Is content marketing essential for modern marketing campaigns?
No doubt about it.
Websites and internet users are growing in number, with the latest stats from June 2019 showing that 4,536 million users are currently online, amounting for 58.8% of the human population.
In an endless sea of companies fighting for a glimpse of a user’s attention, content marketing is a perfect solution.
With content marketing, you can show others what you stand for, share your beliefs through your own words, as well as your work, your passion, and tell the story of who you actually are.
You educate the reader through your content which is a win-win situation, making content marketing so popular that you’ll hardly find a SaaS marketing campaign that doesn’t include some sort of content.
Regardless of its popularity, content marketing isn’t foolproof. I see many websites and blogs still making the same old content marketing mistakes that I thought were impossible in 2019.
In this article, I will point out eight content marketing mistakes I often see in others. My goal is to help you become aware of them and advise you on how to improve your content.
Let’s get started with the most common one.
1) Poor Formatting is a Big Dealbreaker
Every article on web writing emphasizes the importance of content formatting and its effect on user experience, yet tons of websites don’t follow these rules.
Even websites that only have content on their landing pages don’t even bother with formatting. Others have loads of content, but the format is either nonexistent, duplicated with only a few keyword changes, or is lacking completely.
Poorly formatted content comes in many forms.
- Some make the mistake of not adding enough images.
- The font can be bad or too small, making the text unreadable.
- The space between the subheadings and text can be too big or it doesn’t exist.
Still, the most common mistake with content formatting is having a huge chunk of text that is just so difficult to read.
Digital Content follows Different Rules
The ideal format of digital content differs from the academic content or content used in printed media.
In the digital world where disruptions are lurking at every corner and the average user has a short attention span, people don’t have the patience to read through badly formatted content.
Proper formatting makes scanning easier and reading the content faster so the user that landed on a certain page can quickly decide whether the information is relevant to their needs.
If they can’t make that conclusion fast enough, they will leave anyway, no matter how informative the content may be. If you don’t want the visitors of your website to leave too soon, format your content.
Whenever a short attention span presents a problem, it helps to break things in smaller bites. It’s the same with content – it needs to be broken down into smaller sections and the format adjusted for the web user.
Break your content into enough chapters. For example, every 300 words can make one chapter. You will help your reader to stay focused.
Make your paragraphs short enough. One paragraph should be 2-4 lines long, but definitely try to change the reading rhythm. Alter paragraph size based on sentence length to avoid monotony.
With this, you’ll already have a skimmable, easy to read content with subheadings and short paragraphs, but don’t stop there.
You can visually break the text by using quotes. Most website themes have premade quote formats that differ from the standard paragraph format.
You don’t have to quote other people to highlight parts from your article with a quotation formatting. See what I did there?
I also advise you not to use a wide content format. Your text lines shouldn’t be too wide.
Think of your morning newspapers and printed magazines that often have 2-3 content columns per page. There’s a reason they use such format: It’s taxing to read a long sentence and a wide line of text.
Also, use margins. Try to add margins to every side of your content, avoid the wide format for your blog, and consider adding a sidebar to your blog’s layout to make your content format more narrow.
Add images to your content, especially if it’s a blog article. Ideally, you won’t place an image right below the headline or a subheading, but in the middle of the text body so your image divides a chunk of text and increases readability.
Finding the right dimensions of images for your content will be much easier when the layout isn’t too wide. The wider the layout, the bigger the pictures you’ll need.
Big pictures are not just harder to find, but they take more space – imagine having such a big picture that there’s no room for text on the screen. Besides, large image sizes often require additional work and compression.
When it comes to picking a font, it’s up to your preference, but keep one important thing in mind – its size.
Use a font that is big enough to make your content easy to read. In the past few years, there is a trend in font size increase because it helps improve content readability.
Besides the size, make sure your font has a big enough line-height. When the lines of the text are too close to each other they appear messy and crammed.
If you want a solution off the shelf, some modern fonts are:
- Open Sans
- Libre Baskerville
If you want to use the same font as your favorite blog/competitor/whoever, then leverage font picker extensions of your browser and they will tell you which font someone else is using.
Here’s how a “what font” extension reads fonts:
In the screenshot above you can see that Quicksprout is using a font called Libre Baskerville. Conversely, we know that Hubspot is using a font called Avenir next, and Buffer is using the same font as we do, Roboto.
What font you choose for your blog it’s up to you.
Case in Point: Analyzing Our Blog
As you can see from reading this post, we use headlines and subheadings, a narrow blog format, there’s enough space between the subtitles and the article body and we also accentuate some key points by bolding them.
Even hyperlinks inside the article help make reading less tedious.
Just be careful not to overdo your formatting because all the details and visuals will deter the reader’s attention and make him/her less focused.
2) Not Having a Content Marketing Strategy
Ah, strategy. This is another repeating issue I see with clients before we sign them up: They create content, but there’s no clear strategy for it.
It often happens that they keep publishing random content, choosing topics without order, goal or understanding of what they want to achieve with it.
Unfortunately, many people publish content just because they’ve heard that they need to do it to achieve results with digital marketing.
It’s not easy to define the strategy because there can be multiple goals you want to achieve but it’s necessary to at least have an idea of what you want to accomplish, and you should define that clearly not to slide off track.
As an SEO and content marketing agency, Fortis uses the content for many reasons but we have two main goals we wish to meet:
- To rank the content on Google for targeted keywords and bring more relevant visitors to our blog
- To have content that can attract backlinks
Defining clear goals makes it easier to define the strategy we will use.
To reach the first goal-having content that ranks and brings the traffic-we need to do keyword research and define the keywords we want to rank for. Ideally, those keywords will be popular and relevant for us, yet not too hard to rank for.
For the second goal-attracting backlinks, we need to create long-form content that is naturally more valued.
What makes it valuable?
We use rich formatting and try to add examples, statistics and case studies to make it more relatable.
That also makes the content more referable and enables us to get more websites linking to it.
Another method for acquiring backlinks to your content is the ego bait technique. Here’s how it works:
- You refer to other content and even link to it from your article.
- Then you reach out to those you have mentioned and ask them to do the same.
- Since you mentioned and linked to them in your blog post, they will often link to our content as well for reciprocity’s sake.
When you know you want to use this approach, you automatically know you need to add more external links to the content you are creating.
Defined goals help you create a strategy for your content and then calculate the budget available to see how often can you publish the content you need.
My advice is not to make the mistake of diving into content marketing without a strategy in place.
If you are just starting with content, you don’t have to go all-in immediately. Your strategy can be simple and evolve with time.
See that you define the essentials first. For that, answer the following questions:
- Who is your targeted audience?
- What are your goals?
- How long will the content be?
- How will you promote it?
- What is your budget?
Once you tick those boxes, it will be easier for you to define the strategy you need to follow.
3) SEO Can’t and Shouldn’t be the only Focus
It might sound strange coming from an SEO company, but creating content that focuses only on SEO results is a problem and it should be avoided.
Ironically, such content has the worst results but this is nevertheless a highly widespread way of creating content and many websites still make this mistake.
Google aims to rank quality content, and its algorithm is getting better at analyzing and reading the content to understand its true value, and they also monitor the user metrics.
For instance, if someone visiting your blog organically goes back to search results very quickly, Google will know that the user wasn’t satisfied.
That’s a clear signal your content sucks and Google will lower your ranking.
People still don’t understand that and publish content whose sole purpose is keyword targeting. They ignore the fact that someone needs to read that content and find some value to stay on the site.
It’s not bad to take a keyword into account and it’s definitely useful to research potential keywords, but ranking for a specific keyword should never be the main goal of the content.
The main goal of your content should be to impress the reader.
Try your best to wow the visitor with your content. When you write something, ask yourself “How can I make this better?”.
The only benchmark telling you if your content is good is whether it’s helpful for the person reading it.
4) Ignoring SEO and Keyword Research
Conversely, I will tell you just one thing as an SEO agency owner-do NOT ignore SEO for your content.
The difference between a successful and a failed SEO strategy is the goals. A company with a successful SEO strategy knows what they want to achieve.
A content strategy that includes SEO stands better chances of being successful because organic traffic is often the main traffic channel for blogs.
Organic traffic is awesome because it brings passive visitors.
It’s not easy to achieve top rankings and direct traffic from Google but once you do, you are in for the long haul.
Every new article you publish should help you increase your organic traffic.
And while many blogs make the mistake of focusing only on SEO content, ignoring SEO completely and publishing articles without understanding keyword research is also not a strategy I’d recommend.
Using Ahrefs, you can do superb keyword research and nail the topics for your content that will have a good ratio of business relevancy, search volume, and ranking difficulty.
An ideal keyword to use is the one that has as much traffic as possible.
For example, try to target a keyword that has over 100 monthly searches if you are just starting with your content strategy, and over 500 if you already have a stronger blog.
For keyword difficulty, the easier the better, which can mean KD under 5 for those who are starting, and under 10 for those who already grew their websites stronger.
This way, your content stands better chances of appearing on the first page of Google, compared to the scenario where you put all your effort into creating great content, but the keyword difficulty is 50 and all the big guns are already ranking for your targeted phrase.
In such a situation, you’d need six months of promotion and link building to MAYBE rank for it.
If I learned something in these 10+ years of grinding in SEO, it’s that the main difference between a good SEO expert and a bad one is that those good ones don’t have off-shelf solutions.
They are actively looking for good opportunities and “low hanging fruit” where they can achieve good results with minimum effort.
If you need two years to rank for a super competitive keyword, your industry can change in that time and that keyword won’t be as relevant or as popular as it is now.
Rather focus on something real and attainable.
Never leave out keyword research when building your content marketing strategy.
If you choose your battles (keywords) well, it might surprise you when good organic results start showing after six months.
On the other hand, if you choose poorly, you’ll invest a lot of effort, loads of quality content, but it will be buried deep and nobody will see it.
5) Being Too Promotional
Being an SEO and content marketing agency, one of the most important things we do for our clients is content promotion.
We specialize in content promotion through link building.
We acquire direct links toward content on our clients’ websites.
One problem we often encounter when we need to promote clients’ content is over promotion.
A lot of businesses approach content like service or product advertising.
Commercial content about your service or product is totally uninteresting to other bloggers and websites so it’s hard to promote it, let alone build quality links to that content.
For successful marketing, your content needs to be non-commercial.
First, it needs to be useful and interesting, and if possible, you can embed your offering to this content as a part of the solution to the reader’s problem, but that definitely shouldn’t be the main goal for creating this content.
Content marketing isn’t advertising and blog posts shouldn’t be written as an ad—they are more informational in nature.
From my perspective, the worst thing I stumble upon is a blog with fifty posts about a single very commercial topic.
The reason this doesn’t work is that the purpose of content in content marketing is to attract people to your website and introduce them to your brand.
No one will share commercial content, no one will link to it, your user metrics will be low and consequently, this page will not rank well on search engines. Making your content over promotional kills its promotion potential.
If you can’t promote it, it will not be seen.
Smart marketers use a workaround: they focus on usefulness and value to create top-notch content. This way, they can attract more views to it, share it, earn natural backlinks and rank it better and get traffic.
When you get web visitors, they are meeting your brand for the first time and becoming aware of your existence. In a buyer’s journey, this phase is called awareness.
If you have organic visitors it’s easier to convert them to email subscribers than to have commercial content no one has ever read.
Ahrefs is Doing it Right
Ahrefs blog is a good example of doing content marketing on a high level. They write SEO posts that are top quality, very useful and I definitely recommend to follow them if you are interested in SEO topics.
Ahrefs is a SaaS company and an awesome SEO tool offering backlink analysis, keyword research, content ideas, rank tracking and many more.
The best value it offers is the integration of tools that give you data no other SEO tools do.
What makes their content strategy so great is that they incorporate their tool in the content as one of the natural solutions for the problem the article describes.
It’s not about mentioning “try Ahrefs”, they create actionable tutorials and share useful, advanced tips on using the tool for more complex SEO analytics.
I’m one of their readers who converted into a buyer. Their content convinced me how good the tool is so I became a paid user and a big Ahrefs fan.
See, content marketing works! 🙂
One disclaimer though, what Ahrefs team does is great, and it’s a very good way to sell your software through content, but it’s not always necessary.
Keep Your Goals in Mind
The main purpose of your content is to get your targeted audience to your website to get to know your brand, and if they can learn more about your product or service through that content, that’s an added bonus.
Remember, the quality of the content is the most important, and that’s hard to attain if you are creating very commercial content.
6) Focusing on Quantity over Quality
Focusing just on quantity and ignoring quality might be the most common mistake in content marketing.
Many blogs think the amount of content they produce is critical, but my experiences show that this is not the case.
Sure, the more the merrier: you’ll cover more keywords, be more active on social media while sharing more and in theory, you should get more visitors, right?
Yes, but only if the content in question is any good.
Loads of low-quality content has no effect. What you publish needs to serve one purpose – to have someone to read it.
Knowing that content marketing is an indispensable part of every marketing strategy can push you in the wrong direction: wanting to include content in your marketing mix at any cost.
The thing is, even if someone reads the useless content you wrote, it will not leave a good impression.
Not only will such content fail to draw the visitor closer to your brand, but it will also leave a bad taste in her mouth and make her leave from your page.
As I mentioned before, leaving a page (your blog post) abruptly sends a signal to search engines that your content is not quality.
Don’t get in the trap of writing and posting for content’s sake, rather think about what your target audience might want to know and how can you serve them with the information you will share.
7) Failing To Promote the Content
Here’s another scenario I often experience with clients: they understand the importance of content, they know they have to do it, they know how to organize it and they do it well.
But they miss the strategy of how to promote that content.
Promotion is a critical step. Today’s competition is strong, everyone is creating content, there are countless articles looking for a place under the sun. If you want to get a good spot and enjoy the sunshine, you need to promote your stuff.
There are various promotion channels to choose from: paid ads, search engine optimization, social media promotion, email marketing, but the key is to be good at one thing and not do it all.
The worst thing you can do is to read a list post (like this one) with 20+ ways to promote your content where you end up flabbergasted with the amount of information and in the end, you just stand there blocked, not knowing where to start.
Your best bet is to gradually build up your content promotion strategy, as well as to gradually create the content for your website.
Choose a few promotion tactics to start with, become good at it, perfect your ways so much they are practically automated and then get on to trying out the next method.
It’s wise to gradually grow your promotion and stack up channels to find what works, but know that, in the long run, it’s ideal to have a marketing mix of channels for your content promotion.
For instance, you don’t have to be present on all social media channels, but it is good to have a promotion strategy that combines social media, email marketing, SEO and outreach.
When a client has this set up properly, he has built his marketing ecosystem.
One example of this could mean having a Facebook page where you share your blog posts and then you promote them with some minimum amount of Facebook ads, writing mini-posts on LinkedIn and promoting content there, plus having a Youtube video materials where you repurpose that written content, and send an email newsletter that promotes your top posts.
Search engine optimization is a great promotion method, i.e. it’s useful to build backlinks to your blog posts because they directly help that content to rank better on Google.
That’s what we do for our clients – because this part of marketing is often left out and is hardest to do consistently.
8) Not Being Persistent With Content Marketing
Lack of persistence is one of the biggest problems with content marketing.
It makes sense, because it’s not easy to create content, it can be a real drudgery. What makes it even harder is having to wait a long time for the results to show, and that is often the situation with content.
If you are just starting and you don’t have experience in content marketing, you are in for some tough grind.
Those who have some background, know that content is a long term strategy that requires a lot of time and effort, but most importantly, they know they will achieve results if they keep going.
A while back, Rand Fishkin from Moz described it perfectly with a photo that shows how the majority gives up too soon and never live to see the real results.
Yes, you need time and patience to reach sustainable and stable organic traffic levels, often two years will pass before you see some desired results.
Nevertheless, don’t be the majority, stick to content marketing and your results will come.