The world of content marketing is full of more horse hooey than an Alberta barn.
Like other great lies, many of these half-truths and misleading ideas sound pleasant to the ears and come packaged as good advice from influential people. How many of these popular lies have you fallen victim to?
1. “Your best work should only be published on your own blog.”
It’s not so much an outright lie as an irritating half-truth – but the damage comes with what businesses do with it. The thought behind this is well-intended: Your content should live on your own site where people will associate it with your brand and your website can reap the benefits of the links, traffic and social sharing brought on by your content’s magnificence.
What on earth could be wrong with that?
Nothing, if you’ve already got an audience. But most businesses don’t. What usually happens is that they publish a shining nugget of gold that then sits on their website collecting dust. Now to be fair, the company should promote the piece as much as they can, trying to capture that coveted earned media.
In reality, for newcomers with no reputation and few resources to call upon (like most small businesses I know), it can be incredibly hard to try and catch people’s ear.
Why not cheat a little?
Question: Why did Mike King publish his 12,000 word opus on persona building to Moz.com and not ipullrank.com?
I know Mike is a benevolent guy, but there’s more to this story than “one for the people”. Even though Mike’s got a reach of thousands (17,000+ Twitter followers alone), he still understands the value of leveraging someone else’s audience – and Moz has an audience 16 times that of his.
For businesses in the “Awareness Building” stage and anyone trying to expand their communities beyond their immediate circles, publishing your best work to an influential hub means standing on the shoulders of giants. No, you won’t earn the links and shares – but there’s a completely unique set of benefits available:
You leech on to their audience and reputation, opening doors to make some of that audience your own. You also leech their site’s authority. It’s like duct taping your pistol to a bazooka. If your website doesn’t have much in the way of authority, a high ranking post on someone else’s website is the next best thing to ranking yourself – and much better than not ranking at all.
Smart guys like AJ Kohn will be quick to point out that the audience may associate that content with someone else’s brand, but that won’t be the case for 100% of the audience. (Tip: If you can’t swing a byline, reference yourself or something else you’ve written as an integral part of the piece).
Secondly, this statement falsely assumes that good ideas are rare and worth being hoarded; that if you publish your “best stuff” somewhere else, you’ll only be left with scraps for your own site. How utterly bleak.
If you hope to become a successful content brand, you had better have more than a handful of great ideas sitting around. Isn’t that sort of the point?
2. “Everyone can and should be writing content.”
Maybe an SEO/online marketer has told you “You need to be blogging for your business”, or perhaps you’ve read one of the countless blog posts out there called “Why Everyone Should Blog”. Popular arguments include:
- Your perspective is a precious, special snowflake that nobody else can communicate quite like you
- Your customers expect and want to read your thoughts, and if you deprive them there will be rioting in the streets
- Writing is becoming an essential success skill and without it you’re as obsolete as a pager
- If you don’t write, you’ll have nothing to talk about on Twitter
- You need to blog so that you can build your personal brand
Question: Should everyone learn to code? Arguably yes, coding is fast becoming an essential skill. But should everyone learning to code be building websites for people?
I don’t want to live in that world.
Here’s the ugly truth: Everyone can write, just like everyone can draw. But while some people can whip up a glorious logo for your business, others will scribble out doodles that, while unique and special, should never be shown anywhere other than your fridge.
Poor writing hurts your brand.
It soils your reputation. It makes you look incompetent. And frankly, it might be a waste of your time. If the content you create doesn’t net you new clients (or in fact turns them away), you would have been better off doing the things you’re good at in the first place. Einstein was a “treacherous speller”. Can you imagine if he had wasted his time learning to write instead of DOING SCIENCE?
But what about communication? What about sharing your ideas? What about SEO and content and personal branding and…
STOP. There are other ways.
Great public speaker? Present to audiences. Look good on camera? Do a video series. Good at speaking your mind? Start up a podcast. Still need written content? Have a writer interview you and write up a piece that captures your perspective in your own words.
Just like my coding example, everyone should learn to write and work to improve their writing. If you have the time and energy to master it, it’s a tremendous skill. But don’t make your learning a spectacle in a professional capacity; not where the stakes are so high.
3. “Great content will promote itself.”
Welcome to the Achilles heel of the content marketing movement: A complete and total inability to market content. The elevator pitch for inbound marketing is often the flawed idea that if you just build wonderful enough content, it will attract throngs of rabid, money-throwing advocates straight to your front door – all on its own!
The best inbound marketers I know don’t believe that at all, and they don’t reference the success of Buzzfeed when talking to clients who are nothing like Buzzfeed.
And when the content doesn’t take off like a rocket, you know what businesses tend to do? Assume the content was to blame and move on to the next bright idea. Yikes.
Even the best content needs to be actively promoted…
and that doesn’t mean firing off a few tweets, posting it to Facebook and hoping for the best. I wrote extensively about this in “Amplification: Content Marketing’s Missing Piece”, but in a nutshell:
- “Going Viral” is not a strategy.
- Promotion is baked in to the creation process by building refined personas, setting goals and sniffing out the pain points, questions and need-states of your audience.
- Paid, owned and earned channels need to work together to take your content to an audience outside of your echo chamber and immediate reach. That includes tapping influencers, identifying hubs, winning allies and nurturing advocates.
- Effective promotion is platform-native.
Please, stop subscribing to the “Just push publish” fallacy, unless you hate success.
4. “Content marketing and content strategy are basically the same thing.”
Want to make a content strategist angry? Call them a content marketer.
Content strategy is not just coming up with a plan for your blog or creating an editorial calendar. It’s not just the process of building a strategy for the customer-facing content you create. That’s content marketing strategy, and there’s a difference.
Content strategy is the complex job of planning, developing and managing all of an organization’s content, often both on and offline. A content strategist is concerned with the governance of every bit of content that exists and the hierarchies and information architecture that apply to that content.
Please, save a content strategist from an aneurysm – use the right words.
5. “One or two great posts will make all the difference.”
Nobody really says this out loud, but a lot of businesses and agencies act like they believe it. Content marketing is a long-term affair. Once you’ve started sharing content, you can’t just shut off the fire hose and coast; you’ve got to keep building into your investment.
People are scared of that sort of long-term commitment, so they dream up a scenario where they can just do a couple of things and ride the lightning for the rest of their lives. The thought seems to be that if you can just get one or two pieces of content to earn a big response, your site will shoot up in the rankings, your community will blossom and your business problems will be over.
This leads to “run & gun” approaches, where brands dump all their resources into a couple of content assets they feel will be their golden ticket. When those resources don’t catapult them to success, they chalk up the failure to the ineffectiveness of content marketing compared to say, link spamming.
Here’s the truth: If you’re going to take on content marketing, expect to be in it for the long haul. Results take time to build naturally. Loyal audiences don’t amass overnight. Even wildly popular pieces often lack in the link department. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
6. “Long content/short content is the best.”
Man, do I ever hate this one.
Long content converts better, says QuickSprout! No way, short content converts better, say OSTRaining and Signal Vs. Noise! But you need at least 2,000 words to get in Google’s “In-depth articles”, says HubSpot! Hmm, but online readers have short attention spans, so make your point quickly, says MediaCom!
Who do we trust? How can we know!?
As soon as that tidbit on Google’s in-depth articles dropped, I started getting e-mails from people adamant that they needed big beefy blog posts. 100% of the attention was on a word count. No mention of a business goal, other than “ranking”.
What if we focused less on the word count of the content and more on the actual content of your content?
Most companies don’t even have the basics of tone, voice, cadence and quality down – and now you’re telling me you’re primarily concerned about word count?
The length of a piece shouldn’t be dictated by how badly you want to rank or how well someone else’s A/B testing worked out when they switched to “X” format. Those people aren’t you. Those customers aren’t yours. That scenario is likely different. Some situations call for long content (long-form sales pages, high-touch purchase decisions). Some benefit from being short and punchy (Short blog posts, impulse buys, etc.)
Your content should be as long as it needs to be to obliterate customer fears and make your point – and then you should shut up and get out of your own way.
7. “More content is better than less.”
You can read the stats for yourselves: The more content you publish, the better you will do. So sayeth the mighty HubSpot.
For example, did you know that if you have over 40 landing pages you’ll see 400% more leads? So businesses, you’re going to need to whip together over 40 different offers, because people just L-O-V-E variety.
And hey – 82% of marketers who blog daily acquired a customer (well, hopefully more than just one) using their blog as compared to just 57% of those who blog monthly. Upgrade to multiple times a day, that number jumps to 92%!
No wonder why 64% of B2B marketers say producing “enough” content is their biggest challenge.
AVAST, AHOY! FIRE UP THOSE CONTENT MILLS! WE’RE PRINTING MONEY!
Please, no. The statistics are gorgeous, but the way businesses choose to apply this half-truth is like that photo – just awful.
Let me quote Kristina Halvorson, author of “Content Strategy For the Web”:
“It seems that, in many organizations, more content is perceived as more selling opportunities, more user engagement, more help, more everything. But that’s rarely the case. Content is more or less worthless unless it […] supports a key business objective [or] fulfills your user’s needs “
Yes, you need lines in the water to catch fish – but the fixation on quantity is only creating more “me-too” posts and digital noise.
That’s a big problem.
It’s driving businesses to bulk outsource blog posts to cheap writers who don’t know their brand and don’t care about their outcomes. It’s changing the conversation from “How can we invest in the best content?” to “How can we invest in the MOST content?” as though you can win the content arms race by drowning your competitors and customers in an ocean of mediocre blog posts.
As I noted in “Don’t Get Bucked by Branded Content“, everything you publish as a business reflects back on you. That alone should be an argument for producing less things, but better things. Just like word counts, arguments in favour of content quantity make businesses forget that there is a human user on the other end of your content barrage who cares very much about the quality of what they consume….
…the same consumers that are supposed to be at the centre of this whole thing. D’oh.
And so, the half-truth could be rewritten: If quality isn’t a problem, more content might be better (if you can afford it). If not, you’ve got other priorities to address.
8. “Content marketing is the new link building.”
No other lie has done more damage to content than this one. It is the lie that fuels so many of the bad practices we see happening now.
For years, link building was cheap, fast, easy and incredibly scalable. SEO agencies thrived on their ability to produce links cheaply for clients who, for the most part, didn’t need to be involved in that process. There were few exceptions, contrary to everyone proclaiming they’ve been “white hat” for all eternity. The truth is that because links are such a powerful ranking factor, they were abused by virtually everyone.
Then Penguin waddled in and changed the game. Desperate for a solution, SEOs turned to content marketing, declaring it the “new link building” but regrettably bringing their old link building mentality with them. It had to be fast. It had to be scalable. It had to be affordable for clients used to chucking $200 at the problem and then taking their hands off.
The truth: When Penguin hit, most SEO agencies were woefully prepared to deliver content-related services. I’d argue most still are. Their teams are technical, not creative. They’re not used to content ideation, so they turn to clichés and formulas. They have little experience with content promotion outside of canned outreach e-mails. They’ve never had to be all that concerned with a business’ branding.
And because the public perception is still that SEOs are responsible for little more than rankings and traffic, SEOs are forced to focus on these areas instead of on other important goals like brand and community building.
That’s why you’ve got the guest posting epidemic (“Article Spinning 2.0”) that’s making Google’s Matt Cutts so angry – content created for no other reason than a byline link, flung to the far corners of the web where nobody will actually read it. It’s why we see brands outsourcing embarrassingly low-quality pieces to writers overseas and publishing them at a massive scale.
Content is not just a vessel to cram links into.
Yes, content can be used as a means of attracting links. But I’d argue that “Getting links” can never be the sole goal of a piece of content without missing the big picture of what content marketing is supposed to be about. SEOs are quickly learning it, too – even wildly popular content may garner just a handful of links; even when it earns thousands of shares.
Links are just one valuable outcome of a successful piece of content – and a minor one at that.
Link building is still its own discipline.
As Jon Cooper of PointBlank SEO explains, link building on its own is still a valuable service to provide. There are “old”, tactics every bit as valuable as they used to be, with none of the “spammy” connotations they’ve unjustly earned. Further, the skills needed to build links and create/manage content are not the same (as evidenced by the failed attempts of so many SEOs to get this right)
Stop doing bad things to content.
Perspectives on content need to change, mature and grow up. Lies like these need to be re-evaluated and abandoned, because as my main man Eldrige Cleaver put it best,
“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
And Houston, we really do have a problem.
Like this post? Hit me up on @JoelKlettke to chat about it – or hire me to write content of the same calibre for you.