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The Pitfalls Of A ‘Just Build Great Content’ Approach To Link Building

Kelvin Newman

by Kelvin Newman on 16th January 2013

Corn field and SunrayToday 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.

Image Credit

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.

Kelvin Newman

Kelvin Newman

Kelvin Newman is the Strategy Director at SiteVisibility and Managing Director at BrightonSEO who have recently launched a series of in-depth digital marketing training courses.

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  • Jim Seward 16th January 2013

    Hi Kelvin

    Great post, I wrote something similar, but nowhere near as eloquent and more ranty a few months ago.

    As an industry, we’re moving towards “content marketing” but I feel that honestly already we’re making too much content and with so many people tackling the same subjects, there’s huge amounts of repetition of content ideas and it’s only going to get worse and I’ll use the perennial content idea of the “SEO is Dead” article as an example, Google returns 635,000 results so what would differentiate one over another.

    Obviously citation plays a big part of it these days, but for a layperson, it’s still essentially the same article thousands of times by thousands of different authors.

    You can have the best content in the world, but it takes a lot more than good content to really get traffic. Great content is part of the equation sure, but without more traditional marketing efforts showcasing your great content, your content will sit unviewed until it dies.

    Rand said at Searchlove in 2011, he just has to hit submit on a new post to get traffic, but I would say that he’s probably in the minority in achieving that (well done him) and the rest of us will have to seed our content in order for it to get viewed, particularly when working for a client that doesn’t have much in the way of current brand/personal online equity.

    This could be through social seeding (whether paid or unpaid), outreach, or even paid channels (as you said) and we hope that it’s enough to light the touchpaper.

    Great content is awesome, but it has to be truly exceptional to stand out but without other marketing efforts, it’s just going to become another piece of content languishing in the mediocrity of thousands of others saying or doing the same thing.

    Reply to this comment

  • kelvin newman 16th January 2013

    Thanks for the comment Jim, it’s longer than my post! Couldn’t agree more though. I think being original is 95% of the challenge

    Reply to this comment

  • James Perrin

    James Perrin 16th January 2013

    Great post Kelvin.

    One of the big things that I took away from the Content Marketing Show was the value of big data, and how this can help us to create really unique content. As you say, being original is 95% of the challenge, and this would help massively.

    It’s also down to the way in which that content is then presented. For example, having unique data is not enough, this needs to be presented in a truly eye-catching and innovative way, which as you say should relate to your audience.

    Reply to this comment

  • Jacob Tyree 16th January 2013

    Great Info.
    I’ve always been told that content is in fact “King”, but alone it doesn’t go very far.

    It’s all about linking everything together and creating something 100% original – soon even that might not be enough.

    Google sure is making everyone work hard.


    Reply to this comment

  • Stephanie Drescher 16th January 2013

    This is a very good piece, I will be sharing this with my team. Thanks Kevin! This was one of my favorite points you made:

    “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.”

    Reply to this comment

  • _moore 16th January 2013

    So glad I read this as it backs up what I’ve thought about this trend. Jim is right too, there’s already too much content, and that’s the problem with the Internet – every man and his dog can publish content. I am in the process of planning my company’s online activity over the next year and that involves what we do with SEO and what investment we put into content. As an ecommerce company, we’re not content focused and I don’t think we have the resources or budget to put into developing masses of content that can outrank bigger players and publishers. I’m still undecided on where we put our efforts.

    Reply to this comment

  • Jonathan Saipe 17th January 2013

    So true Kelvin – and the sad fact is that many marketers and business owners stuck in web 1.0 are just about getting their heads around the definition of link bait, let alone the points you raised above.

    Understanding your target market and competitive landscape is definitely most of the battle won when creating original and useful content.

    Reply to this comment

  • Dean Lavi 20th January 2013

    these are all good points for large scale companies but what about small business owners that wants to do some SEO by themselves? any suggestions?

    Reply to this comment

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