Why your content marketing program could be failing
From the blueprint to the foundation, content marketing is a lot like building a house, says columnist Drew Eastmead. He explains why all the steps in the process are needed to create a strong content marketing program.
Content marketing is like building a house. You can be creative, but you must follow a process. If you skip critical steps such as the user experience you provide on your website, you will be creating a house on top of a weak foundation.
As your company’s content architect, it’s important to understand the five basic steps of producing digital content that can succeed. Let’s call this the content marketing maturity model:
This is your formula for building your content marketing house. Have you followed it, in order?
My contention is that as a content marketer, you and your team have a solid grasp on elements 1, 3, 4 and 5. Whether you’re a large B2B company or a small B2C organization, you understand your approach, and you have recruited teammates, freelancers or agencies to help you achieve these steps.
But what about step number 2, user experience? Do you have input into your website’s design, user flow, navigation elements, or branding? If you, the content architect, don’t pay attention to user experience, you will produce a house of cards.
Here’s how to build a stronger content marketing program:
Search engine optimization: The foundation
First, you cater to the search engines, using search engine optimization. This is your home’s foundation, your concrete. SEO sets the stage for practically all of your digital content efforts.
If you don’t play by the rules of the algorithm, and your teams aren’t continually injecting SEO best practices into your online content, then your content has virtually zero chance of being found, and thus zero chance of succeeding. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Go back to “Start.”
Work with your SEO team to make sure you aren’t building your content house on a foundation of sand.
User experience: The window dressing
Congratulations, you’ve graduated to to the second part of our content marketing maturity model. Now that you’ve catered to the search engines, it’s time to cater to your audience. Let’s make sure our house is in an attractive neighborhood, the yard is freshly mowed, and the interior is practical.
It would be unwise to skip to content strategy or creation at this point because of people’s online habits. According to an oft-cited study by Jakob Nielsen, web readers spend 20% of their time actually reading content on any given page, and the other 80% focusing on UX elements like understanding page layout, structure, and overall navigation.
User experience is the most overlooked step in content marketing. Why? Because web design is often housed in a completely separate department from content.
IT usually dictates how, when and what website changes will take place. Teams of web developers, graphic designers, and programmers are constructing the environment in which your audience will consume your content.
As content marketers, we must:
- Push through this challenge and regularly work with our IT teams
- Identify people in our organizations who are passionate about UX
- Be an advocate for our customers and put ourselves in the reader’s state of mind
With great power comes great responsibility. As content publishers, we have power over our prospects’ time, and that is one of the most valuable commodities we can ask for. We must respect our customers’ time by constructing a website that is intuitive. Regularly check your content pages for:
- Overall sense of purpose: Is it clear within a few seconds?
- Some system of breadcrumbs
- Content chunking
- Unnecessary distractions
- Overwhelmingly clear call-to-action buttons
- Expected and unexpected behaviors: Do your forms work? Do error messages make sense?
- A clear, logical next step
I spend hours on the internet every day and constantly come across experiences that are subpar, leaving a poor taste in my mouth. Here are just two examples of where a content marketer could have stepped in and helped construct a better user experience:
- I found some premium content I wanted to read on The Wall Street Journal’s website. I successfully logged in multiple times, yet the content remained hidden, and no error message was displayed.
As content strategist and UX specialist Melissa Eggleston says, “poor UX can drown out great content.” In this example — the content wasn’t even visible!
- On solarenergy.net, the page below contains a blog post with useful, educational content.
UX areas of improvement include:
- Top navigation is remarkably sparse. It took me more than 30 seconds to figure out that the random yellow circle (a “sun”) in the top right is in fact the link to go home.
- The numbered subheads are very difficult to read (all caps, tight kerning).
- Since the body text is black, why are the hyperlinks within the article gray? They are too washed out to really notice.
- Compelling images and calls-to-action buttons are lacking.
Content marketing is about being helpful and putting ourselves in the customer’s state of mind, but this approach shouldn’t be limited to the time we spend producing the content. We should extend this line of thinking to when we are producing the online experience that surrounds our content.
Your content can only be as good as the on-site user experience. Even if you are producing “10x content” (steps 3 and 4 in the content maturity model) and it’s being found in the search engines (step 1 in the content maturity model), your content can only reach its potential if the on-site user experience is seamless.
“Next to good content, good UX is your best ally in winning over new customers and retaining existing ones,” Kevin Nichols, co-author of “UX for Dummies,” told the Content Marketing Institute.
Content strategy: The blueprint
The final three steps of the content maturity model are likely areas that you have already paid much attention to. But because you’ve ensured that SEO and UX are in tip-top shape, you now have a much higher ceiling for your content to perform well.
- Has improved SEO increased your website traffic? Consider tweaking your content strategy to account for these new visitors.
- Has improved UX reduced your bounce rate? You now need a refined content strategy to appeal to users who are staying longer on your website.
- Has improved UX increased conversions? You may be ready for a more robust content strategy that capitalizes on previously underperforming areas of your website.
Dozens more questions could be gleaned at this point in the process. The important takeaway here is that by following our building process, in order, we are able to graduate to subsequent steps with more knowledge, confidence and purpose.
Content creation: Construction time
Your content is ready to flourish. You can apply the lessons you learned in the first three steps not only in developing new content for your website, but also in refreshing existing content. Consider adding to your previously published content:
- semantic keywords
- H2s and H3s
- sections and shorter paragraphs
- images and graphics
- links to related content
- more prominent CTAs
We recently completed a large-scale exercise following this approach and doubled traffic to more than a hundred pages.
Content distribution: Getting our house noticed
You’ve mastered the first four layers of our content marketing maturity model. Now it’s time to think about distributing your content beyond your website. SEO and UX are mostly out of your control here, but you can choose to promote or share your content only on websites that have:
- a strong SEO profile and domain authority
- a clear tie to your users’ interests
- an emphasis on user experience and education over ads and “noise”
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
How did I get here? Well, you built it by following all the steps of the content marketing maturity model. You didn’t ignore what so many do: user experience. Remember, your content house must have a strong foundation before you can paint the walls or decorate the living room.
I encourage you to think about how you can bring step No. 2, user experience, closer to your team. Unless you can offer your readers an online experience — whether that’s desktop or mobile — that is pleasant, predictable and seamless, you aren’t giving your content a chance to fully succeed.