Hey, go read all of these blogs. All of the information is right there." It's like they’ve created this whole extensive employee handbook about the company and the product, so it’s useful both internally and externally.
JB: What are your biggest recommendations for people starting a business blog?
JH: Remember that there is no such thing as perfect content.
Instead, think of successful content as a moving target.
It’s not like you just write a great blog and then put it on a shelf in a little trophy case in your house to show that you ranked number one. If you just leave it there, it's going to collect dust and you're not going to see it on page one of Google forever.
Instead, successful blogging for a business involves a process of continually optimizing and updating content. So with that, don’t stress so much about making content “perfect” off the bat. You can always go in and make updates if something changes or if it just isn’t working.
Along with that, don’t get caught into thinking that you need to sound super formal or have a cookie-cutter tone or voice in your content. A big part of creating a sustainable content strategy is letting some of your personality and brand voice come through in your writing.
Your visitors should know that it’s from you.
I read content from some of my clients who are in the B2B space for which I’m not their target persona, but I catch myself at times really enjoying reading these articles just because I feel their personality in it.
That's one thing people tend to forget: they think that to be a great writer, they have to put on a formal, brand voice. While for some brands that may be part of their strategy, a large part of the time, brands really just need content that lets some personality shine through.