Content Marketing – what does it really mean?
If we break the phrase down the eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that we have the words ‘content’ and ‘marketing’
Admittedly I couldn’t find the perfect definition for content but if we mash up two of the accepted definitions we arrive at a explanation which reads something like “Words, videos and other media that provide substantive, meaningful information.”
In simple terms then, to me content marketing is creating meaningful web pages that help to sell your products or services.
Today I want to run you through two recent events which sit at opposite ends of the content marketing success spectrum (read: One blog post that tanked and another post which successfully generated a great deal of new business for us). Why? I wanted to analyse a success and a failure in public so that you can all add your thoughts and hopefully we can all learn from them.
Firstly… the failure
The SEO Dream Team
Now I loosely term this a failure and you’ll see why as I continue with my story. Back at the start of February, I had what I thought was a great idea for a post – the SEO dream team, a crowdsourced content feature whereby you the audience get to make your selections for which SEOs you’d want running your content creation, link building campaign etc. I thought would be good for traffic and great for links as it had an egobait vibe to it. So on 3rd February, I published this post.
Initial feedback seemed to be great – the post was getting tweeted and the submissions started rolling in. I took a look at the submissions and the ‘usual names’ were appearing. I didn’t feel this was too problematic at the time as I was sure there would be some ‘others’ submitted soon.
I was proven wrong, in the end (17th Feb), after 62 tweets, 1,600 visits and just over 300 submissions – I was left with a choice. Nearly all of the submissions were for the same individuals which somewhat limited my ability to make the next post in the series in any way substantive. So my options were… abandon the piece and dissect the failure or press ahead and publish something which I felt just wasn’t going to work. No prizes for guessing which one I went ahead with.
Obviously I went into this series knowing full well that the big names like Michael King, Eric Ward, Wil Reynolds and Richard Baxter would make an appearance but I didn’t expect the nominations to be almost entirely made of the ‘rockstars’ of this business. I was hoping to pit the rising stars against the fans’ favourites and introduce the readers here to some new folks hopefully giving those rising stars a little exposure in the process.
Sadly it just wasn’t to be, so what are the possible reasons for failure?
- The concept was weak
- The post just didn’t get enough promotion/exposure
- There just aren’t that many rising stars out there – I find this impossible to believe
- The post wasn’t a good fit for this blog – maybe it didn’t fit the audience here who are mainly looking for actionable posts
- The format was wrong – submissions came in but maybe the ‘uninspired’ format led to people just nominating the usual suspects
- It didn’t reach the right audience – these kinds of things can sometimes become very biased since the post was most heavily visible within my little bubble of people who usually read my stuff and folks who’s stuff I usually read and interact with.
- Why do you think it failed?
What does this have to do with content marketing?
Whilst dissecting this failure it made me think long and hard about the type of content I publish here. It drew me back into what content marketing actually means to me. If we judge the post on the definition of content marketing that we arrived at earlier in this post:
- Was it going to be substantive? I don’t think so.
- Was it going to help me sell our services? Unlikely.
That isn’t to say every post I write here must be designed to ‘sell’ you, but I’m not ashamed to admit that this blog is core to our marketing strategy and that I am here to try and provide some value in the hope that you might come back again, and eventually come back enough times to hire us in some capacity fully educated of what we can do for you. Any blog post I write here should at least have this overall goal in mind – a post like the SEO Dream Team arguably didn’t.
Overall, this post was both a failure from a content marketing standpoint and a failure from a conceptual/practical point of view.
I do want to say a massive thank you to everyone who submitted nominations, it is a great shame that the piece didn’t work out and I hope it won’t put you off participating in stuff like this in the future.
Now moving on to the more positive stuff, here’s a look at one of our recent successes…
The SEOmoz post
Many of you may have already seen my post Putting Guest Post Outreach Theories to the test [with some real-world data] it was a bit of a mammoth post to put together as anyone familiar with collating data will testify.
I feel justified labelling this post a success. Here are some of the stats:
- 66 comments
- 88 thumbs up
- 600 tweets
- 4,000 pageviews
- 3rd most popular post this month on SEOmoz
Whilst I am VERY pleased with (and proud of) those stats, I am more enchanted by the fact this post has directly resulted in a number of superb leads and new client relationships which we are very excited about.
What made this post a success?
- It was underpinned by data – I think many of us are suffering from ‘vague-content-aversion-syndrome‘, we’re all fed up with statements like “great content is how you get links” and we all want anything said or written to be backed by some real world examples or data. This I believe is one of the reasons the post was so well-received by the SEOmoz community.
- The topic is really relevant – guest posting and outreach are two subjects which are getting a great deal of attention at the moment, and rightly so. The fact that my post touched on both of these subjects is another reason I believe it proved popular. Outreach is an area many struggle with so offering some guidance backed by data would in theory be useful to others.
- It offered transparency – it gave a behind the scenes look at certain aspects of how our service works which I think people like to know. It helps them understand how we do what we do and it gives them the confidence to hire us.
- It centred around one of our services – going back to my definition of content marketing, it is a meaningful web page which helped to sell our service.
- It put me on a bigger platform – undoubtedly I owe some of the success of this post to the fact that it was published on SEOmoz which gives the piece added credibility not to mention a massive worldwide audience. Had I published the results of this study on this blog, I don’t think I would have seen the same kinds of results.
If we judged the success of my SEOmoz submissions by ‘engagement’ then this post would be lagging in third place. Two of my other posts generated over 100 thumbs up each and one generated close to 20,000 pageviews. However it is my most recent post that has proved to be the most effective in terms of generating new business.
Content marketing need not be about a fuzzy metric like engagement it needs to meet your specific goals; whether that be immediate ones like making more sales or longer term plays like building links to improve your search engine visibility to make more sales in the future and over time.
For further reading, I wholeheartedly recommend this slidedeck from Ian Lurey – Writing for leads – how professionals can market themselves online