Find out what 400,000 articles taught us about content engagement
After reading content marketing articles for a while, everything starts to sound like an echo chamber. People will tell you the same things again and again. You’ll hear trite advice like “Focus on quality not quantity” or “Don’t promote your product or brand too much”. The end result? You can easily follow advice blindly, without asking yourself if the rule applies to you.
While the most common advice does apply to most people, I thought it would be interesting to gather contrarian advice from experts. Here are 20 content marketing rules that challenge conventional notions (or just isn’t emphasized).
“You have to understand how search engines and social media works (which is how the vast majority of all business content is discovered) and know that links to your content are critically important.”
Arnie’s advice on focusing on SEO really resonated with me because we’ve been bombarded with messages on how SEO is going away. While it’s true that traditional search strategies are less effective, the majority of people still find businesses through search engines.
“We know that it is an extremely rare situation where content becomes popular or viral on its own. Maybe about as rare as winning the lottery. It can be a complicated, arduous process, but you must have a plan in place to routinely, share, promote and distribute your content. That’s how you drastically increase your odds of being discovered and having real users consume your content.” – Arnie Kuenn, CEO of Vertical Measures
We’ve all probably seen this Google Trends chart demonstrating the increasing popularity of content marketing, and the decline of link building.
So, while old-fashioned link building may be “dead”, you still need to have an outreach strategy. Think outside the box. Get a quote from an expert and link to them in your post. Or find curators who do weekly roundups such as the ones by MarketingLand. One of the most effective techniques is to reach out to influencers who have shared/linked to a post similar to the one you’re producing, as outlined here by Matthew Barby.
“When it comes down to it, for those companies that are willing to talk about the competition and other products (in a factual and accurate manner), there is a content goldmine just waiting to be discovered.”
Writing about our competition isn’t really sensible advice, so this is why Marcus’ advice struck me as contrarian. However, if executed correctly, it can establish you as the go-to authority in your industry. The keyword here is “correctly” because it’s easy to be biased and talk about the faults of your competitors, as Marcus explains:
“Be honest. Keep it real. Tell it like it is. Be willing to answer on your website the same questions you answer face to face all the time. By so doing, your brand and voice will grow. Consumers will look to you as a leader. So will the search engines. And ultimately, leads and sales will grow too.”
Marcus’ swimming pool blog is a great example of this rule. The blog compares the top brands, best/worst practices, and common challenges faced by buyers. Is it effective? You bet. He gets on average three emails a day from consumers asking him which swimming pool to choose. It’s also a search engine goldmine as some of these brands have almost no coverage outside of his blog. So someone Googling your competitor might end up seeing your post among the top results.
“The greatest media brands of our time focused on delivering amazingly consistent content through one channel – WSJ, ESPN, The Huffington Post, etc. Yet, most brands are overwhelmed with delivering as much content through as many channels as possible. Maybe they have it wrong. Maybe less is more. I think 2014 will be the year that many brands go opposite of the pack and really make an impact through one channel.”
It might sound nuts to distribute your content in just 1-2 channels, but it’s something we agree with. It’s easy to get caught up with all the platforms we have available: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Slideshare, Linkedin, YouTube, etc, but none of us have unlimited resources. Focus on one or two of them that have the highest ROI.
If you’re a B2C company that might be Facebook. If search engine traffic will be crucial, then investing your time in Google+ is a smart strategy. Of course, you don’t have to ignore the other platforms completely. You can automate your engagement in Twitter for instance by using Buffer, and use it more as a broadcasting medium, while focusing more on personal engagement in Google+.
As content marketers, we should focus on telling good stories to our audience to evoke their emotions, right? Jeff Molander, an authority on social selling disagrees.
“Good stories don’t cause sales. Engagment does not either. High levels of confidence in buyers (created by compelling blogs, videos, white papers, downloads, etc.) and clear, compelling calls to action do.”
While compelling case studies may count as storytelling, his point is that we should strive to tell stories that motivate buyers to take action, and buy your product. Not simply telling stories for the sake of telling a story.
“Your content should spend some time telling a good story AND always give customers a reason to believe that it can happen for them—that they can act on. That’s the part most people are missing.”
Neil Patel has created tons of engaging content throughout his career, whether it’s for KISSMetrics, or Quick Sprout. Yet he claims creating tools can be more effective. When Neil created a free website analyzer, the engagement rates of visitors increased across the board.
“Over the years, I’ve been expanding Quick Sprout in many ways. I have created advanced guides, released a forum and tried multiple types of blog posts. None of these things provided as high of an engagement rate as the free website analyser tool did, which shows that people perceive software to be more valuable than content.”
In a way, you can think of tools as “evergreen content on steroids”. They offer a good reason for people to continually visit your site. One of my favorite free tools out there is SocialCrawlytics, a tool that analyzes content for any domain, and shows you the most shared pages, and the most popular authors. It’s created by Yousaf of RocketMill. Although it’s free, it’s used by thousands of businesses, and probably has given RocketMill extra business as a result. Another example is SEOGadget’s suite of SEO tools, created by Richard Baxter and his team over at SEOGadget.
When a new social platform arises, our first inclination may be to immediately rush into it, hoping it’s the next Twitter or Facebook. While you may want to register your company username, it may be best to plan a strategy for marketing in that platform, says Rachel Foster, CEO and B2B Copywriter of Fresh Perspective Copywriting.
“Many marketers think that they need to use the latest social network, because everyone is talking about it. However, what really matters is whether your audience uses the network and if they would be open to receiving content from you on it. So, don’t rush into the latest social network without doing your research first”.
Most experts will say you need different content for every level in the buying cycle. This probably is good advice if there’s just a couple of steps in the cycle. But creating different content for 10 or more stages can become impractical, says John Bottom.
“Most of my work involves planning content and communications campaigns that reflect the differing behaviours of B2B buyers as they progress though the buying cycle. There is a belief that this is a straightforward path to better results. But in truth most people fail to realise how complicated it can be – and how unnecessary that complication is.
I have seen buying funnels and email nurturing plans that list up to 12 different stages. This is so over-complicated that it becomes unworkable. Most companies do not do email nurturing at all, so to suggest that they base a communications programme on this is laughable. A far better approach is to consider just three stages and to prepare content and messaging for key audiences on just these three.”
It’s easy to get caught up on creating more and more content. But all too often, we create content that fails to achieve our goals. It may get a ton of pageviews, even shares and comments, but it contributes very little to the bottom line.
“In general, there’s way too much emphasis on content creation these days. As a result, we’re up to our eyeballs in content that is over promoted and underwhelming. Content may indeed be king, but unless marketers connect content to SEO goals, conversion goals, retention goals, branding goals, etc., the whole castle will collapse. So I would start by figuring out what exactly you want to accomplish and the value of accomplishing it. Then, work backwards to figure out what types of content you need and how much of it you can afford. “
Brad’s advice sounds like hearsay to people used to hearing “Content is king!”. But for some businesses, especially local businesses, creating more content can be a waste of time. That time can be better used investing in Adwords or local advertising.
There’s a certain obsession with driving as many pageviews, or shares to a content. For instance, during the Super Bowl last year, when Oreo tweeted “You can dunk in the dark”, many in the content marketing industry cited that as a prime example of timely, engaging content. But nobody ever stopped and asked whether that really helped the bottom line of Oreo. (Personally, I ate Oreos once every 2 months in the past, but none in the past year, but that may just be me). Brian Honigman, a content marketing consultant drives home the importance on focusing on the metrics that really matter:
“Many marketers today still think creating content for the sake of developing content is enough to get by. In actuality, they are wasting their time and not impacting their business if the content created for your business doesn’t tie back to your core beliefs, your customers and the interest graph the makes up your brand’s positioning.
An example of this in action is when Jaguar recently released a cat video on YouTube about the holiday season that encouraged customers to come test drive their cars. The video tried to connect the virality of cat videos on YouTube to their core offerings, but this content lacked a true connection to their luxury brand and therefore, was just a video that got 100,000 views and that’s where it ended.
Creating content for the sake of creating content is counterintuitive because all your marketing efforts should have goals that can be measured to prove they provide an ROI. When you create content haphazardly, there is no way to attribute its success for your business. Yes, engagement is important across social media but if these views, likes or tweets aren’t tied to a larger goal then they are simply face value interactions that don’t drive much for your business other than small and momentary blip on the radar of consumers.”
Should your best content ideas come from up top? Ahava Leibtag, of Aha Media Group doesn’t think so.
“I’m not sure it’s counterintuitive, but there’s this feeling that information should come from executives—that we should look above us for the great ideas. But actually, the great ideas for content marketing usually come from the front lines. They come from the people that are answering people’s questions, and selling to them directly and responding to their complaints. When you ask your front line people for information, your content marketing comes alive because it’s based on live people with real concerns, questions and comments.”
The idea that you don’t need to pump out lots of content keeps recurring. Colleen, Principal of Content Science shares the same sentiment. Here’s what she had to say:
“My top counterintuitive advice for content marketing is to start with a strategy–not with creating content. Why is that counterintuitive? Well, many lead generation and customer relationship platforms stress the importance of creating content. I think that well-intentioned message is easy to misinterpret as “Start by creating content.” To create the most effective content possible, you first need a strategy. Content Marketing Institute found that in 2013, the vast majority of content marketers did not have a documented content strategy. I hope that changes in 2014!
When you follow that advice, then you’ll find a second piece of counterintuitive advice is true: Less content is more. When you get strategic–in other words, plan what content your customers need and when–you’ll need to create less content than you thought. And that means your content will be easier to maintain and to optimize for the best possible performance.”
“I would say the fact that a lot of the B2B marketing purists keep preaching on how different B2B and B2C marketing are. I mean of course the buying cycles and complexity of the sale are different, but the strategies for social and content are remarkably similar, especially at the top of the funnel. The psychology behind what a person engages with is the same for both as we are ultimately marketing to people, not acronyms.
As B2B companies continue to push the boundaries of their content beyond the traditional white paper they are quickly discovering that the types of content that work for one, often work for the other. I would even go as far as saying that B2C needs the technology that B2B marketers have been using for years to better track and personalize their content.”
Chad’s advice is something that we really agree with. It really does not matter if you produce one high quality content asset a week or 100 mediocre content assets, if nobody is reading your content. Here’s a litmus test: Take a post on content marketing from Mashable, or some high profile publication that is widely shared. Do you really believe the reason that post is widely shared is because it’s the most useful, informative, insightful article? Here’s more of Chad’s thoughts:
“This year has seen dozens of “thought-leaders” chime in on the content quality versus quantity debate. The thought behind it is simple – the more research, ideation and layers of editing used to produce high-quality content cannibalizes a marketer’s ability to produce more content. What’s the right mix? Seems like a fair concern, right? According to the Content Marketing Institute, only 36% of marketers believe they’re using their content effectively.
That means 64% believe they’re not – and that’s a whole lot of campaigns. It’s likely that those campaigns represent a mix of both high quality and frequently published content. The real difference between the 64% and the 34% is audience and distribution. It’s likely that the 36% of marketers who feel they use their content effectively have an existing audience and/or a distribution strategy to include earned and/or paid media.
So, the debate shouldn’t be quantity versus quality. It should be on how many resources to dedicate to content distribution and promotion.”
Amanda Maksymiw, from Lattice Engines also shares a similar sentiment. It doesn’t matter if you follow the 80/20 rule, or the 50/50 rule. One thing is clear: you can’t spend 100% of the time creating the best content, and 0% promoting it, as Heidi Cohen emphasizes here. Here is what Amanda has to say:
“My advice is simple. Content marketing doesn’t have to be perfect. Marketers can toil away at a single piece of content for months on end but if the content isn’t being viewed, shared or consumed, it’s lost its value.It is better to focus on creating something that is good enough to deliver value and get it in the hands of your audience for feedback. “
Buffer, the social scheduling app is used by almost every social media marketer. How did they get so popular? Through content marketing, specifically writing about broad interesting topics, as explained by Belle Beth Cooper, co-founder of Hello Code and Content Crafter at Buffer (one of our favorite social media marketing apps).
“My tip would be not to discount the benefits of branching out into broad topics. That’s something that’s worked really well at Buffer, and if you’re using content marketing the way Rand Fishkin at Moz suggests you should (to build familiarity and trust, rather than conversions), broad topics are the way to go.”
We think this is sound advice, but may be applicable in certain businesses. For a product like Buffer, social scheduling is used in a variety of industries: from marketing to fashion. So it makes sense that they create content that would appeal to a broad audience.
This might be a bit similar to what Joe mentioned earlier (focus on one distribution channel), but Tessa Wegert adds her own spin to it:
“Content marketing has received a ton of attention this year, in part because there’s so much of it being produced. Our instinct might be to deliver as much branded content as possible, because consumers are eager to be engaged and entertained, but I think it’s in a brand’s best interest to keep these kinds of campaigns in check. Trying to capitalize on every possible opportunity by producing countless videos, GIFs, infographics, and Tumblr pages can actually dilute a brand’s image.
It’s better to focus on the marketing channels that make the most sense, devise a strategy for ongoing content development, and put your energy into making that content as good as it can be. Just as brands can’t be all things to all people, few truly benefit from being everywhere online. ”
Margot also shares the same sentiment as Joe and Tessa above in regards to focusing on just a few distribution platforms. Sometimes when we hear statistics on how 100 million people are on Pinterest, or Instagram, we immediately jump to the conclusion that those are 100 million potential customers or visitors to your business. But that’s not the case of course. Many of those platforms are even working hard to ensure you don’t get that much free exposure, such as Facebook.
“Content marketing has received a ton of attention this year, in part because there’s so much of it being produced. Our instinct might be to deliver as much branded content as possible, because consumers are eager to be engaged and entertained, but I think it’s in a brand’s best interest to keep these kinds of campaigns in check.
Trying to capitalize on every possible opportunity by producing countless videos, GIFs, infographics, and Tumblr pages can actually dilute a brand’s image. It’s better to focus on the marketing channels that make the most sense, devise a strategy for ongoing content development, and put your energy into making that content as good as it can be. Just as brands can’t be all things to all people, few truly benefit from being everywhere online. ”
Should you pay attention to conventional grammar rules when writing content? Scott Abel from The Content Wrangler doesn’t think so.
“Old school grammar rules are often at odds with the world in which we find ourselves today. Creative Writing and Language Arts rules don’t work well in a world in which Language Science rules (think search engine optimization) are needed. So, I ignore many of the “rules” we were taught in grade school grammar classes (to the horror of my wordsmith friends) like “Never use the same word two or three times in the first couple of paragraphs.” The irony here is that this “rule” (if you can call it that) is ambiguous (two or three times in the first so many paragraphs?) and it introduces even more ambiguity in situations where the exact word is not only appropriate, but necessary for comprehension and findability.
The best advice is to write in clear, concise, and specific (not ambiguous) prose. Don’t reach for the thesaurus. Synonyms are evil remnants of days gone by and are almost always unnecessary.”
While some of these rules may not be that contrarian, or may not apply to you, the key takeaway is that you should always ask whether certain strategies apply to your business. Do you have any contrarian rules to add to this list? Share one of them in the comments below. I will tweet a free Starbucks gift card to the best comment after five days.
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