When some B2B marketers talk about content marketing, they act like it’s a novel tactic. They drop buzzwords like content curation, content mapping, editorial calendars, brand storytelling, and custom content, assuming they’re speaking some newly minted marketing language.
But content marketing isn’t really all that new. Lee Odden, founder and CEO of online marketing agency TopRank, points out that the basic concept of content marketing has been around for decades. In fact, Odden says he’s been using it for nearly 12 years to improve his agency’s exposure and awareness on the Web, and to help its clients better reach and sell to the right prospects at the right stage in the customer lifecycle.
And while Odden says the widespread adoption of content marketing has been mostly good for online marketing as a whole, he does believe that the modern interpretation of content marketing has one major flaw: It has evolved into a practice that places too much emphasis on quantity and not nearly enough on quality. That’s a huge problem, Odden argues, because content created without a specific goal or purpose is virtually valueless, no matter how much of it you produce.
Odden, who just published his first book, Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing, recently sat down for a brief interview to discuss that issue, along with how companies should be monitoring their social media and content marketing activities, and, ultimately, what motivated him to write his first book.
There are a lot of content factories out there that are simply focused on churning out content for SEO purposes. Why do you think that’s such a faulty approach?
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with producing a large volume of content, but to be useful, it better have a purpose. If you’re not creating content for a particular audience with a particular outcome in mind, then why are you creating it at all? What are you hoping to accomplish?
It used to be that the more content you produced, the higher you’d rank in Google search results. But the search engine’s recent Panda and Penguin updates have changed that a little bit and Google’s beginning to place a greater emphasis on qualitative content that’s written by real people for a real purpose. Google’s take on quality includes algorithmic assessment for relevancy, authority and trustworthiness of the source as outlined in a post on its Webmaster Central blog about what constitutes a high quality site.
Ultimately, the goal of content marketing should be to achieve a particular objective or influence a particular decision by delivering information that satisfies a specific audience’s questions or needs. Doing that involves some homework — including market segmentation and customer research — but the return on investment for those activities absolutely justifies the time you spend on them.
So what should content marketers be thinking about when they create an editorial plan?
It’s pretty simple, honestly. Think about the information that would inspire buyers to take the next step in the sales cycle and then plan and produce content that speaks to those pain points. Generally speaking, most customers on a buying journey follow a particular path that leads them to different milestones or stopping points. If you can deliver content that’s useful for each of those stopping points, you can empower your customers to take the next step.
But to do that, you have to create truly useful, targeted content — not just more content about the same things everyone else is writing about. Creating more content is great, but if it doesn’t speak to your customers’ stages in the sales cycle, then it won’t matter.
How important is ongoing monitoring and analysis of content marketing and social media metrics?
It comes back to who you’re after and what your program’s goals are. Whether you’re hoping to acquire more customers, increase media coverage, boost sales, improve customer support, or recruit better talent, setting goals will help you set expectations, which allow you to more accurately forecast and measure outcomes.
For example, if you’ve got a blog and you develop a hypothesis that with more subscribers you’ll get more word of mouth referrals, then you can pretty easily measure and analyze that over time. But I would also caution against trying to measure things that aren’t measureable. While it would be useful to know exactly how many pieces of new content you needed to produce each day to lead to a certain percentage increase in sales, that’s not exactly an easy thing to measure.
I think it’s more important to make rough correlations and then cautiously use that information to inform future decisions. If you’re seeing a spike in your rate of unsolicited customer inquires and that increase can be tied to when you started blogging, for instance, that can be very useful information.
With 15 years in online marketing, what prompted you to finally write your first book?
Over the past 8 years I’ve written over a million words for my Online Marketing Blog, and between interacting with the industry, speaking all over the world, and working through our consulting practice, the need for integration has really resonated with people. I’ve read a lot of great books about search marketing, social media, and content marketing, but they were all about just one of those topics. I thought there was a market need for a book that talked about the intersection of all three, offering both tools to develop a strategy and tactics for implementation.
There are similarly titled books out there that talk about how social media marketing can help SEO, or how content marketing drives social media. “Optimize” focuses on how all three can be leveraged together to create a force multiplier that extends beyond marketing to PR, Customer Service, or any department in a company that publishes digital content online. I don’t think that way of thinking has really permeated the marketing world yet, but I’m hoping my book sheds some light on why it’s so effective.
Lee Odden is the CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, a Minneapolis-based digital marketing agency specializing in strategic internet marketing consulting, training, and implementation services including content, search, email, and social media marketing. Odden is also an in-demand speaker and a guest writer for publications that include Mashable, MarketingProfs, ClickZ, and the Content Marketing Institute. He publishes Online Marketing Blog, one of the most popular marketing blogs on the web. His first book, Optimize: How to Attract More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing is available on Amazon.com.