Everyone tells you that content marketing is amazing. It’s the solution, you’re told, to interruption marketing. It builds trust, creates backlinks, and sometimes it even makes a baby made out of rainbows.
None of this is happening for you. Not the traffic, not the backlinks, not the trust, and definitely not the baby thing.
Meanwhile, you’re still hearing from everyone and their dentist’s second cousin that this is it. The thing you’re supposed to be doing.
So what’s going on?
There’s a good chance you’ve got one of these five issues.
#1) You aren’t putting out the right type of content for your business.
Blogs aren’t right for everyone.
Some businesses are just built for blogging, especially a lot of B2B businesses. B2Bs solve a lot of complex problems. There are usually some issues in their industry worth talking about. There are a lot of interviews worth conducting and a lot of insights worth sharing.
Some businesses need to get the blog off their menu bar altogether. Phil Rozek will tell you they’re worthless for many local businesses, and I’m inclined to agree.
I used to blog for a gutter guy. I somehow managed, for years, to churn out over 200 posts about gutters. Maybe some of them got read, maybe some languished in obscurity. I’m not sure; I don’t have access to the analytics.
What I am sure of is there wasn’t one person in that company’s service area that subscribed to that blog. Nobody said, “Oh boy, the next post about gutters is up!”
There was useful information there. Many of the posts sprang up from real questions real people have about gutters, which is great. That’s customer-facing content that needs to be elsewhere on the site.
For most local businesses, I suggest launching a learning center.
Learning centers come with some distinct advantages.
- They give you a nice page whereupon you can legitimately create some internal links.
- They aren’t date-based. You’re not going to look like you’re abandoning your business if you don’t post a new item for six months.
- You can, without shame, go straight to customer questions without messing around with those “Ten Things to Look for in a Plumber,” posts. Everybody’s looking at two things in a plumber: reviews and pricing. If the sewage line is backed up, they’ve got a third thing: can you get here now. These posts are useless wastes of space that make you look self-serving, and I say that having been directed to write more of them than I can count.
You can tuck any short questions away into a FAQ.
In both cases, you’ve gotta make sure you’re answering real customer questions. If you see yourself writing, “How can I find the best plumber near me,” stop, stab the question, get up, go take a deep breath, and then stab it again. There are about 7000 reasons doing that will not help your SEO, and it makes you look ridiculous. When is the last time you called your hairdresser and asked, “Where can I find the best hairdresser near me?” If you did, what do you think that person would say?
Learning centers aren’t the only alternative to blogs.
Another method would be to create meaty ebook style guides that customers might care about. I worked with a Realtor who had a lot of success with this. The Best Neighborhoods in Boston for Young Professionals. The Best Neighborhoods in Boston for Families. Where to Find Boston’s Nightlife.
I don’t know about you, but if I were buying a house in Boston I’d want to read some of those guides. It’s timely information that serves a need a customer has right now, and it cuts straight through the crap.
The only reason for starting a blog is this: you know you can put out amazing audience-facing content that deserves to be linked to, shared, and commented on.
That’s not to say you can’t do this as a local service business.
You’ll just have to rethink what you’re doing. There is no reason why you can’t start Ed the Plumber’s Home Ownership Blog. If you’re willing to broaden things out just a little bit then you could create an entire magazine for homeowners. Most of the content won’t ever talk about plumbing, and that’s okay. Or, if you want more commercial work, maybe you put out a magazine aimed at helping property managers gain insights into how they might get more out of their properties.
If you create such a blog, some people might be inclined to subscribe to it and eagerly read it. They’ll know it comes from you, and some of them will become your customer. Some will link and share and all that good jazz, which means you’ll get indirect benefits.
But such a strategy takes time and money. The average plumber should probably spend more time focusing on formulating a plan of attack for generating positive reviews.
Meanwhile, an RFID company with tons of resources can put out a magazine-quality blog publication devoted to supply chain management or loss prevention. That sort of content marketing does really well, as long as they really do amazing features.
For what might make an amazing feature, check out the trade pubs. Here’s a screenshot of the kind of stuff Supply Chain Quarterly is putting out.
Some types of businesses, like, um, marketers, can get away with talking about their primary thing. My target audience is a business owner. Business owners who don’t care about marketing go out of business.
Even so, you’re not going to see a whole list of reasons why you should hire a content creator or whatever else. The goal is for you to walk away with things to think about, things that will help your business.
#2) You haven’t given it enough time.
Content marketing takes a long, long time to gather momentum. If you’re not prepared for that, then focus on other channels.
The length of time it will take depends both on how often you’re putting out content and how good, interesting, or viral the content is. It will depend on your promotion strategy.
Sometimes it will depend on random factors like “purple” and “sky,” because it’s really kind of impossible to know what’s going to take off.
It’ll take you six months to start seeing results, and that’s if you’re consistently putting out great stuff and promoting it. It might take you a year. And if you’re not running the right strategy for your business type, it might not take off at all. You might get some pieces of content that perform in fits and starts, while the rest fall flat.
Some pieces are going to fall flat regardless, at least until you’ve been doing the content long enough to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
#3) You haven’t allocated enough resources.
The resources you’ll need can vary, but writing time is a big one. It can be difficult to carve out the time it takes to write excellent content. It can take four to eight hours to put together a really awesome piece.
If you don’t have time, you’re going to need money, and no content creator is going to do what needs to be done for peanuts.
In any given post there could be sources to contact. Interviews to conduct. Research to do.
Then there’s the writing, editing, and polishing, all of which take awhile for a 1500+ word piece. If your content creator is going to pay attention to SEO then there’s keyword research. Sometimes it takes awhile to come up with a good headline.
Take whatever you think you’re willing to pay for a blog post, divide it by 6, and ask yourself if you’d be willing to work for that wage. If the number you see looks a little (or a lot) like what you’d expect to see in a sweat shop, there’s a great chance are you wouldn’t do it, and you shouldn’t expect anyone else to do it either.
If you look at the hourly rate and say, “Well, that’s all I can pay, and I don’t have time to write anything myself,” that’s fine. The answer is: don’t try to put together a whole content marketing strategy.
Focus on filling out your website with customer-focused content instead. A service page or an FAQ can be done a lot more quickly and a lot less expensively. A great deal of your customer-facing content doesn’t need experts, cool headlines, and whatnot. It can all be made sparkling and bright simply by making yourself available to whomever you hire and coming armed with some insightful bullet points.
Once CF content is done, it’s done, unless you think of another page to add.
The difference is you’re not going to be presenting CF content like it’s audience-facing content. You’re not going to pretend the content is useful in any context other than answering questions about your products or services. Everyone walks away feeling a little bit less weird about what they’ve read, because what they’re finding on your website causes just a little bit less cognitive dissonance.
#4) You won’t be able to talk to your content creator, and you’re not making SMEs available.
If you’ve got visions of tossing a keyword list at a content marketer, walking away, and watching brilliant content appear on your site without any further input on your part, you need to think again.
A content creator can’t ever be you. Won’t ever be you. At the very least, you need to be willing to jump on the phone, or to record stuff while you’re driving around in your car that your content creator can use.
A content creator can’t become an expert on supply chain logistics, data mining, RFID technology or whatever else you’ve got going on simply by reading a few competitor websites. That person is busy being a content creator, and the content creator’s job is to make you look awesome.
In addition to SMEs you might even need to make your sales and customer service teams available to said content creator, just so that person can really get a handle on what your customers love or care about, so that this knowledge may then be translated into pieces anyone in your target demographic would ever care to read.
If you’re not willing to do that, or able to do that, then content marketing isn’t the strategy for you. Focus on rocking some other channel: it really, truly isn’t the only way to get things done.
#5) You aren’t making connections.
You aren’t going to tag every piece of content with someone’s @name on Twitter, but it could help to tag some of it that way.
You aren’t going to randomly blast out every piece you’ve ever written as a guest post, but every now and then you might want to have enough of a connection with someone else to pitch one without going in rando-cold, or for your marketer to do that for you, again without going in rando-cold.
At some point, you, or the person creating your content, will need to leverage other people who care about the same things your customers care about to get eyeballs on your content at all. If you’re waiting for Google to deliver the goods you could be waiting a long time, no matter how brilliantly it’s written.
Most of these people, in most industries, are incredibly generous people who are fun to talk to and who are a delight to hear from. They’ve got followers of their own who may never find out about you any other way. Be open to a content strategy that requires someone to engage with them.
In marketing, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
If you’ve determined content marketing is wrong for your company, don’t do it. Everyone saying you need to do it doesn’t make it right for your business. What works for someone else’s business might not work for yours.
If you’ve determined content marketing is right for your business, it’s worth it to consider your brand and m.o. while contemplating the other points in this post. Both should inform both your strategy and the “voice” the content is written in, as well as where and when to distribute it.
Whatever you do, do it all the way. Commit. Failing to do that will just mean creating problems for your overall marketing strategy, and that’s the last thing any company needs.