Content Crafters is an interview series where we de-construct the tools, tips, and tactics that top bloggers use to get so much work done. you’ll walk away in mere minutes with actionable takeaways you can try out right away. Let’s dive in!
Becky Zieber is the managing editor at Digital Marketer, a company that helps small businesses learn and excel at all facets of digital marketing.
Previous to her role as a managing editor, she was a copy editor at the company. Before joining Digital Marketer, she worked in education publishing, writing and editing long- and short-form nonfiction for grades K–9.
Digital Marketer is on the cutting edge of content and publishing, so in this interview with Becky, we talk about some of her thoughts, philosophies, and tactics on content. We cover the impact journalism skills can have on content marketing (especially the inverted pyramid), why you need to move fast to succeed, and underrated tactics for diversifying your approach to content.
How did you get into content marketing? What’s your origin story?
I actually came into content marketing on accident.
I got a job as a copy editor last year primarily looking for more editing experience, and just kept picking up more content marketing responsibility. We are a pretty lean team here at DigitalMarketer, so we all wear a lot of hats. And since I have writing and editing experience, managing our content marketing became one of those hats, and I was promoted to Managing Editor in spring.
It’s been a fun and interesting segue in my career, and I am really looking forward to where it is going.
What was the biggest difference in your experience moving from education publishing world into the digital marketing world?
It’s been a very smooth transition as a whole.
DigitalMarketer in particular is so focused on education that it was more like I just changed the subject matter I was working on, but I was still educating people.
The biggest difference I would say has been the pace of everything. Print publishing, and education publishing in particular, moves very slowly. Now, my projects are often a lot smaller and they take days or weeks rather than months to years to complete. The world of digital marketing changes so quickly that you have to be agile, or you will be left behind.
This means that unless we move fast (something we have gotten very good at as a company), because by the time we publish something, it may already be out of date.
How do you look at the content quality vs. quantity debate? How does that factor into how you plan and publish content for the DM blog?
When it comes to content marketing, there has to be a balance between quality and quantity.
There is just so much content out there that unless you are contributing a good chunk yourself, you risk getting passed over. But at the same time, if you are just cranking out crappy posts for the sake of publishing 5 times a week, you are defeating the entire purpose of content marketing: to build trust with your audience.
So at DM, I make sure to publish as often as I can while still maintaining the level of quality (in editing as well as in subject matter) that our audience has come to expect. This was something I really had to keep in mind when I was first handed the reins of the blog in January. We had gone from two people working on the blog to it being just me, and we were pushing to get our production up from one post a week to two.
I had to make sure our quality didn’t slip, because you can post as much as you want, but if it’s not good, then nobody will read it.
In your experience, what are the biggest mistakes you see new content marketers making consistently?
I think a really easy mistake to make is to think that you have to stuff your content with your focus keyword.
You want to make sure that you are writing for the human who reads the post and not prioritizing keywords over readability. If your keyword doesn’t naturally fit into your post, then you should probably rethink the post as a whole.
Another mistake I see with a lot of content marketers is the lack of a consistent voice.
Your company voice, in combination with your design choices and branding are what sets you apart from every other blog writing about the same things. Because there is no unique content anymore. So your voice (and your perspective, when the post calls for it) are your best edge.
And with a consistent voice comes brand recognition.
Think about companies like Dollar Shave Club or (my favorite example) Bon Appétit Magazine. These are companies with an incredible grasp on their voice. You could hand me an article with no branding on it at all, and I’d have a good shot at guessing it right (and not just because one is writing about food and one is writing about body hair).
After consuming a lot of their content, they start to sound like a singular entity rather than a mass of different writers under one brand, which is a key part of building a connection with your audience.
What skills do you believe are the most underrated for content marketers? Are there any ways you know to learn or improve those skills?
I think having some level of journalism experience can be extremely helpful, particularly the idea of the inverted pyramid.
Putting the most important information, or at least a really solid hook, at the beginning of a post can really help keep readers engaged, since they are being bombarded on all sides with content. The quicker you can deliver value, the more likely the reader is to come back.
Journalism also hinges on concision, which can really take your content to the next level. It can be harder to keep things short and sweet, but your reader will appreciate it.
What part of your background, personality, experience, or skill set do you believe makes you a particularly effective content marketing professional?
This may sound counterintuitive, but I think I have an advantage because I am so new to the industry.
I don’t have any preconceived notions about what should work, and I’m not building the DM strategy off of old, outdated strategies. I simply get to dive into what is working NOW and go from there.
I also think my prior editing and writing experience puts me in a position where I can ensure that our content is the best it can be.
And since I have worked on many different types of writing—from magazine writing to scholarly writing to elementary-level education writing—I’ve learned to be flexible with my style. This flexibility can be really helpful when you are writing for such a wide variety of readers.
Are there any tactics in content marketing you believe are overplayed or getting stale?
The literary side of me wants to say listicles, but honestly those are still working really effectively.
But I think the thing we are seeing start to fail is the idea of just cranking out mediocre content to try and take over the SERPs.
We actually saw the recent Google algorithm change (you can read more about that here) start to subversively punish this behavior, and people lost their multiple rankings on a single keyword.
Make sure your content is high quality (and optimized well), and the rankings will come.
Conversely, what new tactics or plays are underutilized or surprisingly effective?
I wouldn’t necessarily call this a new tactic, but at DigitalMarketer we have had some recent success balancing our in-depth content (stuff we could probably charge money for) that made up most of our blog prior to me taking over, with more “casual content” that draws in readers who aren’t familiar with our brand.
We realized that we had a lot of loyal customers, but we weren’t reaching new audiences because our content was assuming a certain level of understanding that new customers maybe didn’t have.
But we had to make sure not to switch over completely to casual posts, because that would alienate our more advanced audience. It’s all about finding that balancing point.
If you weren’t doing content marketing, what would you be doing?
I would probably be editing, either internally for a company or on my own as a freelance novel editor. I really enjoy helping people say what they want to say, even if they have a hard time explaining it. I also really enjoy the complexities of language and how small changes in wording can have a big change in understanding.
What inspires you? Who do you follow? How do you come up with new ideas for blog posts, campaigns, tactics, etc.?
My main inspiration is just helping businesses understand the complicated, ever-changing world of marketing.
What drew me to DigitalMarketer as a company was their goal of helping double the size of 10,000 small businesses, because it’s nice to see a company that wants to make its money by doing something genuinely helpful.
And I am of the mind that when more people are educated on a subject, in this case marketing, the best will rise to the top.
I mentioned them earlier, but I think my favorite content marketing role model right now is Bon Appétit Magazine. They have taken the idea of giving value away for free to draw in paying customers to a whole new level, and I cannot get over their level of quality across the board: social media, blog posts, email marketing, etc.
Plus, their video strategy is one of the best things on YouTube.
Gimme three tips to improve my writing? Or rather, three tips anyone can use to write better.
My biggest piece of advice for writing better is to never, NEVER, submit your first draft. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a writer, your first draft is not your best, and odds are it’s not that great at all. So just get those words on the page, go take a break, and then come back to it. Shitty first drafts aren’t the sign of a bad writer, they are the sign of every writer.
I’d also say that the more you read, the better you will write. Are you struggling with headlines? Go read several hundred headlines, and figure out what you liked about the good ones and what you hated about the bad ones. This will stand for just about any type of writing. Surround yourself with examples and learn from them.
My last tip for writing is to just do it more. Don’t be afraid that something you say will be wrong or will sound bad, because the truth is, it will. The difference between a good writer and a bad writer is simply practice. So let go of that perfectionist restraint and get some words on the page. When they inevitably sound bad, refer back to my first tip, and get to editing.