Content marketing best practices: The things you think are true

I love reading about content marketing best practices. I devote a good chunk of time each morning to keeping up with what’s going on in the industry.

But I don’t let best practices give me my marching orders. And neither should you.

Content marketing best practices were designed for big companies with big resources

content marketing best practices for big companies

Here’s the thing: Content marketing best practices were designed for big companies with big resources — not for small- and mid-sized businesses, solopreneurs, consultants, etc. I don’t dispute their effectiveness, but I do insist on giving a nod to reality.

Best practices come with a price tag. And, sometimes, the ROI just isn’t there for smaller businesses.

The real trouble comes when best practices are presented as the only option — go big or go home. All that accomplishes is to intimidate businesses into sitting on the sidelines or spending resources they don’t have.

Which is a shame. Most of the time, doing the best content marketing you can with what you’ve got is better than doing nothing. Because, goodness gracious, y’all — they’re not written on stone tablets. If they don’t fit, ignorethem. Or adapt them so that they make sense for you and your business.

content marketing stonehenge

I’m just going to come out and say it: The emperor is running around naked again. And we all know you can’t take naked emperors seriously. So let’s take a look at some (supposedly) universal truths that fall apart when you take a closer look.

The things you think are true

There’s one metric to rule them all: Traffic

content marketing generate traffic

Anybody else tired of the unending chorus of voices insisting that you should focus on traffic above all else?

Seriously, y’all.

The only time traffic should be your main concern is if your income depends on ad revenue. It may also be true if traffic is your main source of lead generation. In both cases, eyeballs matter.

On the other hand, focusing too much on traffic can blind you to some other important truths:

  • Not all traffic converts. And traffic that is never, ever going to convert just clogs up your server and slows down your site. So, when you do generate traffic, you want it to be for the right reasons.
  • Content is great for self-service lead nurturing. This is especially true for B2C businesses selling products for niche markets. If you sell clothing, you probably don’t need blog content to educate potential customers on how to choose a good pair of shoes, or how to wear the shoes once they have them. If you’re selling a high-end camera, on the other hand, well-developed content can walk leads all the way through the sales funnel.
  • Sometimes you may want to establish thought leadership before you’re ready for traffic. Startups, for example, can use content to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise before they even have a product ready.

You can’t invest too much in SEO

content marketing investment

Sure you can. If there’s no ROI, you’re spending too much. Here are some common sinkholes:

Keyword research

Keyword research is important. But, when done according to best practices, it takes a huge investment of resources:

  • Check Wikipedia to find entries on your content, then steal the subheads to use as your keywords.
  • Peek in on Reddit conversations to see what people are talking about.
  • Find the keywords with the highest search volume and lowest competition; then write articles using those keywords.
  • Find out which keywords bring the highest bids for ads.
  • Figure out which of your favorites have the highest possibility of commercial intent.
  • Find out which keywords your competitors are ranking for.
  • Discover trending topics and searches, and build your content around those keywords.

And that list barely scratches the surface.

Yes, Google puts a lot of weight on quality backlinks. But the recommended tactics for building those backlinks never mention how much time it takes:

  • Research the content that ranks for your keywords, read that content to identify the places where it would be logical to link to your content (and identify which piece of content would be the best fit), email the webmaster to ask for said link, monitor the results, etc.
  • Find related content that contains broken links and write an email asking the webmaster to link to your content instead.
  • Find content that mentions you or your business but doesn’t contain a link, and ask the author or webmaster to add one.
  • Set up some scholarships to generate backlinks from Google’s favorite child — .edu domains.

Again, I’m not saying that these tactics don’t work; they often do. But, even if you use free tools, it would take hours, if not days, to do keyword research or backlink outreach at this level. There may not be any ROI for smaller businesses.

Plus, some ideas just aren’t a good fit for every business. Take trending topics. Writing about trending topics can certainly be valuable for B2C businesses. Things like retail, fashion, entertainment, etc., are highly dependent on trends, and any marketer would be wise to jump on board (or, even better, get ahead of the trend). But that doesn’t work so well for B2Bs unless they’re in quickly-evolving markets.

And setting up scholarships to get backlinks? I can see offering scholarships for PR purposes or just to give back to the community. But suggesting that small businesses do it just to build high-authority backlinks is like telling somebody researching the best “couch to 5K” program that they should be doing high-altitude training with Olympic athletes. It’s fine if you have the resources, but it’s far from an entry-level tactic.

You’ve got to have an editorial calendar

content marketing editorial calendar

This one makes sense for big organizations that have their marketing campaigns planned out a year in advance and want to make sure their content matches up. Or those that have seasonal topics that they address at the same time every year.

But smaller businesses don’t always plan things that far out. I know I don’t. The content marketing world changes too fast. How would I know what’s going to be top-of-mind six months from now?

I write about what’s happening now in content marketing so, until someone issues me my crystal ball, an editorial calendar won’t be helpful for me.

If an editorial calendar helps you create content that matters, then, by all means, use one. But don’t tie yourself in knots trying to force your content creation into a framework that just doesn’t fit.


You’ve got to take this whole best practices thing in context: They’re primarily intended for huge organizations with plenty of resources.

In addition, when content marketing thought leaders spend hours on one aspect of content marketing, they’re doing the work of their core business. For everybody else, content marketing is an investment in the business, but it’s not a core business function. No matter how valuable it may be, it’s still time spent on something other than the reason for your business’s existence (manufacturing, product development, SaaS, etc.).

This is the bottom line on content marketing best practices: They work. They’re effective. They can deliver a huge return.


  • If you can’t afford them, that doesn’t mean you should give up on content marketing altogether.
  • Even if you can afford them, they may not be the right fit for your business.

While putting random, poorly written posts on your blog just to fill up space probably won’t be of much use, you can accomplish a lot by applying the tactics that deliver the most benefit while fitting within your constraints on money, time, and talent. While the specific options will vary a lot by company, prioritize the things that are low-cost, low-effort, and high-impact.

Most of all, don’t ever let anybody discourage you from doing the best you can with what you have.

content marketing best practice