Are you guilty of producing and publishing content simply for the sake of doing so?
Maybe you were once told that a surefire way to increase your presence on the SERPs is to regularly publish 500-word blog posts on the grounds that “Google loves fresh content.”
On the other hand, maybe you’ve just always been in the practice of producing as much content as possible, ticking a box against a requirement from above, placing more of a focus on the number of pieces published rather than the quality.
If this sounds like the extent of your “content strategy,” then you need to take immediate action.
Stop it now!
Because, at best, you’re wasting your time.
There’s a good chance that producing content without a clear goal is doing very little for your brand.
There’s also every possibility that much of this would classify as thin content with no unique value.
The good news?
It’s easy to change old habits.
You just need to understand how to put a purpose on every piece of content you create.
The Purpose of Content
Ask yourself a question:
“As a brand, why do you produce content?”
Seriously. Go ahead, write down your answer(s).
What did you come up with?
Hopefully, you have a list of a number of different purposes.
Some common answers include:
- To keep our blog looking active.
- Google likes to see regular content.
- Our director wants five blog posts published every week.
If these are the types of answers you’d give, then you’re producing content simply for the sake of it.
There’s no real purpose behind the content you’re producing and, clearly, no goals in place.
This is a massive mistake. It can result in a significant waste of resources.
Every single piece of content you produce must have a purpose.
Your content should be working toward one or more wider marketing goals.
You should be able to justify to anyone why you took the decision to write that blog post or design that infographic.
What then, can the purpose of a piece of content look like?
4 Simple Content Purposes
Typically (and there’s always exceptions), content will be produced for one of the following reasons:
- To earn links.
- To rank on the SERPs.
- To educate an audience.
- To drive social engagement.
It’s all about understanding what any specific piece of content can do for your brand.
- How can it work hard toward wider marketing goals?
- Is it good enough to actually achieve any of these?
- Does it need to take a certain format to do so?
Here’s a deeper look at these four content purposes.
1. To Earn Links
Maybe you’re using content marketing as a link building tactic – producing story-first content which is then covered, and linked to, by top-tier publications.
This will likely be produced in a way which is accessible to journalists:
- Data-driven infographics.
- Interactive tools.
- Survey results.
Think “linkable assets” and you’re somewhere along the right lines.
This certainly isn’t exclusive, however.
Common types of content produced with the intention of earning links include:
- Interactive tools.
- Guest posts.
- Expert comment contributions.
No one content format earns links, and that’s OK.
You can’t be expected to stick to one type of content, rather understand during the strategy and planning stage of a campaign that links are the goal.
We’re typically not talking 10,000-word guides here, rather something linkable and which adds fresh, data-driven value to a topic.
With this in mind, we know that links are one of the main ranking signals used by Google.
Without big links, you’ll struggle to gain visibility.
As such, every brand, regardless of whether they’re competing on a local scale as a brick and mortar store or are an ecommerce giant, needs to be producing content with the purpose of landing links.
Content that earns links needs to be amazing.
Not just good.
Link building gets harder and harder, however with the right ideas and an understanding as to the goals, both ideation and production can align to deliver content solely intended for this purpose.
2. To Rank on the SERPs
If you want to earn traffic from organic search, you need to rank in top positions.
It’s as simple as that.
Long gone are the days when you can rank with garbage content, however. Panda put an end to that.
If the purpose of the content you’re producing is to rank and earn organic traffic, it’s likely you’ll be creating something very different than if you’re looking to land links.
Again, that’s absolutely fine. It’s all about acknowledging the purpose of the content and aligning the format and production to the goals.
Let’s look at an example.
If you’ve carried out keyword research and established that there’s the potential to earn high-quality traffic through a top ranking for the term “free things to do in San Francisco” (let’s, for a moment, say you’re marketing a travel brand).
When the purpose of the content is to rank, it needs to be the best piece about the topic.
Work to this principle and you’ll already be miles ahead of many competitors, but this is one of the areas where marketers commonly fall down.
Remember our discussion above around writing 500-word blog posts that add no value to a topic?
If you want to rank in prominent organic positions for searches of “free things to do in San Francisco”, you’re going to struggle unless you’re able to create the very best guide on the web.
Think about it.
Google, Bing and the other search engines want to return the best and most relevant results for a query.
So why would they rank content that isn’t up to scratch?
It’s simple. They won’t.
Again, we come back to the fact that it’s easy to waste time and resources producing content if you’ve not properly aligned to goals and understand the purpose behind it.
In terms of creating the very best content, you need to understand what makes a piece better than another and it’s why it’s so important to spend time analyzing the SERPs for terms before you move into production.
That way you can look to establish the commonalities between first page rankings and understand ways in which you can enhance those already ranking at the top.
It’s a common misconception that you can knock a result off the top spots by simply increasing the length.
Creating the best result for a specific search query goes far beyond this.
It’s important that you consider searcher intent (what does the user actually want to read and engage with), user experience, and other factors.
Think of it this way:
If you’re able to find 100 free things to do in San Fran, who really wants to read a straight-up, bulleted list? That’s by no means the best format for a #1 ranking.
What would better meet the searcher’s query and intent is a filterable guide which allows you to sort by the type of ‘to do’ – for families, couples, solo travelers, etc. – complete with specific location information, contact details, images, reviews, and a write-up.
See the difference?
When the purpose of your content is to rank, you need to focus on what will result in that happening rather than falling into a trap of producing sub-par 500-word blog posts.
3. To Educate an Audience
Content is typically produced as marketing material.
That means there will always be content intended to educate an audience – that with the goal of moving potential clients and customers through the sales funnel.
In many cases, there’s a lot of crossover between content produced with the purpose of ranking and that which educates, however, there are also instances where these are done in a silo.
For example, an ebook or white paper that typically won’t rank on its own under competitive terms but has a definite place in the overall marketing strategy.
When it comes to producing content that educates, take the time to understand the questions your audience is asking as well as conducting a detailed content gap analysis against competitors.
It’s all about ensuring that:
- When a potential customer searches for information relating to the products or services you offer, you’ve produced content that answers their questions – and it’s ranking.
- Once this user lands on your site, there’s further content that pushes them through the sales funnel.
Bottom line: such content can take many different forms.
Content absolutely doesn’t need to be produced solely for the purpose of ranking or earning links, so long as you’ve got the justification as to how it plays a role in the wider strategy.
4. To Drive Social Engagement
You can’t ignore social media.
For many brands, it’s a powerful platform to drive brand awareness and engagement.
From a content perspective, however, to see real success you need to produce content solely for the purpose of driving social engagement – again showcasing just how content needs to be produced with a goal in mind, not just for the sake of it.
We’re all aware that video does well across social platforms, as do images, quizzes, and other fun, interactive formats.
If that’s the case, that’s what brands need to focus on creating.
A 5,000-word guide written with the goal of ranking on the SERPs is likely going to tank on social media.
It’s just not what social audiences want to consume (unless there’s something really special within it that can generate shares, likes, and buzz).
However, a quiz or competition may only perform on social.
When you’re producing content with a purpose, however, that’s absolutely fine. So long as it meets its own goal, no problems.
By all means, understand the value of social (you’d be crazy not to).
However, don’t be tempted to try to utilize content for different purposes if it seems difficult to do so.
Focus on seeing great results from the main goal and move on to producing a different type of content to meet other goals.
Not Every Piece of Content Ticks All Boxes
There’s often a tendency to try and align a single piece of content with multiple goals, trying to produce something which will earn links, rank at the top of the SERPs for high volume terms, educate audiences, and drive strong engagement on social media.
Sorry, it’s unlikely to happen.
Just as it’s a mistake to have no strategy in place and to produce content simply for the sake of doing so, it also isn’t advisable to try to tick too many boxes with a single piece.
Think about it.
Content requires a significant investment both in time and, often, financial resources when done right.
As a brand, it’s important that it performs as part of the wider marketing strategy – be that to drive awareness, direct sales, or contribute towards another channel (e.g., SEO).
When you make the mistake of setting multiple purposes for a content piece, you’re ultimately going to have to make sacrifices somewhere.
Maybe you need to go wordier to rank when you wanted to keep it simple and visual for social sharing.
Maybe you really needed to earn links but decide to go long-form to rank as well…
It gets messy, doesn’t it?
Taking this approach results in content that underperforms and, in reality, ends up being a waste of time and resources.
You’re far better off focusing upon a single purpose for content and executing to the best of your ability.
Sometimes there will be a crossover between different purposes. But always look to identify a single reason why you’re producing every content piece.
No one expects a single piece of content to achieve everything for a brand and for this reason, you need to focus on smashing goals and KPIs relating to the main purpose. Anything else is a bonus.
Take the time to educate your wider team and work to ensure everyone is on the same page, understanding the goal of every piece of content to drive forward success and ensure that resources aren’t being wasted on content which, in reality, does nothing for a brand.
Featured Image Credit: Paulo Bobita