The ultimate content marketing challenge

content marketing advantage

The other day I was a witness to content marketing murder.

I was eating breakfast in a hotel dining room which was partially occupied by a BNI networking meeting. A local marketing “expert” was describing how he propelled a new dentist’s office to the top of the Google rankings through his content marketing genius. His story went like this:

“I found that one of the most popular search terms in the dental category was asking about dental care for children. So we created three videos answering those questions. Then we made very small changes to those videos that resulted in 50 more videos. By placing them in many online channels, we actually created 300 different content placements from the original investment in three similar videos. We now own the first nine spots on Google for this search term.”

Here is the sneaky little secret of content marketing.  You don’t need to have the best product or service to win. You don’t need to be the best marketer to win. You don’t even have to create the best content to win. You just need to be first and overwhelming.

This is something that bothers me about the SEO-driven content marketing system. There seems to be such a huge advantage to the first-mover who creates a steady stream of content that I’m not sure there is a cost-effective way to catch up.  I know some commenters will say that the key is to create even better content. But we all know that better content can’t win if it can’t be found in the first place.

So here is the ultimate content marketing challenge — what if you DO have the best product but you’re second to market? How do you cut through the persistent clutter of determined SEO gamesters to even have a chance in the search ranking war? What if you’re very late to the party and you’re getting your ass kicked?

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  • Ramya Srinivasan

    One can never undervalue the importance of “good quality” marketing content – SEO is also equally important. That said, what is the point of having high SEO ranking to bring in traffic to poorly written content – your bounce rate will just shoot up and leave a bad taste with your potential customers.

    Good article, Mark
    @PrayagBangalore on Twitter

  • So, Mark, how does one in fact overcome this “ultimate content marketing challenge?” I am intrigued on how you may answer. All the best!

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  • mankul65

    Ultimately, good content is what resonates with the audience.You can have all the theories,etc. However I do not think there is any magic formula.

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  • Hi Mark, to answer your question: Good quality content sells itself. It will always win and earn its way up the rankings.

    Search rankings used to be SEO-driven. Now the ecosystem is “quality content-driven”. In the past, you could game the system with links and keyword-stuffing. Post Penguin and Panda updates, Google has caught on to black-hat tactics and now places emphasis on quality, relevance, freshness and social weight of content.

    The Ultimate Challenge: is to regularly come up with quality content in context and distribute it where the target audience can find/ share it easily. The Big Shift is: No matter which industry, no matter how good the product… every company is now a content publishing company, and success will come from Content Marketing.

  • Google are making a lot of changes to it’s search results to ensure that the network of people that interact with your content have a stronger influence of the placement of this content.

    Recently they released a tool which allows you to remove links from poor quality websites. This means they are going to start penalize people with lots of poor quality links. So it won’t be about building massive amounts of links. It will be more about having a great network of influential people that talk about your content/product/service.

    That still doesn’t mean you have the best product or service. It means you are the best at building relationships. But in the real world the best product or service doesn’t win anyway?

  • radiojaja

    If you have ‘lost’ the race to market, and therefore the chance to dominate the market or category, surely you must look for a attendant market or category you can dominate?

    You have to very clearly segment the target, and the difference in the target as it pertains to your product. And win the new race you’ve created. As in the example above where the dentist wins the race to dominate the kids market, the trick is to find a different one – thereby ensuring your business has innovation at ts heart.
    Otherwise its all about making a USP out of being second place – “we try harder”

  • 100% Agreed with Sir. Ian – Its More About Link Earning – Rather Than Link Building. A Content which is marketed in a right community, will certainly goes up in the Google Rankings.

  • Thank you for your response Muhammed. Link Earning is a good term, I’m going to use that one again!!!

  • I would say don’t accept being second for long. Unless whoever is number 1 is unmovable having been there for years, they can be dislodged via a combination of awesome content creation, a creative, differentiated approach to sharing it across multiple platforms and engaging with influencers to support it – the ‘link-earning’ approach. All of which creates a virtuous circle to outgun your competitor. Just remember that it won’t happen overnight and requires patience. I would be interested in your answer 🙂

  • I honestly don;t have an answer. That’s why I wrote the post. : ) I know a lot of people will answer “quality” but I’m not sold Google will know that or that it is realistic for a small business to compete that way. Let’s see what the community has to say!

  • I like your thinking very much here Ian. But I still have a hard time applying this to the practical world. Still seems like a very nearly insurmountable lead for business first in the space and they are not going to easily let go of that spot.

  • This is a very wise answer and certainly the “classic” one. However here is what is different now — the entry barriers to dominating a niche in the online world are so low that an aggressive and overwhelming content marketer can tie up the most relevant search terms with no investment in a better product, service or other point of differentiation. For many products, 90% of sales start with a search engine query. We are in a situation where early, aggressive marketers can block competition in any profitable niche with little investment. In theory you are right. In practical application, I’m not sure that is the reality any more because today, you don’t have to build a better product to dominate a niche, you simply have to earn the search results. Thanks for adding to a fascinating debate.

  • I would like to respond to @hughanderson:disqus @twitter-14645807:disqus @ramyasrinivasan:disqus and @e78b0c34acaa5626fdb3550970c79976:disqus with one comment since the common theme here is “beat them back with great content.”

    First, you are assuming that the first content blitz was lousy content. That is not necessarily the case. The first three videos could have been superb and answered consumer questions in an effective way. So why would Google penalize that? The cost of producing good content versus lousy content is really very low when you think about it. And the cost of producing content continues to drop.

    Second, one of the challenges in my original post was, how do you compete COST EFFECTIVELY? So given that the cost of producing content is low and the entry barriers are low, can a small business like a local dentist with limited budget and resources engage in “earned links” to beat back an early entry that has produced great and overwhelming content?

    Theoretically this might be possible, but is it realistic? Or is the real strategy to be first and overwhelming? Isn’t that the heart of content marketing, as unpopular as that might seem?

  • Great lesson in reality. KNOWN FACT: “Best Product” rarely (if ever) wins. Even if first out of the gate, business execution is the single most important factor. BTW, content marketing, SEO and social media are only parts of that execution process.

  • Robzie81

    Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe in the power of people. I think when you’re fighting these kind of SEO tactics, turning to your network of fans, followers and customers and trying to get them to help spread your word, your content and your brand name is the answer to these gamesters. Get your base of people involved. Not only will this help strengthen the relationships you’ve already built, but build upon them with word of mouth. Will it possibly take longer and be more work? Yeah, maybe. As Linus said in his letter to the Great Pumpkin, “But being number two, perhaps you try harder.”

  • What about ‘hugging the belt’ of the competitor?
    Instead of trying to run away with another… something that you can win. Get as close to them as possible in every way.
    When everyone else is thinking the same, no one else is thinking, right? Apple did it with ‘I’m a Mac, Your a PC?’ Look how that turned out!
    Maybe I am way off, but it is what I would do… Billy

  • Let’s say 90% of your business comes from referrals (not unusual). Wouldn’t it be possible to execute beautifully on every other aspect of your business but still fail because weren’t in the Google Top 3? I think that is what you’re saying, right? Thanks Steve. Always an honor to have you comment!

  • Great addition to the conversation and certainly a very valid point. Thanks for commenting!

  • An interesting idea. Kind of a classic number two strategy. I would have to think about that. The end game is still getting placed on search engine results or your business is invisible. Thanks for the thought-provoking comment Billy. How did your speech go?

  • This is a problem for businesses that want to be big and alone in the market. Most businesses want to serve their neighborhoods and perhaps their regions. So we content creators are in a position to influence the world, while we measure our success at reaching our neighbors.

    Still, that’s a pretty good feeling.

    It poses an interesting challenge to small businesses who are successful at creating good content.

    That dentist that has cornered Google rankings . . . just how many mouths can he/she process. Pretty soon, the office will have to franchise and then you have a quality control problem.

    It’s funny that we live in a world where to reach the guy next door we broadcast to everyone.

    I wrestle with this all the time. The content I create does reach the world . . . and the clients are just small organizations. It will take us somewhere, but where?

    It remains to be seen.

  • The way to beat “first mover advantage” in the SEO game is the do something better, different or more creatively.

    Let’s assume for sake of argument, the videos answered the question well, as you’ve suggested Mark. Why not try a humorous take on answering the same questions? Or silly. Or ridiculous.

    Or try a different tactic. Instead of videos, product a killer infographic – or write a pillar post – one that is SO useful it will be linked to by every other dentist in a five state area.

    This is the hard work of quality content marketing or quality SEO. Slapping up articles is no longer effective (thank heavens). It’s about quality – but quality has many different definitions.

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  • Yes and no. The content certainly has the potential to reach the world but it probably doesn’t. If I am sitting right next to you, the Google results I get would be different than yours based on my search history. And if I were sitting in London, the results would be radically different. so yes I agree with you in theory but really search is becoming increasingly localized and personalized. Thanks very much for sharing your perspective Judith. Wonderful to have you comment,

  • Tremendous answer Sean. Very helpful to the community! Thank you.

  • Collaborate…

  • Exactly, you must “fire on all cylinders” in order to be successful.

  • Steve Farnsworth

    The thing I hate about the term “Content Marketing” is this very outdated concept this “expert” shared as a good practice. This is up there with link farming and article farming. Instead of creating content that continues to build your company as a domain expert, this article spinning approach just creates content spam. The fact that your heard this recently is even more stunning given that Google’s aggressive algorithm changes have specifically targeted this type of bottom feeder mentality. Only an idiot would suggest that this short-term thinking is “good” marketing.

  • Gettysburg Gerry

    Great answer Sean, I find that silly and ridiculous are very effective. Seriously, I think the world is so fast paced and become so serious, people miss being silly. Besides, who doesn’t connect with that silly inner child?
    Sometimes I wonder if today’s environment we need to cover BOTH quality and quantity. Just wondering…

  • Gettysburg Gerry

    Okay Mark, in no blogging strategy information have i ever read anything about assigning homework to your readers, ask questions, use numbered lists, yes, HOMEWORK no…
    Seriously great post, and responses. Definitely something I will be thinking about over the next few weeks. Thanks for once again making me think …

  • My pleasure Mark. Must have struck a nerve, or I’m just getting long winded in my old age…

  • Silly and ridiculous can be very effective, and yet they are double edged swords. The bigger the business, the less likely they are to really inject humor (or even personality) into their marketing mix, I think.

    In the end, it’s all about making things that are shareable, shared and linked to. There are a lot of different paths that lead to that end goal.

  • Regardless of where this cat ranks today, he’s going to get his butt handed to him eventually by Google and the rest of the gang. They’ll pick up on his crapola strategy and sandbox him for it….Content Marketing with an SEO angle is great…but what he did was SEO hacking with cloaked “content.”

  • No Mark… the heart of CM is adding value via content regularly and in context.

    By saying the dentist came up with superb content that too first, I think you’ve answered your own question, and by that I mean the dentist got it right. Explains why he’s on top of Google. To beat or rank higher up, the other dentists have to not just emulate him, but do better with quality content.

    As Sean put it eloquently: “Quality has many different definitions.” I believe “Adding Value” can’t be too far off when it comes to quality content. Google too now emphasizes ‘adding value by looking at social weight aka how many people found the content valuable enough to search/ share/ comment/ like.

    B2B or B2C, the big challenge every content marketer faces is generating amazing content, time and again. Yes Gerry, I reckon it means quality with quantity. Works even better if you weave in silly and ridiculous into the mix.

    This is an amazing blogpost. Sparked a great conversation. Cheers, Mark.

  • again,if he gets searched you found with him. Like dog with fleas.
    Oh and the speech, It is in Chicago in March next year. 1000 bakers from around the world. I have a forty minute spot and a break out. I’ll keep you informed. Have too, your my mentor right?

  • rbarnesdotcom

    Wow. This has really started some juice flowing in me. I’ve begun a book and blog about what I call backwards blogging, and I find in the comments here helpful with good ideas but mixed with some old mentality. Researching keywords and demand then creating content targeted towards it is not sleazy or black hat, IMO. It’s just marketing, isn’t it? – also I havent subscribed to any blog in some time but just did, so keep it coming 😉

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  • My first thought was to answer the question differently (articles, graphics, songs). You hit it Sean.

  • That’s if his content is ‘bad’ and doesn’t help the person asking the question. If he is producing content that truly helps the community, therein lies the challenge to compete.

  • How about strategizing to be #1 on other channels outside of Google? Be the top influencer for the topic on LinkedIn, be the #1 result for searches on Twitter, leverage Pinterest to reach that audience, make a kick-ass video for YouTube or Vimeo. We should never stop at Google search when we consider cost-effective demand gen. I get that people are searching for answers to their questions, but Google is not the end-all be-all to brands and businesses that want to put themselves in front of their target.

  • Interesting perspective. But what would that look like in this case?

  • Yeah, i sat in the back and listened to this and let me tell you, he had the audience in the palm of his hand. I wanted to stand up and take over the meeting! I like that characterization Steve : “content spamming.” That is exactly what it is!

  • HA! You made me chuckle. Perhaps that is my point of differentiation as a blogger — I don;t have all the answers and admit it! : )

  • I’m really glad you responded Marcus, I was hoping you would and I’m honored you took the time to comment in the midst of the hurricane muck. I’m glad you and your family are safe.

    As Christina said below, what if the content really is helpful? In other words, what would I do if I were a pool company getting into the market in your part of the country. You were first and overwhelming (and also authentically helpful). But isn’t that the real key to success? Being first and overwhelming no matter who you are? The second pool guy in has no hope for success, even if they are producing something great. Right? What is the strategy if you are late to the content marketing game?

  • Perhaps you misunderstood. I think doing keyword research to help guide your content is a very sound strategy. It’s a great way to find ways to help people based on what they are looking for. The heart of my question in this piece is, “What if you’re late to market and it is already dominated with competing content?” Are you sunk, especially if you have limited resources?

    I’m really happy to have you in the comment section. Thanks for subscribing to my blog!

  • An interesting idea. But how many people would be searching for a dentist on Pinterest? I love your creative thinking here but I think most buyers are still starting with Google. Still, a very valid point and a creative approach. I know people are using Facebook more often for a search engine. Thanks Christina!

  • Thank you Mark. Looking at “the ultimate content marketing challenge” as a choice to collaborate opens different, and new perspectives…

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  • My honest challenges are scale and timing. Not only does my market’s 800 lb gorilla have a timing headstart…they have 800 lbs of resources to throw at it. When we can get in front of the same audience, we like our chances, but there is so much more chatter around the other brand because of multiple resources and years worth of content-generation and sharing.

    My main focus is quality content creation/curation and hopefully building enough advocacy within our social networks to scratch-n-claw our way into the race. Get some testimonials/case studies, and then hopefully get that snowball rolling in our favor!

  • Mark,

    I think that @SeanMcGinnis:disqus has the answer…

    This guy did video right?

    So you have to do Infographic/Podcast/Slideshare… Something different to infiltrate the gaps.

    That being said, an aggressive, mindful content marketer is going to plug those gaps quickly. This is a race there is no doubt about that and although I think the purest in all of us is a little uneasy about that it is the way Capitalism has worked for a long time so it makes sense that it would transcend Content Marketing.


    Ryan H

  • Let me know how that goes. If it works, you will be a great case study Brian! I hate to say this, but the one with most money usually ends up winning in this space. : (

  • I think you nailed it here. Even if you “plug the gaps” the barriers to entry are so low your competitors can rapidly copy and surpass you again. Be first. Be overwhelming. I think that is the essence of content marketing, unfortunately.

  • Would love to share the success…nothing like competing against a multi-billion dollar company!

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