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PR: Ahead of its (Content Marketing) Time

This post was first published by Martin Jones on March Communications’ blog M+PR Nonsense.

content marketing whiteboardContent marketing remains firmly planted near the top of most brands’ priorities these days. Organizations are weighing their options and trying to figure out what their next step should be. Do they grow their own internal content capabilities and do some trial and error — getting it right is going to require a significant investment in a number of different resources. Or, do they take the less risky route and turn to one of their external agencies to see what they can learn? Well, let’s take a look at the facts.

While the evolution of the Internet and social media is a great thing, it has brought with it the unfortunate side effect of enabling brands to devise some very suspect content marketing activities.

The number one mistake that brands make, without question, is to grossly underestimate the commitment needed to make content marketing work properly. Content — no matter how great it is — is not a silver bullet that will rocket your business to the top of buyers’ minds overnight. It takes time. Strategic thinking. Dedication. Follow-through. Consistent output.

The second mistake is to not put enough effort into figuring out whom precisely they are trying to reach, and what is going to compel them to engage with your brand.

Crafting compelling stories, finding the right audiences and bringing the two together at the right time and in the right place is a basic definition of public relations – and it requires long-term and continuous effort. The same rules apply for content marketing.  These are not new concepts. There is just a more diverse range of tools and platforms today than ever before through which you can deliver your story.

Let’s break down a few of the major areas of focus in content marketing and why PR agencies (the good ones, at least) should be the partner of choice.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is a term that most people are familiar with these days, although it has a slightly dirty feel to it thanks to the trickery and skullduggery of days gone by.  Due in part to that, and the Google algorithm changes it inadvertently led to, SEO now goes hand-in-hand with content marketing and, of course, public relations.

The content you create has to draw the attention of your target audience. For that to happen, it has to be discoverable. It also has to be interesting and relevant and relevant to your audience.  All of those attributes of a well-crafted PR story then are exactly what you need for your content to perform well in organic search.

Using the right keywords in the right combinations and frequency, both within the content itself (headlines, sub-heads, main copy, pull quotes, image captions, links) and in the landing pages’ metadata, also have their time and place.

But which keywords should you be optimizing? You need to research and understand the terms your target audiences are searching for and the type of results those searches yield.

This leads to our next item …

Tracking & Measuring (the Right) Data

When we talk about tracking and measuring data, there are two main types we are referring to. The first is what we just introduced — data related to keywords and SEO. The second is the various forms of engagement.

Let’s wrap up SEO first. We’ve talked about how you need to do research and properly integrate the right keywords into your content and landing page metadata. What comes next, however, is equally important. Brands have to be adaptive. Just because your ideal prospects are searching for one keyword or phrase this week doesn’t mean that’s what they’ll be searching for six months from now (or even sooner). Industries change. Needs change. Technologies and the language used to define and discuss them change.

Or, maybe the keyword stays the same, but a competitor suddenly jumps ahead of you in the search rankings for that phrase. Organizations need to continually monitor what keywords are pushing the needle, what context they are being used in and who else out there is dominating the search results. When there is a shift in any of these areas, you need to adapt if you want to stay on top.

Now, when talking about tracking and measuring engagement, you have to go far beyond simple page views on your website. You have to track social shares by platform, which posts are generating the most traction for you, where inbound links are coming from, bounce rates, how long people are engaging with your social profiles and website, organic social mentions by platform, dialogues opened up between followers online and those managing the brand’s social presence and interactions.

There are both very objective and subjective elements to understanding what all this means for your brand’s position in the market and what your next steps should be. And lastly, we come to …

Consistently Telling Great Stories

All the data we’ve already talked about is useless unless we can mold it into compelling stories. And when you tell a great story through a blog post on one day, you need to be thinking about the video you are going to do the next day, and the infographic the day after and the podcast the day after that.  All on and around the same themes and all building the story out a little bit further.

The point is, one-and-done does not a content marketing strategy make.

There has to be a consistent pipeline of high-quality content that not only generates the SEO juice needed to make it discoverable and maintain a spot at the top of the search rankings, but also earns you the trust of the audience as a valued source of information.

This means editorial calendars, experienced writers, video producers, artists and other content creators, social media experts, etc. Or, in simpler terms, a PR agency that has diversified from influencer relations and developed the content creation and distribution skills that can manage all these moving parts. They have likely been doing this since before the term content marketing became the catch-all phrase that it is today.

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