Your Content Marketing Isn’t Working. Here’s Why.

Your posts are unread, your Instagram is a graveyard, and your white paper offer is anything but lead generating. It’s time to face it — there’s a problem with your content. Maybe it isn’t optimized for search, so it languishes on page 10 of Google. Or maybe you’re only sharing press releases disguised as blogs. Or … maybe you’re just not that good of a storyteller. No matter what the specific problem is, it all amounts to the same thing: Your content marketing sucks.

Here are 12 of the most common problems with content, and how to fix them.

Content Marketing

#1 You don’t know your audience

Do you know why Stephen King is a bestseller? It isn’t because he’s a spectacular writer. Even he will admit he’s a good writer, but he’s not the greatest. So why do his books sell millions of copies? Because he delivers what his audience wants. Every time. (He’s also a great storyteller, which we’ll get to.)

The same is true in content marketing. You need to know who your audience is and what they expect from you.

Here’s how you fix that: Audience personas.

Audience personas are representations of your audience based on industry research and data from your real audience. It’s easier to share relevant stories with your audience when you know who they actually are and what matters to them. If you think your target audience is “moms,” an audience persona might reveal your actual ideal audience is “College-educated mothers between 30-45 that work at least part-time, are active on social media, and are interested in fitness.”

Not sure who your audience is? Start asking. Surveys are a great way to get to know your audience. After that, dig into the data.

#2 Your content marketing is all about You

You know that guy at the party that can only talk about himself? He interrupts your story just to tell his own. He’s an unrepentant one-upper. He’s pretty sure he’s the bees knees and he wants everyone there to know it.

Don’t be that guy.

It sounds obvious, but brands often fill their blog with articles that are thinly-veiled sales sheets touting all the benefits of their product or service. Sales content has a place — no question about it — but it’s not your blog. It’s probably not your social media, either.

Fix it: Stop talking. Start listening.

Your audience has shared interests that intersect with your brand. It’s called a “content tilt,” and finding yours can revolutionize the way you approach content marketing.

Red Bull found that a large portion of its customers were interested in high-energy, adventurous sports and activities. It sponsors snowboarding events, an air race, and a breakdancing competition. It created Red Bull TV, a global multi-platform channel to share its content with millions of viewers thirsty for the content.

Red Bull gives you wings, and its content shows you what you can do with them.

Legendary brand General Electric discovered its audience was neck-deep in tech and science. GE leaned heavy into its content tilt, sponsoring fictional sci-fi podcasts that have hit #1 on iTunes. It also launched a newsletter that shares amazing stories of technology advancing medicine, agriculture, infrastructure, and more.

Here’s the important takeaway from GE: It doesn’t write about how its technology revolutionized a particular sector or industry. Instead, it talks about what the revolution actually is.

#3 You don’t know your keywords

I’m a craft-first, story-first marketer, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know the value of keywords. The internet is overflowing with content, and literally nobody is flipping through pages of Google results to find something to read or watch. You need a strong keyword game to rise above your competition and help your readers find you first.

Fix it: Create a keyword bank.

This one is actually pretty easy. Once you have your content tilt, you need to develop a list of related keywords with strong search volume. Here are a few quick ways to find the search terms your audience uses:

  • Ask your readers what type of content they look for, what types of information they’re searching for, what types of stories they’re interested in. Pay attention to the words they use in their responses.
  • Google Analytics will show you the search terms folks use to find you.
  • If your website has a search bar, what are people entering when they get there?

That’s a good place to start, but don’t stop there. Remember, your content isn’t about you. Now it’s time to branch out and do some keyword research. You can do this with tools like SEMRush or Keywords Everywhere.

  • Find long-tail search terms that are related to your intended content topics and have a sizable search volume.

That’s a good place to start, but don’t stop there. Remember, your content isn’t about you.

Fix it: Write for humans. Optimize for search bots.

There’s nothing more disappointing than a broken promise. And that’s how readers feel when your content is filled with long-tail keywords but empty of useful information. Plan your content around your audience — tell stories and share information they care about. Then, go back with your keyword in mind and optimize. Ideally, your keyword should appear in the following:

  • Title of content
  • Search engine snippet
  • First paragraph
  • At least one header
  • In the copy at least twice

We use this helpful SEO plug-in to make sure our content is checking all the search engine optimization boxes.

#4 Your content marketing has no story

Marketers love to talk about Story, myself included. The trouble is, too few people remember how to tell a good one. “Story” is not synonymous with “information” anymore than “Ferrari” is a synonym for “engine.” Sure, the latter contains the former, but that’s not what makes it one of the coolest and most expensive cars around.

Fix it: Learn to tell stories.

Remember when I mentioned Stephen King? King credits a lot of his success to the craft of storytelling over the craft of writing. He knows how to spin a yarn. You can learn to do the same for your content marketing.

For starters, stories have a hero. The hero is not you. The hero is your customer.

Never forget that: You are not the hero of your content.

Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. That structure supports an ascending action that starts with a conflict or challenge, and finishes in a (hopefully) believable and satisfactory conclusion.

Those are the basics. Good stories have sensory details, authentic dialogue, and human emotion. If you want to be a better storyteller, I strongly recommend you go to your nearest library and borrow a good novel. Or, pick out a few classic films on Netflix. Subscribe to a fictional podcast. Start studying why a story is successful and what the storyteller did to achieve that result.

#5 Your writing … sucks.

Content marketing expert and best-selling author Ann Handley says in her book Everybody Writes that anybody can write content. I agree with her … if you learn to write passably well and tell a good story. The trouble is not everyone does either of those things.

A great storyteller can get away being a good writer. A good storyteller better be a great writer. There’s simply too much content out there to waste time with a boring story badly told.

Fix it: Start practicing.

Check out Ann Handley’s book, or Stephen King’s On Writing, or any writing instruction book. Write every day. Read every day. Study great content marketing examples and write down what works about their content and why.

Does that sound like too much work? Here’s a shortcut fix.

Fix it: Hire a writer.

A talented copywriter can take your good story and turn it into great content. A copywriter that is also a content marketing strategist will help you optimize for keywords and develop content that is ideally crafted for your audience personas.

Everybody can write; it’s true. But not everyone is a writer. If you’re not, hire one.

#6 You’re sharing too often

Content fatigue is real. Think of it like cable TV — a million channels and yet you mindlessly flick past one after another looking for something that will catch your interest. Don’t be part of the noise by publishing content for content’s sake.

Fix it: Pause and reflect.

For starters, hit the pause button on your content. I’m dead serious. If you’re sending a newsletter no one is opening, you’re only hurting the deliverability of your next email. If you’re writing a blog no one is reading, you’re wasting time and killing the ROI of your content marketing.

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Don’t be idle during your break. Now is time to research. Which types of content performed best? What times of day are your audience most engaged? What channels do they prefer? You can get some of this from data, and the rest by reaching out to your audience and asking.

#7 You’re not sharing enough

Have you ever visited a company’s blog only to realize their last post was over a year ago? It’s spooky — where did all the content go? What happened to the copywriters? Is anyone looking for them? I need answers! And if this sounds like your website, your customers need answers, too.

Fix it: Be brave. Hit Publish.

Abandoned blogs are often a symptom of C-suite anxiety or apathy. If they’re afraid your content isn’t hitting the mark, remind them that you can’t hit any marks at all if you’re not publishing.

Content marketing takes guts. Get out there. Hit publish. Accept feedback. Adjust as needed.

Apathy is equally deadly to content marketing. If the leaders of your company don’t think content is important, they’ll likely re-allocate your budget or resources elsewhere. Here’s how you win that:

  • Show them organic traffic numbers.
  • List what pages are driving those visits.
  • Give them the monthly search volume for your company’s target keywords.
  • Set a realistic but ambitious goal to increase organic traffic by producing content with those keywords.

If they still won’t listen, drop us a line. We’re happy to show off a few of our case studies to help prove the point.

#8 Your content is one-size-fits-nobody

Imagine heading to your favorite coffee shop and seeing that coffee is now only served in six ounce servings. “It’s snackable!” the barista cheerfully exclaims. “It’s what everyone wants!”

There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all content. Whether you’re pushing daily 150-word microblogs or a monthly 5,000 white paper, if you’re only publishing one size of content you’re not reaching your entire potential audience.

Fix it: Start with the big content, then carve it up.

Start with the biggest piece of content — the whole epic story — and then see how many ways you can break up the story for different formats. Jason Miller, Head of Content and Social Media Marketing at LinkedIn, calls it Big Rock content marketing methodology. It’s easier to break a big piece a content into smaller chunks than to try and construct a large piece of content from disparate pieces.

Breaking up “big rock” content might look something like this: You start with an ebook that broadly discusses the hottest topics facing your customers right now. Look at the chapters of your ebook. Could those be blogs?

Let’s say you now have 10 blogs summarizing the ebook’s content. Can we break it down further? Of course we can.

How about short “snackable” videos from the ebook authors explaining some of the tips or industry insights from the blogs? And custom graphics for Instagram featuring one quick tip or data point? From venti to mini, everybody gets the cup of content (and the information) they’re looking for.

Now you have all-sizes-to-fit-everybody content. The next step is to make sure you’re sharing the right kind of content with the right audience and on the right platform. For that, we recommend using a persona journey matrix.

#9 Your content isn’t mobile

It’s 2018, people. Over 52% of all website traffic now is mobile. If you think your customers aren’t on mobile, please go back and read the previous sentence again. Over half of all website traffic is mobile. Which means your customers are looking at your content on their phones. Yes, even your customers.

Fix it: Optimize that sh*t.

This fix is pretty simple. You need to make sure your content is optimized for mobile. Period. Look at your blog on your phone. Open up your email newsletter on your phone. Literally everything you publish should be checked for mobile optimization.

#10 You aren’t offering video

The writing is on the wall, or perhaps I should say it isn’t. It’s in a script for a video that is playing on the wall. Need proof? Here are two statistics that may change your mind:

  • Online videos will account for more than 80% of all consumer internet traffic by 2020 (CISCO, 2016)
  • Over 8 billion videos or 100 million hours of videos are watched on Facebook every day (TechCrunch, 2016)

Video is scary, right? It’s expensive; it requires talent, music, lighting and editing. How can your team (or just you!) possibly create compelling content?

Fix it: Video like a YouTube parent.

Video doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective. Have you ever watched a YouTube video of kids playing with toys and realized the video has tens of thousands of views? Crazy, right? Six-year-old Ryan of Ryan ToysReview made $11 million from his YouTube videos. And it’s not because they have a high production value. It’s because kids, inexplicably, love watching other kids get toys and play with them.

Start simple. Have your team tell stories or share helpful information. Add stock music if you need it. Stand in front of a white background or a pretty mural if your office has one. It doesn’t have to look like a Hollywood motion picture. It just has to be content that your audience can use.

Feeling creative? Download a stop motion video app or other special effects and editing video apps. Place everyone, and action!

Fix it: Shoot a big video rock. Chisel it down to fit different channels.

If you are hiring a video production team to shoot a branded commercial video, be strategic with the content. Ask for a five minute branded video and several clips from the video that feature your strongest talent or most compelling messages. Save those separately.

Bonus: Keep b-roll and bloopers. Once you have video marketing down, reveal your humble beginnings. Nothing builds affinity than a few shared laughs.

#11 You don’t think social is content

Yes, it is. Social media is not a dumping ground for your blogs, videos and white papers, despite how many businesses seem to think otherwise. Of course, you should be sharing that content on social media, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you share.

Fix it: Social media deserves its own content.

When creating your Big Rock content marketing strategy, don’t forget to create custom social media stories and images. Social media is one more medium for storytelling, don’t miss out on engaging the audience most likely to share your content. Give them content made for them and made for sharing!

Need help with creating custom images? There are a lot of social content platforms you can try.

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#12 You forgot to include user-generated content

If you’ve ever watched an improv comedy performance, you know the importance of incorporating feedback. The same is true in your content marketing. Remember, your content marketing isn’t for you.

It’s for your audience. So, let them tell the stories for you!

Fix it: Let customers tell their stories.

Share your best five-star reviews. Tag and thank the customer who said such nice things. Someone mentions you on Twitter with a question? Live action customer service with a smile is sure to please your Twitter audience, and that one user. Have a die-hard fan your whole company adores? Get them on video!

It’s easy to start incorporating your customers’ voices once you realize that they are not just the audience of your content marketing; they are its heroes.

As you can see, we can talk about content marketing all day long, but now it’s your turn! Hit us up and tell us your content marketing challenges. We’re happy to help!