By Neil Patel published November 21, 2014

5 Mistakes That Hold Back Your Content Marketing

14607029674_3322ec552d_oContent marketing tactics and strategies that used to be awesome may now be obsolete. Successful content marketers must roll with the constantly changing industry if they want to stay successful. What “new” mistakes are you making? Here are the top five.

Mistake 1: We use content marketing for link building

Old-school SEO used to be about link building. The mantra was, “the more links to your website the better for your business.” Content marketing rolled right into this link-building strategy, producing content to get more links. That has changed. Now, instead of the quantity of links, there are a lot of other factors that influence a site’s rank and influence. These include citations, brand mentions, and quality of links.

If you’re creating content just for the links, you’re going to run into problems. Google does not look kindly on anything that smacks of link building. So, what is the goal of content marketing?

John Hall, CEO of Influence & Co., shares five business goals for content marketing:

  • Brand awareness
  • Brand loyalty
  • Customer education
  • Customer engagement
  • Talent recruitment

Noticeably absent from this list are traffic and click-through rates. Hall puts it bluntly: “Promotional links and other lovely tidbits that a company thinks will directly result in increased traffic will come off as spammy, diminishing the quality of the content, and severely damaging credibility. Readers are smart, so creating an article with the intent of driving traffic will only prevent your audience from drinking the Kool-Aid you’re serving.”

Traffic is still a good thing, and I’m all about building traffic the right way. If you get links, great. Consider it as a nice by-product, but don’t set it forth as your goal.

Mistake 2: The more content, the better

It used to be that if you produced more content, you would win the content marketing game. Today, however, content generation has surpassed search volume.

Rand Fishkin of Moz calls it “content fatigue.”

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Fishkin predicts that content marketing is approaching a scary point: “Whatever you’re doing … had better be so runaway incredible that you can earn and own an audience soon, before the world of content (potentially) goes from the Wild West, to an overcrowded, hypercompetitive field where standing out to jaded, fatigued consumers is 10 times harder than it is today.”

Tao of Twitter author Mark Schaefer calls it “content shock.” Different term, same thing. He writes, “Content shock [is] the emerging marketing epoch defined when exponentially increasing volumes of content intersect our limited human capacity to consume it.”

CMI’s Joe Pulizzi has been waving the content-proliferation red flag for a while. His bottom-line assertion is this: “I’m done with more.”

Let me use an example from personal interactions. Do you absolutely love it when people talk more or talk louder? Do you enjoy the constant barrage of talking, talking, talking, and talking?

No. In conversation, more is not better. It’s not much different in content marketing. The people we really listen to are people who have something to say — something worth saying – who convey it in a way to which we prefer to listen.

Now, instead of telling content marketers to produce more, the experts are telling us to produce better. We need more nuance:

  • Better content invariably means less content. We can’t produce the best possible content at breakneck speed.
  • Better content has an upper threshold. You can only get so much better. Just like we reach a ceiling in quantity, there’s also a ceiling to quality. When we reach this threshold, we need to find a new direction. And that new direction might be the direction of different, not better.
  • Better content depends on the audience. It doesn’t just mean longer or more detailed articles with perfect grammar and spelling. Better content is content that addresses the audience in the most powerful and direct way.

Mistake 3: If I create it, they will come

The famous line from the movie Field of Dreams: “If you build it, he will come,” has been paraphrased into a misguided mantra by many in the content marketing industry.

The problem is that the mantra – if you create it, they will come – is not true.

As I explained in the Advanced Guide to Content Marketing, “The secret to content marketing boils down to three things: creating great content, making sure it gets found in search engines, and promoting it to your followers.”

If you don’t market your content, your entire content marketing effort will fizzle and die.

When he speaks on why content marketing fails, Moz’s Fishkin shares this illustration:

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It’s not quite that simple, a point that Fishkin makes. Let’s change the quote: “If you create it and promote it, they will come.”

Mistake 4: A blog is the best way to do content marketing

A lot of people think that content marketing means “blogging.” Content marketing is more than just creating a blog and publishing articles. That’s only one of the many forms of a successful and full-orbed content marketing strategy.

There are plenty of forms of content marketing that can thrive with or without a blog:

  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • eBooks
  • Guides
  • White papers
  • SlideShare presentations
  • Podcasts
  • Contests/giveaways
  • Live chats/hangouts
  • Webinars
  • Pin boards
  • Screencasts

Is a blog the best means of content marketing? Maybe. I’ve found a lot of success in blogging. But blogging may not be best for every business. In fact, I know for a fact that some businesses should not rely on blogging for their content marketing efforts.

For example, let’s take a really niche industry – vibratory equipment for industrial recycling. The players in this field are not, as a whole, into reading blogs, from what I can tell. (If they are, please correct me.) A blog covering vibratory equipment for industrial recycling probably wouldn’t have the readership or ROI given the rather narrow audience. For this particular group, using content marketing tactics on LinkedIn might be more successful. LinkedIn is where key figures in the vibratory industry are gathering, talking, and connecting.

How do you figure out which method of content marketing is best? You research your audience, and learn what forms of content best connect with them.

Mistake 5: All you need is content

The phrase, “content marketing,” is misleading because you might think that the content itself is the marketing. Actually, you need to ensure one piece of content – a call-to-action – is included to make it true content marketing designed to help your business goals. In Social Media Today, Sarah Quinn writes:

“Call-to-actions (or CTAs) are the real moneymakers, and seamlessly incorporating them into your content experience is key for conversion. Whether the action you’re trying to get people to take is to subscribe to your blog or download an eBook, that CTA should be contextual. Put yourself in the position of the people whom you want to respond — is the CTA relevant? How will they find it? At what point are they most likely to click?”

You don’t want your content to turn into a sales pitch. No one wants that. But you can introduce relevant CTAs where appropriate. You can generate leads without being salesy. Content and marketing go together, and one should complement the other.

If you persist in content marketing, but avoid mentioning your product, your service, or your solution, then your content marketing efforts won’t have the ROI that they deserve.


We all need to realize that content marketing is changing. Today, virtually everyone is doing content marketing of some form or another. But are you doing it right? If you are making any of these mistakes, you may just be spinning your wheels.

What other content marketing mistakes do you see being made? We would love to have you share in the comments.

Want to stop making the same mistakes and create more effective content marketing? Learn from the experts and speakers at Content Marketing World. Check out our Video on Demand portal.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski

Author: Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSmetrics. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, and Entrepreneur Magazine says he has created one of the 100 most brilliant companies in the world. You can connect with him on Twitter @neilpatel.

Other posts by Neil Patel

  • Adam P. Newton

    Fantastic article. It’s really appreciated. I consistently fight battles with Mistakes 1 & 2, while I don’t have just a blog like Mistake 4, I still struggle with crafting the content diversity I seek.

    • Neil Patel

      Thanks @adampnewton:disqus !

      For content diversity, start with the topics and media types that provide the most value to your audience first. Then focus on diversity based on the resources that are available to you. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin for diversity’s sake and compromise the quality and focus of your content.

      • Timmy Miller

        Now I see why the commentary seems so far above the norm, and above my head! The true Gurus of the internet marketing world not only wrote the article, they must be avid followers & readers with the many replies with great “content” in their follow-ups too! Thank YOU all for helping!
        Tim Miller

  • Michael Gerard

    Great post Neil! We’ll no doubt need to get better at building our content production process; but the real hard work will be improving the quality and impact of our content.

    • Neil Patel

      Thanks Michael! Glad you got value out of it.

  • Ricky Shockley

    This really seems to contradict Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose (the thought leaders behind this site). Why is there a mention of the goals of content marketing that don’t include those outlined by Joe himself? In Epic Content Marketing Joe makes a great case for actually measuring sales and ROI by using subscription data and advanced marketing automation analytics–why is that absent? Joe’s metrics for content marketing DO include traffic data because they are a representation of visibility and awareness. Noticing that a lot of the content here lately seems to stray from the core beliefs held by Joe and Robert.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Ricky…I saw my name pop up here and thought I would comment. Thanks for the kind words. Of course, I agree with you, but as you know from the book, there is a whole section on how there is no one right way to achieve content marketing goals. I’ve seen them accomplished a number of different ways. It’s in that spirit that we want to encourage different viewpoints on this site (we always have…even at some times when I’ve personally disagreed, but still saw the value). I hope that makes sense. Thank you for being a part of this community.

      • Ricky Shockley

        Hi Joe,

        As referenced above, it just really stuck out to me that content was being published on CMI about the goals of content marketing that didn’t include subscription, lead gen or sales in any way.

        Thanks for your reply!


    • Neil Patel

      @RickyShockley1:disqus first, I want to thank you for reading my post.

      To your points, I didn’t completely dismiss traffic as a metric. In the context of my point, I’m saying that you shouldn’t create content for the sole purpose of building links to rank better or to drive referral traffic for short term traffic. Unless it’s contextual and provides value, it’ll look promotional and unnatural, which is bad for your brand in the long run.

      Hope that makes sense.

      Also thanks @juntajoe:disqus for chiming in.

      • Ricky Shockley

        Hi Neil,

        I was more referencing the fact that the metrics for content marketing i’ve generally seen from Joe and CMI involve four things; consumption, sharing/engagement, leads/subscribers and sales. It stuck out to me that you referenced a list of content marketing goals (per John Hall) that did not include lead gen or sales. I know that a big major issue facing content marketing as a practice revolves around the idea of measuring ROI (or as Joe calls it, ROO).

        Thanks for the reply!


        • Ryan

          In my opinion, consumption, sharing/engagement, leads/subscribers and sales should not be termed “goals” but ways of measuring ROI or ROO. Brands and businesses using content marketing as part of their marketing mix are really trying to build more awareness, educating and engaging people about what they do, leading to loyalty. I agree with Neil that that’s what our intention for creating the content is about, so as to ensure we are always creating high quality content that actually matters to our target audience, not just for the sake of achieving ROI. Although, ROI will follow if you are doing “content marketing” right.

          Overall, many great points, Neil! Not just for the information but it has motivated me to continue what we do.

      • Timmy Miller

        Neil, regardless of my comments please know that it’s far easier to deconstruct than it is to write a cohesive message and article as you did with yours here! Thank you for sharing and again, even my constructive crit is worth only what people paid to read it…nothing! Thanks for the opportunity!

      • Siva

        Well explained Neil 🙂 . So Shall I take in to it that content that intent on building links to rank better, is something like Affiliate sales that happens for short term ?

  • John

    Thank you for such wonderful and interesting article about some tips on Marketing Strategy.

    • Neil Patel

      John, glad you found them helpful. I look forward to hearing much more from you.

  • Activ Hub- China Digital Intel

    I nice article, but personally, the last point CTA is still an issue to me. Too much content suddenly disappears under a bloody great popup and to be frank, I simply close the page. I don’t believe a CTA is needed on EVERY piece of content, there is a psychological strategy to selling, it isn’t asking the customer to buy from the second they step in the door. Selling is like seduction, needs tact, patience and a light, delicate touch and subtle approach.

    • Neil Patel

      It depends on how you use CTAs. You can’t expect your audience to take action if you don’t command it. Of course you still need to make sure you do it tastefully and contextually.

      • Activ Hub- China Digital Intel

        I think we are agreeing to a large extent Neil, but I do need to take issue with your choice of the word COMMAND~
        To me this is still a throw back to “in yer face selling” push marketing.

        Surely, as marketers today we should not be pushing or commanding people to call us or take some action, but writing persuasive and personally targeted content so that they are motivated from within to reach out to us.

        If, to use the well know cartoon, I receive an email promo aimed at single, bar loving, young daredevils I am going to trash it, no matter how big, effective or whatever the CTA is.

        If on the other hand, it was tuned to things that are of interest to me, then I would not need any CTA to urge me to respond, I would do so because I wanted to, becasue it as what I wanted. Do you think that maybe we tend to underestimate the intelligence of consumers today?

        • Timmy Miller

          This somewhat sums it all up and Neil’s article was very good advice and a very good, intuitive explanation of an ever-changing, very difficult issue that there is no “correct” answer!

      • Timmy Miller

        Wow…this entire group of commentors seems far more savvy than any single group of readers and followers than I’ve seen….maybe ever! Thank YOU All for sharing!

    • Timmy Miller

      Yea! By Joe, I think she’s got “IT!” At least, in my opinion she does! Great comment and Thank YOU!

  • Freya Shipley

    Thanks for a great article! This is all really helpful to a newbie like me.

    The John Hall quotation in the fifth paragraph is a little creepy. Are all content marketers Jim Jones in disguise??

    • Neil Patel

      Thanks Freya, glad you enjoyed it!

      And great observation on the JH quote…hehe.

  • Ben Brausen

    Sadly, far too many make content for content sake and produce the same thing over and over and over with different wording. Do they believe people really want to read what they have to say?

    • Neil Patel

      Ben, I agree. There should always be an intent with any content marketing strategy. One shouldn’t create for creation’s sake.

  • Timmy Miller

    Wrong! After succeeding with your goals of getting your message in front of my eyes, causing me to make the decision to give-away the next few minutes of my life in order to read your message, and even convincing me that you had captured in a few paragraphs, what the meaning of life (for the sales, marketing, CFO & CEO types at the least) literally was, you spend much of your time explaining what no longer works and then even more on an almost-fallacy; only then do you get to the brilliance of your entire point. Every goal, every effort, every plan that’s going to be successful is all about ROI!

    I’ve often used your comparison of the “better mousetrap” scenario to my point when explaining that tiny aspect of marketing. But even that example was/is only a failure because too much was invested on the front end. Using absurd numbers to make my point, if that inventor of the better mousetrap sold only one unit but sold it for a billion-dollars, he would have achieved financial success! More to my point regarding yours, you are absolutely correct that “success” in today’s marketing-world has little to do with brand-awareness, loyalty, education, engagement or talent or clicks, but totally wrong about the intent of the content not having as it’s goal. That would cause any logical reader to believe that all successful marketing is either accidental, or mysteriously uncontrollable. It’s not!

    Content marketing is not new. The ever-changing vehicle and especially the ever-changing, more educated, more commercially-adverse audience of consumers is what has changed. From that very first widget that was bartered or sold to another human being, successful marketing has been achieved when the seller has successfully caused the buyer to itch and the seller is there to deliver the scratch that causes the itch to go away or at least, be less itchy! But, in today’s modern, consumer world, some are willing to endure the itch if the relief is somehow abhorrent to the prospective buyer. Whether it be Apartheid in South Africa or that overly zealous content writer turning off readers, only this level of anti-commercialism is truly new to this always sophisticated problem that truly drives the entire world, sales and marketing!

  • @Toddperlee

    I’m constantly amazed when I want to share and there’s no share option-everything needs to have links to social media. Tired of SEO and IT companies who justify their services by inflating traffic numbers via tricks of the trade and “keyword” content for content’s sake. IT is not a replacement for marketing.

    • Neil Patel

      Todd, I agree. Traffic doesn’t matter if it isn’t connected to ROI.

  • Ann

    you spend much of your time explaining what no longer works and then even more on an almost-fallacy; only then do you get to the brilliance of your entire point. Every goal, every effort, every plan that’s going to be successful is all about ROI!MLB Snapback Hats