The digital marketing world is increasingly competitive and driven by content. To play in this landscape, best practices drive digital marketers and publishers to crank out as much website content as possible. The thinking is that by publishing a lot of content — specifically content that is well-written (including in an SEO sense) — traffic and engagement will follow.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Your competitors are doing the exact same thing, and the net effect is that a lot of relatively low-quality content is flooding the market. Rather than providing your audience with valuable information that builds trust, credibility, and engagement, this approach creates a cluttered and frustrating experience — the exact opposite of the desired effect.
We see this everyday as we look at the actual performance of content publishing and marketing programs. The realities are:
- Over 80 percent of the content published on a given website drives little to no organic traffic (according to newly released InboundWriter research). This is obviously a large portion of a company’s content investment. When you factor in the fully loaded costs of creating website content — writing, editorial review, approval, publishing — this results in significant waste and lost opportunity.
- Most of the performance of your content is locked in before you even put pen to paper. Fighting for an audience on the web is a zero sum game. Only so many people are searching for a given topic or subject in a given month. The publisher’s job is to drive traffic by writing on topics with a large potential audience — and to create website content in a way that helps the business stand above its competition. Well-established studies from Cornell, Chitika Insights, and others show that more than 90 percent of all organic traffic comes from sites that appear on Page One of a search engine results page (SERP) for a given topic.
- Most writers don’t fully understand why a piece of website content will or won’t perform well. As writers and consumers of content, it is easy to default into a mode of assessing content’s value based solely on what we’ve read and how well it applies to our needs and interests. However, this is not the way the web and search engines make their determinations. In truth, there is an alphabet soup of behind-the-scenes analytic factors involved in driving content success, and these criteria go well beyond the content itself.
So how can marketers hit on the right formula for their website content? In our business we see two general approaches:
- One way is what we call “The Treadmill:” Play the content game outlined above, run as hard as you can, and try to stay ahead. The issue with this approach is that you are not building an asset. Quality content, done well, will behave like an asset that provides positive yield — not just initially, but over time, as well. In contrast, if you are creating content “on the treadmill,” you will have to invest a lot of time and effort on a continuous basis just to keep up with content demand — and even then you may only achieve mediocre results. And should you ever need to slow down or stop content production for any length of time, your spigot will quickly run dry.
- The other approach is to focus less on the volume of content you publish and more on the quality of that content — i.e., following the “less is more” principle, recently evangelized by CMI’s Joe Pulizzi, among others.
Let’s revisit the realities outlined above in the context of the less-is-more approach: If only a small portion of your content truly drives results, your challenge is to develop quality website content that will clear that bar; that is, to create assets that will have a large and sustainable impact, as measured by an engaged audience; strong returns on your content and marketing investments; and (ultimately) a competitive advantage.
Here are some explicit tips for developing a program that consistently yields quality website content:
1. Develop concrete objectives
I know this may sound basic and obvious, but we often see businesses fail to consider their overarching objectives when they begin a content program. It’s essential to plan your website content around the goals you want to achieve. Are you looking to create thought leadership? Inform your customers and readers? Simply drive traffic to fuel your business? Often, some of your objectives can be at odds with each other, which is why it is important to outline them up front, and then prioritize. Otherwise, the probability that you will be happy with the outcome is low.
2. Do research before you put pen to paper
Every writer and website has its own unique strengths and constraints — just like every business. And though we would all like our websites to have a domain authority of 100 and feature wildly popular content, it’s rare that both of these goals are achieved — and nearly impossible without knowing what other content is being offered across your marketplace.
Because developing online content is, by definition, a competitive process, you need to understand your competition, your audience, and where the keyword and subject matter opportunities lie for you to distinguish your website content. Otherwise, you may invest a lot of time and resources in creating content, and still miss the chance to connect with your target consumers. Just choosing to write about any old topic (even if it’s one you are highly knowledgeable about) without knowing whether your audience needs content in that area is leaving success to pure chance.
3. Don’t overlook the small stuff
Like most everything in online marketing, making small tweaks can have big impact: Let’s say your chosen topic is a highly competitive one, where the chances of standing out are slim. If you’ve done your keyword research (as per point #2 above), you may have noticed that slight variants of your chosen keyword terms have less competition, but are still searched on frequently. Tweaking your content to focus on these terms can help your business really start to “own” the conversation around your subject.
Other tweaks you can consider may be as simple as tightening your title, or using your keyword terms more consistently across your content efforts. While they might seem minor in the grand scheme of things, we know even slight adjustments can lead to big performance gains, over time.
4. Solidify your website content’s role in your marketing strategy
Once you have the basics in place, you want to be strategic and programmatic in terms of how your website content plan fits in with your organization’s other marketing efforts. To succeed in content marketing and publishing is not a one-shot deal. You need to develop a longer-term road map and consistently publish quality content that aligns with your enterprise-wide goals. In doing so, each piece of content can become an “asset” that can be repurposed for — or supported by — your other marketing materials. When your brand assets become indelibly associated with your business’s value, they will increasingly yield dividends in terms of traffic and long-term consumer engagement, which adds up to significant gains in ROI.
5. Always track your progress
Regardless of how much effort we put into content development, if our content isn’t being read, or isn’t leading to other desired actions (like user engagement), then it has no value. Like most online processes, there are ample opportunities to benchmark the performance of your website content efforts, measure your progress over time, and use the resulting data to drive continual improvements.
As a disciplined content marketer, you should regularly be identifying your top website content (e.g., the content that drives the most traffic to your site), and evaluating its performance against your other content pieces. For example, what is the engagement rate (e.g., time on site, page views, visits, etc.) of top performing content vs. your other efforts? Does the new content you develop make as strong an impact on traffic and other key metrics that drive your business? If not, focus on what elements may have made your top content stand out (Is it the topic? The writing style? The headline? The format?), and look to align your other content efforts so that they also leverage the key qualities you’ve uncovered.
There is no question that emphasizing quality over quantity will yield better performance over time. Furthermore, it is not a huge burden to implement processes to ensure that you are able to continually improve your content’s performance.
That said, much of the challenge of improving quality is also simply adjusting your mind-set. Understanding your particular performance issues, realizing where your content investments aren’t yielding results, and deciding that you are willing to make necessary changes are the first, and most important, steps you can take. From there, you will find that implementing a content quality initiative is not a herculean task; and once you see the performance it yields, you will never look back.
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Cover image courtesy of InboundWriter