Content Is King Is Only Half The Story

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “Marketing Online In The Dotcloud World.”

Every marketer knows that “content is king,” but that bit of advice only grazes the surface of digital marketing. Every spammer, SEO wannabe and bargain-basement content provider knows that it’s all about content, but not everybody understands the difference between “content” and publication-quality content. Before you start hiring writers off of Fiverr to crank out a bunch of spammy articles for five bucks a piece, take a moment to consider your strategy. Plenty of beginning dotcloud marketers believe that “lots of fresh content will increase my traffic and Google score.” It will not. Lots of high quality content, however, will move the needle.

The fact is, the Internet is full of “content,” but very little of it is worth much. To really get results by incorporating content into your digital marketing strategy, your content should be New York Times quality.

Yasmin Khan, Marketing Manager at Bonafide, a Houston-based full-stack digital marketing company, said:

“In recent years, we’ve seen digital marketing skyrocket to the forefront of many companies’ marketing campaigns. Especially with the back-to-basics entrepreneurial spirit that has become a moniker of this generation, many people are choosing to take their income and their futures into their own hands – and with that, their marketing. These days, everyone is a digital marketer because so many of us have to be. Most people running or working for modern companies are familiar with terms like SEO, PPC, growth hacking, and geotargeting, and those of us who aren’t will get there soon enough.

“That said, it’s safe to say that an already cluttered and noisy online arena will only get more crowded in the coming years. With every company, influencer, or wannabe churning out daily pieces of content, it’s becoming more and more daunting to cut through the fat and get to the meaty good stuff. People are overwhelmed with the amount of content available to them, and it’s not all valuable.

“In the next five years, I expect to see more of an emphasis on quality over quantity. Once upon a time, you could boost your rankings if you posted relentlessly enough, even if it was a recycled and rehashed 200-word ‘blog’ post. Going forward, I expect search engine algorithms to become more refined and sophisticated – better at distinguishing substantial content from tired content. Keywords will still be huge, but I think we’ll see search engines look more at the overall content of the site to determine value and relevance, rather than whether or not certain keywords show up in the site’s headers and title tags. Also, better rankings will be rewarded to content that drives engagement from visitors – are people staying on the site or bouncing? Are they leaving comments on blog posts, filling out forms, or sharing helpful information? All of these things will contribute to digital marketing success.”

What is “content marketing?”

Most SEO consultants and marketers see “content marketing” as a means of building backlinks. They believe that the articles content marketers create are merely delivery vehicles for backlinks. This is a dangerous point of view which could, and usually does, backfire.

We talk about how “content is king,” but few SEO consultants really understand what that means. They think that “content is king” because content serves as a good way to generate inbound links, and they fail to see the value of the content as a marketing product that stands on its own.

Under this misguided point of view, the most important part of the content marketing article is the inbound link that flows back to the “money site,” and the actual content is just a wrapper.

Content marketing really is about building relationships and trust. The backlinks aren’t the primary goal, but they are a natural outgrowth of a more sophisticated strategy of true thought leadership. “Content marketing” isn’t just an SEO strategy, it’s a strategy that combines traditional public relations with high-quality brand journalism in an effort that creates articles that stand on their own, hold up against editorial review, and are written to the same standards as say, for example, any article in the New York Times.

Matthew Jonas, president of TopFire Media, a digital marketing and public relations agency, commented on the close relationship between SEO, thought leadership and public relations:

“At its core, backlinking is establishing authority. It is earning a link from someone else’s website to your own, in part, because you and your website matter. Google awards these signals of authority and awards sites that are frequently linked to from high-traffic, high-quality websites, by improving their rankings. When it comes to crafting sophisticated back linking strategies, digital agencies are taking a page out of the public relations’ playbook. More important than navigating the ever-changing technicalities of white hat vs black hat strategies, the best results are achieved through traditional politicking.

“Public relations agencies know the best way to promote their client is through good old fashioned awareness building; finding the right outlet to reach the right audience and deliver the right message. It’s marketing 101. By applying the same strategies used to build a reputation as a thought leader in traditional public relations, one can leverage that content strategy to expand their reach to an online audience as well.

“Draw the comparison to traditional media outlets. Public relations agencies seek relevant opportunities, in media and elsewhere, to position their client’s expertise or insight to establish or validate their authority. Agencies seek to repeatedly position their client as a go-to person on whatever topics they have mastery. That repeated exposure, matched with high-quality content, is the magic combination that builds authority and reputation. Fuse that with an aggressive approach to building relationships with the most influential media outlets, and you’ve got the foundation for a sophisticated and successful backlinking campaign.”

The biggest mistake marketers make in developing a “content marketing” strategy is separating SEO from traditional marketing and public relations. Firms may hire PR organizations that have meaningful relationships with career journalists and editors from highly relevant publications, and those same PR firms often have professional writers either on-staff or on contract to generate publication-quality articles, which happen to contain backlinks. SEO people create backlinks which happen to be surrounded by articles. There is a big difference.

By keeping SEO and PR as separate functions, the SEO people are typically not held to the same high standards as the rest of the marketing/PR team. A big part of public relations is creating and placing meaningful thought leadership articles, written to journalistic standards, in relevant niche and trade publications which are relevant to the client’s industry. That’s where content marketing should be domiciled, not deep in the bowels of black hat SEO, spun articles and spam websites.

Thought leadership marketing

The popularity of “content marketing” has created thousands of low-budget providers creating spammy articles with thin content that offer nothing more than a keyword and a link, giving absolutely nothing to anyone who actually bothers to read the article.

So poor has the quality become that we need to redefine the very nature of content marketing and call it something else so as to differentiate it from the dreck. This is where thought leadership marketing has risen.

Thought leadership marketing is what content marketing should have been from the beginning. It is a marketing strategy that creates high-quality content, written by professionals to journalistic standards. These articles are typically unbiased, vendor-neutral, and contain quotes and insights from multiple thought leaders in addition to the one you want to promote. It is indistinguishable from staff-written journalism and adheres to the same standards. The article offers original thoughts and insights, and gives readers valuable information – not just a sales pitch or thin content meant to be nothing more than a receptacle for keywords and links. These thought leadership articles are then offered to editors of mainstream publications that are read by real people. Whereas an editor of a legitimate publication will often reject “content marketing” articles out of hand, a thought leadership piece is written in such a way that it would be acceptable to editors of publications like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.

Genevieve Paquette from Level EX, a virtual surgery mobile app for physicians to master their skills, said, “With regards to digital marketing, I think we will continue to see continuous growth in content creation (blogs, videos, opinion pieces, etc.) as the main creative element in digital campaigns. So, by using what people are doing, saying, thinking, etc. and tying it with their brand, an emotional response that drives a desired marketing behavior will be triggered. We’re also living in a world of on-demand data and I’ve seen digital marketers become slaves to that data, often losing sight of the human element of marketing. You have content creation, through say a community manager or internal pundit, being put out into the online world and the digital marketing specialist thinking in spreadsheets and multivariate testing.”

A big difference between thought leadership marketing and content marketing is that the former goes through a standard editorial review process, it may take a month or more before the article goes live, and the editor may edit it, send it back for revisions, or choose not to publish it at all. Content marketing, on the other hand, values publishing articles on sites that allow for immediate posting with no review.

It takes longer. You may produce two or three thought leadership pieces in the time it takes a content marketer to churn out a hundred of them. But the benefit is obvious – you have meaningful content that can be leveraged.

Another difference between the two approaches is that the payoff for content marketers is a high number of links. The payoff for thought leadership marketers is meaningful brand value.

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