Rules of engagement have changed for content marketing.
Here’s all you need to know.
Content has always been the king. But as it happens, in today’s world, the world of content has a lot of tiny kingdoms and each kingdom has a king of their own. What that essentially means is that the days when just creating more quality content would get you bucket-loads of search traffic are long gone.
Stop me if you have heard this before — You keep on creating content, but for some reason, you aren’t getting the amount of search traffic that you would like to be getting. You get demotivated, and slowly the rhythm of content creation starts fading away. Months later, you see some businesses getting a lot of content-generated traffic and engagement, and read articles by industry experts that content still pretty much rules the RoI efficient marketing channel, and you get back on the content bandwagon. And then, unsurprisingly, the whole story repeats itself.
Don’t despair; the experts aren’t wrong — Content marketing still pretty much rules, but for you to be effective with your content marketing, you need to first get a lay of the land and understand how the landscape has been changing.
BILLIONS OF CONTENT PUBLICATIONS EXIST TODAY
I have seen people smirk when they see someone’s LinkedIn bio read “Founder & CEO”, when that person is running just a blog. Keeping aside the arrogance of that statement, that comparison may have had some water at one point of time but not anymore. Blogs and publications are indeed one of the strongest influencing forces out there, contributing to consumer perception and transaction behavior. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are hundreds of millions of blogs that exist today.
But hundreds of millions is a far cry from “billions” that the heading reads, isn’t it? Yes, but you missed out on ‘content publications’. Just as the days of blogs being a mild force have passed us by, so has the time when content would come to you just in the form of blog-posts. The consumers of today are consuming content in all shapes and sizes, and therefore blogs aren’t the only content outlet out there. Hell, they aren’t even the most influencing ones.
You have YouTube channels, Instagram accounts, prominent Twitter handles, Facebook pages — they are all content publications. And even when you look at blogs, blogs aren’t just being hosted on shared servers with a WordPress instance powering them — the blogs of today have taken the shape of individual Medium accounts, Medium publications, Quora top writers, Quora spaces, popular tags on Medium and Quora, and what not.
Together, the number of sources out there for a user to receive content from is just mind boggling.
WHAT IS THE IMPLICATION OF IT ALL?
Simple. Since there are so many content outlets present there today, it is getting increasingly difficult for you to grab the audience’s attention and drive awareness about your presence and the value you bring to the table. After all, why would (and more importantly, should) someone consume your content instead of someone else’s?
The competition for the audience’s attention is getting more and more intense with every passing day, and no matter what topic you choose for your next stream of content, you can be sure that tons of people are already creating content on it, if they haven’t already. Just go ahead and do a quick Google search for your top 10 content ideas — any industry segment, any content format.
And the audience? The audience typically makes search engine queries from a very restricted list of keywords. The result? The race to be there on the first page of Google search engine results gets maddening. Take this for size — someone as prolific as Neil Patel ranks #4 when you search for ‘digital marketing’.
(This search was made in incognito mode, so you should be able to replicate the results. Also, I have eliminated all the ads at the top, and the local businesses that cropped up on Google’s results. You factor those in, and the rank #4 in question wasn’t even in the first two folds of the search results page.)
Brands like Neil Patel and Hubspot have been at this game for years now, and they continuously produce tons of good content and have a lot of brand value as well, so if they face such a scenario, you can just imagine the kind of competition you are going to face if you go after the mainstream keywords.
But what about long-tail keywords?
I am a huge proponent of long-tail keywords; they offer much less competition as compared to your mainstream keywords, and while individually they contribute to next to no traffic, together they do add a lot of value to the traffic your business can get from Google search results.
A small problem though. Focusing on long-tail keywords is not exactly a tightly guarded secret, and while even today most content marketers out there don’t make a conscious effort to focus on the long-tail keywords, this isn’t a place where you wouldn’t find reasonable competition for the audience’s attention.
SO, IS IT ALL DARK AND GLOOMY?
No, of course not. Content marketing continues to add a lot of value to brands everywhere. It doesn’t matter what your search phrase is on Google, if you are searching about ‘the claps feature on Medium’, chances are my story on the topic will be right there in the first fold.
Let me be honest:
- It is not something I typically write about. I write about startups, strategy, marketing and what not. But that day I just decided to write about this new update Medium had pushed through.
- It is not my best story by any stretch. Far from it. There are some stories that I feel good about having come up with; this isn’t one of them.
- It keeps getting visitors — mostly from Google searches. 91% of the views of this story have come from Google.
- This story has brought revenue to my business. People land on my Medium profile because of this story, read some of my other stories and decide to contact me to help them with their business.
- The story by Jason Li — “Our redesign of Medium….” in TomYum is a much more interesting read. I just came across the story as I made these searches on Google for the screengrabs, and though I just gave it a quick look, it does look interesting and the product of some real hard work. On the other hand, I had just put together everything about the feature that came to my mind. No wonder Jason’s story has 149k claps and counting.
I published this story on Aug 17, 2017. Since then, multiple articles on the topic may have come up, and a lot of them would have had the same points as mine. The result — they were competing with an already performing article and that, in all probability, hurt their chances.
On the other hand, the story on TomYum just killed it, leaving mine in the dust, and that is where you can take tips from on how to succeed in this overcrowded, ever-competitive landscape.
TIPS FOR SUCCEEDING
#1. Something already exists? Have a new take on it.
I am not sure, but I think my post about Medium’s claps came a couple of days after Medium rolled out the feature. If that timeline is correct, TomYum was already a couple of weeks late in writing about the update. Chances are that by that time, there was already quite a lot of vanilla content that had been produced detailing out the product feature. So they did something smart — they came up with a new take on it. How they would have approached it had they been the guys running Medium, and then putting themselves in the shoes of the guys actually running Medium to figure out why they did it differently.
#2. Add a personal touch to it.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t typically write about such topics — detailing out product updates. That day I did. But this is something directly aligned with what TomYum, a design studio, does. And therefore, they were able to add a touch of their flair to it. While it allowed them to showcase to potential clients their thought process and ingenuity, it also allowed them to more or less make a case that they are more than capable of handling an assignment of this size and nature because of their expertise.
#3. Write something original. Write something new.
To stand out from the truckload of content that already exists, you content needs to be unique. It needs to be new. It needs to be fresh.
But how do you ensure freshness and be unique when everyone is writing about the same thing? By narrating your own story around the subject matter.
Our lives are unique. How I perceive things and how I engage with them may have a stark contrast with how do the same things, and that is where the uniqueness of your content lies. If you can seamlessly integrate (without making it appear forced) your personal experiences within your content, you will find it performs much better. Whether it is data from your usage of a product that can shed some light on how to best use it, or a learning you had based on a personal experience (something that your audience can benefit from) . When you write in such a fashion, you are creating content that can be written by you and you alone, and this originality is appreciated — both by Google, and your audience.
And that’s exactly what TomYum did, isn’t it? Described their overall experience of how they did, why they did it this way, and why they think this may have been something the team at Medium considered and discarded. And that’s exactly what made it unique unlike the vanilla post mine was/is.
Despite all the challenges a content marketer faces today in the shape of abundance of content out there and therefore competition, the fact remains that content marketing is one of the most profitable and RoI-efficient sources of traffic to any business. Content drives hundreds of thousands of unique visitors to the product pages of tools like Hubspot, Buffer etc. so no matter what, don’t let anyone tell you content marketing is dead. If it works for them (who by sheer virtue of the ARR their products witness can invest in paid ads), it can certainly work for you. You just need to approach creating the content in a better, more personalised and engaging way. When you create content which stems from your own experiences and stories, they are unique.
So, go ahead and create some content. :-)