Marketing managers all over the world are coming under increasing pressure to prove the ROI of their content strategy. The hard-and-fast metrics of pay-per-click and native social media ads have enabled comparatively easy tracking of conversion rates, leading to some bold proclamations that traditional content marketing is dead.
Indeed, Beckon – a marketing analytics firm – recently published a comprehensive report that examined $16 billion worth of content, and their findings should provide a big wake-up call for all digital marketing agencies. The main conclusions that struck a chord with me were:
- Brands are publishing 300% more content year-on-year; and
- 19 out of 20 pieces of content receive little to no engagement.
In short, the competition is growing exponentially and levels of engagement are decreasing, making it tougher to stand out and quantify success. It’s no wonder, then, that the content marketer’s role has come under closer scrutiny in recent times, with Chief Marketing Officers threatening to pull the plug and divert budget to paid search.
However, instead of abandoning your content marketing activities entirely, it makes much more sense to refine your output, bringing everything together and putting a real emphasis on publishing quality over quantity. By ‘bringing everything together’, I mean unifying your approach to SEO, blogging, social media and PR to form an integrated strategy that is more efficient and effective, dramatically improving ROI to ensure content marketing becomes competitive with paid search.
Back to the SEO drawing board
It still amazes me that in 2017, marketing teams are often sat in silos with no real overview of how to optimise their output. It’s all very well having different areas of specialisation, but you’re never going to grow your audience and convert them into customers without working together and mapping out a plan to really ‘sweat’ your content and make it work harder.
For some, SEO seems to be regarded as a totally separate discipline to content marketing, whereas I believe keyword research and proper formatting should form the foundations of every web page you create and article you write. Brushing up on the principles of keyword research will help focus your efforts to ensure you give yourself the very best chance of ranking well in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
Using a tool like Answer The Public will also give you a much clearer insight into the type of questions people are actually asking in relation to your business niche, allowing you to create content that directly answers the most popular questions and therefore is more likely to rank highly against these search queries.
In terms of page structure, too many marketers neglect SEO basics like including keywords in URLs, Page Titles, Alt Tags and Headers. These are some of the reference points that search engine bots use to better understand the content on your page, so getting these right is essential if you want to rank well in organic search results. While there’s debate over meta descriptions and whether or not they’re a ranking factor, it’s still advisable to use this space to write an accurate synopsis of your content, as this almost certainly influences user behaviour; concisely summing-up your content in 160 characters or less will invariably be better than the automated text that Google will otherwise pluck from the page if you leave this area blank, and the searched-for words will be highlighted in bold – making you stand out in the SERPs.
Getting these on-site elements right will help you make more of an impact, boosting the chances of people clicking your way, which is why SEO should be the first step in your integrated strategy, rather than a mere afterthought.
Blogging and backlinks
For many, blogging has long been the cornerstone of content marketing, and with good reason; it gives you a chance to showcase expertise and comment on industry developments, providing a platform to frame yourself as a voice of authority. However, the ‘if we build it, they will come’ philosophy is well and truly dead in the water, so if you fail to amplify your blog on social media and in emails, you’ll never extend your reach.
Simply tweeting a link isn’t enough, as it’s incredibly hard to get traction under your own steam. Instead, you should look to collaborate on pieces with industry influencers – those with large social followings – perhaps by asking for their thoughts, or simply quoting their opinions and building on them. Then you can ask said influencer to share your blog post and, if they agree – which they usually do, if you ask nicely – you’ll benefit from putting yourself in front of their audience as well.
Talking of blogging, another underutilised approach that pays dividends is submitting guest articles to authoritative websites within your industry. This has three primary benefits:
- It allows you to share your thoughts with targeted audiences, potentially opening the doors to new customers.
- It gives you great content to share on social media; if a popular website in your sector publishes your article, you’ll gain an air of credibility, ensuring industry insiders take you seriously.
- You’ll gain a backlink from an authoritative source, which will give you a boost in the SERPs. Google views links as recommendations, so if a well-respected site in your niche is linking to you, some of their authority will pass your way, giving you a natural lift in the organic search results.
The more frequently you add to your portfolio of backlinks from authoritative, relevant websites, the better your search performance will be. This is a Google-friendly way of raising the long-term authority of your site, so it should definitely form a big part of your content strategy.
Instead of religiously sticking to a weekly blog post on your own site, why don’t you split the difference and aim to publish a fortnightly guest post on a high-quality third-party site, as well as a fortnightly post on your own, giving you the best of both worlds.
You can also experiment with Facebook Live videos, perhaps vocalising ideas from your blog posts (providing you can do so naturally), or republishing some of your best content on LinkedIn Pulse – easy ways of repurposing material and extending your reach. You could even experiment with social media ads, amplifying your output to new, highly-targeted audiences.
The trouble with PPC and social ads is that you have to continue to pay to see results – great for short-term success that almost guarantees click-throughs, but traditional forms of content marketing continually deliver value after publication, raising the authority of your website with every page you create and reference link you obtain.
Much has been said about the state of content marketing in 2017, and it’s true that we need to collectively step up our game to enhance engagement rates. Following the steps outlined above and forming a harmonious, integrated strategy can help ensure you maximise your content with minimal additional effort.