It’s time to stop going after the low-hanging fruit.
“We all want our work to matter. That’s why we’re all here,” Courtney opened.
But in the age of behemoths like Google and Amazon, focusing on low-hanging fruit means throwing away time and resources on content that those giant companies will eventually commoditize.
Here’s why your content team should skip the low-hanging fruit — and focus instead on creating and optimizing the content that only you can create.
2 big reasons to skip the low-hanging fruit
“You can focus on the low-hanging fruit when you become the next Amazon or Google. Until then, skip it.”
As a marketer, you often find yourself thinking, “I know this problem that we have, but it’s okay. I’ve got a plan. We need to make this big, structural change.”
Then you bring that to leadership, and they say, “Oh. great! We’ve got a plan! But first, let’s focus on the low-hanging fruit.”
But focusing on the low-hanging fruit means focusing on the mediocre. “And the mediocre can very easily be commoditized,” Courtney says.
Reason #1: It’s easy to pick
You can get coffee anywhere. (And if you’re lucky enough to have it in your office, you can get coffee for free.)
So how do you explain how Starbucks was able to open 18,000 stores charging $5 for a cup of coffee?
Starbucks focused on what only they could do:
- Specialty drinks only they had
- Friendly baristas that would get to know you and your order
- A secret language — grande quad macchiato, anyone? — and when you learn the secret language, you’re in the club
- Free wifi; a place to work that wasn’t your home or your office
“Folgers just can’t beat that,” Courtney explains. “There’s nothing they could do to beat the experience Starbucks created.”
You’ve got to create a unique experience that most people aren’t able or willing to create.
Reason #2: It slows you down
Let’s get really into this metaphor for a sec.
You pick some fruit from an apple tree. You start with the low-hanging fruit. By the time you’re on the second rung of the ladder, your basket gets heavy. You have to go back down the ladder and empty your basket — or take every apple I picked and carry it up the tree. The low-hanging fruit weighed you down.
What if you start picking fruit from the top of the tree? It starts getting heavy, but that’s okay because you’re working with gravity as you take a step down the ladder. When your whole basket gets heavy and full, you’re already halfway down. It’s much easier.
You’re working with gravity.
When we focus on the low-hanging fruit of our content, it slows us down.
Niche content: The antidote to commoditization
“Niche content is significantly harder to create, and that’s why it’s a win.”
How does creating niche content — and skipping the low-hanging fruit — protect your content from commoditization?
To explain the commoditization of content, Courtney gave this example. (For context, they lead digital marketing at Children’s Dallas.)
Google the word asthma. This is what you’ll see:
Google’s handy dandy asthma knowledge graph.
Usually, Google’s featured snippets point people to other websites with more information.
Healthcare content is different, Courtney explains. Google decided that healthcare searches are so common, it’s worth it for them to invest in purchasing or creating their own healthcare content. They created a full, engaging experience to prevent people from clicking on other content.
If Courtney’s team at Children’s Dallas wants to compete on these searches, they have to find the thing that only they can do: Create things that aren’t scalable for Amazon and Google
Enter niche content.
“We have 400+ pages of content on the children’s hospital website. We have content and information on a whole bunch of different things. When we’re writing this content, we want to make sure it cannot be commoditized by Google and Amazon,” explains Courtney.
Rather than target the keyword “asthma,” Children’s created content focused on “asthma in children.” They have the opportunity to rank for the latter because it’s a more specific search — Google doesn’t have a knowledge graph on the SERP.
To make this work for your content, ask yourself: What is the more specific thing that you can go after that can’t be created by Amazon and Google? A lot of times, this means going after longer-tail keywords with lower search volume — then ranking highly and driving more traffic than you would for a keyword that has a knowledge card.
“It requires that you go out and do interviews, first-party-research, and fact-checking. And that whole process takes a lot of time. Which is why Google isn’t going to do that. If it’s easy to create, you will lose.”
Beat the zero-click search with thorough content
Rand Fishkin recently reported that less than half of Google searches now result in a click.
SparkToro and Jumpshot’s findings on clickstream data
If you search “marketing conferences,” Google brings up its own event calendar widget. No need to click through to the first search result, “Ultimate List of Marketing Conferences in 2019” — you have a whole list of events to browse right there on Google.
Search “marketing conferences for healthcare,” on the other hand, and you’ll see plenty of articles listing relevant events. A more specific question means Google is less likely to have commoditized the answer.
When you answer precise questions with precise answers, you get more engagement. When you get more engagement, you put your content in a better position to rank.
“Invest in content that is extremely thorough,” Courtney advises. “You may find that someone doesn’t get the answer they need from Google or Amazon’s first answer — then they’re going to look for content like yours that is more thorough. This is particularly true when people are making big, big decisions. People are going to be much more likely to look through thorough content.”
What happens when you ask Amazon Alexa a question?
Alexa’s going to give you one answer. If Amazon doesn’t have the answer, they’ll tell you whichever answer ranks first.
“If you think Amazon isn’t investing in answer content, you’re in denial. Why? Because then they don’t have to attribute your content. With Alexa, whatever the result is, that’s the answer. You don’t get a second result. You have to be number one. And if Amazon has the answer to that question, your answer will get no share of voice.”
Courtney also recommends creating content in formats that are difficult to scale, like:
“If you have really great audio content, that’s really difficult for Google to scale. Videos are even better because they have the ability to rank on YouTube. And there’s no knowledge bar on YouTube — a space where you won’t have to compete with Google.”
People want to consume content through various mediums — and Google and Amazon are heavily reliant on text and image content. You might think of Amazon as reliant on voice, but “9 times out of 10, it’s just Echo and Alexa reading text content that through text-to-speech,” Courtney explains.
“It’s really about making sure you’re aware of where Google is already commoditizing this content. Where are they inching toward, and what is the opportunity that is leftover from that?”
At the end of the talk, an attendee asked: “What if leadership views targeting these long-tail keywords and niche content as eating the scraps?”
Courtney had the perfect answer:
“Would you rather eat the scraps or nothing at all?”