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Remember that content marketing is counterintuitive

Next week I’m going to be getting together with some good friends to talk shop. One of the main topics of conversation will be what is commonly referred to as content marketing but is arguably just an extension of a solid SEO and social media strategy.

I like to call it SEO-friendly content (e.g. blog posts, infographics, videos, etc).

This type of content has been around for a long time – well before buzz phrases like “social media” were invented – and it has always been extremely effective in terms of driving search engine authority because it facilitates the securing of both solicited and unsolicited inbound links from bloggers, digital publications, and other authoritative websites. Some might say that it’s the ultimate form of link and PR fodder, especially if it’s coupled with effective outreach.

And yet only a fraction of businesses – large or small – are able to actually implement this tactic effectively. This is fairly odd in my opinion, since most industry surveys demonstrate that SEO is often one of if not the highest of priorities within the overall marketing mix. In other words, companies know that SEO is important and yet they are unable or unwilling to leverage one of the most effective weapons in the SEO arsenal.

The reason, based on my experience, is that SEO-friendly content marketing is counterintuitive to most traditional marketers and business stakeholders.

Here’s what I mean by that:

  1. Most marketers and business executives I’ve worked with think that the goal of every content asset is to explicitly promote the brand or sell a particular service or product
  2. Most marketers and business executives are trained to use conversion and revenue as the primary (or in some cases the only) success metric to gauge the effectiveness of a piece of digital content
  3. Most marketers and business executives have no real understanding of how and why non-promotional content assets can profoundly impact natural search authority (especially when coupled with targeted outreach)
  4. Most marketers and business executives don’t know how to utilize web analytics data to demonstrate how non-promotional content (and outreach) can result in measurable increases in natural search conversion and revenue

Many of you reading this are probably either incredulous (e.g. “Hugo, you’re crazy. How can most marketers and execs not understand these things? It’s practically 2013 for goodness’ sake!”) or demoralized (e.g. “Hugo, tell me something I didn’t know.”) and that’s ok.

If you’re in the former camp, consider yourself fortunate since you’ve obviously work in a very progressive marketing environment. If you’re in the latter camp, don’t fret. Just learn to frame the counter-intuitive nature of content marketing in a manner that resonates with your colleagues. Get them to take their traditional marketing hats off for a minute and find the case studies and data points that help drive home the tangible business value both in terms of SEO as well as other softer metrics like social reach.

And who knows. You could end up dragging your organization (kicking and screaming in some cases) towards a measurable increase in digital marketing ROI.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://twitter.com/saffyre9 Dawn Wentzell

    I’ve just come from a tiny start up that “got it” to a mid-sized corporation where execs – and many in the marketing department – don’t get it. Fortunately, my direct boss does get it, and we’re in the process of revamping our blog to be less marketing-y. Conversions and lead gen are a huge metric around here, but I’m making it my mission to show that the non-marketing-y content *can* drive conversions. We’ve got a pretty awesome CRM and marketing automation tool that ties a user’s entire history on our site to a lead (once they’ve converted) so we can actually prove the effectiveness of that.

    • hugoguzman

      Glad to hear that you’re making headway, Dawn! Demonstrating the value with analytics data is definitely one of the keys. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • http://twitter.com/glenn_ferrell Glenn Ferrell

      Good comment – the CRM connection is something I had not thought about much but (obviously) connecting the dots between initial contact and conversion also means connecting the dots between discovery in search, social media interactions, blog post views, click-thrus on calls-to-action, etc. to phone calls and orders. So CRM and Analytics become much more joined at the hip. My mental model of CRM needs replacing. It’s at least a decade too old 🙂

      Thx for the insight Dawn.

  • http://www.alessiomadeyski.com/ Alessio Madeyski

    and I will add one thing:

    most marketers and business executives don’t know the term “long term”.

    Sell it , and sell it NOW.that could be right (for sure include some of this in the strategy is healthy) but the long term is the thing that paid you off. And many content-related issues are linked to the short-term strategy that I believe is ruining a lot of companies and decreasing the quality of the services that those companies offer.

    thanks for sharing Hugo!

    • hugoguzman

      That’s a valid point, Alessio! This is particularly true with regards to SEO friendly content campaigns, in that the pay-off in terms of SEO metrics will come weeks, months, and perhaps even years after the content is published and outreach is completed.

  • http://www.seopros.org Terry Van Horne

    A lot of times you have to dig to see the role of content in the conversion. Video on a landing page is the best example of content not getting credit in the sale. Often analytics won’t even pick up on the fact the user watched the video during the decision making process

    • hugoguzman

      That’s a good point, Terry, though one could argue that this entirely different tangent – and a quite valid one at that. Though to be fair, a lot of that type of video content is explicitly promotional in nature (e.g. check out how awesome this product or service is and/or how it works).

      • Miguel Salcido

        Well, if you are tracking the content page as a touch point along the conversion path then you can certainly attribute some credit to the content (video) on the page.

        That leads me to my main question for Hugo. What do you use/recommend for “content analytics”? You may be the wrong person to ask since you’ve been in the enterprise world for so long and I’m not looking for an answer like Site Catalyst, or even GA. Are there any specific tools that help measure content performance?

        • hugoguzman

          Good question, Miguel. There are all sorts of solid tools – both at the enterprise level and below – but I honestly prefer to use SEO conversion/revenue as my primary metric. It takes a bit of work in terms of benchmarking and isolating variables, but once you’ve done that you can fairly easily show how non-promotional content formats like blog posts and infographics (and the requisite outreach that I advise go along in concert with those formats) drive increased visits, conversion, and ultimately revenue via non-brand natural search keywords. Thanks for swinging by and chiming in bud!

  • http://twitter.com/andybetts1 Andrew Betts

    Great post Hugo – something that is very close to my heart is short v long term gain and the belend of strategy and tactics. It is very much the topic of the day when we look at the evolution of search and its close relationship with social and content. Have a great time at the Bluglass event!


    • hugoguzman

      Thanks Andrew! I definitely will enjoy BlueGlass. You make a good point about the intimate relationship between SEO, social, and content. The three are like hearts and bones.

  • http://twitter.com/MikeTek Mike Tekula

    It sometimes becomes intuitive when people are educated about 1) how Google uses authority signals to rank pages, 2) why it’s in Google’s interests not to allow those signals to be easily manipulated (and how they’ve dealt with manipulation in the past) and 3) how content builds/improves those signals. Of course, there’s always the problem of how these managers/stakeholders are incentivized and on what sort of time cycle (quarterly/annual) they’re held accountable for money they’ve spent. A year plus for content marketing to prove out is a tough swallow for “director” level folks.

    I do think there is opportunity to overlap converting content with authority-building content in most industries. Maybe not direct sales/revenues, but audience capturing conversion points like email signups, pay-with-a-Tweet and similar micro conversions.

    Thanks for the post, Hugo – got the old gears turning (on a Friday night after two glasses of wine, no less).

    • hugoguzman

      Thanks for chiming in, Mike, and I’m glad you found the post stimulating! I agree with your take on the role that incentives play in decision making.

      Cheers and have a glass for me!

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    “The goal of every content asset is to explicitly promote the brand or sell a particular service or product.”

    We see this problem all the time with social media marketing efforts. Instead of using platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to attract new visitors and share compelling and informational content, many businesses simply use it as another promotional channel. Eventually the social followers get turned off and disengage, which is unfortunate because one of the goals of social media is to get people to engage.

  • Ravi Kumar

    Practically we should think that, content marketing should be basically done for the sake of not only promoting their brand and products but also provide useful information to their users and clients.

    Its goal should be clear or search engine friendly. I will agree with Alessio Madeyski for their long term thinking for their content.

    Thanks for wonderful post

    • hugoguzman

      Agreed Ravi, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  • AzlanHussain

    I would think the best way to increase conversion is to identify the right visitors (target audience) and present them with right conversion technique. For instance traffic from Facebook is to be prominently shown offers to donate and download ebook titled “viral Facebook technique”. That way you will not only attract audience that has high sense of responsibility in donating but also audience that needs return in what ever they spend. It may sounds unethical to some but that is the reality of life. Different people look at things differently.

    Different target audience has different way of getting them to convert. Not presenting to everyone the same way. That will not only reduce conversion, in fact to some extend it may irritates some of your audience.

    That’s why it would be nice if all this could be taken care of by an automated system. Otherwise this work can be a pain in the ass as it requires too much of our precious time online, monitoring, triggering and understanding the right way to do.


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