Brands

The 7 Deadly Sins of Content Marketing

By Yael Grauer May 12th, 2014

Creating content that attracts choruses of heavenly angels may be a tall order. An easier goal is to simply avoid the capital vices that could land you in the pits of hell—or, worse, content purgatory. With this in mind, I’ve invoked the patron saint of content marketing (St. Francis de Sales) and some industry experts to steer you away from eternal damnation and towards celestial ROI.

WRATH

It can be cathartic to vent online, but crisis management expert Melissa Agnes, president and co-founder of Agnes + Day, warns against it.

“If someone Googles your organization because they want to buy into your product or they want to invest, and they find that you don’t think before you post or that you insult your customers … that’s going to deeply impact your reputation and the future of your business,” she says.

So whether you’re planning on lashing out against customers on social media, or taking issue with a customer who made a complaint to the Better Business Bureau, remember that the negative impact will last long after that fleeting feeling of triumph.

That’s not to say that controversy will always be negative for your brand, or that you can’t respond to the haters. Making a conscious decision to support interracial families (like Cheerios did), speakers of various languages (like Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl ad), or gay couples (like Honey Maid) can strengthen your brand, as long as your message is consistent with your brand voice and values.

GREED

If you think your content marketing efforts are going to instantly convert into sales, you may want to take a step back and look at the long game.

“What we see is that clients want a blog post or infographic to turn into sales right away, and it just doesn’t happen that way,” says Chuck Aikens, CEO of the search engine optimization firm Volume 9. “Content marketing isn’t paid search. It doesn’t convert the first time.”

More often than not, Aikens says, clients will attract people to their email program, and then generate sales down the road. In a must-watch Whiteboard Fridays segment, Moz co-founder Rand Fishkin explains how it takes people an average of 7.5 visits before they end up signing up for a free trial for Moz.

“People who think content is interruptive advertising, click here buy now, shouldn’t be doing it,” says Rebecca Lieb, industry analyst at Altimeter Group. “They shouldn’t be let anywhere near it.”

SLOTH

“If you see that you’ve gone a month without blogging, you have a sloth problem,” says LKR Social Media founder Laura Roeder.

Being inconsistent with your blog is a huge marketing sin, and if you’re a small business, it may even lead people to think you’re out of business—especially if you’ve been digging a content marketing graveyard on platforms across the Web.

This is a problem large companies face as well. Research from Altimeter Group shows that some businesses have as many as 178 social media accounts. “A lot of them are just dead and abandoned, which certainly doesn’t speak well for a brand,” says Lieb. And often content gets assigned to different departments without any prioritization or a real plan.

“It gets so fragmented and chopped up that it ends up being dozens and dozens of people’s part-time jobs,” says Lieb. Fewer than 30 percent of companies have documented formalized content strategies, yet most organizations are creating content on a regular basis.

The antidote to this sin? Even if you’re outsourcing certain tasks, make sure there are internal champions and internal responsibilities that are formally documented. If you’re a small business, pick just one platform to focus on, and then scale up once you’ve gotten in a consistent and successful groove.

PRIDE

If you think you can predict what’ll be popular on your blog and you don’t need to look at metrics, you may want to think again. Be confident about your content, but don’t be so proud that you raise your nose at the numbers.

“You should absolutely refine your strategy based on what you see people are liking in your audience,” says Roeder, who has found that her posts on her philosophy of business don’t do nearly as well as reviews of the software tools she uses to run her company.

Aikens also warns against another type of pride: focusing only on yourself and what you’re doing. “A lot of the good content marketing is interviewing other people or observing things that are going on in the industry, not just talking about yourself,” he explains.

LUST

It’s a time-old advertising stereotype that sex sells, right? Just look at PornHub’s data blog. However, it’s worth noting that tapping into readers’ lust doesn’t always play out well. Using sexualized images of women actually reduces support for ethical campaigns, according to research by the science journal PLOS ONE. Research also shows that sexually charged ads aren’t effective for women unless the product is expensive.

“The research we have shows that it really comes down to cleavage,” says Clay Collins, co-founder of landing page generator LeadPages. An ad with cleavage is more likely to generate clicks, Collins says, but that doesn’t mean it’s more likely to convert. This could make your pay-per-click efforts more expensive, especially if your brand has little to do with sexy women, and it can have a less-than-desirable impact on content promoted on Facebook as well.

“It can be addicting for people to have all the risqué photos around a Facebook ad because they might immediately get the highest click-through rate they ever had,” Collins explains. “But if they’re measuring their traffic, they’ll immediately find that it doesn’t convert and go back to not using it.”

He also warns that ads with images of scantily clad women can get complaints and be shut down, creating additional administrative work. However, if sexy pics make sense for your brand, and you’re consistent with your overall content marketing strategy, an image with a bit of tasteful cleavage may deliver great results.

ENVY

Envy can lead to a lot of strategic errors when it comes to content marketing.

“I see a lot of businesses making the mistake of copying the content marketing of publications or businesses that rely on pageviews or advertising dollars,” says Roeder. While it’s healthy for your brand to keep an eye on competitors, Roeder warns against mimicking companies with different goals.

A publication may have the goal of driving as much traffic as possible, but a business might need less traffic that’s more highly targeted. And a bootstrapped company may need a small number of paid users, while a funded company may want as many free users as they can get. Instead of engaging in “Me too!” marketing, find a strategy that’s consistent with your brand’s goals.

GLUTTONY

We can’t argue against the importance of SEO. There’s nothing wrong with doing a keyword research to find out which term is the most strategic to use in a post, but if you just can’t stop yourself from stuffing keywords in every headline and subhead, you have a gluttony problem.

Remember the real reason you want to use keywords appropriately: You want to reach actual people who are looking for certain content.

“I think it’s really important to always write for humans first instead of search,” says Roeder. “Even if you rank well on search, the idea is that a human will find it, and if they don’t want to click on it because it doesn’t make any sense and you have so many keywords, then that’s not going to help your business very much.”

What’s the deal with The Content Strategist? It’s something we created at Contently because we believe in a world where marketing is helpful and where businesses grow by telling stories that people love. Take advantage of our tools and talent and come build that world with us.

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