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by Kelvin Newman on 16th January 2013
Today we welcome Kevin Newman back to the Koozai blog as he takes a look at why a “build it and they will come” approach to content creation doesn’t work, and why less content is often more.
As someone who’s been described as naively whitehat in the past, it’s pleasing to see more and more of the SEO industry coming round to the idea that we should be working on things we can be proud of rather than those we are ashamed of. But there is one thing that rubs me up the wrong way about the current swing towards more sustainable search campaigns; the assumption that somehow ‘just building great content’ is enough.
In the best case scenario people will just learn the hard way that there’s more to successful link building than just building great content. Or worst case scenario, it burns through the excitement and energy people have for content as a link building tool, and they give up.
The biggest issue I have with the ‘great content dogma’ is that it seems to believe that great content exists in isolation from its audience. That quality is something that’s intrinsic to the ‘thing’ you create; content is only ‘great’ if it fulfills the need of the audience.
In the case of content that’s intended to attract links and social shares, you need to really understand that audience before you start brainstorming. That can often mean leaning on tactics and techniques from other marketing disciplines like personal development. I don’t think you can even begin to flesh out content ideas until you have that firm grasp on your audience. What have they responded to well in the past? What has already been done before and what hasn’t?
I’ve seen some great work that a lot of time, effort and passion has gone into, but did nobody really think to search Google first and see if a competitor hadn’t already done the exact same thing six months ago?
Equally, I’ve seen great pieces of content that are hugely researched and exceptionally well put together, but which don’t have a clear understanding of who they are aimed at and what motivates and excites that audience. Although on a superficial level it ticks so many of the ‘great content’ boxes, it’s still destined to fail.
I know it’s a cliché, but people, myself included, seem to have wholeheartedly swallowed the story that ‘if you build it they will come’, this simply isn’t the case with content.
A Hollywood movie may be the perfect example of ‘great content’ but we wouldn’t expect it to become a blockbuster without some marketing efforts. Equally I’m sure you’ve discovered a great band or novel that never quite crossed over and capitalised on its ‘great content’ status.
You need to make and execute a plan to market your great blog posts, podcasts, whitepapers, interactive tools, ebooks etc. That can be good old fashioned outreach, it can be based on an existing audience or even, god forbid, rely on some paid advertising to get it started.
It doesn’t matter how good your content is, how viral you think it could become, if it isn’t seen by enough people it’ll never build up by word of mouth.
Another pitfall with ‘great content’ is ‘great’ isn’t good enough. If there’s one thing we have in abundance, it’s content. There’s an oversupply that’s only going to increase as people make the inevitable move towards content marketing. If you want attention, if you want links, if you want sales; great content isn’t enough. It needs to be truly exceptional, better than all of your competitors by a significant margin. That quality of content is hard to come by – it requires effort, inventiveness and in a lot of cases…experience.
I don’t think a single content specialist can produce exceptional content for twenty different business verticals either. This doesn’t mean all content needs to be produced in-house, but it does mean an agency requires a diverse team or should develop a specialism in a small number of sectors.
Also, the focus on great content (and arguments like the one I made in the paragraph above) tends to encourage people to make big investments in content. They then may spend all of their time and effort on one content project in order to make a big splash.
In some ways I think this is a really good idea, most people produce better work when they narrow their focus and concentrate, but there’s a danger in this. To fall back on another cliché, you’re putting all your eggs in one basket.
I’d like to see more companies taking a venture capital style approach to their content strategy. Venture capitalists accept that a significant proportion of their investments will fail. However to cover the cost of the unsuccessful experiments, they expect the projects that do succeed to have huge success. I think this approach is a useful one to take to content marketing strategies.
So while I welcome a growing shift towards content being at the very heart of digital marketing, I think there’s a danger that if we’re not careful, we’ll invest a lot of time and effort only to see poor results.
Corn field and Sunray courtesy of BigStock
The views expressed in this post are those of the author so may not represent those of the Koozai team.