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.
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.