We need to go niche to avoid a content marketing crisis
Magnus Linklater, MD of Bespoke Digital, suggests how B2B marketers can avoid a ‘content crisis’ by refining their output
Content marketing is at a real tipping point, and agencies need to get a grip before the industry implodes. Ever since the first Google Panda and Penguin updates at the turn of the decade - designed to penalise low-quality content and links by suppressing the offending sites within organic search results - many of us have been guilty of pushing the mantra ‘content is king’, wooing clients with promises of improved SEO and increased conversions if they invest in our services.
However, the ‘Internet Ocean’ has since become awash with crap content, and B2B marketers have been among the worst polluters, perpetuating a problem that could soon put us all out of business. I’m serious - content marketing has grown exponentially but engagement rates are falling through the floor; BuzzSumo and Moz’s joint 2015 report, which analysed 1 million articles, summarises that the majority of content published online is simply ignored, acquiring few shares and even fewer backlinks.
Additionally, TrackMaven’s research into branded content on social media reveals an undeniable chasm is opening up; the more content we churn out, the less it gets noticed, hence the content marketing paradox we face today.
Unless we buck our ideas up and address the root causes of content fatigue, our clients will soon become disillusioned with digital PR and probably start favouring the hard-and-fast metrics of pay-per-click, native advertising and sponsored posts.
Traditional inbound activities - blogging, outreach, SEO and social media management - are under threat, victims of their own success as everyone jumps aboard the content bandwagon, making it harder to cut through the noise. If you provide such services, you need to toughen up and call war on poor quality posts that go missing in action.
Unleash the power of niche
The aforementioned BuzzSumo-Moz investigation concludes: “it seems that most people are wasting their time either producing poor content or failing to amplify it.”
Now, the very reason we content marketing agencies exist is that we claim to be the experts - we know how to do the job and can step in to prevent our clients from ‘wasting their time’. Yet, the stats don’t add up; they suggest that we’re just as guilty as the rest of them, clogging up the Web with boring bull rather than offering anything of tangible value.
Ask yourself, when was the last time you actually ‘said’ something with your content? (Or your client’s content, more to the point.) How often do you settle for generic output that doesn’t quite feel right, doesn’t add any unique insight to the wider conversation, or is simply a regurgitation of what’s been and gone before?
I’m not accusing B2B marketers of being lazy, far from it. From personal experience I know how difficult it is to consistently produce high-quality content, especially when the subject matter is not your area of expertise and your client isn’t the most communicative of souls. If anything, I believe a key factor behind disengagement isn’t so much a lack of trying, but more that we usually try too hard.
By that I mean there are millions of articles out there claiming to be definitive, tackling myriad subjects like ‘how to build a social media strategy’, whereas only a relative handful focus on specific areas of the overarching theme, such as ‘influencer outreach on Snapchat’.
It’s impossible to write a genuinely useful guide to ‘social media strategy’ in a single article, or even a white paper. How on earth can you cover best practice advice for each platform, and make it appropriate for every type of business? You can’t. And yet this is exactly the type of content that gets constantly re-hashed in favour of any real attempt at thought leadership.
Less is more
The literal definition of niche is ‘a shallow recess’ or, more pertinently, ‘a distinct area of a market’. Here’s what I’m driving at: the best way to combat the current content marketing crisis is to be more selective, focused and informed with what we produce.
Zoning-in on niche topics allows for much deeper insight and more meaningful comment, adding real value to target audiences and attracting the attention of the Internet at large. If your client is a web developer, for example, and you’re looking to engage potential B2B customers, don’t follow the pack with ‘10 web trends to be aware of this year’ - everyone else is doing the same, so your efforts will be drowned out. Plus, nobody searches for such broad terms - they search for specifics like ‘the benefits of haptic feedback’ (an exciting niche in the world of web design).
Instead, offer a detailed account of one game-changing trend (i.e. haptic feedback) and frame your client as a real voice of authority on the matter. You could even write 10 separate articles, analysing each of your top 10 trends in detail, or cut the list down to the points where your client really excels, but stick to specifics and don’t get carried away.
These articles could be split between guest posts on high-authority websites and your client’s own blog - giving you a chance to grow an audience and direct readers back to your client’s platform with relevant, valuable further reading.
My team and I are often invited to contribute guest articles to the publications we use when placing client content, but we’d never dream of writing a ‘complete guide to content marketing’ or ‘SEO 101’ - there’s just too much ground to cover in one go. Instead, we get much better results by focusing on smaller parts of the greater equation, such as a quick refresher on keyword research or how to conduct a link audit (and these are far from short articles).
Scaling down the scope of each individual post should boost the overall impact of any content marketing campaign, and I’m adamant that it’s the best way to generate real engagement.
Niche marketing means people searching for specifics will find you, and creating unique content will set you apart from the crowd, attracting those elusive Likes, shares and links. As a by-product, you’ll see better qualified, more engaged leads, which should translate to higher conversions - the only engagement metric that really matters.
There is an interesting caveat to this whole argument, though, as producing tedious content ‘for the sake of it’ can still carry certain SEO weight. Writing a keyword-rich blog with a few intelligent internal links, or posting guest articles with less-fussy websites is still relatively straightforward and the search engine bots will still scan it - giving you SEO points - even if the content is dull and goes unread by the masses.
However, Google’s algorithm is getting progressively smart at detecting thin content and low-quality links, so pursuing this as a strategy is highly likely to have a negative impact in the long term, even if not immediately. Ultimately, it’s poor quality content, so do you really want to be associated with it? And if Google is going to devalue it anyway, why waste your time? I won’t settle for that approach to business, and if you want to keep your clients, nor should you.