The Daily Trap, User Profile: A.J. Ghergich

Location: Chicago, IL
Occupation: Content Marketer and SEO, @SEO on twitter
Favorite Cheese: Aged Gouda, the older the better

Q: You’re a professional in the field of content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). What problems are we trying to solve here?

Although these are related, they’re really two separate problems. For SEO, what you’re really trying to accomplish is to make your website and your content as search-engine-friendly as possible. You also want to optimize it for keywords you know your audience is already searching for.

Content marketing is a little more on the outreach side of things. Basically, users are your customers. They don’t respond very well to interruption-style advertising. If you’re listening to a radio in your car, you just tune out a radio ad. The same thing happens when you see a banner or pop-up ad on the webpage you visit. That’s Interruption marketing, and it’s a dead-end.

The goal of content marketing is to try and produce content that helps your user, gains their trust, and finds them the content that you think will be most helpful to them based on what they’ve been searching for. Rather than try to sell the user something they may or may not have any interest in, you’re engaging them based on what their expressed interests already are.

Q: This doesn’t sound like the same thing as an advertiser using my search terms to target me. What would be a good example of when content marketing could help me find what I want?

If ask a search engine, “what’s the difference between Plasma and LCD,” there’s really only one reason you’re looking at that: you’re looking to be educated about buying a television. You don’t want to jump right in there trying to sell them a television, you want to answer their question. Give them the information they’re asking for. Their questions will become more refined and sophisticated, and you can produce content that engages your audience at every stage of the buying cycle.

You don’t have to sell; you’re just being helpful. And that’s what people want: honesty and integrity. This is earned attention, and it earns you respect. That’s what you want. A company that has your attention and respect will be on your list of finalists, and — regardless of what your final buying decision is — you’ll walk away as a much happier consumer.

Q: Some people have a negative attitude towards search engine optimization, and think of it as a way of tricking search engines. What’s flawed with that line of thought?

Manipulation would be the word I would use. When I first got into SEO, I was like everyone else in it: I was young, fresh out of college, and it was a new community. Other than the young nerds (like me) doing this, no one knew what it was about. It was new and exciting, and I was attracted to it for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to impose my will on a search engine. How to word things optimally, when to bold or italicize something, etc. I was trying to reverse-engineer the search engine’s algorithm. It was very exciting, initially, and it was a completely wrongheaded approach.

Obviously, that was a long time ago. I’ve grown as a person and as a professional, and I no longer feel that way. If you’re thinking “how can I trick google into giving me something I haven’t really earned,” you’re using it wrong. But SEO still has its place. Let’s say you sell powerboats, and you’ve got an image of one, and you upload it. If it’s named kd5099fjaskewlew-07.jpg, no one will find it. But if you name it Powerboat.jpg (or Red-powerboat.jpg) you’re really just helping the search engine find what it wants to find in the first place. There’s a technical side to SEO that people really struggle with, and using it properly can help clean up the web. Knowing that as a background and using that for good, instead of evil, is still extremely valid.

Q: There are some people who think that content marketing isn’t necessary. Won’t the top content simply rise-to-the-top organically?

Amazing content is really competition-proof. If you’re producing good content, you’re really never going to be at a disadvantage with your competitors. What’s happening right now is there’s a content marketing arms race. People are trying to out-content one another. But a mediocre piece of content isn’t going to cut it; you need to earn the consumer’s trust.

If people are searching for reviews, is that really what they’re looking for? Make sure you’re returning what the consumer actually wants. You can have consumer reviews, but how do you know they’re trustworthy? Are these reviews real, and how can you verify that there’s a real person behind it? Images of a consumer with the product, video reviews can really be honest and can earn your trust. Your product can’t be for everyone, and you need to be honest about who it is and isn’t for. Have expert reviews, and talk about the drawbacks as well. Think about what you would want, as a user, for almost any product, and give them the content to help them make an informed decision.

I’d rather see you make one stellar piece of content rather than twenty average ones. Consumers are going to become immune to average content pretty quickly, just like we’re already immune to low-quality content. Get off the content marketing merry-go-round right now, and focus on creating the highest-quality content.

Q: At your new site, you focus not just on content marketing and SEO, but also on infographics. What makes a good infographic so powerful?

The reason why I think a good infographic is successful is the same reason I think people like twitter: when it comes to information, we’ve become headline-scanners. We rarely read the whole article anymore. With only 140 characters, Twitter forces you to get right to the point, and it forces you to be concise. A good infographic is filled with the best data, and people can see it really clearly and concisely, but also because you’re only giving me the good stuff, and all the fluff is cut out. Here’s an example of one we’ve just put together.

An infographic done right will just get right to the facts. Say it in one line, one chart, not in a whole paragraph. And also stay on point: don’t tell six stories, tell one. You can’t put everything in one infographic; the best ones typically have only a few sources, and stay on-message by using a small set of data from a reliable source. The consumer is really going to appreciate it, because you’re just telling one story, and you’re doing it very well, without any extraneous information clouding your message.

Q: And you’re also passionate about keeping your followers up-to-date on the latest information about content marketing. How do you make that happen?

I have to be very plugged into what my audience wants, and that involves reading so much to stay on top of the latest trends. Things change and develop very quickly, and when I talk to clients, I need to know what’s going on. And that means being both comprehensive and selective in what I’m reading every day: the things that are useful or informative.

And the ones that meet that — the stories that are useful, informative and original — are the ones I share. I use Bottlenose, I use Trapit, and a couple of other services to take an in-depth look at a particular industry. But people have likely already read the content from the biggest websites in that industry; what people really like is something they wouldn’t have come across otherwise. Even if you have 50 blogs RSS’ed to you, you’re still only getting the same message over and over. So that’s what I try to bring them: a hidden gem that allows me to provide a service to my folks. People want to discover, they want to find a new blogger, a new perspective, and be forced to take their blinders off. Trapit really breaks you out of that, and opens you up to content and new voices that you wouldn’t have heard otherwise.

Q: So do you also use Trapit for content curation?

Not everyone wants to curate the way I do. It’s a lot of effort. But Trapit is such a useful tool that I’ve only recently discovered. I just type in a new term for any industry I’m taking a look at, and it allows me to stay on top of it. I also believe it’s incredibly useful for staying educated, and that’s something that’s vital in every industry. You might be able to list four or five solid bloggers, and they may be very good, but if that’s all you read, you’re going to miss some very good and fresh voices. Trapit exposes you to some small, lesser-known but still quality sources that wouldn’t have surfaced traditionally, and if Trapit can continue to do that, you guys will have an incredible service to offer.

Q: Can you tell us how you discovered us?

I actually discovered it from another blogger, and I had seen another blogger mention it as a content marketing tool. So it was word-of-mouth in the course of my doing what I do. And I’m always on a lookout for a new, powerful tool to add to my arsenal.

Once I gave it a shot, I was using it right away; it was a very intuitive, simple process. I found an article I liked and hadn’t seen before within just a couple of minutes, and I realized I was dealing with a really powerful tool. I don’t know that it could be any simpler, actually.

Q: You also have a slew of other tools that you use, but there’s something unique about Trapit that keeps you coming back. Can you tell us what Trapit does that none of its competitors can?

First off, Trapit is visual, and that makes it really stand apart from any other information-scouring application.

I think that you have an easier way of channeling my interests. It’s nice and clean, whereas other competitors are search-intensive. I set something up once with Trapit, and I can keep going back to it, and constantly get new information as it comes in. If I want to ban a source — even from just one particular trap — Trapit empowers me to do so, and the control I get with likes and dislikes is an incredible advantage. The ease-of-use, combined with the like, dislike and banning options means that Trapit will be a permanent addition to my arsenal!

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