Most people who will pitch you a content marketing strategy approach it the same way: pick a niche keyword, create regular content, get traffic coming in, and convert that traffic to your product. That’s how content marketing works.

But you don’t get to really choose your niche – you’re defined by the product or service you’re trying to sell. Sure, travel blogs work really well but not for debt-solution law practices. Make up blogs would have a hard time selling a fintech app.

Your best bet is to find an angle or tone of voice to apply to an area where many others have already laid down the foundation. In content marketing it’s not about overtaking, it’s about laying seige.

Timelines are always too short

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a content marketing plan that was realistic. Unless a content marketing plan is buttressed by significant amplification, it will take a long time to raise the profile of what you’re creating beyond your immediate sphere of influence.

That’s not to say that content marketing doesn’t work – it does, and really well, but the results that you eventually see are the cumulation of constant optimization, producing, tweaking, and reworking. Very few people get it right the first time because very few people are creating content about a subject that hasn’t already been written about.

When you do stumble upon a pain point that can be helped with different types of content, search engines will be very kind to you. You will start to see serious amounts of traffic that can get your business off the ground.

For the rest of us – like me writing about digital marketing, one of the most saturated areas in terms of content – the content marketing game is a slow burn. It helps to think of content in terms of layers, not like building a house but more like creating an object in a 3D printer. Each article or piece of content is a tiny layer that might be invisible by itself. Trust me it’s frustrating to work hard on an article only to see it get 4 visits on its first day online. And of course it leads to questions like: “why am I doing this? Am I wasting my time? I should have gone to medical school!!!”

But like the 3D-printed object, that layer is there and it’s not going anywhere. It might be invisible but it is a key part of the layers that come after it. And over time it gets visited a couple of times per week. Maybe it gets shared by an expert in Bosnia, it starts ranking a little higher. At the end of the year, the article has hundreds of views from people you’ve never met.

Now start looking at that from a macro perspective and it’s easy to see how content sites accumulate traffic over time. If you’re posting regularly you might even start to create an audience that comes back each time for any new content you produce. They become the oil that lubricates the amplification of your content, thus propelling it out further.

But again it takes time. People do not automatically share content, and content that has real value takes time to make. Your perception of what has value might differ from that of your audience too, so the time it takes to optimize needs to be factored in.

Content marketing is not about making what you want, it’s about producing what other people want

We’re not all Kanye West – possessing an innate ability to create the world’s next major cultural trends. Unsurprisingly then, businesses that don’t listen to their audiences can spend precious time, effort, and cash trying to develop a content strategy that no one wants to consume.

It’s rare to see a blog ask for feedback. In most cases the content is based around trying to hit different keywords rather than satisfying the people who are actually visiting pages. There is a caveat, of course: when traffic numbers are too small, there is no point in asking people for anything.

Instead what you should do is when you think of an article or piece of content, Google it first to se what other type of content is out there. See what other people have said about the same subject, how they adressed it, and how many people shared it. If it looks like something that you would write, how can you add extra value to what they are sharing? If it got a lot of traction, can you find out why?

Digging deeper or adding your own personal spin to a topic is a good way to make sure that you are creating something original, but still based in a subject that has proven to be popular.

The form is almost as important as the content itself

The sad fact is that people just don’t have time to meticulously read through every word that you craft. Time is of the essence and unless you are JK Rowling, people are going to be skimming to find the key messages. This is precisely the reason why listicles work so well online. People can scroll through, read the points, and skip the paragraphs.

Formatting your content then is a necessary tactic to getting people to retain messages from your content.

Call outs are an effective way to draw attention to a point that you want people to remember. Even if they don’t read the content around the call out, they will see that message. See??

Pictures say a thousand words, so if you are struggling to get deeper content, perhaps using visual aids can help. People love charts and graphs – particularly via Google Image Search – so it can be a traffic booster as well as a way to entice people to share to social networks.

And of course you don’t have to create written content. Podcasting has never been more popular. Video is ever-more in demand. Writing is the easiest format to create and consume, but going the extra mile and taking a mutlimedia approach can pay off in big ways.

So why do most content strategies fail?

People create content that no one wants in a boring format and underestimate the time that it takes for it to work.

There’s a quote for you to share!

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