Recent research reports all indicate that marketers are struggling with a number of elements around content marketing.
Many are spouting the old “Content is King!” adage but a large number are stalling when it comes to measuring results or understanding what is working and what is not.
The reasons for this confusion become very clear when we dig below the surface of a number of content marketing strategies.
So many of the fundamentals are missing that many brands are wasting their time and money.
Successful content strategy is not just about publishing blog posts. The requirements are a lot more complex than that so I have put together an overview of the most common mistakes I come across when reviewing and auditing websites.
Here are my top 8 content marketing mistakes in no particular order:
1. Publishing is not frequent enough
You have a company blog and you have committed to creating and publishing content on a regular basis. All runs well for the first few months and then everyone who has signed on to write gets busy.
And one of the first things that gets left behind is the blog writing.
Your site drops from a couple of posts a week to maybe a monthly post and then you realize further down the track that no one has published for a couple of months.
Freshness and frequency are big ranking signals for Google (and let’s face it Google has more than 90% market share in New Zealand and Australia for search).
All of the momentum in content visibility that your early enthusiasm gained is slowly slipping away.
If we look at the potential of regular posting with my SEO hat on (and of course assuming the content is relevant and good quality), let’s say you have committed to just two 500 word posts per week.
That’s 4,000 keyword focused words a month and 8 new pages on your website.
Yes, that’s 48,000 keyword relevant words in your first year and 96 new pages on your site
Now take a look at your main competitors.
Can they compete with this amount of value?
2. You are not delivering value
This one involves quite a major shift in mindset.
Not that long ago business talked about protecting IP. Business ensured that their methodologies or practices were kept away from any public forum out of a fear that competitors would use the information and take a slice of the pie.
Non-disclosure agreements anyone?
Well, the game has changed and those who understand how the new socially motivated consumer and business operates, are giving value on a consistent basis. Look at any of the major tech based startups in the past few years and see how much value they are sharing.
Step by step tutorials, cheat-sheets, free templates, white papers, training through webinars, free versions of browser extensions and online tools and much, much more.
This is not giving away IP. This is demonstrating leadership and is a key way businesses attract new clients/customers.
This generosity is also rewarded with high levels of social sharing and brand advocacy leading to higher presence on social platforms and in search through powerful social signals.
Look at the most prevalent model for web based tools and services.
The free version is the hook – it usually has great features that will make your management or measurement of tasks more effective.
The paid version has all the bells and whistles and this comes at a premium. This is touted as an enterprise or professional solution and due to the quality and utility of the free version it is easy to attract people to upgrade to the premium version.
Note I said attract, not sell.
Think about this when you are creating content.
3. You are talking about yourself too much
How long does it take for someone in your audience to switch off if you consistently talk about yourself, your services or your products?
About three messages would probably do it.
Do not be too self-promotional.
Online attention spans are very short and you only get to lose someone once.
Drop the sales pitch, give your audience content that is valuable, funny, engaging, surprising, memorable or is so comprehensive that it becomes a point of reference.
Remember it is not about you, it is about the person who is taking the time to read your content.
How many times do you come across content that is an overt sales letter?
Way too often I’m sure!
Do you have the urge to share a sales letter with your audience?
No, of course not.
I have seen some phenomenal pieces absolutely wrecked by a hard sell finish.
Yes, that dated “internet marketing” temptation to stuff a big monetizing call-to-action in at the end.
As soon as that Paypal button appears you can guarantee the majority of your readers will bail out.
And they will never share it.
4. Your content lacks a unique voice
How many websites do you visit where there are large blocks of text with complex technical language or overly descriptive text.
Somehow the authors have missed one of the critical elements of online communication.
And that is the development of a warm, friendly tone and a unique voice.
If people want complex explanations they will search scholarly articles or journals.
I find the easiest way to explain what I mean is this:
Imagine you are seated at a table having a coffee/glass of wine/bite to eat with someone who you know quite well.
They are interested in what you do and have some understanding of it.
If you read your content out loud does it sound like it would work naturally in this environment?
If it doesn’t, go back and work on your writing until it does.
Remember, as far as the person reading your content goes, they are the only person reading it and you are talking to them and only them.
So always address your content to “you” or “your”.
The internet can be extremely impersonal so you have to be more human than human.
5. Your content is too short
Sure, sometimes complex ideas can be communicated in just a few words. And sometimes wisdom does not need a lot of elaboration (Seth Godin springs to mind).
Sometimes a picture can be worth a thousand words.
Search engines have certain requirements in order to assign value and authority to content.
They cannot see images and optimizing images with alt tags and descriptions is not the “1000 words” solution you are looking for.
And a short post which is light on text gives the search engines very little to work with. The algorithms are becoming so sophisticated that it is no longer about keyword density. Associated language is much more important than any repetition of key phrases.
Structure is also very important – what words are used in headings and sub-headings?
How unique is the content?
Are you giving value that is above and beyond what is already published on the web?
Is your take on a topic unlike others out there?
What about Linkbait?
If you are unfamiliar with the concept of linkbait, this is how it works.
You create a definitive explanation of a particular topic. You examine and explain every possible element of the topic and you reference a range of high quality resources.
Apart from people bookmarking your content for future reference (or to complete reading it), people will link to it for a number of reasons.
- Associate themselves with high quality reference material
- As a vote – an expression of approval
- To direct their audiences to a comprehensive explanation to demonstrate a point
- To improve the authority of their own content
All of this popularity and the groundswell of links to content and the associated social sharing sends very strong signals to search engines that this is a valuable addition to the results pages.
The more this happens the higher your rank for any keyword targets and the higher your visibility. This presence in search will incrementally grow the numbers of visitors to your site.
Most Linkbait is created as long form content. If you look at the leading sites on the web “epic” or “long form” is the standard and because of the success of this strategy it is worth investing in the development of exceptional content.
If you look at recent examples of remarkable content creation you will see how seriously some companies are taking this.
Project management, creative, copywriting, research, web design, developers, data analysis all collaborate on one project to create something exceptional, link attractive and newsworthy.
This is an extremely effective way of getting more brand awareness.
6. Your social media content strategy is poor
Now that you have produced this brilliant piece you go to social media and distribute through your many social channels.
Except there are only a few dozen people following you on Twitter. And you only have a couple of hundred Facebook Likes (of whom less than 10% will see your post). LinkedIn will get the content in front of a few of your personal connections – those that actively use LinkedIn daily that is. And that Google+ page that you haven’t been able to figure out how or why just sits there doing nothing.
So you share – and nothing happens.
You wait for your post to “go viral” but instead there is a deafening silence.
No interaction, no comments, no retweets, likes or shares.
Why is that?
Social media requires a consistent and highly focused strategy.
So many companies set up a few profiles, put some stuff out on them, go away for a few days then wonder why the “incredible power of social media” is eluding them.
Building relationships is the key to social media effectiveness. And this net needs to be spread as wide as possible. It is difficult to describe yourself as a thought leading brand if few people are following you or sharing and interacting with what you are posting.
And by that I don’t mean cute pictures of kittens on Facebook to get the Like quotient up.
Again it comes down to knowing who your audience is and what you can do to give value to them.
Then you can tailor what you share to these groups.
As this sparks interaction you must have processes in place to not only respond but to nurture these new relationships (without looking like a stalker).
Generosity is one of the key stumbling blocks I find businesses continually come across.
Simply put, share other people’s stuff. But only if it’s great.
Do it often and without expectation of any reciprocity.
Champion other people more often than you share your own content (see mistake #3).
Understand what the acceptable levels of sharing and of repetition are across all channels.
Set a social schedule and use tools to ensure your hard work is reaching the most people possible.
A final thought on social media strategy is how many people are actively engaged and supportive of your social strategy from within your organization?
Does the C-suite know any of the detail of the strategy?
Do employees other than in Marketing know anything about it and are they encouraged to contribute in any way?
Is there a simple policy in place to protect both the company and the individuals who work for it?
I am growing a bit tired of seeing “thoughts are my own” as a disclaimer on social profiles.
How is this for a social media policy from a very high profile tech based company?
Use Good Judgement.
No pages of SOPs and rules, just three words and a large amount of trust and self-belief that they are hiring the right people .
7. You haven’t factored search optimisation into your efforts
This one is a huge and unfortunately very common mistake.
SEO and content marketing are essential partners as without an understanding of how search engines work your content will have almost no visibility.
Thankfully the old days of SEO being that irritating requirement to stuff irrelevant and clumsy text into your titles and body are very much gone.
SEO is all about ensuring that your website is performing as cleanly and efficiently as possible.
It is about ensuring that Google and the other search engines can easily crawl and index your content.
It is about using critical points to clearly articulate what each page or post is about.
And it is about understanding visitor behavior and structuring content in an intuitive and streamlined way.
This is just the beginning.
Technical compliance is crucial before you can even begin to publish content thanks to a number of momentous updates from Google in 2012 and into 2013.
(Sorry, brief interlude with some technical stuff)
Once you have your site technically correct (no accidental duplication, no bad links, you have reliable servers and DNS, low numbers of crawl errors, robots.txt correct, friendly URLs, no missing or incorrect length metadata) then you can optimize content for publishing.
Set up a checklist and make sure each of the points are covered.
- Install features or plugins to take care of XML sitemaps, canonical tags, author attribution, recommended reading, metadata creation.
- Use shorter keyword focused URLs
- use headings and sub-headings in H1, H2 and H3
- use a “more tag”
- reduce size of images and optimize with title, alt tag and description
- manage categories and tags
- make sure the title tag and meta description do not exceed guidelines length
Then promote through social media, email lists, newsletters, social bookmarking sites, pinging services, trade press and anywhere else people would be interested in what you are saying.
Successful content marketing does take a fairly high level of technical understanding particularly with how the web works.
Here’s a stat for you:
These are WordPress stats – WordPress.com users produce about 39.3 million new posts and 41.4 million new comments every month.
That’s one free blogging platform.
If you would like your content to be seen then you have to maximize your chances.
8. Your titles are incredibly dull
Here’s another hint about how the web works.
Titles are King – descriptions are Queen.
A very large proportion of the time all an internet user sees is your title and your description. (by description I mean your meta description)
There are some really useful posts on how to make the most of titles by following a particular formula and there are some classic posts where bloggers pull apart the really dreadful titles people use.
Here’s how it works.
You only have a couple of seconds to convince people that they cannot afford to miss taking action by clicking the link.
The title is the first point of connection.
Each tweet on Twitter is just a title and a link.
A search on Google will surface a title and a description.
A share on LinkedIn or Facebook or Google+ will present a title and a description.
Social bookmarking platforms like StumbleUpon, Delicious, Digg or Reddit will show your title and description.
So why would you waste all the hard work creating something exceptional if your title is just plain boring and is not at all compelling?
And what about those descriptions we all see that are taken from somewhere in your post and really don’t sum up why your audience should “check this out”?
These 2 areas offer a massive opportunity for marketers to convert more people into website visitors and generally they are handled very badly.
Did you know that any title tag should not exceed 65 characters including spaces?
Or that a title that is too short will be seen as an error by Google?
Did you know that a description should not exceed 155 characters including spaces?
I’m sure you have seen many titles and descriptions cut off before the message is completed with a…
This also dilutes your keyword effectiveness.
Here is my tip:
Put at least 20% of your efforts into your title and description. Make it as compelling as you possibly can.
Use your copywriting skills to really hook people in.
And deliver on the promise you are making in your title with your content!
That’s the full 8 mistakes – for now.
There are plenty more – at the end of last year I published a post on 30 reasons your content marketing strategy is failing miserably. Please check it out.
Creating content, being a publisher, connecting with audiences, building relationships are the most exciting aspects of the new super-connected world.
Being successful at this however does require a commitment to learning the art of web copy and it also requires a level of technical understanding that initially may be a bit daunting.
However, when you get it right the opportunities can be astonishing.
I would love to hear your views – mistakes I’ve missed, points you disagree or agree with or anything else content marketing related – please leave a comment.
Mike Morgan works with innovative businesses in New Zealand and Australia developing custom web marketing strategies integrating SEO, Content Marketing and Social Media Optimisation. When not in front of his screens you will probably find Mike walking on beautiful Ohope Beach with wife Midge and doberman Cooper. Follow Mike on Twitter here and Google+ here