Why all the ‘content marketing’ tips are exactly the same? and why it should stop

First published on SEMrush.com, in July 2014.

For most of us, content marketing is about providing value to your clients and creating content that people want to share. However, there is a huge difference between what most people think content marketing is and what it actually, and ideally, should be.

For most people, content marketing describes the list of tips they either heard about in conferences or read about in blogs.

Let’s face it: Content marketing is driven by those who write about it. An entire industry has emerged from blogs, lists, and tips – content that is written not because it is original, but because it is a great way to boost search rankings. Websites that already have a strong online presence are able to get great search rankings on popular topics like content marketing easily, especially when the ‘I-am-sharing-this-so-people-will-think-i’m-an-expert’ marketers are helping them out.

For these big websites, content marketing is more of a quick fix than a vocation: Find out what people are interested in, write about it and share it. The brand strength will do the rest.

Once a blog or a list of tips and tricks has been published by a popular website, it makes the rounds and is endlessly proliferated and regurgitated by smaller online marketing bloggers.

The problem is, worn-out content marketing posts tend to sound like a broken record. To save you hours of sifting through different blogs, here’s what the vast majority of tips on content marketing boil down to:

What to write about?

  • Run a blog and write about topics your users will be interested in.
  • Don’t know what to write about? Check your competitors.
  • Still don’t know? Use keyword research tools to understand what your users are looking for.
  • Still nothing? See what experts in your niche are writing about.
  • Wow, still blank? Go to your support team and find out what your users are asking about.

What kind of content you should create:

  • Create “evergreen” content
  • People love listicles and ‘how-to’ posts
  • They love infographics even more
  • Resource curation is important
  • Interviews are amazing

How to promote your content?

  • Share the posts on all your social platforms
  • Don’t forget the newsletter!
  • Use Outbrain/Taboola/Keywee to promote the posts
  • Contact bloggers and pitch your content

The “bonus tip”

  • Turn your posts into Slideshares/infographics/videos and share those everywhere you can

And finally, the vaguest tip of all: 

  • “Give value to your readers”

After mainstream online marketing blogs have posted these tips, it’s time for all the online marketing products and services to post the same tips on their blogs. The funnel ends in many small business owners and online marketers trying to follow the tips they read even as they blog about it themselves.

Search for “the Promise Land”

For marketers, going viral is the light at the end of the tunnel, often just out of reach. Unfortunately, the quality of writing often isn’t to blame.

Think about the amount of information you come across every single day. You probably read just a small fraction of it. Out of this small fraction, an even smaller amount of content is worth sharing, often because it’s simply been said over and over again. We all want our posts to go viral, but writing an article with the sole intention of seeing it go viral is both futile and next to impossible (Mark Schaefer describes this well here). Be patient, and experiment: you might need to write 100 great posts before you find a formula that works for you and your audience.

Even if you hire a copywriter and a content marketing expert (like you should if you are really serious about content marketing), this could be a long and very expensive project that, for most small businesses, is just too costly. Too many businesses end up spending thousands of dollars, only to wind up with zero results.

Content marketing is not for everyone

Since we’re all creating the same content and using the same tools to promote it, you have to be creative in your content creation process. This requires a lot of time to research, inside your company and around the web. For many, there are just more urgent things to do.

A proper online marketing campaign requires:

  • Strategy: You’ll need to know…
  • Who your target audiences are for your content
  • What kind of content your audience expects you to provide
  • Your content’s “voice” (whether it’s formal or personal, funny or serious)
  • Planning: You’ll need to find out…
  • What you should write about
  • When you should post it
  • How should we produce it
  • Producing the content: You’ll need to figure out…
  • How you want to create each content piece (text, video, images, infographic, slides)
  • How to work with copywriters and experts
  • How to produce content that accurately represents your brand, describes what you want it to describe and if it’s simply good enough to post 
  • Promoting the content: You’ll need to know how to…
  • Share content on social media
  • Pitch it to other blogs
  • Buy traffic
  • Recycle content to get the most out of it
  • Participate in conversations about your content
  • Following up: You need to make sure to….
  • Analyze which content performs better, and why
  • Re-plan based on analysis
  • Inform your content writers about your findings, then guide them to improve

This breakdown serves to show that content marketing is more than quick tips and miracle fixes, it is a dedicated, long-term process, one that requires planning and implementation like any other aspect of your business.

I had to learn all this the hard way as my first ‘content marketing’ project on the IMC blog just didn’t go the way I wanted to. It took me a while to realize that I was going the wrong way; that is, by assuming that posts on web design resources would be able to catch traffic simply by swimming in the same sea as all the other posts on essentially the same information. These days I’m taking it more seriously and I’m in the process of creating a long term content strategy.

I hope that the buzz around content marketing will settle down and we’ll stop seeing the same tips over and over again. Most small businesses won’t be able to run a ‘real’ content marketing campaign and they are getting nothing from these tips.

If you are serious about getting into content marketing, I suggest you either hire an expert or search for resources that say it like it really is. I personally like CMI and I spent a lot of time there lately.

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