Telemarketing, email marketing, online advertising billboards, TV commercials, direct mail marketing…
Nowadays, businesses have a somewhat bewildering array of channels available to them to pursue potential customers. Unfortunately, in a saturated market where companies clamour for our attention incessantly, the more people are being bombarded with messages, the more they ignore them: they record TV programmes rather than watch them live to be able to skip TV advertising; they don’t even register online banner advertising; they screen phone calls; they blank out ads in magazines and throw away marketing letters without even opening them.
It is no secret that grabbing customers’ attention has become much more of a challenge than it used to be and that traditional methods are becoming less effective. In this new world order, to capture your audience’s interest you have to offer quality content that will position your business as an organisation worth listening to.
Now, interestingly, this is also where Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has been heading, with Google’s algorithm updates rewarding content as far as ranking is concerned.
Yet, some marketing professionals keep opposing Content Marketing and SEO, as though they were working against each other rather than compounding each other’s effects. Why is that?
How It Was in the Good Old (Bad) Days
In its infancy, the internet was like any territory newly discovered: there for the taking, sometimes legitimately, sometimes with dubious methods. There were some real cowboys who exploited the weakness of the technology to drive traffic to websites by using what is called “black hat techniques”. In this context, Search Engine Optimisation’s main goal was to get search engines to find websites, and content could become nothing more than a mean to an end, with relevance to people almost optional. Shady techniques such as keyword stuffing were used, to an extent where the content was of little value – it if made sense at all; keyword hiding in the code; use of link farms to build up online reputation artificially with no relevance to the business concerned, etc…
But of course, you don’t become the king of search engines by sitting back and letting a minority pervert an otherwise useful system, and Google have been consistently refining their algorithms to ensure that the “right” kind of websites was found by web crawlers, i.e. sites with informative and interesting content. Furthermore, Google’s predominance became such over time that they have actually been in a position to do nothing less than shaping the internet by rewarding valuable material and penalising what was plainly unethical attempts to fool ranking.
Today, everybody knows that trying to outwit Google’s algorithms is akin to playing Russian roulette and the outcome may well be online death! Although each of their upgrade brings sleepless nights to some SEO consultants (the ones that have not moved on), the trend has been a positive one, as they have been instrumental in driving up the quality of what is on the internet nowadays, to customers’ benefits: Google’s emphasis on good content has led to better customer experience and genuine engagement with target audience.
Now, what exactly is “Content Marketing?”
Everybody will have heard of marketing, a set of techniques aimed at identifying and segmenting potential customers, promoting your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and the benefits of your products, and converting leads into sales.
Content Marketing, also being referred to more and more as ‘inbound marketing’, approaches the same tasks, but in a roundabout way. Yes, it is still with a view to attract people and convert them into customers, but the focus is to do so by creating and distributing valuable, relevant and useful content to affect and convince them without actually selling anything directly, in an ongoing process integrated into a wider digital marketing strategy rather than a one-off campaign.
The essence of this technique is a shift from traditional so-called “push” methods to “pull” methods. In the former, marketing was almost about wearing customers down by putting your name in their face so often that they couldn’t forget about you. But in a world where they can find out about your competitors and their products with a few clicks, assuring your audience that they want to buy from you over and over again is simply not enough.
The “pull” method, on the other hand, will draw them to you thanks to your expertise, to a point where customers will believe that what you are offering is unique and they will look forward to receiving your newsletter or article. This very targeted and quality approach has proved so successful and cost-effective for businesses that it is now widely preferred.
How does it work?
It argues that customers will go through different stages before buying from a company.
First, they will “learn” from you from the material you produce and distribute. Second, having ascertained that you are knowledgeable, that what you have to say is pertinent and relevant to them and that they want to hear more, they will “follow” you, i.e. either in the Twitter sense, or by subscribing to your newsletter, reading your blog, downloading material from your website, etc…
At this stage, you will have “pulled” them in with far less effort on your part than with traditional marketing methods, and they are likely to buy goods and services from you, having been impressed by your skills and believing that no other company can offer them what you offer.
To lead customers through the different stages, it goes without saying that businesses need to invest in quality content that is focused on your customer, and deliver it regularly. While it can feel like a big commitment in terms of time, if global companies like Microsoft have adopted this strategy, it must work, mustn’t it?
Even better, you actually don’t need to have a multi-million marketing budget to see its benefit, it can be done at relatively low cost through writing quality content yourself, and occasionally commissioning some media content to compound and support its effect.
Now let’s go back to the previous section about the web: Google has progressively been shaping the internet world by rewarding quality content on websites over plain hard-sell marketing material, and will rank useful, interesting websites higher, drawing traffic and potential customers… Content Marketing relies on relevant and thoughtful content to attract new customers … Can you see the difference?
You can’t? That is because there isn’t any. It Isn’t a Case of Either / Or !
What is the use of great content if nobody can find it? What is the point of being found if you have nothing worthwhile to say?
To ‘optimise’ your website, you need content, and only quality content will help you capture your audience’s interest online and offline. Unfortunately, although Search Engine Optimisation and Content Marketing are clearly the two sides of the same coin, they often have to compete for attention and resources.
It may well be that this false opposition between those two areas is a historical legacy, when marketers were marketers and coders optimised websites with little interaction between the two disciplines. Even nowadays, marketing staff may feel out of their comfort zone incorporating digital marketing into their strategy, while web designers will be focused on technical aspects, for lack of understanding on either side of how powerful it can be when executed within an integrated campaign. And it has to be said that both areas do require specialist knowledge, and marketers can’t be expected to understand the intricacies of technical SEO anymore than coders should be asked to come up with a full online marketing plan – without risking rather disastrous consequences.
Another reality of digital marketing is that, considering the size of the internet, there will never be enough staff to cover it all. SEO isn’t only about optimising one website, it is about engaging with customers through social networks, forums, blogs, PPC campaigns, banners, YouTube, link building, etc, anywhere your target audience might go to find information, which could be, literally, anywhere. “SEO”, these days, covers a hell of a lot more than people actually realise!
It is no surprise then that companies may feel that a choice has to be made, but the key to success, as far as marketing is concerned, is to nurture all-rounders with the right mindset, that is people who think of ‘SEO’ as content. If you can see an imbalance in your staff or your marketing efforts, you would do well to try and address it either through training, if you have an in-house team, or greater collaboration between your web team and your marketing team from the early stages of any marketing plan. Producing Content Marketing should be a priority, not an afterthought or a “nice-to-have”, as it is at the heart of all components of the marketing mix, not just advertising or Search Engine Optimisation.
PR strategies that are successful address issues their customers care about rather than focusing on a sales speech; pay per click (PPC) campaigns, and any paid search marketing campaign, need compelling, targeted content to bring worthwhile return on investment. Likewise, content is key to successful inbound marketing, i.e. driving traffic to and generating leads from your website. And needless to say that social media marketing should be part of a solid content marketing strategy.
In essence, what we have today is a blended approach where all disciplines should be working in collaboration to execute an affective online marketing strategy. So really, It would be better to have everything sit under “Optimised Content Marketing Strategy” with sub-categories that include SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, PR, VIdeo, Email and Paid Search (Adwords). They all overlap, ensuring that all disciplines work together to ensure that content is optimised across all channels to maximise traffic and conversions.
Quality over quantity – every time
Now, it may be self-evident to you, especially since we have been seasoning this article with the word “quality”, but it cannot be reiterated enough that it isn’t about producing volumes of any content, but content which will interest your readers while helping your business get some limelight.
So be strict with yourself: no meaningless padding to reach your quota! But how do you know which subjects will interest your potential audience? Large companies with fully fledged marketing departments may have a very clear picture of their client base and the business trends in their industry, but it can be more difficult for a small- or medium-sized business with limited resources, and it is only too easy to make assumptions, as the supplier of goods or services, about what your clients want, and invest time and energy in the wrong place.
To make quality content affordable, your aim is to create material that can be re-purposed, i.e. material that will support your marketing strategy both online and offline. In order to achieve this, it therefore needs to be keyword based or you won’t get any exposure on the web, so your first step should be a keyword search. You should never assume that you know what your customers search for when looking for businesses or products similar to yours. The human mind works in mysterious ways and keyword searches often return unexpected results.
The best way is to go onto tools like Google Keyword Planner, although there are others, and start with a list of 10 phrases which you think your customers may type in when searching for companies and products like yours. The planner will then return the average number of monthly searches for each, and more importantly make suggestions about related phrases, which are often a revelation about what people really search for! Armed with the correct keywords, you can plan your content accordingly and start writing, integrating the keywords into it as seamlessly as possible, so that it can be used equally well online for your website, blogs or social networks pages and for your offline marketing collaterals.
It may also be eye-opening to go onto relevant forums and social networks such as Reddit to find out about hot topics of the moment and ride the wave. There is no better way to have your finger on the pulse of your audience, and contributing to posts and replying to questions will put you at the heart of any debate or issues and will give you a fantastic opportunity to initiate the “pull” strategy described above.
Nowadays, opposing Search Engine Optimisation and Content Marketing, separating offline and online promotional activities makes little sense and leads to duplicating work and wasting resources. On the other hand, planning them together and understanding their symbiotic relationship will allow businesses to maximise their marketing efforts by repurposing content across all channels and to keep their marketing strategy affordable and their branding consistent. So if there isn’t enough love between the two of them in your company, it is definitely time to do something about it!