Businesses are increasingly engaging content marketing agencies, as well as upskilling to include content marketing capabilities in their own teams, with the goal of getting more visitors to their websites from search engines.
According to the Content Marketing Institute: “Content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling.”
But the overwhelming majority of businesses that are engaging content marketing agencies are not OK with not selling, yet content marketing is on the rise.
Content marketing is not a standalone strategy – brands aiming to create engaging experiences for users and sell their products on the web must consider where their products fit into the path to purchase.
Speaking to Marketing Week in November last year, Content Marketing Association chairman Andrew Hirsch said: “There is a lack of honesty with a number of agencies not traditionally in the content marketing space saying they can create content when they can’t. The absolute definition is being made murky because no one wants to admit they are not in the content marketing space.”
An agency that can create content is just an agency that can populate a page, but content created with marketing in mind has to have purpose. This is why the definition of content marketing has become so ‘murky’ – although the industry is incredibly diverse, there is a general lack of understanding as to how content can be employed to acquire customers and retain them.
That is not to suggest that the only content that brands create should be ‘bottom of the funnel’; rather, that top of the funnel content alone will not sell products. There is of course a place for storytelling in content, but in the quest to build relationships with content marketing there is little emphasis on how that brand will help users.
The truth is that most of what we consider content marketing now is consumed through social media channels. Marketers often fail to capitalise on search with their content because they are failing to satisfy searcher intent. People are looking for answers but brands are talking about themselves.
In 2011, Google published its ‘Winning the Zero Moment of Truth’ white paper, in which it outlined how the internet has fundamentally changed the way consumers purchase products and services. Search plays a pivotal role not only in ecommerce, but in the way that consumers engage with retailers in the real world.
When shopping for a TV, a consumer will search for information around the model they are considering while still in the shop, for example. Users want to see reviews and expert opinions – ‘fun’ content such as listicles on a blog will not necessarily cut it for them.
‘Winning the Zero Moment of Truth’ is Google branded because it is the search engine’s manifesto of what it wants to display to its users in its search results. Google forces brands that want to sell to consumers without investing in content to invest in AdWords instead.
The notion that brands should think like publishers is counterproductive. Very few brands are able to charge customers for their content or are willing to sell advertising. Instead, brands should think like consumers.
In order to increase traffic from Google, marketers need to think less about why consumers need their brand and more about why they need their products.
Many ecommerce businesses have fallen behind because their content strategy hinges solely on their blog or social media while neglecting their products. In ‘Winning the Zero Moment of Truth’, Google suggested that users will typically consume more than 10 resources before finally making a purchase – this means that 100-word product descriptions are no longer adequate to make sales through search.
Google measures the effectiveness of its own results using the way searchers interact with it. Although most websites have Google Analytics tracking codes installed – and many searchers use Google Chrome to navigate the web – the search giant is not able to employ the mass of data it has gathered because of privacy concerns. All Google has to go on is how much time its users spend with a website before going back to Google.
Returning to the example of a consumer shopping for a TV online, Google’s best guess as to whether the result it listed first was the right result for that user is whether that user comes back to the search engine and clicks on the second result. Amazon is so successful in this space, for example, because it has an extremely large inventory of TVs for users to browse through and a large amount of (user generated) expert content in the form of reviews.
It seems counterintuitive that a company such as Google that makes its money selling advertising would reward websites that stop users returning to the search results with higher rankings and more traffic, but above all else, Google is desperate to preserve its market share – which means continually striving to provide the best results.
Marketers can – and should – leverage this by implementing a content strategy that aims to ‘end the search’.
Content marketing is not just about building relationships with customers, it is about answering customers’ needs. There is a wealth of information easily accessible from customer service departments, sales, search engines and surveys as to what customers are looking for when they consider their next purchase.
For businesses to compete in digital it is vital that their websites reflect this by making it as easy as possible for prospects to find the information they need.
Google championed the Zero Moment of Truth as “the new mental model” for consumers, taking the traditional ‘stimulus’ (above the line advertising, for example) to ‘shelf’ – where a consumer engages with a product for the first time in person – and demonstrating the way users consume content to research their intended purchase.
Content marketing is so diverse that brands consistently demonstrate how content can be utilised at every one of these steps, but for a brand to survive in the digital age, each one must be covered.