Why some blog posts work & others don’t

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:

  • 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


  1. avatar
    Jordan Godbey February 21, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    Awesome analysis James. It’s really hard to pull the plug on something you’ve put time and energy into, but if it’s not up to the uniqueness and quality you demand, then you’re really just doing a disservice to yourself and your audience.

    On the other hand, as you noted, it seems like you hit the guest post/outreach post out of the park. It’s really inspiring to see your behind-the-scenes data and see the struggles/successes you’re experiencing. Very beneficial for the rest of us!

    When you put out pieces on SEOmoz, do you generally know/expect how they’ll do, or is it usually a surprise to see all the reactions/feedback?

    • avatar
      James Agate February 21, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

      Thanks Jordan.

      I am usually pretty surprised when I publish stuff onto YOUmoz/SEOmoz – some of the posts which took me longest or that I felt were ‘technically’ the best didn’t do anywhere near as well as I would like.

      Talking with Simon Penson, we were saying that the posts we are usually most ‘worried’ about publishing because they might stir controversy or be disagreed with tend to eventually get the best results.

  2. avatar
    Anthony Trollope February 21, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    Hi James,

    I’m not sure that I agree with you saying that the SEO Dream Team piece was a weak concept. I don’t think it was weak, but to avoid the repetition of the ‘usual suspects’ being mentioned you perhaps could have given the concept a little more definition.

    By that I mean, you could have put another variable in place that helped folks suggest ‘upcoming’ or ‘disruptive’ marketers (in a sense that they are using new or trending techniques, rather than anything blackhat). This may have yielded more openness for people to recommend more personal associations. To me this is far more exciting and interesting as who doesn’t already know Rand Fiskin and Wil Reynolds are god-like figures? :)

    Another, albeit really simple one, would have been a dream team of people who have actually done business together. This may have had more impact as correct me if I am wrong, the piece was just as much about gaining external credit for the piece as it was enabling folks to establish new connections. (Example: The piece you did months ago where you asked six experts to pitch in their tips on linkbuilding. Immediately, off the back of your recommendations I paid attention to what these guys have sine been saying)

    Just a penny of my thoughts.

    PS: Congrats on the recent SEOMoz success, you deserve the credit.

    • avatar
      James Agate February 21, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

      Hi Anthony, Welcome back… It’s good to get you commenting on here again.

      I really like your second idea for this – although potentially (as Sam Crocker points in another comment here) potentially people are unwilling to share stuff like this so perhaps overall that’s why the concept failed.

      I guess it is difficult to pinpoint a precise point of failure. Still thanks for your comment and I will be sure to be more specific with future content concepts… although ‘disruptive’ is one of my pet-hate-words, it belongs in the naff bin with all the other words that the ‘startup gods’ have decreed usable :-)

  3. avatar
    Sammy C February 21, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    Hi James,

    I actually quite liked the idea for the post, though it did seem highly likely to bring up the familiar faces/names in the industry.

    The problem I had with engaging with the post – and it’s one that I think a lot of people have with this type of post – was the question: is this something I want to share?

    To be fair I would love for the best people I’ve worked with in the industry to get the credit they deserve but I’m just not sure this was the forum for me to do it. With the market being as competitive as it is, I’m a bit cautious about sharing who I think is best of the “lesser knowns” because quite frankly I’m greedy and would like to try and employ all of them if I could :)

    I’ve had a similar failing with a recent piece of linkbait that relied upon people sharing information that didn’t strike me as precious but as it turned out was not something we could get people to share. It was an idea that people really enjoyed (people flocked to see the results), but no one really wanted to contribute.

    It was a valuable lesson for me to learn and perhaps I’m alone in my thinking but just wanted to share why I didn’t (and potentially why others may not have) shared more unsung heroes in the industry.

    Thanks for sharing your experience though!

    • avatar
      James Agate February 21, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

      Hi Samuel,

      Good to hear from you

      Yep on reflection, my bed was made before I had hit publish and as Anthony T has pointed out in the comments, a more unique angle is probably what was needed.

      I really think you hit upon something vital here in the ‘what makes people share’ and that is that there has to be enough it in for them. In the same way I would be crazy to disclose EVERY detail of our inner-workings since there would be nothing left for me to ‘sell’ I think you are right in saying, people are very self-motivated and probably don’t wish to share their lesser knowns but rather just punch in the usual suspects – it’s easier and safer to do that of course!


  4. avatar
    Cecilia February 21, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    Hi James, great post and very true. If I had known about the seo dream team nominations post I would have participated ;) I Actually think it was a great idea, but as you said… it wasn´t substantial/meaningful information and didn´t help to sell your service. I would say though, that it was entertaining/engaging. Depending on your goals or what your website is about sometimes that is enough :D 62 tweets & 1,600 visits in 15 days in my travel blog would have been an absolute SUCCESS!!

    I really enjoyed reading your post in SEOMoz. I am a female in-house SEO and I can say the facts are right!

    I am subscribing to the newsletter right now!

    • avatar
      James Agate February 21, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

      Hi Cecilia,

      Thanks for getting involved. As I mentioned, I didn’t want to label the post a complete failure since I too am happy with the visitors, tweets etc and certainly don’t take then foregranted. That being said, of course the point of the post was to raise the idea that these things don’t really count for all that much. ROI is where it’s really at.

      Lucky you, a female in-house. Now all you’ll need is our high-conversion email template and you’ll be placing guest posts left right and center :-)

  5. avatar
    Chris February 21, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    Nice Post, I figure I will give my two cents on why that piece “Failed.”

    Of course everyone would list the big name, those are the people making noise. No one knows anyone else, especially since people only read at most 3 main SEO blogs.

    I think in this case Setting up a Poll would have sufficed.

    HOWEVER, what the question should have been was “Who is your personal SEO/SEM Hero and why?”

    And then list out like “This could be your mentor, the person who taught you what you know, yourself, your next door neighbor, etc”

    Then adding into the mix who your personal SEO/SEM hero is and why, then concluding again with the question.

    Now you would have provided a great example of what you want people to submit. (I.E. you write your story on the random dude that sits next to you or w/e)

    Then you would receive a list of both major and minor players, as well as have user generated content that you could use (The stories).

    That is two posts right there, then I would continue on with a third that asks, “So we know your Hero’s, but what about your story? How did you end up in SEO?”

    Then you give your story, and whamo, the fourth post is featuring those people and giving them some rising star status.

    Everybody wins, content is cool, people are inspired by different stories, and are happy to spread the word because some of them are featured with their own story!

    You could even follow that up with interviews on the major players, about their own hero’s (both seo and general) and their own involvement story. Thus now you have a ton of content that you did not really even need to work especially hard for. XD

    Best Regards,

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