I understand your frustration.
I see it every day.
I’m talking about marketers, or aspiring marketers, who put a lot of effort into their content marketing but just don’t get the results they need.
The truth is that effort does not equal results.
Working hard doing the wrong things won’t produce any significant results.
And that’s what most marketers do. They have a broken content marketing system.
While a lot of the pieces are right, they’re making a few big mistakes that are making their efforts fruitless.
I realize that it can be disheartening to hear that, but let me assure you that you are not alone.
According to a recent survey, only 30% of marketers rate their use of content marketing effective.
Very few (6%) say that their content marketing is “very effective.”
Everyone seems to realize the potential of content marketing, but very few are getting the most out of it.
So, instead of showing you a new tactic today, I’m going to show you 6 symptoms of a broken content marketing plan.
If you recognize a symptom, that’s actually a good thing because I’m also going to show you how to fix these flaws and get back on track to success.
I realize that no one likes making mistakes, but try to keep an open mind and honestly evaluate whether you have any of the problems I am about to describe in detail here.
There’s no shame, everyone (especially me) has made many of these mistakes at one time or another. Every marketer needs to find their own path to success.
1. You’re not getting as many backlinks as you’d like (i.e., stagnant search engine traffic)
If you know me at all, you know that I love organic search engine traffic.
It’s very consistent and typically grows over time if you’re doing content marketing right.
You can see what I mean in the 100k case study.
As you might know, search engine rankings and traffic are tied to backlinks, and that isn’t going to change any time soon.
The more high quality backlinks you have pointing to your content, the more traffic you will get.
I’ve written about how to get these backlinks and how to optimize your content for search engines many times in the past:
In this post, however, I want to focus on determining whether something is wrong with your content marketing.
If all is well, your organic search traffic should increase fairly steadily. Otherwise, we have a problem.
Symptom: Organic search traffic has plateaued or is slowly declining.
Step #1 – Check the numbers: Just as doctors turn to machines to provide them with data about their patients’ health, marketers have analytics to turn to.
Start by going to Google Analytics.
Using the left sidebar, navigate to “Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels,” and then select the “Organic Search” grouping.
The important part is to look over a long enough time period.
I’ve often had a span of 1-3 months during which traffic remained relatively constant, but if you have a plateau for longer than that, there’s probably an issue (with the exception of a highly seasonal niche):
Here’s an example that shows that there is something wrong:
There was a really nice increase of search traffic over a few months, but since then, it has either stayed the same or declined.
That indicates that there is something really wrong with this site’s content marketing.
Step #2 – Find the cure: This is a bit tougher but doable with a little bit of effort.
Aside from those potential issues, the most common problem by far is not getting enough backlinks to new content.
Let me clarify – high quality backlinks. A link on a forum isn’t going to do much for your search rankings (although it won’t hurt either).
To confirm this, you need to use a link database tool. Ahrefs and Majestic are the best options.
First, input your domain into either tool:
Once the page loads, you’ll see a graph of the growth of all the links to your site.
Hopefully, it will look something like this:
As long as your backlink count (and total referring domains) are both steadily increasing, you’re doing something right, and search traffic will almost always go up.
But what if you see a downward trend or a plateau?
That tells you that your site as a whole isn’t attracting any new backlinks.
That needs fixing.
It’s a clear sign that your content promotion isn’t up to par.
You should be spending at least as much time promoting your content as you do creating it. If your blog is relatively new, you should spend even more time.
Aim to get at least 20 high quality links from your promotion efforts. This takes a lot of time and persistence. You might have to send out 500+ emails per article. Do it.
You won’t see the results immediately, but after a few months, your search traffic will increase and keep rising if you keep up the work.
If you’re not really sure how to promote your content, I’ve got you covered. Read through these guides I’ve written in the past:
- The Day After: 11 Things to Do After You Publish a Post
- How to Use Advanced Content Promotion Strategies
- The Advanced Guide to Content Marketing: Content Promotion
2. Your current audience is not finding your content useful
Think about the basic principles of content marketing.
Your content needs to have value in order to accomplish anything. If your audience isn’t finding your content useful, they’re not going to continue to read it.
This is something you want to catch as quickly as possible, or it can become tremendously hard to reverse.
Here’s what happens with most somewhat loyal readers:
- they generally like your content, maybe even love it
- but then they read a post that isn’t very useful. That post alone won’t deter them from coming back.
- if they come across more posts that aren’t useful within a short time period, they will not come back.
Take a second to understand that sequence.
It’s easy to produce a less than stellar post and let it slip by because your numbers won’t take a hit. In the short term, most of your readers will still be loyal to you.
But if you let 2, 3, or 4 posts that aren’t very valuable slip by, you’ll start seeing your readership decline exponentially.
It happens all the time to even popular sites. They lose a large percentage of longtime loyal readers in just a few months because they start to cut corners.
You can’t afford to do this…ever.
Diagnosing ‘weak’ content: In order to evaluate how your audience perceives your content, you need a few different metrics to get a full picture.
There are a few different symptoms that you’ll need to keep an eye out for.
Symptom #1: Your email open rate goes down…down…and down
I suggest keeping a close eye on your email subscribers at all times. These are typically your most loyal readers, which means they provide reliable, accurate information.
Here, you need to examine your email open rate. All major email marketing service providers offer some sort of report in your account that should show you your overall email open rates over time.
Something like this:
If it’s staying steady or even going up, great. You’re doing something right.
But if it’s steadily going down, that’s a sign that people are losing interest in your content. If it’s only a slight downward trend, you may be doing okay, but you’ll want to keep an eye on it.
The reason why this is a good metric to look at is because these loyal readers will open most of your emails if they expect there is valuable content in them (why wouldn’t they if your content will improve their lives?)
If your numbers are dropping, it means that more and more of your readers aren’t expecting to find useful content in your emails.
Symptom #2: The number of “actionable comments” goes down dramatically
Truth be told, I don’t really worry about the sheer number of comments I get on posts.
Sometimes I get 20 comments; other times I get 300. A lot of that depends on whether what I am writing about is interesting to all or only certain parts of my audience.
What I do care about is how many actionable comments I get.
For me, an “actionable comment” is a comment that demonstrates that the reader not only liked the content but actually took action to apply it.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? If you want to see whether your readers find your content useful, see if they actually use it.
Cranking up the value and winning back your readers: The reason behind either (or both) of these symptoms is usually the same.
Some time in the recent past you started publishing content that wasn’t up to the standard you set before.
It’s really easy to do, and there are many things that can cause it:
- distractions in your personal life
- falling into a content creation “grind”—feeling burnt out
- getting overwhelmed by other parts of your work or business
First of all, know that it’s okay. Everyone (including myself) has dips in the quality of their content once in awhile.
But the best marketers spot it really quickly and fix it.
The solution is actually quite simple: start putting more effort into creating more valuable content.
If you can’t do that for some reason, it might be time to at least temporarily hire a writer or editor to help you.
If you’re just feeling a bit lost with your content creation, it may be time to learn some new ways to add value to your content. Here are a few posts I’ve written that will help you inject some new life into your work:
- How To Create Better Content For Your Customers
- Transform Your Blog Posts: 6 Open-Ended Questions That’ll Help You Create Better Content
- 12 Content Writing Secrets of Professional Writers
- No More Tricks: 5 Ways to Create Content That Google Wants to Rank
3. Your traffic is barely growing
I think every content marketer has experienced it near the beginning of their career.
They create content on a regular basis, but the traffic never amounts to anything more than a few hundred views a month.
But there are many possible reasons for that, including publishing boring content in the first place.
I’m going to assume that you know better than that and that you’re already producing some good content.
If this is your situation, the problem likely lies with your current content promotion systems.
Here’s how you diagnose it:
Symptom: You get great engagement metrics, but your traffic barely grows.
Engagement metrics tell you how much your users enjoy and interact with your content. They include:
- average time on page
- bounce rate
- average pages per session
To find these, open Google Analytics, and navigate to “Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.”
In this report, you’ll be able to see the average time on page and bounce rate of each piece of content on your site.
Two metrics will help you diagnose this problem.
In general, your content is pretty darn good if you can achieve the following numbers:
- average time on page over 2 minutes
- bounce rate under 60%
However, if you’re producing really long content (like I do), you should aim for even better numbers.
The point of checking these numbers is to make sure your readers enjoy reading your content, which is a signal of its quality.
If you see that you’ve met these standards for almost all your posts, it’s a sign you have the problem of poor content promotion.
The solution to getting the traffic you deserve: If you have good content but poor traffic, you need to re-evaluate your promotion strategy.
You might be faltering in two ways:
- You’re not promoting your content enough.
- Your promotional tactics aren’t effective.
For the first one, it comes down to priorities.
If you’ve found a way to get traffic to your content, spend more time and effort on it whether it’s forum posting, advertising, email outreach, or whatever other tactic that has worked for you on a small scale.
If you have a low level of traffic, any tactic that brings in a bit of traffic will work if you devote enough time to it.
You should spend at least as much time promoting your content as you do creating it. In most cases, you should spend more.
If that means you need to create less content, so be it. Put quality over quantity.
Now, if your promotional tactics aren’t effective, that’s a completely different problem.
That means you need to spend time learning new tactics and testing them out until you find some that are effective for your business.
As always, I have a few resources that will teach you just about everything you need to know to do this:
- The Day After: 11 Things to Do After You Publish a Post
- How to Use Advanced Content Promotion Strategies
- The Advanced Guide to Content Marketing: Content Promotion
4. You’re doing everything on your own
There is no sustainable way to do everything by yourself once your business reaches a certain size.
If you do try to, three things can happen:
- you get burnt out
- you can’t keep up, and your business suffers large setbacks
- you have to limit your growth
All these cases are obviously bad. And if your current content marketing system relies on you doing everything, it’s broken.
It is not set up for long term success, no matter how passionate, persistent, and intelligent you are.
If this sounds like you, and you feel that one of those three scenarios is happening (or has already happened), you need to take a step back.
Know when it’s better to get help: You wear a lot of different hats as a content marketer.
Content marketing requires a lot of different skills:
- link building
Unless you’re an extremely rare exception, you’re not amazing at all those things.
Like most marketers, you’re probably good to great at a few of them and mediocre at the rest.
By all means, you can improve those weaknesses, or you can get help.
When I tell business owners and marketers to spend more on freelancers (or additional employees), they always resist, saying something along the lines of:
I can’t afford to do that.
They’re right and wrong at the same time.
With their current content marketing system, they can’t afford it. Their growth and results can’t justify increased spending.
But what they don’t realize is that by doing everything themselves, they are costing themselves a huge amount of money.
Hiring good freelancers almost always makes you more money than it costs for a few main reasons:
- they’re better than you – instead of struggling with one of your weak skills, like design, you can hire a professional graphic designer who spends all their time improving that one skill.
- it frees up your time – with help, you have more time to spend on the parts of content marketing you excel at. For example, I love creating content, so I do that. Getting help with other things allows me to write several posts a week, and you can’t do that if you’re doing everything else too.
- it minimizes catastrophes – if you get sick and you’re doing everything on your own, everything shuts down, which is extremely costly. When you have help, others can fill in to keep everything running smoothly.
I really hope that makes sense.
When you hire intelligently, you make even more money, AND you’ll get to do the work you enjoy the most.
How do you hire intelligently? I’ll be honest, hiring the right people isn’t easy. If you hire people who aren’t professional, they might leave you hanging unexpectedly, which can mess up your content strategy.
My first big advice is to know exactly what you want.
Hire for a very specific position (e.g., copywriter, funnel expert, designer, etc.), and make your requirements very clear.
As an example, take a look at 3 job postings I posted on Quick Sprout in 2015:
You’ll notice that the main thing I look for, besides knowledge, is passion.
I like working with people who love their work and spend a large part of their lives doing it. These are the most likely people to act like professionals and always deliver on their promises.
As long as you return the favor by paying promptly and treating them like professionals, they will make your life a lot easier.
One more thing that you absolutely must do when making hiring decisions is to talk to the person you are considering to hire (phone, Skype, or whatever you prefer).
Get a sense of their expectations so you can determine if they’re a good fit for what you can offer.
Sometimes, you’ll get a gut feeling telling you that you should hire a particular person; other times your gut will tell you to pass. More often than not, that gut feeling is right, so trust your instincts.
Finally, don’t hire all at once.
Once those marketers and business owners see how hiring could actually help them, they often hire too many people too fast.
When you’re planning on working with someone long-term, rushing is the biggest mistake you can make.
Start with one position.
Even if you find a great person to hire, chances are you’ll still do a few things wrong. When you start with just one position, it gives you a chance to learn from your mistakes and then apply those lessons to the next person.
Slowly transition to the business structure you want instead of trying to make it happen overnight.
5. You’re getting views and subscribers but no sales
One of the biggest reasons why business owners think that content marketing isn’t very effective is that they don’t know how to turn it into sales.
They do a good job when it comes to creating high quality content, but then they expect that their readers would spontaneously start buying their products.
Or they don’t want to upset their audience by selling something to them.
If you relate to either of these types of people, you need to understand that the whole point of content marketing, like most other types of marketing, is to increase profits (sales).
Without any return from content marketing, how are you supposed to justify the investment in more content? You can’t.
Additionally, why would you feel bad about selling a product that will genuinely help your customers?
If you’ve been having success with your content, you understand your reader very well. No one else is in as good a position to create a useful product for them as you are.
So if you don’t have a product to sell, get one.
The more interesting problem to diagnose is when you have poor sales of an actual product despite getting a good amount of traffic.
Possible diagnosis #1 – Your conversion funnel needs work: All products have conversion funnels; some just aren’t very well defined.
A conversion funnel simply describes the path that a customer takes to become an actual customer from being a first time visitor:
Yes, there are many different paths in each step, but you should be able to define the main channels they pass through.
For example, “visitor > email subscriber > sales pages > customer.”
Once you have your funnel defined, you can use analytics to see where they are dropping off in this funnel.
If you’re not sure how to build an effective conversion funnel, I have an in-depth guide that will show you how to.
Possible diagnosis #2 – You don’t have product-market fit: Now, if you actually have a good funnel but you can’t figure out why barely anyone is buying your products, you likely have a poor product-market fit.
Your product-market fit is basically a measure of how well your product meets the needs of your audience.
If no one is buying, it means one of two things:
- your product sucks
- you’re targeting it to the wrong audience
Be honest with yourself about your product: is it really good enough to sell? I rarely see this problem with content marketers, however, since they tend to give as much value as possible.
The more common problem is creating the wrong product for your audience.
For example, if you had a blog catered to SEO beginners, would it make sense to try to sell an advanced technical SEO crawler to them?
No, it wouldn’t. Instead, a basic rank tracking tool or email outreach tool would be much more useful for them at the moment.
It’s not that your product isn’t good—it’s that your audience doesn’t have a need for it.
Instead, you should have been writing content that attracts experienced SEOs rather than beginners. Then, you’d be selling the right product to the right audience.
To fix this problem, you either need to create a different product or pivot your content marketing strategy to target the right audience for your product.
6. No other bloggers are willing to help you out
The final big symptom of broken content marketing is that everything seems to be an uphill battle.
Then, you see guys like Brian Dean who start a blog from nothing and turn it into a leading blog in their niche within just a few years.
A big reason for Brian’s success was that other influencers in the marketing and SEO niche loved his work and shared it with their audiences.
Symptom: No influencers are willing to mention you or any of your content, no matter how many of them you interact with and send emails to.
In this scenario, a few different areas of your content marketing might be broken.
Possible diagnosis #1 – Your content isn’t unique enough: You have to understand things from the perspective of a blogger with an audience.
They receive dozens of requests from other bloggers every day asking them to look at their content.
Almost all of it looks exactly the same.
It’s not bad, but it’s not unique.
When Brian started publishing his content, people took a look at it and said, “Wow.”
He created new SEO tactics and presented them better than almost everyone else in the niche.
Your takeaway: your content needs to be exceptional if you want other influencers to share your work.
The best incentive to share your work in particular is if you’re the only one who has written about something, so be unique.
Possible diagnosis #2 – You need a better outreach approach: This ties in with your promotional efforts, which we went over earlier.
One of the biggest challenges for you is to get an influencer to take a look at your content in the first place.
Your content may actually be excellent, but if you’re coming off as another blogger who just wants something, your email will be deleted.
How do you solve this?
It’s a complex subject, but the first thing you want to do is stop approaching these bloggers as people you want to do something for you.
Instead, approach them to try to build a relationship. Let them know that you enjoy learning from them and would like to become their peer in the future.
Don’t just shove a link in their faces the first time you email them. Try to research a mutual connection and send a few emails over a few weeks with no objective other than to develop a deeper relationship.
You’ll be surprised how much of an effect that little change can have.
It’s no secret that content marketing can produce great results. But at the same time, the majority of marketers are not having success with it.
It’s because their content marketing approach is broken.
I’ve shown you the 6 most common symptoms of broken content marketing as well as what you need to do to fix them.
Now, it’s your turn to honestly evaluate your results and determine if there’s a weakness that you can fix.
As always, if you have any questions at all, ask me in a comment below, giving me as much detail as you can.