Posted by Marcus Krieg | July 20, 2015
Creating great content can feel overwhelming.
But what exactly makes content effective?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Marketers and bloggers have been debating that very question since the early days of content marketing.
“Should I create long or short content?”
“Do I need to niche-down, or talk to everybody my product can help?”
“Should I tell stories, or share data?”
“Should I give readers what they want, or what I know they need?”
…And the list goes on.
If you read five articles, you’ll probably get two or three different answers to each question. To make it even more confusing, oftentimes those answers are supported by conflicting data.
For example, one marketer may find that short videos are most effective, while another will argue that her best-performing videos are 8+ minutes long.
Seth Godin writes extremely short blog posts, sometimes just one sentence, while Neil Patel writes epic 3,000+ word posts. Neither approach is objectively the best — they’re both creating amazing content that meets the needs of their audience and achieves their business goals.
Put another way, remarkable content can come in many forms. And what works for one business may not work for another.
There are literally hundreds of things you can do to make your content “better.”
But here’s the thing:
You can’t do all of them.
Trying to create the perfect blog post or video is like a chasing a unicorn; you can’t catch it because it doesn’t exist. (Tweet This)
I’m not saying that you can’t get better with time and practice. By implementing one content tip at a time until it becomes second nature, you can grow substantially more effective in just a year.
But trying to do everything at once will leave you overwhelmed and destroy your productivity.
A much better (and simpler) approach is to focus on what you shouldn’t be doing, especially when you’re first getting started.
That’s why I’ve pulled together a list of the five most common blunders businesses make when creating content.
As long as you aren’t making these big mistakes, you can relax and focus on developing your skills as a writer or video creator over time.
Let’s get started…
Content Blunder #1: Trying to Sell Your Product
The most common problem I see businesses make with their blogs or YouTube channels is trying to turn every piece of content into a thinly-veiled (or-not-so-thinly-veiled) sales pitch.
Here’s why: people don’t like being sold to.
Seems obvious, right?
In fact, just including a product pitch in your conclusion decreases reader trust by 29%. And since the goal of content marketing is to build trust while growing your audience, selling can really stunt your audience growth (and sales, ironically).
However, 75% of marketers are making this very mistake and frequently mention products in their content.
See the disconnect here?
It’s basic supply and demand. If you supply valuable, non-salesy content (what people want), you will increase the demand for your content (traffic, shares, and sales). (Tweet This)
But does that mean you should never create content that sells?
Of course not!
Every piece of content you create should have one primary purpose. It can either build trust and relationships, or it can sell, but rarely can you do both simultaneously (webinars often walk that fine line).
So if you’re writing a blog post, filming a YouTube video, or designing an infographic, you should keep your product out of it and focus on providing immense value and building trust with your audience.
Help people achieve their goals so when the time comes to pitch your product, they’ll be more receptive because they know, like, and trust you.
When creating your sales content, make sure it’s distinct and optimized for conversions. These are your landing pages, product pages, explainer videos, and testimonials; the types of content people engage with when they’re further along in the buyer’s journey.
Generally speaking, the vast majority of your content should be helpful and a small percentage should try to sell.
That said, if your business currently has a product or service to sell, you should prioritize creating those sales assets first, then cast your net far and wide with helpful content to pull people into your sales funnel.
Content Blunder #2: Making It All About You
Blunder #2 is closely related to the first, in that the key takeaway is to be generous with your audience. But the difference is you don’t have to sell to make your content all about you.
I don’t want to call anyone out specifically (that would be mean), but it doesn’t take long to find a brand that only creates content about their company or product. Perhaps even yours is making this mistake?
Here’s the brutal truth: nobody cares about your company until you’ve built a relationship with them. (Tweet This)
And just like when you meet someone in real life, only talking about yourself is a great way to turn people off.
Think about creating content that your target customers are interested in. Remember, content marketing is all about supply and demand.
Salesforce is one example of a company that’s doing content right. Their blog is amazing.
They could exclusively talk about CRM and ways to use their product more effectively…but they don’t.
Instead, they share content about:
- Customer service
- Starting a business
- Data analysis & optimization
- …and more
They know which topics their target customers are interested in learning about and provide that content. This allows them to reach a much larger percentage of their audience at every stage of the buyer’s journey, then dovetail into their product over time.
If all they talked about was CRM, they would only be able to reach people at the bottom of the funnel. And because they haven’t built relationships with those people, their conversion rates would be much lower.
So next time you create a piece of content, make it a win-win. It should serve your needs and those of your audience.
To get started, select topics your target customers care about. Use your content like a net and pull potential customers into your boat. And so long as it’s genuinely helpful, you’re serving their needs as well.
Content Blunder #3: Choosing the Wrong Content Type (Text/Video/Audio/Image)
It would definitely be nice if video were the right content type for every topic, but video is a tool. And like all tools, you need to choose the right one for the job.
If you were framing a house, your hammer might be your most useful tool. But you can’t cut through a 2×4 with a hammer (unless you’re unnaturally patient).
Similarly, video is an extremely powerful tool. You can use it to build deeper relationships, increase shareability, teach more effectively, and persuade a higher percentage of people to buy your product.
In fact, 76% of B2Bs and 74% of B2C marketers say videos are the most effective tools in their web marketing belts.
[Image Source: Brafton]
However, video is NOT always the right tool for the job.
Use the content type that best communicates what you’re trying to say. Make it as simple as possible for people to learn. (Tweet This)
For example, if you need to explain something really complicated, especially something people will need to reference over and over again, long-form text makes the most sense.
On the other end of the spectrum, if your big idea can be explained with a single image, don’t waste your effort creating a video or blog post.
Just make the image!
What if your audience is extremely busy? Create a podcast so people can consume your content during their commute or while performing chores around the house.
In many cases, you may be best served mixing content types together. For example, if your goal is on-site SEO, long-form text is absolutely essential.
However, videos and images amplify your SEO results, because they increase engagement, links, and time-on-page. But without the text, your website won’t rank. So in this case, you’d want mix content types.
Always use the right tool for the job.
Content Blunder #4: Plugging Your Company Into The Content
This mistake is extremely common, but for the life of me I don’t understand why. Basically, this blunder occurs when a business references itself in content for no reason.
Perhaps this is closely related to Blunders #1 and #2, in that brands think they have to tie everything back to themselves to reap the benefits of content marketing.
For example, many times you’ll see a piece of content where the writer just throws in random brand or product mentions. This makes your content seem disingenuous and self-serving.
It seems like content creators think plugging their brand into the content will help with branding, but really all it does is make your content seem untrustworthy.
I think John Hall put it best when he said:
“In general, you should avoid all mentions of your company that don’t enhance the reader’s understanding of the message you’re trying to convey.”
In other words, don’t ruin the impact of your content for no reason. If you’re sharing case study results that increase your audience’s understanding of the concept, that’s okay. But don’t plug yourself needlessly thinking it will benefit you; it won’t.
Content Blunder #5: Creating “Thin” content
This is an easily misunderstood topic, because many writers use “thin” and “short” interchangeably when talking about content.
But as we discussed earlier, Seth Godin oftentimes writes one paragraph blog posts, but nobody would call his content “thin.”
So let’s first define what “thin content” is. Google defines it as content that doesn’t “provide users with substantially unique or valuable content.”
That’s probably not the most useful explanation, so here’s how I would describe it:
“Thin content fails to add value or unique perspective to the topic being discussed, by failing to be actionable or informative enough to be helpful to it’s intended audience.”
If your topic is sufficiently small, you may be able to write a short post and provide immense value at the same time. I know that Seth Godin makes me rethink my life almost every morning.
But in other cases, you may write 10 pages of content and it could still be thin. For example, if you wrote a 2,500-word article on B2B marketing and called it a “Definitive Guide,” that would be pretty thin, because the topic is too big. You’d need a book or entire course to cover that topic “definitively,” and even then, it’s probably still pretty thin.
So how do you make sure that your content is covering the topic adequately? Before you hit “publish,” make sure your content:
- Provides a unique perspective
- Is informative enough to be useful
- Includes actionable takeaways
You can always break up bigger topics into smaller chunks, or use a 3-part series to deliver great value in more digestible pieces. If your audience prefers short content, pick smaller topics so you can still dive deep enough to add value. (Tweet This)
Creating great content doesn’t need to be overwhelming. If you focus on providing value and approach content from a mindset of generosity, you will build a profitable audience that knows, likes and trusts you.
Can you think of any other content mistakes I didn’t mention? If so, let me know in the comments below.
Latest posts by Marcus Krieg (see all)
- Little Details Take Your Videos From Good To Great - November 25, 2016
- How to Build & Manage an Exceptional Video Team - November 17, 2016
- When is YouTube a Good Option for Marketers (Ep. 49) - November 15, 2016