Lee Odden

A Challenge: Content or Die

Time after time, when I discuss the search and social media based opportunities for companies to reach new customers and achieve other online communications goals, it comes down to content.  Most companies understand the need to have a web presence and publish some kind of web site. For many, the creation of a web site is a one time event with minimal updates. Marketing budgets are tight and companies are frugal.

For the most part, updates and new content on many web sites are limited to news, an occasional press release or product announcement. Site owners are happy with the design and employees are happy they don’t need to come up with new content. IT staff do whatever they can to minimize site maintenance (which often means shortcuts or templatization that makes page level editing difficult). Essentially, this kind of web site with static content is a tombstone when it comes to being a search marketing asset.

When suggesting the need for new content, many web site owners either cringe at the idea, imagining resource issues, or they pay lip service and make a commitment that turns out to be a fraction of what the web marketing agency has in mind.   The importance of shifting from a dead end web site to becoming a content publisher (and promoter) is critical for any company that has customers and competitors active online.

When a company marketer says this, “We don’t have anything new to publish.” it’s pretty much a death sentence for the web site.  Businesses that are actually involved with meeting the needs of their customers, that take the time to learn pain points and solutions, that innovate, that participate in their industry or community, have plenty of reasons and content to publish.

It’s an important mind shift, which is why I used the stark title, Content or Die.  If the people responsible for the success of a company web site don’t have the resources or skills to make the shift from tombstone web site to active content marketing, the options are: hire people (internal or outside consultant) that can champion, implement and manage the change or get existing staff educated on to do so. Or things could remain as they are. Traffic dwindling, inquiries drying up and desperation.

When presented with a reasonable argument, most business web site owners will agree that content creation and promotion makes sense.  The more useful web pages that are published, the more there is for others to link to them and to show up in relevant search results. This can easily be demonstrated by showing how the competition is dominating the search results. Additionally, more search traffic means more data to analyze in terms of conversion optimization and the creation of new content to meet customer needs as they move through the site and into the sales pipeline.

These benefits are not realized over night. It takes a commitment, a plan, education and a bit of faith. The question is, “How bad does it have to get for a company to change?”.

I challenge companies that are seeing declines in their organic search based traffic to re-evaluate their web marketing strategy. Where does content creation AND promotion fit?  Are you SURE the content you’re creating is achieving the maximum possible effect?  How much content is enough? How will you manage content? How will you promote it? How will you plan the editorial of  content to be as efficient and productive as possible?   Are you measuring customer interactions with your content ON and OFF the site? What feedback mechanisms are in place for your content creators to know what’s working and what’s not? How can multiple departments responsible for creating content work together?  How can you make the corporate approval process more productive and less like a stranglehold on your content publishing plans?  How are you measuring up to competitor content strategies? What content strategy is reasonable given current resources but IMPACTFUL enough to give you a competitive edge?

I also challenge companies that are starting new web sites to take a fresh look at the content component of their web marketing strategy. Don’t make your fancy, flashy web site a tombstone for search marketing. Assess the landscape in your topical category and identify what kind of content structures, topics and audiences make the most sense for your own editorial plans. What will distinguish you from the competition? What are the most cost effective, yet high impact investments you can make to reach content marketing goals? What technologies will help your content creation, management and promotion yield the best possible results?

How has your company and web site have addressed these challenges? Is your company a tombstone web site? What objections are keeping you from making these changes?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Having “active” content shouldn't be seen as a chore, luxury or something those SEO guys do. It is joining the conversation. It is what today's Internet is all about.

    I think your title is spot on–join-in on the conversation or die.

    • Matthew, I think active content is best written by subject matter experts. The SEO consultant can provide guidance as to how to plan, organize, optimize and promote that content so it can better reach the intended audience. Or to be more accurate, so the intended audience can reach the content – via search.

      I agree on the “join on the conversation (with great content) or die.”. That sounds like a great topic for another post 🙂

      • Avatar MarcusSheridan says

        Good stuff Lee, really good actually. I think too many businesses have refused to accept this reality: WE ARE IN THE INFORMATION AGE….and frankly put, if we're not giving the consumer lots of info we will be labeled as antiquated and outdated. In 2010, businesses must embrace this paradigm or be left behind.

  2. Lee,

    Great post. Too many companies treat the Web site like a printed piece – a big redesign (focus on design), maybe some new content but no strategy for that content, publish and…there it sits. The great thing about the Web is that it can be updated – all the time, anytime. There are hundreds of easy and cheap/free CMS solutions that make updating just as easy as working in Word. The questions you ask are a great starting point – I'd go a step further and recommend having at least one person in charge of Web content. S/he might not do all of the writing, but can at least track content possibilities and an editorial calendar.

    • Having a person in charge of web content is a great idea Amanda. I call that person a “Champion” in the post. Many companies cannot afford to hire a specific person for this role, so it could be a shared responsibility for one person or an internal task force.

  3. Great article- could not agree more- very difficult getting people to see the truth shift that is occurring right now in the communications industry-

    • Kris, it is indeed a time of change for the comms industry. PR and Marketing alike are having to rethink what content is, let alone venture into the content publishing world.

  4. Avatar bencurnett says

    “Text is messy as hell.”- Kristina Halvorson

    If companies are serious about content marketing, they need to commit. To me, that means dedication to ownership. It's just too easy for written content to get messy, get lost, and get ignored. If no one owns it, I'd bet some integral part of my anatomy that the content marketing strategy fails.

    It follows that a company that's turning to content as a central part of their marketing strategy needs to plan for all of the challenges that that creates. I'd say having an editor, a librarian, a content strategist, or a “champion”, as you put it, Lee, is a necessity that should be seen as a fixed cost.

    Save on print, spend on content? Something close to that is how marketing managers should be thinking, IMO. Thanks for the post.

    • Great quote Ben.

      I think most companies don't realize how important it is to anticipate resources for creation, promotion and long term management. That means software and people resources too. Get web & social analytics in there for accountability of those resources and I think companies will have more to work with for future budget allocation and “knowing” performance.

  5. I totally agree, Lee. The way I end up explaining the “tombstone website” to clients interested in improvement or social media is by comparing static sites to having a business card online. Business cards provide little information and on the Internet they sit amongst thousands and thousands of others. They might look really awesome, but if you can't find it by performing a simple search on relevant keywords or share any of the information on your site, what is it doing for you? Or, as you've pointed out, what is it NOT doing?

    I also view content creation as an element of social marketing and conversation because the point at which you start talking and allow others to start sharing and commenting on your content, it's social. So regular publication not only boosts your search marketing efforts but also provides all the benefits (and challenges) of social media marketing.

  6. Very powerful article and love the analogy of the tombstone. Couldn’t be more accurate. The #1 challenge (which you pointed out) is the commitment that is needed — most will give up on the plan long before the benefits are achieved.

  7. Love the title and its very true. Advertising and marketing are changing; the challenge is getting the buy-in from businesses. Content is key. I've found that explaining in layman's terms that just SEO is dependent on fresh content gets them thinking. The eyes light up then!

  8. Avatar elmo033057 says

    I have two blogs and creating content is very time consuming for me. However, having said that, I agree that fresh valuable content is vital for not only search engines but also to help people feel that you are really helping them. Creating a herd that will follow your blog and do business with you is important too.

  9. Avatar Stephen Eugene Adams says

    As someone that let my website sit there and slowly die, I have become a convert to keeping it current. Since I started my activity, my website has shot up to the first page but I look ahead and wonder how long I can continue without losing interest. Content is king but “da Google” rules the world. I foresee a surge in people from the old advertising world becoming expert in putting the words to the Internet page. I, for one, am considering hiring a content person to handle all of my activity as well as my customers and clients.

    • Hiring a content person is a great idea Stephen.

      As for ideas on content, think about the common prospect and customer service questions that you answer frequently and use that to build an ongoing FAQ. Interview people in your industry, liveblog conferences, crowdsource, run contests and promotions and invite guest articles. Watch what content resonates with your audience best and do more. Watch trends in your analytics (web and social) and use that as a queue for more content topics. Endless 🙂

  10. Great post… every business must realize they are in the Content Creation business. If they're not in a business to solve problems and add value, they have nothing to offer except a lower price. Then they're a commodity and in a race to the lowest price and thinnest profit margins.

    Even the local pizza delivery place and dry cleaner is in the content business.
    The pizza delivery guy solves the quick, inexpensive meal when I don't feel like cooking and leaving the house problem;the dry cleaner solves the how do I keep my clothing clean and long-lasting problem.

    Too many businesses take the obvious for granted. Nearly 100 years ago, Claude Hopkins created content about Schlitz beer and the brewing process. Turned out people wanted to drink the beer and hear the story too.

  11. Avatar seansupplee says

    I started my blog at the beginning of this new year 2010. I decided I wanted to brand me and my name out there to the world and offer everyone what I know. So far the results have been good and researching and creating content I have to say it feels like I am back in school lol. I try and post at least every 3 days and its like a research project that I plan out. I figured quality content will always out beat quantity.

    Fresh quality content does keep your business growing and the visitors flowing.

    • Sean, if you watch the feedback mechanisms through analytics and blog readers, many ideas for content should follow. Plus, active involvement with social networks and other blogs your target audience visits can generate ideas for content as well.

  12. Here is an old rule! If you want to be really successful in affiliate marketing, you ought to drive traffic to your website. The more visitors to the website, the higher the probability of click through. Many affiliate guides forget to mention that it is always prudent to build traffic first and then consider affiliate marketing. There is no magic potion. If there is no traffic, there are no profits. Don’t worry, if you haven’t got hordes of visitors, even a few visitors will do initially. Once these visitors start trickling down the web drain, you can place banners and advertising in appropriate places to get the results. A good affiliate marketer doesn’t care about the number of clicks but on the average number of clicks per visitor.
    Such techniques, slowly but surely brings success. And with it comes a potential for much higher rewards………


  13. There are times when your company actually does not have anything new to publish. I think it is important that during the off peak period, spend time to promote your site instead.


  14. This post is so true. You need to take the time to add content regularly in order to build momentum for ones website.

  15. Avatar Pallavi Oberoi says

    Great post… “Content is king” the days of flashy, pretty website are passé, the companies which do not realize this are dodging the point of why have a web site.

  16. Hi Lee & Colleagues –
    I disagree – Content is King no more. I place it at Queen now in a mix of tactics. Content is not social – it doesn't engage prospects, person to person. Content doesn't close sales – people do. Visitor behavior trumps content every time. Recently three “expert” agencies were called in to increase conversions on a landing page for a number of brands. Under optimization testing, in one case, ALL three agencies submitted sharply written copy, and well designed graphics — but decreased conversions. So… just what is the new King? I think you can guess, but stop by and discuss/argue the case here, if you like: http://www.webfadds.com/2010/01/why-content-is-

    – Scott

  17. I definitely agree that it takes commitment in everything, coupled with hardwork and patience. These values will definitely get you a long, long way.

  18. Committing to content can be hard to do. From small businesses to large businesses content updates can be seen as unnecessary in relation to other business needs. Revising content can give customers new elements to look at and increase page view time. Overall, content updates are important if a company wants to remain on the first page of search engines. Great post!

  19. This is a good post. But the premise of creating “value” in content is only part of the problem. Companies often fail to create value in their products and services. Content may be an important part of your “product”. Eventually, the consumer _must_ value the output or they will leave for companies that _do_ provide value.

  20. Content is still the king provided that your content really is something that could bring forth potential clients. Content is a good way to attract customers, very very true and I really have to agree with the post. Exactly what you preach indeed. Great article.

  21. I can relate to this post as our clients respond in a similar manner. It is understandable as it does take a considerable amount of time to add content and respond to feedback. Some of the companies we work with who get it are creating new roles focused on content creation and social media interaction which is great.

    I don't necessarily agree with outsourcing content creation, in some cases it is probably OK, however getting knowledgeable, internal staff to contribute content is usually the best approach but certainly a challenge.

    The worst is the “lip service” scenario you mention where you end up with a simple blog with dull content which no one wants to read or link to, very common. The client gets no results therefore believes the strategy is ineffective.

  22. Great post, thanks for the info.

  23. I totally agree on the importance of fresh content. Funny, I've so often heard clients talk about the overload of information on the Web and how daunting it is, why do we need more? I think blogs and social media are such a terrific opportunity for companies to add flavor to their brand that goes way beyond what static “marketing” does — they add personality, approachability, education, nuance, and much more to a company's image. And of course there's the SEO value as well. But, no question that it requires you to make time – and lots of it!

  24. I totally agree on the importance of fresh content. Funny, I've so often heard clients talk about the overload of information on the Web and how daunting it is, why do we need more? I think blogs and social media are such a terrific opportunity for companies to add flavor to their brand that goes way beyond what static “marketing” does — they add personality, approachability, education, nuance, and much more to a company's image. And of course there's the SEO value as well. But, no question that it requires you to make time – and lots of it!