Well, it’s that time of year again.
As we trudge into the wintery snow banks of December’s “seasonal content,” it’s inevitable that the industry is going to experience a blizzard of posts predicting which content trends are going to pick up, drop off and -gasp- stay the same in the year to come.
Pondering the future of content marketing can be a lot of fun and a great way to pass time in front of a roaring fireplace with a cup of eggnog.
But what serious businesses need aren’t opinions and speculation – they need cold, hard facts.
Strap on your favourite Christmas bib, because I’m about to dish you up a grandma-sized helping of unapologetic and undeniable truth: Content marketing needs to change. Or rather, content marketers need to change.
I’m so glad you asked! Here are the five areas I see the greatest need for change if businesses want to see a better ROI from their content marketing efforts.
1. Ownership & Documentation
According to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2014 B2C/B2B studies, just 39% of B2C businesses and 42% of B2B businesses have a documented content strategy in place – yet 67% of B2C businesses claim to have someone in charge of overseeing content marketing; 73% for B2B companies.
So… Who’s getting fired?
If your strategy isn’t documented, it isn’t a strategy – it’s a magic pumpkin made of wishes and driven by whims.
Is it any wonder that just 34% of B2C companies consider their efforts “Effective” (a mere 7% “Very effective”)? Unsurprisingly – the number of B2B firms who classify their efforts as effective mirrors exactly the number with a documented strategy: 42%.
But you know what numbers are even scarier? The budget allocations for content marketing: 24% for B2C and 30% for B2B.
If you’re entrusting double-digit marketing spend to a process that isn’t documented, you’re gambling wildly with money you can’t afford to lose. On an organizational level it’s impossible to achieve optimal success without a strategy that has been documented in a way that can be picked up and articulated to anyone, anywhere in the org chart.
If you want to see better results in 2014, start by documenting every single facet of your content strategy:
- Have a stated set of objectives, goals and benchmarks
- Create pull sheets on personas
- Leverage spreadsheets to document outreach efforts
- Distribute style guides to direct tone and voice
- Manage editorial calendars to guide publishing and bring everything else together
Then, give someone not only control, but responsibility. Someone in your organization needs veto power and the obligation of being held to the successes and failures of your efforts; the outcomes need to matter deeply and personally. Your “overseer” should be your documenter, otherwise, what are they getting paid for?
This is content marketing in grown-up pants, where you publish to achieve business goals. Own it.
2. Outsourcing & Quality Control
In 2013, 49% of B2C and 44% of B2B businesses outsourced elements of their content creation, primarily hiring writing talent (63%) and designers (41% B2C, 54% B2B). The problem isn’t that content is being outsourced; it’s WHERE that outsourcing is going. This is a problem that illuminates dangerous attitudes toward content.
If you are outsourcing your content to:
- Cheap overseas writers
- The lowest bidder (*cough* oDesk *cough*)
- Paid guest blog networks
- Article spinners (heaven forbid)
- Aggregate design/writing services (e.g. 99 Designs)
Stop treating content like a commodity.
It’s high time businesses realized that every article you publish and every resource you share with your name on it IS YOUR BRAND.
“You are what you publish.” – Joel Klettke, Snarky, self-aggrandizing content creator
If content truly is king and if you really, truly believe content marketing is the future of your business, invest in it. Put your brand in the hands of capable creators, not cheap, anonymous ones. If budget is a factor, know that you can do more with less (and better) content.
And please, make quality a KPI. Have processes in place to review and revise content before hitting publish, and follow them with every single piece (heck, this could be the job of that overseer you’re paying so much to!)
3. Measurement & Metrics
Both B2B and B2C marketers cite “Web Traffic” as the most important metric they measure to gauge the success of their content (63% and 66%, respectively).
Alarmingly, just 27% of B2C placed significant importance on sales lead quality and fewer still (23%) on lead quantity. B2B does better, with 54% placing heavy importance on sales lead quality and 48% on lead quantity.
Traffic doesn’t tell the real story.
Traffic is an OK metric to look at – and arguably it makes sense that so much importance has been put on this metric as both B2C and B2B cited “Brand Awareness” as their most important objective.But the danger is in falsely assuming that getting a lot of traffic means you will also get a lot of leads, build a lot of loyalty or sell a lot of things. It doesn’t, and the aforementioned are the outcomes you’re hoping your awareness will generate.
It’s time to measure the impact of your content in more meaningful ways. Econsultancy rightly points out that it’s time we measured the success of content in conversions, not (just) engagement. Every piece you publish should be tied back to those specific goals (both micro and macro), and success for each goal cannot be universally by traffic.
These successes become easier to both define and measure when you’ve aligned the pieces your publishing to stages of the buying cycle; you’ll know which pieces ought to be driving direct sales, return business, sign-ups, links, leads and so on.
I don’t need to harp on authorship here; chances are you’ve already heard about how it’s the next big thing for search engines and how authorship images impact click-throughs. But what’s the NEXT next big thing?
What if all that theoretical author rank of every publisher on your site could roll upward into one trustworthy organizational “score” or “rank” for say, a brand or business? What if there was an answer to businesses with rotating staff and multiple publishers? Well, then you’d have rel=publisher. It’s important, and too many businesses are ignoring it.
Don’t be like those businesses. But rel=publisher isn’t the only thing people still seem to be ignoring…
Remember Schema.org? It applies to content marketing, too!
All across the web, we see examples of Google pulling in snippets of data from other websites and mashing it up into a traffic-stealing Frankenstein in search results. If you’re not marking up your website, that’s a critical error – but what about marking up your content pieces, too? There are tools that make it brain-dead simple, so you’re really left without excuse.
I wrote extensively on this subject a few months ago, but it’s well worth a rehash: Content promotion needs just as much effort and attention as content creation, and it needs to be considered before the piece is published, not after. In quick summary:
- Start with an understanding of well-defined personas, including where they are in the buying cycle.
- Define objectives and benchmarks for the piece through which to measure success
- Create specific and targeted sharing plans for owned, earned and paid media, including influencers, hubs and allies
- Reach out, testing and improving your methods along the way
- Measure the impact and use the data to inform future outreach and creation efforts
This ties back into ownership and documentation: Someone in your organization needs to be writing the plan and pulling the levers – and no, going viral is not a content strategy.
Let’s make 2014 the year online content grows a beard.
Though content marketing has been around for a bajillion years, most marketers are still crawling on all fours when it comes to bringing those content efforts online.
In 2014, let’s end the short-cut taking ways that have left spam blogs and ugly corners of the web bursting at the seams with worthless, non-converting content.
Let’s write some process documents - and then actually use them.
Let’s start treating content marketing like a complex, hands-on process that demands critical thought instead of an ad hoc, seat-of-your-pants, fingers-crossed game of horseshoes.
Let’s dare to treat talented creatives like professionals and assets instead of dollar-figure-shaped obstacles to posting 20 blogs a month, and let’s actually make time for the content we claim is so important.
Let’s commit to only putting out content that benefits real human beings – content that genuinely surprises, delights, informs and improves the lives of customers.