Content Marketing: What Separates Success From Failure? [Rand Fishkin Interview]
If you want to invest in content marketing -- and you should -- then make sure you're ready to play the long game.
Content marketing strategies often fail and for many different reasons. My colleague Mark Traphagen and I recently invited well-respected thought leader and Moz founder Rand Fishkin to join us on a live video broadcast of The Digital Marketing Excellence Show to discuss the reasons why.
What follows in today’s column is a summary of the top lessons from the show, starting with three myths.
Myth #1: The Greatest Lie Content Marketing Ever Told
The first problem people run into is the belief that, when they start with content marketing, people will immediately see their great content, visit their site, and buy their product or service (or sign up for their email lists, or start following them on social media sites). This is what Rand refers to (video) as “the greatest lie content marketing ever told.”
Worse still, since many believe that the content marketing effort is targeted toward attracting immediate customers, they will often keyword optimize the titles of blog posts on their sites. This leads to a the opposite of what was intended — the blog post (which could draw lots of links) might start outranking one of their money pages for the targeted term — and revenue goes down!
This can happen easily because blog posts are usually poor converting pages. And this is clearly not the desired outcome. Many that view content marketing this way end up trying it for a while and giving up pretty quickly.
Myth #2: Good Enough Is How You Define Success
Content marketing is about a slow process of building up reputation and visibility over time. Actual conversions require many different touches of potential customers across many different media. Not even a big viral hit will change that for you.
Rand gives the example (video) of a hugely successful piece of content done by Distilled on behalf of Concert Hotels, The Vocal Ranges of the World’s Greatest Singers. This piece got over 100K Facebook shares, which is phenomenal.
However, it’s not enough. It represents only one touch in the process. Actually converting the viewers of your content into people who really engage with your site, your product/service or your social media presences, is going to require many touches — and time.
Users may need to encounter your brand six or seven times before they start to think that trying your product or service is a good idea, or even before deciding to follow you on social media.
Viral hits are good things — they are an accelerator of visibility. Good or great, content is essential to success. Just know that it’s not enough by itself. You still need to have time and repetition on your side.
Myth #3: Creativity Is A Gift
Many people believe that creativity is a gift. Sure, some people seem more creative than others, but true creative skills are developed through practice, practice, and more practice (video).
Those creative people you know? Find out when they started trying to be creative, and you will find out they have been doing it for a long time, and they have learned what is most likely to work over time. Ask them about their failures — chances are, they have a long list of them.
This leads to the harsh reality of content marketing. When you start out, you may not be very good at it. For most people, it will take years of practice to become a “rockstar.” You will see some rewards along the way, but patience is critical to long-term success.
Public radio producer Ira Glass addresses this issue in a popularly-shared video and really nails it:
What nobody tells people who are beginners, and I really wish someone had told this to me, is that all of us who do creative work… we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap. That the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, ok? It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good. It has ambition to be good. But it’s not quite that good.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past this phase. A lot of people, at that point, they quit.
And the thing that I’d like to say to you with all my heart, is that most everybody I know who does interesting, creative work went through a phase of years where they had really good taste, and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. It didn’t have this special thing that we want it to have…. Everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, or you’re just getting out of that phase, you’ve gotta know, it’s totally normal.
And the most important thing possible thing that you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline, so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will catch up and close that gap, and the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.
In my case, I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It takes a while. It’s going to take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just have to fight your way through that.
You can — and should — try to speed up the process by studying what others do that works. This is part of your practice.
Why You Should Combine SEO & Content Marketing
On-Page SEO remains a critical discipline, as does the notion of obtaining links that point to your website. However, the way that link building was viewed by many in the past is very limiting.
This is where content marketing comes in, as it can be a great way to help you with reputation, visibility, and yes, links to your site.
To me, content marketing done the right way is what link building should be these days. Hopefully, the industry will embrace the spirit of content marketing, which is to focus on reputation and visibility first. As you do this, and succeed at it, the links will follow. Better still, these are links that are pure as the driven snow.
As Duane Forrester of Bing might say, these links “are a surprise.” You get them because of the quality of your content.
You may be thinking that the thoughts expressed in this article represent an elitist point of view, but bear in mind that almost no one starts at the top. Those who have gotten to a point of higher visibility usually have put in many long hours of work and have spent a long time getting there.
For that reason, content marketing is not for everyone. But if you are willing to play the long game, then it can be a huge differentiator for you. In fact, you know that because it’s a long game, most of your competition won’t do it, or won’t do it well.
You may not know where the finish line is, but I can tell you one thing: It’s after the starting line.
(Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)
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