Built from the awareness that saying “Hey you! Buy this product!” isn’t a sufficiently-powerful tactic for the digital age, content marketing has become the promotional cornerstone of every business with any kind of online presence.
Do it well, and you can elevate the perception of your brand, reach new audiences, establish your industry expertise, and — of course — drive leads.
The biggest brands in the world invest ludicrous sums in their all-encompassing content marketing strategies, aiming to take advantage of all formats, styles and platforms in an effort to outperform their competitors.
Naturally, smaller businesses follow suit, rightfully recognizing that producing and distributing content is a near-mandatory part of modern branding.
Unfortunately, many businesses do it poorly. It ends up wasting their time, money, and effort, and makes them wonder if it’s worth pursuing.
If your content marketing isn’t working, you need a rethink: let’s look at 3 reasons why it isn’t successful (and how you change that):
You Lack a Cohesive and Budgeted Strategy
Fragmented ad-hoc content runs rampant through company blogs. The rough thought process of the guilty chief marketing officer is as follows: “We need more content! After all, we haven’t updated our blog in two months.
Let’s pick five random topics and write pieces about them.” Those pieces get produced and thrown out, then everyone goes back to ignoring the blog.
If the only thing you’re trying to accomplish with your blogging is reminding search crawlers that your website is still getting regular updates, then this approach is perfectly satisfactory — but since you’re actually attempting to get somewhere with content marketing, this sporadic release schedule (if you can even call it a schedule) is never going to get results.
Remember the two core goals of a well-rounded content marketing plan: establish expertise and credibility as a brand, and bring in reliable levels of relevant traffic. Each of these goals demands consistency and cohesion. Here’s why:
- If your content doesn’t hold together in a compelling way (for example, various topical pieces comprising a comprehensive series on an overarching subject), then it will be challenging to convince people that you truly possess expertise in your field. Something that has gained a lot of traction in the digital marketing world is HubSpot’s topic cluster model: create a hub page that links out to more specific pieces, and you can arrange varied pieces of content into a stronger unit.
- When you release content without a set schedule, it’s extremely difficult to attract regular visitors — after all, they won’t know when to visit your site (or blog, or profile page, depending on the type of content). If you can establish a rhythm such as releasing something notable once every week, then you can pick up traffic on a reliable basis (making a note of it — e.g. “New content every Wednesday” — will help with this).
Furthermore, every piece of content you create, whether it’s for your blog, someone else’s blog, social media, an infographic, a podcast, or a piece of advertising (online or offline), must conform with brand guidelines detailing everything from tone and lexis to colors and visual formatting.
Consider that the various branches of your strategy can (and should) work together: for instance, you can use advertising to promote your blog, use your blog to promote your podcast, and use your podcast to promote your downloadable ebook.
You also need an appropriate budget. Allocating set resources to a strategy makes it legitimate and viable for granular improvement — if you don’t bother, opting instead to spend money on the fly based on gut instinct, you’ll never achieve the structural consistency required to tell if your tactics are actually working (more on this later).
You’re Overlooking Important Channels
The digital landscape is massive and complex, heavily laden with routes stacked upon routes, yet some businesses still focus on the same old highways to bring traffic in. Take SEO, for example: it’s hugely important, there’s no doubt about that, but organic search isn’t the only way to get your content seen by relevant audiences.
Just look at Facebook. Over 2 billion active monthly users (of nearly 3.4 billion across all social media platforms), many of whom spend hours each day just scrolling through their feeds.
How often do you suppose they head to Google to look for new things to read? Probably not that often, because there’s always more available through Facebook. If you’re trying to reach those people through search, you’re making a mistake.
Regardless of whether you’re selling any products, you should be taking a page from the ecommerce playbook, because revenue-hungry online merchants have led the way in adapting to the breadth of the online world.
The modern seller ensures blanket product coverage, using expansive cross-platform software to get their items listed in all suitable marketplaces and available for purchase through social sales channels.
Think of the discerning shopper who’s extremely picky about the ecommerce sites they use. They don’t like creating new store accounts, or handling unfamiliar return policies, or using different shipping services — they always prefer the safest and most convenient option, even if it ultimately costs them a little more.
Accordingly, they stick to the biggest sites, likely doing most (if not all) or their shopping through Amazon’s massive marketplace.
No matter how good you make your site, or how exceptional your products may be, you’re never going to win that shopper’s business for your own service. They’ll never even learn about it. As far as they’re concerned, if something isn’t available through the Amazon ecosystem, it isn’t worth considering.
Instead of getting frustrated with that, you should take the path of least resistance and cater to their needs: you’ll get a smaller cut of the revenue from a sale through the Amazon marketplace, but it’ll be considerably better than no revenue at all.
To embrace this ethos of filling all the market gaps, you’ll need to do some research into where your intended readers (or viewers, if you’re releasing infographics or videos, or listeners, if you’re releasing podcasts) find the content they consume.
Depending on the content, check across all major social media platforms, video hosts, podcasting platforms, and/or influential community sites such as Reddit — and once you know where your content needs to go, ensure that it gets there (here are some useful tips, including some automation suggestions).
You’re Not Tracking Performance Correctly
I mentioned that your content marketing campaign needs a consistent structure if you’re going to accurately gauge performance, but it’s far from enough: you need to install a comprehensive tracking system, factoring in as much detail as you can without getting fixated on junk metrics.
Suppose that you produced a valuable digital resource (a guide of some sort) and released it for free, allowing people to distribute it across the web with no restrictions other than not editing it.
Having added links to your website in various notable positions throughout, you waited to see how much traffic (and how many qualified leads) that resource would earn you… only to realise that you didn’t have a conclusive way of telling which visits came from that resource.
This is a classic content marketing mistake. What you should do when using that tactic is include a custom URL created specifically for that project. That way, whenever someone clicked through to your website from the resource, the visit would be logged distinctly in your analytics, making it easy for you to determine the traffic-driving success of the resource.
You’ll no doubt have Google Analytics in place for your website and most (if not all) of your pieces of content, but it isn’t good enough to implement it and leave it untouched.
You need to think carefully about what success practically means for each piece of content, and assign values whenever possible. What’s a visit worth? What about a download? Or a social share?
When you don’t know which facets of your content marketing are performing well, you can’t make significant improvements.
You can only rate the campaign as a whole in a very simplistic way (i.e. how much direct ROI it’s generating — how much you’re making while running it, relative to how much you were making beforehand), and if it isn’t proving effective, what can you do but simply call it off? Any alterations you make will be essentially arbitrary.
The more closely you can monitor the most minor elements of your strategy, the better equipped you’ll be to diagnose and address specific problems (particularly through running granular A/B tests and using the results to steadily produce iterative improvements).
Instead of treating content marketing as something to switch on and off, you’ll be viewing it as what it really is: a nuanced creative pursuit that should never stray far from your mind.
These reasons aren’t the only possible explanations for your content marketing efforts being unsuccessful, but they are among the most common.
When trying to diagnose the issue, then, you should investigate them first — with a well-defined budget, a cross-channel approach, and fine-tuned analytics, content marketing success should be within your grasp.