Content marketing is one of the latest marketing trends and buzzwords.
If you’re not familiar with the term, here’s a definition, according to The Content Marketing Institute (who should know about these things):
“Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
Content is the useful stuff you see on a web page. The words. Informative graphs and tables. Videos Not adverts, pop-ups and the other distractions you didn’t come looking for and which, by and large, just annoy you.
Note the word ‘valuable’ – the content has to be of value to the visitor. Content marketing demands the publisher gives in order to receive. Banal fluff or gratuitous self-promotion will not do.
More than that, the content should have a purpose for the business; and that purpose should be to move customers along the journey from being unaware to being an advocate, thus creating profits for the business.
Content marketing and SEO
One of the main arguments in favour of content marketing is that it plays a role in helping a website rank in search. That is true, and proven – for example, one of my clients went from ‘out in the sticks’ on Google to page one for a strategic keyword thanks to a well-written piece of content (if I do say so myself…), as part of an ongoing content programme. Google likes to see websites where something fresh appears – it’s a sign of a well-tended site, and that’s good for visitors. Having a blog on your website helps to achieve that.
However, content has to be more than just ‘SEO fodder’ – and unfortunately some people, including some marketers, only see it in those terms. As a consultant, trouble-shooting website performance, I’ve come across instances where some SEO companies have written lightweight, keyword-stuffed blog posts just to help a site gain rank on Google. The content has little in it of any use for the visitor, and hasn’t even been accessible to visitors through the menu. What’s more, it didn’t get results. That’s lazy, a missed opportunity, and a poor use of marketing effort.
The trouble with content marketing…
But there are problems with content marketing. The first is… so many people are doing it. And many are doing it really badly. On more cynical days, I define content marketing as simply “filling up the web with rubbish”. We’ve all come across examples that would fit that definition! These days technology makes everyone a publisher – so it takes thought and effort to stand out.
The other problem with content marketing is that it can take up a lot of time, which demands commitment – and good measurement. Some smaller businesses simply don’t have the wherewithal to execute and measure it effectively.
Interestingly, there’s now a growing backlash against content marketing, as marketers start to question more rigorously the extent to which it works. This again emphasises the need for clear measurement. It’s vital not just to count numbers, but conversion rates (even for B2B marketing, where there isn’t necessarily an online sale). It’s also important to put those figures in context – is your content really generating traffic and converting visitors any more than other channels? Can you prove it’s worth the effort for your business?
A checklist for worthwhile content marketing
So, having explored the benefits and the issues, it’s time to list the key things that will make your content marketing efforts worthwhile – and indeed can be applied to your marketing in general.
- Get in the heads of your audience. Who are they? What questions are they asking about your product or service? What reservations do they have? What excites them? Forget about trying to sell to them. Forget about promoting yourself. Think about how you can come alongside them and help and inspire them.
- Focus on what you do best, and better. When you’re excellent at what you do, your passion and knowledge will come through and that itself will be inspiring. Also ensure there’s a connection between what you do and what your content is about.
- Ask why you want to do this. What are you currently missing out on by not getting involved in content marketing? What gap will it fill in your current marketing communications mix?
- Think about what ‘good’ looks like. What outcomes are you expecting? Are they realistic?
- Look at what others in your industry are doing – and find a way to be distinctive. In some industries companies sell ready-to-publish articles. It may sound an appealing short-cut… but it’s typically quite bland stuff. And anyway, why would you want your content to be the same as everyone else’s?
- Structure your content. Consider setting up content ‘streams’ – different styles of article depending on the type and depth of information your audience needs to know at any time.
- Be clear what you’re getting into. Content needs to be produced, regularly. You either need to have people in house who will do it (who, and how often), or work with an external partner to help you.
- Share your content – use it as the basis for e-newsletters, e-books, social media posts. Don’t leave it undiscovered on your website.
- Be clear how will you measure results. For one thing, get to grips with Google Analytics, if you haven’t already – it’s free, and can tell you incredible things about your site, if you know how to use it.
- Be prepared to change. The more you measure and observe results, the more you will find out what your audience actually wants to see.
Don’t settle for bland or half-hearted content efforts. Be clear and purposeful – but most of all, remember to write for your audience.