Content marketing is getting harder. Why? Ironically, it’s because of the content itself. There’s just a crazy amount of content available right now. And there’s more of it being published every day.

Here’s what the increase looks like year over year:

That rate of content publishing – sometimes called content “velocity” – isn’t going to stop. 76% of B2B marketers and 77% of B2C marketers plan to create more content this year than they did last year.

Trouble is, it may not work. At least, not like we want it to. Because it appears the more content we publish, the less engagement we get. That’s what a recent study from TrackMaven found. Here’s how that data looks:

Track Maven Content Published vs Engagement

We’re getting fewer shares and links from the content we publish, too. You might have seen this chart from BuzzSumo and Moz’s study of 1 million articles. 75% of those articles got 39 or fewer social shares. Half of them got eight shares or less. Even worse, most of those articles produced not one inbound link.

external links and share

The end of content marketing? Or just the end of bad content marketing?

Is all this just too darn depressing? Are you ready to give up? I hope not. You shouldn’t. And though some might say these different data points spell the end of content marketing, I don’t think that’s what we’re seeing.

I hope what we’re seeing is the end of bad content marketing. Forgive me, but I do hope that some of the people just blasting out awful content will go away. I hope the rest of us will consider publishing less content, but better content. Content with far more planning and strategy and promotion.

In other words, it’s time to up our game.

Fortunately, that isn’t out of reach. While some companies do struggle with content marketing, there are others who are simply knocking it out of the park. These firms get great ROI and delight their audiences. They use the whole engine of content not just do better at marketing, but to do better with their overall business.

It’s time to be like them. So while I am about to walk you through a list of “don’ts” and other warnings, I’ve paired each one with a positive. Something you should do, and a company that’s doing it.

1. You’re creating low-quality content.

Let’s be honest. If you didn’t work at your company, would you read or share the content you publish? And – if you wouldn’t read it – why should you expect your audience to?

I apologize if that sounds harsh. Consider it tough love. Use it – as a motivation and as a yardstick – to define the kind of content you (and all the rest of us) should create. Because with the overabundance of content we’re dealing with, it’s time to stop publishing “filler” content.

The first implication of this is to fire your $10-an-article writers. Go find a subject expert and partner with them. And know you’ve got Google’s blessing.

The next thing is to create some quality standards for your content. No one expects your site to become a world-class journalism outlet, but you do need to meet basic criteria:

  • Don’t publish content with misspellings.
  • Format your content for scanners: Use subheaders and bullet points where you can.
  • Use images every 300-500 words.
  • Aim to write at a 7th-grade reading level.
  • Extra credit: Reach out to smart people in your industry and get their take on your topic. This adds enormous value, gets you friendly with influential people, and means your content is more likely to get shared, sometimes by them.

There are many other aspects to good content. If you want to know more, take a look at our video, Creating Killer Marketing Content.

By the way… don’t give us no lip about not being able to create good content because you’re in a boring industry. The B2B firm PerkinElmer, which “creates technologies in life sciences, diagnostics, and environmental health” has figured it out. They enjoy engagement rates more than six times the average, even while publishing less often than their peers.

Track Maven Perkin Elmer

2. You don’t have a content marketing strategy.

Most of us wouldn’t run a marketing department with random acts of marketing. So why are so many content marketers still practicing “random acts of content”?

Maybe they’re doing it because it used to work. But those times are passing. And you know what? Having a strategy actually works.

Marketers are significantly more likely to say their content marketing is successful if they have a written-out content marketing strategy. They do even better if they have a documented editorial statement, too.

CMI Profs Documented Plan

In the 2016 Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs’ Content Marketing Trends – North America report for B2B marketers, more than half of the most effective marketers had a documented content marketing strategy. Among the least effective marketers, 40% had no strategy at all.

This is actually good news. Want to increase your odds of success with content marketing? Buckle down and hash out a plan. The free ebook, Creating a Content Marketing Strategy: 6 Best Practices That Work can help.

3. You aren’t promoting your content.

This one underlies what is probably the biggest mistake content marketers have been making. We’ve been so focused on creating content that many of us have skipped over the marketing part of content marketing.

So let’s be clear here: We have to market our content. In other words (more familiar words): We have to promote our content.

The first step is just sharing your content on social media. But you’ve got to do it more than once. Unfortunately, as CoSchedule notes in this graphic, 77% of bloggers share their posts three times or fewer on social media.

Blog_Ben_2016 Content MarketingSurvey_sharesocial

That’s awful. That breaks my heart. Even if you only spent one or two hours on a piece of content, please – share it more than three times.

How? Don’t just post once after you publish stuff. Post again a couple days later, then a week later, then a month later.

That’s just promotion 101. The best content marketers practically have a college degree in marketing their content. See our blog post, 26 Ways to Promote Your Blog Post to get started. You can use those tips to promote more than just blog posts.

4. You aren’t dialed into your audience.

This requires a blend of skills. You’ll need:

  • A bit of SEO acumen to find out which words your audience uses, and which topics are associated with them.
  • To know your subject inside and out, so you can actually help them and be worth listening to.
  • To know where they gather online.
  • …and which content formats they like.
  • …and what they want.
  • …and which problems they haven’t been able to solve. This will show you how to create the content they crave, but haven’t been able to find anywhere else.

Not sure how to get that information? A survey can help.


This is a nice email asking subscribers to complete a survey. It’d be even better if it said exactly how many questions people would have to answer.

5. You aren’t creating content for every stage of the buyer’s journey.

Do you like TOFU maybe a little too much? I’m not talking soy. I’m talking “Top of the Funnel” content. The “Beginner’s Guide to” and the other types of content you can use to attract the attention of someone who’s never heard of your company before.

There are two things to consider with TOFU content (and with MOFU – mid-funnel and BOFU – bottom of funnel, too): What the content topics are for this introductory content, and what the content formats should be.

The graphic below is mostly focused on the format side of things.

Image by permission of Digital Marketer, from their blog post, Content Marketing: How Content Generates Leads and Sales at Every Step of the Funnel.

For the content topics, only you can know what’s best for your particular audience. But I have a place to start: Answer every question you’ve ever been asked about your company or product. Answer those questions in as detailed and useful a way as you can.

The blog that started it all: This is Marcus Sheridan’s blog on the River Pools website. Marcus pretty much re-invented content marketing by just answering every single question he’d ever been asked about fiberglass pools.

River Pools

6. You’re not paying enough attention to SEO.

Good SEO is critical to a successful content marketing program. And while it’s a good start to just learn how to optimize your blog posts, that’s not really enough. SEO should come in long before you hit publish. It’s so core to your strategy – and to your content production, promotion, and planning – that it really belongs all the way back at the content strategy drafting table.

The good news is that this doesn’t have to feel like a punishment. It’s actually an opportunity. With savvy use of a keyword tool, you can figure out how to rank for long tail keywords that can generate fab conversion rates – but with far less competition. With proper formatting of schema data and meta tags, you can almost double your content’s click-through rates.

Pause here. What that last paragraph means is that – without any additional content or any change in your current ranking positions – if you get the schema formatting and the copy in the title and description tags right, you could almost double your traffic. What’s that worth to you?

Want to get started? You can improve your SEO knowledge in an hour by watching the webinar, 3 Tactics for Creating SEO Content. Don’t have an hour? Print out our 5 SEO Strategies infographic.

7. You’re not paying enough attention to tracking.

I love good content marketing research and great case studies, but every time I share one I have misgivings. Because while that research is useful, it’s really only a starting point.

It’s for a generalized audience, but you need company-specific stats. Fortunately, we have this great thing called analytics. And while ROI may still be challenging to measure, digital marketers are blessed with more tracking and reports than almost any other sales channel.

All those reports are your company-specific stats. So while you might want to try the different tactics various studies suggest, don’t use them blindly. Check your reports to see if they actually work for you.

If you’re already doing that, kudos to you. But I’ve got some extra credit: Do a content audit. There are several detailed examples of how to do one online, or flip through our own ebook on how to do a social media audit. It’ll show you want you need to know.


There’s no way around it – bad content marketing gets less effective all the time. It may even do more harm than good, as low-quality content could be perceived as a reflection of your company’s standards.

But good content marketing still works. It works really well, actually. And the good news is it doesn’t require a massive budget, or a large staff, or even a superior intellect or a fancy degree to make it work.

Just stay focused on the “do’s” of the list above. And don’t expect miracles overnight. Content marketing is a patient person’s tactic. For many marketers, it takes 2-3 years to make it all work.

What do you think about all this? Want to share your thoughts? Drop a line in the comment box.