Content marketing is deceptive in its simplicity; it can be explained, conceptually, in just a couple of sentences, but it takes years to truly master. All you have to do to succeed is write practical, valuable content for a niche audience, and you can start reaping the benefits of higher traffic and more conversions, driving more revenue — but that doesn’t mean that you can start writing immediately and just rake in the cash.
In reality, most content marketers underestimate the complexity required of a content marketing strategy, and end up making crucial mistakes throughout their early campaigns. Alone, most of these mistakes won’t interfere with your long-term potential, but if you aren’t careful, they can accumulate and severely slow your progress.
Regardless of whether you’re a content marketing amateur or a seasoned professional, it pays to be aware of these 50 common mistakes so you can avoid them:
1. Starting without a vision. What is your content going to cover? Who are you targeting? How do you see your blog developing over the course of the next several years? These are big, broad questions that you’ll need to answer before you title your blog, come up with headline ideas, or start writing. The technical details of your execution matter, but they’re fully dependent on the strength and course of your vision. Take a minute to cover some market research, competitive research, and familiarize yourself with content marketing best practices, then come up with a general outline for how you plan to start and grow your blog.
2. Not documenting your strategy. You’ve got some of the big questions answered in your head, but how are you going to execute your strategy? Before you claim your blog or start writing any posts, the first thing you need to do is document your strategy. There are a handful of approaches you can take here, but I recommend treating your content strategy like a business plan; clearly explain your purpose, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, then delve into the mechanics of how you intend to produce, publish, and syndicate your work. This is important because it forces you to solidify your goals, and helps keep you accountable to them. It also makes it easier to explain your goals to others you bring on in the future.
3. Writing for too broad an audience. You need to have a target audience for your content, but many newbies end up writing for an audience that’s too broad or too general. The motivation here is clear, and somewhat logical; the more general you are in your audience targeting, the larger the audience you’ll target. For example, writing for “American citizens” yields you a much larger audience than “single fathers in Wyoming.” However, the tradeoff is that any increase in size comes with a decrease in relevance, and in content marketing, you need to maintain as much specific relevance as possible. Cater to a specifically-focused niche to start; you can always expand later.
4. Never identifying a brand voice. Two factors will help you build and maintain a loyal readership more than any others; consistency and uniqueness. Uniqueness tends to draw users in, and consistency makes them stick around. One of the most powerful tools you have to fulfill these needs is your signature brand voice, which is a tone or personality in your writing style that’s unique to your brand (or even you as an individual). If you don’t have a clearly defined brand voice, your posts may come off as inconsistent, or may fail to appeal to your target audience, so spend some time honing your voice. Are you energetic or calm? Youthful or aged? Stoic or emotional? Friendly or corporate? Politically-correct or non-politically-correct? Vulgar or kid-friendly?
5. Failing to identify key metrics to measure. How are you going to tell if you’re successful? That seems like an important question, but there’s an even more important one that comes before it — what is “success” to you? Some marketers use content to draw in more traffic, while others use it to convert traffic they’re already getting. Still others use it as a way to achieve higher customer retention, and of course you can blend these goals as you see fit. But before you move forward, you need to know what goals you’re targeting, and how you’re going to measure them — otherwise, you won’t be able to define success, let alone achieve it.
6. Not doing keyword research. Content marketing and SEO are tightly interrelated, yet separate strategies; just because you’re engaging in a content campaign doesn’t mean you need to invest in SEO (though you probably should; you’ll be getting peripheral benefits anyway). But even if you’re not interested in an SEO strategy, you should at least dabble in some keyword research before you start writing. Using tools like SEMRush, UberSuggest and Moz Keyword Explorer, you can generate keyword ideas, measure things like search volume and competition, and eventually come up with a list of topics and keywords to focus on that have the most value for your audience.
7. Ignoring on-site search optimization. Again, even if you’re not pursuing a full-fledged SEO campaign, it’s a good idea to learn the basics of on-site optimization. A simple wording change in your headline can make your post not only more visible in search engines, but also drive more clicks — if you know how to optimize it for Google and your audience simultaneously. You should also know how to optimize your meta tags, any images you choose to include, and your URL structures for visibility.
8. Keyword-stuffing posts for SEO. On the other hand, it’s definitely possible to go too far with optimizing for search engines. It’s a good idea to use target keywords your work, but if you use them too frequently, you’ll be considered engaging in “keyword stuffing,” a practice that could get you penalized in search engines rather than rewarded. Even if you manage to escape from search engines with your rankings unscathed, your readers will pick up on the unnatural use of keywords in your text, and your overall user experience will decline.
9. Neglecting off-site search optimization. Reaping the SEO benefits of content marketing isn’t all about what happens on your site. In fact, one of the most important components of SEO is the quantity and quality of links pointing back to your domain — and the best way to earn those is through guest posts on other sites. If you aren’t trying to earn guest spots on external publications, you could be missing out on better search rankings. Just be aware — there’s an art to link building, so don’t start spamming links in an effort to increase your visibility.
10. Favoring quantity over quality. Every post you make is another page for search engines to index, another headline you can promote on social media, and more opportunities to include calls-to-action in your site. It therefore makes sense, on the surface, to create as many posts as you can. The problem is, many amateurs become obsessed with this idea to the point where they forget about the quality of their work; they crank out post after post in an effort to get more visibility, but because their work is inferior, they end up attracting less attention overall. Your main priority needs to be the quality of your work, even if that means significantly sacrificing your quantity.
11. Ignoring quantity altogether. However, that’s not to say that quantity isn’t important. Let’s say you write an incredible post — a 20,000-word piece that revolutionizes how people think about your industry and attracts hundreds of links and thousands of shares. But you don’t post again for over a month. What do you think will happen? Your readers will forget about you, new visitors will see that you haven’t updated your site in a long time (which is a red flag to potential customers), and you certainly won’t create any new opportunities for readers to find your work. Even though quality is important, you still need to have a consistent and regular posting schedule.
12. Not including enough detail. Your posts should be as detailed as possible if you want them to succeed. By detail, I mean digging into specifics, rather than talking about vague generalities. Detail means saying “83 percent of marketers” instead of “most marketers,” and giving examples of why your statements are true, rather than leaving them how they are. To provide this detail, you’ll either have to do some original research to back up your claims or rely on existing, external sources to provide you with that information. Specificity and elaboration are keys to making your posts more sufficiently detailed.
13. Producing content with little value. Your content should also carry some kind of practical value for your audience. When new content marketers enter the scene, they often think about entertaining topics, or thought provoking ones; these are valuable in their own way, but it’s better if you shift your focus to content that actually helps your audience do something. For example, you might write a post about a new motorcycle that just came out, but do you help your readers decide whether to buy it? You talk about the latest update to your software, but do you guide readers in making the most of it?
14. Writing from only your perspective. New content marketers also tend to write from their own perspectives. This is especially evident in opinionated posts; for example, if you write about “how technology is replacing jobs,” you might stick to one side, projecting your own opinion that most jobs will be automated by 2030. You may be able to back this up with lots of facts and persuasive arguments, but do you present any counterarguments? Do you recognize and support the weak points of your article? Do you consider what your readers think about the subject, on average?
15. Writing content you’d want to read. This isn’t always a mistake, but it can negatively affect the relevance of the content you eventually put out. Most new content marketers, when brainstorming, automatically favor titles that sound appealing to them; this makes sense, and in many ways, is valuable. However, you need to remember that you aren’t writing content for yourself; you’re writing content for a specific target audience. You may like to read an article about how mid-sized businesses can improve their sales strategy, but would that really help a crowd of first-time entrepreneurs?
16. Spending too little time on headlines. You’ve undoubtedly heard it before, because it’s universally true; your headline is one of the most important features of any piece you produce. For most of the impressions your syndicated article receives, this is the only impression readers are going to get. It’s what will persuade them to click through or keep scrolling, regardless of the quality of content that waits for them within. In fact, one study found that 59% of all links shared on social networked aren’t actually clicked on at all, implying the majority of article shares aren’t based on actual reading of anything beyond the headline. Obviously, this isn’t the ideal situation, but it does warrant some extra hours spent polishing those headlines.
17. Never responding to commenters. Even small-time blogs are going to attract occasional commenters. When you syndicate your post through social media channels, you’ll attract even more comments. It’s common to think of your work as done once the post goes live and the comments start rolling in, but every comment you ignore is a lost opportunity. For starters, commenters often leave meaningful feedback about your post (either intentionally, such as criticizing your argument, or unintentionally, such as expressing confusion about a point you thought was clear). Plus, responding to comments shows you care about your audience, and will attract more readers to your blog accordingly.
18. Failing to promote completed posts. Imagine the “perfect” book — it’s got everything you want in a novel and then some — but it’s buried in the middle of an Arizona desert and nobody knows where it is. It doesn’t matter how good the content is because you’ll never get the chance to read it, right? Well, this principle applies to your blog as well. You could be writing digital masterpieces, but if you don’t promote those pieces after you’re done writing them, nobody will know they’re there. Take the extra time to syndicate those posts on social media, submit them to content networks, or otherwise get the word out that they exist.
19. Relying on too many distribution networks. After reading that last point, you might feel like taking up arms and start promoting your content on every network you can get your hands on, trying to stay active on dozens of social media platforms and keeping track of multiple social bookmarking sites. This may not be a bad initial approach, but after a while, it will become evident to you that some platforms are much more effective for your content than others. This will depend on your unique brand circumstances, so do your research, pay attention to your performance metrics, and be ready to make cuts when you learn which platforms perform best.
20. Forgetting to re-syndicate older posts. New content marketers place all their focus on new content, and it’s true that newer posts need more support. However, you can’t forget about the older posts that comprise your content archive — they hold lasting value, too (as long as they’re evergreen in nature). Keep a running list of all those older posts, and push them to social media again — at least on occasion. If you’re concerned about being repetitive, switch up your headlines or update the content within them; these small changes can breathe new life into old pieces for a negligible amount of additional effort.
21. Neglecting to include calls to action. There are a number of possible goals you can have in a content marketing campaign, but no matter what, you’ll want your readers to take some kind of action at the end of their content journey — whether that’s buying a product, signing up for a consultation, or signing up for your email list. Users won’t take these actions on their own, which is why you need to call them to action in the body of your blogs. Not including calls-to-action (CTAs) in your content is wasted potential for every post, so make sure you include a callout in each one. I try to include one at the end of each of my posts.
22. Selling too hard. As with most tactics in content marketing, you also need to strike a balance here. If you stuff all your posts full of CTAs and have popup ads galore hitting your users in the face, it won’t take long before they’re fed up with your content and move on. Consumers generally don’t trust ads or hard sales tactics, and if they feel your blog only exists to sell to them, they aren’t going to waste their time. You need to sell some, including some CTAs in your work, but push too hard and your readers will flee.
23. Only publishing text-based articles. Text-based articles are arguably the most approachable medium in content marketing; all you need is a computer, keyboard, and a bit of knowledge in a given area to write a text post. They’re also easy to optimize for SEO, and are some of the easiest content to access online. However, written articles also have disadvantages, and lack some of the benefits that visual content offers. If you pigeonhole yourself by only publishing text-based material, you’ll cut yourself off from that potential.
24. Only producing visuals. Visual content, which includes things like infographics, photographs, and videos, is excellent for engaging with audiences, driving higher retention, and encourage more shares, but it’s not a perfect medium — there’s no such thing. Visual content is harder to optimize for SEO, is generally consumed quickly, and is usually much more expensive and time-consuming to produce than written content. Keep this in mind when evaluating how to balance your brand’s content, and pay attention to how your readers, specifically, respond to each broad medium.
25. Failing to vary your content length. Just as you’ll want to vary the mediums you use in your content strategy, you’ll want to vary the length. Short posts (and videos) can be effective at quickly grabbing users’ attentions and getting them to share almost instinctively, but overall, longer posts tend to drive more engagement, shares, and links. Each length type has advantages and disadvantages, so try to use both long-form and short-form content throughout your campaign.
26. Mimicking your competitors too closely. Competitive research is a vital part of the content strategizing process, and you’ll want to learn from them by watching what they do. For example, what types of content do they post that seem to be the most effective? What types are least effective? What off-site publisher sites do they rely on? You can answer all of these questions using a tool like Buzzsumo. However, don’t end up mimicking your competitors too closely, or else you’ll risk robbing your brand of its uniqueness.
27. Not following content marketing news and industry influencers. Content marketing is an industry that changes rapidly. We’re on the forefront of new technologies, driven by consumer devices, social media platforms, and even search algorithms. Trends often change without warning, so you’ll need to be prepared and privy to the latest developments. You can stay ahead of the curve by tapping into the latest content marketing news (and following content influencers) — but many amateurs neglect to do this until it’s too late to benefit from the information. Performing a simple Google search for “content marketing influencers” should net you a handful of lists of great content marketers to follow.
28. Trying to do everything yourself. On the surface, content marketing seems like a potential do-it-yourself strategy; you don’t need a ton of resources to start up, and even if you don’t have much experience, you can learn the basics on your own. However, with bigger-scale campaigns, trying to juggle everything by yourself is a sure way to sabotage your results. There’s simply too much to manage and too many areas that require niche expertise for any one person to become singularly effective in its execution.
29. Not giving feedback to your team. Assuming you’re working with a content team, you need to understand the importance of giving and receiving feedback. No campaign starts out perfect, and the only way it’s going to get better is if you hold each other accountable to improve. Recognize your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and try to help them grow by giving them more learning opportunities and addressing possibilities for improvement. For example, you could sign them up for a webinar on how to write better headlines, or host a small workshop to improve publisher outreach processes.
30. Forgetting to double-check every post. This is a simple mistake most amateurs don’t think about. Once your blog post is finished, you’re excited to get it live so you can start seeing the benefits. However, it’s essential that you double check every post your brand publishes for factual accuracy as well as grammatical and spelling errors. Even one mistake could cause a blow to your reputation, so check carefully, and consider using automated tools like Grammarly to assist you.
31. Never leaning on other authorities. You may have years of experience in the industry, and you may have your own original research to work with, but you can’t rely on that for every post. You aren’t the only authority in the world, so chances are good people have explored each of your topics before you — in some way. Lean on these authorities by citing and recognizing their work. If you disagree with them, present a counterargument, or use their work as evidence for your position. Even the mere mention of these authorities by name can boost the value of your piece.
32. Writing as a brand, rather than a person. I’ve already mentioned the importance of having a signature brand voice, designed to cater to your target audience and remain consistent throughout your growth and development. This is still important; however, if you lose your personal touch in trying to maintain this brand voice, you could turn readers away. People crave a personal connection in the content they read, so don’t be afraid to show off your own personality.
33. Neglecting the power of guest posts. Content isn’t all about the material you post on your own blog. In fact, you can sometimes earn even greater benefits by posting off-site. Guest posts are a handy way to increase the visibility and reach of your brand, earn domain-authority-boosting links pointing back to your site, and get some referral traffic all at once. If you aren’t pursuing this portion of your content strategy, you’re missing out on huge potential. Even better, as you write for higher and higher authority sources, these benefits only grow in significance.
34. Failing to include enough visuals. It’s important to include both written and visual content, separately, as part of your strategy, but even your written content should have some visual element. Social posts with an image get far more shares and likes than those without — so even including a header image could greatly increase your overall engagement rates. It’s also valuable to provide illustrations and drawings — even if they’re just doodles — throughout your piece to break up your written content and better demonstrate the principles you’re presenting.
35. Isolating your social presence. I previously mentioned the danger of relying on too many distribution networks, but the opposite is also dangerous; if you rely on only one social media platform, or one vehicle for delivery, you’ll stifle your potential. Oftentimes, it only takes a few seconds to post your content somewhere new — even if you only get a handful of readers from the action, it will be worth it.
36. Ruling out the power of automation. Then again, why take even a minute to post something when you could have an automated tool do it for you? Amateurs sometimes neglect the power of content and syndication automation. Yes, there are dangers in relying too heavily on automation to do your work for you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t schedule some posts in advance or set up automatically-generating reports for your own convenience. Buffer is a great tool for this.
37. Never networking. Much of content marketing’s power comes from the size and relevance of the audience you’re working with. If you don’t take time as part of your strategy to network with other people who might be interested in your brand, you’re wasting your potential. Start an outreach program on social media (or in real life) to attract more followers to your brand on a regular basis.
38. Publishing inconsistently. If you want your readers to stick with you, you need to give them something they can count on. That means writing posts that are consistent in quality, with a consistent focus, and with a consistent posting schedule. You can deviate slightly from this consistency, as your strategy warrants, but for the most part, you should remain as steady as possible.
39. Becoming formulaic. Don’t mistake consistency for repetition. If you find a post that works well for your audience, it’s good to learn from the experience and replicate the factors that led to its success, but if you do this too often, your work will become formulaic and stale. Shake things up every once in a while with something your followers wouldn’t expect.
40. Using content only for content marketing. It may sound silly, but content shouldn’t only be used for content marketing. Content can serve as fuel, an accelerator, or even a complement to other marketing strategies you have in place. As easy examples, it should be used in conjunction with your SEO and social media strategies. It can also be used for email marketing, or as a target for your paid advertising campaign; if you write good enough content, you could even sell it as a separate line of revenue for your business. The more ways you use your content, the more you stand to gain from your singular investment, and the more valuable your strategy becomes.
41. Isolating your content team. If you’re working in a smaller organization, this may not apply to you, but if your company is large enough that it has its own content team — or even its own marketing team — building silos can be dangerous. If you isolate your content team from your other departments, they may become deprived of important information that relates to how your brand positions itself, how your customers engage with your brand, or even how your company operates. All of these things are valuable to inform your content strategy, and the more your team knows about them, the better.
42. Not knowing how to measure your results. You know what it takes for your campaign to be effective, but do you really know what you’re measuring and how to measure it? There are a number of cognitive traps you can fall into here. For example, you may be fixated on measuring the wrong thing — such as only measuring keyword rankings and completely ignoring organic traffic. Or you may know what to measure, but not know the correct way to measure it.
43. Not polling your audience or listening to readers. Your readers are the ones who will keep your content strategy going. If they like what you’re writing, they’ll stick around and likely bring even more people to your brand. If they don’t, they’ll leave. You need to know what your readers think of your content strategy at all times — and the best way to get this information is to ask them directly. Pay attention to what they say about your blog posts, in comment feeds and on social media, then take it a step further by giving them polls or surveys that ask bigger questions about their satisfaction with your material. Typeform is a great tool for this.
44. Letting confirmation bias guide your analysis. Confirmation bias is one of the most dangerous cognitive biases in the realm of marketing analytics, in part because it affects everyone to some degree. Confirmation bias makes you gravitate toward information that confirms a belief you already hold; for example, if you believe one of your content topics is more popular than another, you may artificially weigh one stat — like traffic — against another — like social shares — to maintain that assumption. Fight against confirmation bias as much as you can by avoiding the formation of conclusions before you see the data.
45. Failing to understand the cause of your effects. Measurement will tell you something that’s happening, but it takes analysis to determine why it’s happening. For example, if you see a consistently upward trend in your brand’s incoming organic traffic, does that mean your content strategy is working to increase your rankings? Probably, but do you know how to check? Admittedly, this is one of the most difficult skills to learn in content marketing because there are so many independent variables that can affect your results. Still, the whys are just as important as the whats if you’re going to keep moving forward.
46. Not turning insights into action. It’s good to form conclusions about your campaign — insight is better than ignorance — but that insight is only valuable if you manage to tie it to an action. For example, you know your “how to” series of posts performed poorly compared to some of your more traditional topics. What are you going to do about it? Will you eliminate them altogether? Try to format them differently to better appeal to your audience? Everything needs to translate to some kind of action.
47. Failing to tie results to a dollar value. Awesome results doesn’t necessarily mean your strategy is paying off — at least, not in the literal sense. You need to know and understand your return on investment (ROI) if you’re going to keep your content campaign profitable in the long term. You need to know approximately how much you’re spending (including how much time you spend on your campaign), and what all your results (e.g., rankings, traffic, shares, etc.) bring you in terms of new revenue. Pay attention to your conversion rate, and differences in your brand’s incoming revenue throughout your campaign, and strive for higher cost efficiency wherever you can.
48. Giving up too early. Content marketing is an exciting opportunity with tons of potential — but don’t let your excitement translate to impatience. It takes a long time for your efforts to start paying off –usually at least 6–12 months — so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results within the first few weeks or months. The same holds true for smaller variations of your strategy; for example, just because your new video marketing campaign hasn’t taken off in the first few days of its launch doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Patience is a virtue in the content industry, so keep your focus on long-term trends and returns.
49. Failing to scale. Don’t mistake patience for complacency, however. As you gain more experience, earn a better reputation, and attract more followers, you’ll have the opportunity to pursue more rewarding opportunities. For example, you’ll be able to feature yourself on bigger and better publishers, work with more experienced influencers, and produce more in-depth, detailed content. If you don’t take advantage of this, your campaign could end up plateauing, so make sure you gradually scale your campaign to bigger heights.
50. Failing to experiment. If I could only pick one key to making an effective content marketing strategy, it would be experimentation. No matter how many “best practice” articles you read (though they can be helpful), or how long you spend strategizing, your first stab at a campaign will likely be imperfect. The only way to get better is to make an adjustment, see if you earn better results, and keep it if you do, abandoning it if you don’t. Experimenting is a way to slowly improve your work, piece by piece, and if you don’t do it, you’ll be confined to your first-draft approach indefinitely.
Of course, these aren’t the only mistakes you can make, and avoiding them alone won’t be enough to guarantee you measurable results. However, they will guide you in establishing a strong content foundation for your brand, and set you up for development years into the future.
The more you’re willing to learn, grow, and adapt, the better you’re going to fare, so enter the realm with humility and flexibility if you want to ultimately succeed.