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Is Content Marketing Really Hit or Miss?

by: Laura Lee

*A note before we start: This blog is mostly about failures. The way I'm justifying posting about a work-related topic on here is that I think considering content marketing as "hit or miss" is a failure. It's a stretch, but humor me! 

What are we talking about?
Forbes recently published an article called "Content Marketing Study Suggests Most Content Marketing Doesn't Work" and went on to discuss how most content marketing seems to be very hit or miss. A fellow SEO I follow on Twitter - @victorpan - tweeted this article. (He tweets good things. You should follow him.)

Who am I to be talking about it?
I've been working at my current job for about 6 years now. Since I started with WebMD, my primary role has been in content management. I began by monitoring search queries, comparing them to our content, and noting gaps. I would then recommend that we write content where we were missing it. This grew into a full-blown content marketing role where I have responsibilities for the content topics we choose (not every topic, but many), providing content writing guidelines (what should the content be about?) to the writers, writing all metadata, linking the content once it is published, crosslinking it, and monitoring its traffic for up to 2 years after publishing. I do this for every piece of medical reference published on the site, which ranges from 10-20 per month. Sometimes much more. 

Ok, so how can I know if my content will perform well or not?

1. Do people search for it?
Ah, there's the rub. I've often seen companies write content that they like. They think the topic is fun or trendy and will resonate with users. The problem with that is -- did they ever check with their users first? And often, the answer is "no." 

If your goal is to write things that you like, that's fine. But if your goal is traffic, specifically search traffic to your site, then you must write what your users want to know. And you must write it well, keeping their language in mind. 

Before you write or commission a piece that you need to produce good results, check search tools like Google's Keyword Planner (as much as I dislike it) to see how much search the topic receives. If your topic doesn't get searched on very often, you're not going to get referrals from search to it. It's that simple. 

2. How much competition is there?
You're not going to rank #1 or even on the first page for something with a lot of high-value competition. At least, not for a while. Your new article won't beat out the competition for a term like "hiking shoes." Not only do good sites already rank, but there are 46,400,000 search results for that. But if you think long-tail and target terms like "comfortable hiking shoes for women," you're already down to 2,900,000 results. Not minimal, but certainly fewer to deal with. Factor in the competition for your article topic when you're deciding what to write. 

3. How much can I link it?
I think this may be the most-overlooked factor in content marketing. I learned by trial and error that just because your topic is popular in search doesn't mean you'll rank for it. If you have a great article but leave it to float in internet space, your chances of being found are significantly less than if your content is linked somewhere. Preferably, unless it's news, somewhere permanent. Closer to your homepage is better. 

I use a percentage to represent the "linkability" of a piece of content. Basically you need to ask yourself where it will live: in an index? on a landing page? will you link to it within other articles on your site? Giving your new content a home is an important part of content marketing that a lot of people don't factor in. 

If you follow these guidelines, you won't have to worry as much about articles that "miss." Some will perform better than others; it just makes sense. And the more long-tail topics you target, the more smaller sources of traffic you'll have. That's a good thing. If an article under-performs  find out why and correct it, or do things differently next time. 


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