The Time For Content Marketing Is Now

It puzzles me that the SEO industry and the content marketing industries rarely talk to each other. While there is some modest overlap, by and large, the two worlds keep to themselves on blogs, twitter, and even with having separate conferences. This strikes me as a missed opportunity for both industries. I believe there’s a lot we can learn from each other and in this post and more over the coming weeks, I’d like to bridge the gap between the two industries and foster communication and discussion between SEOs and content marketers.


Why SEOs Should Care About Content Marketing

We demand budgets and resources from our clients in order to produce content. We are hungry for and passionate about content. And not just content that will rank for keywords, but content that will be remarkable- content that will earn links and content that will convert users into customers. We should care about content marketing. We should understand how it works, how brands produce content, and what innovation looks like. There is rumbling within the SEO industry towards more cross-disciplinary inbound marketing and as we make this shift and become involved in these projects, it will become crucial to understand how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

To be crystal clear, content marketing is not article marketing or spun press releases. We’re talking about editorial remarkable content that a brand can be proud of.

Content Marketing is Hot Right Now

Content marketing is undergoing massive growth right now and we’re seeing a revolution take place across all aspects of online marketing. One of the most widely shared and high profile examples is Coke’s recent 2020 content strategy. These videos are long, but essential watching if you want to understand how brands are going to be spending their marketing budgets in the coming years:



Props to Joe Pulizzi for covering this originally.

Brands Are Becoming Publishers

As hinted at in the above videos, brands are starting to wake up to the fact that generating unique and compelling content is the key to winning online. As some are lamenting the death of the publishing industry, publishing for brands is undergoing a revolution. Brands like Redbull are leading the charge:

Red Bull, the popular energy drink, supports its content strategy with just that foundation, though, owning its very own Red Bull Media House. [...] RedBull.com covers all of its digital bases, with an offering of web TV, web radio, online games, newsfeeds and digital databases. [...] And to date, nearly 300 million YouTube views have been generated from Red Bull content, making Red Bull Media House one of the top five sports content producers on YouTube globally - source

Props to Erica at Contently for writing the post about Red Bull’s content strategy

But Smart Publishers Are Doing Just Fine, Thanks

Let’s not count the old school publishers as down and out just yet though. Those that get the web and embrace the new world of content consumption and marketing are thriving:

The Atlantic, the intellectual’s monthly that always seemed more comfortable as an academic exercise than a business, is on track to turn a tidy profit of $1.8 million this year. That would be the first time in at least a decade that it had not lost money - source

You should read the whole NYT piece on the profile of The Atlantic, it’s a fascinating #longread.

The Observer is profitable by a thin margin for the first time in its 24-year history. This is a big, big deal. - source

This is a quote from Elizabeth Spiers, Editor in Chief for the Observer, and is part of a fascinating look at the Observer one year in.

Everyone Is Producing Original Content

There’s a real macro trend here for companies to start producing original content. UGC-driven communities are doing it:

The popular social blogging site Tumblr is hiring writers and editors to cover the world of Tumblr. [...] “Basically, if Tumblr were a city of 42 million,” Ms. Bennett said, referring to the number of Tumblr blogs that exist, “I’m trying to figure out how we cover the ideas, themes and people who live in it.” - source

Content juggernauts like Netflix are doing it:

Up until now, Netflix has not had content in this first window. Instead, they’ve focused on the second or third or even fourth window. That is, they’ve shown content after it’s in theaters or on television for its initial run. And sometimes they don’t get content until after it’s been in theaters and then on television for quite some time. This catalog of content has been the service’s bread and butter.

But with House of Cards, the game changes. For the first time, they’re going to get people signing up to Netflix to get first access to content. And if it’s as good as the talent behind it suggests, they might get a lot of people signing up for that very reason - source

A Focus On Engagement Is One Emergent Trend

Smart marketers have known this for a while: there’s real value in not only sucking users in with content, but also keeping them engaged once they hit the site.

in a front-page story in December, Donna St. George reported that black students in the D.C. area were suspended and expelled two to five times as often as whites. That story attracted 3,736 comments, more than 2,000 of those by 9 o’clock in the morning - source

Wow. By the way you should check out the full article where among other fascinating insights I learned that the Washington Post has 6 full time staff dedicated to comments.

From a technology perspective, I’m fascinated by features like Disqus Ranks that allows anyone to better reward and engage with commenters on their site.

Bold Content Plays Is Another Emergent Trend

Fortune favors the bold. There have been some bold redesigns and rethinking of the traditional blog format in recent times. I love the FastCo redesign:

Read more about the redesign here

And it’s worth noting that the Gawker redesign actually worked.

Disruptive Business Models Are Another

As the old-school traditional ad model starts to die out, we’ll see more innovative and disruptive revenue models for content. Retargeting is just the start of this revolution and we’ll see all kinds of crazy approaches. In particular I was struck by how Buzzfeed monetizes their site:

Its business model, in part, capitalizes on the mix of high and low content; instead of banner ads, BuzzFeed works with companies like Pillsbury to create content ideal for sharing, including “10 Things You Never Knew You Could Do With a Crescent Roll.” - source

What Can We Learn From All This?

I’m a fan of actionable insights and I think there are a few key takeaways that I can see:

1) Being Remarkable Produces Outsized Rewards

In the connected world in which we live, the difference between average content and bad content is hardly noticeable. In fact, the difference between good content and bad content is not that big. Truly, the only thing that really gets rewarded is remarkable content. If you’re investing in content production, always invest in the most amazing, ballsy, exceptional content that you can get your hands on because if you build it, they won’t come. This quote sums things up for me:

We’ve tried to work longer on stories for greater impact, and publish fewer quick-takes that we know you can consume elsewhere. We’re actually publishing, on average, roughly one-third fewer posts on Salon than we were a year ago (from 848 to 572 in December; 943 to 602 in January). So: 33 percent fewer posts; 40 percent greater traffic - source

This is a quote from a fascinating article about the growth of Salon.com - check the whole thing out

2) Hire a Chief Content Officer

I spoke about the need for a Chief Content Officer in my SearchLove presentation in NYC and this is a trend that businesses of all size need to follow. The key point here is that this role needs to be senior enough to oversee all kinds of content production. David Edelman agrees with me:

Our research shows that in companies
where the marketing function takes on the
role of publisher in chief—rationalizing the
creation and flow of product related content—
consumers develop a clearer sense of the brand
and are better able to articulate the attributes
of specific products. These marketers also become
more agile with their content, readily
adapting it to sales training videos and other
new uses that ultimately enhance consumers’
decision journey - source

This is a quote from the full version of this article (which you’ll need to register to be able to read) and the whole thing is well worth a read.

3) Invest in Page Types

As Sonia points out at Copyblogger, every page is now a landing page and it’s important for both social and SEO to invest in crafting excellent page types. I always point to Oyster.com as the gold standard here with their large imagery and massively detailed content, but really more sites are starting to get this. If you’re not investing in making your content pages be excellent pages with thick content, then you’re going to get left behind by those that are investing in their page types:

4) SEOs Are Perfectly Placed To Engage In Content Marketing

Smart SEOs are already doing content marketing as part of their online marketing strategies and have been for some time. Our skillset matches extremely well with what it takes to win at content marketing. In particular, we understand the whole process. In summary, producing content looks like this for us here at Distilled:

  1. Researching & identifying influencers and communities
  2. Keyword research & analysis
  3. Competitive content research
  4. Creative content generation
  5. Outreach and promotion
  6. Analytics, measurement and tracking

I’ll end this post by highlighting an in-depth analysis of what content promotion looks like and how a simple guest post can be more powerful than many other mainstream content channels:

In previous times, before the Internet, this was called the Oprah Effect. And don’t get me wrong, I’d still leap at the opportunity to share my message on cable with arguably the most persuasive person who ever walked the planet. (Producers—you can reach me via my website!)

But as more of our attention (and our book buying) shifts online, its only natural that the mantle Oprah held for a quarter of a century in introducing readers to new books, shifts to a digital native.

And in my opinion, the digital native who has taken up that mantle in the book world, is Tim Ferriss - source

Go read the whole piece, it’s fascinating and detailed.

We do an awful lot of guest posting as SEOs, and we’re already valuing the benefits of this above and beyond a simple link. Now is the time to understand content marketing.

Image Credit:  Movable Type www via Bigstock

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27 Comments

  1. Fantastic post. :]
    Big +1 and re-share on Google+

    Investing in page types is must. Search is evolving every day and people in the SEO/Social Media have to evolve together with Search or SPYW. "Adopt or die" time as Lee Odden said on his blog.

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    • Teodor

      I must agree with you. SEO is constantly changing, so we must adopt fast all new methods and think about twists. Also, sentence "there’s real value in not only sucking users in with content, but also keeping them engaged once they hit the site." - is nothing new, but unfortunately, many people don't get it serious. There are so many new sites every day, and considering that one of main parameters is based on how much visitors are staying at site, it is inevitable conclusion that content must be fresh and interesting, because that is the best way that you can keep visitors engaged.
      Buzzfeed is great example. I would like here to read opinion of other people about buzzfeed, because I was also amazed about how they monetized their site, and here is Tom speaking of them :) .
      What do you people think about buzzfeed?

  2. Great writeup, and a microcosm of how new all of this is. I write and illustrate my own digital graphic novel. I put the first issue online (I also do web design so that's helpful) but the one problem I have is finding the time (any time really) to do SEO work in a world where there are tons of advertising choices and not enough ways to cut through the noise.

    I'd be interested in what you think of the idea of giving SEOs percentages of sales and ad revenue for items sold? Do you consider this a viable payment option? I'm looking at it as a combination with selling digital goods directly on my site utilizing paypal's micropayment system.

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  3. If you need help convincing your CEO that your company needs a stronger content marketing strategy, just send this post over. Content creation can't just be industry news reblogged or pretty pictures - it needs to be shocking, a new idea, or at least a new opinion or look on industry news. Too often people are blogging about the generic facts and wondering why their not getting the links or attention... If you're going to put the resources into it (and you should), you've got to put enough resources in to do it right. Thanks for the great post!

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  4. Excellent post Tom. As I get more involved in the world of inbound marketing, it's become pretty obvious that SEOs are leading the movement.

    The SEO community creates amazing content and you guys are constantly helping each other to step up your game. I agree that well known SEOs are in the best position to offer inbound marketing services.

    Outside of SEO blogs, there are only a handful of service provider blogs that really seem to "get it". http://www.blueglass.com/blog/ & http://blog.kissmetrics.com/ consistently produce valuable content and Brian Clarke from http://www.copyblogger.com/ just started @entreproducer to help promote content marketing to a larger audience.

    The world of content marketing is evolving really fast and the SEO community is a perfect position to take advantage of it.

    P.S. I just wrote this sarcastic post about you and your brother - http://cpcstrategy.com/blog/2012/02/tom-critchlow-vs-will-critchlow/

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  5. alan

    Great post Tom. What are your thoughts on online retailers carrying out a content based strategy? Who do you think really kills with it? Who would you use as an example when faced with a retailer who you need to convince content marketing is a valid strategy for them?

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  6. Excellent overview of the opportunity Tom.

    Lee Odden has been championing crossover of content marketing efforts between SEO, PR and other marketing teams for some time now, both at conferences and through the Top Rank blog (http://www.toprankblog.com/category/content-marketing/). He's another good voice to add to the conversation.

    We've seen a lot of collaboration in these areas in recent years, especially at the enterprise level, which is definitely a good thing. It seems to be really picking up steam.

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  7. Great post...kind of caught my attention because I just wrote about content marketing a few days ago on my blog...too bad you blew mine out of the water!

    I think content marketing is going to grow ten fold as Google starts to move further away from ranking primarily off of link information, and focus more on the content the website hosts and is affiliated to as well as the social metrics that correspond with that. I see the demand for copywriters increasing in the future and scaling down the use of bulk link building and such. At least, I hope that's the case!

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  8. Awesome article Tom!

    I only wish some CEO's and Board Members would read it, understand it and willing to put it in practice!

    I know I will :)

    Alex

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  9. I have been constantly amazed that clients have a hard time grasping the importance of quality content to build their business and also their overall SEO strategy, and this post has made me realize that perhaps we as a community are responsible!

    We always market our services as SEO, Content Creation and other services - but we can really do a better job of stressing just how integrated these two aspects are.

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  10. Thanks for the nice read, Tom. I've enjoyed it a lot. I often see that people want backlinks really, really bad and don't have proper content yet. Creating content is not easy. It's most of the time easier than finding white hat linking partners though.

    As someone who works closely with Red Bull & the Red Bull Media House I have to ask:


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  11. Tom, you had me at hello! No seriously, Ive shared this post with our whole team. It crystallises with simple examples a lot of things we have been thinking about for some time and we are already moving in this direction with our own content and solutions for clients.

    Thanks for publishing.
    Edmund

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  12. Haven't read this yet, but big fan of the use of Travis Rice jumping out of the Red Bull helicopter. I think this is from The Art of Flight aka the greatest snowboarding movie ever made.

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  13. Scarerd Anonymous

    Can people please stop using the word 'content'?

    "We are hungry for and passionate about content. And not just content that will rank for keywords, but content that will be remarkable- content that will earn links and content that will convert users into customers."

    Don't you mean ideas? Writing? Language? Concepts? Visuals? People have always wanted something interesting and engaging; and long before we all started calling things 'content'.

    Such a horrible word.

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  14. Great post Tom. It seems clear to me that very website out there that wants to succeed needs to have a viable content strategy. This means, contrary to what many website owners think, a content strategy that is in addition to the website's core offering. I often hear - "there's content on my site, it tells people what we do, and where to get in touch with us. "

    This isn't enough! You need to be providing something of real value for your customers, not just a commercial offering.

    Come on guys get with it!

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  15. Graeme Banister

    A great read - thanks Tom. You know a subject is being taken seriously when it takes over 17 minutes for Coke to explain their content marketing philosophy!

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  16. I really wanted to carry on watching the Coca Cola brand strategy - but the fella's voice started to get on my nerves

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  17. Tom,

    This post came at the perfect time for me. A prospective client is looking to re brand their company. I find myself stumbling over words trying to explain the value and impact of content marketing. Scared Anonymous makes an excellent point and this article has helped express what I couldn't. Thanks

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  18. Very useful insight into the importance of well crafted content, its got me thinking how this can be applied to SME's who tend to be the majority of our clients. I too think that copywriters should be sharpening their pencils and forming relationships with design agencies and SEO specialists at all levels. Thanks for a thought provocing read.

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  19. Brands becoming publishers is a logical next step -- with people's DVRs skipping conventional advertising and a limited amount of product placement opportunities in studio-driven media, it makes sense brands would begin building content around THEM, instead of the other way round. Hasbro has been particularly smart about this, building their brands into successful Hollywood tentpoles ("Transformers," the upcoming "Battleship"). Brands are now controlling the medium and the message.

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  20. SEO's have crucial skills for marketing content correctly and efficiently. We'd love to see more SEO specialists working in the field!

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  21. "Brands Are Becoming Publishers" They are indeed. It's interesting times we're living in, and it will be fun to see it all play out. And it's not just articles and infographics when we talk about 'content' ---- it's the whole enchilado: articles, graphics, videos, radio, games, etc, etc.

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  22. Good analysis mate. I would love it if publishers as a whole improved the quality of their content b/c first and foremost, I am an avid fan of the blogosphere. So much so that I started my own blog and have encouraged others to do so as well.

    Best,

    Sam

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  23. Awesome post and is very helpful... agree SEO is changing day by day... and by the time we adapt to its new methods and technologies, a new method is brought out

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  24. I've been using some of these principles for a while, but I may need to step my game up a bit and start using 'thicker' post types and add in some more compelling visuals, infographics and videos. I've been tracking content with infographs for a while and noticing they have a much higher share ratio.

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  25. I think the strategies for content marketing differ, depending on your goals. If you're a publisher, and your business model relies on advertising, then engagement is your primary goal. But if your business model relies on selling products, you need to determine what types of content is most relevant to your target customers. What types of content would convert someone from a visitor to a buyer. In that instance, engagement is a metric, but probably not the most important one.

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