I’ve been around the organic search sector data for nearly a decade.I’ve spoken to agencies and clients extensively about both their marketing objectives and, behind closed doors or in a bar, their frustrations.The issues with their content marketing performance nearly always seemed to come down to two things: data and people.

Your plan talks about content strategy, content marketing channels, landing pages, social newsrooms and lots of other flavors of the content lexicon. What’s not in there is a stated requirement or expectation that you should have published the high-value content that satisfies what searchers are looking for and the quality of that content should brilliantly answer the queries.“One of the challenges we face is that we have a two core purposes for our content – drive conversion, and explain the technology,” he says. “The reasons for the latter are that (a) it helps to justify the price point and (b) we are really genuinely rather keen for people to get as excited about the technology as we do.”Mark House is the Programme Manager at Bibby Financial Services, a multinational corporation which provides financial services to SMBs, believes it is imperative to have clear objectives.“I love the idea of making sure that the content has a target and that it is exceeded,” he says.“It helps to create more focus on the page and to deliver quality to both a search engine and the end user who might find that content useful. It also drives research better – if you are targeted at getting X visits or activities then the research around end-user needs and keywords will be more complete.”House also reminds us that search is all about the consumer.“It has to meet their demands, and in this age we know more and more about what they do and don’t like – make sure you include this in your research and targeting, and you will be on the right track.”Stephen Morris SEO and Content Specialist at TSB argues that the key to successful content strategy is that ability to “cut through noise” and “produce content that is both visible to – and resonates with – your audience”.

We all put things off that we should be doing in favor of what we think is an easier way to spend our time.And let’s face it, planning takes time and can be pretty technical if you are up for getting knee-deep in data.Skinner adds that there’s also a risk that: ”By putting off a proper audit today, the amount of issues and workload that an audit tomorrow will find grows continually until the whole thing turns from regular, affordable review and maintenance into a giant, expensive project.”Morris has a more pragmatic approach and reminds us that, although there are never enough hours in the day, there is always support available if you have a bit of budget or buy-in from other functions. “If you’re new to a role or company, an audit is vital to understand what content you have and how it’s performing before you can start looking for gaps.Not only will it save time, but it may also be political to have it done externally in order to get an independent view,” he says.

Brands are precious things.We want to build our own and disrupt others.To help, we appoint teams that create and police guidelines.These guidelines include graphical instructions as well as guidance on things like tone of voice and language use.Because of this, brand agencies are often the authors of web pages and their best copywriters craft copy them to briefs that are agonized over.When published, they are exactly what the agency and brand wanted to say.So what’s the issue? It’s just that all too often they don’t reflect what searchers wanted to find, they are not optimized for search and not designed to compete on Google.Which doesn’t stop CMO expecting them to compete, of course!This disconnect can cost traffic at the very least, but I’d also argue brand equity, too.I say this as I suspect that consumers are more about depth and detail, and less about the art of persuasive ad copy than ever before.But whilst so many of us are fixated on the future, Morris encourages us to look to the past.“That Venn diagram that we’re all so fond of, that shows the intersection between what brands want to say and what (potential) customers want to know, is still appropriate to wheel out some days.”He believes that although it’s important to understand how a brand speaks and presents things, it’s also important to think about what the target audience is searching for, “so that you can legitimately have an opinion on and create the brand’s answer.”

Red Tape
The bigger the company the more red tape there is.How many people are going to be involved in the briefing, sign-off, and publishing? How many opinions are going to be voiced and listened to?The more there are, the slower it goes and content by committee can often turn out to be little more than average.House has also experienced difficulties in this area and has studied disruption in larger firms extensively.“For sure they are slower to move because the decision-making process is well known (to competitors) and highly collegiate,” he says.He also suggests that it’s important to keep an eye on their competition and to learn from their success.“When offering advice to some of these larger firms, who are often concerned about the newer entrants in their marketplace, my advice is to follow those things that these entrants do well.One of them is the ability to look at data and to get things out there – these entrants use people who are good at what they do and they empower and trust their ability to get the job done.Big organizations can learn a lot from that.”Taking a slightly different approach, Morris suggests that the answer lies in preparation.“If you’re in a big organization, you need to create frameworks,” he says.“Get people to approve them and understand that you’re not going to ask them to sign off on everything after that.”

Conversion Rate Optimisation makes companies a lot of money.Getting people to click the big green button with as few distractions as possible comes at a price.Great main and supplementary content.There needs to be a balance with no harmful compromise.Everyone needs to win this battle.“This comes back to delivering what the customer wants to get the action that the business needs,” says Mark House.“It is genuinely a science and in almost all instances experts are better placed to deliver the goals that every customer and business wants.”

Knowing what content is needed in your market is not rocket science, but data-driven content planning is a must.But it’s one thing coming up with content ideas and another proving that they’re actually valuable.“One of the things we used to do back in the day at Sift that a lot of clients got a lot of value from was deep investigation,typically by interview, of all the potential sources of content (most of which were previously not considered) within an organization,” says Skinner.“But it was still rather theoretical – just because we found it,doesn’t mean anyone wanted to consume it.Newer technology means test and iterate becomes much easier,including around content.”House has a similar belief, explaining that, “Ideas have to be founded on real information that is up to date and genuinely reflects what your customers want.So many times, decisions and ideas are based upon what it is believed they want (or in fact what anyone in the room would want), and that is not the path to awesome achievements.”

For some companies, budgets are an issue but money is not.What I mean is, there’s budget for paidsearch,display ads, retargeting, social media, agencies and more.Only a fraction of any one of these is needed to drive up the execution quality of the website’s content and ROI.Yet the money is not spent.Weird.House argues that it’s often a case of ‘doing’ just to be seen ‘doing’.“In so many cases, spending money is often just to be able to say ‘I do this’ whenever there are questions about a business’ approach to delivering marketing,” he ponders.“It is a sweeping generalization, yet a more critical assessment of what your customers want, what the business needs and what activities would deliver these at the lowest cost and highestreturn are surely the best way forward.This is how smaller firms or new market entrants operate and is something that larger firms really ought to take notice of.”But is this a new issue? Morris argues not.“I’m not sure whether it’s about content or just spending money on something ‘new’. We’ve had the same debates around SEO and social media spending over the years.Those holding the purse-strings need to understand the value and then commit to it, but there will be pressure from other areas for that same budget,” he says.

“Crucially, everyone has to work as a joined up team,” says Skinner.“The barrier is often lack of consensus, mutual objectives, and mutual understanding of the benefits.That’s not a challenge unique to content, it’s a wider digital challenge.”But genuine talent is hard to find, argues House.“They don’t advertise.They don’t need to. The world is full of people who can write, can deliver search, and so much more.”And as many of us are becoming increasingly aware, talent is harnessable in a number of ways.As House suggests, “For many, it is easier to just outsource and challenge and make sure that the firms or people you use are more talented than you have the ability to directly acquire”.Interestingly, Morris approaches the issue from quite a different perspective, suggesting that, “The skills to deliver this stuff exists in many companies, but having leaders that can unlock closed doors and get access to expertise that may sit outside the immediate team is key”.

Different to procrastination, this is about timing.If the number one project in the business is another project and that’s taking 100% of resource, other things, however necessary and desired, can sometimes take priority.So what should always be a top priority becomes a mid-tier to-do.“Timing is everything,” House agrees.“This is the one area that is all about the data and the business.The customer need is also highly important, but if you are debating timing, you’re probably aware of this.If you’re not debating timing, you’re probably not quite there with the customer need.”Morris, however, suggests that it’s not always so black and white.“Resources always shift with business priorities.So you could find your editorial team becoming copywriters feeding into projects, with multiple stand-ups and dial-ins and minimal time to deliver a content strategy.

There’s a lot of very average content out there that’s published by companies that should know better. Behind this is often a perception that, if it ain’t broke, it don’t need fixing.My opinion is that given the potential ROI of the fix,the CFO might have a different view.Skinner believes there’s a general need for digital education in what might be termed “traditional” businesses.“Even as little as 5 years ago, our web ambition was not much more than having a decent online brochure.We’re investing huge sums in transforming our digital capability, and part of that is educating the senior team in the art of the possible.House argues that money, or at least how it is perceived and invested by every member of a company’s team, is pertinent to doing modern business.“I have always treated business money as my own, judging decisions on whether I would spend it myself.Sometimes I have underinvested, and I have learnt from that, but mostly I cannot stand the ‘we have to do this because we always have’ or ‘why don’t we give this a few more months’ approach.These are both statements of fear, and fear is always near to the unknown.If you don’t understand why you are doing something, make it your business to find out.Really understand what adds value and make sure you only ever do those things,” he expands.


Peter Zmijewski is the founder and CEO at KeywordSpy.His expert knowledge on Internet Marketing practices and techniques has earned him the title “Internet Marketing Guru“ He is also an innovator, investor and entrepreneur widely recognized by the top players in the industry.