Content marketing effectiveness is still an elusive outcome for many marketers. CMI just released its latest Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends focused on technology marketers and guess what? We’re doing a great job of adopting content marketing, but we have many of the same challenges of marketers in other industry sectors. One trend that all marketers share is how we rate the effectiveness of our organization’s use of content marketing. In fact, 47 percent of technology marketers rate their effectiveness as just “meh” and only 30% think it’s effective.
CMI offers some reasons why content marketing efforts aren’t as effective as people would like them to be and I agree whole-heartedly. Besides the usual corporate environment causes, there are a few things that marketers are doing that are holding back their success. Here are 5 content marketing bad habits that are getting in the way of more people joining the “best in class” 30% of marketers.

  1. Overuse of jargon and “hip” language
  2. Not documenting the content strategy
  3. Not telling the right story to the right audience
  4. No consistent publishing schedule
  5. Forgetting simple SEO strategies

Overuse of jargon and “hip” language

As someone who started out writing inverted pyramid press releases that smacked of “innovative ideas” and “leading-edge technology” I struggled to start writing like I was having a conversation with someone. When you’re immersed in an industry, everyone starts using words and phrases that are known within the industry and pretty soon it starts to sound like natural speech. The problem is, it really isn’t. It’s not how you would explain the challenges and problems your brand is solving at a cocktail party or at a family gathering when asked about your job.
Writing in plain speak doesn’t mean you’re dumbing down your content, it just means you’re writing it as though you’re talking to someone who’s asked you a question. After all, that is what you’re doing, right? You’ve discovered keywords and phrases that have led you to understand what people are talking about and how they’re talking about it. You’ve listened in on social media and you’re answering questions and pain points you’ve discovered.
It helps to have a face in mind when you’re writing. Envision the audience persona you’ve created and talk to them. Put in writing what you would say to that person if they called you on the phone and asked about the topic you’re writing about. What would you say to that person? How would you say it?
I want to stop right here and clarify something. Don’t start talking like you’re the coolest kid on the block. Your audience might be Millennials (too often used, jargony phrase for people in a certain age category), but that doesn’t mean you have to start inserting all the cool words and phrases they use to talk to their friends. You’re writing as a professional and even if you’re in a certain age group, using trendy words and phases will alienate as many people as it engages.

Not documenting the content strategy

Let’s start by defining what I mean by a documented content strategy. The purpose of a documented strategy is not to spend three months creating a document that would rival War and Peace. Instead put together a simple, one-page (or two) document that includes the following:

  • Overall corporate goals
  • KPIs
  • Measurement processes
  • Target keywords
  • Competitor content
  • Content topics
  • Types of content to be created
  • Content promotion strategies
  • Calendar of creation, publication, distribution, and promotion

Now, go forth and create compelling content. Remember to measure it along the way to determine what’s working and what’s not. When something isn’t working, dive a little deeper to find out why. Don’t immediately assume it’s the channel or the message; it could be a combination of things or a case of the wrong type of content for that channel.
Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 9.59.14 AMA documented strategy will give you the opportunity to monitor and record content effectiveness and make the necessary changes to the content, or to future content, to achieve greater engagement. In the end, you could end up with highly engaging content that didn’t result in any conversions. In that case, you may not be targeting the right audience. Whatever the outcome, each time you document a strategy, implement it, and measure it you will have learned something valuable for the next iteration.

Not telling the right story

There are a couple of facets to the problem of not telling the right story. Currently, challenges include:

  • Stories that aren’t audience-focused
  • Content that’s not unique enough
  • Content not based on what people are looking for

Most of these challenges boil down to getting the best keyword and topic data, understanding what competitors are doing, and creating a message that is engaging and unique. The greatest of these challenges, is the challenge of creating content focused on the audience. Focusing strictly on the audience is a challenge when it’s so hard to get content approved that doesn’t overtly promote the brand and its products. This leads us back to the organizational challenges of content marketing that begin with getting executive buy-in for your efforts.
The first part of the solution is getting real buy-in for your content marketing initiatives. Which goes back to tying your outcomes to overall corporate outcomes, reporting your results to the right people, and reporting results in terms those people understand (like number of conversions, or reduction in churn).
The other part of the solution is to base your content on what people are already searching for and what is already gaining engagement from sources other than you. There are several places to find inspiration for engaging, unique content that focuses on audience pain points. These include:

  • Keyword discovery
    • Find the keywords you aren’t currently tracking, but should be because your audience is using them to ask the questions they want answers to.
  • Competitor discovery
    • Find what content is engaging audiences using the keywords you are tracking
    • Discover your own unique slant or message around these topics
    • Look at which channels audiences are finding popular content on and engage your audiences there
  • Social audience insights
    • Find out which social channels your audience is mostly engaged with and listen in to hear how they’re talking about topics

No consistent publishing schedule

“If you build it, they will come.” It’s the phase I hear in my sleep during my most beautiful content marketing dreams. Unfortunately, unless you’re Coke, Nike, or Starbucks it’s probably not going to be that easy. However, we can all take a lesson from these content marketing giants, consistency.
Does the lack of consistency in content marketing come from the lack of a written strategy and an editorial calendar? It may not be the whole reason, but it’s at least a contributing factor. Operating without written deadlines or expectations for content consistency leaves your program open to the influence of competing priorities and pressures. An editorial calendar and consistent content production allows the people involved to form habits and routines around the program. If I know that every week on Monday and Thursday I’m going to need a piece of content, based on target keywords and written to target audiences, then I’m more likely to be planning and researching on the other days and planning my other responsibilities and outcomes around my content deadlines.
Of course, there are many other things that take up your time during the week, the month, the year. Get them on the calendar as well. Have a regular schedule for reporting, planning, and meeting with team members. Set agendas and stick to them. As much as possible set schedules and stick to them. The organizational consistency you create will be mirrored in your ability to create consistent content.
Be sure to create editorial calendars that you can actually meet. Sure, we’d all love to blog daily. If you have a large enough team, or enough personal time, go for it. If not, you may have to settle for a weekly or twice weekly blog. If you consistently publish once a week and every once in a while add in another piece of content, you’re fulfilling your promise to subscribers and followers and giving them a little bonus. It’s a better strategy than starting off publishing twice a week and falling back to once a month.
Creating a subscription strategy for your blog, weekly video, or whatever regular content you plan to deliver will help you to keep to your promises, since there will be actual people to disappoint. Of course, there are a lot of other really good reasons to build subscriptions to your content besides setting you up to create consistent content.
Publishing your blog or video on a regular basis is a little like keeping your promise to deliver your brand’s product or service. Once you’ve established an expectation for delivery of some kind of content, you’ll want to treat that promise the same as any other delivery promise in the organization. Create a realistic delivery schedule and then stick to it.

Forgetting simple SEO strategies

We’ve all seen the posts that state keywords are dead and that Meta tags are meaningless. While no one thing will help to optimize your content, when used in concert with good writing practices, basic SEO strategies can improve the overall findability of your posts and other content on your website.
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Some of the larger issues, like having a mobile responsive website or a home page that begins a logical user journey, will be up to your web designer and SEO team. However, you might have some say into what kind of content shows up on the home page and what makes for a pleasing and logical content flow.
Beyond overall site design, content marketers do need to be mindful of the SEO value of each piece of content. That value begins, of course, will provide trustworthy, readable, unique, and interesting content. Beyond that there are a few simple rules of SEO everyone should master:

  • Headlines
    • Keep them under 75 characters and make sure they include target keywords
    • Use catchy, interesting headlines to grab attention
    • Make sure the content matches the promise of the headline
  • Subheads (H2 – H6)
    • Help keep the reader engaged with subheads that lead them through the content
    • Make sure subheads contain target keywords
    • Use H2-H6 for subheads – make sure there is only one H1 used
  • Tags
    • Use them to improve SEO value
    • Make them descriptive and interesting

Treat Meta descriptions like you would the inside flap of a book. Write them to give your audience an idea of what to expect from the content and also as a hook to entice them to read further.
Marketers face the same content marketing challenges year after year. Time constraints, lack of resources, not having the right tools, not getting the best data, and not having buy-in from the C-suite are all factors that contribute to challenges remaining unresolved. Some things will take more time to change than others, but establishing good content marketing habits and adopting best practices will hopefully move us all closer to content effectiveness next year.