Lee Odden

5 Ways to Fail at Content Marketing & Tips to Succeed

Content Marketing FailThe value of content marketing has been well established here and in many other places on the web.  It’s nothing new for many marketers, especially those in B2B Content Marketing. As companies seek competitive advantages and to adjust their ability to reach and engage markets, the creation of content as a vehicle for key messages and influence has grown substantially.

I hate to say it, but some online marketers are pretty lazy. They take shortcuts in order to find the least amount of effort for the highest impact. That’s a workable short term strategy if you have a disposable brand. Long term, it can cause problems if content does not add significant value.  The recent Google Panda update has drawn a lot of attention to the consequences of such short term thinking with low quality content being dropping from Google search visibility.

The temptation is understandable with pressures for increased marketing performance, competition and the need to create advantage. But there are risks to short term thinking with content marketing too. Here are a few ways that many companies #fail in the content marketing space:

Targeting From the Gut vs. to Personas

How much marketing budget do you think is allocated based mostly on intuition? Way too much and it’s no different with content marketing. Marketers often make decisions about content marketing strategy and tactical mix based on what’s popular or guesswork.  Blogs, ebooks, reports, webinars and email newsletters are pretty popular as are social content like Video, Social Networks and things like Twitter. But based on what?

In the way that best practices SEO doesn’t make ASSumptions about keywords, content marketers would do well not to assume what kind of content or publishing platform is best for reaching their customers without research. Developing personas that exemplify desirable customer groups gives useful direction towards content marketing strategy, messaging and topics. Without the research into how target customers discover, consume and share information, content marketing is akin to “throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks” and that’s hardly efficient or effective.

Building the Army on Day 1 of the War

“Great content is dead until someone shares it”.  Promotion is an essential component to content marketing and developing communities and distribution channels are key for expanding reach and engagement. The mistake many marketers make is to craft a compelling piece of content and the start blasting Twitter, blogs, social news and bookmarking sites with links.  More savvy marketers will decide to start building networks on those channels at the same time they’re promoting.  It’s an item on their checklist to fan, friend and follow relevant contacts to build a network.

The problem is, for effective content marketing those networks need to be in place BEFORE you start promotions.  Otherwise, it’s like declaring war and starting to build your army of fans the same day. You need that army in place and ready to activate long before the time comes to ask them to help promote. That means participation NOW, not later.  Once you’ve identified relevant communities, blogs and platforms, start creating signals of value and credibility through interaction – a small amount of time, consistently.  When the time comes to execute a particular promotion, there should be a network in place with clarity of purpose for the relationship.

Campaign vs. Ongoing

Much like SEO, content marketing is a commitment and ongoing. When companies ask us about the viability of SEO for their online marketing, I recommend to “get in it to win it” for the long term or don’t get in at all. The same is true with content marketing. It’s not an individual campaign that you start and stop. That said, a content marketing strategy may call for a string of integrated campaign efforts across different channels and communities with distinct objectives and tactics in mind. But it’s an ongoing effort, not a single “content marketing campaign”.

Not Repurposing Content

Creating original content takes talent and doing so over the long term takes a lot of hard work.  To be an efficient and effective content marketer, it’s essential to plan the repurposing of the content you create. There are many ways to do this to add value to online marketing efforts. One example I often use involves taking screen shots of videos and transcribing the audio to text (transcript) for use as a separate blog post.

Another approach is to use modular content that has common key messages but can be customized for specific vertical markets or audiences. For example, a “How to Buy Product XYZ” article could be focused on different publications according to the varied reasons customers would want to buy the product – ie customized according to personas.  Yet another way to repurpose content is to take parts of numerous articles and compile them into one aggregated list.  We’ve done this with interviews where 2-3 of 10 questions for each of 20 plus interviews are very similar and designed to evoke tips as responses. The answers to those tactical questions are compiled into a new blog post or ebook as a list of tips from numerous industry experts.

The key thing about repurposing content is that it must still be accountable to a target audience, not just republish the same thing on multiple websites.

No Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

While awareness of the notion of SEO has grown quite a bit amongst the content marketing community, defining what SEO is can be varied. Many content professionals focus on keyword use as the defining characteristic of improving their content’s visibility on search engines.  Some content pros don’t use keyword research because they feel it might compromise their writing quality.  Bad keyword optimization implementation does degrade content quality.  However, great SEO is transparent and actually improves readability and user experience. If you think badly optimized copy represents all SEO, then you are mistaken.

A SEO professional would include many more points of impact on how search engines decide what’s on top and what’s not.  Keywords are important, but alone do not constitute Search Engine Optimization. Content Marketing that does not leverage the full impact of SEO to help search engines crawl, index and rank content means lost search traffic.  Website code, site architecture, keyword use within content, internal links between pages of the site, social signals, links from other websites to pages and other characteristics all contribute to the performance of content in search. Here’s a post listing 10 Steps to Better Content Marketing & SEO performance that illustrates how.

Hopefully, being aware of some of the short term approaches to content marketing with help you focus on creating real, sustainable value for your target audience.  If you’ve been developing a content marketing strategy and tested tactics, what have you found to be most successful? What mistakes have you seen form others?

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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. Great post – and a great reminder to take a look at what I am currently doing. I know that I have always struggled with SEO and how to actually make it work…the article you liked to definitely helped 🙂

    • Avatar Jonathan Kidder says

      @Kirstenwright SEO implementation takes months to cultivate. Most of it has to do with refreshing your content. That’s why this post is relevant!

    • Glad it was helpful Kristen – it’s a cycle of create, promote, measure and refine. Repeat. 🙂

  2. I went back and forth with the decision to optimize for SEO or just write. I decided to just write, that is until I setup with a new theme product that analyzes my content after its done.

    I’m now able to build my content, analyze it and then make appropriate changes that makes the content better than my non-optimized version.

    Thank you for the great information!

    • Thanks for that Kirk. I think it can go either way – write for creative and then optimize or optimize from the start. It really depends on the best process for the writer I think.

  3. I also made the decision to write so I could build my content, analyze and adapt as needed.

  4. wow this looks great! Thanks for the great posts were really learning and implementing a lot on this with tsheets thanks so much!

  5. Avatar Jared Stevens says

    Thanks for all the tips; the funniest thing about internet marketing, for me, has been that when I just focus on giving out quality information I tend to get a better response.

    • I’m a fan of quality info, but alone it doesn’t work well in a competitive market. Quality content + network and promotion are the win.

  6. You made some very interesting points in your post concerning building a network on social media platforms and targeting personas. Taking short cuts in marketing may save you money at the time but will only cost you more in the long run in terms of money, clients and profits. Establishing yourself as an expert in your field goes a long way in building a solid and substantial network. Consistently post valid and beneficial information in the form of blogs, articles, reports, newsletters, etc. to make this happen. Allowing others to share this information and link to your posts is a great marketing strategy.

  7. Avatar James Williams says

    I think this is a great post. I think what your getting at is that most organizations fail to treat content marketing as an actual marketing investment. By that I mean if you have to air an ad or start a promotion, there is a process analyzing how it will be done, what will be said, who it is targeting etc, distribution channels etc.

    As a marketer working with a small company, I’ve just started on developing a social network for the company, including content marketing. Based on how it is going right now, I’d recommend that anyone who wants to get involved in this sit down, plan things out, and use the plan as a guideline, to be adjusted based on success and failure. Having this plan written down helps when it comes to getting second opinions and advice, and can keep things consistent in spite of employee turnover.

    Ultimately, I think that content marketing needs to follow in line with the corporate marketing strategy and the corporate culture.

  8. What can a website offer without SEO. These tips are magical, I cant stop learning.

  9. Interesting stuff – especially like the “customized” content by vertical aspect. We ran a survey of B2B Technology Markets on Content Marketing recently – the data seems to agree with many of your sentiments – here’s the link for those interested in the raw response data: http://www.techvalidate.com/2011_b2b_content_marketing_survey

  10. I’m loving your ideas here. I too agree that intuition and fads guide far too many marketers out there!! I just finished a book which changed my ideas about marketing all together ‘How Brands Grow…what marketers don’t know’ by Byron Sharp. Have you read it? It is based on empirical evidence rather than guess work.

    Thanks for your article!

  11. Excellent post Lee. These are ALL stumble-out-of-the-gate errors. I run into them time and again with my clients (particularly the first 2!).

    Hope you don’t mind; I expounded on one of the points (“Campaign vs. Ongoing”) on my own blog.

  12. I think that the section “Campaign vs Ongoing” is a topic that can fill an entire blog post. Specifically, you see a lot of campaigns start with a really clear view of “Phase 1 Launch” of content. Great, get the site launched, that’s an obvious must.But you need to think about Phase 2 and beyond. That is, unless your brand and audience is never going to want more information, you really need to think about content updates. And that’s not just for websites, it’s for all channels. How many times will people return to your website before they decide that the content is dead?Sometimes it’s hard to think about Phase 2 and 3 when you’re in the planning stage of Phase 1. Buddy

  13. I always believe the content which comes from the mind instantly..instead of picking up the best keywords.

  14. Great Insight. For me, letting your thoughts flow for starters and worry about the keywords after is the sure way to go. Having to consider keywords as you write makes the task more tedious than it really is.

  15. Avatar Kim sanders says

    Thank for sharing those SEO ways that fail, now beginners exactly know what to avoid in content marketing.

  16. Avatar Lorenzo Cicetti says

    I never really focus on identifying mistakes in internet marketing, but I find this post really helpful. It makes us realize what not to do and what we should do instead.

  17. Thanks for sharing a wonderful article

  18. Very well presented post.The lifeblood of any blog is creation of content that will bring readers to our sites.To many newbies will just siphon in dupe content and not alter that content so it’s something that a reader might be looking for.Use of keywords should be within the body of your content as these are what people search for on the search engines,and if you want ranking then keywords are a must.To many marketers are trying to go for the kill shot to early,been fed by to many lies,make the quick buck.Not to build a long term business.

  19. Hi there, this is well written article. I just have a small question, normally how many contents should a blog has before we start promoting?

  20. socialmedia marketing

     Thanks for the great article and from this article starters will know what to keep away from content marketing.