Content marketing is causing panic among a lot of SEO-driven Internet marketers who offer SEO services but don’t know how to comfortably replace forced links with natural ones. And it’s causing both sighs of relief and confusion among traditional copywriters and public relations experts who, while cheering the return of quality writing, wonder about the difference between content marketing and plain old marketing.
As someone whose career has centered almost entirely on words—from 30-second TV ads to 100,000-word books, and nearly every imaginable form of writing in between—my first reaction to content marketing was joyless. Is this just another way to wrap senseless copy around a bunch of keywords?
But I’m also a serious researcher so, before I passed judgment, I spent about six months studying content marketing and got really excited (dare I say geeked?) about it.
So, now I am passing along some of what I learned, beginning with the question I asked and answered for myself:
Which of these is a great example of content marketing?
- Facebook page
- Home video
- It all depends
If you answered “D. It all depends,” you know more than most people about the post-Panda phenomenon called content marketing.
Content marketing doesn’t have an immediately definable purpose such as an ad (sell a product) or Search Engine Optimization (increase site traffic). Great content marketing does both of these things— and more—but it’s not easily quantified in terms of clicks, conversions, and rankings.
So what is content marketing, why do you need to know about it, and why is it, in fact, crucial to the success of your business?
Content marketing is words and images that demonstrate your company’s authority, credibility, and trustworthiness. And, ideally, it also makes you likable. Content marketing combines the best of traditional marketing (public relations, community awareness, and major media advertising) and the best of online marketing (SEO, pay-per-click ads and social media outreach).
Roses or LOL?
If you compare marketing to dating, traditional marketing was the candy-and-flowers approach, and early online marketing was the 100-texts-a-day approach. Content marketing is the I’m-worth-your-time approach. Content marketing pursues clients and customers with charm and persistence and, more importantly, holds up to critical appraisal. It treats your target audience not as a casual fling but as a potential life partner.
Content marketing is the perfect marriage between old-fashioned persuasive marketing and the early days of tech-driven Internet marketing. Content marketing is powered by technology and driven by creativity. Many SEO companies are scrambling to reassert their dominance in online marketing. Some severely bitten by Google’s animal rules stayed linked to the past and closed. A few seem to understand the need for change and are prepared, they say, to embrace it.
Improving Your Content Marketing IQ
So, now that you understand Content Marketing 101, let’s go back to our quiz. What is the “it depends” factor in the marketing value of a blog, a Facebook page, or home video?
A basic blog, posted to your website, improves your search engine results. The more often you post, the better. If you add your name and picture to the blog, it helps customers connect with you — they’re buying from a person, not a website. Because your picture and name add value, Google rewards these efforts with a little more search engine love. Great content marketing takes these two basic benefits of a blog—SEO and customer connection—and pushes them to higher and higher levels. A guest blog, for example, adds another element. A guest blog at a high-authority, high-ranking site ups your marketing game several more levels.
And how quickly you move up the levels, from posting a blog to your website to becoming a contributor to Forbes to landing a guest spot on the Today show, depends on the quality of your content, your understanding of search engine results and your ability to mesh the interests of your company to the needs of online and offline publications.
If you use your blog primarily to write about your company’s products and services, i.e., you’re simply rewriting your About and Landing pages, your blog qualifies as low-level content marketing. If you use your blog to educate your readers about, say, how to lay kitchen flooring as opposed to why they should buy your ceramic tile, your blog moves into the good category.
By writing a blog that’s both compelling and informative, it will promote it strategically across all available platforms and your blog becomes an example of great content marketing. The same holds true of a Facebook page. Creating one gets you into the Facebook community, but it’s a very large community, so it’s what you do on Facebook that makes a difference. Do you write interesting posts frequently to actively engage your fans? Do you answer people’s comments or posts on their walls? Or do you let your Facebook page sit mostly idle and add the occasional mundane comment about one of your products?
Bieber Fever, And what about home videos? How could they possibly rank as great content marketing?
Again, it depends on the video and how it’s promoted. Posting a video of yourself watching TV probably won’t do you or your company any promotional favors. But some amateur efforts—Justin Bieber’s first YouTube video, for example—are content marketing gold.
The “Mad Men” days of traditional marketing relied heavily on manipulating people. The geek-centric days of early online marketing relied heavily on manipulating algorithms. Now, the new age of content marketing promises to deliver what customers actually want: valuable information.