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5 Reasons Why Your Content Marketing Fails

Content marketing is another one of those marketing iceberg sub-disciplines strongly related to SEO. When you start getting into it, sometimes it can feel like all of a sudden, there’s a whole lot more underneath the surface. Which, to be honest with you, is totally accurate.


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Alexander Boswell

4 months ago | 9 min read
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And what to do about them

Content marketing is another one of those marketing iceberg sub-disciplines strongly related to SEO. When you start getting into it, sometimes it can feel like all of a sudden, there’s a whole lot more underneath the surface. Which, to be honest with you, is totally accurate.

You might think, content marketing, that’s just writing blog posts, right? Well, my friend, you are only partially correct. The content is what you see on the surface (which, while we’re here, isn’t just blog posts), and the marketing is all the fun technical and strategic knowledge work behind it all.

I can tell you from experience (as you’ll later see) that making mistakes while starting out, or even if you’re fairly deep in the game, is quite common. So don’t bash your head against a wall if you realize you’re making one or more of them.

Here, I’ll walk you through some of the most common mistakes people (including myself) make when they start getting into content marketing and some solutions or best practices to help you rectify them.

1. Aiming for “The Spike of Hope”

When you first start with content marketing, whether for your personal blog or for a business, one of the first mistakes creators make is aiming for the spike of hope. That is, hoping for timely content to go viral for a fire-blazing start.

The trouble with this hope is that the traffic will nearly always die after a short period when the article is no longer relevant.

Getting lots of attention is a significant initial boost of motivation, but when that spike starts to dip, keeping that attention is the next goal to strive for.

Top performers in the content marketing industry are 21–23% more likely to achieve long term relationship goals, delivering bottom-line results (like building a subscribed audience) compared to those who only focus on brand awareness. Sure, the idea of virality is pretty hard to resist sometimes, but it’s always a gamble — what is more predictable is evergreen content.

What you can do about it

One of the easiest and free ways to check out whether your content idea has the potential to be evergreen is to check it out on Google Trends.

The best way to see if the topic isn’t just a fad is by switching your search criteria to worldwide and past five years. This way, you’ll get more data to form the bigger picture. For example, when I searched for internet privacy, this is what we get.

“The Spike of Hope” Google Trends chart for “internet privacy”

I can’t quite remember what it was about 2017 that made people worry about internet privacy, but as you can see, the spike diminished quite quickly within the span of about a month. However, if you were to search instead for the best VPN, this is what you get instead.

Upwards trend chart for term “best VPN”

This is an excellent example of a topic increasing in popularity, even if the overall parent topic of online privacy is the same. You can also see that the better of the two were also more specific search terms, likely with high searcher intent, which leads me onto the next content marketing fail.

2. Not Matching Searcher Intent

I’ve got to be honest, I’m massively guilty of this one, and I don’t think I’m alone. When I first started writing online, I just wrote about whatever I wanted to write about and hoped that since I was thinking about it, surely other people are too. That, my friend, is a big no.

We all know at least someone who’s started a blog and then let it die or gave up with it after a couple of months of no results. Chances are, they were doing the same thing I was: writing without thinking about how the reader could possibly find the post.

Let’s say, for example, you started a travel blog (this was me, by the way), and you documented your awesome travels with such titles as “Day 3 in Berlin: Beer as big as my head!”

Now, it was a fun diary to write, but no one is going to find that post unless you shared it with your parents or friends because they aren’t necessarily searching for beer as big as my head.

The key to successful content marketing is both promotion (84% of B2B content marketers use paid distribution by the way) and organic search traffic. For that, you need to match what people are Googling.

What you can do about it

Again, the easiest way to do this is free — just a thought experiment. When you’re thinking about writing on a topic (like a trip to Berlin), one of the first things you need to do is think about what people are searching for on that topic.

Instead of my earlier headline example, we could assume that people ask about what activities to do in Berlin (or bars to check out).

Therefore, we could fashion our post around activities in Berlin based on experience. If you have access to an SEO tool like Ahrefs or SEMRush, you can validate your idea by searching the keyword like this.

Ahrefs keyword explorer tool for the term “what to do in Berlin”

As you can see, this idea performs pretty decently in the search results and is much more likely to match the searcher’s intent of finding what activities there are in Berlin. If you don’t have an SEO tool, you can always go into Google and pay attention to the people also ask feature, or use AnswerThePublic to help you out.

3. Focusing on High Traffic Potential Instead of Business Potential

Another big mistake you can make in content marketing is focusing too much on a target keyword’s traffic potential. It follows the logic of making sure your content addresses searcher intent rather than throwing spaghetti on the wall and hoping it sticks.

Let’s take a look at an example of a blog post focused on traffic potential instead of business potential.

The pretty darn well-known brand Vogue hosts this blog post about tips for working from home, which as we learned earlier is a spike of hope topic (check it out on Google Trends). Though, given their brand, they can likely get away with it in this instance.

However, Vogue is known as a fashion brand, right? Can you see where I’m going here? Publishing a blog post on ideas for working from home doesn’t exactly scream sign up for our mainly fashion magazine.

While content marketing certainly shouldn’t be a sales pitch, you should at least be writing or publishing about your industry and can at least mention your brand, product, or service.

Let’s take a look at an example of a post with high business potential. Shopify is a brand known for its vast resource library of a blog, and one of those is this one. 

The title “What Makes a Great Business Idea?” has a clearly defined searcher intent (people looking for business ideas), but it also has high business potential.

People reading a blog post about the anatomy of a great business idea are more likely to feel inspired to start their own business — and use Shopify to do it.

What you can do about it

While mind-mapping blog post ideas and doing keyword research, instead of pinpointing keywords just for traffic potential, think about how that keyword translates into business potential.

Sure, content should educate your readers or solve their problems. But they should also be business relevant and at least allow creating leads.

Here’s a trick I learned from taking the Blogging for Business course at Ahrefs Academy. Create an Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet, and in each column have the titles: keyword/topic, search volume, best articles, traffic (for each article), linking domains, and business potential. It’ll look a little something like this.

Image of Google Sheet showing business potential research

Use a rating out of 10 (or whichever rating system you want) and then rate each idea or keyword honestly and appropriately. Doing this can help you set out your priorities, the topic you should write about to convert visitors, rather than what you hope will just get you high traffic.

4. Creating Clone Content

I get it. The internet is now so humungous anything that could ever be written about has been, sort of like “The Simpsons.” You’re inevitably going to talk about stuff that other people already have and do.

Too often, content writers fall into the trap of writing about something just because it’s trendy, but they have no new value to give to the discussion. So what ends up happening is something called parasitic content, the kind of content that feeds on others on the results page.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good idea to look up what other people say just so you don’t miss anything important, but don’t copy them.

We can take this post, for example, to be a little meta about it. There are literally millions of results for the search terms why content marketing fails.

Google search of “why content marketing fails”, with Keywords Explorer info bar

Has that stopped me? Of course not. Will it rank in the top 10 results page? Maybe, it’s not exactly a high traffic/high-value term, but the search intent and relevancy is pretty high.

You’ll also find that on the results page, there will be articles similar to this one. Still, here I’m bringing my voice, my experiences, giving examples, data, and spelling out practical solutions that not everyone else is doing.

What you don’t want to do is write another article on Elon Musk’s advice for success because he’s only said a few bits here and there (unless you happen to get an interview with him, in which case, write about that).

What you can do about it

The key here is bringing in your own unique flavor. You don’t need to copy exactly what other people have written (that’s plagiarism) because you are not them, and they are not you.

Without getting too Dr. Seuss-like, those people don’t have the same experiences as you. If you write about those topics, talk about your personal experiences, and bring in some unique or updated data.

Perhaps the best way, though not always available, is to either ask the experts or use your own company data to bring in unique insights. The Ahrefs blog is probably the best example I can think of that uses their own customer data and research in their articles, like this one.

5. You Don’t Have a Plan

I too am quite guilty of this one. I technically don’t need to have a content marketing plan to simply write content for other people (as a freelance writer). I have let my personal site go to the wayside in terms of adding more content to the blog and going through the content marketing loop with them.

Plan, create, promote, analyze, repeat.

And what does that mean? My personal content marketing fails, of course. According to Stephanie Stahl at the Content Marketing Institute:

The most successful set, document, and maintain a content marketing strategy. They don’t simply crank out content for anyone and everyone around the organization but establish a cohesive plan for creating and distributing content that meets the brand’s mission and caters to audience needs.”

The data doesn’t lie. In the same research, Stahl highlights that the top performers in content marketing have at least one full-time writer working on content marketing and almost half use a centralized structure to get the work done.

What you can do about it

In a helpful discussion with fellow freelancers in Peak Freelance, the topic of making time for creating and marketing our personal brands came up.

Some suggestions included blocking out the time for it as if you were your own client. Others mentioned that some people outsource some of the work and aren’t always creating everything they’re publishing themselves.

But if you’re working on a business blog in-house, you need a plan to figure out what you’ll write about, when, how you’re going to promote it, and how you’re going to measure the impact of your content.

Since I obviously suck at doing this for my own blog, I went on the hunt to find some ready-made templates to help us both.

Thankfully, HubSpot can help us here with an ultimate list of templates to use for planning content and strategy.

After looking at a few of them, I’m a fan of their own blog editorial calendar and content planning templates using Excel (or Google Sheets).

They’ve not been updated since 2019 — so if you use them, the easiest way to change the long list of dates is to just change the first one, then click on the corner of the cell and drag all the way down to correct the year.

Summary

This list of five mistakes you can make in content marketing isn’t exhaustive, of course.

You can check out the rest of the 104,999,999 articles out there (some are also pretty awesome) if you really want to find out other ways in which you might be failing.

Hopefully, you’ve come away from this with some actionable solutions if (like me) you find yourself falling into these mistakes. And, just so that they are clear and to remind you of the first few, they are:

  • Aiming for “The Spike of Hope”

Solution: Focus on evergreen content instead of gambling on virality.

  • Not matching searcher intent

Solution: Think about what your readers would be searching for and validate your idea in keyword research.

  • Focusing on high traffic potential instead of business potential

Solution: High traffic value might look pretty but not convert. Try to only cover topics relevant to your product/services.

  • Creating clone content

Solution: Bring your unique self to the table. If not, get new data, research, or expert insights on the topic.

  • You don’t have a plan

Solution: If you can’t (or don’t have the time to) create one, either outsource a strategist or use a pre-made template to help you out.

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Alexander Boswell

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Alexander Boswell is a Business Ph.D candidate specialising in Consumer Behaviour and uses this knowledge as a freelance writer in the Content Marketing and B2B SaaS space. Find him on Twitter @alexbboswell or his website alexanderbboswell.com


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