The Problem with Content & How We Fix It
A few months ago, Mark Traphagen wrote a post on Search Engine Land that really stood out to me. The post, “Social media in 2018: Time to grow up or get out” is based on the premise that social media needs to take the next step toward becoming a legitimate channel. A channel with real strategies, without shortcuts, and more importantly, a channel that is responsible for sales and revenue.
As I read the article, it got me thinking about where we are with content marketing. After all, for years we’ve been told things like content is king, content is queen, or content is everything. If that’s the case, then why do we see stats like this:
Let’s be real. Part of the problem is that while content is certainly everywhere, and in everything we do, it’s treated as its own separate channel. Content has to be a cohesive part of the overall marketing strategy and more importantly, we have to do a better job of measuring its value.
Just like social media, it’s time for content to grow up.
How do we do that exactly? In my opinion, it comes down to three things:
- Accountability. If we want to grow up, if we want to be seen as invaluable, as a core part of the strategy, or even to get paid more, our work has to be tied to results.
- Integration. The result of siloed content is inconsistent messaging, missed opportunities, and unfortunately, lost sales. We have to integrate our channels.
- Goals & Strategy. Your content must have a goal. In every other thing we do, whether it’s SEO, paid search, email, we have a goal. To be “successful”, you need to know what you are actually trying to do.
As content marketers, it’s time to admit to ourselves that we have some work to do and in order to take it to the next level, we need to focus on these three things.
1. Goals & Strategy
Goals are the most important part of your content marketing program and to understand our goals, we have to answer some simple questions:
What are you creating content for?
I gave a presentation last month on identifying gaps in your content. The entire premise was that as marketers, we can’t just be spending time creating content. We need to find where our content is lacking to ensure we are creating the right content for our audience.
What’s interesting as when I was doing the research, I kept coming back to the customer experience. What is it our customers want?
Your customers want you to help them and if you do, if you give them the information they need, they are more likely to purchase from you. As content marketers, we have the ability to do just that. We can give our customers the information they want!
So, what is it that our customers actually want? It turns out, finding that information isn’t that hard. Tools like BuzzSumo Question Analyzer, Answer the Public, KeywordTool.io, and Keyworddit can be immensely helpful. Each of these tools will give you the questions people are asking about a specific topic. The questions your audience is asking.
Additionally, we have things like site search, support forums, and live chat logs to tell us what people are asking on our site. We have real-time information from our audience and we need to make sure we are using it to create the content they need.
What Content Should I Be Creating? Where Do I Use My Time?
If the goal is to help our audience and turn them into customers, then we have to focus on creating content they actually want. The problem is, we don’t have the time to create everything we need. We have to prioritize our time and we have to prioritize building content that is going to help us achieve our goals.
Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done and it can be easy to make a mistake. Here’s an example:
We had been creating content for Client A for several years. Their organic traffic had grown by the tens of thousands and they were in the top position for the majority of their most sought-after keywords. Unfortunately, while traffic increased immensely, leads did not and the executive team wasn’t psyched. We had to change our content goals and change them fast. How could we adjust our strategy to grow leads using existing time and resources?
The answer to this isn’t simple but we started by breaking down the content to determine what was driving leads versus what was driving traffic. It turned out, we had a ton of top of the funnel traffic but in focusing on growing visibility vs. leads, we neglected to create end of funnel content. Even worse, we essentially had no content for existing customers.
By understanding this, we did two things – updated our keyword strategy to target end of the funnel terms and modified our content strategy to focus on lead-based content. Budgets didn’t increase, time spent didn’t increase, but leads did.
As content marketers, our content must have a goal and that goal needs to fit into the goals of the organization. Which takes us to the next part.
A few years back, Dana DiTomaso gave a presentation at SearchLove and in it, she talked about Geico. She noted that while they have hilarious commercials and a great brand, their PPC ads and organic listings were completely the opposite. There was no brand continuity. It’s always stood out to me because it seems so simple and yet is such a direct reflection of that separation between departments.
Integration is hard. Teams work in different departments, report to different managers, or in other cases, use separate agencies for different things and never connect them together. But we have to try.
How do we make this happen?
We have to become more engrained in the organization, we have to ask questions, and we have to make sure we understand the goals of the other teams.
With so many things happening across an organization, it’s impossible to be involved in everything. In fact, you shouldn’t be involved in everything. However, you should be involved in the things that matter to the business (remember what we just talked about?).
When we are doing editorial planning, we look at events (webinars, tradeshows, interviews, etc), identify campaign themes across channels, and most importantly, we talk to internal subject matter experts (SMEs) for content interviews. You’d be amazed at what stakeholders tell you that you might not have gotten otherwise.
By asking these questions and working with various teams to build content across the organization, you can ensure content is aligned with the business objectives and help build a consistent brand.
Understand the Sell
At the TechSEOBoost event last fall, there was a panel and this was one of my absolute favorite quotes:
Essentially, a developer sat on stage and told SEOs to stop being so annoying. Which was hilarious. But it’s also so important.
One of the biggest challenges we face as SEOs and content marketers is we are often reliant on other people to get our jobs done. At the end of the day, we have to remember they have their own jobs with their own goals and it’s our job to not only understand those goals but to be clear in how working together will help achieve them.
Stay in Your Lane
A few years ago, I was asking a client’s PR team about byline opportunities. We had sent them a list of publications and their response was that they owned everything on the list and we were not to pursue any of them. Did they have the time to do that? Of course not.
But I get it and it forced me to really think about how we work with other departments and agencies. Now, when working with any team, specifically in the PR space, we make it very clear our goal is to avoid overlap, supplement their work, and support their goals.
Whether we are working with a communications team, another agency, or internal stakeholders, the key is communication and process. Figure out a way to help each other.
By doing each of these things, we can show results, build additional visibility across the organization, and it helps us gain accountability.
For content marketing to take that next step, to grow up, we have to be accountable. Specifically, we have to be accountable to revenue. The inability to measure content or prove ROI isn’t going to cut it. How can we get better?
Track All the Things
We live in an age where technology can essentially track everything we do (I’m looking at you Facebook and Google). While it may be creepy, from a pure marketing standpoint, it’s awesome!
Make sure you are tracking your content. Add UTM codes, tracking parameters, ensure goals are set up…whatever you do, track your efforts.
Focus on the Impact
Use your time to focus on things that can make real gains. If a client isn’t publishing your content or doesn’t have the resources to implement a change, figure out what else you can do. Figure out how else you can make an impact.
One of the strategies we’ve really pushed over the past few years is updating existing pieces of content. By updating pieces of content that are still relevant and have some visibility, we’ve been able to grow traffic in a way that doesn’t rely on an hour of review or approval.
At the end of the day, regardless of what can or can’t get done, you are responsible for driving results.
Stop Creating Content for the Sake of Creating Content
There isn’t a ton to say here but if you are being told that you need to create a certain number of assets each day/week/month…ask why. Use your data to show what is and isn’t working and help the team focus on creating things that matter.
And in the End…
Growing up is hard but if content marketing wants a seat at the table, if content marketers want more respect and increased budgets, we have to make some changes.
What’s cool though is our roles are evolving and they are evolving into a position that understands data and knows how to use that data to make decisions that have real business benefits. Content marketers have the opportunity to have a real impact on businesses, a real impact on people, and an opportunity to become an invaluable part of every organization.
Let’s make it happen.
Get Casie’s full presentation here and see how KoMarketing can help you kick-start your content marketing efforts!