Is Content Marketing a Zero Sum Game?

preventing content mistakes

Some interesting and perhaps unsettling numbers were revealed last week at the Content Marketing World conference in Cleveland, Ohio. According to what Forbes contributor Mikal E. Belicove calls “a groundbreaking new content marketing study” by InboundWriter, a content analytics software startup, on average, website content has a 10%-20% chance of being successful. Belicove says that “should send shivers down the spines of business owners and content marketers alike.”

InboundWriter evaluated traffic performance of several brands “with substantial investments in the production side of online marketing.” Here’s how the company came up with these numbers, according to its recent press release [emphasis ours throughout]:

[T]he InboundWriter team examined traffic patterns (measured via organic page views in the past year) for more than 110,000 pages and 32,000,000 page views over a 10 site sample. The research showed that, on average, only 20 percent of a company’s web pages drive 90 percent of its web traffic, and only half of a percent of a website’s content drives more than 50 percent of its web traffic.

These traffic patterns were consistent across all sites in the study. This means that for every 10 articles developed for a website, only one or two will actually drive meaningful traffic. In some cases, the numbers were even more extreme, with 20 percent of the content driving 98 percent of a company’s web traffic.

According to the company CEO Skip Besthoff, this research proves that with the “hit or miss” approach many content marketers and digital publishers currently take, it’s “miss” up to 90% of the time. Not very encouraging news indeed.

Also last week, Besthoff published some tips on the Content Marketing Institute’s website, on how to improve website content and its performance. Cranking out as much content as possible as a best practice doesn’t work, he reiterates, even if it’s well-written and optimized. That traffic and engagement would follow is not a given.

Besthoff writes:

Your competitors are doing the exact same thing, and the net effect is that a lot of relatively low-quality content is flooding the market. Rather than providing your audience with valuable information that builds trust, credibility, and engagement, this approach creates a cluttered and frustrating experience — the exact opposite of the desired effect.

The reality is that 80% of your content drives little to no traffic, he notes. When you factor in the cost of creating and maintaining that content, “this results in significant waste and lost opportunity.”

Another aspect is, he says, “Most of the performance of your content is locked in before you even put pen to paper.” This means that fighting for your audience is what Besthoff calls a zero sum game: “Only so many people are searching for a given topic or subject in a given month. […] In truth, there is an alphabet soup of behind-the-scenes analytic factors involved in driving content success, and these criteria go well beyond the content itself.”

Perhaps the most troubling fact revealed by the InboundWriter research is that most marketers and publishers don’t even understand why their online content isn’t performing well. Belicove thinks the direct consequence is creating even more content. He writes:

That’s because your average website — aided by an uninformed content marketer — is always attempting to gain lost ground. Or they’re hoping that a new piece of content will fall into the ‘hit’ category. In either case, your company’s investment in content rarely pays off.

Beshoff offers content marketers five tips for developing a strategy to improve content performance:

1. Develop concrete objectives
2. Do research before you put pen to paper
3. Don’t overlook the small stuff
4. Solidify your website content’s role in your marketing strategy
5. Always track your progress

It’s not all doom and gloom, apparently. Change your mindset first, Besthoff advises, and your audience will find you:

Understanding your particular performance issues, realizing where your content investments aren’t yielding results, and deciding that you are willing to make necessary changes are the first, and most important, steps you can take. From there, you will find that implementing a content quality initiative is not a herculean task; and once you see the performance it yields, you will never look back.

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About Tatyana Meshcheryakova

Tatyana has been a journalist and editor for more than 17 years, including stints at AOL and a number of trade and consumer publications in Philadelphia, covering digital technology and the publishing industry. In addition to editing hundreds of articles and blog posts each month, Tatyana is responsible for training new journalists and editors that join our team. Tatyana has a B.A. in Journalism from Temple University, and is fluent in Russian.

  

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