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Why opinions aren’t optional in content marketing

Director of Content, Intercom

John Collins

@jaycee001

Main illustration: Amber Vittoria

There’s a stat that should strike fear in the heart of every marketer, but particularly those involved in publishing content.

By next year the digital data created and copied – everything from iPhone snaps to the billions of hours of TV streamed by Netflix every month – is predicted to hit 44 trillion (44,000,000,000,000!) gigabytes per year.

For content marketers, that’s a staggering amount of digital noise that you’re struggling to break through to be heard.

“There is one simple strategy which, provided you stick to it, will help you rise above the noise”

So it makes sense that there are thousands of tactical tips and tricks out there to help get your content in front of the right audience. From posting in industry-specific Slack communities to republishing on Medium, from targeting industry newsletters to repurposing your content into new formats, the challenge is not coming up with tactics that might grow your audience, it’s figuring out which ones are going to work for you. Never was the phrase “your mileage may vary” more aptly applied.

Those tactics all focus on what happens post-publication. But what about the content itself – how do you think about maximizing the audience when you’re still creating? There is one simple strategy which, provided you stick to it, will help you rise above the noise. Put simply: have an opinion.

Opinionated ≠ Angry

Let’s get clear on this first. Being opinionated does not mean you have to be angry, contrarian or SHOUT AT PEOPLE all the time. But it does mean you are not publishing saccharine content that is available 100 other places and which everyone in your industry agrees with. e.g. The end of apps as we know them is a strong opinion that is well argued and illustrated – which is why it’s one of our most evergreen posts on this blog.

Opinions start conversations

By their very definition, opinions are something that others can disagree with. In fact asking yourself if anyone would disagree with what you are about to publish is a really useful acid test that we regularly apply here at Intercom.

“People are much more inclined to share opinionated content on social media”

And if no one can disagree with what you’ve produced it’s not going to start a conversation either. This is also why people are much more inclined to share opinionated content on social media, with their personal networks or post it on their work Slack.

Even “information” is opinionated

This advice doesn’t just apply to articles or podcasts that you consider as “thought leadership”. Everything you publish should be opinionated – even if you just think of it as sharing information or knowledge. Take this post on how to file a good bug report which states that everyone in your company (from the CEO to the intern) should know how to highlight problems in your product. We’ve all worked with engineering teams who wouldn’t embrace that world view.

A healthy dose of opinion can also lift a post from the also-rans to something unique. Rather than being a list of productivity tips (which it still contains) the post Being busy is lazy takes a clear point of view that most of us over-inflate tasks and we need to get much better at prioritizing.

Highly optimized SEO content is rarely opinionated

There’s a reason that SEO-optimized content rarely performs well on social. If you are primarily writing for the algorithms, you won’t be prioritizing opinions, you’ll be looking for the consensus (so that your article satisfies search intent for the maximum number of people possible). And that makes readers far less likely to share it. I call it happy meal content – it looks good from a distance but you’re left feeling hungry not long after you consume it.

“Opinionated content has the time to pay off and establish your reputation”

In our experience at Intercom it’s much easier to produce opinionated content that performs well in search – it’s the sweet spot on the diagram above. We do that by having an “SEO-informed” content strategy rather than an “SEO-driven” one. That’s not to say this works for every kind of business. There are many B2C sectors where nearly 100% of business is driven by search e.g. care homes for the elderly: most of us end up looking for a facility for a loved one in a rush and turn to Google as our first port of call. But for B2B software with a longer sales cycle, opinionated content has the time to pay off and establish your reputation as a trusted source.

Opinions sell products

Geoffrey, one of the editors on the content team, loves to share this graph. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

By abstracting away the complexity, it makes a point that many marketers forget as their companies get larger. If you haven’t got something to say, you certainly don’t have something worth reading, And without that, you simply are not going to get the opportunity to sell your wares.