Paid advertising may spike your book sales for the short term, but if you stop paying, you stop selling. With content marketing, you can create value for the long term, attract your target market and sell sustainably for years.
In the intro, I talk about the launch (or lack of!) for Map of Plagues, and why I need to release a Second Edition of Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts, rather than just an update. The challenges of keeping your intellectual property updated!
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Pamela Wilson is an author, professional speaker, and consultant at Big Brand System where she helps businesses with content marketing and branding. Her latest book is Master Content Strategy: How to Maximize Your Reach and Boost Your Bottom Line Every Time You Hit Publish.
- Marketing that is based on delivering value
- Why it matters now to focus on the quality of content used to market our work
- Looking at content as a creative body of work
- What to use as content and what to use as products to sell
- Tips for creating content that stands out
- Advice about posting on sites like Medium or Facebook
- The importance of focusing on what you enjoy
You can find Pamela Wilson at BigBrandSystem.com and on Twitter @pamelaiwilson
Transcript of Interview with Pamela Wilson
Joanna: Pamela Wilson is an author, professional speaker, and consultant at Big Brands System where she helps businesses with content marketing and branding. Her latest book is Master Content Strategy: How to Maximize Your Reach and Boost Your Bottom Line Every Time You Hit Publish. Welcome back to the show, Pamela.
Pamela: I'm so happy to be here.
Joanna: It's great to have you back.
Can you start by defining content marketing?
Pamela: One of the most beautiful things that content marketing does is – it is marketing that's why that word marketing is in there – but it's marketing in a way where you are actually delivering value to someone in front of everything else. So before everything else you're delivering value.
And what this ends up doing when you share your expertise in this way and when you share valuable information is it ends up building trust in people. And it makes them more open and more receptive to doing business with you. So I think that's one of the most amazing things that really strong content marketing can do.
Joanna: So just to be clear, it is free content that is meant to drive sales in some way.
Pamela: It is. It absolutely is. It's free. It's freely available and for the most part, it's just out there for the taking. And it's a little more difficult than in the past to stand out. But we can talk about that.
Joanna: What are some specific examples of content marketing and some of the ways we can do that?
Pamela: The way that I define it is a little bit like a medium agnostic in a way. So I believe that content marketing can be delivered in words. This would be something like a blog post. But it can also be delivered by audio which is what we're doing right now. And also by video. So the format used is not as important as the value of the information that's delivered.
Joanna: Fantastic. And yes, of course, I've been podcasting for 10 years. So I am a strong believer in content marketing. But one of the questions that comes up a lot is: does content marketing still work, especially in the author community right now. People are pouring all the energy into paid ads and Amazon ads for example.
Does content marketing still work?
Pamela: I do think that paid ads are a great way to drive awareness and a great way to drive attention. But I think there is such an important role for content. I have heard a lot of evidence of people who have run ads to pieces of content that end up doing better than just ads directly to a product.
It's for that same reason that when you run an ad to a piece of content you're delivering some value. In the case of authors, they may be delivering a taste of their book and people get a chance to read a bit of it and then they're ready to go ahead and invest and buy.
So I think that there is a really strong argument to be made for creating content, really great content though, and that's the difference between maybe five or 10 years ago. The Internet was this blank space and we could fill it up with content and the quality of the content wasn't quite as important.
Because there's so much more content now we do really have to focus on quality and that's one of the reasons I wrote the book. I wrote to help people to create more consistent and high-quality content over time.
Joanna: I think that's so true. The other thing on ads, and this is content marketing for me, it feels like say you run an Amazon ad which can't go to content, it goes directly to a book. That is one click. It might be one sale.
Whereas content is a longer-term thing. Paid ads are immediate and short-term, whereas content is long term.
Would you say that would also be a difference?
Pamela: Yes, I love it. And I have an analogy actually. You know me well enough to know that I love my analogy.
My analogy is that an ad is like a dating app. So you're swiping right on a book that you want and you go directly to that book and like you said you might buy that book.
Content marketing is actually like dating. You're investing time to get to know the author, you're getting to understand the world that their books exist in and it's more of an investment. And like you said, there's a better chance that it will be a long term relationship because there's an investment.
Joanna: I've talked about it on my show that I started another podcast, Books and Travel, around my fiction because I found after 10 years of this podcast that it does build that trust, as you say.
Sometimes people just aren't ready to buy on that first view or that first hearing about you.
Pamela: Yes, absolutely. People are particular about how they're going to spend their time these days. There's a lot of content to consume out there, a lot of books to read, a lot on the internet, lots of podcasts to listen to and videos to watch and people are particular.
If you can create some kind of trust-based relationship with them they're more likely to invest in you. And honestly, you're doing people a favor because I know that my life gets less crazy when I just decide to focus on a small number of topics or people at the same time. And I kind of ignore the rest. It's so much easier.
Joanna: I think you're right. You choose your own influencers and tune out everyone else, which is really cool.
One of the things I love from the book, you say, “Think about your content as a body of work.” This is probably unusual for a lot of people but I completely agree. Because again, I've had this podcast ten years, over 430 episodes, this is part of my body of creative work but it's also content marketing.
How can authors reframe content creation as creative?
Pamela: What I love to think about when I think about authors, because at this point now I have done both. I've done online content marketing and I've written books. And what I find with books is that it is a wonderful way to express your ideas and express your creativity in this format. That's very tangible. And it's pretty permanent. I know books can be updated but it's a fairly permanent final product.
When you look at content, there is this impermanence to it that can be very refreshing. You publish a podcast and then next week you published another and the next week you publish another and the new ones almost replace the older ones. It's like a moving stream and the older pieces of content move down the stream.
And I think that's wonderful because honestly, it takes some of the pressure off. We may feel a lot of pressure that every word and every chapter in our books needs to be perfectly polished and a piece of content doesn't have that same kind of pressure. Obviously, you want to try to hit the highest standards, but you get another chance next week to get it right.
So if this week's piece of content wasn't this epic world-shaking piece of information you have another chance to get it right next week. No single piece of content needs to do all the work of communicating your view of the world. Does that make sense?
Joanna: Yes. And it definitely begs the question then because, for example, I feel that sometimes I have a certain amount of woods in me per day or per week and I should use those words for my books. And the more books I write potentially the more money I can make. And you've obviously written books as well.
How do you decide which words are content marketing and which go into a book?
Pamela: That is such a good question.
I think a traditional marketer would say your content marketing should talk about why and what, and your book should talk about how. This is a concept that goes way back in marketing and digital information, in general.
People say tease why it's important and what people should be doing in your piece of content. And then in the paid content, like a book or a course, you show them how, step-by-step. And I believe that to a certain extent. I think that's probably helpful.
But I also think that there are ways that you can create content that is very useful that allows people to put something into practice immediately. So I think if you see a concept that you can explain in, let's say, 1500 words and it has a beginning and an end, and in and of itself it's useful, that can be a wonderful piece of content.
And then, of course, you can give people an expanded version of it and you can send them to your book to get that. But I do believe content marketing needs to be more than just a glossing over of the basic concepts. It needs to be useful.
Joanna: And actually I would always go the other way now especially in this fast-moving world. If you are mentioning anything at all that will go out of date then don't put that in a book. Because, as you say, it's definitely a pain to update.
You and I both know people who have a book about Facebook advertising, whereas as soon as that comes out it's going to be out of date. It's how to stuff. Now technically at least should be on a website.
The higher up stuff, the strategy, can go in a book because it's more evergreen.
Pamela: Right. I think it depends a lot on the topic. I write a lot about evergreen topics on my blog and I do have some how-to information there. But I think if you're writing about something, for example, a social media platform that changes all the time and whose changes are out of your control really. It's just that it's their business and they're going to do what they want. So I think if you're writing about that then yes you need to put it in a place so you can easily update and put a date on it. You know this was accurate as of this writing on this date.
But I talk a lot about business topics that are somewhat evergreen so I feel comfortable putting those into books as well.
Joanna: I've found over time I want to focus more and more on evergreen topics.
One of the things you mentioned a bit earlier was standing out because it is a crowded market. And authors have this problem and we all have this problem on the Kindle store now because there are so many millions of books, but it's kind of even worse online where there are so many you know blogs and even now so many podcasts.
How do you create content that is remarkable enough to be good enough to stand out?
Pamela: I think having some kind of underlying structure can be really helpful and that was what I covered in my first book, which you and I have already talked about, Master Content Marketing. That book is really more about constructing your piece of content and giving it a structure so that it's always going to be useful.
The first parts of the content, the headline and the first line are basically just to keep people on the page and reading. But then there's this underlying structure where you're moving people from an introduction into a set of subheads and the main copy you're adding some kind of summary at the end.
And then some kind of call to action because this is a piece of content marketing and you want them to take some sort of action even if it's just leaving a comment.
So it is having that underlying structure that I think can really help to remind you of the basic elements that need to be in every piece of content you create.
And then after that, it's things that most of us already know. Do your research support your claims with research. Make sure that everything is written in a way that's grammatically correct. Use the second person, make it seem very personal. As much as possible avoid standing at an altar and making pronouncements but rather make it seem very very personal.
If you have a long piece of content adding images every so often to break up that content. Making sure you go back and add things like bulleted lists, block quotes, create some subheads within your content so that people can skim down the page.
All of those things add value and make for a more pleasant reading experience, which is part of it as well. If you want people to be on your page consuming your content you have to make it easy to read and pleasant.
Joanna: I definitely think you're right and those things you're talking about, and this is an important distinction between writing a book and writing copy. As you say, the copy you might have the word ‘you' a lot, which we don't often necessarily do in our books.
And also that layout with images designed almost for scanning and looking better. So these are some really great tips. As you said, we did another interview with more detail so let's get back into the strategy.
You've split the book in two life cycles, which I think is brilliant for people at different levels of the journey.
If someone is just starting out what should they focus on?
Pamela: I did this out of complete necessity because I had coached so many people who were looking at these web sites that had 8,9 and 10 years worth of content and they were just starting out and they were looking at this content management system. There was a complete blank.
It's so daunting and so what I wanted to address was this concept that at every stage of the journey your goals are going to change and you need to focus on the goals for the stage you're in and then move on to the next. Don't compare your brand new site to somebody else's site that's been online for a very long time because they started out exactly where you are.
In that first year, I call it the birth through Year 1. This is the first year of a brand new website and what I recommend that people do is to get into the habit and the rhythm of writing a new piece of content every week.
The reason for that is twofold. The main reason is that at the end of the year if you take a couple of weeks of vacation you'll have about 50 pieces of content. This is a fantastic way to tell the search engines what your site is about. Because if you've written 50 pieces of content on related topics the search engines will know what it is that your website is about and in your case, in the case of authors, they'll know what your books are covering because you've got content that supports your book topics.
Then I recommend that people do this also to build your skills as content creators because after you've gotten to this rhythm of creating a new piece of content every week you're going to have a very high skill level by the time you go into the second year of your website. So it's as much for for the ability to populate your website as it is for your ability to grow as a content creator.
Joanna: I completely agree with that and it's funny because I'm kind of in two places. Books and Travel – I only started that as we are recording this. I started a couple of months ago, three months ago. It's a new domain, it's unknown.
All the things you're talking about a true even though I've got 10 years experience so I know what I'm doing. But I still have to build up this new site from scratch.
The other thing I'd add is that I have some plans for monetization but I am not expecting to turn any of them on until at least a year in.
A lot of people seem to expect that they'll make money from a website straight away.
Pamela: If they figure out how to do that I hope that they'll share it with me! That's why it's so wonderful if you have a way to do it as almost a side gig.
During this first year, you're not depending on your website to print cash for you. You have something else that is bringing an income. And then you're just developing and investing in the site for the first year and investing in yourself as a content creator if you don't know how to write content and you haven't created it in the past.
Joanna: So then the next level is and I know many authors listening will have this at some point they were told, “You should have a blog” and maybe a couple of years ago they did some blog posts and that didn't go so well or they just didn't get into it. They didn't learn about copywriting.
Maybe they just put some personal stuff with no real headline on. I've seen that over and over again. “My Day” as the headline, for example. If an author has a site that might be a couple of years old with maybe 10 posts on it, so they know a bit about how WordPress might work for example but they just have something that needs work and help, what do they do to get going again?
Do they blow it all away and start again or do they leave them?
Pamela: I think that it's never too late to revamp. They can build on the skills and the things that they figured out when they tried the first time. Like you said, they may know how to use their content management system so they feel comfortable with that and they can build on those skills.
You can start your year one whenever you'd like. So if you feel like the first time you gave it a go it didn't really happen for you, you can always start over and start with your year one schedule whenever you want. You can make a brand new year whenever you want to start.
Joanna: And another question then that I have heard from people: back in the day when you and I first were aware of each other, the Copyblogger days, it was very much ‘no digital sharecropping.' As in, always build your own website.
But then we've seen the rise of sites like Medium, where even quite famous people are writing articles or other people building brands on Facebook or Instagram and blogging on these sites.
Should we build on our own site or should we build somewhere else? And how do we use those different sites?
Pamela: It's funny, at the time that you and I are recording this Medium is having a moment because I have a membership community of people who are building online businesses and I'm getting that question a lot in that community. Should I be posting on Medium?
So let me tell you my overall approach to this and then I'll tell you why. My overall approach is that you should always use your website as your home base and use these other networks to amplify your reach.
You can post on Medium for example or you can have long posts on Instagram or you can post on Facebook. I don't think they should be your primary presence online. And the main reason is that it's not 100 percent in your control.
And here's why I know that because I've been around online long enough, and I know you have too, that I see these sites surge in popularity. Medium is having a moment right now. I think last year it was Instagram and maybe before that it was Facebook. There are these waves of popularity where it seems like everyone is recommending that you build a presence on platform x.
But the very fact that that the identity of platform X changes from year to year tells me that it is not in your control and you are at the whims of those business owners basically, who decide to do things differently because it's good for their business. They own the platform and they have every right to do that. So I really hesitate.
I think social media and Medium and platforms like that are a wonderful place to amplify your reach. They're like a bullhorn. You pick up a bullhorn and it carries your message further.
But the place where your message needs to live, the home base needs to be your own site because you are 100 percent in control of your own Web site.
Joanna: I'm the same as you. I believe that and that's how we built our businesses. But it's very hard to see at the beginning of your journey. So everyone listening. Take it from us.
Pamela: And that's the thing. This is the long game and it's not sexy to talk about it that way. Probably I could sell a course about how to get all these readers on Medium and I'd probably have all these people signing up for it and for a while what I advised would probably work.
But in the long run, it's not a good approach. It's better to just put your head down and invest the time in making your own site, have a presence on the web because you own it 100 percent. So when it starts taking off when people start finding it, you are the person who's going to benefit from that. You're not handing over content to somebody else's platform that's going to help them build their business.
Joanna: And of course we can give an example specifically of Facebook, where people built all of these massive audiences for free and were able to talk to these audiences for free and then they changed the rules. In order for you your message to reach people, even on your page or within your group, you then have to start paying for that.
Whereas if, for example, you build your own email list from your own website you can talk to these people and, obviously, you have to pay your email host, but you have something that is is almost future proof. Obviously backing things up is important. So I'm with you. We totally agree on that.
Now what I wanted to ask you about, because like we said, you and I've been doing this for a long time and keyword research is still really important. But when I look at my business – I have a multi six-figure income, of which a huge chunk of my income is based on organic search because I have 10 years of content.
But what is really interesting is the stats coming out around voice search. They're saying that by 2020, which is next year, 50 percent of searches will be voice-enabled, whether that's on the mobile through say Siri or smart speakers like Alexa.
So I am obsessed with discovering how can we do keyword research and search engine optimization for content in a voice-first environment?
Pamela: I don't know much about that topic to be honest and I hope that you will write about what you're discovering. I do know that when it comes to keyword research it's smart to use your keyword phrase and then think about natural language variations of that phrase or even questions that people might ask about that phrase or around that phrase.
And then incorporate those questions into the content. Because people have gotten smart about literally just typing their exact question into a search engine. And if you have that exact question within your content there is a good chance that the search engine will surface it and serve it up to the person looking for it.
Joanna: That's why I think that podcasts are going to be a really good thing in terms of content because obviously, you and I, the way we're talking is not the way we write.
People use different language when they speak than when they write.
Pamela: Absolutely. And I think the more and we can incorporate that more natural feeling language into our online published content the better we'll do in that environment.
Joanna: And actually now it makes me think because, of course, I edit the transcripts too, or my assistant does, in order to make us sound more intelligent because people who read the transcripts are reading.
But what I'm now thinking about as I'm talking to you is oh my goodness. But then I'm changing the words so they are not natural language. I'm changing them for people to read.
Whereas, will the search engines look for different natural language?
Pamela: That it's a really good question and again, Joanna, when you write that piece of content I want to see it.
Joanna: I'm definitely obsessed with this at the moment but also, as you say, I know that I have my website. For example, I know that there are plugins for snippets that can be used for that type of thing. And I know I can go back to my cornerstone content and update those, whereas I may not be able to do that on some of these other platforms.
So again, control helps you pivot for the longer term.
Pamela: Yes, absolutely. Again it's this idea that you're building your own asset and not somebody else's. So and it may take longer but you will own it 100 percent and you can do things like that. Like, install plugins or change.
You can go back to an older piece of content and update it or edit it so that it kind of meets the best practices of what people are looking for and how they're looking right now.
For example, as we're recording this, the thing that I keep hearing is video. Everybody is going to be consuming content and video. Well, it's fantastic to go back to some of your highest trafficked pieces of content and add a video.
Just put a couple of minutes of video at the top where you're welcoming people to the piece of content. Maybe you're highlighting some of the main points and that's a wonderful way to just repurpose content that's already on your site and that you own.
Try to go back and do that on an old Facebook post that you wrote a year and a half ago. You can't do it. So that's where we come back to this idea that you have an asset you are building and you can benefit from it for years to come.
Joanna: I do want to bring up there something that I've also been thinking about. Like you, I've done everything. I've had a YouTube channel for 10 years, longer than I have had a podcast. And obviously I podcast, I blog, I write books, I do all this stuff.
What I have come to the sort of realization right now is I can't do everything well.
With video, for example, it used to be that the quality was less important than the content but we've seen again a real rise in hardcore video creation. So because of my interest in voice, I've decided to double down on voice, which is why this interview is audio-only and I'm changing my focus. I haven't seen as much engagement with video because it's not my medium. [However, I have decided to keep my YouTube channel as audio-only after feedback from my audience there.]
What are your thoughts on doing everything vs. focusing on what you actually enjoy?
Pamela: I think that last phrase that you just said is probably the most important one. ‘What you actually enjoy.'
Because if you leverage your own strengths and you leverage that style of content that you find feels natural to create and feels relatively easy to put together, you'll just create it more consistently and you'll probably enjoy it more and that feeling is going to come through in your content.
And you are always great on video, so let's just go ahead and put that on the table your eyes. Great video but let's say somebody like me who feels somewhat uncomfortable on video but I feel very comfortable writing a piece of content and adding images to it and formatting it so it's easy to read. I am in my element doing that. I choose to create the majority of my content as written content because I want to leverage my own strengths and leverage what just feels good to me and what feels right.
If you really want it to have an impact, you are going to create a consistently for a long period of time, so it is really important to build on your own strengths.
Now that said, I do a lot of thinking with my content. I don't know if you do this as well but I use my content to test ideas out. If I see an idea that people seem to really respond to, if I see people sharing it on social platforms, if I get a lot of comments on it and people seem to really respond to it, then oftentimes I'll take that the concept in the piece of content and I'll move it into a core paid course that I have. So I'll build on it and build it into something that I put inside of a course.
Joanna: That's fantastic and that's repurposing content for income, which is definitely something really good.
You said about the voice search, I'm going to do a course on audio and podcasting and audiobooks and voice tech for authors because I'm really interested in it. And, as you say, I keep asking people and not many people know about this stuff right now but it's coming.
We know it's coming. It's already here but it's not something that a lot of people are talking about. I've seen a gap there. Super interesting times.
Just before we finish, we're almost out of time, but one of the things that you've done over the years is you've worked with a lot of online business owners. Obviously, you've started your own business. And one of the things I see with authors is they might be an author – they've written a book – but that's not the same as running a business as an author.
What are your thoughts on that transition and what people need to do to move into running a business?
Pamela: I took the opposite road because I ran a business and then wrote a book. I don't know if I'm the best person to help with that but to or to speak to that journey. Because that wasn't my journey and that's not how I did it.
But when it comes to building a business the one thing that I teach, and I'm obsessed with, is this idea that businesses are built in stages. And so what I find is that online where we're drowning in this information about how to build an online business and courses about it and content, videos, podcasts, all these different things.
What can happen is people end up swimming around in this information for months and sometimes for years and they never actually get anything done. And what I am passionate about is explaining the stages of business growth.
I believe there are four and helping people to understand where they are right now so that they can focus only on that stage and they can eliminate 75 percent of the information online because it doesn't really apply to their stage.
Joanna: That's fantastic. I agree. That's the thing.
You do have this free online business roadmap that I thought was pretty cool. I wonder if you talk a bit about that.
Pamela: I can give you the URL where people can find it. Do you want me to give you that?
Pamela: It's bigbrand.info/roadmap.
It's a very short, very compact document but it starts out with a quiz so that people can identify what stage they're in right now and then I have this checklist. A road map that's in the form of a checklist that shows people the main things they need to focus on and each stage.
The idea here is that each stage has some important milestones that you really need to hit. And if you know what those are, you can ignore everything else and just focus on getting those things right before you move on to the next stage of growth.
Now what I love about approaching things like this is that it takes away a lot of that feeling of overwhelm that people have when they're thinking about building a business. It's like we talked about earlier. People are comparing their early stage with somebody else's advance stage and you don't want to do that. You really just want to focus on the stage you're in and try to get it done right so that you're building a foundation that you can build on as you move into the next stage.
Joanna: That's great. At the end of the day running an author business is exactly the same as any other business.
We have a product. We have customers. We have to look after finances. We have to do marketing. We have to pay people and get paid.
All businesses in that way have the same structure. It's just the product is different books are different to widgets.
Pamela: Absolutely. But you're right I think the stages are very similar and approaching it as stages and really focusing on what needs to happen in the stage you're in can be very freeing.
I have talked to people about this concept on video calls and I literally see their shoulders drop and they just kind of go Oh OK. Because it's a relief. It's a relief. It's like somebody has finally said you can ignore all that. That's not for you right now.
It's kind of like the books on the library shelves that are two shelves above. You don't need to read those yet. Just read the books that are right in front of you right now.
Joanna: That's funny because it reminds me the last time I was speaking and someone came up to me and asked how should I do this type of advertising. And this type of blogging and podcasting and blah and they went off. So I asked how many books do you have? And this guy was like oh I'm still writing the first draft of my book. I was like OK, hold up. If you have not even finished the first draft of your book then hold still. Everything else just stops.
Pamela: Right. Exactly. And that happens so often online. It's nothing against the people who it happens to. It happens to the best of us. I've seen a lot of really smart people just get stuck because they don't even know what first step to take because they don't know what they should be focusing on.
So this information that's in the roadmap is something that came to me a couple of years ago. It was one of those moments where the heavens opened and I went Oh OK. Now there are stages and that this is what's going to help people. It's called Plan and grow big. And it's this approach to online business building that I think makes things so much easier. I've really enjoyed sharing it because it just seems to have really made a difference in people's approaches to their business.
Pamela: I love the way you think. I love your books. They are very well organized, which is so important with nonfiction. I really feel you take people through that step-by-step journey.
You've given one link but where can people find you and your books online?
Pamela: The best place to find me is at my web site, my home base as we've talked about on this podcast; it's BigBrandSystem.com. They can find all sorts of resources there.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time Pamela. That was great.
Pamela: Thank you. It's been so fun to speak with you again.