By now, you’re probably familiar with the term “content shock”, coined by Mark Schaefer in 2014. In Schaefer’s words, content shock is “the emerging marketing epoch defined when exponentially increasing volumes of content intersect our limited human capacity to consume it”.
In short, we’re pretty much drowning in content. It’s not just the volume of content that brands have to compete with, however – other considerations include the quality and the context surrounding that content, the temperature of the Internet, and an individual’s content desires at a particular moment.
For example, you’ve likely completed a BuzzFeed quiz at some point to learn something interesting or entertaining (and probably very arbitrary) about yourself. Or, I’m sure you’ve clicked through a friend’s Facebook album. As Hana Abaza explained in her session at The Uberflip Experience 2016, of the limited amount of content that a human will consume in a given day, your marketing content will almost always lose out to content that’s deemed more pressing or relevant to a particular individual (and yes, that includes cat videos).
The point is, an abundance of content is created to serve all kinds of purposes (to entertain, to share, to educate, etc.), and content marketers want their content to rise to the top. The world clearly doesn’t need more content... so how are content marketers supposed to compete?
Content spamming vs. content marketing
The solution I’m proposing today: Stop content spamming and start content marketing.
Once upon a time, creating what is now considered “spam” content, or “spamdexing” (creating thin, keyword-stuffed webpages) used to be a black hat tactic to manipulate search engine rankings. Since Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, spamdexing has (thankfully) been removed from the modern SEO’s toolbelt; however, spam content still exists.
By definition, spam is unwanted, intrusive, and irrelevant advertising on the Internet. Spam content is content that is not created with the intention of serving your audience. The real issue here, however, is that too many content marketers are guilty of creating it under the guise of “content marketing” because it supposedly serves a marketing purpose.
As Michael Martinez writes, you probably don’t intend to create content that’s spammy. However, if your content is created with any other purpose other than to serve your audience – e.g., to generate backlinks, to fill a gap in your content calendar and maintain traffic, or to act as a thin sprinkle of context surrounding a lead gen form – then your content is, most likely, spam.
Content marketing requires the creation and distribution of content that is valuable and relevant. The goal of content marketing is to attract and retain a defined audience, and this involves more than simply pushing out content in the name of marketing.
So, how can we stop content spamming and start content marketing? Re-examine content marketing and SEO ethics, and re-evaluating your current content marketing strategy. Start by considering the actionable tips below.
Report on the right metrics
As Kara Burney writes in The Ultimate Guide to Content Insights:
“Program distraction is a necessary evil in the B2B marketing profession: you might launch registration for four webinars and two hosted events, push budget behind a new round of CPC ads, and announce a new product line, all in the same week. But rattling off this list to your CEO or CMO is the quickest way to deflate executive confidence. Why? Because more isn’t always better. If left unchecked, excessive activity can be a recipe for inefficiency.”
The output of most content marketers is impressive. I’ve met plenty of content writers who can pump out a 1,000+ word blog post in just a couple of hours. There are also plenty of tools available to help create more content, more efficiently.
By measuring output and planning blogging power hours, you’re taking a dangerous “quantity over quality” approach to content marketing – in which case, you might as well just be pushing the Pointless Button.
Perhaps you think you’ve determined that you need a steady stream of new content to maintain traffic levels. Take another look at your traffic. If your bounce rate is undesirably high, or your traffic is unevenly distributed and most sessions are falling on a select few pages, it’s likely that every piece of content you create is not providing value or serving your audience.
If your audience wants to turn up the volume on your content, they'll let you know. But first, you have to give them something worth hearing.
Turn data into content ideas
Once you start reporting on the right metrics, turn that data into content ideas. If you apply your data correctly, your content will be better aligned with both your marketing goals and your audience.
Be sure to look at:
- Performance data – Review your own content performance metrics to understand which pieces of content resonate with your audience. If you discover that a particular eBook performed well, create the much-anticipated sequel to that eBook. Use tools like Google Analytics and your marketing automation database to track content performance.
- Industry data and trends – Responding to trends in your industry is also a great way to come up with valuable content ideas (as long as you are creating something productive to add to the conversation, of course). Tools like Buzzsumo and Google Trends can help you determine the popularity of a topic.
Qualitative data is also incredibly important when aligning your content with your audience. At the beginning of the year, our content team ran an audience survey exercise originally suggested by Anum Hussain (read about it in her presentation: How to Accelerate the Growth of Your B2B Blog).
We booked interviews with a number of content marketers (not all Uberflip users) and asked them all kinds of questions about their job responsibilities, career path, and life outside of work. We then compiled these insights, assigned them to our personas, and used them to fuel some of our content ideas. As an example, we discovered that a lot of the content marketers in our audience identify as writers. Consequently, we created a number of content pieces on blogging and copywriting and found that our average time on page for these items is much higher.
Fluff ideas are spam ideas. If your content ideas aren’t substantial, your content won’t be, either.
Optimize your content experience
As briefly mentioned above, if the content itself is the only thing that’s providing context for a CTA, then it’s spam.
Semiotic theory explains that meaning is derived from context – that is, it’s created in relation to other meanings and values that have been assigned based on a community’s shared “codes”. For instance, the colors green and red take on a significant meaning if they’re on a traffic light (red means stop; green means go).
If spam is meaningless content, part of eliminating the content spam problem is to provide context. You can accomplish this by optimizing your content experience (i.e., the environment in which your content lives) so it is highly relevant to your audience, from topic to stage of the buyer journey. Your content experience (not the content itself) is what will provide the necessary context for your audience to generate meaning from your content.
- Ensuring your content is available at all times and on all devices by implementing responsive design
- Strategically organizing your content so it’s easily discoverable and provides a logical engagement path for your audience
- Including targeted and contextual CTAs that are part of the entire content experience
You can’t control the motivations and desires of the individuals who make up your target audience, and you can’t control the experience on the rest of the Internet, but you can control the context surrounding your content to ensure that it is truly meaningful to your audience.
What content marketing is really about
Content marketing isn’t about simply blasting content out to the Internet. As a reminder, you’re fighting for a limited spot in a human’s capacity for content consumption, and you’re competing against a number of factors you can’t control. You’re not going to “win” by serving your own agenda.
Next time you’re staring at your blinking cursor, attempting to punch out some words and meet your blog post deadline, think about how you’re serving your audience, why your audience will find this idea valuable, and the context in which you’ll be presenting the idea to them. If you can’t find the data to back up your idea, then it might be wise to scrap it.
When content marketing is about you, it’s spam. Content marketing is about your audience – serve them well, and your content marketing efforts will succeed.
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