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How long does content marketing take?

In a world where link acquisition has become a costly, dangerous and generally frustrating business, a content marketing strategy can seem like the obvious solution to your seo requirements; but it’s a long term strategy which success is measured in terms of years and not weeks, so you’ve got to ask yourself if it’s the right strategy for you and if it is be sure you can stick it out when you’re seeing limited (if any) returns.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is essentially the concept that every business can be a publisher, they can create content (think blog posts, infographics, press releases, videos etc) that can then be added to their website and promoted around the internet to attract visitors back to your website – but that content is something the visitor actively wants to read and it’s not a sales message.

From an seo perspective, content marketing also helps build up the authority and relevance of your website so it becomes increasingly easy to rank for the keywords your targeting (especially if they’re getting mentioned and linked to from the content).

It’s fair to say the tools to produce content and the means of distribution are available to every business but if you’re not prepared to continue to commit to producing and promoting content you probably shouldn’t bother starting this approach.

Content is probably the most powerful approach a company has attract customers, but it needs more than a one-off tactical hit, if you’re used to getting an immediate return from your marketing efforts content marketing doesn’t do that, it has a cumulative effect, that takes months and years to have the deliverable impact.

It’s important to understand why you’re embarking on a content marketing strategy and that you’re not just jumping on the content marketing bandwagon, which means aligning your content marketing strategy with the business goals. How do you produce content that makes your business the go to expert resource for your target audiences? A word of caution on this front, whilst aligning your objective be sure to understand your distribution channels and the type of content you can realistically get traction on – this is something that will need to be constantly reviewed because as your audience grows you’ll be able to promote different content more successfully.

Most businesses don’t understand the commitment a content marketing strategy takes and understandably, many will stop and try something else. I’ve seen this strategy come into its own many times and I know how long it takes to get going, especially if it’s the only route to market you’ve got. Trust me on one thing too: it’s bloody hard to stay positive when you’re putting the effort in for minimal gains.

Content allows you to increase the relationship you have with your existing customers, create new relationships, hit markets quickly that you wouldn’t be able to sell your way into with a serious advertising budget and have a sustainable long lasting on your brand’s standing online?

What results should you see from content marketing?

You should see your content delivering traffic from your different promotion points, but in reality that’s not the traffic you want to be monitoring, you want to be reviewing your organic traffic, excluding brand keywords – if you’re winning you should see steady increases in organic traffic as the website become more authoritative and relevant to itself and the products and services you’re really trying to promote. Every now and then you’ll see a step up in the rate of organic traffic growth that will then in turn level off to steady growth again (I’ll create a blog speculating why Google does this in the future).

If you’re a start-up business, content marketing could help your business getting going and deliver some small seo successes (or big seo successes if you’re in a less competitive market) however as a start-up you’ll need to get the revenue flowing quickly and it’s unlikely a content marketing strategy will deliver that. I’d still advise you carry out content marketing, but be sure to be doing some email marketing, PR, Google Adwords, Facebook/Twitter advertising etc to get things moving.

If you’re an existing brand and you’ve not got a content marketing strategy you’ve got to ask yourself why not – get something going, get the content on your site and promote it through as many different social media, news channels as you can to get traffic (and links) back to the website.

With limited return anticipated in the short term, don’t be fooled into this thinking this is a cheap form or marketing, even if it is just your own time (you should be putting a value on your time too).

Earlier this year Rand Fishkin released a Slideshare entitled “Why content marketing fails” which has something like 90 slides on the subject. A few of the slides he shared stood out (Rand I hope you don’t mind me borrowing them). As with any kind of marketing you’ll hit on things that work and things that don’t work. Below is a classic example from a content marketing campaign demonstrating how at the beginning content was produced and promoted, and it started to have positive signs that it was going to take off but then nothing, for months! Choosing the right content for your distribution channels’ audiences goes some way to overcome this, but it’s still fairly accurate of what’s likely to happen in the first few months.

Content Marketing - Spike of Hope and Flatline of NopeIn this analytic chart Rand demonstrated how long travel blog‘s content marketing strategy took to really get them off the ground (it’s over 2 years!):

How Long Does Content Marketing Take To Work?

How many entrepreneurs out there will be prepared to commit to a strategy that could take years to pay off – even if the promise is that it’s payoff will be big? For an entrepreneur especially, but more generally for most businesses to commit to a marketing strategy that doesn’t appear to be returning any ROI it’s important to be able to demonstrate the strategy is progressing the business.

How should you measure the success of your Content Marketing Strategy?

From this example you can see how a content marketing approach over 6 months is delivering traffic – but that that traffic is inconsistent:

Content Marketing and inconsistent results

However if you have a look at the impact this has had over the same period on the website’s organic traffic (excluding brand terms) you sees there’s a much more consistent and predictable impact on organic growth – and it’s noticeable how the two trends are very different:

Content Marketing Affect on Organic Traffic


The key take home is if you’re going to start content marketing, you’re going to find out how long it takes to get off the ground, you’ll need to produce the right content, not only for your audience but also for your distribution channels, you need to understand this isn’t about selling your products or services (that comes later!) and probably crucially if you’re just starting up, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to rely on content marketing as your primary marketing strategy.

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