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Does content marketing work?

Both as an in-house marketer and as a freelance seo consultant, over the last 8 years, to a greater or lesser extent, I’ve always included a content marketing strategy in the online marketing efforts I carry out, whether it be to benefit SEO, social media marketing, to include in email marketing, or just to engage more with the audience that hits the website I’m working with. At the start of my time in online marketing nobody called it content marketing, we referred to it as online PR, or just blogging, later it become more sophisticated with other forms of content being included and it becomming more strategic and in the last few years everyone’s been calling it content marketing.

By and large, content marketing is an inbound marketing channel, as it requires the person engaging with the content to be interested in it and to seek it out. Many entrepreneurs find this concept difficult; an entrepreneur tends to make things happen by the force of their will, if their business is in trouble they’ll go out and save it because that’s what they learned when they first set up in business: each day could be the last, so do business like you’re saving the business everyday. It’s a bit of a difficult concept for a marketer, we tend to put things in place that pay off weeks, months and years down the line. From an online marketing perspective, the only things that have that kind of immediacy an entrepreneur would understand are pay per click, email marketing or selling products through online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon.

So you do the things that deliver more immediate results, they tend to be outbound marketing techniques they’re necessary to get things moving in the beginning, but they don’t build momentum, and they don’t deliver anything that’s long term, once you switch them off they stop. Think of it like a salesperson in an outbound call centre; simplistically, if he or she makes enough sales that salesperson will sell things and make money, if they don’t make the calls they won’t sell anything and they won’t, likewise with outbound marketing activity, if you put enough of it out there you’ll start to make some sales and when you stop it will probably stop. The key to inbound marketing and I count content marketing as being a strategy from the inbound camp (with a couple of grey areas), the more content you produce the more long term benefits you’ll have for the business because you’re constantly creating the kind of content that people want, or need to consume and therefore will keep them coming back for more.

I’ve been an advocate of using a content marketing strategy as part of the SEO efforts for years. In the last couple of years content marketing has become even more central to the SEO activities of a business, with the theory going: “the more content you produce, greater domain authority you’ll get, the higher up the rankings you’ll climb for the keywords you’re targeting overall.” And in this respect content marketing does work. It’s a slower form of SEO than we’ve been used to in the past – but it definitely delivers growth. How effective it will be, will be based on the type of business you’re running, whether it’s a more seasonally orientated business and whether it’s a consumer business or a B2B.

At the moment I’m working on a B2B content marketing campaign which is delivering a measurable and predictable growth in organic traffic and sales, the one things I’ve noticed about working in the B2B market (without going too much into the sector) is the amount of content I’m having to produce at the moment is huge. Over the course of a year I’ve created around 600 pieces of onsite content (excluding landing pages and product pages), each of which has had some promotional activity, think around 40 pieces of promotional activity for each piece of content. This activity has lead to a limited number of direct sales, although from an seo perspective it has significantly grown the amount of search traffic to the product pages by increasing the domain authority, which has led to a marked increase in sales, however after 12 months worth of content marketing, it’s still not got the website to where it needs to be in terms of justifying the amount of work going into it. Compare this to a B2C jewellery website I’m working one in which one piece of content has directly lead to a number of sales or the B2C ticket provider I worked with previously with which one piece of content would generate tens of sales you can see the marked difference in opportunities.

I remember reading Rand’s fantastic Why Content Marketing Fails piece (see below) and I was left with the perception that overall it’s a time thing. From the perspective of a seo consultant working on this kind of campaign it is a time thing, you know if you create enough content you’ll reap the benefits in terms of domain authority, especially if you’re careful to include the right keywords, make the piece relevant and thought provoking and maybe a little controversial, you’ll get there with it. However, from an online marketing perspective in an environment where return on investment in measure in hours and minutes and not days, weeks or months, you can’t be justifying your campaign in terms of waiting for the SEO payoff – which from my experience will happen but which may take a couple of years of fairly hard, dogged and determined work in some cases. From this point of view you’ve got to get better at creating the type of content that will be most beneficial to your audience and customer base. The content you create still has to have those keywords in the right places but it’s not about creating content from an SEO perspective, it’s about understanding your sector, your audiences and the personas within those audiences and then delivering the type of content they require which will keep you in their minds the next time they are looking for the kind of products you sell. Understanding your audience is massively important as is being consistent.

The answer to the question Does content marketing work is yes, however there’s a huge BUT – content marketing will work if your business can give it the time and resource it needs to breathe and get going, it will deliver sales in its own rights if you’ve got time to perfect your content marketing activities, it will increase the seo value of your website as your domain authority increases and it will make your customers really get to know your business, understand and love you, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you’re doing, you need to be email marketing, you should be affiliate marketing, you should get on the phones and make the sales and go networking with key industry players, have strategic sales, build great relationships with your suppliers in order to get the kind of discounts you can pass on to your customers so your customers will come back time and time again. Of course content marketing works, for some industries it will work better than for others, however if you’re not doing it you’re missing out, if you’re not totally committed to a clear aggressive content marketing strategy you are unlikely to ever beat the competitors who’ve been dominating the market for years.

A couple of friends of mine launched a website in 2001. They used a sort of content marketing to promote the things they were selling, it wasn’t very strategic, but it was consistent and pretty prolific. It took 4 or 5 years before they were at the point were they could justify one of them starting in the business full time, but it did get them there. On the other hand I’ve known a business get to the point of sustaining a salary within a year, however my experience is it takes years to get a content marketing campaign to maturity (that’s why I don’t thin it should be the only marketing activity you carry out!).

As an inbound form of marketing, you’ve not to think about content marketing in terms of direct ROI, of course there are always going to be those pieces of great content that result in ongoing direct ROI, but these in my experience are the rarity. In reality most of your content marketing activity is part of the culmulative efforts to get more sales through the website. In that respects much of your content marketing strategy won’t work.

Content marketing is a brand marketing strategy by and large with a little bit of product marketing mixed in and I think it’s about time we started telling business owners that to get the real benefits from online marketing they need to be investing in outbound marketing activities so they can invest in inbound marketing activities and I would always advocate utilising content marketing as your primary inbound marketing activity to ensure long term success.

If you’d like to discuss your existing content marketing strategy or you’d like to discuss implementing a content marketing strategy please get in touch. Please be aware that although I’ll work closely with you on a strategic level, most of the writing will be carried out by GrowTraffic copywriter Rachel Weinhold.

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