The Three Phases Of Content Marketing

Marketers still think of content marketing as an SEO tactic. As a result, content marketing remains in the hands of SEO consultants who are more inclined towards mechanistic processes, rather than delegating control to the marketing or PR department. This mindset misses out on a major branding opportunity for positioning a company leader as an authoritative source and a thought leader in his or her industry.

Moving Beyond The Backlink

Obviously, there are SEO benefits to a content marketing campaign, but to limit the scope to SEO only misses the mark. Traditional public relations has always sought to place well-written articles that adhere to journalistic standards in high-profile media outlets, often under the byline of a company leader. The purpose of that tactic is twofold: Visibility of the company brand, and positioning company principals as knowledgeable authority figures. There is an organic SEO benefit, but it is secondary to the primary goals.

SEO-driven content marketing, on the other hand, sees the backlink as the primary deliverable, and the article as just a wrapper to contain the backlink. That approach leaves far too much on the table. This purely numbers-driven success metric often leads to the creation of articles that don’t measure up to journalistic standards, are placed in media outlets with limited visibility, and as a result could potentially harm the brand.

Three Phases Of Content Marketing Evolution

In an article titled “Brand Journalism is the New Content Marketing,” Content Marketing Digest describes the evolution of content marketing in three phases: Keyword content, content marketing, and brand journalism. The article describes the first phase of keyword-driven content, which is now obsolete: “These articles have long outlived their usefulness. Written in ‘quick and dirty’ style, usually by copying Wikipedia articles and other content and rewriting it enough to pass Copyscape, keyword based articles offer very little to readers, and in fact, aren’t meant to be read by real people. They are usually placed on private blog networks, or sites that were created by marketers solely for the purpose of SEO.”

Because this early phase of content marketing focused on writing articles to be keyword-rich – and often to include multiple long-tail keywords – sentences were often awkwardly-phrased, and sometimes even contained intentional misspellings so as to capture all search possibilities. Search algorithms have long since caught on to the game, and this tactic no longer works – and even when it did, the peculiar and unjournalistic way of writing these pieces for the search engine rather than human readers harmed the brand.

The second phase evolved keyword-driven content into what is popularly known as “content marketing.” The mantra of content marketing is “content is king,” and content marketers started creating higher-quality articles that didn’t focus on keyword density, but rather, made at least some semblance of an attempt at quality. However, content marketing articles still focus on the backlink, and content – though it may be of a higher quality than phase one keyword marketing – was still often obviously promotional in nature, and quality remained hit-and-miss as the SEO consultants in charge of content marketing attempted to create and place large amounts of content articles on a mediocre budget. Rather than actually creating articles, this approach often just created backlink wrappers, which did nothing for brand visibility, thought leadership or meaningful positioning in the marketplace.

The Final Phase – Brand Journalism

While the SEO consultants measure success by the number of backlinks, in reality there are several benefits that can be derived from a more precise campaign. In addition to the SEO benefit of backlinks, the value of brand mention should not be underestimated. A brand mention – even without the backlink – still finds its way into the Google index. Also, placement counts – placing the article in a well-read media outlet that is actually seen by potential customers has value far beyond SEO. SEO after all, means nothing if customers don’t buy after being driven to your site. Those who surf the web regularly have become all too accustomed to self-promotional material, and will usually discredit most SEO articles in their minds immediately.

Going beyond content marketing, brand journalism takes the next step by creating actual newsworthy articles which adhere to normal journalistic standards, and are able to stand on their own as a legitimate feature article outside of the intended purpose of driving traffic or achieving a brand mention. Whereas a reader may be able to quickly tell when you’ve written one of those articles the primary purpose of which is to serve as a backlink wrapper, a piece written with brand journalism in mind offers meaningful value to the reader on its own. Any backlinks, if they do exist, are organic to the article, and sometimes only in the form of a link in the author bio. Any brand mentions that do exist are offered in a non-promotional way and within the context of the story.

Creating this type of article is far beyond the domain of the SEO consultant; it requires the unbiased eye of a trained journalist who also has the mind of a marketer. The goal isn’t just to drive traffic – it is to provide useful content and to engage the audience. As search engine algorithms grow more sophisticated every year, marketers will have to continuously adjust their strategies to shift from simply capturing eyeballs, to capturing mindshare.