The phrase ‘content marketing’ is a bit of a buzz phrase at the moment, and it’s in danger of becoming sold as a commodity without the underlying value behind it. Just as the internet is full of web designers who don’t understand web marketing, just as anyone can call themselves an estate agent if they sell a house, so the surge of interest in content marketing will create a growth of people who sell it as a service to customers who just think they are buying into a good thing.
If you are a marketer or business owner and you have heard that content is where you should be spending your energy, here’s a quick guide to what it actually means.
Content falls into two main categories
There are two main categories of content: timeless (or evergreen) and time sensitive. The latter includes news stories or other types of content that has a deadline, like a survey, petition or poll, a prize draw or a special offer.
Evergreen content is not reliant on a date, generally. A ‘how to’ feature or an analysis article can be evergreen, but even evergreen content can go out of date when new information becomes available or things change. This is worth thinking about when you write something you think is evergreen. Cast an editor’s eye over it to make sure it is as timeless as possible. There’s no point in putting a special offer in the middle of a story that people should be able to read forever.
Even though timeless articles can become old or be superceded by new versions, they can still be considered timeless compared with time-sensitive news which is literally only useful for posterity. For example, a story that says “Acme Company looking to hire staff” is out of date as soon as it has hired staff.
There are several types of content
As well as the two categories, there are several types of content. An article is mostly words, but there are also images, which could be related to an article or published as pieces of content on their own merit (infographics, for example). You have video and audio, of course.
We can also break these into different sub-types. You may be writing an opinion piece (or recording an opinion on video for YouTube), analysing a topical news story, writing a ‘how to’ or reviewing one or more products.
There are three ways to think about publishing
Your content can be created for one of three reasons: for your own website, for a third party website or for syndication.
Let’s look at syndication first, because this includes press releases. The great thing about press releases is that you can send them to lots of publications and you may gain exposure in multiple places. Some may publish your press release verbatim (don’t worry about duplication – this type of duplication is not bad, no matter what others might tell you), others will take parts of your press release to create their own unique story. Ideally, each publication that runs your story will include a link back to your website or, at the very least, include your brand.
The downside of press release syndication is that it takes either a bit of work to do it yourself or it costs money. There are some great newswires you can pay to distribute your press release to a wide range of journals and writers. The other thing is that you don’t control the final story. The writer may not use all the information from the press release you would like them to, there’s no guarantee anyone will publish the story. I’ll write about online PR in a separate article another day.
To get more control over the article you publish, you could write one exclusive article for a third party site that complements your target market. Maybe you have some great evergreen tips they would like to share with their readers. In return, you are credited and the article links back to your website, hence encouraging their readers to pay you a visit. Such articles work best when you identify a quality partner site that is well run and that does have an actual readership. You want your great content to be published on a website that is there for people and not for search engine robots.
The third area to consider is your own site (and I am including any spin-offs you may have, such as a blog, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube channel etc). Let’s say you have a ten page website for your small business – your ability to attract organic visitors from search results is limited by the text on those ten pages. If you do some keyword research to identify what your customers look for, you can create more pages of your site to provide this content. Suddenly, you are giving search engines more reason to show your site in search results.
The active word in ‘content marketing’ is content. If you create things that people want to read and share and publish them in the right places, the marketing should naturally take care of itself. If you just create a load of articles to blast out to a range of places and promote them on social media without really delivering what people are looking for, then you are simply marketing (potentially bad) content. The reader should come first, not the marketing plan.