In the content marketing sphere, there are views that long-form content is better for SEO and ranking. Another camp would argue otherwise, saying that with shorter attention spans, short-form contents with succinct points make it easier to hook readers and grab their attention. However, those in the content marketing business would know that there are several key factors to make long-form content work for enterprises. MIA speaks to Daniel Tay, Co-Founder and Managing Director of With Content to find out more.
Hi Daniel. Welcome to Marketing in Asia. Let’s start by finding out who Daniel Tay is. I noticed that you studied political science but carved a career as a journalist, before deciding to become an entrepreneur. Tell us your story.
Hi! I’m Daniel, managing director and co-founder of With Content. We are a content marketing agency that specialises in producing high-quality long-form editorial and visual content for tech companies in Southeast Asia.
I started With Content in late 2017, after spending seven over years working in various editorial and content marketing positions at tech companies such as Zendesk, Tech in Asia, and Piktochart. When I first entered university, the field of political science seemed interesting to me, but I became disillusioned midway through and decided to pursue writing opportunities instead.
One thing led to another, and I found myself leading content marketing at an early-stage startup upon graduation. Content marketing was, and still is, a relatively new concept for our part of the world, so after leading and growing content operations at some of the top tech companies in the region, I decided to start my own agency so I could help more companies up their content marketing game.
Over the past two plus years, With Content has grown from a one-man operation to 12 people across five countries. We work with some familiar names in the tech industry, such as UOB, NTUC, Vertex Ventures, Wavemaker Partners, Xero, PropertyGuru, and Saleswhale. At the end of 2019, we hit S$500,000 in revenue, which was a huge milestone for the team.
You are the Co-Founder and Managing Director of With Content. What is your key role and tell us more about what your agency offers.
My role as the managing director is to ensure that the business is on track to meeting our goals.
One of the biggest dangers that young agencies face is the tendency to want to do anything and everything that clients demand, which ends up making them a jack-of-all-trades with little to no unique positioning. Our aim is to raise the bar for content marketing in Southeast Asia, one piece of long-form content at a time, and so I’m constantly evaluating the work that we do and the clients we partner with to make sure that we’re on the right track.
At With Content, we offer long-form editorial and visual content to tech companies in Southeast Asia. Think blog posts and articles for the former, and ebooks and infographics for the latter. Every piece of content is crafted with a strategy in mind – we do all the necessary keyword, industry, and topical research before producing a custom content calendar – which is ultimately to grow our clients’ reach organically.
Our clients pick us because of our expertise in producing content for the technology space in Southeast Asia. Each of our content strategists has journalistic experience specific to tech and business, and are adept at spotting content trends and topics that would resonate with our clients’ potential customers.
To scratch our own itch, we also recently started the Deeper newsletter, which offers an in-depth analysis of the biggest happenings and trends in Southeast Asian tech, and their impact on society, once a week.
We are living in a digital jungle where consumers are swarmed with a magnitude of online content every second. In your experience, what are the biggest challenges your clients face in content marketing and what are your advice?
In my opinion, the biggest challenge our clients – or any tech company in the region, for that matter – face is the need for immediacy.
Here’s why: the on-demand, instantly gratifying nature of the tools and platforms at our disposal causes us to subconsciously believe that everything can and should happen whenever we want it, period. This causes business owners and marketers to lean towards marketing tools such as advertising and virality (ugh), since you can almost immediately see results – even if they’re suboptimal. Then there’s content marketing. Having seen the success of companies in the West, many local companies have rushed to give it a try as well.
Most of them fail.
But the fault doesn’t lie in the tool – it resides in our innate need for immediacy. Companies want to see a return on their dollar yesterday. During our sales calls, many potential clients balk when we tell them they actually need to wait for results – something that they are not used to.
Yes, building up a content marketing system takes time. The pillar posts holding it up need to be optimised properly for primary keywords. The network of blog posts have to internally link to the pillars, and to each other. The content upgrades to generate leads have to make sense for prospects to want to download them. And content placements on external publications need to have strategic backlinks to the right posts to pass on SEO juice.
But all that upfront work pays off. With a little bit of maintenance, the system you’ve built will generate traffic without you breaking a sweat or adding additional dollars. And if you want to grow even further, all you need to do is build on that same solid foundation. The wise man builds his house upon a rock.
In your opinion, why does long-form content work and what are the key factors to making it magical?
Long-form content works if you’re aiming for long-term success.
First and foremost, they provide comprehensive answers to questions that readers are looking for. Attention spans are dwindling by the day, so readers are constantly looking for fewer, more reliable sources of information on topics they’re interested in. Long-form content provides that.
Numerous studies have shown that posts with more words (above 2,000 words) tend to rank better on search engines like Google. They give you more space to demonstrate expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (or EAT) – the three key factors that Google looks out for in determining search ranking. This isn’t surprising – the goal of search engines is to surface the best content in any category.
Longer posts also provide the opportunity to rank for long-tail keywords, which are easier to rank for and far more specific, leading to a higher rate of conversion.
Also, they just stand out from the crowd. It takes serious time and effort to produce high-quality long-form content (just ask our team!), which few people are prepared to invest in. Such content establishes your brand as a thought leader or subject matter expert in the space.
The magic to good long-form content lies in hitting Google’s EAT factors:
- Show off your expertise. Interview in-house subject matter experts, or pick their brains of thought leaders in your space. Dive deep and answer questions that people in your industry constantly ask.
- Demonstrate authority in your field by narrowing the focus of topics you cover on your website. Determine who your target audience is, and cover the issues they care about comprehensively.
- Show that your content can be trusted. Journalistic best practices apply here – give credit where it’s due, cite the most updated and reliable sources, and fact-check constantly.
What about short-form content? Does it work and when do we use them?
There is a place for short-form content, and that’s on social media platforms, where users are looking for a quick hit of entertainment or snappy conversations to join. That said, this really depends on your target audience – which platforms they frequent, what is their appetite for content consumption, and so on. The ideal content marketing strategy would have long-form and short-form content working hand-in-hand, on different platforms, to engage potential customers wherever they go.
We have read about how artificial intelligence-powered content marketing can fuel business growth. What are your views on that?
AI-powered tools are a boon for the modern content marketer, whose job is getting tougher and tougher. They can help ensure to a greater degree than ever that any content being produced at the end of the day is perfectly optimised and promoted to the right people.
At With Content, we regularly use tools that aid us in confirming that our writing is error-free, keyword-optimised, and ready for publishing, saving us a lot of time and effort in the process.
Of course, there are tools that can write and edit simple content as well. However, algorithms currently “struggle […] to maintain an overarching narrative,” reports The Financial Times. This is something which is intuitive to human beings, let alone specialised writers who have been training all their lives to do so, so AI has a long way to go before they can replace us.
I noticed that you have a young team. Tell us your leadership style and how do you empower your team to bring out the best in them?
I believe strongly in hiring the right people, and creating the best possible environment for them to do their best work. At the end of the day, results are what matter. Whether they’re working at a cafe or co-working space, in the morning or at night, it’s entirely up to them. Our team might be young, but we treat them like the adults they are – and I find that people tend to step up to the role and responsibility that you give to them.
Where do you get your creativity and inspirations from?
I read voraciously. My Kindle app currently has around 130 books, most of which were read this year. In particular, I get really inspired by biographies and autobiographies – they’re like windows to the soul. I always feel blessed to be able to – within a matter of hours – learn lessons that took entire lifetimes to glean. Being in nature also helps me to shut off and reconnect the dots better later on. I’m very fortunate to be living amongst mountains and forest in Chiang Mai right now (though I’ll be returning to Singapore very soon) – nature is always an easy 15 to 30-minute drive away.