I had a call the other day with someone who found me on SoHelpful and wanted to talk to me about his marketing strategy for a new business he had in mind.
The business was more or less a productized service for developing and supporting eCommerce sites for small business owners. The idea was fine - his marketing strategy was not.
What did he want to do?
Content marketing combined with influencer outreach.
Seemingly this is right up my alley and a great fit for my influencer marketing software NinjaOutreach - but would you believe I talked him out of it?
The fact is the vast majority of people who are attempting content marketing shouldn't bother, and this is what I'd like to discuss.
Why You Shouldn't Be Content Marketing
I get it - content marketing is ALL the rage right now (at least amongst content marketers - hint hint).
It's virtually free. It has zero barriers to entry. And on the surface, it seems like anyone can do it.
Oh, and not to mention tapping into Google's trillion yearly searches.
By and large, it seems like the holy grail of marketing channels - unlimited traffic for free.
And I'll be the first to admit, content marketing combined with influencer outreach has been our go-to strategy at NinjaOutreach, and it remains our single largest source of customers - a fact I don't expect to change in the near future.
And yet there's so many reasons why I think it's just an awful idea for many businesses/business owners, most in fact, and there aren't enough people coming out and saying when it's not applicable.
It Takes A Long Time
Content marketing is NOT something that's done overnight.
And let me remind you there ARE things that can be done overnight.
You can set up paid ads overnight on all the major platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Adwords. You can make a sale and have all of the tracking necessary to back it up.
Is it easy? Heck no - but the iteration time is light-years quicker than content.
You can start a direct email campaign overnight, simply by curating a list of your targeting market, writing a pitch, and sending it to them. This has always been my go-to strategy when I first started any business.
You can also make changes to your website design and user flow. At NinjaOutreach we swapped out our pricing page for a much simpler version and increased conversions by 50% - overnight. We knew right away from our analytics and it's held steady ever since.
But what about content marketing? How long does it really take to get going?
For most of us, even the best of us, months.
Consider NinjaOutreach - here's what our traffic looks like over the last year.
It's a lot of progress from the first month, but it's taken us a year to get to this point, and we're hardly breaking any traffic records (and that's with relatively experienced content marketers at the helm).
If you have a new business you're looking to get off the ground, or you're looking to make gains quickly - content marketing is not going to help you. It's a long-term strategy, and business requires a healthy balance of long and short-term strategies.
What do I mean by "short-term" strategies? Things like:
- Conversion Optimization
- Customer Service
- Referral Marketing
- Paid Advertising
To be fair, these also take time and experience to get right. It's rare to nail paid advertising on day one, but the iteration time is a lot quicker - that's my point.
Are You Asking The Right Questions?
Alright, so it's a long-term strategy. I plan on being in business for a long time, so I should do content marketing. After all, I don't want to be optimizing my advertising every week for the rest of my life, and what if my demographic dries up, or prices escalate?
While those are legitimate questions to ask, it really doesn't mean that content marketing is the answer. Ask yourself the following questions:
Does your target audience buy your product online?
Honestly, not all do. I spoke with a business owner who was looking to market to dentists.
Do dentists read blogs and make purchases? I don't know, maybe, but to me it's not an obvious yes.
You need to know where your customers go to buy, and if it's not reading content online (or if it's a relatively small number), then it might not be worth your effort. If you aren't sure - ask them.
Do you know how to write content that will bring a lot of traffic?
A lot of bloggers say that the key to getting traffic is writing great content.
Another camp of people say it's all about how you promote it.
I don't necessarily agree with either. I've seen a lot of average content or completely rehashed content get a lot of traffic. In fact I've written plenty myself.
Take the two most recent posts on the NinjaOutreach blog, each of which got hundreds of shares, sent us thousands of visitors, and undoubtedly led to an increase in signups.
What's great about this content and why was it so successful relative to our other posts?
Actually, nothing. It's not great content - it's not even the best content on our blog.
Nor is it at all that original. In fact there's no unique content in either of the posts. All I did was feature a bunch of other tools and posts, but I didn't actually create anything myself.
In fact you can google Best Content Marketing Tools and Traffic Generation Case Studies and you'll see several other posts that are more or less the same (with different links, I'm not saying anything is plagiarized).
So how come these have gotten the most exposure?
Simple - because I featured a lot of influencers, reached out to them, and they shared it.
It's good content, don't get me wrong, but does it deserve 500 social shares? No, no at all.
But I knew in advance it was going to give us a lot of traffic, and hopefully it will rank well organically and continue to drive traffic in the long run.
Are you able to do it all with the time you have and the level of effort you're willing to put in?
Each of the above posts took me about 4-5 hours. Really, it's not bad. I'm sure many people looking at them would think it was my entire week.
It's the combination of knowing how and what to outsource, how to leverage existing content on the web, and how to make use of free and paid tools, that makes something like the above possible within 5 hours. If you don't have a decent knowledge of digital marketing, you're at a significant disadvantage.
And how many people who aren't diehard digital marketers have the patience and mental effort to sit and write this content for 5 hours out of their day?
I think relatively few.
I'll be the first to admit it's not terribly stimulating. I do it mostly because I know it works.
Content marketing is hard to the point of exhausting. If you're not willing to truly throw yourself into it, you should reconsider.
It's Only A Small Fraction Of The Battle
Now, here's the kicker.
What people often forget is that while content may lead to traffic, traffic does not necessarily mean conversions. In fact a lot of the traffic that comes from content doesn't convert well at all, unless it's extremely targeted towards buyer intent.
While those posts did increase sign ups, it was hardly proportional to the amount of traffic they brought.
Most content is just there for pleasure reading, and that's why traffic is such a vanity metric.
If you want your traffic to convert, then you need to learn about a host of other things, such as CRO, lead capture, email marketing, etc.
If you're not willing to dive deep into these topics AS WELL AS content marketing - don't bother. It's not going to get you sales.
The Internet Is Extremely Biased
I get it, you're on a lot of newsletters and everyone is talking about the benefits of blogging and content marketing. This guy (me) must not know what he's talking about.
This is clearly just an ill-informed rant.
But mind you, that's their business. Chances are, they fall into one of the following buckets:
- They sell information
- They sell a digital product
- They offer services like coaching or consulting
If that's the case, content marketing can work wonders. After all, I did say we do content marketing at NinjaOutreach and this is why.
Our audience is voracious readers of blogs and use them to make purchasing decisions. We sell a digital product. We know how to write content better than the average Joe.
And it's the same for the big guys. They do content marketing because what they sell requires people to go online to learn about the information and buy it. You can't go to the store and buy a course on email marketing.
You know what's different about information, digital products, and services like coaching and consulting?
More than anything, they require trust.
When I go into a store and buy something, I don't have to worry about whether or not it's going to work. I've been conditioned to trust stores and what they sell. I've bought hundreds of items before, and nothing that was ever new didn't more or less do what it advertised. I bought a pencil, it had lead in it, I wrote things.
Information isn't like that. It doesn't have clear dimensions. It doesn't have a picture I can look at. There isn't a guarantee as to how I'm going to use it and if it's going to work. That's why trust is so important in online marketing - it's all you have.
How do you build trust? Through writing great content.
All businesses require some degree of trust, but there are different levels of how much trust is needed and different ways of achieving that trust.
Is content the answer to all your trust problems? Not necessarily!
So What Should You Do?
If you're seriously considering adding content marketing to your marketing arsenal, start by asking yourself the above question. If the answer isn't a yes to all of them, consider other marketing channels and make sure you've clearly given them all proper consideration before returning to content marketing.
Yes, content marketing is a blessing. It's enabling tiny businesses like mine to get noticed.
But it's also a huge investment, and it's certainly not right for everyone - know what you're getting into.