Why no one cares about your content

Ryan Griffin, senior account manager at Switched on Media, has some critical things to say about content marketing.

You may have noticed the phrase ‘content marketing’ spring into the vocabulary of a few keynote speakers in the past 18 months. Essentially a pyramid scheme, content marketing works by swindling marketers into its promises of quick riches and business outcomes by updating the arrangement of words across their website.

It sounds almost too good to be true.

For those unfortunately unable to have attended said keynote speeches, content marketing as a channel came into its own about two years ago and is now the most talked about topic in marketing. Simple in execution, content has since become quite a convenient distraction from more complex marketing issues.

Now, it shouldn’t need to be said that correct spelling and grammatical prowess are a must, but content marketing goes a step further to create really ‘engaging’ content that will ‘inspire’ readers, driving metrics such as ‘reach’ and ‘likes’. Highbrow stuff.

It’s all a load of shit.

What many people don’t realise is that content has possibly the sharpest inefficiency curve of any marketing activity. For the most part, the majority of content is skimmed over immediately. There are few always standout exemptions to this rule, but no one decided against an online purchase because the content wasn’t quite right.

And before you go Freudian on me, citing the benefits of subconscious affinity, the only metric marketers should use when measuring the impact of content is conversion rate. Whatever you are trying to get people to do on your website, your content should make them do it more frequently.

That’s it really.

I don’t want you to ‘engage’ with my content, I don’t want you to ‘like’ it, I don’t care if you share it, I just want you to buy it.

Your goal when writing content is singular, improve your website’s conversion rate.

It’s actually the only reason you should update anything on your website. We have jobs and families and plenty of other shit going on in our life, we honestly don’t care what’s written. People visit your website to solve a problem. Whether it’s knowledge, entertainment, or something they need; beyond providing a simple and easily understood message, the impact of content marketing is almost non-existent.

The company that does this exceedingly well is Google. They’re probably the only website that wants you to spend the least amount of time on their site. They want you to click the first link that appears, and never have to come back (for that one particular search, of course). They’ve even created metrics such as Quality Score to ensure the first piece of content you receive is the most relevant. They will never reveal the complexity of their search algorithm, ensuring that the most relevant website appears first is the world’s greatest competitive advantage.

Spending countless hours debating the grammatical structure of a sentence will not solve your problems. Finding a way to deliver people through your site as simply and quickly as possible will make it easier for them to convert and return. Think of how easy it is to book an Uber.

Marketers are so caught up in the hype of content marketing that they lose sight of what really matters. Delivering your message succinctly and removing resistance to conversion. Upon opening the Uber app you are presented with ‘request Uber’, no one wants to read the ‘about us’ page.

The role of content is executional, soft-metrics are a distraction and a convenient excuse used to circumnavigate what really matters. An increase in engagement will not solve your business’ problems, Facebook does not build businesses.

Trying to drive engagement makes you the guy who’s just come back from holiday and is trying to show everyone his photos.

The only person mildly interested is your mum, and even she’s struggling.

  • Montague Tigg

    Digital content has evolved beyond blog posts and graphic imagery and is now at the heart of rich online and mobile experiences with measurable impact. We focus on communicating the right ideas at the right moments through the right channels to the right audiences to ensure you get the best return on investment. Allow our talented team of digital storytellers to lead your creative content marketing efforts to deliver you results for your specific business objectives.

    • JdH

      If you read that paragraph, you’ll see that it actually ties in nicely with Ryan’s premise of measurable, results-driven content. Whilst I do believe there is value in measuring and (to a certain degree) driving the soft metrics that indirectly drive the bottom line, the real point that Ryan is arguing here is to never lose track of the core objective.

    • Ryan Griffin

      Thanks Montague and JdH.
      The difficult part of this equation is “specific business objectives”. While
      there’s no perfect answer, the ability to align content against hard metrics as
      opposed to “likes” is what separates strong content.

  • Julie Pearce

    Hello Ryan, Thanks for sparking the beginning of a healthy debate. I strongly disagree. Firstly, yes – I am a content strategist / content marketer / content advocate. I’ve been in the game for the past 8 years lightly, and the last 14 months solidly. There is definitely a place for content marketing; alongside marketing and advertising. As you would well know, content marketing has always existed, it is not new. From my personal consumer view, it is my Tom Tom, my Google Maps or my GPS that leads me toward a product or service that fits with what I care about, with the values that I align myself with, with the ‘brand voice’ that I want to be associated with. As a B2B consumer, the first thing I will do is assess a business or individual professionals credentials, based on the quality of the content they are distributing. Let’s work together. We always have!

    • Ryan Griffin

      You’re welcome, Julie, quite the can of worms it appears.
      Content will always have a role to play, and something I would not argue
      against! My major consideration is around exactly what role it plays, how we
      allocate resources towards it and how we measure its success. As you mentioned,
      content marketing has always existed, but has become a hot topic in the last
      two years. One thing that we have failed to do is determine exactly what impact
      we expect to see from our efforts, and how to determine success. Metrics such
      as engagement are shallow and detract from underlying business requirements.

  • Peter Applebaum

    Interesting perspectives Ryan, particularly as they were ventilated on what is essentially a content marketing site itself. Putting aside the several broad assertions you’ve made, one question I’d ask you is if all that matters is web conversion, how do you build a brand? Or do you believe that brands are now redundant and all that matters are sales from PPC campaigns? If so, given slight to no differential competitive advantages with most offerings, consumer will invariably default to price. Which means no margin (or need) to employ marketers & their agencies. Where does it end?

    • Ryan Griffin

      Thanks for your comments, Peter. I do enjoy a difficult
      question! There’s definitely more to it than price driven PPC sales, but I do
      believe that the use and execution of content marketing has gotten away from
      what makes it most effective. As a purely acquisitional channel, content pales
      in comparison to alternative media juggernauts, which are your major brand
      builders. But the measurement of building a brand online through content
      marketing has subsided to metrics that are too far removed from actual business
      results. Content has a role to play, but it’s through a greater on-site user

      • Peter Applebaum

        Absolutely agree that content in isolation IS a lousy sales tool; SEM is infinitely more powerful – depending on what you’re selling of course. My contention is that several marketing elements need to work in unison to get the customer to click to add to the shopping cart or to reach for your brand in-store. In this strategic context, content has an important part to play.

  • Can’t say I agree with all the points made. Engaging content – on and offline helps build a brand and its position in the market. You can’t just tell people to buy your product. How else would you differentiate between yourself and other products in the market that are virtually the same if it wasn’t for good content? Some feedback re: engaging content: your article was pretty lengthy and to make me read on a good edit would have helped. 🙂

    • Ryan Griffin

      Haha thanks for the feedback, Jackey! I fully agree that you
      can’t just tell people to buy your product. I’d like to say your product should
      do the differentiation, but that’s not always an option. Content still has a
      very big role to play in what we do as marketers, but I believe we’ve gone off-track
      of late measuring metrics such as engagement. Facebook especially has made it
      easy to inflate engagement metrics through a small media spend, one which we’re
      becoming more and more addicted to. I’d argue that content plays its biggest
      role on-site, where its effects can be directly measured.

  • Dave Bathur

    Nice article, but I’ve heard this story: Last click attribution is all that matters. You’d be right if all audiences are always ready to buy.

    Yep, Uber needs few barriers on the app, because if folk are there, they don’t need to be convinced.

    But Uber also sponsored an awesome OzHarvest charity event recently generating loads of content that they sent out everywhere. Why? To convince people who haven’t used them of their moral standing (a proxy message for ‘safety’), and – crucially – to help wriggle into their memories for when they did need transport later.

    Sure there’s hype. But engagement and content tactics are for consideration, not conversion. You don’t need to “go all Freudian” to know that you won’t get people’s money if they don’t trust or remember you.

    • Ryan Griffin

      Some great points, Dave. I’m not a believer in the last
      click conversion model (preferring the U+ or “position based” model), but I do
      agree with your comments about Uber. I’d tried to highlight in my article
      around the importance of what metrics are used to measure content, and I see
      trust going hand in hand with conversion rate for Uber. A question for you: how
      do you think Uber reported the success of their content marketing efforts? In
      engagement, shares and likes, or the uptake of Uber users in that area?

  • I think there is some truth is what you have written, there is alot of BS and snake oil out there with respect to the benefits of content, I think the difference in terms of success from your content is the execution – content is just a part of inbound marketing, which is a part of a digital strategy, all of which is driven by business objectives – put plainly there is NO one size fits all…

    • Ryan Griffin

      Thanks Sara. It’s often difficult to distinguish where to
      focus your resources when it comes to content marketing, with no perfect answer
      of yet. Though I have enjoyed the evolving discussion around its effectiveness in
      the last few months.

      • So true its all still a learning curve – great debate – well done for having the courage to put it out there for discussion – long overdue. I think Public Enemy put it quite eloquently – ‘dont dont dont dont dont belive the hype!’

  • Fun read for the morning David. Actually, what we want with our content is to build an audience. That is the holy grail. Build an audience that knows, likes and trusts us first. Then they’ll buy from us. Most brands go for the web conversion before a relationship is built. Those brands usually fail. Focus on subscribers, not leads.

    • “Build an audience that knows, likes and trusts us” I was going to write this in my comment too Joe. That to me is the essence of what content marketing does, which is why it takes so many forms.

    • Ryan Griffin

      Thanks for the comments, Joe, enjoying the discussion. I guess my perspective would turn to who came first, the chicken or the egg. Ideals around building an audience that knows, likes and trust you through content marketing is a great vision to have but they don’t make a business. Any marketer would be happy with half the audience if it converted at three times the rate. Taking this to the nth degree, your trust doesn’t count for anything if you’re unable to convert your subscribers.

  • To me it sounds like you’re diminishing content marketing down to blogging in some degree. I think the definition of content marketing is very broad and essentially can do exactly what you mention in an earlier reply on this thread. That is; “alternative media juggernauts, which are your major brand builders”.

    Is this superbowl ad content marketing? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKIlfLReHyo

    • Ryan Griffin

      Thanks for the contribution, Steve, and your comments above. This post was definitely inspired by blogs but I did try to extend my thoughts to all content marketing. Unfortunately, as mentioned, that’s pretty much everything, from your video above to AdWords copy. I would classify your video as a more creative/production asset, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be CM in execution. As a Super Bowl ad, what do you think the purpose was of this video? As a brand builder or sales driver?

      • I love the example of this Squarespace ad for a number of reasons Ryan. Mainly because it ticks all the boxes (Know, Like, Trust) all in one video. People become aware (know) of Squarespace, the already like Jeff and they trust the product with his endorsement.

        So in response to your question, I think it builds the brand and drives sales. That video is the quintessential definition of great content marketing.

        • Ryan Griffin

          Ah yes, but it’s difficult to recommend to brands the answer to CM is to buy a Super Bowl spot and employ Jeff Bridges! Another question: do you think this article is a good example of content marketing?!

  • juliejackson

    Hi Ryan, interesting perspective and although I am always happy to cut to the chase, I don’t think you have really addressed the importance of building brand equity. Your theory only really works if you’re talking about websites designed to sell. Even then you still need to impress the buyer that you are the real deal and build loyalty. As the internet becomes more and more saturated and the fight for first page ranking on google becomes fierce and expensive, the leading brands will continue to shine.

    • Ryan Griffin

      Hi Julie, thanks for your thoughts. I’m interested to understand how you would measure brand equity. My article focuses largely around what metrics you should and shouldn’t be using to measure success. You’ve mentioned rankings, which I agree is an important metrics as it drives additional traffic and, hopefully, sales! And yes, this article is focused around websites designed to sell and wouldn’t apply to Coke, but in terms of marketing effectiveness, an improvement in website conversion rate quickly surpasses an increased media spend. There’s no better way to measure brand equity than sales

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