Content Marketing’s Biggest Problem
In 1996, Bill Gates wrote an essay entitled ‘Content is King’, in which he predicted the importance of content for the internet. Now, over two decades later, marketers still use the phrase. Incessantly.
And business stakeholders still seem to be listening. Budgets are being increased, suggesting that they are placing a greater amount of importance in content marketing. The Content Marketing Institute’s B2B: Content Marketing 2019 report revealed that around half of B2B marketers expect to see an increase in their organisation’s content marketing budget this year. A survey conducted by Zazzle Media reported that a huge 41% of marketing budgets are spent on content.
In terms of the sheer volume of what is being published, content marketing is flourishing. From a top-level glance, content does seem to be king, so…
…what’s the problem?
Well, it’s exactly that. The amount of content. Or to be more precise, the amount of content that is not of a high quality. While the volume of content on the internet has been steadily increasing and marketers rush to post more and more, engagement is decreasing. Topics are rapidly becoming saturated as bandwagons are jumped on and only a small proportion of the content that’s published is attracting traffic and engagement on social media.
There are a number of reasons brands are experiencing this decrease in traffic and engagement. An increase in competition is one thing. Facebook has made changes to its algorithms to stop showing users what it considers to be ‘spammy’ content and instead prioritising ‘meaningful’ content. This has certainly had a big impact on some brands that have relied on click-bait content. There have been some big updates with search too. The latest iteration of Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines mentioned ‘E-A-T’ nearly 200 times as it emphasised the importance of Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust for content that wants to rank well. Better visibility is being given to higher quality content on both social and search.
In an analysis of 4,467,974 articles published on wordpress.com over the last year, just 10 of these were responsible for 6.3% of all engagement on social media. 0.0002% of the content published received over 6% of all engagements. On average, articles that were 1,000 words or less, had 25 engagements. However, articles that were 10,000 words or more had 219 engagements.* While length is not always a signal of quality, it does suggest that the articles which went into more depth saw greater engagement from users.
So, quite clearly, not all content is king.
We know this and have been banging on about ‘quality over quantity’ for years but we must really act on this now. We can clearly see that when it’s implemented, it works. As BuzzFeed’s content engagements dropped last year, the New York Times saw an increase.** On the whole, however, content marketing strategies aren’t adapting fast enough to meet the demands of this rapidly evolving environment.
How do we solve this?
1. Work with the data
Firstly, we need to go back to the drawing board with our strategies and calendars and this time, we need to invite our analysts and SEOs to the table too.
There is a growing need for content marketers to work closely with analysts and become familiar with the data that tells them who their audiences are and what they engage with. Ideally, content marketers need to become fluent in analysing such data themselves.
In the Content Marketing Institute B2B survey, when asked to rate their proficiency using selected metrics for measuring content marketing results, 26% of B2B marketers said they were ‘not very/not at all proficient’, 45% said they were ‘somewhat proficient’, while only 25% said they were ‘extremely/very proficient’.
There appears to be a bit of an education gap here when content marketers need to be looking further than the basic on-page engagement metrics. Instead of assuming that users are reading every word of an article if the average time on page is over 10 minutes, try combining scroll tracking with time triggers to calculate read depth. Heatmaps can reveal where your users linger on a page and which parts they skip over. Instead of just looking at how many views a video has, look at how much of the video users watched. Insights such as these will help you work out what’s really working and what isn’t.
2. Keep your audience in focus
We need to stop worrying so much about algorithms and short-term hacks and put the user back at the heart of our strategies.
Understanding who your audience is should be your first port of call. Taking the time to create detailed audience personas will help you visualise who you are creating content for and what their needs are.
If possible, actually talk to some of your customers. This is something far too few of us do.
3. Give your content marketers space
This last tip is for stakeholders. Some content marketers feel the pressure to churn out as much content as possible and don’t have the space to think creatively. One well executed piece of content can outperform hundreds of average posts.
According to the Content Marketing Institute’s B2B: Content Marketing report, “content creation is the area of content marketing where there has been the most reported increase in spending over the last 12 months”.
If this rings true for your organisation, ensure that this extra budget is focused on increasing the quality of the content being created rather than just the quantity.
* Data from Buzzsumo
** See Buzzsumo’s ‘Content Trends 2018’ for more on this.