Content Marketing Vs. Paid Advertising
I recently read a post by my buddy Mark Schaefer about Coke firing its CMO. The firing wouldn’t be remarkable except for the fact that Coke’s CMO had recently championed a new marketing strategy based mostly on storytelling.
Marketing experts celebrated this move and used it as a signal of what’s to come for the rest of us. So, when they fire their CMO, the celebrations and tea leaf reading seemed all for naught.
In the end Coke decided to go back to regularly scheduled programming… advertising. But, is this truly a sign of the downfall of authentic content? Not so fast.
“I’m from Atlanta. When we want to ask for any type of soft drink, we ask for Coke. They’ll be fine. Just because Coke is going back to business as usual does not mean we need to abandon authentic content.”
Just because Coke decides to put all their marketing dollars into storytelling, does not mean that you should. Conversely, when they decide to pull that money, that doesn’t mean you should too.
The needs of your audience should drive your marketing efforts.
Facebook Wants Your Money
We’ve seen a shift recently in social media marketing. More and more experts are telling us that we need to pay to gain any traction on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
While this is true to a certain extent, this does not mean we should abandon building real and meaningful connections with our target audience on those channels.
People buy from people. And social media has been and will continue to be a great environment for building more human to human connections. The more they trust you, the more they’ll buy from you.
Sure, it used to be very easy to connect with people on social channels. You could post on your company page and people would actually see and react to that post.
The algorithms on the social channels are always changing. Think about your own Facebook feed. You see what Facebook thinks you want to see. This means that things you don’t show an interest in will not appear in your feed.
So, with all this filtering by the algorithms, how can you possibly connect with people? Just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Real connections last over time. Paid connections are fleeting at best. And remember, people love them some them. Your strategy should be to help them love them some them.
- Create utility content and share on your social channels. Tag the people who may have influenced or otherwise helped you create the content. Give them credit like “shout out to Mark Schaefer for inspiring me to write this post!”
- Engage with experts in your field: read their books and write honest reviews. Share and comment on their posts. Ask them for an interview or a guest post. Mention them when you post their content or interview. They will like the post and hopefully comment. This increases the chances that your page is seen… and liked.
- Connect with fans and followers. Answer their questions. Find solutions to their problems. Offer them deals and discounts. Connect directly to start a meaningful dialog. Start groups if it makes sense.
Contests, user generated content, brand ambassadors, rewards programs… these are all great ways to build a community that lasts.
Focusing on building fans is a long-term strategy that takes a lot of work. But, if you’re consistent, the payoff will continue long into the future.
Google Wants Your Money
We’re also seeing more studies showing the difficulty with ranking on Google. While this is true, it is not impossible for good content to rank. Google is not solely a pay to play channel (not yet at least).
Instead of focusing on keywords and content, you need to focus on context. Why are they searching for you? What do they need, specifically?
Google is looking for relevance and context. Each update to their algorithms has focused on one thing: a better user experience for the searcher… “that’s Bodhi. He’s a real searcher.” (10 points to the first person to get this reference)
So, while you still see some junk links showing up in the SERPs (search engine results pages), they are fewer and farther between. When you search for something in Google, it’s not just about the words you use, it’s about:
- Search intent — Google is looking at your past search history, your browsing habits, and your location to determine not just what but how, where, when, and why you’re searching.
- Situational variances — What type of device are you on (mobile, desktop, tablet)? Where and how are you searching (voice, text, in Google, on some other site)?
- Societal norms and trends — Google is also looking at who is performing a similar search to yours and what links they clicked. They are also look at the popularity of sites related to your search.
Remember, Google is Google because they constantly work to improve their user experience. Google wouldn’t have become a verb (to Google something — to search for something) if it didn’t work well. If Google were terrible, we would be Binging something or asking Jeeves.
If you want to rank well on Google, you need to become one of those “popular” sites. Remember, if you pay for popularity, you will only appear in the SERPs as long as you pay. When the money goes, so does your listing.
But popular sites with quality user experience will continue to improve ranking over time. Just do a search for ‘flowers’. The ads and Google shopping links are all up top. But just below that you should see your local florists and maybe even a map to find them (click on the image below to see what I mean).
In the example above, location is a big factor in determining which sites appear. Location might be a big factor in the context of your searcher’s intent. It could be savings, or quality, or topical relevance. You have to truly get into the mind of the searcher to understand all of the factors that go into their “intent.”
Before I get lost in the SEO rabbit hole (we’d be here all day), I want to get back to my main point. You can still rank on Google if you understand what Google wants, what your searcher’s want, and work hard to build visibility.
The popularity of a website is determined by the number of quality links pointing to it, how many clicks it gets in the SERPs, reviews, social mentions, and user experience (which really could cover all of this). All of these things can be achieved with hard work and a solid link building and social media marketing plan.
Of course, you can’t build links without a solid, well designed, well built website with lots of quality utility content and/or great products. From there you build your popularity:
Link building is still a thing and a very important one at that. The differentiator these days is link quality. It used to be that you would want every link, good or bad, to drive traffic. Now, Google will judge your site based on the links pointing to it. So, you better have some good ones.
Building links to your site is both an active and passive process. Active in that you can go out and ask for links or look for ways to participate on other websites in order to generate a link back to yours (see more below).
Passive link building is more about giving people something to link to, something good. Generate great content that your audience wants and needs. Get that content out there through your social channels, email newsletter, PR campaigns, etc.
Passive is not the best word because this all still takes a lot of work. But, the links will build over time and at some point on their own. This is the real benefit of great content: the links will continue to increase and improve over time without much additional effort on your part.
Guest posts are getting a bad wrap these days. That’s because spammers got into the guest posting game. But, it still works. Again, quality and context matter a great deal here.
Google has stated that guest posting is fine, as long as it’s done without trickery. You see, these spammers would just churn out crap content on crap websites under the guise of guest or contributed content. They would load this content with spammy links back to the site they were promoting.
Starting back in May 2017, Google has dropped the hammer on this practice (with incremental smack downs earlier). But legitimate guest posting is still very effective and also allowed by Google.
Find websites that are popular in your industry. These are the websites that your colleagues and clients flock to for information. After you’ve established yourself as a great source of useful content, go out and see about getting your stuff on their website.
Syndicated content is great. We are syndicated on a few websites. This means that our posts will appear on a popular site with a link back to the original article on our website. But, this is not what I mean by guest posting.
What I mean is you create great content for the popular website that is only for that website. Give them something unique and useful and they will thank you with prominent positioning on their site, a link back to your website, social shares of your article, and more.
Sometimes, they might even feature you in a list, or do an interview with you on their website. All of these links, mentions, and shares are noticed by Google and factor into your positioning in the SERPs. The more you do, the better your ranking over time.
No Shortage Of Link Building Opportunities
There are so many other ways to get your links, mentions, and shares. You could try HARO, for example. HARO (help a reporter out) was started by Peter Shankman as a listserve where reporters seek subject matter experts (SMEs) for articles they’re writing. You could be one of the SMEs! Seriously!
Quora is another fantastic link building tool. Quora is basically a question/answer website (a very popular one). Go on there and search for questions you can answer. The better the answer, the better your ranking (answers are voted on by users). This gets your link to appear in association with a question and an answer. Contextually that’s about as good as it gets.
Forums and blog comments are also great ways to build links. Comment on these by adding useful insights and analysis, or by disagreeing with someone in a constructive and helpful way.
Make sure you’re bringing something of value to the conversation. Otherwise, you look spammy. Spammy is not a good look.
Everyone Wants Your Money
Authentic content or paid advertising: it isn’t one or the other. Sometimes you’ll need to pay for listings on Google or ads on Facebook to prime the pump. Sometimes you might not be able to rank for a keyword that is crucial to your survival and need to pay for it.
But, just because you have to pay sometimes doesn’t mean you have to pay all the time. The Internet is still free (for now). You can still build traffic organically. And this is good traffic that lasts.
Advertising doesn’t build trust. Awareness maybe. No one will thank you for an ad. We still need that human to human connection. That’s the promise of the Internet, connecting those who were not able to connect before to exchange meaningful information.
Abandoning your content marketing strategy because Coke did is silly. You’re not Coke. Build your reputation by earning your reputation. Increase qualified traffic by earning it. Build success by building trust and it will continue to pay off in the long run.
A version of this post appeared first on the Wood Street Journal. Reposted with permission.