[IMGCAP(1)]I am frequently asked about the pros and cons of writing original content for blog posts and newsletter articles mainly, as opposed to purchasing canned articles from a content farm.

Right off the bat, I will admit that I understand why so many firms take advantage of canned content to populate their blogs and newsletters. It takes little effort on the part of the firm, is typically up to date and, depending on where you purchase it, sometimes cheaper. On the other hand, I'll also admit that ghostwriting is one of our services, so I'm a bit biased on this front. So with that on the table, I'd like to describe a few of the wonderful things firms can do when they leave the farm.

Differentiate your firm. One of the biggest challenges most firms face is how to differentiate themselves from the myriad other firms out there. When we write marketing plans for our clients, the hardest question for most to answer is, "How are you different?" So if you are posting the same articles that many other firms are, you are just perpetuating the myth that all firms are the same. Why not prove that you are different by writing articles that your audience will want to read? Your CPAs meet with clients all the time and get asked questions on a regular basis. Wouldn't your blog or newsletter be a great place to answer these types of questions for all your clients? By creating useful, original content, you will soon become the place to go to find valuable information, an online "thought leader" if you will. Who doesn't want that?

Show your personality. Every firm has a personality, whether you embrace it or not. Your blog and newsletter are great places to showcase your firm's unique characteristics. Is the firm involved in the community? Post some photos of your latest charity endeavor with a brief write-up about why you invested time and money in it. Do you have a specific niche expert on your team? Invite this person to write a post now and then share the latest on that area of expertise. Do some of your staff members have interesting non-work passions? Why not interview them to generate awareness for their cause and also demonstrate that you are more than a firm, but a collection of interesting people. I've found that these are the posts that get read the most. For example, we recently posted an article about our office dog, which frankly had nothing to do with marketing at all. It got more hits than many of our other posts. It seems people like reading about dogs more than marketing strategy. Who knew? 

Write for your audience. By its very nature, canned content must be a bit generic to work for a variety of firms in different locations around the country. While you can find industry-specific articles to purchase, they certainly won't talk about local or state-specific issues. Your audience wants to read about things that affect them directly. While federal tax issues are important, sometimes it's the local ones that have more impact. If you are creating your own content, you can focus on the issues that matter most to your clients, prospects and referral sources. You'll quickly see your readership jump as you address the areas that directly affect their lives and businesses.

Help your SEO. Google threw a wrench in everyone's search engine optimization strategy with their new Penguin update a few months ago. While it wasn't a great strategy to repeat content before, it's now very bad for your SEO to have exactly the same content that appears on multiple sites. To avoid this online penalty, most canned content providers recommend you customize the articles a bit for your audience. Yet we all know that most firms don't take this step. The new Google algorithm goes to great lengths to look for the original source of the content and includes that site in a search query. No duplicate sites are included because the assumption is that the answer can be found on that original site. This means your site is likely to be excluded from a search in many cases if you’re using canned content. Repeat offenders can be blacklisted as well, though that is not likely to happen to a legitimate business.

Create a conversation. Your services are valuable in part because you have a unique perspective on the issues that matter to your industry. By creating original content, you have the opportunity to give your very own take on something where you differ from the conventional wisdom. That’s likely to get a response to which you can reply (politely, of course), further elucidating your opinions and the reasons you hold them. You’ll be doing all your readers a service by bringing them new ideas to think about while you further establish your thought leadership. Being part of a rational discussion that includes multiple viewpoints is a fine way to bring positive new attention to your firm, even if the participants continue to disagree.

In future articles, I’ll talk about how to go about hiring a ghostwriter and how to brainstorm and search for article ideas. But first, I’d like your thoughts on this topic. I welcome the other side of the story as well.

Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk is president of BBR Marketing, a firm that provides marketing strategy, training and tactical implementation for professional services firms. She can be contacted at www.bbrmarketing.com.

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