And why you should care
Before we dive head first in to the swirling miasma of content marketing we first need to understand what went on behind the scenes at Google to suddenly makes all this blogging lark so terribly important…
A few short years ago if you wanted to appear at the top of Google, PPC was hands down your best bet. At the time it was still relatively cheap and with the search results creaking beneath the weight of ad real estate – ads at the top of the page and in the margin – global domination awaited you providing you were willing to hose enough money at your chosen keywords.
Then Google evolved and well optimised pages became the most important thing. Adwords was still (and is) important but what what you were saying on your website became the most important element. At least in theory.
It took all of five minutes for digital marketers to spot the obvious flaw – you could game the Google algorithm.
Through lots of little sneaky tricks – including white text on a white background and repeating keywords dozens of times per page – the gurus of the early noughties were able to trick Google into thinking websites were far more useful than they really were.
One of the more ethically dubious tricks was to hide long lists of pornographic references on the page so businesses would show up more frequently in search results.
There were two problems. One: Google doesn’t like being beaten at their own game. Two: Google has never been known to rest on their laurels.
The game changer
Semantic search made a lot of digital marketers very nervous (read terrified – just what the hell is semantic search anyway?!). Up to then they have been making a killing from pulling every dirty trick under the sun to get their clients to the top of Google and now none of it would work. If anything most of their clients were about to crash through the rankings and lose a lot of money in the process.
What’s that saying about cheaters and prospering?
The reason for this sundering of search performance was both an incredibly technological achievement by Google but a master stroke in terms of completely changing how the entire world advertised their business online.
Up to then web pages that had the right keywords dominated search. Now it was websites that served users relevant content – blogs and web pages that answered questions and – God forbid – actually added value.
This was a shock for businesses too. They were use to getting a website built, setting it live and then leaving it there. Google would no longer tolerate that. If your website was dead then – in their eyes – so were you.
Businesses now had to produce relevant content. Thus content marketing was born- an entirely new approach to marketing focused on the production of content to stimulate interest in a product or service.
Of course the irony was content marketing was initially met with suspicion and no small amount of reluctance. Businesses had been told they needed a website to be successful. They got one and nothing happened.
Then they were told they had to ‘optimise’ their website to get leads. They did and the leads (like a lot of the SEO at the time) were garbage. Now they were being told they had to write blogs. But eventually the world accepted this fundamental shift in digital marketing and most of us started to writing blogs. And most of those were terrible.
The problem was Google had told the world to write relevant content. They hadn’t really been that specific about what relevant meant.
But Google wasn’t done. In May 2017 the algorithm changed again.
It was no longer enough just to write blogs about loosely related content or – essentially – glorified sales pitches. Effective content marketing would be measured by how useful the content was to the consumer.
Whether or not it answered a question or addressed a need that was being asked through search. Google literally looks at the questions your customers are asking and then crawls your website – and every other website in your industry – to see if your content sufficiently answers that question.
If you’re mind isn’t blown then you’re bigger geeks than we are.
But it also changed the way content marketing as a discipline works. Up to then fire and forget content was perfectly acceptable. It could be quite relevant but it didn’t have to change minds or shape behaviour.
Now it absolutely does.
Content marketing needs to help every kind of customer at every stage of their buying journey not serve them a single three minute blog then abandon them to wander the internet like a digital quickie down a back alley in Basingstoke*.
But there is an obvious incentive attached to producing such a prodigious amount of content – the better informed a customer is the easier they are to sell to.
But there’s a twist.
The ability for the consumer to ask questions – coupled with the abundance of content businesses produce to meet their needs has changed the relationship between you and your customer in a big way.
If your content creation team have done their jobs well: by the time the potential customer makes contact there is a very good chance that they will have thoroughly researched your business as well as the product or service and will be almost ready to buy.
Why Content works
There are obvious benefits to creating content.
Google hates stagnant website so the more content you create the more Google will index your site. Hurrah.
Providing, of course that content is relevant.
The more relevant the content the more Google ‘likes’ your site and the higher up the rankings you go. However, the real fun begins when you consider the impact that regular, relevant and helpful content is having on your audience.
Aside from passively educating and nurturing your leads for you – dramatically cutting down on both lead time and the cost per lead – it does something the traditional sales call and meetings couldn’t do in double the time – build trust.
The reason for this is simple. A sales call or meeting has one overarching goal: to land a sale. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s the nature of business but the imbalance in the relationship can put those potential customers off, especially if they don’t feel ready to buy.
Simone Sinek strongly believes – as do we – clients don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it. Giving them the hard sell makes it impossible for that message to come out at all.
Content exists to communicate that all important ‘why’. To demonstrate to your customers that what you’re business is already really good at doing – helping them grow by making their business better in some way. Even if that’s just giving valuable advice.
This freely given source of information builds trust and allows the customer to build a relationship with you on their terms, redressing the balance and making your working relationship much more of a partnership.
Forming working relationships in this way not only make it far more likely that you’ll get the sale but chances are you won’t even need to ask for it.
Moreover, relationships built on trust are far healthier and last much longer. Compare this to your personal relationships and it all becomes much clearer.
There’s no such thing as an original idea
But what if you’re in an industry that’s said everything that could be said? You’re not alone – one of the most common responses to content marketing as a concept is ‘but it’s been said all before’. Maybe, but if you haven’t said it, in your way, backed by your years of experience and expertise then you’re denying your customers your valuable insight.
Also never lose sight of the fact that if people are coming to your website, carrying out searches and viewing multiple pages then they want to hear your opinion.
Just because something has been said doesn’t mean it can’t be said better. Why do you think they rebooted the Spider-man franchise three times?
Although it’s really important not to copy other businesses content or even mimic their content schedule, there is nothing wrong with you writing about the same subjects from time to time, especially if there is a change in regulations or a new innovation that is worth talking about.
You should also never assume that your customer’s have gone elsewhere first for their information but equally why would you want them to?
It’s irrelevant if a competitor’s blog is more established than yours, you want your customers and future customers coming to you and only you for advice. Moreover, from a search point of view it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
Great content means engagement which means Google will move your website up the rankings, exposing you to a greater number of potential new customers to engage with.
Sharing (content) is caring
There is a very simple reason why creating original, useful content is important. Because Google says so. Your first reaction may be ‘If Google asked you to jump off a cliff would you do it?’. Honestly, if it improves your rankings you should consider it.
The fact is that Google expects you to create helpful and engaging content. If you take the attitude that it can’t be done, you don’t have resource, no one will read it or any of the other excuses that basically mean you can’t be bothered then Google will rank the businesses who can. It’s as simple as that.
No matter how successful you may be, in the eyes of Google you are little more than a collection of web pages with some content. If your content is terrible or your website stagnant then your competitors will work their way up the rankings and you won’t.
This is no doubt a bitter pill to swallow for some as Google is effectively dictating how everyone does business and in truth, it is but for a very good reason:
Your customers matter.
The second you lose sight of why you do what you do – to delight your customers in most cases – then you deserve to be pushed down the rankings.
Creating great content isn’t about you (no your blogs shouldn’t be glorified sales pitches) or even for you. It’s entirely for your audience. It’s about grabbing them by the collar, looking them in the eye and telling them that you can help.
That they can trust you.
Because if you can build trust, when they finally cross the anonymity threshold and make contact with you they will already trust to you because you helped them out of the hole they didn’t even know they were in.
*We have nothing against Basingstoke, it’s a lovely town…