A steady transformation is taking place in online marketing. The strategies for getting your website seen by existing and prospective customers are changing. Instead of focusing exclusively on SEO, or search engine optimization, many companies are shifting their attention to content marketing.
Up until recently, SEO experts could get pages to rank high in search engine results, even if the content was low-quality or nonexistent. Remember when you could click on a listing only to be taken to a page that had nothing but ads and other links? Not everybody tried to game the system, of course, but writers learned to fill their content with keywords to catch the attention of Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
But as search-engine algorithms have evolved, traditional SEO strategies are changing. Low-quality or “thin” content no longer makes it to the top of search results. Today, rankings rely far more heavily on high-quality content — so much so that 34 percent of marketers who made SEO their focus in 2012 say they plan to focus on content marketing in 2013, a recent survey by CopyPress shows.
Not sure what content marketing is, why you should care, or how to get started? Here’s a small-business primer.
What Is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is the creation and distribution of high-quality content that aims to change or influence consumer behavior. The information isn’t primarily focused on ranking highly in search engines or making a direct sale; it’s focused on providing customers with valuable information, in the hopes that they will support businesses that have their interests in mind.
You see, content marketers understand that people consume online content differently today than they did a few years ago. Specifically, consumers know how to look beyond hard-sell marketing messages and only take in information that’s valuable to them. They only have to read a few sentences to know whether your content is worth reading in full. They know the writer’s intentions, and they won’t stay long if they believe they’re reading a sales pitch.
Why You Should Focus on Content Marketing
1. Quality content is timeless. When the new Google algorithm was released in 2011, some sites that relied on traditional SEO lost as much as 90 percent of their revenue. Sites that focused on high-quality, informative content were instantly ranked higher.
Regardless of how search engines change in the future, human readers will prefer well-written content. It’s humans, not search engines, that will drive revenue to your business. Design your site and write your content for human eyes.
2. SEO does not build a brand. Focusing on how a search engine will see your website doesn’t do anything to build your brand. That’s because you’re putting the mechanics of the content above the content’s potential impact on your existing and prospective customers. Content marketing focuses more on building relationships — something that has long-term, sustained benefits for your business.
3. SEO is more expensive over time. Rates vary widely with one study finding the monthly retainer for SEO professionals to be $250-$5,000 per month while another study found content marketing starts at approximately $2,000 monthly and may reach as high as $20,000.
A better way to compare costs is by comparing return on investment. According to a study by Kapost, the cost per lead drops 80 percent in the first five months through content marketing. Because content marketing aims to build an audience and influence, the efforts become more cost effective as the audience is built. (An increasing amount of people talk about and share your content as your efforts continue.)
While modern SEO often includes elements of content marketing, it’s primarily aimed at search engines and as a result, doesn’t have the potential to build as large of a loyal following that helps to bring marketing costs down.
How to Get Started with Content Marketing
1. Create great content. With countless websites competing for your customers’ attention, the content you create for your website and social media channels can’t be merely good or ordinary. It has to be so unique that it stands out above your competitors.
Looking for inspiration? The 2012 Web Marketing Association’s winner for best small business website was my1stop.com, a small business that offers printing services online. Past winners are included on the WMA’s site as well.
2. Don’t expect overnight results. Content marketing is a long-term and sustainable approach to gaining market share. Be patient. It may take 18 months or more to see the full benefit of your efforts, but long-term investments tend to have a larger payoff.
3. Don’t hire the cheapest people. If you aren’t adept at writing or PR, hire someone to assist you. But keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Yes, you can hire freelancers who will work for a few dollars per hour. That seems like a bargain — until you see their product. Beware of anyone charging rock-bottom prices, which likely means they lack experience.
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