Today, we see many companies that pump out dozens of content pieces on a weekly basis. But that content is often composed of non-expert opinions presented as fact or unverified data. While it can turn out to be entertaining and actually translate into targeted traffic, if you're continually pushing out unreliable content, it has the potential to do serious damage to your brand over time.
A 2013 study from the USC Annenberg School Center revealed that only 42% of Internet users trust what they read online.
While this isn’t specific to content marketing, the study seems to confirm a bigger trend: content creators have developed negative habits that affect the results of their content marketing efforts. Brands are employing editorial models that privilege immediacy and volume over accuracy and verification, adds researcher Richard Sambrook.
Content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. Whether you are doing it for potential clients, existing customers, or other stakeholders, the real purpose behind your content efforts should be to build a higher level of long-term trust between the consumers and your organization. With trust consequently comes better engagement, improved brand loyalty, and ultimately, higher ROI.
"People often think of content marketing as a silver bullet (in the same way as they could have 'gamed' search engines with SEO tricks in the past), but the reality is that it's a lot of work and it's complex," says Karen Webber, head of marketing for Axonn Media.
In order to do content marketing more effectively than their competitors, brands must realize that each piece of content is just a building block in the larger relationship they’re creating with a consumer. As Moz’s Rand Fishkin notes in a very insightful SlideShare, content marketing doesn't work like this:
There are no shortcuts or immediate results. At the end of the day, it's all about building long-term engagement. The process looks much more like this:
As you can see, each piece of high-quality content strengthens the brand–consumer relationship and trust until the point of conversion — and then it just keeps on going. "Even if the consumer didn’t buy from you, they’ll remember you, and content will sway their perceptions about whether they made the right choice," explains Contently's Managing Editor Sam Petulla.
Focus on quality
The key to long-term content marketing success is in enabling the creation of higher-quality content. "Don't think in terms of producing more content but rather in terms of making each piece of content more effective," says content marketing guru Heidi Cohen.
"Compelling, trustworthy content isn’t just about putting words together — it’s about getting all the facts in order, too,” says Kathryn Hawkins, co-founder of content marketing agency Eucalypt Media. Similar to journalists, content marketers “must know how to analyze and source data from studies, how to tell whether or not a source of information is credible, and how to conduct interviews and other in-depth research to answer their audience’s questions."
Here are essential tips on how to improve the core quality of our content, the journalistic way:
- Check every fact: When you or a source state something, verify the authenticity of that information. While it is a fact that the source made a certain statement and can be quoted, if the statement is wrong it weakens your content and can be detrimental to your credibility. If statistics are used in a story, they should also be attributed to a source and double-checked.
- Use more than one source (and link to them): In-depth content pieces with only one source tend to appear weak and less credible. Using testimony from two or more sources will definitely increase the perceived reliability of your content. The key is to find sources who are relevant or who are authorities on the subject matter.
- Write in third-person perspective: Unless you're a true expert in the matter or you're simply writing an opinion piece, your testimony should never be the primary source. It's your job to find relevant sources and collect information from them.
- Present different sides of the story: Assets like how-to guides or short industry news are typically straightforward. However, when a topic has the potential to provoke multiple opinions (e.g. "The Future of Content Marketing", "How To Invest Your Life-Time Savings"), it is important to find sources who reflect these differing stances.
- Spelling and grammar should be on point: Remember your early elementary and high school lessons. While we won’t address grammar and spelling rules here, you can take a look here at some of the most common mistakes.
Heidi Cohen also gives examples of how different types of companies can readjust their processes in order to increase quality: "a) For larger organizations, this might mean working to bridge your organizational silos. With better team alignment, you can eliminate duplicated efforts and produce content that addresses higher-level marketing goals. b) For smaller organizations, this might mean planning ahead to find opportunities to create multiple pieces of content simultaneously, which will reduce your content creation costs."
Publishing content that lacks depth, accuracy, and quality ultimately hurts an organization's reputation and credibility. If your reputation is important to you, investing in high-quality content should be, too.