Kyle’s note: Many marketers are starting to feel the pressure of increased competition in content marketing. Ross has put together an incredible detailed list of the challenges that will come with that increased competition. Over to Ross.
Let’s all just stop and take a breath of fresh air. As marketers, we love jumping on bandwagons and last year, boy did we jump on the content-marketing wagon.
To help explain just how big of a bandwagon we’re all in, let’s take a look at the numbers. Google Trends shows the total search volume for content marketing almost doubled from January 2013 to January 2014!
These numbers really don’t surprise me. Marketing in the digital world is less about long-term strategy and more about taking advantage of short-term opportunities.
I mentioned earlier how marketers love jumping on bandwagons. Who else jumped on AdWords, SEO and Facebook advertising when they were hot?
I’m not saying content marketing is a fad or a short-term strategy; it definitely is a viable long-term strategy. But what I am predicting is that content marketing needs to get better in order to remain relevant.
You can no longer write content just for content’s sake. Edmund Pelgen summed this up really well in a comment on my last post for WP Curve. He said, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across brands publishing insane 300 word blog posts simply so they can say they’ve invested their Content Marketing Budget.”
This seems to be the mindset for many business owners who are exploring content marketing. It’s another channel that can be allocated a budget and put in the marketing plan.
Well, a word of warning. This will not work in 2015.
Content has gotten hard – real hard.
Why? Because every marketer on the bandwagon is using content marketing to grow their business. This is making it very hard to stand out and has led me to make some big changes in the way I use content marketing for my clients.
So with that in mind, I’ve put together a list of seven content marketing challenges you will face in 2015. Accompanying these challenges are my thoughts on how you can overcome them. I’ve also reached out to my favorite content marketers to get their insights as well.
1. Getting engagement
We want more visits, more shares and more comments.
I’m sure you’ve heard that before. Content engagement is a big challenge for marketers this year. There is increased competition for your audience’s attention. Heck, CMI research found that 69% of marketers say they are creating more content now than they did a year ago.
Remember back in the day when you were the thought leader because you were the only one doing content marketing?
Those days are well and truly over.
Getting engagement in the past meant writing a great article, optimizing it for search and social, and sending it to your email database. This was literally all you needed to do to make content marketing work.
Related: 15 essential elements of our most engaging content
Nowadays, you need to do more. To succeed in 2015, you need 3 things:
Exceptionable ideas and concepts
Regurgitating top 10 lists isn’t effective. You need to come up with your own unique ideas and concepts that are forward thinking and challenge existing opinions. The best marketers are using content to influence behavior. They are combining research and their own opinions to form new concepts that help their audience like never before.
Gregory Ciotti, marketer at Help Scout, is one of the best. He delivers new ideas that push his audience to think about topics on a deeper level. Gregory even coins these new ideas and references them throughout his writing.
Help Scout doesn’t create content on overdone topics like the top 10 customer service tips. They create content on how to use data to build a happy team and why a style guide is needed for customer support.
The WP Curve guys love visual content – and for good reason. We are all visual creatures by nature, so accompanying your words with visuals can be a powerful way to explain ideas.
Screenshots, graphs and custom images work really well. My new personal favorite for visual content – which I stole from Kyle Gray – involves sharing quotes inside images. I grab a quote from a respected leader that my audience trusts and pop it in a visually appealing image. Like this:
It’s engaging! People love it. They’ll also share it if you ask!
Related: How to increase engagement through visual content
Personalization and hyper-focus
Your audience wants content that is applicable to them. Why should a consumer read a B2B-focused article? There is so much content to choose from, your audience will go to the content that relates most to them. To get more engagement, you need to narrow down who your audience is and write specifically to them. Address personal problems they are experiencing, and use content to add value and help them with solutions.
Engagement is a constant focus for WP Curve. Dan Norris tells me that they face the same challenge every content marketer faces: how to “consistently create content that people care about.”
“We’ve gone from hitting 1 post out of 20 or so a year ago to every second or third post being a hit,” he says.
WP Curve invests a lot of time and money in their content. They need every post to be a hit.
Here are 5 ways WP Curve increases content engagement:
Listen to your readers and use strict topic guidelines
WP Curve engages their audience and listens to their problems, questions and challenges. If Dan gets multiple emails from customers asking how they tackle content promotion, they’ll write an article on it.
Similarly, if Kyle notices that certain blog posts are really popular (i.e., How to use Trello for project management), he knows his audience might like similar content in the future.
Use visual content wherever possible
Screenshots, charts, Slideshares, custom illustrations, headers, Tweets, quotable images, interactive visuals, data visualization, quizzes and more!
Wherever you can add visual content that will enhance the experience for your audience, do it.
But a word of caution – don’t overdo it! Only use visual content where it adds to the conversation.
Promote, promote, promote
Content engagement takes its fair share of hustle. You need to promote your content to get it in front of your audience.
To get you started, here are my 3 promotion tips:
- Promote it to your audience: Email list, social media channels, customers and friends
- Promote it to your influencers: Eeach out via email and Twitter to people who have an audience that may find your content useful
- Promote it via paid ads: Twitter ads, Facebook ads and LinkedIn ads can be very effective at getting your content in front of new prospective readers
Related: WP Curve’s content promotion strategy and process
Write headlines that catch the eye
Did you know that 8 out of 10 people read headlines but only 2 out of 10 will continue reading?
To increase engagement, you need a catchy headline that accurately describes your content.
Top-performing headlines start with understanding the purpose of your article and why your audience will want to read it. Only then can you start brainstorming different headline types that you can A/B test to determine a winner.
Related: A simple formula for writing great headlines
Use online quizzes to stand out
Did you know the most popular article on NY Times in 2013 was a quiz?
See? Creating engaging content can be as simple as using quizzes to interact with your audience.
Related: Learn how to create quizzes in our viral quiz guide.
2. Creating useful content consistently
Finding the time to create content is still going to be a challenge for most marketers. You’re likely pressed for time, being dragged from one task to the next.
Allocating a solid full day to content can be hard. But if you fail to keep a consistent schedule of useful content, you risk losing your audience’s attention. By simply missing a couple of weeks, your audience might start looking elsewhere for advice.
To help you meet your content production targets, I challenge you to stop taking sole responsibility for the content your business creates and find some help.
Help may come from inside your organization (colleagues) or outside (hired help).
Getting help from colleagues
Involving your team can really help you meet your content production targets. As content becomes more of a priority inside your organization, you’ll notice that colleagues will want to contribute.
I remember when I debuted my content initiative at a previous company I worked for. It was seen as a marketing play and I couldn’t get anyone else to contribute.
Over time, we positioned content as an integral part of the entire business and that opened up the door for others to get involved.
Here are some ideas to help you get started.
- Start small: Invite your team to share their ideas via email. An email is a lot less intimidating than an entire article. Then you can take the ideas and polish them up into an article.
- Q&A: Ask three team members a question and pull the answers into an article that reflects your company’s opinions. Need inspiration? Start with a 2015 trends about XYZ article.
- Ask questions: Ask your team members questions via email or instant chat. Keep it simple so it only takes them a couple of minutes to answer. Use these as quotes inside your content to expand on your ideas and concepts.
Hiring/finding outside help
Don’t be afraid to hire writers. Provided you hire writers with domain expertise and a similar writing style, you can certainly scale up content production and maintain high-quality content.
Instead of hiring writers from marketplaces like Zerys, you should source writers directly. Browse popular publications within your industry and find writers that demonstrate domain expertise and have a great style that fits your brand.
Here are some ways you can hire top writers:
- Post a job on Problogger. You’ll get a bunch of bad applications, but persist through these and you’ll find some great people. Remember that remuneration reflects quality. If you’re only paying $100/article, you’ll get the bottom feeders. Pay $300 and you’ll get the cream of the crop.
- Visit top publications and blogs in your niche. Search through the contributors and find the freelance writers.
- Search Google. Type in <your industry> writer to find writers in your industry. Check out their work to see if they’re a good fit.
- Search Twitter using a tool like Socialbro. Type in <your industry> writer to find writers in your industry.
As an example, I needed to hire some help for a client who is in the IT services industry. Finding IT writers that are experienced and know how to write is hard.
I hunted down writers by posting a job on Problogger. In the job description I specifically asked for people who had prior experience working in the IT industry. Domain expertise is essential to ensure they can draw on personal experiences. I got plenty of applications and found some great writers.
WP Curve is a great example of a business that uses hired help. There are a number of contributors who have domain expertise and a great writing style that WP Curve uses to scale their content production.
Here are 3 ways WP Curve creates useful content consistently:
- Use Problogger to hire guest writers
- Keep strict content guidelines to maintain quality and style
- Don’t find writers; find experts with writing skills
3. Keeping content marketing organized
When you start scaling content and hiring outside help, your organization can suffer. Staying on top of your content efforts is essential to your success. If you get unorganized, you risk missing deadlines and publishing sub-par content – both of which can kill readership fast.
Managing your content in your brain – or on a piece of paper – isn’t going to help you stay organized. Instead, you should look to use smart, collaborative tools that can keep you on track.
The best content marketers use tools like Trello and CoSchedule to manage their content production.
Trello has been getting a good plug on the WP Curve blog lately. And rightly so! It is powerful, particularly if you want to manage content marketing. I use Trello, Kyle at WP Curve uses Trello, and Kevan at Buffer uses Trello.
Why? Because Trello has 4 important features that you need:
- Lists that can act as workflows
- User collaboration so you can assign tasks to writers
- Handy integrations with Google docs and other apps
- Due dates and notifications
Related: How to use Trello for project management
CoSchedule puts your blog and your social media on the same drag-and-drop calendar, right from inside WordPress.
To get started, you can add your new blog post onto the calendar on the proposed date…
… then schedule your social media posts in relation to the blog post.
Set it up like this:
Now from one screen, inside WordPress, you can see your content calendar and content promotion schedule.
With CoSchedule, you can manage your content calendar and your team so you can stay organized and never miss a deadline.
Related: Trello vs CoSchedule: Editorial calendar review for content marketers
I’m a big fan of how WP Curve manages their content production. They have seamlessly scaled production from 4 blog posts per month to up to 10.
How did they do this?
Hire a content marketing manager
Towards the end of 2014, Dan stepped back from head content creator and WP Curve hired Kyle to head up their content initiatives. Instead of Dan juggling content with his other commitments, WP Curve now has one person solely focused on content.
Kyle has a full 40 hours a week to look after the content strategy. When it comes to content, time is everything. The more time you have to create and promote content, the more success you will have.
Use Trello to manage guest contributors
Kyle manages his team of writers using Trello. A typical guest contribution works like this:
- WP Curve team adds content idea to the “open ideas” list
- Guest contributor picks idea he or she wants
- Kyle and guest collaborate on the core ideas to expand the topic
- Kyle sets deadline in Trello
- Writer completes the article draft and uploads Google doc via Trello
- Writer follows publishing checklist
- Kyle collaborates on doc and gets article ready for publishing.
Here’s a quick look at WP Curve’s guest content Trello board:
Use an editorial calendar
I asked Kyle from WP Curve to provide some insight on how they use an editorial calendar.
“The WP Curve calendar is a pretty lightweight system. We use the calendar add-on and lay out cards across the calendar to represent days when we want to publish the post. I try to plan content out around a month in advance.”
WP Curve uses colored labels to mark the status of each post. This gives Kyle a good idea about where the posts are and what needs attention. These are the labels they use.
- Ready to publish
- Awaiting feedback
Related: How to use Trello as an editorial calendar
4. Writing content with a strategy, purpose and goal
Content with no purpose is useless. You’ll waste time and not reap the rewards you are looking for.
I saw this time and time again in 2014. Marketers were writing content, but not understanding why they are writing content.
Before you pick up a pen – or keyword – ask yourself why you are writing and why you are using content marketing inside your business.
These two questions will guide your entire content marketing strategy.
Instead of just allocating part of the marketing budget to content and winging it, I challenge you to clearly develop a content strategy that is tightly linked to your broader marketing strategy.
The best marketers use a strategy to keep their content focused on working towards their end goals.
Here’s a quick 3-step approach to setting a clear content strategy.
Step 1. Determine the end goal for your content
- Do you want to attract new visitors, leads and sales?
- Do you want to build brand awareness and trust?
- Do you want to increase customer loyalty and grow advocacy?
Step 2. Define your purpose by answering these three questions:
- Why are you investing in content marketing?
- Why does your audience want to read your content?
- What value does your audience get out of your content?
Step 3. Use metrics to measure content marketing success
- Track the number of visitors, subscribers, customer inquiries and closed deals.
- Track visitor-to-customer conversion rate, number of engagements per content piece and sales cycle length.
- Track the number of return visitors, number of customers who came from referrals and the number of positive brand mentions online.
5. Focusing too much on content and neglecting other channels
What if I told you that you’re focusing too much on content marketing?
What if too much is actually your downfall?
Focusing solely on content marketing can be detrimental to your business. Why? Because content by itself may not drive sales.
Related: 6 things you should do right now instead of creating more content
Content marketing should be used in conjunction with other marketing channels. Your content needs to support your search marketing. Your content also needs to support your sales team.
Some content marketers have the problem of looking at marketing through content goggles. They neglect other marketing channels, which, in turn, reduces the effectiveness of their content marketing.
This proved a challenge for Gregory Ciotti and Help Scout in 2014.
Gregory says, “When you have a content hammer, everything can start to look like a content nail. Our biggest challenges in 2014 were perhaps spawned from over-estimating what content can do. It can do a whole lot, but even a huge piece of the puzzle is still just a piece.”
Help Scout relied too heavily on content and neglected other channels like paid search. To overcome this, Help Scout has hired a growth marketer in 2015.
“In 2015, we now have a growth marketer and plans to hire more talented people on the marketing front. Getting data-driven about what we publish and seeing what gaps our content is leaving (which can be filled with paid marketing, amplification, etc.) will be the big thing on our plate this year,” he said.
I know this won’t be the case for everyone. For example, WP Curve focuses nearly 100% of their marketing budget on content marketing. The only paid marketing they do is retargeting with Adroll (very small budget).
But in the grand scheme of things, your content is really there to assist your existing marketing initiatives.
Let me show you 3 examples of how content assists your other marketing channels.
Content is used to convert paid search traffic
Not all search traffic is ready to buy. Most visitors are researching and evaluating your product. Content must be used to help visitors who aren’t quite ready to buy yet.
Best practice guides, comparison guides and checklists all act as great resources to help search visitors learn more about you before they are ready to buy. By offering content, you can capture prospect information and add value at the same time.
Content is used by sales to close deals
Sales needs content! Let me say that again. Your sales team needs your content!
If your marketing and sales teams are not working together, you’re doing content marketing wrong. These two departments need to be integrated and you need to work with sales to produce content that they need to close deals.
If sales needs a PDF that compares your products against your competitors products, produce it and give it to them.
Content is used to educate customers
Content educates customers in 2 ways:
- It helps you show customers how to use your product.
- It helps you show customers use your product can help them make more money or save more money.
For instance, Help Scout uses content to help thier customers deliver better customer experiences. Yes, their customers might buy Help Scout’s Help Desk software, but Gregory and the team want to help their customers use the help desk better in order to grow their business.
This is where content can add value beyond the sale.
But why bother? I can hear you asking…
Well, guess what this translates into. It translates into increased advocacy, higher satisfaction and improved retention.
Here are 3 marketing channels you should try. All 3 will compliment your content marketing.
- Paid search: This is an easy win. Use content as a secondary call to action on your landing pages.
- Social media ads: Stop using social media ads just to sell products. Experiment with promoting your content to reach more people.
- Offline events: Run local events, sponsor events and speak at conferences. All of these offline initiatives present great opportunities to bring printed-out copies of your content. For example, put together a short book with your 10 most popular articles. Reuse your awesome content to start building relationships with your audience in real life (scary, right).
6. Driving ROI from content marketing
The greatest pressure facing your content marketing is ROI. You need to know how much revenue content is adding to your bottom line.
Unfortunately, many businesses still consider content marketing to be merely a tactic. You want to know how much revenue is directly generated by your articles, webinars, eBooks and infographics.
This is a sticky situation to be in because, quite frankly, you’re never going to be able to produce remarkable ROI if you’re only considering new business from content.
Content plays a far bigger role than simply being the final touch point for closing a deal.
Instead of measuring ROI of content based solely off leads and sales generated from content, we need to consider the other areas where content adds value.
Here are 3 additional ways content contributes to ROI:
If a customer reads a blog post or eBook, then returns via a Google paid ad, who gets the conversion? Is it content or paid search?
If you’re not adding assisted conversions to your ROI, you’re missing out on revenue from content.
Nurturing through buyer’s journey
Content can be used to influence all prospects in your funnel. Content can influence leads from paid search, direct mail and even trade shows.
This value needs to be attributed to content.
Customer happiness and advocacy
Content has a job to do after the sale, yet most companies aren’t attributing the retention revenue to content. If you increase customer happiness by 20% because your content helps, educates and informs your customers, that needs to be attributed to content ROI.
How much is a 20% increase in customer happiness worth to your company?
Advocacy is an even bigger story. If your content influences customer advocacy, is it getting credit for all those word-of-mouth referrals? Probably not, but it should!
WP Curve, Baremetrics and Groove HQ have built their companies through content and word of mouth. Content and advocacy go hand in hand.
How important is ROI for Campaign Monitor?
Campaign Monitor is one company that realizes the pressure of generating ROI from content. Aaron Beashel, content and community manager at Campaign Monitor, tells me that their biggest challenge is converting visitors into leads and signups.
“We pull in a great amount of traffic to our content, but we provide no real next step for visitors. They can either sign up for our product (which is a big ask for a person who’s just read 1 article) or they simply leave. So to overcome this, we’re working on building out a set of offers (guides, templates, etc) that we can begin to offer people once they’ve read a blog post or content piece on the site.”
This is certainly a must do for all marketers. You need to have a system in place to capture lead information and nurture those leads through the buying process.
Aaron knows that content alone isn’t going to convert visitors into sales. He needs to take them through a personalized buying journey.
“[We are] building out some really targeted lead nurturing email campaigns that drip feed leads the right information depending on the stage of the buying cycle they are in.”
How to measure content ROI
Attributing ROI to content is easy. Use a lead tracking system to track all leads and tag them whenever they visit content on your website. Make sure you track how many content pieces are used before a prospect turns into a sale.
Measure content ROI using these 2 metrics:
- Number of pages viewed before deal closed (e.g., customer visits 5 blog posts through buyer’s journey)
- Number of content pages sales used to convert (e.g., sales sends customer link to eBook or blog post for more information)
Measuring the impact content has on customer satisfaction and advocacy is much harder. The best way to do this is to include a question specifically related to content in your customer satisfaction surveys.
For example, at Client Heartbeat, one of the 6 questions they use to measure satisfaction is about content:
How happy are you with the educational content we provide? (scale 1-10)
This gives Client Heartbeat a great indication of how content is contributing to customer happiness. If they are getting 10s for education but overall satisfaction is 8, it’s safe to assume content is playing a big part in bringing up overall satisfaction. But if content is 6 and overall satisfaction is 8, then content is likely playing no part at all.
7. Understanding technical SEO and growing organic traffic
Organic search traffic is super important for content marketers. It provides a steady stream of targeted visitors that have problems your content solves.
But ranking at the top of Google for specific search terms isn’t easy. In fact, Jimmy Daly, marketer at Vero, listed technical SEO as their biggest content marketing challenge in 2014.
The team struggled to get traction with organic search. I reached out to Jimmy to get his thoughts:
“Organic search, in my opinion, is the single most reliable indicator of site health. If it’s not growing month over month, we have a serious problem. So while we were getting some organic traffic, it wasn’t reliable and it wasn’t growing much.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Jimmy here. Organic traffic is essential to your content marketing success. If you aren’t increasing your organic numbers, you’re either producing content that people don’t care about or you’re not optimizing it to be found in Google’s search results.
Jimmy says, “In mid-2014, we got very aggressive about keyword strategy and link building. In the last 6 months, we’ve doubled organic traffic and it’s growing at 15% month over month.”
Here are some technical SEO tips to boost organic traffic:
Optimize the basics
- H1, H2, title, description, image alt tags
- Mobile-friendly site
- Sitemap, internal links to relevant pages
Related: Technical SEO basics (Moz)
Think about the searchers and what they want
- Before you write content, target one specific keyword theme and ask yourself what the searchers typing into Google want to read
- This will help you create content that speaks to the searcher and helps them.
- In turn, by providing relevant content, your bounce rates will be great and Google will reward you with a ride up the rankings.
Related: How user intent informs successful keyword strategies
Make it better and bigger
- Research the current content that’s winning for the keyword you’re targeting. Your goal should be to make your content bigger and better.
- Focus on more ideas, more valuable advice and more links to additional resources.
Related: Backlinko’s Skyscraper technique for a detailed strategy.
Jimmy recently attended SMX West, a big SEO conference in San Jose, where he learned a ton about technical SEO.
- Keep an eye on spammy links and disavow them. This is important for every site. LinkResearchTools can help you run a link audit to find and disavow bad links.
- As of April 21, Google is going to prioritize mobile-friendly sites in mobile search. Make sure your site is compliant using their mobile testing tool.
- Schema markup makes your site easier to index and allows you to tap into the Knowledge Graph. Prioritize getting it implemented.
The content marketing bandwagon is full. Are you going to fall off or take the driver’s seat?
Content marketing is going to change a lot in 2015. With more businesses investing more money, it’s going to be very competitive. If you can foresee these content marketing challenges and put initiatives in place to overcome them, you will have a great year.
But if you fail to realize the changing dynamics, I predict you will scale back your content marketing this year. Or even worse, you’ll stop it completely (which would be a shame).
This is a scary predicament because, in reality, content marketing complements all your marketing.
Your turn: What do you think of my predictions? How are you going to overcome these content marketing challenges?
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