For years now everyone has heard that content is king and how content marketing is quickly replacing traditional marketing. You yourself may have invested quite the pretty penny into content marketing and either had a few good results or were unable to quantify it’s success accurately, ultimately believing it had failed. In years past it was much easier to reach and influence the masses through what is aptly named mass media. Nowadays however, these audiences, niches, and groups have fragmented to the point where a well-planned targeted approach is necessary. We can’t just shotgun blast content into the web and imagine we’re going to hit our marks. Rather, in order to reach those that respond and appreciate your content most, you need a snipers accuracy… and patience as well.

Beyond the fact that audiences have fragmented, which makes marketing to them both easier and harder, competition in nearly every industry has become significantly stiffer. With the tidal waves of data available both for yourself and of your competitors, really there’s a more level playing field in the current ecommerce environment. The problem for most businesses begins with a fundamental misunderstanding of content marketing, its benefits, its dangers, and proper expectations you should have when investing in it.

What Is Content

For starters, the first thing we all need to realize is that content is not solely the written word. Content can be made through the use of text, images, videos and audio. Without content on a page you would have nothing but a blank screen to look at. Content can also take 1 of 4 forms, or a combination of them: Information, Education, Entertainment, and Promotional.

Information is anything that informs the viewer in a quick and easy to digest way. Topical news, company updates, statistics, data, anything that keeps a person up-to-date on some subject and keeps them in the know.

Education differs from Information in the sense that the purpose of the piece is to teach and educate, not merely to inform. How-to’s, guides, manuals, step-by-step instructions on how to get something done or achieved.

Entertainment is likely the easiest to understand, as it’s any piece that is meant to attract users for comedic or entertaining purposes.

Promotional is sadly what most people think of when they hear content marketing. “Well let’s make some ads! Let’s make some sponsored content for these targeted sites! Let’s promote all these sales and deals across our Social Media!” Again this would be Old World thinking at it’s finest, and as far as content marketing is concerned nowadays, most pieces WILL NOT, nor should they be, advertorial. Rather a great focus should be spent to ensure this doesn’t happen. Why you might ask? Because people are entirely and completely overwhelmed by ads in every facet of their life as it stands. Likely the last thing someone will want to do, unless there is tremendous hype around your product, is sit down and read or watch an ad explaining why your product is so superior.

Hopefully what should be apparent here is that anything can work except a full focus on advertorial or promotional content marketing and that is only because people are absolutely tired of ads. However, you can still promote your product or brand through content marketing, it just takes a bit of strategic planning and understanding of how the current digital environment is working.

How Do We Make Our Content Marketing Efforts More Valuable

At its basic level, we live in an era where instant gratification is on demand in regards to online content. People can find what they want, when they want, and have more options than they know what to do with to choose from. So amidst all that… where do advertisements in the form of content play a role for us? How do you sneak them in there when people can so easily look away or distract themselves? Perhaps the question isn’t how do we make the users take what we have, but rather what is it that the users would like? Rather than force-feeding, we should be coaxing them into wanting to view our content. Users should want to view your material because it satisfies a want of theirs, not because your clever subterfuge tricked them into viewing it. This should go without saying… you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Once you’ve figured out the type of marketing content your targeted users may appreciate, the next step would be to determine how to keep them coming back. Again would a fly prefer honey or vinegar? How can you ensure that those users will continue to refer to you for content on specific subjects? How can you anchor users to your brand, how can you ensure their experience desired is what you’re able to offer?

Hypothesis and Analysis

First thing you’ll need is a proper means to track all this data regarding the questions your asking in order to analyze whether your efforts are working or not. You have to set realistic and hittable goals. Devise a plan based on those goals and track the progress of your content. In time you will inevitably be able see whether what you expected to happen did and whether the goal was met or missed. But nothing will be understood unless you’re able to accurately track the data your content generates.

These goals will also be dependent on whether the content you’ve created is shared on-site or off-site, as expectations for each will differ. For example:

Goals for Off-Site Content

  • Increased Exposure: Often times we share our content on other websites to increase overall exposure and brand awareness. How many views did the piece receive?
  • Increase in Site Traffic: Ideally some of those that enjoyed your content piece will visit your site through an associated link.
  • Social Media Signals: Coupled with increased exposure, if the content was well received, you would expect that it will be shared by viewers across their social media, further increasing views of the piece as well as brand awareness across social media.
  • Links Generated: Along with social media shares, if website owners appreciate your piece, it could be linked to from their website. This is especially prevalent for information that can be referenced. It should be mentioned that link acquisition this way seems intuitive, but in actuality is rather hard to find large success. However a small success is still success and no benefit can be too little.
  • Increase In Sales: Now considering that a user would not be able to buy anything from you based on a piece of content found on another site without visiting first, you can expect that the success rate here would be rather low. But you can expect that some of that traffic will transfer over, it just may be fractional. This of course… always depends.

Goals for On-Site Content

  • Increase User Satisfaction Metrics For Search: This point is sort of all encompassing in regards to search engine ranking factors. How people engage and use your website provides many insights into their overall perceived satisfaction of your website. Now there are hundreds of potential ranking factors but content can directly affect a few pretty substantially. For instance, links acquired, time on site overall, time on a page, bounce rates, number of pages visited… these signals, plus many more, tell search engines whether a user after landing on a web page was satisfied or not. This becomes even more important if they found your webpage through the results of a search engine because the keywords that were used to find you are then a determining factor in the ranking of that specific keyword or phrase. For example, if you rank on the first page for “elegant elephant widget” and everyone who visits that page immediately leaves because you don’t offer what they expected, search engines will lower your ranking for that phrase because of user dissatisfaction.
  • Increase in User Sign-Ups, Newsletter Sign-Ups, Etc.: Often times you may way to find users for your product, services, newsletters, or whatever and these people can be found through first attracting them through content.
  • Increase in Sales: Many people imagine that content marketing is solely and directly for the purpose of increasing sales. As such, with that logic, they then make predominantly promotional content on site. As I hope to have convinced you of, if you weren’t already, this is wrong. Rather what we are trying to go for here is a sense of reciprocity. You provide authentic and authoritative content that is accurate or entertaining and your users in the end appreciate you for that and perhaps even feel a sense of indebtedness. When time comes for them to purchase something you are known to sell, ideally and hopefully, they will turn to you first. Trust and favor is earned… not bought or convinced.

For tracking and analyzing the data your onsite content generates, Google Analytics should suffice, but if you have email newsletters, user sign ups, promoted content on other sites, or other metrics you’re concerned with such as social media, you’ll want to collect that data however possible. Thankfully there a number of tools available which aid you in this. Additionally if you have a good relationship, or one at all, with the webmaster where your content is being hosted, you can ask for the data related to your piece. This is obviously only possible where a good, and likely, long term relationship has been established. But something worth considering.

There’s an old carpenters saying that every content curator should abide by, “Measure twice, cut once”. This means producing desired content and placing it in areas where it would be appreciated. If you know what you produce will be high quality and appreciated by viewers, and where your placing it is both suitable and relevant… you’ve essentially done your job as best you can. You’ve gotten the right content in front of the right audience in the right place, and hopefully at the right time. All you can do at that point is wait for the data to roll in to see how it performed.

It should be noted that even if you’ve done everything correctly, often times you may still find failure. But that’s ok! We all can’t produce viral content every time. When this happens, just collect the data, analyze it, study it, compare it to previously similar disastrous moments and try to learn something from it. We learn the most from failure, it’s just often times there’s so much to learn we miss or can’t see the majority of it.