Skip to content

21 Things Content Marketing Experts Wish They Had Known When They Got Started

What is our favorite thing about the Content Marketing Institute? Our super-smart contributors! Over the next several weeks, they’ll weigh in on some questions about content marketing.

This week, they answer, “What is the one thing you wish someone had told you about content marketing that you had to learn the hard way?”

In cooking parlance, content marketing is stock — a building-block ingredient for nearly all of a company’s “dishes.” As a result, content marketing is a political role. It sits in-between multiple departments and even more functions within each department. Just as the sous chef who mixes up the stock that serves as the foundation for the signature dish goes unnoticed by everyone but the head chef, in many ways the content marketer should aim to make his colleagues the celebrities.Joe Chernov (@jchernov)

I wish I knew one thing when I got started: How does your content get found? While there is no single answer to this question, here are some tactics I have found to be especially useful:

  • Have your top 30-50 keyword phrases you’re going to use over and over again, and ensure these phrases are embedded within all of your content.
  • Source all of the relevant blog posts to identify conversations you should contribute to and link back to your content. Use tools like Google Alerts or Google Reader that have keyword search capabilities.
  • Cross-promote your content in relevant communities. For example, post your presentations on Slideshare, embed them in landing pages that can be measured, and link to your landing page. You get the boost of traditional link backs to your content, plus you get the exposure on Slideshare. You can do the same thing for webinar content, video content, etc.
  • Update your website constantly with the fresh content so Google keeps ranking your site higher for keywords and lets your content get found.
  • Make a decision on how you want to optimize your content. Long-tail terms are the better way to go for your content unless you have a major budget.
  • Consider PPC campaigns to promote your content.
  • Consider retargeting services with your ads so that the user sees your content over and over again.
  • Ask influencers to share your content. There is no better way to get your content shared than by referral.
  • Consider using old-fashioned email and include the forward to a friend functionality.
  • Syndicate your content.

Darryl Praill (ohpinion8ted)

Before launching a big project, make sure you have the enthusiasm/ support/ effort from your subject matter experts. I work largely for professional service firms, and our content marketing programs absolutely require the expertise, insights, and credibility of subject matter experts. Without their willing participation, the project — no matter how well-researched, well-designed, etc. — is a low-flying dud.- Clare McDermott (@soloportfolio)

It takes a lot of resources to do this properly. In the world of B2B, there is a lot to be gained from a thought leadership approach, of producing really smart content that separates a brand intellectually from the competition, especially when engaging prospects at the very start of the buying process. But there are two big issues that, frankly, marketers are taking a long time to address:

  • In-house experts need to allow time for sharing that expertise.
  • The end benefits justify a significant investment, not just in writing/production/design, but also in the careful planning of the whole strategy — a service that is typically and quite easily outsourced.

Too many marketers seem to persist in the belief that content marketing is about a quick article here and there and that will do the trick. While content does not always have to be detailed and lengthy, it should be high-quality, interesting, and well-planned. Ad-hoc content production — squeezed in around the day job — is not a solid basis for success.

John Bottom (@basebot)


Creating great content isn’t enough. The content must be distributed and marketed properly to gain traction.  The content must be organized in a manner that allows the user to find it, just to name a few of the more complicated nuances of content marketing. I believe that it has been an uphill battle to convince people that creating great content is a tremendous marketing opportunity. As a result, the message gets watered down a bit to “create great content and your company will benefit.” There’s more to it than that.- Russ Henneberry (@RussHenneberry)

I wish that I knew from the start that content marketing is not a tactic. When I first heard about content marketing, I admit I viewed it as a new strategy. Now I realize that content marketing is really a mindset that helps shape and enhance all aspects of an overall marketing strategy.Amanda Maksymiw (@amandamaks)

No matter how much content you produce, it’s never enough! As is the case for many of you, my audience is made up of different verticals, functional areas, geographies, and levels of expertise and adoption. The challenge is to come up with enough fresh, high quality content that’s relevant for each segment. Our solution is to repurpose as much of our content as possibleand encourage user- and employee-generated content. Still, there’s always demand for more.- Paula Crerar (@pcrerar)

Clients are opposed to testing and iteration. I feel that at least 50 percent of my job is educating my clients that the only way to know for sure is to test. They seem more inclined to spend money and time on content that they want to see, not that will appeal to their potential customers.- Ahava Leibtag (@ahaval)

Since I come from the search side of the business and do not have the traditional publisher’s perspective, I would say the importance of keeping an editorial calendar was a lesson I had to learn. Like most companies, even though we had a plan, we still shot from the hip a lot. The key to good content marketing is understanding that it’s a continuous effort to come up with new, engaging content targeted to your audience, and requires research, thought, and a long-term plan to all be documented in an editorial calendar.Our calendar includes many steps, including optimizing the content and even a promotion timeline for each piece of “promotion worthy” content that we create.- Arnie Kuenn (@ArnieK)

You don’t have to create content from scratch to deliver value.Curating and pointing folks to content of interest, inviting others to contribute content, and putting a new spin on existing content are all ways to generate a fresh stream of content that keeps your audience coming back for more.- Stephanie Tilton (@StephanieTilton)

I wish someone had told me how powerful cross-promoting content can be.We drove hundreds of extra downloads of the Content Marketing Workbook from our B2B Marketing Manifesto — just by telling readers that it was available and linking to it. It’s well worth going back to old published content and sprinkling in some cross-promotion.- Doug Kessler (@dougkessler)

The widespread need for content and the importance of creating content for others. It helps more people to discover you and it validates your content, as well as your level of expertise.- Scott Aughtmon (@rampbusinesses)

The one thing I wish someone had told me about content marketing is how hard it is to put the audience first in your marketing content.Great content helps your audience and engages them in a human or emotional way. Most marketing content is self-promotional and boring, and that’s why it largely gets ignored. Engaging with people on social channels does not come naturally for most of us, and so I have learned the hard way that the first step in content marketing is educating marketing folks that the current state of largely outbound, paid, promotional marketing is broken. The next step involves using examples of how content can drive engagement and, ultimately, revenue for our businesses if we produce the kind of content our audience wants and deliver it in the channels where they expect it. But building and gaining alignment of resources around a content strategy must come on top of that educational foundation.- Michael Brenner (@BrennerMichael)

Content marketing is a process, not an end in itself. You are not practicing content marketing if you write and place or publish a few articles.You’re simply doing some tactical promotion that may help short-term but not long-term. Content marketing requires an ongoing commitment, an understanding of your buyers, market segmentation and a commitment to use content to help move customers and prospects through the purchase funnel. It is a lot more work than writing a few articles but, in the end, a lot more satisfying in terms of lead generation and client/prospect satisfaction.- Wendy Marx (@wendymarx)

The best content marketing results come after listening and then continually tweaking the product. There have been very few content marketing successes that work out of the gate.Today, when I go in and talk to CMOs and senior marketers, I always say that the we won’t really be able to find our storytelling groove until after the first few months. Using this approach helps to set expectations correctly.- Joe Pulizzi (@juntajoe)

The one thing I learned the hard way about content marketing is how different it is from more traditional marketing writing styles that tend to be more promotional or persuasive. Content marketing requires a shift in your thinking, from “all about us” to “all about the reader.” If content is written in the wrong way, or isn’t helpful to the reader, it can really damage your reputation and brand. But, if it’s action-oriented, practical, educational, and meaningful, then you’re more likely to build strong relationships with your target audience. This takes a lot of trial and error: Which pieces do people download most? How frequently are people responding to or sharing your content?  Which ones fell flat? Learning this the hard way means a lot of wasted effort on certain pieces that just aren’t meaningful enough. To avoid these tough lessons, I would set up a content marketing strategy from the get-go and a few objectives you want to achieve for each piece. For example: Are there clear questions answered in this piece? Is this valuable to someone looking for certain tools? How many times is our company name used in the piece? A simple strategy would have saved us a lot of time and effort and, I imagine, a lot of other companies as well, as we enter this new world of content marketing.- Anna Ritchie (@apritchie)

I had to re-learn to thoroughly plan things. Content marketing is not doable in the long-run if it doesn’t include thorough planning, be it in a form of social media activities, events, magazines, brochures, blogs, etc. When I entered this business, I was too laid back and thought, “When it comes to it, we’ll do it/come up with an idea how.” I learned you can’t come up with a custom magazine concept without thinking at least four issues ahead. I learned you can’t just jump on a social-media train without a long-term detailed content strategy and schedule integrated with other content channels you may use. I learned you can’t start writing a blog without a calendar and lots of planning. Because sooner than later you’ll find yourself in trouble. I learned the hard way, although this applies to many other aspects of our lives, not just content marketing.- Nenad Senic (@NenadSenic)

The one thing I wished someone had told me when I first started my program was that there is no one-fit solution to a content marketing strategy. Each company has its own unique services, products, campaigns and culture. A content marketing strategy needs to mold to the company, fitting each need of the business. Content marketing is not cookie-cutter.- Jessica Eastman (@JessicaEastman)

I wish someone had told me to do a better job managing customer expectations. Content marketing is a great story and one people are ready to hear. It’s easy to generate enthusiasm for the concept. In the early days, there was a lot of talk about content marketing being free. It’s not. What I’ve found most difficult is that clients don’t understand the slow burn aspect of content marketing.Even though you tell them, they expect results after one or two months. So often I see businesses give up just as they’re starting to gain influence with their audience. I learned the hard way to be very clear about positioning content marketing as a long-term investment. I now get commitment for at least a six month investment before starting a project.- Sarah Mitchell (@globalcopywrite)

Content is required on a regular basis to connect, engage, and sellto today’s more empowered buyer. As a result, you constantly have to work at producing recent relevant content to fuel the various channels and facilitate the audiences need for more information and intelligence. We’ve learned the hard way that once you start it’s a beast that needs to be continually fed. Although it is a never-ending process, it is rewarding and effective.- Tom Pisello (@tpisello)

I wish someone had told me a while ago that content marketing operates on a combination of strategy, planning, and randomness more than most marketers will admit. It’s practically impossible to have sustained success without strategy and planning, but big victories often come at the most unexpected times. For example, a blog post you might think is OK, but not your best, might suddenly become very popular simply because an influencer who doesn’t always follow your blog randomly happened to read this one post and share it. If you’re smart, you’ll have linked to a few old posts in that blog post. Those older blog posts should get a big bump in traffic from the attention the new one is getting. Your regular audience — of Facebook fans, Twitter followers, RSS subscribers, email newsletter readers — will likely also get a bump. That success wouldn’t have happened without the strategic funnel you built to turn one-time readers into a regular audience, your careful persistence and planning, and that one lucky random read. I’ve learned through experience that when you have this combination, patience to wait for deferred gratification in content marketing pays off.- Tracy Gold (@tracycgold)


Every great content marketing operation needs a Managing Editor. To succeed in content marketing, you don’t have to start with big scale and try to create a traditional editorial operation. You can use external freelancers and agencies; you can (and should) get internal team members to write part time. But you need a Managing Editor, and that Editor should have traditional media experience (fear not: it’s a good time to find one). Your Managing Editor does not have to be a full-time employee. But even if they’re a contractor, they need to be regularly available to you and accountable to the success of the operation.To succeed as a publisher, brands need someone who can analyze the audience’s interests and create a content plan, someone who can evaluate, recruit and manage writers, someone that makes sure the trains all run on time. The world of traditional journalism is the best developer of these skills and the best source for this talent.- Toby Murdock (@tobymurdock)

What do you wish you had known when getting started? Let us know in the comments!