The 15-second summary
- Publication content is chronological, and designed to inspire or excite;
- Library content is topic-based, and designed to inform;
- Content marketers are not distinguishing between the two – this is causing split objectives and missed opportunities;
- A new mentality and approach, described here, can improve quality, drive results and save resources.
Most of us break down our content based on a number of factors: target audience, stage of the customer journey, topic or product, to name just a few. But there’s a far more important distinction that’s being ignored by the vast majority of content marketers.
It separates content into two categories: library and publication. And it’s crucial to the differing ways in which audiences seek out content.
What’s the difference between library and publication content?
In the early days of content, you’d often hear talk of brands or organisations becoming de facto ‘publications‘. In fact, our first tag line here at Far From Avocados was ‘Think Like Marketers, Act Like Publishers’.
The aim of this was to elevate content from an afterthought to a core activity – with consistent output, a posting schedule, high production quality, and a focus on delivering value to the audience.
It also prioritised the ‘audience-first’ approach that needs to be taken to get something out of the value exchange. Publications don’t invest their resources in content that’s of sole interest to themselves, and little interest to their readers.
If you were competing against professional publishers for time and attention, the logic suggested, then it made sense to echo their ways of working.
However, as the discipline matured, there was a mounting argument that content marketing should follow the model of a library – creating a body of knowledge that’s organised by topic as opposed to chronologically.
This recognised something fundamental about how audiences would seek value: they were unlikely to be sitting around in eager anticipation of your next post, but they were quite likely to land on your website in search of information on a given topic.
So… which approach is correct?
Well first off, let me say this: if there are two legitimate approaches to tackling a problem – any problem – and someone tells you that one is right while the other is wrong, they are:
- Pushing an agenda;
- Courting controversy;
- Gary Vaynerchuk.
The reality is that neither is correct, and neither is incorrect.
Going all-in on the library approach will leave your content devoid of personality and make it impossible to establish your point of difference; while going all-in as a publication will leave you light on the hard information your prospects are searching for.
Both must be used in tandem, in the right context, to deliver maximum bang for your content marketing buck.
Publication content and library content are built to co-exist
Deploying the two separately, but in parallel, will allow you to optimise every piece of content for a particular type of success.
- Your library will allow you to cover the nuts-and-bolts, informative (and sometimes dull!) aspects of your product or service;
- Your publication will allow you to convey your brand personality, explore new ideas, offer insight and frame thought leadership.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of how both differ:
|Library content||Publication content|
|Objective||Get a point across – inform||Establish authority and insight – excite|
|Experience||Information and answering questions is key||Audience experience is key|
|Brand voice||Relevant to your brand, but not necessarily unique||Unique to your brand – nobody else can say this quite like you can|
|Shelf life||Tends to have a longer shelf life (evergreen)||Focused on a particular moment in time (time-sensitive)|
|Distribution||‘Pull’ methods – SEO, PPC, etc (so must be highly optimised)||‘Push methods’ – social, email, etc (so must be highly clickable)|
|Shareability||Less likely to be shareable||Potential to be shareable|
What happens when we don’t segment?
As all of the content will most likely live in the same location on your website, and both form part of a singular content strategy, it’s easy to forget how different their purposes really are.
But running them both together will have detrimental effects across the board – for your audience, for your colleagues, and for your team.
As audiences have become overwhelmed with the scale and amount of content in their daily lives, they’ve become increasingly conscious of how they spend their time and mental energy.
Because of this, they’ve developed a knack for quickly working out what blogs, videos, podcasts, ebooks or utilities are going to solve their problems and answer their questions – and which are not.
If someone lands on your site in pursuit of some basic product information, and you’ve obscured the facts in a long-winded philosophical tome, they’re unlikely to hang around to dig out the information they need.
Similarly, when you’ve got a point to make, you want to be able to expand and go into detail – as I’ve done here! – developing your analysis, confident in the fact that these readers will be more likely to stick around.
(Which you are. Aren’t you?)
Without segmented content, it’s very difficult to set expectations for what each piece is supposed to achieve – making the whole sign-off process a lot more challenging.
A senior stakeholder might, for instance, read an instructional piece about an obscure function of your software platform, and complain that it’s ‘not shareable’; or they might read a brilliantly thought-out insights piece, and point to the lack of a connection with your core product.
Your own resources
Here’s another issue: trying to create an ‘always-on’ output is a drain on resources; particularly when so much of your content will remain largely unchanged over long stretches of time.
A well developed library will let you decrease your ongoing output, giving you more time, energy, thought and spend to invest into your publication pieces.
So what’s the best way to turn this theory into a reality?
You can apply this theory with a light touch – treating it as a new mentality, rather than an operational shift. Or you can go all in, and fully split out your content into a library and a publication.
How far you take it is up to you.
Here’s a rough breakdown, broken down by the main stages of the process.
If you’ve been creating content before now, you should have the makings of a decent library already. A simple content audit will help you spot the gaps, and might look something like this:
- List the primary topics you want your content to cover – for instance, for an accountancy software company this might be invoicing, tax compliance, reporting and forecasting;
- List out all of your existing content, and categorise it by topic;
- Within each topic, divide your content into the various stages of your customer journey – top, middle and bottom of the funnel;
- Plot these out into a spreadsheet, and identify the gaps – from here, you can commission or create the content pieces that will ensure your audience has a smooth path to purchase;
If you can, try to build out your library in one single block of work.
As this content is less likely to be time-sensitive, there’s really no sense in posting something in month 12 that could be posted in month 1, and missing out on almost a year’s worth of traffic in the meantime.
But the real benefit here is that it frees you up to focus properly on creating top-notch publication material. With your library doing the ‘hard work’ in terms of generating traffic and leads, you can now plan for less frequent but more focused pieces on thought leadership, insight and industry analysis.
(Hint: our bullet template might help you on this front)
This one is fairly straightforward: your library content will be optimised for the active searcher (SEO, paid search), while your publication content will be geared towards a more passive user (organic/paid social, email).
This will allow you to lean more heavily on optimisation techniques across your library – such as question-based titles or keyword-based headings – where the reader experience is secondary in importance to the information on offer.
Meanwhile, you’ll be able to give your publication content ‘thumb-stopping’ headlines that can focus more upon the curiosity of humans than the search functionality of machines.
It’s important to measure both content segments based on what you want them to achieve.
Your library may be measured by search referrals, repeat visits, CTA clicks on bottom-of-funnel content, etc; while your publication content may be measured by social traffic, shares, inbound links or even media pick-ups.
Breaking down your content into these two key segments will allow you to set different expectations for both – and keep optimising each one accordingly.