A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Authenticity and Transparency to Improve Trust

trust

Authenticity and transparency are two of the latest marketing buzzwords thrown around.

Just because a word is catchy doesn’t mean it’s meaningless, but it also doesn’t necessarily mean it’s meaningful.

There are plenty of buzzwords that lost their meaning.

But these two are different, I believe, because they represent two aspects of modern marketing that can have a great effect on your results, especially when it comes to content marketing.

Entire blogs have been launched with these two principles as guides for every aspect of those blogs.

Take, for example, Groove’s blog, which I often mention. The transparency and authenticity in their content marketing have helped the company grow their revenue to well past their initial goal of $100k per month.

That being said, most marketers have no clue how to use these concepts effectively in their content.

It’s about time we fix that. I wrote this post in order to teach you about authenticity and transparency as well as to show you when and how to use them. 

But before we get started, there’s one more thing you need to understand…

Transparency and authenticity are not the same: Both of these are independent aspects of content even though they are often confused with each another.

Transparency refers to how much you’re willing to share. For example, when talking about revenue numbers, you could use:

  • Low transparency – We had a good month of February.
  • Medium transparency – We had a profitable month of February, with a profit margin of 20%.
  • High transparency – We made $10,000 during February, with a net profit of $2,000. 

Hopefully that makes the concept crystal clear. The more detail you share, the more transparent you are. If it seems like you’re hiding important details, you’re not being transparent.

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Authenticity, on the other hand, has nothing to do with how much you share. It is about what you share.

Being authentic means being true to who you are as a person, writer, or company.

It means writing what you believe even if it might be unpopular or controversial. For example, you don’t see me writing posts on black or grey hat SEO techniques like building private blog networks (PBNs).

I believe that for almost all business owners and marketers, a white hat approach is better. So, although I could get extra traffic by covering those shadier tactics, I choose to write on my honest viewpoints.

If that all makes sense, we can dive in. If it’s not totally clear, it will become clearer in the coming sections.

Step 1: Understand why readers respond to transparency

There are two key elements of effective content that transparency can affect:

  • Value
  • Trust

People value content for many reasons but mainly for its usefulness.

Transparency can help make content more useful. By providing personal examples and experiences in detail (high transparency), you help the reader see your advice in action.

Not only that, by writing about personal experiences, you can provide context for the reasons—the why—behind your decisions.

It can go far beyond just sharing personal numbers, even though that’s a great start.

For example, Buffer not only shares revenue numbers but also explains what those numbers mean as well as what the team does to improve them.

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If I were launching a similar business, I could learn from those insights.

And then there’s trust.

While it varies, many online readers are rightfully skeptical.

People will claim anything if they think it will help them make sales. When someone is reading a product review or case study, their skepticism radar is at full alert.

Earning a reader’s trust isn’t easy, but transparency goes a long way.

Think of it this way…

Whom do you trust more: a complete stranger or someone whom you know pretty well?

In 99% of cases, you trust the person who is more open with you. You feel that if you know someone better, you can more easily predict their intentions and behaviors.

But that also brings up a good point. If you’re a terrible person, transparency will not be good for you. Hopefully, you and your company are not terrible.

Is transparency always good? The unfortunate part of transparency getting so popular is that people who don’t understand it try to use it.

Technically, telling your readers what you ate for breakfast is highly transparent, but unless you have a food blog, it won’t add any value to your content.

Step 2: Understand why readers respond to authenticity

One of the main reasons why I believe authenticity is often confused with transparency is that they both affect the same element of content:

Trust.

Inauthentic content marketers are a lot like politicians who flip-flop on their opinions, depending on whom they’re speaking to.

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If you pander to a specific audience, you could be departing from what you really believe in order to please them.

When such a politician tries to convince you that they care about an issue close to your heart, do you believe them?

Of course not.

But when you feel that someone truly believes in what they’re saying (being authentic), of course, you will trust them.

That air of authenticity is developed over time by not only speaking about your actual beliefs but also following up with action.

I said earlier that I believe white hat SEO is the best approach to SEO in most situations.

But what if my readers saw that I wrote a guest post “X reasons why black hat SEO is the best”?

How could they trust anything that I write, including the content about white hat SEO?

Being inauthentic often happens by accident when you’re trying to appeal to different audiences. However, the result is often that you lose the trust of your most loyal readers or have a low conversion rate when you try to sell something.

If you find yourself writing for a different audience but don’t feel that you can voice your honest opinions, don’t write at all. You will not only attract the wrong audience but also damage the trust you have with your existing audience.

Does that mean you can never change your mind? No, it does not. And this is also where transparency starts to intertwine with authenticity.

The best way I can explain this is by giving you another example.

Back in 2014, Google absolutely slaughtered PBNs. With the exception of the highest quality networks, many black hat SEOs lost all their rankings overnight.

Wouldn’t that suck if you were a vocal supporter of PBNs?

Spencer Hawes, who runs Niche Pursuits, was that very type of blogger. He supported PBNs because he was able to get great results with them, and so were his readers.

And then he got hit—hard.

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Remember that authenticity is about honesty. If you honestly change your mind about something, it’s okay to change your viewpoint.

Spencer wrote this post that went viral in the SEO world, saying he’ll never use PBNs ever again.

He did a 180 overnight.

The reason why Niche Pursuits is still going strong is because of the transparency Spencer showed.

He could have hid the consequences he suffered as a result of those Google actions, but instead, he showed them to his audience.

He then explained in as much detail as he could what was going on inside his head and why it made sense to focus on white hat SEO techniques from that point on.

If he, all of a sudden, just flipped on the subject without an explanation, most of his readers would’ve felt wronged.

But because he had always been authentic and explained his change of heart so well, readers didn’t feel tricked. Instead, they understood that his opinion genuinely changed and that he was pivoting to reflect that.

You shouldn’t be changing your opinions frequently on a whim, but as long as you’re honest, readers won’t feel deceived. You may still lose some readers, but that’s the price you pay for long-term loyalty and success.

Step 3: Decide on a level of transparency

At this point, you should have a good grasp of the concepts of transparency and authenticity.

Now, you need to put that knowledge into practice.

You need to establish what you are and are not comfortable sharing.

Common things to consider are:

  • Personal information – your name, address, etc.
  • Business information – revenue, profit, behind the scenes problems
  • Personal business information – your business’ processes and suppliers that your competitors could potentially steal

Transparency can be a great thing, but I realize that not all people are comfortable giving out their real names as I am.

Decide on what you are and aren’t comfortable revealing, and then stick to that when you’re creating content in the future.

Step 4: Authenticity is binary

The question “Do you think he/she is authentic?” is a yes or no question. There’s never an answer: “He’s kind of authentic.”

Unless you are, or want to be, a terrible person whom no one likes, I recommend being authentic.

This is actually the last part of this post involving authenticity. You’ll never need to force yourself to consider it once you decide that you care about authenticity.

Assuming you’re trying to be authentic, all you need to do is pay attention to how you feel while writing content. Do you feel like you’re lying? If so, you’re not being authentic.

Step 5: Inject transparency into content (when it makes sense)

The tough part about transparency is knowing when to use it.

The key is to recognize the most important parts of your content where you can add value through additional transparency.

It takes experience to recognize them, so I’ll show you a few great examples.

Example #1 – The Groove blog: Groove is always the first example I think of when it comes to transparency.

At the time of their launch, very few blogs for entrepreneurs revealed intimate details about revenue and profit.

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Groove proceeded to share everything, including their business processes, reasons behind certain decisions, and even the results of hiring a business coach.

Since then, many others have followed suit, using this type of transparency.

My public $100k challenge is an example of it.

Example #2 – Domino’s Pizza: If you live in the US, you’re familiar with Domino’s, which is a popular pizza chain.

However, they weren’t exactly known for their high quality pizza.

What they did was create a video where they went behind the scenes and publicly read out their worst customer complaints.

In that video, they show what work went on behind the scenes to improve their pizza.

After seeing that display of transparency, most previous customers would give them another chance.

It can be a good thing to put your weaknesses right in the open and confront them head on as long as you actually try to fix them.

Example #3 – Patagonia: Patagonia is a large business that sells clothing.

You may or may not know that there is a lot of concern over clothing being produced in sweatshop conditions, even by major businesses.

Patagonia responded by creating a footprint map, where they show exactly where they source all their materials from.

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They revealed the working conditions of their employees and contractors in order to show that they have good business practices. This is again the part where you have to be a good person or company to use transparency effectively.

If there is a common worry within your industry, consider being fully transparent while showing that you don’t participate in bad practices. 

Conclusion

Authenticity and transparency may be popular buzzwords, but they’re also concepts of real value.

I hope this post helped you understand the difference between the two concepts. As you can see now, although they often interact, they are two completely independent principles.

At this point, go back and answer the questions in steps 3-5 if you haven’t already. Once you’ve done that, keep those answers in mind as you create content in the future.

Finally, if you’ve used either transparency or authenticity (or seen them) successfully, I’d like to hear about it in a comment below.


Source: quicksprout

A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Authenticity and Transparency to Improve Trust

Is Your Content Good Enough? 6 Questions to Find the Answer

questions

What do you think of the content that your competitors publish?

My guess? It’s not great.

It’s easy to judge others but tough to evaluate ourselves.

I guarantee that all your competitors think the same thing—that most content in your niche is junk.

And yet…they believe that theirs is the exception.

No doubt you think your content is pretty good too. Otherwise, why would you publish it?

I’m not saying you’re wrong; I’m just pointing out that we all have biases. Of course we’re going to think our own content is good.

The ideal solution would be to hire a professional marketer or editor to evaluate your content and compare it with that of competitors.

However, that’s rarely possible.

The next best solution is to have a checklist of all the essentials of good content.

While you can make your own, I thought I’d start you off.

I’m going to tell you 6 questions that you should ask yourself before publishing any piece of content.

This is a list of essentials, so feel free to add to it. 

1. Does it have a real purpose for the right people?

You can write in two ways.

You can write for yourself, creating something that you think is superb.

Or you can write for your readers, creating something that is specifically crafted to help them.

Can you guess which one I prefer? It’s option number 2. Always write for your readers.

One mistake that many content creators make, especially newer ones, is writing something that they think is good.

They’ll write a rant, or some other post, just to make themselves sound smart. But this doesn’t accomplish anything other than making them feel smart.

Here’s an example of such a post on Medium:

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As you can see, the author wrote a public post that was essentially a rant directed towards her CEO.

You can read it if you want, but essentially it’s a whole lot of complaining. All about “me, me, me.”

As an interesting note, an edit on the post explains that she was let go shortly after publishing the post (not necessarily related).

The point is that even if this content gets read by a lot of people, it’s not going to impact their lives.

From a content marketing perspective, all good content needs to leave a favorable impression of your brand in the minds of readers.

It should do one of the following:

  • Solve a problem – For example, a detailed step-by-step guide to patching up a wall.
  • Inspire action – When content is focused on the reader, it can inspire them to take action to improve their lives. At the end of most of my posts, I ask readers to take action on what I wrote because they’ll remember me when they do.

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  • Teach – Everyone loves to learn about the things they truly care about. Good content can focus on teaching an important concept, e.g., a post written for beginner SEOs about how Google’s basic algorithm works.

Go back to the question, and answer it now.

Is your content written for your audience, and does it provide value to them?

If the topic is good but you were more focused on writing what you think should be in a good article, go through it and edit it. Constantly ask yourself, “how can I make this clearer for my reader?”

You should be able to articulate the exact value that your content provides to your readers. If you can’t, it probably doesn’t have any (or much).

2. Are your claims backed up with credible sources?

The days are over when you could write whatever you wanted and be believed.

Many readers these days are skeptical. After reading so many lies and hearing false promises, they need to be convinced to take you at your word and take action.

And if you can’t get them to take action, you’ll never claim that place in their email boxes or memory.

This is why I recommend backing up all your claims with data when possible.

What’s more convincing? Saying:

They both sound possible, but they also both sound like they could be speculations. The difference is that the second one links to a study in a respected journal.

As a reader, I am convinced by the second one; the first one leaves me with questions.

What’s a credible source? A key word in the question here is “credible.” If a reader clicks through to your source and doesn’t trust it, you’re back where you started.

Here’s what I would say a good rule of thumb for credible sources is:

  • Studies (journal articles) are the best
  • Data analysis posts
  • Government sites
  • Highly respected sites (like webMD)
  • Posts written by extremely well-known authors (or interviews with them)

3. Do the images add more than just breaking up text?

I’m a big fan of visual content, which you know if you read my stuff regularly.

One benefit of including a lot of pictures is that they break up text, making it easier to read.

But if that’s the only thing the images in your content do, that’s a problem.

Images give you a unique opportunity to:

  • Clarify tough concepts
  • Provide additional insights
  • Present data that you can’t in text

…all in a way that most readers enjoy.

But too many bloggers, even good ones, squander this opportunity on a regular basis.

Here’s an example from a very popular blog that shall remain nameless:

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I really don’t know what a molten chess piece has to do with becoming a brand publisher.

This factor isn’t the end of the world, but using the right pictures can take your post from mediocre to good or from good to great.

Take this post on the Ahrefs blog as an example. After going over a concept that is tough to explain, they presented a tiny infographic to illustrate it:

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Even without reading the article, I bet you already have a good idea of the point it’s making.

That’s an image that adds value to the surrounding text.

Just as every sentence should add something to the content, so should every image.

4. Do you have competition? (and is yours the best?)

Think of your content as a product (even if it’s a free one).

Just about every product has competition. Go to a grocery store, and you’ll find ketchup made by five different companies.

Look up a guide to SEO, and you’ll find not just five, but thousands, of competing pieces of content.

Before you publish, and even before you write, you need to know what you’re up against.

Usually, this means going to Google and putting in a few keyword phrases that describe your content.

For example, I would search for “is your content good enough” or “how to judge content quality” for this article that you’re reading.

Next, go through at least the first page of results. More is always better.

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Look through them, and analyze their strengths and weaknesses. Then, compare those strengths to your own.

If your content is worse in some areas, it needs to be improved before you publish it. No one switches to the new product if it’s worse than the old one.

There is one exception: There is no competition in a monopoly. A monopoly exists when a company can create a product that no one else can, either because of legal reasons or the inability to create it.

It’s great to own a monopoly in real life if you ever get the chance from a business perspective.

If possible, you should try to create a content monopoly on the topic you’re writing about.

If you can approach a topic from an angle that no one else can replicate, you’re guaranteed to stand out.

For example, a few years ago, I spent $252,000 on conversion rate optimization and published a post about it:

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Anyone can write a post along the lines of “x lessons of conversion rate optimization.”

Very few can say they spent a few hundred thousand hiring the best in the industry and then share what they learned.

5. Are your title AND opening gripping?

Your title can affect your conversion rate by 40%, and it plays a huge role in overall traffic.

It’s the part most people read before deciding whether they are interested in reading the actual article.

You should write down at least 20 different possible titles for each piece of content you create.

I know it’s a pain and takes a lot of time for just 10-15 words, but it is by far the most important part of your content.

Recognizing a great title takes practice, but essentially what you want to do is put yourself in your readers’ shoes and ask yourself:

Do I really need to read this right now?

It’s important to nudge people to read your article right now because most people who say they’ll read it later will not.

And if you can’t honestly answer that question with a “yes,” you need a better title. Do not rush this—it’s crucial.

Once you have the title down, move on to your opening: your first 100-200 words. This is the second most important part of your content.

Past the title, many will read the opening and then decide if they want to read the rest of the content.

Again, ask yourself the same question. To compel them to read on, you need to address a question they would want to get an answer to or a story they would want to know the end of.

This is hard.

If you’d like to see some examples, check out some posts on Smart Blogger. Their editor makes sure that every post has a strong opening.

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6. Is your content optimized for the average reader?

Content marketers are not average readers. What we think is good isn’t usually good for the average content reader.

Research shows the readers read only an average of 20-28% of a post.

Most readers are skimmers.

They skim the content, looking for anything that stands out. It’s important that you include elements that do stand out and invite readers to pay closer attention.

There are a few main aspects to consider.

Aspect #1 – Subheadlines matter more than you think: Open a new blog post, and skim it quickly. What stands out the most?

Usually, it will be the subheadlines since they are larger and usually darker than the rest of the text.

Readers judge your entire post by its title and each section by its subheadline.

Notice that I rarely use boring subheadlines in my posts. I always try to make some sort of interesting point that makes a skimmer curious. For example:

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You don’t need to spend quite as much time on these as on the post’s title, but don’t just put the first subheadline that comes to mind either.

Aspect #2 – Readability: It’s important that you keep the basics of readability in mind. No one is going to read a post if it’s all one giant block of text.

Instead, keep the following in mind:

  • Write in short paragraphs – I use up to 3 sentences maximum.
  • Have a short blog width – Each line should have no more than 100 characters in it. Many say that 66 characters per line is ideal. Short lines keep the reader feeling like they’re making progress.
  • Use simple words – I rarely include complex words in my posts. You don’t want readers to have to look up the meaning of words, which takes them away from your post.

Aspect #3 – Images: Images do break up text as we mentioned earlier, which makes content easier to read.

More importantly, they attract attention.

Imagine you were skimming a post and saw that custom iceberg graphic from earlier. Wouldn’t you want to read that section to learn more about it? Many readers will.

Images will always grab attention, and if they are interesting (i.e., not a basic stock photo), they can suck in a skimmer.

Conclusion

Being your own toughest critic will help you create great content that will win over your readers.

But it’s hard to criticize yourself sometimes, and it’s easy to give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

I recommend going through this list of questions for all the content you’re about to publish. It ensures that you don’t skip over a glaring weakness that needs to be improved.

Keep in mind that this is a list of the essentials. You may have other things you want to ask yourself before you publish something in order to ensure a high standard of content.

If you thought of those extra questions that would be good to ask yourself before publishing a piece of content, I’d love it if you shared them in a comment below with me and everyone else.


Source: quicksprout

Is Your Content Good Enough? 6 Questions to Find the Answer