Entrepreneur

The state of content marketing (and where it’s really headed)

It feels like everywhere you go these days, “content marketing” is the buzzword of choice. As the co-founder of a company that enables marketers to produce content at scale, I want to take a step back and share a bit about what we are seeing thus far in the content marketing space.

If you run a startup — or a small company that is navigating the waters of content marketing for the first time — read this before you dive head-first into any content marketing initiatives.

More content means more garbage

Nobody nailed this better than Velocity Partners, a UK-based content marketing firm, in a clever/informative presentation everyone should read. More and more companies are going to think they can game the system by flooding the ‘net with content, while simultaneously navigating their way around the “duplicate content” issue by changing words here and there.

My advice to marketers here is simple – do not try to be BuzzfeedBleacherreport, or other successful content machines. They have more resources, huge editorial staffs, insane amounts of in-house analytics tools, and other bells and whistles you will not have access to. Produce original content — and be yourself.

I know SEO is considered a dirty word these days, but you will get absolutely hammered by search engines for re-purposing too much content, and pretending like it’s your own (unless you are doing so through a service like Curata). Remember that you still care about your search engine rankings, which is one of the major reasons you are running content marketing campaigns (remember, social content now gets indexed by Google — so tweets matter). You want to have natural conversations with your customers, but you also want to rank high in Google, Bing and other search engines to bring in more customers.

More content means more “experts”

Here we go again… It feels like just yesterday that the influx of “social media consultants” to the Bay Area began. Now the rise of the “content marketing expert” commences, and it’s not likely to end anytime soon. Everyone and their grandmother is attempting to re-brand themselves as an expert in this space, when the reality is (myself included) we are learning new things every day about the value of content.

The early data shows that most companies that run content marketing campaigns, without spamming the hell out of prospective customers, are successful. I wrote a piece in Forbes about some of the success Scripted has seen through content marketing campaigns — we will continue to use content as one of our primary forms of customer acquisition.

Anyone with a blog with a reasonably good-looking WordPress theme is claiming to be an expert in the space. Avoid the fakers, they are easy to spot.

Shortcuts and cheap solutions don’t work — and expensive solutions may not work either

Do not buy $5 articles and expect to see results, especially if they are laden with keyword-rich content.  Here is what Google will do to you if you decide to go this route. Similarly, just because you hire an ex-journalist for $200/hour, you will not necessarily achieve terrific results.

Bottom line: as a startup, you need to strike a compromise between subscribing to heavyweight tools that you won’t necessarily use, and overly cheap products that promise results and end up hurting you in the end. For most startups and early-stage companies, tracking specific pieces of content (and their conversion rate) using Google Analytics is more than enough.

Solutions like Simple Reach and Parse.ly are building robust analytics tools to prove out the effectiveness of specific writers, specific types of content, and other relevant info. Consider subscribing to analytics tools only after you have a good base of high-quality original content created — analyzing based on a few data points will do you absolutely no good.

No one really knows how this is going to play out

We all know that content is important, but it is still very early. We know that terrific companies like LinkedIn and Flipboard are headed in the direction of becoming high-quality content curator/generators.  And we know that there is going to be an absolute dog fight in various areas of the market. For example:

  • Editorial Management Tools: Contently, Kapost, and eByline are all strong tools for editorial management.
  • Content Recommendation Engines: Outbrain is the leader here, but there are many others that have entered the space and raised lots of cash.
  • Curation/Syndication: Newscred, Curata, and others are playing in a very interesting curation/syndication space that’s ripe for disruption. Newscred just raised a massive round and is attempting to be a complete solution.
  • Creation: Aside from Scripted, companies use sites like oDesk, and perhaps more prevalently, the in-house freelance writer.
  • Distribution/Analytics: I mentioned Simple Reach and Parse.ly, but there are a whole host of others trying to play in this space too.

…But here’s my best guess

A lot of folks I’ve talked to think that there is going to be “one solution” that binds the entire market together. Based on what we are seeing in the market right now, I don’t believe it will play out that way. The number of companies that could possibly manage, sustain, and grow under one solution is extremely finite (think large enterprises with deep pockets).

The real opportunity lies with companies that do not have much higher than a $10k budget/month, and need a cost-effective solution to run campaigns.

Instead, I think a combination of tools with robust APIs will be the solution of choice for most marketers. And I believe that the winner in each area of content marketing will have the chance to become a multibillion-dollar company once the dust settles, and people actually know what they are doing.

Any way you slice it, content marketing is going to be a massive opportunity. Is your startup ready?

Sunil Rajaraman is the founder and CEO of Scripted.com, a marketplace for businesses to hire freelance writers. 

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

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