Lessons Learned: 6 Years of Content Marketing
In this post, I talked about meeting with Joe Pulizzi in 2009, being inspired, and shortly thereafter beginning our content marketing adventure. It has been one heck of a ride. We often joke at the office about being on a roller coaster ride. Lots of ups and downs. Lots of thrills and scary moments. But mostly lots of fun.
I was going to write my own post about what we have been through over the past six years. I started by asking some of our team what they had experienced. The next thing I knew I was getting some amazing feedback. Feedback that could only come from the team that had been there, done that. Below are their responses to me. (This in itself is what I love about this company and content marketing. These people jumped right in and wrote something for me. It’s just in our DNA now.)
- Creating a habit: you’ve got to be consistent with your content creation. And the only way to be consistent (with anything) is to build a habit. Start small, be disciplined, find a routine – and get after it.
- It’s not about you: it’s so easy to get tangled in the spiral of talking about you, your company, or your services. Even with the best intentions, it doesn’t matter – you need to get into the mindset of the customer and think about what they really need.
- Publish the damn thing already: you can sit and re-write sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph. It can be agonizing but in most cases these small tweaks take up too much time and they don’t have a material impact on getting your point across. So publish it. If someone points something out like a typo, a grammatical error or even an inaccuracy – go back and change it. It’s the beauty of digital publishing!
Well I can say from an SEO perspective is that proper SEO can both complement and enhance content like blog posts and articles. Things like H1 tags, image alt text, proper linking and even H2 tags can help format and organize article content as well boost its potential. I know it seems like a basic thing but even these days publishers forget about those basics.
People won’t remember what you say, but they will remember how you make them feel.
This lesson applies to life and to content marketing. In all likelihood, the individual words and phrases in your content aren’t going to be memorable to your customers or prospects. What will have a lasting impression is the overall feeling and perception they had of you as a source of information. Did your content:
- Make them feel valued, so they felt like someone understood their pain points?
- Teach them something new, appealing to their desire to learn?
- Provide clarity on a confusing topic?
- Solve their problem, so they felt relieved or accomplished?
- Make them laugh?
These kinds of short-term results will yield long-term benefits for you as a business.
Lesson: Stop perfecting and start connecting.
We all want to publish our best work on our websites. We spend time word-smithing our content trying to make it the best possible. If you find you are constantly tweaking your blog posts and really never finishing them, you need to learn this maxim, “Done is better than perfect.” Remember, Google can’t index the content on your computer. It needs to be published for searchers to find it.
The maxim is actually a quote from by Sheryl Sandberg from her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t want to publish crappy content but there is a trade off on the time it takes to publish and good to great quality. You want it to be done and done well but it doesn’t need to be perfect.
You can always go back and tweak the content after it’s published. But, do publish it. Get it done.
Once it’s published you can start connecting with your audience. Make sure to promote your content in your social media channels and if appropriate distribute your content on heavily trafficked sites like Slideshare.net and Linkedin.
- Your content footprint matters. Content marketing doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be strategic and fill an underserved need. Certain clients of ours have a high volume of content that is correctly optimized and these sites gain tremendous traffic and momentum over time. However we also have clients that spend weeks or months debating subtle edits, grammar revisions and make other endless revisions and in the end they only produce a few pages of content. For them, this equates to a very small footprint in Google and it doesn’t move the needle upwards for such clients.
- Frequent content matters. There’s a stat floating around that says sites that blog once per week get 400%+ more traffic. I was presenting this at Local First Arizona last year in front of a group of 100+ people and a salon owner stood up and said this happened to her salon site traffic. She started blogging approximately once per week and got her staff involved. In a little over 4 months, her traffic increased 450%.
- People are starving for good content. A well-known movie producer once said “people are starving for a good story and this is what makes a good movie.” It’s the same with good content. People are generally dissatisfied with content they see on a day-to-day basis and this presents a virtually unlimited opportunity to produce better content in almost every industry.
- Find out where the client plans on putting new content. Do they have a blog or plan to create one? Or do they have a resource center or plan to create one?
- What is the approval process for the content before it goes on the site? If you produce time-sensitive content you need to know the lead time for it.
- Both the agency and the client need to create and truly understand the onboarding process.
- Just because the content is written, doesn’t mean it’s done. Consistent publishing of content is key. If we don’t have control over when content is published for our clients, then we have to have a solid plan in place with them on how and when they plan on publishing content. Help them figure that part out as it’s just as important as all the steps that come before it.
- Writing topics for search intent. Just because a title is sexy, doesn’t mean people will find it.
- Continue to educate on the content marketing philosophy throughout the process. Content Marketing requires a lot of steps and work behind those steps. It’s important to remind clients of the content marketing model along the way. Explain the why so it continues to stay a priority. Because content marketing ROI does take time, it can lead to frustration and impatience. But sticking to the plan will end up in positive return on investment.
- A client will never see any content marketing success unless they adopt a holistic approach to helping, instead of selling. (Top level buy-in is crucial).
- Great content is valuable to the audience. It should answer questions and work to educate them into making an informed buying decision.
- Creating a robust strategy and setting realistic goals/expectation upfront is one of the most important steps toward content marketing success.
BONUS: Content Marketing really does work. For any industry.
- Done is Better than Perfect. It’s easy to get hyper focused on perfecting each piece of content. The truth is that it’s the sum of your content that matters. Rarely will one article be a rockstar — instead it will be your entire content library that lifts up the organic value of your site and attracts customers. Consistent implementation will (almost always) yield more effective results. Just make sure you follow content marketing best practices, like optimizing for search or writing for your audience. Hit that publish button as often as you can and focus on the big picture: getting content in front of potential customers.
- Focus on Your Customer’s Needs, Not Your Brand Needs. Brands can have a hard time letting go of control and I totally get it — content is deeply associated with a brand and its image. But, content should first be created to serve current and potential customers. When brands are authentically dedicated to meeting their audience needs with content — even if that means answering tough questions, eliminating the industry or technical jargon, or expanding into new topics and content formats — they are rewarded with loyal readers, leads, and new revenue.
- Don’t Underestimate the Importance of a Written Strategy. Strategy is a word that can sound like money flushing down the drain for most businesses. In reality, strategies give brands a clear purpose, consistent guidelines, and context for measuring results. In order to make sure you get that ROI from your content, businesses should always answer each of these six questions in at least one sentence — and then you’ll have a documented content strategy and you can get going with production!
Quick Start Content Strategy
- Business Goals: Why are you creating content? EX: Drive leads, create a stronger industry digital presence
- Content Goals: What do you want the content do? EX: Educate and engage
- Audience: Who will your content speak to? Know their age range, 3-4 common questions they ask, top concerns/obstacles to conversion
- Competitors: What are you competitors doing online, what opportunities exist online where nobody else is playing, is your existing space crowded with content?
- Format: What are the formats you can actually create? (Avoid aspirational formats in a basic strategy)
- Distribution: Where will the content live and how will it be shared? EX: Website, social media, email
- Resources: Who will produce and publish you content? What is your 60-day budget for content? EX: Internal resource will write content. Budget is $500 month for FB promotion.
- Objective: Set one realistic milestone for your content for the first 60-days. EX: publish a hub piece of content to collect leads.
So simple, but well said: DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT.
- Working in Account Management when first launching content marketing as a service, I found out quickly how important it is allow a team to generate ideas, feel ownership and passion around a central theme vs. client mandated topics. Don’t get me wrong, these can still be the right thing to do as clients have amazing perspective on their brand. But from the perspective of getting quality content produced: the team should own, live and breathe that idea for the magic to happen. In life in general, good things are produced when you align with what you’re doing and find the passion.
- Your work is never done in content marketing. A content piece can live on for months, years or even decades. Keeping up on how your content is performing, making slight tweaks, repurposing, refreshing – all these things are needed to maintain what you’ve published. Finding ways to change calls to action or adding a conversion (or even micro-conversions) will help you squeeze every ounce of value out of an already published piece. By not doing so you’re leaving valuable money on the table!
Just because content marketing is a buzz word in our industry, and businesses seem to be jumping on board left and right, this doesn’t mean that everyone knows about content marketing. Plus, not everyone knows how to do content marketing right. I think it’s an important lesson for people within the content marketing world to bridge the gap of understanding that still exists within businesses that follow traditional marketing models and find a way to communicate that facilitates understanding, not overwhelm.
When out and about at conferences, I’m still amazed at how many light bulbs go off with things that seem so simple to me. But I have to remind myself that we’re all at different levels of understanding and content marketing—while not new to me—is still relatively new to many people in the grand scheme of things. We can’t just assume that everyone ‘gets’ content marketing or even understands why it’s important. Let’s all be a little less holier-than-though about content marketing and bring it to a level where everyone, regardless of experience, can understand its power to transform their business. After all, that’s the content marketing way – teach, educate, and help.
My Personal Thoughts?
Without any doubt, it appears the number one lesson learned over the past six years at Vertical Measures is getting the content published – even if it isn’t perfect. I know this is something many agencies struggle with – getting the content through the approval process and live on the client’s website.
But I will add one more critical lesson learned. You must focus on publishing the right types of content. I have taught more than 2500 people in face-to-face content marketing workshops, I’ve done webinars, I have written numerous blog posts, and two books on content marketing. I always emphasize the difference between successful content and content that fails, boils down to this: are people searching for the title of your content? If not, you better have a marketing budget to promote it. It’s that simple.
I even created this video explaining the exact types of content you should create and how to come up with hundreds of content ideas – for any business. I understand some of you are well beyond this, and are producing all sorts of valuable engaging content. But for those of you who would say you have yet to achieve success with content marketing, please give the video a watch. It might just change everything for your business.
Make Content Marketing Work for You
Take these lessons and apply them to your own organization with our 8 Step Process for content marketing. Explore 290 pages of real world insights and case studies in our free book, Content Marketing Works.
About Arnie Kuenn
Arnie Kuenn is an internationally recognized SEO and Content Marketing expert, speaker and author. His latest book is Content Marketing Works: 8 Steps to Transform your Business. In 2006, Arnie founded Vertical Measures, a highly respected PPC, SEO and Content Marketing agency. He is on Twitter at @ArnieK +Arnie Kuenn