Has Your Content Marketing Been Doomed From the Start?

Don’t let your brand trip over its own shoelaces before you even get running. Joel Klettke shares five hazards that can doom your content marketing efforts from the start.

is your brand publishing getting off on the right foot?


Nobody goes into content marketing with the intention to fail, but most don’t realize that the way you venture into things will set the foundation for whether or not your efforts are going to pay off.

There’s no need to try and get everything perfect or become paralyzed at the risk of doing things wrong but before you get too far into things, see if you’ve made any of these five mistakes that can cause you to trip over your own shoelaces before you even start running.

1. Starting with keywords

In 2014, you’d think I wouldn’t have to write this—but I do. Never start with keywords.

It’s not uncommon for marketers to recommend spinning up a content marketing campaign to “target the long tail” or “improve search visibility.” But while it’s true that this is one of the benefits of creating and promoting content, It should never be the primary focus or the main reason you take content on.

Put more simply: Your content ideas should not come out of a keyword list.


Content marketing is about targeting people—not keywords. Keywords are just the mechanics of intent—the means through which people try to solve their questions. They offer a very superficial understanding of wants, needs, motivations and values—the things your content actually needs to be built to address.

2. Over/Under committing

Here are the hard truths:

  • Your time and budget are limited.
  • Expecting too much from either one directly impacts the quality of your content and thus, your results.
  • But content marketing is not a “campaign.” You don’t turn it on and off; you commit to doing it ongoing. For example: Blogs and social media presences can’t be left idle.
  • To do brand publishing right, you need to allocate time for activities outside of creation: Strategy setting, metrics measurement and promotion chief among them.

You can’t “kinda” do brand publishing; either you’re actively participating or you’re stagnating. That said, go into the equation with realistic expectations of your time, budget and team members. Commit to too much and you’ll burn out and see quality decline; become too passive and you risk losing your audience.


3. One basket, every egg

This is a common one with agencies working for their clients, but it also shows up in-house. Whether it’s out of excitement, urgency or a desire to “really prove” that content marketing can work, teams will invest all of their effort into just one “great big idea.” This is unwise for two main reasons:

  • If this is your brand’s first foray into client-facing content creation, the uncomfortable fact is that you’re more inexperienced and more likely to fail. Gambling on a high-risk, high-reward strategy straight out the gate negates your chance to learn from mistakes.
  • Should the piece not take off, faith in content marketing from higher-ups will be shaken. You will have a much harder time earning buy-in down the road.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t aim for the moon, and I’m definitely not saying you shouldn’t build “cornerstone” assets that take more time and effort. But don’t base the entire success of your program on doing just one thing—diversify!


If you’re going to create an eBook, for example, don’t stop there. Plan a promotional program around it that includes re-purposing that same content into other bite-sized assets like blog posts or social content that can help drive success.

Don’t go for the flash in the pan. Focus on the long-term with small, steady progression that gives you the best chance to prove the value of what you’re doing.

4. Worshipping Golden Metrics

I want to introduce a phrase that I wish would bury itself into the vocabulary of marketers everywhere: “Factors in conjunction.”

As you plan out your content marketing campaign and speak with stakeholders, every different group is going to have one or two golden metrics they expect to see movement on. C-levels will want to see the sales needle move. Marketing departments are interested in share numbers or things like sentiment. SEOs are going to track rankings and traffic.


When those numbers are measured in isolation, here’s what you get:

  • Frustrated execs
  • SEOs with too much control
  • Metrics that don’t seem to move
  • Cut budgets
  • Demotivated teams

It’s tempting to isolate a metric that tells you if content marketing is working. Ironically, that’s not the way content marketing usually “works.” Sometimes you’ll earn a direct sale, but not always. To get a clear picture of your impact, you need to commit to measuring different factors as they relate to each other across the life cycle of your efforts—”Factors in conjunction.”

For example:

  • Tracking total traffic to your content to gauge overall appeal.
  • Gauging actual engagement with on-page metrics (not time on site, but percentage read is a good start).
  • Measuring loyalty by monitoring recurring visits to your other content assets.
  • Tying those recurring visits into social sharing to understand the sharability and use of your content.
  • Watching the growth of your online community and tracking their responsiveness/conversations.
  • Tracking incoming links and search engine visibility to see how content is impacting organic reach.
  • Measuring net sales across time.

That’s rough, but it should demonstrate that there’s more to content than the caveman approach of “Produce piece, make sale” or “Write thing, get rankings.”

5. Building the wrong team

You are what you publish. Keep that in mind:

Barry Feldman recently wrote about building the right content team, and he suggests you need to have the appropriate people to manage business strategy, online marketing, client communications and content creation.

There are the nuances of tying content into your overarching goals and strategy and creating a roadmap to get there.

There’s the challenge of mastering the medium, knowing the implications and specifics of creating, promoting and structuring content for the web.

And then there’s mastering your messaging, owning your brand voice and carving out an identity that people can latch on to—because let’s face it, your “how-to” lists might be helpful, but without anything to hook in a reader, you’re simply educating them to buy from your competitors.

Just spewing out content and showing up for  is not enough. Yet, businesses large and small are outsourcing their content to strangers whose names they don’t even know at prices so low they can’t possibly be spending the kind of time and attention brand publishing ought to warrant.

Don’t build a content mill. Build a lean, mean, strategic machine! (Barry’s post has much more on that. Give it a read.)

you have the power to dodge bullets

If you’re on the cusp of a brand publishing effort—or even if you’ve already started and made some of these mistakes—it’s not over for you just yet. With the right focus, smart budget allocation, careful team building and thorough measurement, you can start moving off the path to apocalypse and back toward making your investment in publishing a profitable one.

More about brand publishing coming in future posts.

responses to “Has Your Content Marketing Been Doomed From the Start?”

  1. Joe Griffin says:

    I always enjoy your posts Joel!

  2. ronellsmith says:

    Joel, This is truly a post-it-on-the-wall blog. (Read it three time now, by the way.) The keywords information is both sad and awful, but happens far too often. It’s as if we’re stuck in the past. In reality, inertia gets in the way and we do what we’ve always done.

    I continue to say that content marketers are like the folks who carry around one-gallon jugs of water all day, thinking that, if a little is good, a lot must be better.


    • Joel K says:

      Ronell, my man! I think the keywords-first approach is so common because it FEELS like it’s the right way to go. At face value, we read peoples’ searches and think we know what they want – it’s like looking at a country on a map and thinking you know their culture, too.I like your analogy with water jugs – all too true. Thank you for reading, my friend.