Online content marketing has been around for a while — a decade or so. Like anything “digital,” content marketing has metamorphosed from its nascent origins on message boards to its mature form that includes anything from animated infographics to skydiving stunts.
We’ve reached the point where it’s time to start ignoring many of the “best practices” that have accumulated over the years, and pull back the curtain on the only enduring “best practice” that you need to be aware of.
1. Generate more content!
One of the most widely believed “best practices” is that marketers need to produce more content.
Content Marketing Institute conducted a survey of content marketers and found that 70% of marketers plan to produce more content in 2015 than they did in 2014.
Why are they producing more content? Because they think that more is better.
According to the Aberdeen Group’s survey, most marketers feel like they’re still not producing enough content. These content marketers have heard all the statistics. They know, for example, that content marketing leaders have more than seven times the traffic of non-leaders.
So, they strategize to make more and more and more content.
Here’s a sample of the type of content that pushes this best practice:
Marketing leaders like Gary Vaynerchuk are calling for more and better content, insisting that content marketers should try to achieve both.
Here’s the thing. I’m not sure that we should insist on more content as a pillar of content marketing.
Why not? Because maybe you’re producing just enough. Or maybe you’re not producing the right kind of content. Or maybe you’re not producing content in the right place. Or maybe more content will have a regressive impact upon your overall marketing efforts.
Scott Monty declares, “the last thing the world needs is more content.” He wrote that nearly two years ago. Every minute since the publication of his post, the Internet has grown at mind-numbing speed with even more content.
Could it be that we could create more valuable content by producing less content? The concept goes against everything that content marketers have learned and taught, but the principle comes on good authority.
The question, “should I produce more content or less” depends on the company that’s asking. It’s facile to say “we’re producing too much content!” because maybe there’s a company who isn’t producing enough content! And it’s equally misguided to say “we’re producing too little content” because some brands have gone way overboard.
We need to answer the question on a case-by-case basis. I’ll explain more about that in the conclusion of this article.
Summary: More content is not necessarily better. You need to decide whether you’re producing enough content based on knowledge of your audience.
2. Start a blog
In the minds of the masses, content marketing equals a blog.
Have you seen charts like this explaining the centrality of a blog?
But I also know that blogging isn’t the only way to do content marketing. It’s only one way. And it might not even be the best way for your company.
The problem with just starting a blog is two-fold. First, a blog might not be the best way to reach your audience. I provided consulting for a company who complained that their blog wasn’t working. Why not? Because they were trying to reach a target audience who didn’t read blogs, period! (We later discovered that their audience was primarily gathered on LinkedIn. They went on to create a wildly successful content marketing initiative there.)
The second problem with just starting a blog is that it often prevents a business from engaging in alternative forms of content that might be more effective. A blog tends to drain energy and resources away from other efforts.
Could host a webcast with the same amount of time and cost that is required from a few blog posts? What if that webcast brought in 10,000 leads, whereas your blog article only brought in a few hundred? Wouldn’t that be a better way to invest your resources?
A blog is often a barrier to entry for content marketing. If you remove the idea that you have to have a blog, you may discover a new venue for content marketing that is far more successful.
In fact, it’s safe to say that content is more than just writing. In 1996 Bill Gates prophetically declared that “content is king.”
What did he mean by “content.” Did he mean blogs?
No. He explained
When it comes to an interactive network such as the Internet, the definition of “content” becomes very wide. For example, computer software is a form of content — an extremely important one, and the one that for Microsoft will remain by far the most important.
In other words, according to the person who coined the phrase “content is King,” software is content. In other words, just about anything digital is content!
My point is neither to say that Gates is right or wrong. My point is to insist that content is broader than you think, and is definitely more than just a blog.
Summary: You don’t have to start a blog in order to do content marketing. In fact, you might not even need a blog.
3. Content marketing is expensive
Another barrier to entry in content marketing is the perceived cost.
Content Marketing Institute’s 2012 survey learned that the biggest challenge for 18% of businesses with a lack of budget.
Hubspot discovered that the average cost of an inbound lead was $135 (2012). While that’s 61% lower than an outbound lead cost, it can still be a high cost for a small startup with slim resources.
How much does it cost per month? For a mid-sized business, it could cost as much as $12,000 per month. For a large company, the price could be more than $30,000 per month.
That’s way too expensive for some companies.
Thankfully, there are ways to overcome this. Content marketing doesn’t have to be expensive. You shouldn’t have to feel like you need to spend a lot to produce successful content.
By producing user generated content, social buzz, and viral campaigns, the cost of content can be extremely low. The high cost is a myth perpetuated by businesses who feel like they have to spend a lot.
Should you spend more if you can afford it? If it has an ROI, of course. The cost of content, however, can be lower than you expect.
Summary: Don’t feel like you have to spend a lot on content marketing.
4. Keep it short
Some content marketers believe that shorter is better. I’m not sure this is true. Why?
According to Capsicum Mediaworks, the average content length of the top 10 search results exceeded 2,000 words. Top-ranked results aren’t skimping on content.
SEO common sense says that if you want to rank higher, you should write more. I’ve seen this to be true for my niche and with my audience. So what do I do? I produce really long content.
It’s not uncommon for me to write a blog post that is 4,000 words or more. Why do I write so long? Because treating a subject matter in depth requires that much length. I’m not going for a word count as much as I am trying to accomplish a mastery of the subject in order to produce an authoritative piece.
But what about people who write me emails like this (actual email below):
400 words?! That’s like a few paragraphs, not a full blown article!
I would argue against his assertion that “the trend in content is bite sized.” I can’t argue with his statement that “our clients do not want articles longer than 400 words.”
You don’t have to keep it short. But you shouldn’t have to feel like 2,000 words is the minimum either.
Summary: What should you do? You should realize that it’s not all about length. It’s about well-written pieces that engage your audience in appropriate ways.
5. You have to grab their attention!
I believe that a killer headline is important for many reasons. I also recognize that a headline isn’t the most important thing about an article.
Content marketers love to sing the virtues of headlines, going into detail about how many seconds it takes for a user to read a headline and decide if she wants to read an article.
It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement. We think that we have to grab their attention or it’s a lost cause.
But let me give you some encouragement. 8 out of 10 people will read the headline, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.
And guess what. You can’t change that.
There will, of course, be a few clickbaity headlines that will defy these statistics. But by and large, that’s a true statement that reflects typical user behavior. Only 20% read the article.
And that’s okay!
Why? Because the 20% who read the article are the audience that you’re trying to reach. Your audience does not consist of the 80%, but of the select few who want to read the whole thing.
Should you try to grab their attention? Yes, but that’s not the most important thing. I loved the way that Greg Satell explained it in his Forbes article:
We need to rethink how we market in the digital age and focus less on grabbing attention and more on holding attention. Headlines should not be catchy slogans, but promise clear benefits. Opening paragraphs should sell readers on why reading further is worth their time. Structure should be clear, readable and consistent.
Summary: Make your headlines as good as possible, and then focus on producing a great article.
Conclusion: The only best practice is to know your audience
So here’s the thing. Take every “best practice” with a grain of salt. Instead, focus on the one thing that really matters — knowing your audience.
Who are you trying to reach? What is their journey? What are they interested in? What inspires them? What do they want to discover?
Figure it out, and deliver. The form, the method, the frequency, the length, the style, the approach, the tone, the structure, the images, the whatever — it should be dependent on what is best for the audience.
What are some content marketing best practices that you question?
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