Content Marketing: Best Friend or Worst Enemy?

Neil Mody
by Neil Mody 15 Oct, 2013

In the post banner-ad era, publishers from small blogs to large websites are laser focused on finding new ways to boost site revenue.


Content marketing is a popular and proven way to increase site traffic, page views and monetize branded or sponsored content. However, publishers and website owners need to understand that certain elements of content marketing can either be a powerful ally or a destructive enemy.


Recommendation is a powerful force in the world of online discovery. This is true for people searching for new products to buy or content to read. Pinterest for example started as a place where people could post and recommend products they like for friends to easily discover in a noisy and crowded Web. Social shopping is now a fast-growing ecommerce trend. As an AOL/Nielsen content sharing study indicates, content recommendation holds the same value when the content is trustworthy and helpful.


Content marketing in the form of links to "other content you may be interested in" have soared in popularity among publishers and online marketers. Publishers can keep readers engaged, increase on-site visitor time and monetize off-site content when readers click on the links. Marketers (both brands and other publishers) can achieve a much better CTR than with traditional ads and ideally reach an audience that's faced with the age-old question of "what should I read next?"


When publishers first started using content recommendation links, it was largely about leading readers to additional relevant content. However, down the road, the space became more of an advertising network, where the quality, relevancy and value of a lot of content started to go downhill. Linkbait and deceptive ads as recommended content have become a hot button issue among industry insiders and consumers who rightfully claim this dark side of content marketing is ruining the space.


Therefore, the challenge for publishers is to understand what they want to do from an editorial perspective and how content marketing can work against them when low quality content erodes credibility and reader trust. 


The consequences of failing to improve recommended content relevancy and value are clear. First, readers will begin to simply ignore content links the same way they have come to react to banner ads or install ad-blocking software. Next and most damaging to publishers is readers will simply head for the door - producing the exact opposite effect in traffic and subsequent revenue that good content marketing should drive. In this scenario, content marketing becomes a publisher's worst enemy.


There are two areas that publishers need to focus on in order for content marketing to be a friend. The first is quality. This applies both to internal content and recommendations to outside content.  For internal content, publishers shouldn't necessarily swap quantity for quality. Yes, stale content leads to site abandonment, but low quality content does too. Publishers need to find a balance between producing fresh content and keeping it interesting and valuable. For external content, publishers should avoid the linkbait - however tempting it may be to monetize headlines with "Kardashian" or "Lohan."


The next area is editorial control. Just as with regular content, publishers need to take more control over the native advertising that shows up on their site. In fact, the way publishers will better understand the type of content marketing that their readers will actually find useful and interesting will come from a combination of both editorial control and reader feedback. Control should not be left completely in the hands of content recommendation engines or ad networks.


Content recommendation and discovery is about helping readers get from point A to point B in a seamless way. It's up to publishers to help ensure that the path to point B is trustworthy and that point B is relevant and helpful when the reader arrives. With the right balance between reader trust and monetization objectives, content marketing can boost both of these things while increasing overall site traffic, as well as unique and repeat visitors.