Since the debut of email, the world of marketing was forever changed. The ability to reach potential customers through electronic messaging launched the digital marketing revolution — for better or worse. Over the decades, brands have shifted from overt sales emails and Internet ads to social media and SEO-friendly blogs that capture search users’ attention.
Today, though, the digital world is highly value-driven and often gated. An increasing number of e-commerce conversions now happen via private messages. Content creators charge their audiences to view their videos and download their e-books. And Google has made it clear that it prioritizes its users’ search interests — and any attempts to hack your page ranking will get you de-listed.
Modern digital marketing has focused on providing value, such as putting out informational content for search and social or using lead magnets to build mailing lists. But with today’s strong emphasis on interpersonal messaging and networking, does content marketing still work? Or should we focus on building a one-on-one strategy that de-prioritizes SEO blogs and freebies?
Let’s take a look.
Does Content Marketing Still Work?
Re-Thinking SEO Content Marketing
Some content marketing strategies rely heavily on blogs and web pages meant to rank for certain keywords. While that can be helpful, it’s important to note that Google’s current algorithms emphasize search intent. That means it will show users the content that most aligns with their search history, apparent goals, and location. In other words, it’s not just about keywords anymore. Moreover, longtail queries and those phrased as a question (e.g. “Siri, how do you jump-start a car?”) are more likely to rank than general keywords and keyphrases.
Considering all that, it’s more challenging than ever to get your content to rank for your target audience. And when you do, you likely won’t get their attention unless you’re one of the top results (ideally, the coveted “Featured Snippet”). If your entire lead nurturing funnel depends on people finding your blogs via Google, you may be in trouble.
That’s not to say that SEO content doesn’t work. It simply requires a bit of extra care, and it should be a piece of your overall digital presence rather than the main thoroughfare to the purchase point.
The Problem with Lead Magnets
Consumers have wised up to the fact that brands will offer them a freebie in exchange for their email address. Many people will drop their email, download the goodie, then promptly unsubscribe (or simply ignore all your emails). Some even have a dedicated “throwaway” email address they use to access these freebies.
As so-called “lead magnets” are the cornerstone of many content marketing strategies, they could be a waste of brands’ energy if people don’t actually become leads. The solution is to turn the “magnet” into a “honeypot”:
- Rather than collecting people’s email addresses and immediately adding them to your brand’s newsletter, send them a targeted drip sequence that affirms their interests. Consider offering a free email course or series with content relevant to the freebie.
- Set expectations when people download your freebie. How often will you contact them? What can they expect to receive? Most importantly, what are the benefits they’ll get beyond the freebie?
- Use double opt-in. It’s easy to drop your email address and download a free goodie. To build a more qualified email list and ward off tire-kickers, require everyone to confirm their subscription in a secondary email.
Also, make sure that your lead magnet/honeypot primes each lead for your products or services. This is a wonderful opportunity to prove your expertise and get them excited about your brand. You should never have a mailing list merely for its own sake.
On that note, position your lead magnet — indeed, all of your content — as a helpful guide within your brand’s universe of solutions. Consumers typically believe that you’re after their money, which means it’s crucial to show that you care about their interests first and foremost.
Content as a Sign of Authenticity
Ads are technically content, but we know that they’re pure promotions. Even social posts marked as “sponsored” scream “ad!” to many users. Ultimately, anything that’s clearly pushing a purchase seems “sales-y,” and consumers may be skeptical even if they’re interested in your product. They often require multiple touchpoints before converting, which is why content marketing is a vital part of sales enablement. Indeed, nearly half of all buyers will view 3-5 content pieces before they speak with a sales rep.
Content marketing emerged as a way to provide value and build relationships before dropping the sales pitch. Unfortunately, many brands have cluttered the web and social platforms with what we call “covert sells.” This content masquerades as genuine, info-driven content but is actually quite sparse. Its only purpose is to boost a page’s ranking or followers. For example, a brand may reiterate the target keyword or tease an answer, then ask readers to purchase the solution.
That’s a disingenuous approach to content marketing, and thankfully, platforms are cracking down on it. A more effective strategy is to actually address your visitor’s questions and pique their interest. By speaking to them with a genuine tone and providing verifiable information, you demonstrate your brand authority.
It’s the difference between showing off and showing up. Imagine that your brand is a person attending a professional networking event. Are you the type to approach people, tell them how great you are, and hand them your business card? Or are you having conversations with others, finding shared interests, and forging a trustworthy relationship?
The latter is more effective — for both brands and individuals! Your content can and should be a sign of your authenticity, not just a tool for getting their attention.
Video is further cementing its role as the top-consumed form of content. As of 2021, we’re seeing average digital video consumption of 18 hours per week. That’s almost double the time from just four years ago. People love video because it’s a highly digestible medium, especially in our busy lives. Who hasn’t logged into YouTube or browsed Facebook videos while cooking dinner or waiting for the bus?
And speaking of authenticity, video reigns supreme. It’s easy to toss together a blog post or infographic, and many users are skeptical of photos and testimonials. Video is more difficult to fake, and it’s also a digital parallel of face-to-face conversation. Altogether, this makes it much more impactful than any other type of content.
Video also has major potential for discovery, especially as most social platforms have shifted to prioritize video content. People are much more likely to browse Reels than they are to read text-based posts. So, while some marketers have declared Instagram and Facebook “dead,” the truth is that video-driven campaigns now perform better on those platforms.
In sum, content marketers should absolutely embrace video as a key component of their strategy. Videos are often more engaging and authentic than written content, which makes them ideal for both top-of-funnel attraction and bottom-of-funnel nurturing.
Leveraging Gated Content to Nurture Prospects
Gated content includes any content that’s behind some sort of commitment, whether that’s an email signup, a digital purchase download, or a subscription (e.g. Patreon). A long-favored tactic of digital creators and online coaches, gated content has potential for many industries.
First, the mere act of subscribing to content makes consumers feel included and special. Many brands offer access to private Facebook groups, Mighty Networks communities, and other limited-access channels for those who qualify. It’s a bit like a chain store’s reward program, except the reward is content rather than discounts.
That content runs the gamut from in-depth virtual courses to highly active communities to expertly written books and cheat sheets. In any case, it provides a solution, which is what makes it so enticing to consumers. To demonstrate your authority and build a loyal community around your brand, consider releasing gated content to make your customers feel like VIPs.
So, does content marketing still work? Absolutely — if you treat it as a tool for building strong relationships rather than simply ranking highly on Google. Content is ultimately about connection, and great content will always stand out in a crowded sea of generic promotional material. Invest in the messages you want to send, and both the algorithms and your audience will reward you.