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Content Marketing Is Getting Harder

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Content Marketing

Content marketing has been a popular tactic for those in marketing and public relations (PR).

It’s no wonder. There are many great reasons to use content marketing such as driving traffic to your website, developing thought leadership, and building trust.

As with everything, content marketing is not immune to change, and boy has there been plenty of change over the last several years.

I recently read an article by Rand Fishkin on the SparkToro blog recently in regards to the challenges content creators face in today’s environment.

Much of what he discussed I was already thinking about. Likewise, some of the recommendations he had were things that I am already considering or am implementing but seeing everything in one article was like a hammer hitting me over the head and it was kind of depressing.

There are real challenges that content marketers face.

Change is constant and it always provides challenges but some of the changes we are seeing now should make us think about both why and how we do content marketing.

I’m going to break this article down into a couple of pieces. The first being relationship with what has been two of the most popular tactics that help you get your content seen: social media and search engine optimization (SEO).

I’ll talk a bit about the changes we’ve seen over the last few years and where we stand now and the implications.

Finally, I will talk about the new ways in which you can move forward.

Content Marketing and Social Media

Social media has long been a great place to promote. This is vital as it’s part of the marketing in content marketing but the impact of promoting on social has been slowly muted over time in some circumstances.

The social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok have always been rented land but they are increasingly raising the walls on their creations.

For some sites like Facebook, it’s been about making it harder to leave the platform.

After asking businesses to use Facebook it changed the algorithm which resulted in deemphasizing organic reach for businesses making it harder for people to discover you. This really hurt the businesses that put all their eggs in the proverbial Facebook basket with some even going out of business.

Now if you want reach on Facebook, you have to pay for it. This has essentially has made it a paid platform for businesses. Want people to see your posts? Run an ad. This is what Facebook wants you to do.

Facebook’s other platform, Instagram, isn’t exactly friendly to content marketers. It doesn’t allow links outside of the platform. It never really did.

If you don’t have a certain number of followers the only thing you can do is ask people to follow the link in the bio, which is inconvenient both for you and those following you.

However, if you have enough followers you can point them to the bio (still inconvenient) which has a link that will load a page that allows users to load a post without leaving Instagram. Essentially it creates a browser inside the platform and to be perfectly honest, the experience is pretty bloody bad. 

LinkedIn has its own algorithm you need to learn and now it could potentially penalize you for content curating, a practice of sharing the content of others. Like Facebook and Instagram, they would much prefer to keep you on the platform. 

I’m hearing more and more from people who have run experiments on Twitter that the best-performing posts are those without a link.  I’m currently playing with this to see what I find but this isn’t what you want to hear if you’re sharing your content there.

You might be creating killer content on TikTok, but it doesn’t even allow external links isn’t an ideal situation.

I wrote a few weeks ago that the platforms are at war with owned media. They want the traffic that comes to their platform to stay on their platform.

The solution they provide is for you to set up shop on their platform. The problem with doing this is you are then building on rented land. Good for them but not for you.

In the real world, if you are renting a house and the landlord decides to sell it, you have no recourse. You have to pack up and move which could be really troublesome for you. Your landlord doesn’t care about this though because they are doing what is best for them. 

The social media platforms are no different.

When you build on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, or TikTok you’re renting from them. It’s not your audience you’re engaging. It’s theirs. This can create a problem if you aren’t moving these people over to your owned media such as an email list.

When these platforms make business decisions they do what any business does. They make decisions based on what is in the best interest of their business. 

The problem you face is what’s best for them is likely not what’s best for you.

If you’ve built on their platform, all the work you’ve done can be completely wiped out with the simple change of an algorithm or policy. You may not have been evicted but it may feel like it.

The social media companies are actively working against you because it benefits them and it’s not likely to get better.

Content Marketing and SEO

The best way to improve SEO is to create content. Find some keywords create some content. This was at a time when there wasn’t as much content on the internet. 

But success begets people copying. 

I used to be a musician and the frustrating thing was if one type of artist hit, you could be sure you would get at least five more would follow that were almost just like them. 

Britney Spears was hot so we also got Jessica Simpson, Mandy Moore, and Christina Aguilera. I’m not bagging on them as artists but getting signed became easier for certain people because the music labels were looking for the next Britney. 

It’s not just a music industry thing. It happens in marketing too.

People saw content could help market their business so that’s what they did. They created content. Lots of it and didn’t have to be particularly good. It just had to be ok. 

You didn’t have to be an SEO expert to get ranked because there wasn’t as much content. 

But, as more content poured into the internet, you had to get more serious about practicing good SEO. 

I was taught SEO was about targetting the right keywords and phrases. Building content maps. Submitting guest articles by retooling what I’d already written and getting a backlink to my site. This would raise my domain authority (DA) because the site with the highest DA always wins and thus improves the chances of getting me on page one of Google.

If you’re running a business, being on page one for a Google search is very helpful.

By early 2019 I started to see some problems. Things were no longer working exactly like I’d been taught.

The sites with the highest DA didn’t always win. In fact, Google doesn’t even use DA as a ranking factor.

It’s just a guide that Moz, who sells SEO tools, created (other companies like Moz have similar scores that function the same as DA). To be fair to Moz, they always said DA was a guide and not a ranking factor. It’s not their fault that people didn’t listen.

Then more and more sites began stating they wanted original content and wouldn’t give the valuable backlink that would improve your SEO.

Even the person who taught me all these things came out and said if you were submitting an article to their blog, it better be original and don’t waste time asking for a backlink because it wasn’t going to be given. I’m not going to lie, this was a real slap in the face.

You can and should be practicing great SEO but it’s a long-term tactic. If you’re looking for quick wins, SEO isn’t the answer.

It’s also not something you do once and you’re done. You’re never done with SEO. Not if you want it to continue to work.

SEO practices are frequently changing because the search engines are always making changes.

One day you’re sitting on page one. A few days after an update it’s like you’ve fallen off the face of the earth. 

It’s frustrating and to make matters worse, Google is also competing with you.  Like Facebook and other platforms, they have been moving in the direction to keep you on Google as long as possible. 

How do you compete with Google on Google’s platform? It becomes really hard.

And of course, the more content there is, the harder it is to compete. This is especially true if you’re new to content marketing.

What’s Next For Content Marketing?

Social media and SEO have been important to content marketing so what’s a content marketer to do if they aren’t working as well anymore?

Life is tougher for content marketing but the object of this post isn’t to scare the hell out of you. It’s a wake-up call.

It’s time for a course correction. Much of what you might know about marketing content doesn’t work as well if at all anymore.

What are you going to do moving forward? I have some suggestions.

The first is rather obvious. The platforms aren’t as fond of letting people leaving their walled gardens unless you show them some green. In other words, paid media, i.e. running ads.

This is part of what they are trying to do. They make money by running ads. I’ve seen reports that 98% of Facebook’s come from ads so it’s no surprise that they have made their platform into a paid platform.

As Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla of the social media world, my concern has always been that other platforms would follow suit, and over time they have been moving in that direction.

Running ads is one way to drive people to your content but maybe you are looking for an option that doesn’t require you to pull out you’re wallet to create something that’s designed to interrupt what people are doing.

One of the first things you want to consider is remixing your content for different channels.

Take your blog post and turn it into a Twitter thread, LinkedIn post, Facebook post, infographic, podcast, or video.

Remixing provides a different way to get your content out to people while also recognizing the limitations that the social platforms are putting on you. Be creative in how you remix and make sure people know where they can find the original material if they are so inclined.

Don’t forget about PR. I think think it is one of your best tools.

There are many options in which PR will play a central role such as pitching a guest post, creating an opportunity to appear on podcasts or videocasts (essentially a podcast in the form of a video), op-eds, interviews, and appearances at events.

This is where PR outshines marketing. PR may not always directly push your content but it will provide opportunities for you to show your knowledge and personality. This will only help people following you and being open to consume your content.

Join a community. These take shape in different ways. It could be a group on Facebook, LinkedIn, Slack, or even Discord. Twitter doesn’t have communities (yet) but you can participate in chats on Twitter.

In a community or Twitter chat, you’re promoting your content directly but you are engaging people which allows you to show your expertise, help others, and build relationships. This could in turn lead to somebody deciding to research you which can result in a visit to your website.

People who know you are more likely to check out your content and do business with you which is the point of marketing in the first place.

Collaborate on content with others. This is a tactic I learned from Andy Crestodina at Orbit Media.

You write a piece of content and then ask others in your field to provide you a quote related to the topic. In many cases these people will be more than happy to help you promote the piece. It provides a win-win scenario in they can access your audience and you can access theirs.

I used a variation of this on a series of articles I wrote late last year (if you’re interested you can find them here, here, and here). I reached out and got people’s opinions on some topics prior to sitting down and writing my articles.

Even though I chose the topic, they had an influence on how the articles turned out. The articles themselves weren’t easy to write but I was really happy with the way they turned out and I got a boost in traffic because of them. Don’t underestimate collaboration.

The last thing you can do, I’ve kind of already touched on above. When you’re creating your content think of who could amplify it.

These are people within your industry who would find the content industry and want to share it with their followers.

Again, this goes back to the concept of accessing somebody else’s audience.

You’ll notice that many of these strategies rely on relationships. It’s your friends who can be the biggest help in promoting your content.

Content marketing isn’t getting any easier but it’s still a tactic worth your time. You just have to be more creative in how you do it.

To do it you will have to think in terms of building relationships and focusing on the long term. If you can make that change, you will be fine. If not, you will go the way of the dinosaurs.

*Image by expresswriters from Pixabay

Shane Carpenter
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Content Marketing