Welcome to Day 4 of 12 Days of Experts! This month, we'll be featuring 12 hand-picked articles by industry experts and thought leaders, offering a wider perspective on marketing, business, and leadership. We hope you enjoy these voices from outside the WordStream world. As one of the marketing industry's best-known and respected speakers, I'm thrilled that Rand gave us permission to republish this Whiteboard Friday about the greatest misconception in content marketing. Read on and learn from Rand, a guy who through his writing, has taught me pretty much everything I know about SEO and Content Marketing today. - Larry
The Greatest Misconception in Content Marketing by Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz
Today we're going to talk a little bit about content marketing and specifically this giant myth, this misconception that exists in the content marketing field about how the practice really works.
This hurts a lot of people. This hurts people on the SEO side. It hurts people who do social media. It hurts people who invest in actually building the content, and it hurts teams and executives and people who plan and strategize around what content marketing can and can't achieve and how it should work.
You know, I really came to this because I think it's been something that's been bubbling up in the world of content and inbound marketing for a long time. But I was speaking to a number of startups yesterday afternoon here in Seattle. I was talking to them about how we at Moz produce blog posts, video content, like Whiteboard Friday, presentations, and webinars in all of these different mediums.
I got this question, like, "Okay, it must be the case . . . how do you put out a blog post, Rand, that once you launch it, once people read it, they're actually going to go and buy from you?"
I had this moment of, "Oh my God, this happens all the time." People think that the reason you're putting out content is so that someone will consume that content and be inspired from it to go and make a purchase.
This is how the myth works. Step one, oh yeah, you know, ta-dak I created this amazing piece of content. Look, it's got lovely parallax scrolling, and responsive design, and beautiful graphics, and a lovely layout. Fantastic content. Wow. All right. People are going to download that. They're going to share it. They're going to love it.
Step two, thankfully, people are thinking about this at least. All right, I'm going to go tweet and Facebook share and put it on Google+. I'm going to point a bunch of links to it. I'm going to put it on my LinkedIn account. I'll promote that content through all of these platforms.
Then, look at these hordes of people right there. Not the most attractive horde. A little gangly. But, wow, that's really good. We should sign up for whatever these people are selling. They must be amazing, right? The visitors who experience the content, and then some percent of them, like oh maybe 2% are going to go and convert.
This doesn't happen, does it? This is not actually how content marketing works. But it's how a lot of people invest in and think about content strategy for the web. But it almost never happens. With a few rare exceptions, this is not how content marketing really works.
How it actually works is you repeat step one and two many, many times, again and again and again and again until you start to get good at the process, until you start finding the XYZ, the piece of amazing content that really is going to resonate with your audience. That takes a lot of trial and failure. It really does.
Step three is entirely a myth. It is almost never the case, practically never the case that someone goes, experiences a piece of content from a brand they don't know about or haven't heard of, or experiences that content for the first time and then immediately goes, "I wonder what they sell. I should buy whatever that is." Or even sees kind of a plug or a pseudo-plug for their product inside that content and goes, "Yes, you know what, I'm just going to buy that right now." That almost never happens.
What really does happen is that people come many, many times. They essentially grow this memory about your brand, about what you do, and they build up kind of what I'd call a positive bank account with you. But that bank account, there are not coins and money in there. There are experiences and touches with your brand. Those content touches, and those social media touches, and those touches that come through performing a search and seeing you listed there, those build up the capital in the account.
Once you reach a certain level of memory and positive association about the brand that you've experienced all these things through, when you have the need for the product or the service or whatever it is they're offering, then you might remember to sign up with them.
Or you might perform a search query, and because they've done all of these things, they're more likely to have grown their rankings and their authority and possibly to be personalized in your personal search results. That brand might show up higher because you've experienced lots of interactions with them. Because of that, then you make that purchase with them.
As a result of this mythology, a ton of people and teams who invest in content marketing fail to properly plan for the required time and effort needed. That's hugely costly, because it means that a ton of pressure sits on the content marketer, and the social media marketer, and the SEO, oftentimes one person or a very small team of people who all do inbound marketing together. You don't have the budget or the bandwidth or the belief from your executives or your client, if you're being hired as an agency, to get to where you need to get to.
They fail to invest in the practice long enough, and they just give up too early. This doesn't work once, and a lot of the people who would have invested in content marketing, for the long term, are out of the game. This doesn't work three, four, five times and a lot more.
Now, this is, in some ways, actually a good thing for people like you and I, because it means that we don't have nearly the competition that we would otherwise have, which is kind of a beautiful thing. If this stuff were easy, everyone would be doing it. The field would be saturated. It would be very, very hard to compete, even harder than it already is, and it is plenty hard.
A lot of these folks fail to consider SEO properly, because what happens is they think of content marketing almost like it's a viral effort. It's just going to spread. We're not worried about where we might rank in search engines with this stuff or whether this helps our search rankings for other things.
So they do a few things that are really dumb. They don't take this piece of content and put links to potentially relevant stuff on their site inside there, and they don't internally link to it well either. So they've almost orphaned off a lot of these content pieces.
You can see many people who've orphaned their blog from their main site, which of course is terrible. They'll put them on subdomains or separate root domains so that none of the link authority is shared between those.
They don't think about sharing through Google+ or building an audience with Google+, which can really help with the personalization. Nor do they think about using keywords wisely. When you don't use keywords wisely on content pieces, remember, content pieces can, because of their potential to earn links, and social signals, and user and usage data signals, and all of these things that have primary and secondary impacts on your rankings, because they don't consider those, they don't have the opportunity to then bias the search results in the personalized results or to rank in the non-personalized results that they could've otherwise had.
A lot of them fail to do the right math on content versus other forms of marketing, either overly optimistically, or if they've had bad experiences investing, overly pessimistically. Therefore, you're not comparing things truly and honestly when you consider where to put budget, where to put people.
Last, but not least, is many, many folks fail to correctly attribute conversions and assisted conversions. What we know about people is that the path looks like this. For this person here, the path might look like visit one, visit two, visit three, visit four, and then a conversion.
Actually, at Moz, did you know that it's I think on average seven and a half visits before someone takes a free trial? So you might be watching this Whiteboard Friday, and this is one of your first brand experiences with Moz. On average, you're going to have six or seven more visits before you might take a free trial of our software. Those might be spaced out over months. We might lose the cookie through Google Analytics that actually even tracks your visit. So there's no real way to tie it back.
A lot of the investment has to be either serendipitous, or we're going to need some very fancy tracking. Moz has used, I think, KISSmetrics and Mixpanel, those kinds of things. Many other folks do as well to try and tie together those many visits and see when does a conversion actually happen.
If you can build this, if you can build a system that says gosh people who visit one of our blog posts at least, or two of our blog posts at least, or watch a video from us, or take this other action, or consume this viral piece of content that we've created are more likely to in four or five visits from now make a conversion with us, then you can truly track the impact of this.
To me, it's a little bit like looking at a soccer team, for those of you outside the U.S. a football team, or a basketball team and saying only the person scoring the goal matters. There's no one who gave a great pass. There's no one who assisted them in getting that basket. It's just about the person scoring the goal. That really minimizes the impact of the rest of the team, or in this case the rest of the process.
So this mythology, this misconception can be really dangerous. Hopefully, you're going to fix that with your teams and your clients.
This content originally appeared in an episode of Whiteboard Friday at Moz.com. It is republished here with the permission of the author.