The Most Blasphemous Thing I’ve Said in a Long Time

Move over, content, there’s a new king in town. Content is the lifeblood of SEO, but it’s not the king of the universe. I’m not trying to anger the deity that is Google. Most of us mortals still need to bow to Google’s whims and please whatever zoo animal is steering search results. But there is something more powerful, something that towers over even Google. Motivation.

Before people type anything into that tantalizing search bar, they have to care about you or the space you work in. Of course, you want that search bar to lead them directly to you. So content as it props up SEO still matters. It might even be royal, but it’s not the king.

I’m not trying to alienate every other content strategist on the planet. Bear with me and I’ll explain why dethroning content makes our expertise even more important. Let motivation take its rightful place on the throne. Without motivation, even SEO isn’t worth as much.

The False Positive of Email Newsletters
The way people scramble for email addresses reminds me of Hungry, Hungry Hippos. Don’t get me wrong, collecting email addresses makes sense. But you have to keep earning the attention of your audience. Too many organizations treat a person giving up their email address as a victory. It’s not. You can only celebrate if they read the emails (not the same as opening) and act on it the way you intended.

I’m starting to think email marketing is well… kind of lazy. And I say this as someone who has written dozens of subject lines for a single email, toiled over headlines, subheads, and scraped my vocabulary for the perfect verb and call-to-action. But the content comes straight to your audience, no assembly required. Until very recently, that sounded like the best possible situation. But I’ve been writing for instructional design lately and it’s taught me to think differently.

The Power of Curiosity to Motivate Your Audience
When curiosity stirs my mind, I go to Google, Twitter, and organizations I already trust. I also check books, but that’s outside the scope of this article. I don’t look in my email, even though it brims with “informative” messages from organizations I admire. But this information has to fight against messages from family, clients and friends. Plus, I could tell you what many of them will say without reading them. I’ve become habituated to email marketing.

I noticed this recently because as an instructional designer, I’m constantly asking myself, “What makes the learner really want to know this material?” Simply giving them the information isn’t enough. I have to show them why this course is worth their attention. I have to make them want to know instead of explaining why they need to know.

Remember the scene in Jurassic Park where they want to lure a dinosaur out of hiding with a goat tied to a post? The dinosaur expert isn’t impressed: “He doesn’t want to be fed, he wants to hunt.” Treat your audience like the dinosaur. Hook them. Make them hungry for more. Show how this matters. By sending the content directly into their email box, you remove the chase for knowledge and let your audience be passive.

The Role of Content
Content can’t be king all by itself, even if it does get you the best ranking in a sought after SEO phrase. Content can only be king if you make people care. That’s why when people ask me, “What’s your favorite kind of writing?” I have a hard time answering.

Writing isn’t only about pulling the best verbs and nouns off the shelf. It’s about tugging at your readers’ attention, a little bit at a time, and building a relationship based on delivering something worthy of their time and attention. That’s my favorite kind of writing. Of course, SEO matters. But I’m starting to think it’s slightly overrated.

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