As content marketers, we publish content that drives our target audience toward a given goal. This might be anything from a Facebook “like” to capturing an email address to completing a final sale. Once our content has brought the target audience to our website, Facebook page, or other desired location, the landscape in and around that content is optimized in order to encourage the target to complete our given objective.
However, during the past six months, there have been some major changes in the way audiences consume information. These changes are happening simultaneously on two fronts, one in the form of content curation and the other in content shifting. While content curation is nothing new, the rise in the use of mobile devices — especially tablets, such as the iPad and Kindle Fire — is changing when, where, and how we read internet content.
Reading at a computer desk is physically uncomfortable. Along with the physical strain, traditional web pages are filled with distractions that interfere with the task at hand. Add in the day-to-day distractions of the workplace, and something as basic as reading can become a tedious, time-consuming process.
Mobile devices are allowing people to break free from the computer desk and shift both the physical environment and the time in which they read or consume content. As a result, content delivery is being shifted across platforms, allowing it to be viewed in a manner that differs from where it was originally published.
This content shifting can be as simple as using the “reader” button on an iPad or iPhone, or by using tools like Evernote’s Clearly on a web browser (which strips sidebars and distractions away from the text on a web page), or even viewing the content on a different medium, such as a tablet device or mobile phone. For example, apps such as Pocket (formerly Read it Later) and Instapaper allow us to save articles discovered on a desktop computer to read later on any internet-connected device. In the process, the programs often strip sidebar content and remove distractions such as advertising, allowing the reader to focus on the text of the article (or video/photos).
And don’t think for a minute that the increase in mobile usage isn’t having an impact on this growing trend. A recent study by Pew Research showed that nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population owns a tablet device, and nearly 30 percent owns an e-reader of some sort (a number that nearly doubled over the 2011 Christmas holiday season). According to another study by Infinite Research, tablet computer shipments are expected to increase to more than 147 million units by 2015 — up from 16.1 million units in 2010.
The time during which we read is also changing, as more and more users go through the day’s reading on their tablets while they relax in the evening.
Sifting through the glut of information
As our social media profiles get more and more cluttered with information, the need for tools to sort through it all has increased. Many social media platforms have taken on the role of content curators, developing algorithms in an attempt to help us weed out the information we don’t want and present us with the information we do. This has been evidenced through a variety of changes in the Facebook Timeline (trending articles, Edgerank scoring), the #Discover tab on Twitter, and social search results in Google.
The latest wave of content shifting applications also curate and reformat articles to gear them toward our personal interests, fundamentally changing the reading experience as they do so. Programs such as Flipboard and Zite gather content from RSS feeds, Twitter, and Facebook streams (along with other media sites and social media platforms) and present it in a mobile-friendly magazine format. These programs push information to the front based on a combination of user stated interest, assigned social media feeds, and past user behaviors.
Reading Zite on the iPad is like reading a magazine where everything is tailored to my personal interests. I was at a point where I had all but given up clicking on the links in Twitter in a search for content of value, but I have no problem flipping through articles and viewing photos from my Twitter feed on Flipboard.
Tips to optimize for content shifting and content curation
Armed with an understanding of this changing playing field, there are a number of things we can do to optimize for this trend. Most of the tips below are nothing new; however, the importance of these tips continues to increase with the development of content shifting and content curation applications.
Here are five things you can do to optimize for content shifting and content curation platforms:
1. Incorporate calls to action directly into the text
As readers strip away sidebars, comments, and other elements of a website, we can no longer rely on sidebar space — or even the space directly under a post — to convert a given objective. Readers may not even see an email sign-up box or related posts that show under the text of a blog post. To compensate, incorporate calls to action directly into the text of the article. Keep in mind: This may require a much more subtle call than one that might be used in a website sidebar.
Interior links within the text can also encourage a reader to further explore and direct them to related posts or a desired action. Since the reader may not see comments when they read a post, encourage readers to comment and join the discussion from within the post. Be sure to include a link back to the original post when calling for comments. A sentence like, “Please leave your comments in the box below” does no good when you can’t actually see the box below.
2. Optimize for mobile
If your website isn’t easy to read on a mobile device, users aren’t going to stick around when they do click through from their mobile reader. Mobile is here, so if your site isn’t mobile-responsive, you are turning away potential clients.
Also check to ensure that your RSS feed is working, and that you’ve added it to your personal Flipboard, Zite, and other readers. This will allow you to see your content as it appears to others. It will also allow you to identify problems and see what works and doesn’t work as the content is shifted to the new platform.
3. Capitalize on compelling images
Images have always helped bring readers to a blog post or web article, but with the introduction of content curators like Flipboard and Zite, they are even more important. Both of these programs prominently feature images, and the decision to click through to the story is often based on a strong image. Infographics that beg for a larger view can also be effective, as users frequently click through to see the full-sized graphic.
According to a response on Quora by Gene Tsai, an engineer at Flipboard, when choosing which image to feature with a story, they look first at “proximity” to the main article text. From there, they look to patterns showing that an item is a photo and html tags to help them identify the proper photo. This would suggest that best SEO practices — such as including “alt image” tags and designating a featured image — may also help.
4. Write strong headlines, lead paragraphs, and meta descriptions
Along with a strong image, the decision to click through to an entire article is often based on a compelling headline that is followed by a strong opening paragraph or two. On platforms such as Flipboard and Zite, your content is in direct competition with other articles — all begging for the readers’ eyes. For the reader using Instapaper, the decision to clip an article to read later is often based on a quick scan of headlines and opening paragraphs. Strive for headlines and lead paragraphs that are so powerful your target audience can’t afford to pass them by.
Some programs may also pull from the meta descriptions, so you may also want to write descriptions that encourage click-through to the main article.
5. Maximize social media sharing
Many of the content curation platforms pull content directly from your Twitter and Facebook feeds. The more an item is shared, the better chance it has of being picked up by a program such as Flipboard. Work on growing a targeted following and use your social media streams to share content they will be interested in reading and likely to share. Social recognition will also help an article move to the top of the feeds.
6. Publish and promote quality content
It may seem basic, but the better the content, the more likely it is to be shared. And the more it gets shared, the better chance it has of rising to the top of the Flipboard/Zite stream, being clipped to Pocket or Instapaper, etc. The more a blog or website is recognized by the reader apps, the better chance of future articles showing up again in the app.
Don’t be afraid to give your content a push, either. There is too much competition to hope your post gets discovered on its own. Share it with influential followers who may be likely to share it, and do everything you can to let the world know it’s there.
Although the platforms on which we view content may be going through a radical change, there is nothing radical or groundbreaking about optimizing for these platforms. If anything, these changes provide another opportunity to reach our target audience, as mobile devices free us from the traditional workspace and are helping more and more people rediscover the pleasure of reading a great article, blog post, or other content.
Want more content marketing inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with 100 content marketing examples.