Why Most Get Content Marketing Wrong
The embrace of content marketing by businesses and marketing agencies has exploded. Already most professionals and companies that seek to be found have blogs, the ultimate content marketing tool.
Yet most get content marketing or pull marketing (in its purist form) dead wrong and are destined for perpetual obscurity.
How do I know this? As a marketer I carve out time to read content from unpopular companies/people who are publishing to the web along with the popular ones. There is plenty to learn from those who are popular but there’s equally as much to learn from those who are unpopular. Think about it – everyone is studying the successful. But studying the unsuccessful is an altogether different approach and provides the other half of the picture.
With that in mind, I thought it would be useful to share some insight into what most get wrong:
Not enough focus on the lede
Most don’t spend nearly enough time learning the art of the lede. Your lede must be killer or no one will have a reason to continue with the rest of your content.
Headlines which aren’t descriptive/sticky
How can you get everyone’s attention? Simple: strong headlines – which need to be working for you, especially if you’re new. Most of the headlines on unsuccessful sites make me not want to read the content.
Content which doesn’t pass the “so what?” test
A great quote from Chris Garrett sums this up nicely:
A much overlooked aspect though is “So What?”. What should the reader take away? Where is the benefit? Why should we listen to you?
Chris is spot on – most content-based sites fail to acquire sustainable traffic and an organically growing community because their content doesn’t pass the “so what?” test.
Posts which aren’t scanable
Most readers – especially those who are new to your site – don’t actually read your content, they scan it. The solution is simple: make your pages scanable. If your content is scanable people will get drawn in to read content deeper. Once you have a reputation built you can create deeper pieces and not worry so much about scan-ability/formatting. But in the beginning, scanable content is key.
If you’re going to play it safe or be vanilla, don’t even bother
There are some 900,000 blog posts published every 24 hours. A lot of it is spam, sure, but a lot of it isn’t. So if you’re going to attempt content marketing yet you’re in a position you can’t create material that is razor sharp and takes chances, don’t bother.
Where’s the personality?
The shift of trusted, influential media has moved from brands to people. Following this, (and this is a tough concept for many to grasp) it’s not about your company, it’s about the creative ideas which live in the minds your company’s employees. Let them have a voice and develop trust with the world, otherwise your content will never accomplish end objectives (links, buzz, leads, etc.).
Where are the connections?
Without actively connecting to others, you will never form a network of your own. Your content should be forming connections organically as part of your process. Doing something like making every post a link post is a simple enough way to do this, but you should be doing multiple things which forge connections on a consistent basis. Get creative, there are really no limits on how to do this.
Inability to be imperfect
Your content should be imperfect if you hope to forge genuine connections with people. I’m serious. Don’t follow rules, guidelines or styles – in fact embrace being flawed, it’s a beautiful thing. If you refine things too far you’ll bland away all the personality. Embrace your mistakes, you might even learn something.
Lack of consistency, especially at the start
I’ll stress once again that quality, not quantity is what makes for the most trusted, influential and authoritative web publishers. But at the start you’ll need to consistently publish quality material. Make no mistake, it is going to take an extended period of effort before enough links are acquired to attain search traffic and enough subscribers read/share your feed.
If your content sucks, all the promotions, tips or tricks in the world won’t help
The idea of “push” in social media is a misnomer. Good ideas spread, bad ideas don’t even if you do have a push mechanism. This is because while you can push any kind of content you like, if people don’t re-share it, subscribe, or take the next step it’s worthless – you’re just not getting any kind of return. If you think you’ll have to push your content for it to succeed, you should engage in advertising. Pull marketing is the incorrect strategy for content that people won’t share organically. There is no escaping this, it’s just not how true permission marketing channels are built.
Who’s leading this?
There should be leading personalities behind your content, and readers should clearly know who they are. This goes along with the idea of content having personality, however more than that there should be clear leaders that have a majority of the voice. Unless you’re a huge organization and there are really that many people able to deliver strong thinking, there should realistically be a handful of leaders behind the site. This is important not just to put a face behind the content, it’s important because ultimately those people are developing relationships with readers.
Rehashing what’s already been said
Does your material sounds just like every other company in your niche? Do you sound like every other professional in your niche? If so, why bother with web publishing? Anyone with more than a fleeting interest in your subject matter will see right through this, and unless they want to hire a “me too” company you’re never going to get leads. Remember, no niche is ever too crowded for fresh thinking – consider that your strategic entry point.
Misjudging the commitment required
A lot of people look at web publishing tools, the audiences others have, and think it looks easy. The tools are simple to setup and many people/businesses have built thriving communities. Yet the real returns don’t happen until far into the future. It’s true that as your content expands, things get easier however most won’t commit for long enough to get to that point.
Not doing anything to attract large amounts of links and attention
I get it, the niche you’re interested in reaching isn’t on sites like Digg or aren’t blogging. But guess what, you still need those people linking to you, they’re vital to reaching everyone else whether you realize it or not. Here’s why: your competition is out there creating social media-friendly content/linkbait, and so they are going to attract links at scale from around the web organically and will dominate you in search engine authority and build a thriving community that is self reinforcing. Due to all of those links they are going to rank in the engines and be the brands referenced by everyone else enough times to connect with greater audiences who may not be participating in social media. Argue with me if you want, but I’ll say it again: buzz is a vitial element of digital PR. You simply don’t have the time or resources to win against larger social communities who are naturally promoting competitors.
Experimenting is one of the most underused, yet powerful things enabled by content marketing. Most aren’t even trying anything different. In fact there’s a funny thing about content I’ve seen true time and time again. I can plan, strategize, and spend a long time mapping something to make it perfect. Or I can spend one night and make something interesting that’s imperfect but unique and launch it as such and it will get far more attention.
It’s not about you
It’s about your community. Do things on a consistent basis that are valuable, interesting or compelling for them.
No evolution of the thesis
If you’re saying the same thing at post 100 as you did at post 1, why would people want to become a member of your community? Slicing and dicing content to reinforce themes is one thing, but core members of your community – those who share everything you publish – need to feel a progression of thought or they may become disinterested.
Go subscribe to sites that have no comments, no readers and no traffic and read what they’re doing. Listen to podcasts which get no downloads. Read white papers that aren’t ranking well in the engines. Do your future content marketing efforts resemble theirs? If so, it’s time to ask yourself why you’re not trying to stand out.
image credit: Marco Rullkoetter via Shutterstock