Content marketing is one of the most effective forms of online marketing today. In a world where 200 million people are using ad blocking software, traditional display ads just aren’t as effective as they used to be. When you consider that content marketing costs 62% les than outbound marketing, yet generates three times the leads, it’s easy to see why so many brands are turning to it today.
But, just because you can do something a certain way, doesn’t mean you should. And just because you’re doing it, doesn’t mean you’re doing it right. Even if you’ve done a fair amount of homework ahead of time, there are some missteps you’ll want to avoid from the start. If you’ve already made one or more of these common mistakes, don’t panic. There’s time to adjust your approach and see results.
1. Skipping a Documented Content Strategy
If you think you can get away with keeping tabs on your content marketing strategy mentally, I hate to tell you, but you’re wrong. You may be able to make it work, of course, but research shows companies with a documented strategy see better performance compared to companies that don’t have it written down.
How you choose to document that content strategy is up to you, but you should seek to answer the following questions, per the Content Marketing Institute:
- What specific challenges are you trying to solve?
- What is your dream outcome?
- What’s the risk if your content marketing fails?
- Who is involved? Do you need permission from managers, board members, or any other higher-ups to participate?
- What is your budget?
- What happens if something goes wrong? What’s the backup plan if you don’t reach your goals as quickly as you want to? What happens if customers complain or another issue comes up?
- How long do you have to demonstrate success?
After you have those broad questions answered, it’s time to get specific:
- What do you need to reach the objective? Do you want to create leads or get higher-quality leads? Make direct sales? Get better customers?
- How big of an opportunity is it? Is it large enough to warrant spending time, energy, and money on it?
- How will your content marketing align with the rest of your business objectives and existing marketing?
- What are the risks? What could prevent you from reaching your goals? What can you control to minimize the chance of those things happening?
Then, move on to detailing who your audience is, the kind of content they need, how it will help them, why the audience cares about it, and what your unique value proposition is.
From there, you can develop a list of the content you’ll create as part of the strategy, making sure it offers something different from the competition.
2. Misunderstanding Your Audience
If there’s one thing that you must learn to succeed in all facets of online marketing – it’s your target audience. The more you know about them and what they want, the better you can craft content that will serve their needs. If you’re not clear about who you’re trying to reach, then you’re not going to get the best possible ROI.
Start with a customer persona for each segment of your audience. Then, pay attention to your analytics to see how well your personas match your actual audience. Adjust the personas and content accordingly.
If you think you’ve got a handle on your audience, I want you to take a second to evaluate that and come up with proof to support your answer. Why? Research shows 63% of customers don’t feel the brands they love understand them. So, there’s a bigger chance that you think you’re connecting with your audience, but you’re really not. And if you’re not connecting with them, the content you’re creating isn’t really as helpful to them as you’d like it to be.
You want to create content that the audience wants to hear – not content centered around what you want to talk about.
3. Selling Rather Than Teaching
Your content should always be designed to educate your audience first, and sell second. Never mention your business or yourself until your call to action at the end of the content. You should be aiming to teach your audience how to solve a problem and then show them who they can reach out to if they need help.
If your readers want to know how to change a tire, they should know how to do it by the end of the article or video. You want people to share your content so you or your client looks like an expert who is paid to perform related services or sell related products. In the case of changing a tire, this content could be used to market a mechanic or a tire shop, because it helps them show their expertise, without overtly selling their tires or repair services.
4. Poor Time Management
A lot of marketers struggle to produce enough content, with data from Content Marketing Institute showing it’s the second biggest pain point for B2B marketers, coming in just behind budget. Since we can’t slow the earth’s rotation around the sun to add more time to our day, the only way we can be sure we’re producing enough content while staying within our budget is to make efficient use of our time.
I challenge you to really take a look at how you’re spending your time at work. How many times a day are you checking your phone? How much time are you spending on Facebook games? Use apps like Rescue Time to track what you’re doing for the day, then make a plan of attack to reduce and eliminate those time sucks that are killing your productivity. (I see you over there, Candy Crush.)
5. Obsessing with the Top of the Funnel
Of course the top of the funnel matters, because that’s where your leads are coming in. But if that’s the only place your content marketing efforts are focused, you’re alienating the rest of your funnel. Before they can become a paying customer, which is ultimately what you want, you’ll need to move them the rest of the way through the funnel, right? Try to develop your content marketing strategy so there’s content aimed at audiences in each stage of the funnel.
6. Ignoring SEO or Thinking Only About SEO
This one can go both ways, and I find it typically depends on the marketer’s experience with SEO before delving into content marketing. Generally, those who consider themselves SEO aficionados before getting into the content marketing side of things are the ones who think about it too much, but that’s not always the case.
The reality is there’s room for both because SEO helps to drive traffic and helps bring your customer acquisition costs down. But, SEO is more than using keywords and phrases to get a good rank in the search results.
Beyond knowing what keywords, you need to use in your content, you’ll also need to use them in the title tags and in paragraph headings. You’ll also want to optimize your content for Twitter, Facebook, and other social platforms. Taking these steps helps increase the odds readers will find out about you and what you have to sell through finding your social media pages rather than an article or landing page you created.
If you’re thinking only about SEO, you’re focused too much on those keywords and phrases, and not necessarily producing content that the audience finds useful.
7. Foregoing Influencers
Influencers are an important piece of the content marketing puzzle, since amplification and promotion is just as important as the content itself. You can have the best content out there on a particular subject, but none of that will matter if no one knows about the content or can find it.
If you’re still relatively new to the industry and don’t have any connections with influencers, it can be especially tempting to skip connecting with them, but you have to start somewhere. 92% of consumers would rather make purchase decisions based on trusted recommendations and referrals than they would from other sources. If you’re able to connect with an influencer, and that influencer shares your content, you’ll be more likely to pick up customers than if the customer had found your content themselves. And just in case you need a bit more motivation to start building those relationships, businesses earn an average of $6.50 for every dollar they spend on influencer marketing.
8. Sticking to a Single Type of Content
Written content is the most common form of content used in content marketing, but treating it like it’s your only option could be hurting your strategy. It’s okay for it to be the core part of your strategy, but don’t be afraid to experiment with other types of content – especially if your data indicates your audience would be responsive to it. Your content is an asset, so writing a single post and archiving it once it’s had its moment in the sun is a waste. You can and should repurpose all your content in as many ways as possible to make the most of your assets.
9. Creating Content That’s Not Evergreen
And on a similar vein, any content you create today should have value to the reader years from now, too. You want that single piece of content to be out there working for you for a long time after you write it – even if you do have to come back and check on it from time to time. This means keeping things that are timely out of the picture – and writing about topics that will be as true today as they are 10 years from now. In other words, don’t write about how your favorite celebrities are getting married – because statistically, they won’t be married long. Evergreen content allows you to consistently add to your marketing assets and increase revenue without having to invest in new materials.
Keep Your Content Marketing Fluid and Flexible
Though I just preached the importance of a documented content strategy at the beginning of this post, I want to finish it with a reminder that you shouldn’t be rigid with that strategy. It’s all a guessing game based on what the data you have on hand indicates, and if you get a different result than you anticipated, there’s nothing wrong with making adjustments as needed and experimenting to see if your audience responds better to different types of content and promotional techniques.
What do you find the most frustrating about content marketing? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below.