We all know content is good for business. Companies of all sizes are using content to grow their businesses, but with different strategies—be it SEO, engagement, thought leadership, or paid advertising.
So how should you use content to help your company grow in your market?
This is one of the most vexing questions for marketers wanting to add to their company’s revenue and therefore prove their worth to executives.
I’ve pondered this for years and I wanted to see what other marketing leaders thought. So I polled some of them and asked for their opinion. Next, I aggregated over a hundred poll responses to the following question:
What is your most important priority in content marketing?
What Marketers Are Prioritizing Today
The (unscientific) poll results are now in:
38% – Igniting engagement with your audience
37% – Using SEO to generate traffic
14% – Running paid ad campaigns
11% – Creating thought leadership content to boost authority
Both engagement and SEO are nearly tied for first, with ads a distant third.
At first, I was surprised to see thought leadership come in dead last. But the reason for this is clear—unlike SEO, it is difficult to measure exactly how much thought leadership content contributes directly to revenue.
However, this poll should not be interpreted such that one choice is exclusive of all other choices. Some marketers can execute two or three of the above strategies at the same time.
For example, Steven Macdonald, a well-recognized content strategist who has consistently been featured on major publications such as Inc., Entrepreneur and Forbes, says he would “try to leverage as many ‘free’ channels as possible. This means focusing on social, SEO and thought leadership content.” As his companies grow, he would “then look at how to scale new customers through paid acquisition,” he added.
Brooklin Nash, the Head of Content at Wiza, agrees that for businesses with smaller deal sizes, starting with SEO brings the most promise at lower cost. Then as deal sizes grow larger, the focus should shift to a combination of PPC and social selling. Unfortunately, it’s “not as easy as 1, 2, 3. Sometimes you just can’t separate these things out,” says Nash.
Combining SEO With Engagement: A Winning Strategy?
One flaw of this poll is that I didn’t break it down by company size. Companies of different sizes will have different marketing priorities and different amounts of resources.
But for small- and medium-sized businesses, the combination of driving engagement with SEO-optimized content appears to be a winning strategy.
The Startup Canada’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist, Harrison Smith, is experienced with marketing and business development for startups. “It depends what stage your company is at. If it’s smaller, I’d lean towards igniting engagement with the hopes of your audience posting content of their own with links to the website of the company. This eventually results in stronger SEO. If the company is larger, then focus on SEO and increase your organic traffic value metric,” says Harrison.
Jean Matthias Breheney, a Senior Content Strategist at Threshold Enterprises, agrees. “SEO is important, but engagement comes first. You have to capture their attention legitimately before you can turn curiosity into a relationship that exchanges value in both directions,” says Jean.
Finally, when we talk about “engagement”, we should note that not all types of engagement are created equal.
Rather it needs to be broken down into different types so that we can choose which ones are most attributable to revenue. For instance, a comment is more valuable than a like. Thoughtful comments of at least 2-3 sentences in length are much more valuable than a generic phrase like “great insights” or “nice report”, because these interactions can organically be turned into a sales conversation.
Metrics Matter: The Need to Attribute Content Directly to Revenue
There is constant pressure on marketers to measure and track how content contributes to sales and revenue. This explains why marketers choose strategies with metrics that are the easiest to connect to revenue. This also explains why thought leadership finished last in my poll, even though many marketers acknowledge the need for it.
Karthik Nair, the Director of Marketing at JOOR and an experienced B2B marketer, explains this quite concisely: “If customers are engaged with you, they are more likely to talk about you with others. Word-of-mouth marketing is highly profitable. But thought leadership is tough to quantify,” says Karthik.
Just because thought leadership may be hard to measure and takes a long time to see results doesn’t mean its importance is diminished. “It’s important that your leaders are arguing for what your company believes in. Their expertise and authority rubs off on your company’s brand,” says Ben Goldstein, the Head of Content and Communications at Nutshell CRM.
On the other hand, SEO has the most direct connection to revenue, according to Goldstein.
SEO also generates large amounts of traffic at reasonable costs compared to paid acquisition. This is why it remains highly attractive to many marketers. Goldstein adds: “Nutshell’s own blog content has become a very reliable source of low-cost leads, but that requires a significant flow of traffic.”
Sometimes Doing the Opposite Works Well
Small business SEO is the play for growing companies wanting to build momentum, and paid ads are better reserved for larger companies with bigger budgets.
But this is not always the case.
Brooklin Nash shares which marketing strategies worked for him at Wiza, a bootstrapped startup:
“We started with paid ads to get momentum for our user base. Then we started focusing on SEO to get some quick wins for long tail, bottom-of-the-funnel (BOFU) keywords and some long term initiatives such as backlinking campaigns. Then we added in user engagement, looking to get advocates, improve our product and upsell. Now I’m spending a ton of time on thought leadership and social selling, not so much to drive immediate leads as to build brand awareness and affinity.”
In some cases, as with Nash at Wiza, it might work better to do the opposite from what your competitors are doing.
The great variance in approaches to marketing strategy tells us that we’re just scratching the surface. More large-scale studies will be needed to scientifically break down what’s working and what’s not working across different types of businesses, multiple industries, and company sizes from startups to Fortune 500 companies.
Not only do we want to know what they are doing, but we also want to know if their strategies are working.
As marketers, we should ask ourselves daily:
How can we do better?