by James A. Martin

10 common content marketing mistakes (and how to avoid them)

Jun 29, 2016

Whether it's playing it too safe or forgoing video for simple words and pictures, content marketers often fall into the same traps. A group of seasoned marketing pros share tips on how to avoid 10 of the most common mistakes.

content marketing failure
Credit: Thinkstock

“Behind every piece of bad content is an executive who asked for it.” 

This tweet-worthy comment comes from Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group, a content marketing and development firm. Too often, when executives ask for marketing content, no clear vision exists for it, Brenner said during a session at the recent Marketing Nation Summit in Las Vegas. “What will be the business impact of the content requested?” he asked. “How will it be measured?”

As much as 60 to 70 percent of B2B marketing content goes unused, according to SiriusDecisions, so content creators clearly don’t put enough thought and strategy into the majority of marketing efforts. Brenner also said marketers need to earn customers’ attention — rather than “interrupt their experience” — answer buyer questions, and focus on being helpful.

Here are 10 common content marketing mistakes (in no particularly order) we gathered from Marketing Nation Summit sessions and additional digital marketing professionals, along with strategies to help avoid them.

1. Go big, brave and bold with content marketing

“The biggest missed opportunities in content marketing come from playing it safe,” said Ann Handley, chief content officer of MarketingProfs, a company that offers educational services for marketers, in another Marketing Nation Summit session.

To break through the noise, Handler says marketing pros should try to tell a bigger story, and be both brave and bold with content. She cited a Skillshare course on how to “brew an amazing cup of coffee,” produced by boutique coffee roaster Blue Bottle Coffee, as one example of a brand telling a “bigger” story.

The online class initially seemed “ridiculous” to Handler, but she said she learned a lot and ended up subscribing to Blue Bottle’s mail-order service, even though it’s pricey. Blue Bottle’s online course is “bigger” than the brand itself, Handler said, because it helps educate all coffee drinkers, not only Blue Bottle customers. It’s a winning example of “training as marketing,” she said. “When you educate customers about why things matter, you elevate them at a deeper level.”

2. Quality content marketing is all about the customer

Marketing pros shouldn’t make content for or about themselves, according to Ryan Robinson, a content marketing consultant. “Hands down, the biggest mistake I see brand marketers make is not creating content with the selfless goal of genuinely helping their audience overcome a specific challenge,” Robinson says. “Create content that’s selfless and not overly self-promotional, and you’ll be rewarded many times over.”

Flynn Zaiger, CEO of digital marketing and PR agency Online Optimism, agrees, and says the most common mistake content marketing agencies make is talking to the client, rather than the customer, before they decide on the kind of content to create. “Yes, the client (or your boss) is the one with the request for content marketing,” Zaiger says. “But often, they’re unaware of what the actual problem is. This is simply a fact of being too inside the business to understand the concerns of those outside it.”

Zaiger suggests holding multiple in-depth meetings with a wide variety of potential customers interested in your organization’s services and content marketing before you start writing or designing content. “Only by understanding their needs will you truly be able to create content that gets shared world-round.”

3. Tailor marketing content to your audience’s questions

Many content marketers confuse what they want to say with what their audience is looking for, according to Len Kendall, vice president of communications for Carrot, a digital content agency. “For content marketing to be found, it needs to contain the words and questions a particular audience is seeking,” Kendall says. “Think about it like reverse-engineering a Google search. If you answer questions that you know people are asking, and do so while also serving your own marketing needs, you’ll see a higher ROI from your content marketing efforts.”

4. Let user-generated content tell your marketing story for you

User generated content (UGC) can be “an absolute goldmine for marketers,” according to Jordan Kretchmer, senior director and general manager of Livefyre, a user engagement cloud service company that’s now part of Adobe Experience Manager.

UGC is “inherently engaging because it was born from engagement, a response to your brand and product,” Kretchmer says. “Try aggregating, curating and displaying UGC on your own website, so that it can be a central hub for potential and current customers seeking information.”

5. Don’t confuse content marketing and SEO

“Brand marketers often confuse content marketing with SEO,” says Abbie Elliott, president of Abbie B. Elliott Communications, a PR and marketing consultancy. “They’re not the same at all.”

Jeff Neal, who publishes the Jason Coupon King blog, says the most common content marketing mistake is keyword stuffing. “I interview a good amount of writers for my blog, and the new writers sometimes think that the more they stuff keywords into their articles, the more likely they are to rank in Google for those keywords, he says. “This is not the case. Google will penalize sites for keyword stuffing, so it’s actually counter-intuitive.”

Keywords should be used judiciously to help interested audiences find the appropriate content. If something sounds too stuffed with keywords when you read it aloud, it probably is.

6. Proactively push marketing content to target audiences

One of the biggest mistakes marketers make is assuming content will be reposted, shared, or republished because it is high quality, according to Matthew Mercuri, a digital marketing specialist with software and compliance company ERA Environmental Management Solutions. “There’s so much content being produced, so the likelihood your piece will be picked up by your salient audience is extremely low,” he says. “You need to be proactive in allowing your content to be viewed by the people who need to see it.” 

Mercuri suggests creating a relationships-and-outreach list that’s divided into communities of interest. For example, “a content piece written with Product A in mind needs to be distributed to people who represent an audience that wants Product A,” he says. “You need to segment your entire outreach list to the point where you can have a target audience for each target piece of content,” and then push the appropriate content to the appropriate audiences.

7. Don’t ignore content marketing analytics 

Content marketers frequently don’t pay enough attention to their analytics tools, according to James A. Gardner, a digital strategist for Connective DX, a digital experience agency. “Improvement isn’t possible if you’re not learning what your readers are engaging with,” he says. “Likewise, you can’t justify a content marketing budget if you’re not showing a connection to what your CFO and CMO think is important to the business. Analytics data will help make the case for more of what you’re doing.”

8. Have a content marketing strategy — don’t just ‘spray and pray’

The “spray and pray” approach is another common content marketing mistake, in which marketers crank out content, widely disseminate it and hope someone in their target audience sees it.

Marketers who take this approach feel they must create content because “everyone else is doing it,” says Jonah Bliss, founder of content marketing analytics firm ContentIntent. “A brand shouldn’t go into producing content just because they think they need to, no more than every company would go out and buy a billboard just because they saw their competitors do it.” 

Instead, it’s more effective to “figure out why you should be telling stories, what your customers want to hear, and how you can credibly contribute interesting information and topics without just generating even more white noise,” Bliss says.

9. Create a content marketing editorial calendar

Plotting out specific publication dates for marketing content is a great way to ensure you post regularly and stay on schedule, according to Eric Brantner, managing editor and content marketer of Scribblrs, a site that helps readers start and monetize blogs. “Everyone plans on publishing regularly when they first start producing content,” he says, “However, good intentions don’t amount to much. You need an editorial calendar with regular content scheduled out at least a month in advance. Then you’ll be forced into a schedule, your readers will know to expect content, and Google will realize you’re regularly putting out fresh content.”

10. Make video a part of the content marketing mix

Video is a popular, powerful medium for storytelling. Facebook, for example, recently said that 500 million users watch Facebook videos each day, and more than 100 million hours of video are viewed every 24 hours, according to Recode.

Too many brands rely solely on text and images to tell stories, according to Hannah Ostic, CFO and cofounder of Windigo24, a web-design and social-marketing firm. Video, however, is what keeps consumers interested. “If you only have blog posts, take some of the key points and turn them into a short video,” she says. “The more of it on your website and social media platforms, the better.”