“There’s a copycat crisis in content marketing.” – Andy Law
You see it.
I see it.
We all know what I’m talking about.
Everybody writing articles trying to out “skyscraper” each other:
They read the top 4 ranking articles and then just put those articles in their own words.
But, in practical terms, here’s what ends up happening. We get search results that look like this:
That’s what comes up when you Google “digital marketing skills.”
And you know what?
Who wrote all of those articles?
Was it the same person?
Were these all written by some split-personality of Tyler Durden, perpetually writing and re-writing the same article every night?
“I am Jack’s digital marketing skills.”
It easily could have been.
Skim the opening paragraph of each of those articles and you’ll notice they all sound like weird, vague copycats of each other.
No human touch. No actual voice or opinion.
And I’m not the only one who is calling this out. Here’s three other super-smart folks:
1. Ryan Law – Animalz
Ryan, quoted above, wrote a fantastic article about it as well.
“In chasing search traffic, companies are sleep-walking into intellectual plagiarism,” writes Law.
Law gives three big strategies for creating content:
- Apply a human touch
- Differentiate on more than length
- Conduct experiments
You can also listen to the podcast version here:
2. John-Henry Scherck
When putting together a "go to market" content strategy with startups, one bottleneck that comes up again and again in regards to producing thought leadership content is actually having original thoughts that are worth a damn.
— John-Henry Scherck (@JHTScherck) December 5, 2019
3. Nellie St. Clair – Minimalist marketer / copywriter
“Most people research and compile all the ideas they find on the interwebs to create a “better” blog post than what’s out there. This is the “Skyscraper Technique” created by Brian Dean of Backlinko. […] But please know, it ain’t gonna sell jack shyt.“
And while those are all true, I want to create a “Yes, and…” strategy to accompany exactly how I think through a tactical process you (and my team) can replicate.
I want to give you a step-by-step tactical breakdown of exactly what I’m talking about: how to write blog posts that have people begging YOU to let them link to it.
My 4-Part Strategy for Original Content:
- Develop a case study, story or walkthrough.
- Original data always wins.
- Apply a new angle / theory.
- Create a multimedia experience.
Below, I’m going to break down each one of these strategies in its own section below. It’s my belief that after reading this blog post, you’ll have a solid roadmap to creating the kind of content that won’t make you beg for backlinks.
I’m not judging anybody who has created copycat content. I’ve done it, too, and probably still do, if I’m honest.
I’m even hesitant to even write THIS article for fear that it’s just me rewriting other great things I’ve seen and read.
But the real problem (to steal from April Dunford) is that we think we think we’re turning crap into something amazing, like this:
but in reality, we’re just using our unicorn content polishing skills to polish that 💩into this:
and as April says, “Polly Poo-Polisher doesn’t get invited to the board meeting.”
What do I mean by “copycat content?”
Recently, in a great conversation with Roberto Blake, we agreed that copycat content doesn’t just exist in Google.
On YouTube, it may even be worse. Just last week I saw a tweet from Neville Medhora about a video that was wholesale copied from him:
Hey @JohnCrestani you directly ripped off my content and video…didn't even bother to change it up to make it appear yours. You're an unethical scammer.
— Neville Medhora (@nevmed) November 5, 2019
Not the actual video, but John Crestani literally took the same title and every single example Neville mentioned, using the exact same language as Neville, and made a new video:
But that’s not even the best part. The best part is how Neville found that video:
The kicker was his team hired me to do a consult to help them sell their crappy affiliate product. 20 min before call I researched the company and instantly found their first video was literally my work. Unethical.
— Neville Medhora (@nevmed) November 6, 2019
I’m all for a good roast, because that’s absurd. More absurd is that’s literally John’s whole channel. He looks at what’s popular, prints out a transcript and films his own version reading the same words.
I want to sit in judgement, but, real talk…..
I’ve done the SAME THING.
Ok, not as lame as that, but close enough.
John thinks he’s out here polishing poop and turning it into unicorn content, but poo-polishing doesn’t build a career. You can’t build a business on copycat content (although some people clearly try).
I say this as somebody who has put out a tremendous amount of copycat content in the past, (in retrospect) mostly rewriting other people’s thoughts in my own words.
And that’s what got us here in copycat content land. Arrogance and laziness.
I can do better.
You can do better.
WE can do better.
Here’s to you, me, and hopefully John Crestani, making something new, and polishing a bit less poo, going forward.
As Ryan Law wrote, even when we aren’t intentionally stealing, we still may be “sleep-walking into intellectual plagiarism.”
Some of us with our eyes a bit more open than others.
Thats why, as a part of this series, I’m using my 4-part strategy to write a new blog post in real-time (more details on that at the end of this article).
Let’s get into it.
1. First, develop a case study, story or walkthrough.
You see, when I trace back through the story of my life, I see… stories.
Whether it’s the story of:
- Losing my first $2k in business
- My bad relationship with alcohol
- Quitting teaching and pursuing SEO full time
- My children and learning to be a father
- Working with friends and destroying those relationships as a result
- How God has worked in my life
Stories that help string together things I’ve learned along the way.
And we all have them. So why all the generic copycat content?
Why not just tell your stories?
Probably a mix of a few reasons:
- You think your stories aren’t good enough (imposter syndrome)
- Your ashamed of mistakes you’ve made
- You take too much pride in how humble you are
- You’re afraid of people being mean to you
And I get ALL OF THOSE.
Why? I’ve gone through all of them writing this very article.
Being afraid to put yourself out there in your stories because you’re afraid that somebody might be skeptical or leave a shitty comment or something…
That’s real, and fair.
And the imposter syndrome thing? Oh yeah.
Shit, I put off sending publishing this article for a WEEK because I was dumb enough to look at my list and see some badass content marketers were on my email list and that intimidates the hell out of me.
What if they don’t like it? What if I say something wrong?
But what’s my other option? Just stop? Quit?
Maybe instead, I need to focus on WHY I’m writing: to help people take action.
We’re writing to help people transform their life, careers, businesses, and families.
Nothing moves people to action like stories. NOTHING.
They see what has happened in your life, or the lives of others, and are moved to consider a similar path for themselves.
Stories are infinitely better than explanation. They tap into the conflict, the real reason a person is reading or consuming your content.
“The human element for sure … that’s why I spend so much time up-front diagnosing my audience, reader, and target market’s ‘hells and heavens.'”
If I could give you one final thought to round out this first aspect of the 4-part strategy, it’s this:
People would rather follow somebody real than somebody right.
2. Original data always wins.
Nothing makes it harder to create copycat content than tasking yourself with creating original data.
There are a few ways to do this:
- Partner with somebody who has that data already
- Have an audience large enough to survey for free
- Pay somebody to acquire and organize the data
All three of these work, but today I’ll show you a fourth option I don’t see a lot of people trying.
First, add original data to your article. Instead of citing the same tired facts that all the other copycat content is using, I like to use Google’s Dataset Search:
For example, if I had a personal finance blog, I’d start by seeing what data I could find about personal finance. Looks like we have some promising results here:
But looking through them, nothing seems to apply, until I start digging a bit deeper. If my article were about the top personal finance apps (a lucrative and difficult topic to rank for), all of a sudden we get into some interesting data:
and looking at the split by gender in the survey, we can add some interesting (and likely polarizing) data to our article.
NOW, where the fun REALLY starts is by using my “Double Data Strategy”:
In our fictional example, we’ll embed our OWN survey in the content. The data we already have will make our article stand out, but once people are on the page, they can take a quick 1-2 question survey about their favorite personal finance apps.
That then becomes OUR original data. 💥
And everybody who cited other sources, or even the data we found in Google’s Dataset? We can reach out to them to share our original data as well. 💥💥
3. Apply a new angle / theory.
Today, we’ll take a quick dive into the third part of our strategy: applying a new angle / theory.
In 2014, I read an article by Bobby Kim of The Hundreds about building a brand.
Very few “blog articles” have ever impacted me in the way this did.
The first point Bobby makes in his article is:
1. Put up or shut up: If you don’t have something to say, don’t say anything at all.
Have something to say. Communicate that through every thing that you do, as a brand and as a business. It is your human fingerprint. It is what makes your product unique and interesting.
The best design has an opinion. Not just in terms of a graphic T-shirt message, but also in how you cut n’ sew; it’s in the wale count of corduroy, the wash of a denim. It’s in your website’s layout, the color scheme of your retail buildout. Make a point. All of these things say something about yourself and are ultimately, a reflection of your brand. They are all a platform for you to be heard and change someone’s mind.
If you don’t have something to say, don’t say anything at all…
This statement gets right in the face of all of the skyscraping copycat content out there.
Your content can’t just be 5% better. It can’t be 27 tips instead of 17.
More is not always better.
You have to have an opinion, something to say and something WORTH saying. Eve D-Rock agrees:
Using social media to build a brand is real only if you have something to say.
If you don’t know what to talk about, you’re not going to post, if you don’t post you won’t be able to grow.
Many are confused by the amount of effort and work it takes
— drock (@davidrocknyc) December 6, 2019
Even *I* haven’t always gotten this right…
I started my jiu jitsu apparel company, Ok! Kimonos, under a truly unique premise.
But, over time, my creation process became something like this:
- Get inspired by brands in the Jiu Jitsu and streetwear industries
- Save thousands of images of “inspiration” to folders on my computer
- Convince myself that remaking their designs was not copying them because “that’s how streetwear works”
But I (totally) missed the mark.
What I ended up doing is just chasing what everybody else had done, but doing it way worse than them.
I was just re-tweeting somebody else’s brand.
I was effectively doing a product version of ‘that’s what she said.’
And while I did it with physical products, so many of us are doing that with our digital content as well.
We can do better.
4. Create a multimedia experience.
I see a lot of polls pop up throughout the year asking how people prefer to consume content. Options provided are things like a blog, podcast, video, etc.
But what’s wonderful about creating original blog content is that it can be the hub where all of those different types of media live.
A wonderful example of that is Pete McPherson’s article on how to start a blog (INTENSE gif incoming):
Pete mixes in really strong section breaks, illustrations, podcast episodes, videos, and a myriad of other media to create an article that is truly original.
One real fast ASK:
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Here’s exactly how I’m implementing this strategy:
Above, I pointed out how, even with a spectacular article, we couldn’t make it onto the first page for “digital marketing skills” because people didn’t want a 6k word article on learning the skills.
That first page of search results is the definition of copycat content.
I think it’ll be a great challenge to attempt to rank an article that follows my strategy for something that is in a sea of copycat content, using my own 4-part strategy. Here it is again:
My 4-Part Strategy for Original Content:
- Develop a case study, story or walkthrough.
- Original data always wins.
- Apply a new angle / theory.
- Create a multimedia experience.
First, I’ll tell a story (or two):
So in this digital marketing skills article, the stories I’m gonna tell are:
- First, the story of me trying to build my business and figure out what skills I needed to succeed.
- Then, as a lowly teacher making less than 50K per year, getting over the intimidation of applying for my first digital marketing position.
Why those two stories? Because of the search intent.
When I look at what the Google autocomplete is for this search, I get a clear picture:
The person Googling this wants to know what skills to “learn,” but even more they want to know what they “need” to go on their “resume.”
And, the same is true if I look at the search results using the words “become,” “hire,” and “employers.”
The people search are looking for jobs. They’re looking for a better career and a better life through digital marketing.
Perfect. I get that.
I TOTALLY understand where that person is coming from and I need to make that abundantly clear in my article.
That’s the story I tell. I don’t have to be right. I just have to be real.
Second, I’ll work in my “Double Data Strategy”:
To start, I definitely want to include some data that will make our article stand out.
One study that I found in Google’s Dataset is “Digital marketing spending in the United States from 2014 to 2019 (in billion U.S. dollars).”
This is fantastic because it fits our narrative of people looking to find the right skills to learn to change their lives and careers.
They’re likely concerned whether digital marketing, as an industry, is growing or shrinking so this data will be extremely valuable for them.
A second study, about global digital marketing spending, shows similar growth.
There are also a few “hiring” reports that talk about the most in demand digital marketing skills.
Now, onto OUR data:
So now that we know there is definitely data out there about digital marketing skills, we want to ask one simple question in the survey:
What is the most important digital marketing skill for 2020 and beyond?
If we are seeing a good response within the article (I’ll like just embed a Typeform or Google survey question), we’ll add a second layer that asks WHY they think that skill is the most important. Want to try it out for funsies?
Remember, the person Googling this wants to know what skills to learn to put on their resume and get hired.
They want a better career and future through digital marketing. Our data will get them closer to that, and allow us to get more traffic and links, without having to beg for them.
Third, we’ll pursue a new angle:
When you look at that list, the typical “skyscraper content” guru is going to tell you to blow all of those out of the water.
Write an article with 47 skills.
Or 107 digital marketing skills.
Or read all of those articles and cram every single one into ONE article with 150 skills.
But there’s a HUGE problem with that…
It totally goes against the intent of the search:
The person searching “digital marketing skills” wants to start or improve their career, not be overwhelmed.
An article with 1,000+ skills is going to totally overwhelm them, leaving them with more questions than answers.
This is why I’m SO strong on search intent and think it’s the future of SEO:
So, with all of the ranking articles talking about 7-16 different skills, I’m going to go the opposite direction because I think it better matches the intent.
I’m going to talk about 3.
Last, we’ll turn the article into a multimedia experience:
I think the key at the end of the article will not be to get anybody to opt in for my lead magnet, or to subscribe to our newsletter (but that’d be great).
But instead, to give them the BEST possible resource on each of the skills that I mentioned in the article and embed those in.
I’ll be on the lookout for the best podcast episodes, videos, and articles that I can embed right into the article, ending with a CTA tweet me if they have questions about leveling up their digital marketing skills / career.
Let’s write better blog posts, TOGETHER
I think, in our hearts, most of us want to create something truly original and valuable. Nobody is psyched to create more copycat content.
So, in closing, I think really the best way to make that happen is to encourage each other. When a friend publishes something, think about how they can make that article more “THEM.” I have a few friends in my life who do this for me, and have done so with this very article, and it’s been massively helpful.
Agree or disagree, I’d love for you to share this article with your thoughts on it.