Content marketing is not easy. Sure, it sounds that way on paper — publish some content, reach out to influencers, go viral, rinse/repeat — but that’s because most people only ever see the results of a good content marketing campaign, not the creation process itself.
In reality, content marketing requires lots of coordination, time and energy investments, and solid research. Most veteran marketers have learned all about these processes the hard way, by doing it wrong the first time then making corrections.
It’s normal for beginning content marketers not to see all the little details out there or to gloss over a step in the process that doesn’t appear too important at first. Here are 10 content marketing mistakes we have seen beginners make (full disclosure: we have committed many of these ourselves in the past), and how you can avoid those same mistakes in your own efforts.
Confusing Content with Ads or Sales Copy
“I equate a lot of what I see billed as ‘content’ as the written version of an infomercial,” writes ForMeToCoupon.com CEO Rachel Honoway over at Quora. “Just because you write 8 paragraphs describing how your product meets all of the needs you identify doesn’t make it ‘content.’”
The content you create is not an advertisement for your company, or your product, or your service. Content is merely an expression of ideas and values relevant to both your business and your customers.
“The content that consumers are going to find most valuable is the kind that they are already looking for,” Honoway says.
Not Having Clear Goals or a Clear Strategy
Canadian/Estonian digital agency WSI published an on-point whitepaper in May about some common content marketing pitfalls businesses face, and the fourth pitfall mentioned needs to be underscored.
So often, beginner content marketers just hope they can crank out blog posts here and there, and all will be good.
“It’s a nice idea to think that you’ll be able to churn out excellent content with all that spare time that usually crops up during the workweek, but…no. It won’t happen. It never happens because seriously, who has extra time during their workweek? Plus, good content — the kind that rises to the top and actually gets read — isn’t easy to create. You don’t just whip that kind of content up out of thin air.”
As WSI noted in the whitepaper, this fallacy belies more than just laziness or naiveté — it indicates that the marketer lacks a solid value proposition for his or her content.
“Once [you] have a real USP, consult your customer personas and begin to think about how each of your customer groups views your USP in relation to their pain points. Once you’ve got a general idea about the kinds of questions your customers are asking, you can start to create targeted content that seeks to provide helpful, insightful answers to these questions.”
By the way, you are creating buyer personas, right?
Fudging the Buyer Persona Research
The buyer personas you develop as a content marketer inform all of your marketing activity. These personas allow you to anticipate and meet the needs of your audience. The problem is this step takes a lot of work, and many beginner content marketers try to cut as many corners as possible here.
“Creating a comprehensive buyer persona can be an exhausting process,” writes Shannon Good, marketing consultant at Savvy Panda. “To get a really great picture of who your persona is, you should be conducting interviews, gathering insight from your sales team, and listening on social media, among a plethora of other information grabbing tactics.”
When workloads get overwhelming, it’s tempting to fill in details on the buyer persona as if you were playing a big game of Mad Libs. Doing so, however, lays an unstable foundation for your content marketing activities.
At its most basic level, buyer personas are a model for getting inside the minds of your customers and understanding what their journey with your company will look like to them. Typically, a buyer will have multiple points of interaction before actually making a purchase, and his or her needs will be different as that journey develops. Therefore, content has to anticipate and appeal to those circumstantial needs.
Without informed buyer personas, you are just throwing things at a wall to see what sticks.
Trying to Go Cheap on the Writing
Freelancer platform Contently emerged in 2014 as one of the biggest advocates for professional writers and content creators, and writer Debra Donston-Miller summed up why nicely in a September blog post.
“As brands rush to publish blog posts, videos, white papers, news articles, feature stories, and other types of content to build relationships with consumers, they’re often outsourcing the actual creation of content. What they are finding is that they can choose to pay either a lot or a little for content, but going the latter route often costs far more in the end.”
Those costs, she pointed out, include time spent on editing and hits to brand reputations when subpar copy goes up. Perhaps, though, it might be more useful to think of writing as an investment rather than a cost.
“After all, content marketing is all about getting people to read what’s been written,” Donston-Miller wrote. “And good content marketing gets your organization’s message across without hitting people over the head with it. It’s a fine line — one that takes a good writer to balance.”
Confusing Relevant and Interesting
There are some blurred lines between relevant content and interesting content, and it’s easy for veteran marketers to confuse one for the other.
Traditionally, we define relevant content as something targeting a user’s particular needs at the moment. Interesting content is simply interesting regardless of the surrounding circumstances.
It’s best to illustrate this: Say you have a business that sells pasta makers, and you are putting an extra focus on your content marketing. What would be the better blog post for your potential customers, a collection of delicious pasta recipes or a roundup of the 10 most beautiful towns in Tuscany?
Well, it depends.
Conventional wisdom might suggest to go with the recipes post because that content is relevant — your potential customers would be buying your pasta maker to make pasta dishes for themselves and others, right?
That said, a bunch of gorgeous photos of the Tuscan countryside (i.e. interesting content) might reinforce the aspirational motives behind buying a pasta machine in the first place.
Rich Ullman at OutBrain, the company responsible for all those promoted links at the bottom of articles on sites such as ESPN.com, presented research in September that indicated unrelated content gets higher click-through rates.
“We compared the click through rates (CTR) on golf content from over 80 referring categories against a baseline,” Ullman wrote on the OutBrain blog. “A selection of them is what you see in the chart below. And at the top is a completely expected content category: Small Business. It’s six and a half times more likely than average to generate clicks to golf content.”
So, which post should our hypothetical pasta maker business publish? We would say go with both and see which one performs better. The data from that test will be useful in informing future editorial strategies.
Not Performing Keyword Research
Keyword research is much more cut-and-dried than debates over relevant vs. interesting. Simply put, you need to know what keywords your audience searches for, and you need to structure your content so that web crawlers can recognize immediately that you are participating in the conversations around those specific keywords.
This doesn’t mean stuffing your content with those same keywords. That worked in 2006, but it won’t fly these days. Instead, it’s about incorporating SEO best practices into the high-quality content you are creating.
As is often the case, Neil Patel at QuickSprout has put together the best guide available for outranking competitors for keywords. There are really just two steps involved: Find your competitors’ keywords (Neil shows you step by step, with screenshots, how exactly to do this), then create significantly better content than them.
“It isn’t very difficult to outrank your competition and generate more search traffic than they do,” he wrote. “All you have to do is follow the steps [in the post] … . Once you do that, make sure you focus on writing and promoting high quality content. It works so well that by following my own advice, I have been able to increase Quick Sprout’s search traffic by 74%.”
Not Creating an Editorial Calendar
Inconsistency has been the death of so many marketing efforts. Twitter alone is strewn with company accounts that were last active in 2011.
If you have a clear value proposition and messages you want to share, put a schedule in writing. This is important for holding you accountable for your efforts, but it also forces you to come up with creative topics rather than just reacting to stuff going on in your market.
Seattle marketing agency Heinz Marketing has a classic post from 2012 that touches on why that is.
“Creating opportunistic content — based on something that just happened in your industry — is always a good idea. But if that’s all you ever do, you’re missing an opportunity to drive specific themes and depth against topics your customers are particularly attracted to. What events are coming up in the next several months for your customers? What themes might be important to ‘own’ in their minds over time?
“Build a strong content plan and editorial calendar to start with. You won’t always stick with it, but it’ll make more of your content more valuable and sticky.”
Failing to Invest Enough Energy in Promotion
It is a convenient delusion to think you just have to write something incredible, post it on Twitter, and it will just find its way into the internet’s fast lane toward virality. That, unfortunately, is not how content promotion works.
Matthew Gratt at Convince & Convert has a useful breakdown of how to promote content across different media, and he starts by pointing out that content marketers typically have access to three media: Owned, earned and paid media.
Owned media are things such as blogs and other publishing platforms you own yourself. Paid media include promoted posts and ads you buy. Earned media is all the real estate your content occupies largely through digital word-of-mouth sharing; think Reddit posts with 5,000 upvotes or a retweet from an influencer in your niche.
Or, if you want to thank of the dynamics in another way, owned media are the ones you are building follower by follower, earned media are the way you amplify your content, and earned media — once you get there — are the rocket fuel.
“In the past, these media types were deeply siloed. Now, they effortlessly flow into one another, where paid promotion of owned media can lead to massive earned media wins, and paid and owned media can amplify earned media and give something with credibility incredible reach,” Gratt writes.
“In a perfect world, your owned and paid media touch off a tornado of earned media, creating that ‘echo chamber effect’ where your content (and thus your brand) appears to be everywhere.”
Not Moving the Conversation to Social Platforms
If you have one big, owned media such as a blog, it’s very easy to turn that thing into an ivory tower, shouting your message down from the top. That’s how news media worked throughout most of the 20th Century, after all.
But if you have an audience that wants to engage with you and write back, they will do so on whichever platform is most convenient for them. That’s probably not the comments section of your blog. Instead, it will probably be as a Facebook message or a Tweet.
Think of this as an opportunity to have a conversation, like when a stranger approaches you at a party. After all, it’s why social media exist in the first place.
Marketing software company Act-On explains in a whitepaper why meeting your audience on a social platform is necessary and congruent with human behavior:
“Creating content isn’t enough. To really accelerate your audience and impact, you must devote time to responding, commenting, engaging questions and so on. If you’re just a one-way communication channel, even with good content, your prospects will go elsewhere for the interaction they crave.”
Giving Up Too Soon
Finally, don’t get discouraged if your content isn’t trending on Twitter after two months. There are many applicable cliches here: Rome wasn’t built in a day; it’s a marathon, not a sprint; etc. All marketing efforts first hit what Seth Godin has named “the dip.”
Paul Friend, director of marketing and product management at English marketing consultancy Friendly Consultancy, explains why content marketers need to stick it out during this early dip period.
“Many make the mistake in thinking content marketing is a short term solution. Content marketing is a long term investment. It is very rare that a single post will provide immediate returns. It takes time to grow your online community and for your content to appear in the top page in SERPs. The key is to not give up before you content has had time to mature.”