Content Marketing Isn’t A Good Marketing Strategy After All

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Content Marketing Isn’t A Good Marketing Strategy After All

For years we’ve been treated to the mantra, “Content is King!” and if you listen to all the predictions, it seems 2014 is to be the year of content marketing. Odd, considering content has been “king” for so many years already. Yet, as many other online marketing strategies are falling out of fad or losing value, the migration toward content to fill in the gaps continues to increase. In truth, there has probably never been a time that content matters more to online marketing than it does right now. But is content marketing truly a sustainable strategy for online marketers? Or will we see it abused and fall out of effectiveness over time, just as so many other web marketing tactics have?

If you’ve been paying attention, we’ve already seen the predictions of the demise of some often-used (and abused) content marketing strategies. Guest posting has all but been declared as spam by Matt Cutts, who heads up Google’s Webspam team. Well, depending on your motives, at least. What about our motives for our other content marketing strategies—shouldn’t those be suspect as well?

There could be a day when any content you write that links back to you could be considered spam. That may never happen, but it could, depending on what Google deems is necessary to keep their organic results free of manipulation. Either way, this possibility highlights the fact that “content marketing” in and of itself can be questionable, depending on Google’s algorithm of the day.

The Fall and Rise of Content Marketing

Content is The Means, Not The End

The web is a wonderful place for people looking for information. There is no shortage of content (both good and bad) that tells us how to perform a task, provides information we didn’t know, educates in new ways, or simply entertains us. For many searchers, this content is good content.

The other day I did some searches on how to clean the creosote from my wood burner. I read some step-by-step guides, watched some videos and then set out trying out different methods. Then I learned about the “top-down” method of building a fire. I’ve tried it. It works. I love it!

Yay for me, I’m learning new tricks.

While all the content I consumed on this topic served my purposes, did it serve the purpose of the sites that posted it? As helpful as that content was for me, did it meet the goals those sites set out to achieve? Maybe they were just in it for the ads (which I didn’t click on), or they offer products for my wood burner (which I didn’t buy). I honestly don’t know, because I was just there to get information I wanted and then I was gone.

Did any of those sites gain anything? Not from me. Heck, I don’t even know if I would recognize any of those sites if I were to land on them again.

If a Tree Falls in The Woods…

I suppose if I was a wood burner enthusiast, I would be more inclined to dig further into these sites. I might also spend some time reading comments and then comment myself after having tried out the different methods. I might look for sites where engagement is high, and I could bat ideas and thoughts back and forth about different wood burner tips, fire-building strategies, cleaning the pipes, etc. But that’s not me. I’m just a “get in, get the info, and get out” kind of guy.

If a tree falls in the woods, it still makes a sound. But if you put out content that people don’t engage with, the impact is missing. The point is, content alone only goes so far, especially for people like me. But for people like my wife, who is much more social than I am, content needs to come with the community as well. She is looking for a place to engage, interact and learn what others have to say about whatever content she just consumed.

For content to be effective it must be much more than just words on a page. Adding more content to your site is not a magic solution to success. But what does build success is creating a great user experience, and providing the right balance of information and customer engagement. You need content that gives visitors what they want and then propels them to whatever goals you have established. That is done by more than words alone!

The goal of any content strategy should be to build a community around those that share similar interests. That’s more than just having a comment section on your blog; it involves engaging with your visitors at a number of different levels. Content only gets people in the door, but it’s community that keeps them there.

Give a Man Content, he Gets Value For a Minute

Content is like the Chinese proverb, Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime: Give a man content, he gets value for a minute. The problem with most content strategies is that it speaks to only one person at a time. Someone searches, they click a link, they land on your site, they read, and maybe they buy a product they were hunting for. Come the next time, that process starts all over again. Only their search produces different results so they click a different link, land on a different website, read different content, buy the same product and then move on. They cycle is endless.

Does that make that content bad? Nope. It did the job it was intended to do by getting the visitor’s attention, providing information they need, and convincing them to buy your product or service. That’s the role of great content.

But content itself is a means to an end and we have to know what that end is if we want our content strategy to be effective. Whatever your goals are, content is just one tool in your arsenal. But like any tool, it has to be used correctly to be most effective at achieving the results you want.

Give a Man a Community, he Gets Value For a Lifetime

Over the years, and with the rise of social media, we’ve seen the web move from a place of content to a place of community. While content has a place in this community, if you build a community, you’re giving value far beyond any single piece of content. With a community, each piece of content tends to have a life of its own.

A community of users add stories, thoughts, dissent, agreement, and variations of the same idea. That piece of content becomes much larger than it ever could have been on its own. Could you image any social site surviving without the community aspect? Of course not. By their very nature, they require social interaction. Your business does too!

What makes publishing content different from building a community is interaction. With content, people read it and move on, but with a community people return again and again. Maybe to learn, or to teach, to interact or evaluate, to research or to share, or maybe just to do business with someone they have learned to trust. The point is, they are coming back, and that’s what you want.

Yes, you must have good content to build a community. But survival as an online entity requires more than producing content that is consumed on a person-by-person basis. Survival requires communities of people interacting and engaging. If you want to do more than achieve one sale at a time, then you need to leverage your content to help build your own community.

Content is Communication, Community is a Conversation

While it is impossible to have a conversation without content on the internet, content itself does not create a community. Content itself will never die because everything we do online is done through content. Some is longer lasting than others, but the truly lasting content is the content that is created through community conversation.

Content that isn’t part of a community is just a conversation with yourself. Self-engagement isn’t the goal, but community engagement is! Thinking about the proverbial tree in the woods, if you blog, tweet or share and no one reads it, are you really saying anything at all? No, not really. At least not in a meaningful way.

Good content gets consumed by someone other than the author and their immediate family. But great content facilitates a conversation. Which is also what search engines love. They like to see engagement with content on social networks, in blog comments and via links back to the content itself.

When great content is linked, shared, liked or tweeted, the search engines see this engagement as value. That value gets translated into improved search engine rankings. Search engines are not looking to rank websites with the best content, they look to rank sites that provide the most value to the community. Those two things can often be the same, but not always.

Leverage content to build conversation and a community

Image if Target or Costco had to rely entirely on new business, rarely, if ever, bringing back repeat shoppers. It would certainly make success more difficult. But it’s not entirely unheard of. Car dealers may get a repeat customer every few years, but there is a strong chance that it’s not an automatic re-sale for them. Car shoppers shop around!

This is what I imagine whenever I hear someone start talking only about creating a content strategy. A content strategy that doesn’t help build a lasting experience is really no strategy at all. It’s content for the sake of getting someone in in the door and hopefully become a customer, but isn’t necessarily designed to keep them as a continuing customer. Yet a truly successful content strategy uses content to develop an exceptional visitor experience. It’s all about being truly remarkable.

Offline businesses such as Costco and Target don’t build communities the same way we build them online, but rather they do it through discount prices, bulk products, great customer service, and variety. Both are building a shopping “experience” that creates a loyal shopper to their stores.

What’s the best way to build a community? It starts with content, but it doesn’t end there. You have to leverage your content and use that as a starting point for engaging and interacting with your visitors. Properly leveraged content develops a community that can then be steered toward your products, services, ads, etc.

Every business should try to create a community. You do that by establishing trust through the giving away of information. Use content to provide thoughts, opinions, advice, and good customer service to your visitors. You don’t have to build a community that interacts with each other (though that can help), but you can build a community that interacts with you. That can be done through blog comments or social sharing. Get your visitors engaged and they become your community and your brand evangelists. They also are your repeat customers!

People love conversation. Deliver it.

As I said earlier, good content can bring people to your site, but that’s doesn’t necessarily keep bringing them back. But community will. Good web marketing focuses not just on content but on conversation at the same time. If you want to build a community, don’t just write content, start the conversation.

Think about the best way to start a community in your niche. Start by  creating content people want to read, and then engage with your readers, visitors and customers as they share their thoughts and comments about it. The more you give visitors a reason to engage, the more you are able to develop a relationship with them. It’s that relationship that keeps them coming back.

Content marketing alone isn’t sustainable. With every piece of content published, we are fighting to be noticed in an ever-more crowded space. The key is to use content marketing to build a larger community. Create an atmosphere that encourages user interaction and facilitates discussion. Content alone talks at your visitors. TV and radio have that covered. Instead, foster an atmosphere that allows you to interact with your visitors. Interaction, like a good friendship, is sustainable forever. Why? Because community-based content is relationship based, not tactic based.


Image Credit

Featured Image: Roobcio via Shutterstock
Image #1: STILLFX via Shutterstock

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!, and President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading web presence optimization firm... Read Full Bio
Stoney G deGeyter
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  • Norton Loomer

    Contrary to your title, it sounds like you are saying that content marketing is super important! 🙂

    • Stoney deGeyter

      Content for the sake of content, no. Content that builds a community, yes.

  • Alex Morris

    Communities are great, as I’ve witnessed on Google+, but it really depends on what your site is. Some businesses don’t have a chance there. Some things people just want to buy, not discuss. Like sandwiches. I guess you could try engaging people through competitions and the like, but it only works to a certain extent.

    • Stoney deGeyter

      I disagree Alex. I think you can build a community around anything. I don’t mean a Google+ type community, but a place where people can interact and engage. I can think of a hundred ways to do so with a sandwich shop. It’s all in the approach.

  • David Boozer

    Hey Stoney, great piece and yes, I LOVE A GOOD FIREPLACE!!!!!!!

  • dartanian22

    Stoney, Thanks for writing the article its a good write up and the view’s expressed around content marketing have some solid points, I would however point out that the community over single content engagement proposition is a very old way of looking at the internet and how consumers interact both on line and with brands. In relation to real time engagement and search the rise of “served” over “searched” content is dramatic as most if not all news / real time relevant content is now severed through social networks both professionally and personally and not searched for by an individual (only when they are looking for a product do they search) and that’s the rub.

    In short platform’s like Facebook and LinkedIn and even blogs, YouTube and online mags are like TV sets they are not communities or places to build communities they are content share and consumption points and channels. (they are not “social media communities” they are the places where we the potential consumer choose to share a massively diverse amount content with our existing personal networks “serve it to others” under our personal brand) so I would advise not trying to compete with that as your not going to win! and for that reason trying to build a community is a tough call and something easily lost to your business in the long run.

    It is far to simple to say that creating a community is the answer and content just part of that answer when the individual (your potential customer) has limited time for communities unless they are personally their own and will choose to consume and / or engage in multiple ways namely on a served content basis.. because of who they are and who they interact with. Personally for me community building is an adoration of the 90’s and should be left there when it comes to social media.

    • Stoney deGeyter

      I’m not sure how you can be effective at social media without focusing on community building. That is the crux of social media in itself. And social is built with engaging content that is sharable, draws people in and facilitates conversation and further shares. Maybe I’m completely missing your point, but it seems you’ve made mine.

  • Antar Chakma

    Now a days from all the internet marketer or SEO professional we hear that content is king and there is no other strategy working fluently than a quality content though I’m not quite sure and have not much idea!! So how can we consider the simple link building process like blog comment, promoting on forum or social bookmark etc?? I mean still actually the simple link building strategy have any value or not??

    • Stoney deGeyter

      Link building still has value but earning links via content is probably the best way to do it in today’s environment. That’s where using your community really pays off.

  • linagadri

    Great article, couldn’t agree more. Especially regarding Facebook, which is, after all, the book of faces – we must not forget the purpose it was created for. Content IS king; but the one that creates strong emotions and drives people to feel like they are part of a community.

  • Jason Dea

    Great post. That oldest of analogies “if a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it”, is really the crux of the content marketing challenge IMHO. Content creation (good stuff anyway) is just about the most labor intensive and difficult to scale job in marketing. Add in the ongoing cost of maintaining a real community (or at least two way communication beyond a one way broadcast) and you’ve really fundamentally changed the paradigm of resource allocation and spending for marketing.

    Everybody “wants” to do this well, but everyone I know also hits a wall about 10% in when the stark realization of the true cost of content is + the amount of time it takes to pay off (Google noticing) leaves most content strategies I see orphaned far too early.

    I’m curious if you see this all unfolding as survival of the fittest, or do you think there is room for everyone to actually do it all well?