5 Ways You’re Ruining Your Content Marketing

June 14, 2018

With 91% of B2B marketers and 86% of B2C marketers reportedly using content marketing as a part of their overall marketing strategy, it’s not news that there’s an unyielding craze for more content across industries. And no matter what seat you’re in reading this—the boss, the content creator, the student intern—you no doubt feel pressure to feed the beast at a rapid pace. The point of this blog post? To help you avoid common content marketing mistakes that are derailing your efforts in ways you may not realize. (Especially when it comes to higher education, where budgets are tight and inquiries regarding ROI come from the top down almost daily.)

That said, here are five reasons your content marketing might be backfiring on you. Or, if you’re just starting out, think of it like this: 5 content marketing mistakes newbies often make.

1. You have unrealistic expectations.

Content marketing mistake: unrealistic expectations. With content marketing, if you build it, they will come. Eventually.

At the end of 2017, only 55% of B2C marketers agreed that their organization had realistic expectations about what content marketing can achieve—a drop from 69% the previous year. In other context, 55% might sound great. But here, that means half of your organization might be ready to throw in the towel on content and allocate those dollars elsewhere, or, ruin your efforts by skimping on budget. Don’t do it! With content marketing, if you build it, they will come… eventually. In their article, “Patience Is Power In Content Marketing And Strategy,” authors Angie Toomsen and Christoph Trappe wrote, “A content marketing strategy begins with your business goals, but your content marketing KPIs will need to be more nuanced… Effective content isn’t always about immediate action. Sometimes we have to trust that social media follows, shares, and repeated engagement will eventually lead to conversions.”

Look at each of your content marketing tactics and do your research to understand what you can realistically expect—so you make smarter decisions about what to keep and what to nix. (Maybe your content marketing isn’t even backfiring at all—you just think it is.) For one example, in HubSpot’s article, “How Long Will It Take to See Results From Blogging?” author John Bonini writes “As traction from the search engines picks up around the six month mark, you’ll begin noticing that your older posts are contributing significantly to your overall traffic. It’s around this time you’ll start seeing incremental spikes in traffic, blog subscribers, and most importantly, blogging morale.”

2. You’re not working with good writers.

In the rush to ferociously publish content on the regular, the temptation to hire people who charge $20 a blog post but don’t know much about SEO (and perhaps don’t even write for a living) isn’t easy to resist, but it’s a huge content marketing mistake. Here’s the tough love: lots of content + bad writing = poor results. The stat you’re about to read is so not related to higher education, but it speaks volumes: 58% of singles say bad grammar is a bigger turnoff than bad sex. Using “your” when you really mean “you’re” may not only distract your intelligent readers, but it could cost you a second date. Think about the websites you frequent. If the articles you consumed were riddled with typos, awkward flow, and bad grammar, would you really trust the source?

If you’re going to spend time and money on content marketing, make sure your writers are good ones. They should know to abide by style guides, understand your tone, avoid keyword stuffing, and send you squeaky clean work they’re proud of. Really, really need to get something out overnight and have to rely on your staff’s best writer? Totally fine. Proofread yourself or use a proofreading service.

3. You’re lacking visuals.

Tweets with images receive 150% more retweets. When people hear information, they’ll remember 10% of it three days later. Add a picture, they’ll remember 65%. In their extensive research, BuzzSumo found that articles with an image once every 75-100 words received double the social media shares as articles with fewer images—and that Facebook posts with images had 2.3x more engagement than those without. Seeing a trend here? Content marketing mistake #3: no images.

Your audience prefers visuals. In fact, many a CMS these days won’t even allow you to publish a blog post without one. Give them images that’ll draw them in and that they’ll want to share. Have your your designer turn stats or quotes into graphics. Share relevant original photos—or if you must, high-quality stock photography—in your blog posts. For our higher education friends out there, are your college’s photo archives in desperate need of an update? When you’re writing about outcomes, ask your alumni for permission to share any professional photos they have of their offices. When you’re writing about campus traditions, search hashtags on social to find student photos, then track down their permission too. (And when you’re able to, organize a campus photo shoot.)

4. You’re not promoting your content.

Content marketing mistake: Not promoting it. For every piece of content you publish, create 20+ snippets.

If you publish an ebook but no one downloads it, was it ever really written? If you don’t have a promotion plan for the content you’re putting out there, then either 1) you don’t think it’s worthy of people’s attention, in which case, it was a waste of your team’s time, or 2) you haven’t gotten around to creating that plan—so now, it’s time. The good news is that there are ways everyone on your team can contribute to content promotion efforts, which is especially great if you don’t have a PR or marketing agency working as an extension of your team. Open up a Google sheet now and jot these quick ideas down, along with who’s responsible for each task.

For every piece of content you publish, create 20+ snippets (think: stats, quotes, variations of the title) that you can share on social over the next few months. In several of those, tag websites or companies you included in your article or people you quoted—the hope being they’ll retweet your link for even greater reach. You could even go one step further and send your sources an email, letting them know your work is up, their name is in there, and you’d love for them to spread the word. Another idea: mix inbound marketing with outbound ads. Create a PPC or social ad strategy tied to a landing page that you created that gates your latest ebook. Not only will you be promoting your content, but you’ll also glean useful information on how your content resonates with your intended audience.

5. You’re trying too hard to sound smart.

For some people, leaning in to a lengthy article jam-packed with SAT words like ennui, mellifluous, and indubitably makes them feel smart. For the rest of the world, it makes us feel inadequate, annoyed, or confused. In 2016, the Harvard Business Review published a great article called “Stop Trying to Sound Smart When You’re Writing.” In it, author Liane Davey wrote, “Ideally, I’d like to read communications where I don’t notice the writing at all. The best writing is so transparent that it doesn’t obscure the underlying message. You can achieve that in your writing by investing in great content and then stripping away anything that detracts from it.” Don’t use methodology, she says, when you mean method.

As higher education marketers, CCA’s best advice here is to know your audience and speak like them. When we’re writing for 17-year-olds, we don’t want to assume they speak like PhD candidates. (And when we’re writing for PhD candidates, there’s no need to be… grandiloquent.)

Obviously, there’s more to the story than just these 5 mistakes—like ineffective headlines, lack of SEO tactics, and not knowing your audience–but like any good blog post, we know when we’ve rambled on. ‘Til next time.

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