Paid advertising, sponsored posts, Google AdWords – or content marketing? This is a decision every marketer needs to make, every year. The best way to know how to spend your budget is simply to look at the return on investment over time. This is what it looks like.

When you Google ”Which online marketing strategy has the best ROI?”, you find a wide range of articles that say the return on investment of online marketing is too difficult to measure.

A lot of them also tell you that it’s almost impossible to compare the results of these methods.

But you can measure it. In digital communication, you can track every lead, every click, every subscription. Unlike traditional print ads, you can measure not only how many people have seen your banner, but how many have clicked it and bought something.

To see which marketing method is more effective, we only have to look at the statistics. 

Of course, it depends on what you’re selling and to whom. Maybe your customers are not on Facebook. Maybe they’re all about newsletters or Snapchat, and the time and budget needed for those channels may differ.

But we do know that only the messages that they find useful, viral, engaging or truly interesting will bring results. By posting useful content in your digital channels regularly – website articles, videos, photos, infographics, newsletters, blogs and social media posts – you will increase your sales. Statistics show that half of B2B buyers first consume 3 to 5 pieces of content before engaging with a salesperson. That is content marketing.

Here’s what the marketing statistics say

… and the sources, if you want further reading (inspired by this post by Curata and this post from CMI):

  • Website conversion rate is nearly six times higher for content marketing adopters than non-adopters

What costs more, then? Paid search or content marketing?

Just like INC puts it in this article, time and money are both investments:

”If ROI were a simple matter of money in, money out, it’d be much easier to estimate and compare. However, some strategies require more of a time investment than a money investment, which adds another difficult-to-measure variable to the process.”

Long-term results are also different from short-term results. We know that over the course of five years, a long-term investment will pay off far better than a short-term one.

However, you want immediate results. Depending on the size of your company, statistics show that

Content doesn’t come with a deadline, which paid search does. Paid advertising might work during that limited time, and it may be a good complement to boost a post, but it doesn’t build your brand continuously without good content.

As an example, I wrote a blog post for one of our clients in 2014. That blog post is still (today, January 2017) the one piece of content that drives the most traffic on their website!

Compared to paid ads, good content reaches your customers because:

  • You deserved their attention by being interesting, relevant and attractive
  • They chose you because you seemed different than the rest
  • Someone recommended you
  • They Googled a question, and you provided the most relevant information and answer to that question

It’s all about long-term branding!

You can pay for better ranking on Google, but the day you stop paying, the effect will stop. If you build your ranking with organic search instead, it will last. And once you’ve created a post that drives traffic, people will keep finding it, every day. Traffic drives traffic.

Building a ”content bank” is building your brand. The more high-quality content you have that is search engine optimized, the more traffic you will get, and the better you will rank. Which increases your traffic, which in its turn increases your ranking …

Therefore,

So why aren’t more companies doing this?

They are. But:

Being a content manager is almost like being a journalist or editor: you must know what’s interesting to your customers. Don’t tell them about your company or products all the time, give them something useful and interesting.

Like what? Well, you’ll find all those stories inside your business, it’s all there. It requires skills and experience to make them useful, but it’s worth it.

Business happy woman jumping yellow marketing
Ready to make your content fly?

I want to start by saying that the headline is slightly misleading. What we are now facing in digital marketing is not a trend, but a paradigm shift – a substantial change.

It’s not only in the digital development, but in the very needs and behaviours of people, and in who owns the information and marketing online. And in not falling victim to the trend. Crazy exciting.

But I’ll try to be as brief as possible.

This is for those who want to create online reach, long-term value and credibility. For those of you, who want to own your field.

Something has happened with our confidence in sources on the Internet. Today a source is not only a book, a newspaper or a website. It might be an organization, a company and, above all, a brand.

The reason for this is that we are beginning to understand that the entire Internet is all about information. To own an audience online you must act as an information business. You have to create information, distribute it and establish a reputation of being the best information provider. At least within a specific niche, where you can be the king – of content marketing.

Then, why is this? And why is it relevant?

It’s up to the customer – or is it?

Information has become a currency worth its weight in gold. This is because it’s no longer journalists, newspapers or media companies who provide the stories in people’s news feed, but the people themselves. They think.

People choose what companies they follow on Facebook and what brands they want to see in their news feed. They can mix articles from New York Times with ads from McDonald’s and blog posts from H&M – all in the same feed. They design their own subscriptions to information in social media, or in apps like Omni.

You would think that this leads to chaos. But it doesn’t, because Facebook, Instagram and Google have already found the solution to that: new algorithms.

September 6th 2016: TechCrunch, with 7.5 million followers on Twitter, describes Facebook's algorithm for designing your news feed.
September 6th 2016: TechCrunch, with 7.5 million followers on Twitter, describes Facebook’s algorithm for designing your news feed. Read the full article here.

For people to get their tailor-made feed, Google and Facebook have changed their algorithms from showing information published in chronological order to showing the posts according to what you seem the most interested in. Therefore you mainly see what they think you like the most – based on your, and sometimes your friends’, online behaviour.

Your brand can be up there. At the top. Frequently. Ranked as the best. 

How to own your target audience’s feed

It all comes down to one thing: what you do to deserve that position and attention. If you know the way to get to the top of your target audience’s feeds, to get shared and renowned, it’s unbeatably more effective than paid advertising space like AdWords or Facebook Ads. Then you are aiming at the very heart of your target group – and they not only find you, but they choose you.

How to do it then?

Until now companies basically have been able to piggyback on this phenomenon, that is to say social media’s ways to present content to their users. But from now on Google and Facebook want to charge you even more for exposure.

Unless your content is so great that Google and Facebook WANT to promote it, because its quality says something about them and their ranking system.

Now, this is the key.

It’s not enough to just create content based on SEO keywords or the insights about your target audience. That’s yesterday’s marketing.

Here’s where we get to the heart of the matter.

The new brand tactics of Google and Facebook

Today the two giants Google and Facebook mainly want to do three things:

  1. they want to overtake the journalists’ role as gatekeepers to the news bills, i.e. deciding what content and ranking will be seen in our feeds, 
  2. they say they want to downplay the ‘filter bubble’ phenomenon, i.e. wanting to balance our social media feeds so we don’t live in different realities, and 
  3. they want to eliminate clickbait, i.e. ’11 signs that you…’ and ‘You won’t believe what happens next…’ articles. 

These three things all aim to rank, promote and reward high-quality content instead of mediocre content. Partly because it has become their responsibility and partly because it makes them look good.

The trend is not to follow the trend, but to create something sustainable and lasting: quality.

It’s a reaction to spam, and ‘spam’ today is not only junk mail, but everything that is not highly relevant for the user (the target audience). Simply because it’s damaging Google’s and Facebook’s brands and credibility. They themselves however, say that it’s because they have a social responsibility.

 

New York Times, August 4th 2016: Facebook say that they are going to promote quality content and avoid clickbait. The headline "Shocker!" makes fun of the typical clickbait headline.
New York Times, August 4th 2016: Facebook say that they are going to promote quality content and avoid clickbait. The headline ”Shocker!” makes fun of the typical clickbait headline. Read the full article here.

‘High quality’ doesn’t mean high quality

Therefore a high-quality text doesn’t necessarily have to be a well-written text like those by Dostoyevsky or Jean-Paul Sartre. Here, high quality means as correct and relevant as possible for the target audience. If that means using slang or a specific jargon, then that is high quality – if it’s found, consumed and appreciated by your target audience.

And all of this is measurable. You can even measure how far down the reader has scrolled.  

Only those of you who create and share OUTSTANDING content will have a great reach. That is to say: the leading brands will be the brands that create content

 

    1. that has understood the algorithms of the big Internet oligarchs,
    2. that offers something highly relevant for the target audience,
    3. that’s appreciated and glorified by the target audience, and
    4. that’s not only published occasionally, but continuously, and on a long-term basis

This is my trend forecast, based on my work with digital communication for both big and small brands in several countries.

High-quality content is the next big thing in marketing.

Not only does it increase the reach of strong brands. It builds them, and creates even more satisfied customers. It gives you the possibility to own your field.

Even Google highlights this, and emphasizes that it’s not about ‘good content’ but ‘original, high-quality content’:

Image from Google's own online course in creating a successful website. "Make a great site – Create high-quality content".
Image from Google’s own online course in creating a successful website. ”Make a great site – Create high-quality content”. You can take the course here.

Google recognizes syntax quality

Every day, Google and Facebook become better at detecting and recognizing quality. Not only if a text online is interesting, but also if it’s well written. Their algorithms understand sarcasm, irony and syntax (sentence structure) and know when something is badly executed.

The development towards increased sensitivity to quality is moving fast.

This means you need to be BRILLIANT.

Then, why does Google care about quality?

It’s a direct result of the fact that Google and Facebook have taken over the journalists’ job to curate, evaluate and present something customized, nuanced and qualitative – a form of truth. Because we go to their feeds and search engines for information, and expect to find answers that are relevant and true.

As shown below Google writes that the search results nowadays prioritize ranking and showing ‘high-quality, in-depth content’.

Google informs us that their algorithm promotes "high-quality, in-depth content" and long reads – the end of short clickbait and SEO spam.
Google informs us that their algorithm promotes ”high-quality, in-depth content” and long reads – the end of short clickbait and SEO spam. Read the full article at Official Google Webmaster Central.

 

The recipe for successful communication

Do you want your deserved attention?

Here’s the recipe:

Create high-quality content for the right audience. Invest in it: engagement, research and competence. Don’t mass produce. Don’t put any writer on the job – get a good one. Then share and publish it according to a strategy. Remember: your brand is at stake every time you publish something.

SEO is no longer just about keywords. Search Engine Optimization is about providing the high quality content that the search giants are looking for. Not only the words, but the whole picture.

Yesterday:
SEO = keyword optimized for Google

Tomorrow:
SEO = targeted and quality labelled
(the SEO is just one piece of the puzzle)

If you play by the rules, you will create content and marketing that is irresistible. You will own your market segment and your target audience. Not only does your communication distribute your brand, but it constantly builds it and adds value to it.

Reach them. And make them come back for more.