The Rare White Squirrel Who Eats Pumpkins (and Other Stories of Creativity)

The Rare White Squirrel Who Eats Pumpkins (and Other Stories of Creativity)

The Rare White Squirrel Who Eats Pumpkins (and Other Stories of Creativity)I’ll get back to the white squirrel in a minute … We hear from content creators all the timeBut creativity is critical when it comes to standing out among the screaming noise that distracts your audience daily. There’s hope. And there are tactics you can use to inject more creativity into your content marketing efforts.

Be insanely honest

If you ask Doug Kessler, creative director and co-founder of Velocity Partners, he’ll urge you to use insane honesty to boost your creativity – and not the regular kind of honest that we all have an obligation to be, but insane honesty that forces you to “actively seek out weaknesses and share openly.”

Say whaaaat? I know that kind of honesty is counterintuitive to what most of us are trained to do. Marketers are supposed to tell the world how great their companies, products, services, leaders are – even if sometimes they aren’t. You know – turn lemons into lemonade, grapes into sangria, and such.

Nope. Doug has collected numerous highly creative content marketing examples of insane honesty – from an Amsterdam hotel that caters to backpackers with little to spend on anything more than a bed in a shared room that may or may not be clean to a shelter promoting a dog who is really quite adorable but may be a threat to the fingers and toes of young children.

“It builds trust and alienates your less likely buyers,” Doug says.

Seriously, why try to fool someone who isn’t going to buy your product or services anyway? It’s a waste of your time and theirs. Go ahead and un-sell a bit.

TIP: Find more inspiration from Doug in his session during CMI’s Content Creativity Day and his SlideShare presentation. He’s collecting new examples all the time, so share one if you have one.The Rare White Squirrel Who Eats Pumpkins (and Other Stories of Creativity)

Push back on same-old thing

Another great tenet for creativity is to resist, no RESIST, the same-old, same-old. In my years of creating content and strategy for technology companies, it was often difficult to determine what made one company stand out among its competitors. Every company in the cloud-computing space seemed to have the same benefits just worded slightly differently. I was constantly asking subject matter experts, “What makes you stand out? What makes you innovative? What makes you unique?” The more I questioned, the clearer the value (or lack thereof) in their messaging became. It’s the kind of thing that turns marketers to rely on fluff, which, as Jay Acunzo, creator of the Unthinkable podcast, says can rot your teeth and brain.The Rare White Squirrel Who Eats Pumpkins (and Other Stories of Creativity)

“It’s time to rethink how we approach creativity,” he says. “Noise is not the problem, sameness is.”

I love this idea of using content to differentiate, not just to say you are better. If you really are better, then it will be clear to the reader.

There are several key components to great creative writing – such as a nut graph and the hook – that can help you get there, Jay advises. In college, I was the resident editor for my friends’ essays and thesis papers. At times, I would write in bright, red pen (it gave me a sense of power), “What’s the point?” Inevitably, their defenses would go up and the commentary would spew. But the point – the nut graph – eventually surfaced. Sometimes that’s all it took to turn “meh” content into much better or even great content.

“It’s time to rethink how we approach creativity,” he says. “Noise is not the problem, sameness is.”

I love this idea of using content to differentiate, not just to say you are better. If you really are better, then it will be clear to the reader.

There are several key components to great creative writing – such as a nut graph and the hook – that can help you get there, Jay advises. In college, I was the resident editor for my friends’ essays and thesis papers. At times, I would write in bright, red pen (it gave me a sense of power), “What’s the point?” Inevitably, their defenses would go up and the commentary would spew. But the point – the nut graph – eventually surfaced. Sometimes that’s all it took to turn “meh” content into much better or even great content.

During Content Creativity Day, Jay urged content creators not to assume that creativity starts from a great big idea. He offered great examples of successful content marketing from people who spent time investigating, sharing information, and starting small.

“Creativity is so much more than madness. It has a method,” Jay says.

Check out his session to learn more and be inspired.

Enter the white squirrel

OK, now to the white squirrel eating pumpkins mentioned in my headline.

I made note of said squirrel recently when I was suffering from a bit of writer’s block. I took the great advice of Carla Johnson, chief experience officer at Type-A Communications, and put down my pencil (yes, I like to do my first drafts with a sharp pencil and crisp paper on a clipboard and subsequent drafts on my laptop) and observed the things around me.

Carla’s counsel comes from working with companies that don’t have exciting products to tout. It makes their content producers envious of companies with cool stuff to promote and leads to lots of excuses for a lack of creativity. If you’re a similar victim, Carla urges you to undergo a “brand transplant.”The Rare White Squirrel Who Eats Pumpkins (and Other Stories of Creativity)

Start by observing things around you – the environment, music, etc. – and write down what you see. Then distill those ideas, look for patterns, and relate them to your brand. The great ideas will start to flow. I’m summarizing her more-detailed ideas of breaking bad habits, which can be viewed in full here, but it’s exactly what I did when I was struggling for a creative headline idea.

In case you thought I was just making up the white squirrel eating the pumpkin, please let the photo below serve as proof. This pumpkin eater is part of a family of white squirrels that my neighbors and my family have been enjoying for many years. They are kind of magical, really.

And these unique animals are a reminder that sameness isn’t creative. What is creative is standout content – like a white squirrel who likes to eat pumpkins (and nut graphs!).

To be inspired and get more practical insight, view the Creativity Day presentations from Doug Kessler, Jay Acunzo, Carla Johnson, and Tim Washer. Sign up today – it’s free.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing InstituteThe Rare White Squirrel Who Eats Pumpkins (and Other Stories of Creativity)

about the struggle to be creative day in and day out. We understand. The struggle is real. So are the excuses: But creativity is critical when it comes to standing […]

How to Boost Your Page Ranking for One Keyword

How to Boost Your Page Ranking for One Keyword

Editor’s note: You may have missed this article when CMI How to Boost Your Page Ranking for One Keywordpublished it last year. We’re sharing it now because improving your keyword efforts is always top of mind for content marketers. SEO does not always work the way we want. It is common for Google to rank a page […]

Find baseline ranking

Before doing anything else, find out where your page ranks today for the keywords you want to improve. Without a baseline, you will not be able to measure progress.

You can do it manually (i.e., search for your keyword in Google and take note of your position) or use a rank-tracking tool that can do this daily automatically.

Caveat: Don’t expect to magically go from position 40 to position 10. Improvement comes gradually, but you need to know your starting point.

Explore variations

Type your target keyword in the Google keyword tool. You are looking for two things. First, find variations of your target keyword, especially long-tail keywords. Second, look at the competition for each of those keywords. You will use this data later.

Doing quick keyword research gives you a better idea of how difficult your keyword is and what other options you have. Next, go to the Google search engine and type your keyword. Look at these three things:

  • Pages that appear on the first search engine results page
  • Suggestions for “related searches” at the bottom of the page

    Revise and confirm expectations

    The initial research – before you make any changes to the page – ensures that your expectations are correct. By expectations, I mean the end result you want to achieve. Some pointers to consider:

    • Are your expectations realistic? If your target keyword has high traffic, it also has a lot of competition. Can you compete with those websites?Take a closer look at the first 10 results. Are all results from high-authority websites? Is Google ranking a domain (i.e., the home page of a website) or a single page for the particular keyword?Click the links and open the first five pages. Is that content better than yours in both quantity and quality? Examine each website more carefully. Are they “big” websites with lots of pages? Are they blogs? Are they corporate websites? Try to gather as much information as possible.
    • Why go to all this trouble? For one simple reason: Although in life nothing is impossible, in SEO not all things are possible.I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but sometimes we don’t rank for what we want but instead for what is realistic.The good news is that there is a way out, and let me explain. I would love to optimize my website to rank for “content marketing” but this is impossible. Take a look at the Google results for this keyword.

      Unless my website can compete with the Content Marketing Institute, Wikipedia, Copyblogger, Quick Sprout, and the other high-authority websites, nothing I do will get me to the first positions. I can get a place on the second or third pages but that’s as far as I can go.

    • Should I give up and quit? Of course not. This is where the long-tail keywords and proper page optimization come to the rescue. Go through the list of long-tail keywords you gathered and find keywords with significant volume but not such strong competitors.In my example, “content marketing tips” is a good long-tail candidate and a better one is “content marketing tips for small businesses.”Some may argue that the traffic gained from the long-tail keywords does not compare to that of the main keywords. This is true, but it’s a more realistic approach for keyword success. You don’t want to spend your efforts pursuing rankings you cannot achieve but rather focus on identifying keywords that can realistically improve your page’s results.Don’t forget that high rankings for long-tail keywords build trust that gradually can result in better rankings for more competitive keywords.

      Review on-page SEO

      Now that you have set realistic expectations, you can start doing some real work.
      On-page SEO is your starting point, particularly:

      • Page titles: Include your target keyword (or variations) but don’t do keyword stuffing. Mentioning your keyword in a natural way in the title is enough. Google’s RankBrain machine-learning technology is clever enough to associate different keywords and find relevant results, but you still should make sure that your keyword is in the title. Example: Have a look at a nice example from Google.Go to the AdSense home page and view the source code. Google is not using Google AdSense prominently in the page title but the page is optimized for the long-tail keyword phrase, “make money online.” Notice how the keyword optimization comes first in the title and then the brand name:
        • Page descriptions: Google may choose not to show your description on the SERPs, but it is still important to provide a custom description for each and every page of your website, especially the pages you want to rank higher. Accurately describe the page content and include variations of your target keyword. Look at the AdSense example above and see how nicely Google adds variations of its target keyword into the description (e.g., learn how to make money online, content monetization, make money).
        • H1 tags: Review your HTML code (open the page, go to “View Source” and search for H1). Check that your page has only one set of H1 tags. The H1 tag is not necessarily the same as your page title tag, but it should contain variations of your target keyword.
          • Page content: Back in 2011, Amit Singhal (former head of Google’s ranking team) published an explanation of what Google considers to be a high-quality website. It’s one of the most important documents when it comes to SEO because it describes what Google is looking for when assessing a page’s value. Things like content quality, originality, formatting, in-depth analysis, presentation, and author trust play an important role.Assuming that you got all those behind-the-scenes tips correct from the beginning, you need to ensure that your target keyword (and variations) is mentioned in the content of the page. I am not suggesting that you stuff the keywords in the text or over-optimize, but you need to check that the crawler in the page title and H1 tags are consistent with the page’s content. Some tools can calculate the keyword density and make recommendations, but you don’t have to go that far; mentioning your keywords a couple of times in your content is enough.
          • Structured data: Microdata, rich snippets, schemas are all names related to structured data. Although this is not yet part of Google’s ranking algorithm, it is trending and sooner or later will be part of the ranking process. By implementing structured data, you make it easier for Google (and other crawlers) to understand what your page is about, improving your chances of ranking higher. Structured data is not only available for products or organizations, but it can also be used for articles and blog posts.

            Think internal

            When you’re trying to improve the ranking position of a page, the rest of your site can help a lot: Use variations of your target keyword as anchor text on your other pages and link them to your targeted page.

            Internal linking is great for SEO. Among other things, it can help Google identify the site’s important pages and their meaning, as the pages with the most internal links generally are the site’s important pages.How to Boost Your Page Ranking for One Keyword

            There is a misconception that you should not use keyword-rich anchor text in internal links. Take a look at the internal links section in a search engine optimization starter guide released by Google a few years ago:

            Among other things, it mentions: “In either of these cases, the better your anchor text is, the easier it is for Google to understand what the page you’re linking to is about.” I know this is outdated information when it comes to external links, but it is still valid for internal links.

            Look at how Google is using internal links in the Google webmaster blog. In a short two-paragraph blog, the writer uses more than five internal links, some of which are highly optimized:How to Boost Your Page Ranking for One Keyword

            Relevance of the rest of the pages

            Besides internal links, another measure is to make sure that related content is published on your website. What I mean by this is that you should create pages that target other related keywords.

            Following the earlier example, the Content Marketing Institute ranks for “content marketing”: not only because the home page is optimized for that term but because a lot of the published pages are closely related to that term, which makes the home page ranking stronger.How to Boost Your Page Ranking for One Keyword

            While you should optimize pages on the site with relevant content for the page you want to rank higher, don’t think of just text. Use other types of content (infographics, videos, slideshows, etc.) and take into account the latest blogging trends, especially those related to publishing frequency.

            Don’t forget about off-page SEO

            Image source

            So far, all the actions are about changes you can make on your website, but don’t forget about the role of other off-page SEO signals. Depending on how competitive your keyword is, you may have to carefully build a couple of external links to your page.

            Identify highly relevant and trusted websites to incorporate your links. It does not need to be optimized because, unlike internal links, external links don’t use keyword-rich anchor text.How to Boost Your Page Ranking for One Keyword

            Your goal is not to confuse Google and make it believe that you are trying to trick the system by artificially building links, but to have it recognize that you are adding value to the other site’s content.

            Use social media wisely

            Another way to make that page known to other users and dramatically increase your chances of getting natural links is to promote it in social media networks.

            The bottom line is that you must use any valid technique or means to get your content in front of as many eyes as possible that would be interested in referencing your content from their blog or website.

            These people are not necessarily your target audience – the people who are likely to buy your product or interact with your pages – but people who can influence your target audience (journalists, bloggers, writers for well-known publications, etc.)

            Remember that your goal is not to get more sales or visits to the page but to improve its ranking.


            Advanced SEO tasks, like trying to improve the ranking of a page for a specific keyword, take time. It takes time for Google to notice any changes on a published page, so don’t rush to conclusions too quickly.

            The process is straightforward:

            • Optimize your page titles, descriptions, and content for the target keyword.
            • Work on your off-page SEO.
            • Monitor your ranking positions.What is important is to have progress and slow improvements with your rankings rather than doing over-optimization, gaining temporary high rankings, and then wondering how to get out of Google penalties.

              Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

6 Actionable Tips To Get Your Content Noticed



Follow these action tips and monitor their impact on your site traffic

1. Send an email broadcast

Once a new piece of content is published, send a message to your list. Include a short teaser of the content to encourage them to click through, and be sure to include a call to action asking them to share it.

If you create a lot of content, how often you use this strategy will depend on your audience. For example, if your subscribers signed up for a weekly newsletter (nothing more), then stick to that.

2. Engage with your community

Social media groups

Facebook and LinkedIn groups are great opportunities to dig deeper into a social platform and target your niche audience. Join groups that your content is relevant to, join the conversation, and suggest your content naturally. You can also join and contribute to specific boards on Pinterest.

Content promotion networks

You can also get more reach on social media with the help of content promotion networks, such as Viral Content Bee. This platform connects you with other people wanting to promote their content. Share their posts and you receive credits that you can then use to promote your own posts.

Quuu is a tool that automatically curates content for people to share. Sign up to promote your content and select the relevant categories. Then your posts can become a part of the curated content queue.

Online communities

There are plenty of other platforms where you can discuss topics related to your niche. Join Q&A sites like Quora or Yahoo Answers, and you can suggest your content as a resource to answer people’s questions. Just make sure you actually engage in discussions on the platform so it’s not all about promoting your content.

TIP: If you create content about marketing-related topics, and GrowthHackers are two content curation and promotion communities to take advantage of.

3. Pay to promote

Facebook Ads

Facebook makes it possible to create targeted ads based on all kinds of criteria, including demographics, location, and specific interest categories. If you know your target audience well, you can take advantage of these features for your content promotion.


StumbleUpon offers a paid discovery feature with a pay-per-click model. Its users are mostly college-age millennials so if you have content relevant to this demographic, look into it.

Reddit Ads

Reddit is another platform full of millennials, but not exclusively. Reddit Ads are an inexpensive option to get more reach for your content on the crowdsourced platform.


Outbrain is a promotion network that displays your content on relevant blogs and news sites. The “related content” section at the bottom of a lot of web pages is usually full of promoted content from Outbrain or one of its competitors.

4. Reach out on social media

Social platforms are crowded, so there’s no guarantee interested people will see and share your content. To improve your content’s visibility, target interested people directly.

Connect on a social platform using an @ mention of your influencer to ask for opinions on your content or suggest that his or her audience might like it.

5. Ask to include your content

Getting your content to appear in roundups is a great way to get more reach and build backlinks at the same time. You can find relevant link roundups to target with the help of Google. Include your niche keyword and one of the following in your search:

  • Roundup
  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Best of
  • Top 10
  • Link love

6. Write for others

Attract people from the web to important pages on your website (e.g., a squeeze page or sales page) by guest posting or blogging. Create amazing content and pitch it to other sites. If they let you, include links in the content and your author bio to key pages on your site.

  • (Niche keyword) + “guest post submission”
  • (Niche keyword) + “write for us”
  • (Niche keyword) + “contribution guidelines”

Wrapping up

Content marketing can do a lot to bring traffic to your website and progress your business goals, but only if you take the right steps to promote your content.

  • Broadcast to your email list (more than once).
  • Evaluate content promotion networks.
  • Explore options with paid media.
  • Reach out on social media.
  • Ask content curators to include your content.
  • Increase your reach by guest blogging.
  • You might find that some tactics work better than others, so adjust your strategy and get the most out of your promotion to get your content noticed.Which other content promotion tactics have you found to be most effective for your business?
  • First image by Viktor Hanacek, picumbo
  • TIP: Install a plug-in like Alexa on your browser. When you visit a blog you want to pitch to, you can see important traffic stats with just one click.