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April 17, 2013

Broccoli and Content Marketing: Both Healthy but Hard to Swallow

Content marketing sucks.

Yes, it’s relevant and important.  And, handled correctly, it’s cost effective.  It may very well be the best opportunity for small businesses to even the playing field against larger, deep-pocketed competitors.

It still sucks.

Content marketing is like broccoli — good for you in the long run, but a lot to swallow when it’s piled high on your plate.

And for SEO companies — and their clients — content marketing is like a mountain of broccoli.

When Google’s new algorithms made valuable content a necessity rather than a nicety, I embraced the concept.  If our clients needed blogs and guest posts to keep their search engine rankings, that’s what the clients would get.

Unrealistic Expectations

I hired a content manager and a writer and told clients to sit back and wait for the rewards of content marketing to kick in.  I figured it would take a few weeks — a month tops — for content marketing to run as smoothly as SEO had for the past decade.  All we had to do was write some stuff and publish some stuff.   How hard could it be?

Harder than I ever imagined.

The last five months have been, perhaps, the most difficult of my career.  I promised clients what I always have — fast and superior results.  But, for the first time, I couldn’t deliver them.  Content marketing is slow.  It’s ultimately more rewarding and certainly more valuable than traditional SEO.  But it’s messy, unpredictable and exasperating.

Like I said, content marketing sucks.

Until you do it right.  Then content marketing is as exciting as making the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl.  Or riding Kingda Ka, the world’s tallest roller coaster.

Want to get to the fun part of content marketing?  Without all the growing pains?

Here are three tips on how to ease your transition into content marketing.

1. Accept reality.

Actually, you need to accept a few realities.  The first is that you don’t know anything about content marketing.

That’s OK.  Not many people do.  But a lot think they do, and it’s hard to learn when you think you already know it all.  I made that mistake, but you don’t have to.

There’s a big difference between writing content and marketing content.   You may have dozens or hundreds of keyword-dense articles on your site and you might have been published in ezines and article networks.  And you may think that content marketing can’t be all that much different.

But it is.

A blog is the voice of your company.  A well-written blog boosts your company’s credibility and likability and tells your audience that you care about and understand their needs.  A poorly written blog — a blog created by an unpaid intern or penny-a-word contract writer for whom English is a third language — tells readers they should shop elsewhere for their goods or services.

And it tells Google to drop your rankings.

A blog, in good ways and bad, markets your company.  A blog is an important ingredient in content marketing.  It can make or break the rest of your content marketing efforts.

That brings us to the second reality:  Content marketing is something you need.  Unless you can afford to spend millions of dollars on advertising, you won’t reach (or keep) Page 1 search engine rankings.  Amazon, for example, spends about $9 million a month in pay-per-click advertising, according to an article in The New York Times.  Even if you’re only facing local competition, area businesses may be spending up to $10,000 a month, according to AdGooroo.

It used to be that any decent SEO agency could compete with PPC for pennies on the dollar. We could load cheap content with links, optimize everything like crazy, play a few tricks and wow clients with top three rankings before they saw our invoices.

But Google caught on and changed the game. If companies didn’t want to pay Google for the privilege of a Page 1 ranking, then they had to earn it by providing quality content.  Some businesses took an immediate hit from the algorithm change, but all will eventually.  It just makes sense.  There’s no reason for Google — or Yahoo or Bing — to give away rankings without getting something in return.  The “something” is either ad money or content marketing.

2.  Become a Good Guest

It’s not enough to put great content on your website.  You have to prove that what you have to say is so relevant, so valuable that other sites want to publish it too.

That seems like a fairly easy concept.  There are more than 180 million blogs published around the world. Certainly there are plenty who would want to post your content?  Well, there are also 40 million people who have subscribed to online dating services. So, while the raw numbers are in your favor, it doesn’t mean you’ll find a guest host — or a soul mate — any time soon.

Pawel Grabowski recently told Site Pro News readers how to find and evaluate guest posting opportunities.  The article was very informative and, if you own an established, service-oriented business and write a daily, reader-friendly blog on your own website, you can probably find potential guest posting opportunities with relative ease.

But, just as it’s harder for a bald, overweight, unemployed man to find love on than it is for a wealthy and attractive suitor, it’s more difficult to get your guest posts published if your own website looks cheap, overly commercial or neglected.

The first step in becoming a guest blogger is to check the appearance and credibility of your own website.  How much of your site is devoted to informing your audience about subjects that interest them and how much is dedicated to selling your products or services?  The more value you provide to visitors to your site, the more value you will have to potential guest hosts.

Then, after you research potential guest hosting sites, carefully plan your approach to the editor or website owner.

Pitch your post in a way that shows you’ve done your homework (mention a blog post you’ve read, for example) and demonstrates the value of the post to the host’s audience.  Share a specific topic suggestion rather than a vague idea.

Keep the pitch short so you don’t waste the host’s time (or lose their interest) and include a link to blog or article that showcases your knowledge.

 3.  Build Relationships

If you don’t get a response to your pitch, follow up. Wait a week or two to show respect for the recipient’s time, but always follow up.  Not many people do, so the simple act of sending a second note puts you ahead of hundreds of others who are also asking to have their guest posts published.

If you get a “yes,” play by the rules. Read the writers’ guidelines carefully.  If the guidelines allow one link, don’t insert two.  If the word count says 600 words, don’t send 400 or 800.

When your guest post is published, write a thank you note to the host.  And pay attention to the comments section.  If anyone posts a comment to your blog, make certain you respond to it.  And, while you’re there, post comments on other blogs on the site.  It’s a small gift, easy to give, but it will be appreciated.

Also, don’t forget to share the link to the guest post across all of your social media channels.

What if your guest post is rejected?  Your time remains well spent.  You’ve opened the door to a new relationship.  Maybe the person will accept a blog on a different topic. Or send clients your way.  Or trade advice on a business problem you both share.

One Floret at a Time

Content marketing makes perfect — and profit-generating — sense as a long-term Internet marketing strategy.

Aim for quality over quantity.  It’s better to get one article or blog published in a high-authority site than to get a dozen published in network sites that charge you a fee.

And remember that almost anything worthwhile takes time and commitment.  Content marketing is a healthy and smart choice for any business owner looking for a return on his marketing investment.  It’s the future of Internet marketing.  Just don’t expect to conquer content marketing overnight.  Take it one blog, one guest post — one broccoli floret — at a time.

Todd is the CEO and co-founder of SEO Visions. For more great reads and his insight about the world of SEO, visit his blog here.