Everyone knows you need content marketing today to be successful, but the term has become so vague as to mean different things to different people.
To examine why and how content marketing became so important, it is helpful to zoom out for a high level overview of online marketing and how it has evolved over time.
For a lot of people, it really boils down to getting on the first page of Google. Imagine yourself buying anything online. You do a quick Google search and scroll past the first couple of Google ads. The first real result gives you a number of user reviews. You browse around and make the decision to buy. Sure at this point, you might drop off to Amazon or eBay to purchase the product, but there's also a chance you'll click the shiny green "Buy Now" button. What does this mean for you? It means if you're selling a set of steak knives and your website comes up when people Google "best steak knives" - congratulations, your steak knives just reached a global audience.
Given these financial incentives, it is no surprise that webmasters would use every dirty trick in the book just to leapfrog a rank. A few years ago, this meant abusing Google's algorithm which had a heavy reliance on
backlinks as a proxy of authority (it still does!). During this Wild West era of the Internet, it was actually a viable business to create an online directory, run bots to litter the internet with links until the page ranked on Google, then make money selling businesses a listing on their website. Over time, Google's limitless pool of talent and resources caught up with the offenders and they were wiped out.
This paved the way to content marketing - the idea that good content will
rank on Google. This comes with the bonus of letting websites rank on more diverse keywords which it would not otherwise. Why do you think major brands run a blog? Everyone adapted to the game and got on board. There are now websites clamoring to tell you the best brands for whatever you're searching for.
The issue now isn't the lack of content, but too much of it. How do I know if what I'm reading is legitimate and original or a diluted rehash of thirty minutes of internet research? This is why nowadays, having a content strategy is key for websites. Our strategy is to simply create engaging and authentic long form content by using hyperlocal resources. We want to be regarded as a well informed source of information on the topic at hand, and for a lot of things, this means enlisting content providers and writers who actually have firsthand experience in the matter. In other words, boots on the ground beats Internet research any day of the week.
When I joined our company that promotes and sells ski packages, one of my first tasks was to review the content on the site. A lot of the pages were superficial and lacked substance (as if written by someone who hasn't even skied before!). There were a number of pages which ranked and unsurprisingly, those pages were informative and well written. There were a number of competitor websites which had good content but lacked depth. I made the call to invest heavily into content by engaging hyperlocal resources. It was a two-step process:
1. We recruited locals with in-depth knowledge of ski resorts in their area
2. We engaged professional writers to do the actual write up based on the localized information
It was a long six month process as we built on existing content and developed new content. Our goal was to drill down into the subject matter and demonstrate depth of knowledge. Key metrics measuring audience engagement improved over time - reduced bounce rates, increased time on page and session durations reflected the work we put in. The result is, if you Google "ski resorts near Denver" or a combination of those terms, one of our articles written by a Denverite who've skied the area comes up near the top.
No doubt you're thinking I've glossed over a lot of issues with such a strategy, and you're right. Two of the major challenges we faced were:
-You need to have a solid grasp of the topic at hand and be heavily involved in content creation for quality control purposes. Thankfully, in my case, I live and breathe snow, so it's working out for me.
-The strategy is time consuming and resource intensive. You're taking a big risk that your superior content will shine through and be recognized over time. The fact that you can't see instantaneous results is going to gnaw at you. As a matter of fact, you might not ever. The level of competition and volume of information out there will affect whether your content gets seen.
Depending on what market you are in, a potential shortcut of generating authentic content is to engage social media influencers to review your product.
That said, there are a lot of moving pieces in online marketing from site responsiveness, site design, backlink profile, domain authority...the list goes on. There is no silver bullet. But as far as content strategy goes, the secret ingredient is authenticity which may help you get an edge over the competition.