Companies across various industries are rushing into the content marketing arena – developing content to spread awareness, to improve “findability” in search, to gain the trust of potential customers, and to extract contact information from prospects in order to initiate an ongoing relationship that will (hopefully) ring the register in the future.
The “content engine” is the team, processes and tools that combine to take inputs (target audience, keywords, social media behavior, analytics) and spit out high quality, consistent and targeted content to be delivered to the company’s audience via the blog, webinars, ebooks, infographics, slide presentations and videos.
One important asset that the content engine supports is the company blog. The blog is critical because it helps generate awareness of the company via social media, it provides SEO benefits with the constant generation of new, keyword-rich posts, and it allows the company to add value to and gain trust from readers, including prospects, existing customers, and industry influencers. If done right, the blog can play a key role in a company’s overall marketing strategy.
Why do Content Engines stall?
So, it sounds pretty clear. Content marketing is an important way to reach your potential customers. The blog is a key to content marketing. The content engine should be set up to produce great and consistent blog content (as well as other content). But, in discussions with companies across various industries and of different sizes, I’ve come to find that many of them have challenges gaining traction with their blogs, and with getting the underlying content engine to perform as well as desired.
If the blog, and the underlying machine are so important, why are so many content engines stalled out? Here are six issues I’ve found. I’d love your thoughts in the comments as well!
1) Writing to a blended audience
When writers create posts and don’t know who they’re writing for, that’s a problem. Just writing on a “topic” to a generic “audience” is the route to an average blog with uninspired posts. Instead, figure out which readers you want to serve – your different buyer personas, as well as other purchase influencers.
Once you have a set of personas and know what they care about, you’ll find a much richer set of content options and your posts can be much more specific, helping you deliver more value and assisting your SEO strategy as well.
Don’t try to write to a blend of all of your target personas with each post. Pick one to focus on and you can dig that much deeper.
2) Too much art, not enough science
What I love about content marketing is that it’s a great blend of art and science. The problem occurs when it’s all art and no science. In these cases, the content loses it’s connection to the business. Use things like keyword data to help you understand which terms your target audience is using in the search engines. Drill down into what your high priority personas really care about and use these topics for post inspiration. Find out what prospects want to know about before they make a choice to buy your, or your competitors’, products. Find out what new customers ask about in the sales calls before signing up or when they first start using the products or services. Measure results of your posts and adjust based on what works.
For your different audience types, understand their “information gaps”, issues and frequently asked questions. Don’t just sit in a room and brainstorm posts each month because you’ll quickly run out of inspiration.
3) Using the wrong metrics
If your content team’s goals are based on how many posts they create, then you risk having posts that come in on time but that don’t drive traffic or business. If your goals include traffic, then you risk having more of a focus on memes or other popular topics that drive traffic, but not buyers. If your team is measured on how much traffic the posts drive and how many leads, trials or demos they create, then you will start to orient your team towards goals that actually drive the business.
Not having results-oriented metrics often results in regular delivery of content that adds little value to your target audience.
4) Lack of content and social “yin & yang”
Social media and content are like yin and yang. They feed off each other and will live or die together. All too often, the content is not great for social, and the people responsible for social media, don’t do a great job of sharing. Make sure the social and content teams work together to align on what posts will work well in social, how to optimize them for shareability, and the process of getting them shared in the right places as soon as they’re produced (and also later on a regular schedule).
5) Not shooting for excellence
As mentioned above, content teams are often measured on how many posts they produce. This creates a dynamic of “getting content out the door”. The reality is that poor or average content adds very little benefit in terms of social media, SEO or gaining the trust and respect of your prospects. A good post can add 2-3x* the benefits of a poor post because it can get some sharing, interest and search traffic by being more optimized, more valuable and more targeted to the intended audience. A great post can be worth 10-100x the value of an average post! In fact, only great posts have the opportunity to go really viral, which can get your content in front of hundreds (or thousands) of prospects, influencers or potential partners. Average or good posts, just won’t get there.
Work with your content team to push their posts from average to good and to great. What topics will be more compelling? How can we make this specific post that much better? What is no one saying that we can write about? Can we go beyond a list of 5 items to 20 or 30? Can we get higher production value on this post, video or infographic? Can we answer some very critical questions? Can we teach some complex topics in a unique way? Can we bring in an expert to provide fresh insight or thought leadership?
An excellent post leaves (at least some portion of) readers thinking:
“This is exactly what I’ve been looking for”
“I’m blown away by the detail on that post”
“That’s a very cool way to show that”
“I definitely learned a couple of new things”
“Okay, now I finally know (how, why)….”
“I have to share this with my (co-worker, boss, friend, wife, boyfriend)!”
“I have to save this list – this has everything I need”
“This is a great comparison of X, Y, Z”
6) Poor curb appeal
People have short attention spans. Poor or unapproachable layout and design of the blog and any particular post can discourage people from reading the post or sharing it in social media. Posts that discourage reading and sharing are those that have large blocks of text, few pictures or graphics (or very bland ones), no section headers (for easy skimming), font that’s too small or large, and a poor introduction to the post.
Make posts more approachable by breaking up large paragraphs into smaller, shorter ones, adding headers to highlight sections, including compelling pictures or graphics, making sure fonts are neither too big or too small. Just like a house for sale, those posts with poor curb appeal will suffer, while those with high curb appeal will profit.
Revving up your Content Engine
A well-running content engine can be an extremely valuable asset for any company. Optimizing your company’s approach allows each piece of content to be more targeted, to provide more value for the reader, and to deliver better business results.
How would you rate your company’s content engine? Is it seized up and on the side of the road? Limping along? Or, zipping along at a nice clip, driving traffic and leads? Let me know in the comments.