Better vs. New: How Content Marketers Can Reset Their Priorities

If there’s one thing every content marketer loves, it’s the grind. You know the feeling. You’ve got a cup of coffee next to your laptop and you’re typing away like the devil is nipping at your heels. You’re on deadline, the story goes live in an hour, your editor’s lighting up Slack with last minute questions, and you just. need. to. fix. the. freaking. lede.

I was high on the grind myself recently, fresh out of Uberflip’s stellar Conex conference and sitting in Cleveland for Content Marketing World, typing so fast my laptop was (almost) billowing smoke. Imagine my surprise when one speaker after another looked into the audience, all of us vibrating with energy, our travel coffee mugs plastered with stickers that said “Get Shit Done,” and told us explicitly to slow down.

Slow down? Were they serious? You should have heard the crowd laughing. Marketers don’t slow down. We ideate, pitch, publish, and analyze, and then we shove all our data into a Rube Goldberg machine marked “Optimize” so we can do it again. If a sales team’s motto is Always Be Closing, the marketing team’s motto is Always Be Creating.

That’s the problem.

When a content program demands that every stakeholder has her nose to the grindstone, things inevitably spin out of control. It’s really hard to keep scaling while ensuring every piece of content adheres to your key objectives and centralized brand voice. At Conex, Jay Baer from Convince&Convert called the grind “random acts of content,” and he practically pleaded with the audience to opt out.

Baer wasn’t alone. Slowing down was the hot topic most marketing conference speakers explored this year. At Content Marketing World, OrbitMedia’s Andy Crestodina told the crowd that old blog posts with broken links and images will drag your site down faster into the abyss than your shiny new blog posts can keep it afloat. MarketingProfs chief content officer Ann Handley told me marketers need to take things off their to-do lists before they add more tasks. And at Conex, Neil Patel told us that his team only publishes one blog post a week. “But here’s the thing,” he said, arching that ubiquitous eyebrow. “We update 90 old blog posts per month.”

Has overproduction landed you in content chaos?

We’ve written quite a bit about the dangers of content production without a central strategy. The ugly truth is that a lot of programs start with content marketing priorities that make sense—when things get tough, deadlines pile up, and leads need to be generated, however, those strategies are the first thing to get thrown out the window. You may recognize this as “back burner syndrome,” or that familiar set-up when your boss asks you to check into something … but only after you’ve completed the other 25 things on your list.

Content chaos can feel like a pervasive anxiety, and it’s contagious. If you don’t have workflows mapped out, or if you don’t have templates, every new project is a free-for-all. Chaos is what keeps blog posts in editing hell for weeks at a time, but it’s also what burns out young writers and makes them lose faith in company leadership.

So, if you’re not sure who’s responsible for what or can’t figure out who approved this off-topic video, you may be in content chaos. And you may need to slow way, way down.

Content Marketing World

What do content marketers recommend other than “slow down”?

You can put away the stress ball. Ann Handley, Jay Baer, and Neil Patel aren’t telling you to stop working completely. They’re just asking you to de-emphasize your content output, the way the industry asked us all to de-emphasize clicks a couple years ago. There are more important—and frankly, more interesting—pursuits

Instead of giving priority to every new piece of content, Baer suggests looking at your brand’s output the way a TV studio views programming. “Not every show on AMC is The Walking Dead, right?” he told a crowd in Toronto. “And yes, most of us watched Game of Thrones every Sunday, but HBO has 23 other hours in the day to run programming. Some of the stuff your brand publishes will be Game of Thrones, and some of it will be 30-minute documentaries. And some of it will be reruns, and some of it will be old classic movies the network has licensed.” That means you’re supposed to put together some of your content with minimal effort, because not everything is going to draw a huge audience. It’s okay to publish more when you have the time, but you shouldn’t sweat bullets to get out 25 original tweets a day while working on your 2020 plan.

Baer also described his methods for cleaning up old content. The general consensus is that auditing and updating is far, far more important than ideating and publishing. He calls it the R.O.T. audit, and it goes like this:

  • Redundant content from your archive should be deleted or merged with other articles. Even if two posts aren’t exactly identical, each piece of content should address subject matter with a fresh angle.
  • Obsolete content should be updated with the newest company missives, stances on industry topics, and housekeeping information. If a prospect finds your website via search, they’re going to take information your bloggers used in 2015 as gospel, so make sure it’s still right.
  • Trivial content that no longer honors the brand should be deleted. If that web series from years ago was bad, just get rid of it. If a potential customer finds something of yours online, they’re going to assume it’s still a reflection of your brand’s mission.

Is updating old blog posts enough? What else can I do?

I know your heart is starting to race again. You’re a marketer, so you hear “slow down” and you think, “Okay, great. I slowed down. I can check that off my list, and now I’m going to slowly do 100 other things before lunch.”

Though Neil Patel agreed with Baer on the value of updating old work, he had even more specific instructions for content marketers looking to do less and think more. “Push your best content pieces to Tumblr and Medium and LinkedIn, in addition to publishing on your homepage,” he said. “Google doesn’t penalize identical content this way, and it’s social-bound publishers are series of channels that are often ignored. Encourage your writers to post entire blog posts to their LinkedIns and link back to the originals.”

Once you fold other publication methods into your distribution, you can also translate your entire archive into “at least two other languages,” Patel said. He recommends choosing languages spoken in nations with high GDPs. This multilingual expansion has been a key part of his blog’s insane growth over the last few years.

How do I tell my boss I need to slow down?

According to Ann Handley, content marketers feel overwhelmed when they become involved in too many tiny projects. If you’re the sole copy (or editorial) person on your team, you may find that your colleagues want your eyes on every single piece of written content that goes out the door. While flattering, that kind of expectation isn’t tenable.

Do what you can to train your colleagues ahead of time on small assets. Your design team, for instance, should have some guidelines on putting started copy together so your edit team isn’t stuck fixing the same errors every week. Your legal team should understand the decisions you’re making, and you should be able to anticipate their comments. “Don’t let everything on your plate feel like it’s of equal importance,” Handley said, “and prioritize the campaigns you know (from data) are useful to, and appreciated by, consumers.”

Of course, if you sell this recalibration effort to your boss as “working smarter, not harder,” it’ll sound a lot better than “I’m doing less.” Marketing leaders aren’t asking everyone to cease production in 2020, we’re just hoping to make fewer errors, experience fewer headaches, and focus on projects that speak directly to customers. Anything else is just noise.

Image by Art by Kingman Ink

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