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30+ Common Mistakes Ruining Your Content Strategy

So you’ve got a content marketing strategy in place… but it’s not working. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that it just needs a few more weeks to get off the ground—or that one post you haven’t quite written yet. Maybe. But there’s another possibility: you’re sabotaging your own content strategy, and you don’t even know it.

As I consult with other content marketing folks, I commonly find that at the root of their frustrations is some small mistake they’ve unknowingly made along the way—often it’s simply an error of omission. I think the same is possible for you.

In sailing, when you have to move upwind you use a strategy called “tacking.” You have to constantly switch back and forth in a zigzag to catch the wind at just the right angle as you move against it. If you’re even slightly off in your angles, you can lose your momentum and end up idling in the middle of the ocean.

It’s often the same in content marketing. There are so many minor mistakes that can totally set you off course. If you feel like you’ve lost your momentum, check out these 30+ common mistakes that I’ve found to be disastrous for budding content strategies. If you’re guilty of one (or more), fix it now, and watch yourself get right back on track.

 

room full of books

Research

Solid research is the foundation not only for your entire strategy, but also for every single piece of content that you put out. If you’ve got a faulty foundation, one wrong move can make the whole house crumble. You’ll have a lot more flexibility and room for error if you’re coming from a solid starting point.

You Don’t Have a Target Audience

Sure, you can generally have an idea of which demographic you’re trying to reach, but what about the specifics? You need research. This post from CrazyEgg is an amazing resource for diving deep into target market research.

graph showing rise in all age demographics using social media

You Aren’t In Your Target Audience’s Circles

Did you know that almost half Internet users 65 year-old and older are on social media? And that’s based on survey data from 2013. You may think you’ve got a good “gut” for where your audience is online, but unless you do hard research, you may be missing key places where you can engage, interact with, and learn from your target audience.

You Aren’t Looking For More Customers

According to data highlighted by KISSmetrics, 89% percent of customers began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience. In 2012, 64% of businesses got an “OK,” “Poor,” or “Very Poor” rating from consumers. The conclusion? People are looking for new business all the time!

The market is ripe for the picking, and your content should be focused on outreach and conversion as much as it is helpful information. You can do both well.

You’re Getting Too Complicated

There’s nothing wrong with a good, long post; even one that covers a lot of information—but there is such a thing as packing too much in.

very detailed infographic about drunk driving

(via executiveboard.com)

This infographic is way overdone. There’s so much information, numbers, and text all crammed into one space. We all know drunk driving is bad, but there’s nothing on here that makes it so compelling you’d want to share it.

If you want to make a solid, simple infographic, try something like this.

You’re Not Credible

This is something I come back to a lot. Credibility is essential to a good content marketing strategy. If you’re constantly putting out shitty blog posts, and only publishing on your own blog, how do you expect people to view you as a credible source in your industry? Write every day, write well, and land guest blogging spots.

You’ve Got Bad Sources

One key part of establishing your credibility and not having shitty blog posts comes back to your sources. Do you ever go on Facebook and see your friends sharing videos from accounts with wildly bizarre names? You and I both know that the video didn’t originate from that source.

If you’re linking to sketchy sites and less-reputable brands, you’re going to lose credibility yourself.

Your Concepts Are Weak

Appeal to what your audience is already reading. There’s a big difference between a half-baked idea and a successful post. The idea for this post was probably the third or fourth iteration of my original idea—”6 Tools For When You’ve Messed Up Your Content Strategy.”

Admittedly, that was a weak post idea. I couldn’t make it work. So I looked back at what this blog’s audience seems to like best, kept tweaking the idea, and landed on this.

 

computer and phone and tablet displaying website

Website

It may sound super obvious when you read it aloud, but a good website is an essential part of having a solid content marketing strategy. If you don’t look like you’ve got it together online, then readers aren’t going to give you the time of day.

Make sure you’re mobile friendly, too. As of last year, 60% of Internet access was mostly mobile.

You Don’t Have Internal Links

For one thing, whether you have a “good” website or not, your readers need to be able to navigate it. If you’re getting them on the page with a great subject, you need to keep them on your site with more relevant internal links—hopefully leading to a conversion.

Here’s a guide we did on what good internal linking looks like.

Your Site Is Ugly

Did I say that out loud? Yes. If your site looks like it was made by your kid cousin on Microsoft FrontPage, it might be time to invest in some decent web design—or at least a premium WordPress template.

Make sure it’s easy to navigate—and don’t be afraid to A/B test formatting ideas to see what works for your readers.

 

two beer bottles cheers-ing

Outreach

If research is the foundation of your content plan, then outreach is the hearth—keeping your home warm and fuzzy straight through even the harshest winter. This, more than anything, is about cultivating relationships. In this industry, if you’re not creating relationships, then your strategy is dead in the water.

Whether it’s on bookmarking sites like Inbound.org, or through cold outreach to other influencers, your ultimate experience in content marketing will directly correlate to how much effort you put into expanding your circles.

Your Outreach Sucks (read: You Don’t Do It)

For one, that means you actually need to be reaching out. It can be intimidating to send a cold email—but you don’t have to start there. Follow the influencers you want to emulate, and begin to engage them through comments on posts and thoughtful questions on Twitter and other social media.

screenshot of twitter interaction

Something as simple as sharing other people’s work can spark a conversation or relationship. Baby steps, as long as you’re moving forward.

You Send Bad Emails

I can’t even tell you how much it irks me when I get a bad email. When someone clearly hasn’t done their research, made some nasty grammatical error, or blabbed on for paragraphs on end, it’s tacky—and never well received.

example of bad outreach email

The above email makes no mention of why the information is relevant or useful to me. Take the time to write polished, concise, smart emails. Do your homework, and show the person that you really care about helping them out—not just getting something for yourself.

And for those of us who read an email seconds after we’ve sent only to finally see the typo, you might want to check out Gmail’s new “undo send” feature.

You Aren’t Engaging Customers On Social

Everyone is expected to engage their customers online these days. Ever seen Jet Blue’s Twitter? Their average response time of less than 10 minutes leads to upwards of 1,500 mentions daily. Talk about customer engagement.

It’s about being strategic. It doesn’t take a lot to check in on Twitter, find out where and when people are talking about you, and open up a dialogue. You’ll be surprised the kind of loyalty that relationship can create.

You Don’t Know & Interact With Other Influencers

If a big part of outreach is creating relationships, then you need to look beyond just your customers: find other influencers in your industry who produce similar content and share a similar audience, and connect with them.

If you don’t feel like you have a good sense of who that is in your industry, then go back to the first section of this post! Start by doing some research with BuzzSumo to find out which articles and authors are doing well in your circles, and then use ContentMarketer.io to reach out.

 

wooden desk featuring notebook, glasses, and typewriter

Content

Content is like the family that’s living in your bad home-analogy. Without the family, it’s just a shell with no real purpose. If your content’s off, you won’t build an audience—and when you lose your audience, it takes that much more effort to come back.

Here are the main hang-ups I often find people struggling with when it comes to their content:

You Don’t Tell Stories

Storytelling is what brings your content to life. If you’re feeling stuck on tips & 101s all the time—try something different. When you tell a story, you’re drawing your audience into the narrative of your business. If you want to create conversions, they have to buy what you’re saying first. Stories are a great way to win readers over.

Your Titles Suck

No, I’m not encouraging you to succumb to clickbait. You’re better than that. A case study from HubSpot revealed that there are statistically significant differences in very minor changes that you can make to your titles. For example, using more exciting language like “reveal” and “surprising” when talking about trends increased the CTR from 0.10% to 0.18%.

You Kep Makeing Typsos

Bad spelling is unprofessional. Lose the habit. Stop relying on autocorrect and start proofreading.

screenshot of three stages of audience interaction

(via Hubspot.com)

You’re Using The Wrong Medium

If all of your content is 1,600 word blog posts—even though it’s the “ideal” length—you may start to lose your audience. According to HubSpot, there are three stages that a customer experiences on the path to conversion: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. It’s going to take different forms of content for different readers to reach that final stage. Don’t be afraid to mix things up with an infographic, slide deck, video, or white paper.

You’re Not Interesting

You could think that you’re talking about the kind of topics people want to read, but if you’re not presenting it in a fresh, interesting way, then people aren’t going to read it. There’s too much stuff out there online for you to write boring content and expect people to stick around to read it.

You Only Talk About Your Interests, Not Your Audience’s

We see this all the time in political pseudo-journalism. People promote their favorite candidate’s agenda, and you see through the bull before you’re finished reading the headline. As I said before: if readers aren’t interested in what you’re saying, no one’s going to force them to stick around.

man taking go-pro selfie with group

You Don’t Have Any Pictures

People don’t like long blocks of text. Pictures can help people to stay engaged, more easily navigate your post, and not get bored with what you’re saying. It’s a great way to naturally break posts up—and serves as a good reminder to always include relevant screenshots and examples when you can.

You’re Writing Too Much

You know that person on your Facebook feed who can’t stop posting pictures of their newborn? It was cute after the first three galleries of 100+ pictures—now that kid’s image is burned on your brain and haunts you in your sleep. This is the basic principle of post-frequency: do it too much, and people start to disengage.

On Facebook, that starts to happen after two posts a day, at most. Your blog will have different results—just be mindful of when you hit the point of “overdoing it.”

 

tree with simple hand-drawn lost cat sign

Promotion

In the now overdone home analogy, promotion is the wood for the fire. If you don’t keep fanning the flame, the house is going to get cold. Bad promotion can leave even the best post you’ve ever written with horrible numbers. Be proactive about promoting your content, it can’t do all the work on its own.

Your Promotion Is Non-Existent

Start by posting all of your content to your social media accounts. Try a couple of different headlines out with different pictures—detaching them from the original post’s picture. See what works, and start to reiterate that two or three more times over the course of a week as you begin to promote the next post as well.

You Aren’t Talking About Your Product

As great as it is to write for multiple blogs, it would all start to get a little pointless after a while if I wasn’t able to point my readers towards some of the work that I’m doing—just like it would be a waste not to share the utility of a tool like ContentMarketer on the site’s own blog.

Guest blog introduction

You’re Not Guest Posting

While it can be hard to know how to pitch, guest blogging is an absolute must. I regularly contribute to Fortune, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as several other content marketing blogs. It’s a major part of how I can establish myself as an authority, make new connections, and grow my personal brand online.

You’re Not Adapting Your Content

Did you know that you can easily turn your blog post into a slide deck on Slideshare? It’s a quick and easy way to present your content to a new audience, and draw them back to your original post. At the end of the day, one style is not going to work for everyone—including in promotion.

graph showing rise of interactions with evergreen content

Your Evergreen Content Is Hidden

Evergreen content, when done well, ages quite nicely. It’s the kind of thing that snowballs, rather than simply spiking early and fading out. Learn how to promote your evergreen content through repurposing and reposting on different sites. That, combined with internal linking, can be an extremely effective method for drawing audiences to your newest posts.

You Don’t Care About SERP

There are three different kinds of traffic: direct, referral, and organic. While you can build up the first two with a decent social media presence, the third most often comes from having solid SEO. People make the mistake of thinking that page rank and good optimization aren’t an integral part of good content marketing. Spoiler alert: they are.

Study up on the SEO basics, and start applying those principles to your blog. Without them, you’ll get lost in the sea of other great blogs out on the web.

 

Neon sign reading "Thank You"

Follow Up

How many times can we talk about relationships? Content marketing is never a one and done. If you’re creating relationships through great outreach and content, then there should be an easy method for continuing those relationships. You never want someone to get to your blog and find it’s just a dead end: you want it to be a gateway to yourself and your business.

There are three really critical aspects to follow-up:

There’s No Next Step

Readers may not go out of their way to follow up, but if you make it easy and accessible, then you’re going to greatly increase your chances of conversion. Make signing up easy—whether it’s through a form, a Hello Bar, or some other method.

The important thing is that when a reader’s done with your post, they have a tangible next step to move forward in your relationship.

example of a CTA

You Have No CTA

Having a solid CTA cannot be over-emphasized. Without it, not even the sign-up form is going to be all that useful. The above is an example of a CTA I used on a recent post. The result was that several people commented on it, relaying similar stories, struggles, and encouraging words—and I was able to engage with those readers in a personal way.

Use Crazy Egg to see what people are looking at on your site. If people aren’t reading the parts you want them to, it might be a simple matter of rearranging the format.

You Have No Social Share Buttons

At the very least, the most passive way someone can interact with or promote your content is by clicking “share.” Having social share or “click to tweet” buttons is a non-negotiable for your blog. If you don’t have them, go fix it right now!

Don’t be discouraged. If your content strategy hasn’t been working thus far, or you’ve found yourself making some of these mistakes, it’s not too late. Get back on the horse, produce some great content, and do the hard work of getting your content strategy back on track. The tools are in your hands, so go make it happen!

Comments

7 Comments

Josh Christy

I’d agree with most. However the social share buttons are something i’d push back a bit on. Everyone has the ability to share great content, they don’t need share buttons to do it. If you’re going to add them, don’t do a blanket approach to the site… I mean who wants to share your about us page.

Vishal

It was cute after the first three galleries of 100+ pictures—now that kid’s image is burned on your brain and haunts you in your sleep.

Haha. Loved this analogy. I have a question Sujan.

If FB insights and GA tell me that the bulk of my client’s audience is in the 25-45 age group, should I still pursue engaging the 55+ age group? It is a relevant age group but not as interested as the relatively younger folk.

Sujan Patel

Vishal,

You should still pursue the 55+ age group but you’ll need to write different content that’s better suited for that age group.

Vishal

Will do that. Thanks Sujan :)

Sonia Gregory

Great article, Sujan.

I like the idea about assigning different types of content to specific personas, based on the stages of their path to conversation. That way, you’re not doing a ton of work and hoping random people see it. Way more targeted.

mirzaee

Wow , Great post Sujan

Naven Pillai

Great post as always, Sujan. However, some content marketers are still stubborn and commit those mistakes again and again.


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