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Content Marketing Insights With Steven Van Vessum

9 min read

Recently, we spent time with Steven Van Vessum, VP of Community at Content King, where he offered some insights into the state of content marketing.

Hey Steven! Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m VP of Community at ContentKing, the Real-time SEO Auditing and Change Tracking platform. In 2006 I started in SEO in an in-house role and did that for a few years. Then I transitioned into an agency role, co-founded a digital marketing agency, and co-founded ContentKing. The common thread in all of this? SEO :)

Over at ContentKing, I’m responsible for content marketing, SEO, and community management. That means I get to write and talk A LOT about SEO and content marketing. You’ll find most of my writing in the ContentKing Academy and on Search Engine Journal. If you’re curious about what kind of talks and webinars I’ve done, check out

What is ContentKing, and how does it help?

ContentKing provides SEO Auditing and Content Change Tracking in real-time. It allows you to easily discover how to improve your search engine visibility and get immediate alerts about technical issues and unexpected page changes.

With our platform, our customers can – for the first time ever – detect and solve problems before visitors and search engines notice them and their bottom line is affected.

You’ve managed to grow organic traffic, which started from nothing to 50,000 monthly visitors. How did you do that?

I could talk about this for days, but long story short: by creating quality content and making sure people read it.

Creating quality content starts with figuring out what problems your audience is looking to solve. 

The next step is to create content that helps them solve their problems, while at the same time being more comprehensive, more actionable, easier to read, and better looking than what’s already out there. Set the bar high, so people that “draw inspiration” from your content have a harder time replicating what you’re doing.

Once the content has been published, most content marketers move on to write their next writing gig. And you know what happens to their content? Nothing. Because no one will find it, and no one will read it.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that creating quality content is enough. It doesn’t, in almost any case. If there’s even a tiny bit of competition, you’re going to lose.

Imagine investing a few days of your time writing a kick-ass article, only for no one to actually read it. What kind of ROI are you making on that investment?

I can answer that for you: none. 

That’s where content distribution and promotion (which I’ll call content promotion from here on out) comes in: I’ve adopted the rule of thumb to spend as much time distributing and promoting content as it took to create it. We’ve built a content promotion framework that we use for every content piece we create.

Is there something unique to your way of content marketing that you could share?

With every content piece we create and every content promotion run we do, the process is refined. We always learn something new.

We’ll see something stops working, and we adapt. Or we come across a new platform that we can engage in with others, and we add to the process.

On top of that, we have a strict “content creation criterion” that we stick to. Content we invest in should at least tick one of these boxes (but ideally more than one):

  1. Lead to links/PR
  2. Lead to organic traffic
  3. Off-load support questions
  4. Lead to conversions

We always keep in mind how close a topic is to the core of our product; there are plenty of queries we can rank for, which just don’t make sense for us to target because ContentKing won’t help them solve their problems.

If we’re not confident we can create content that’s superior or different to what’s already out there, we pass.

How do you envision content marketing changing over the next couple of years?

There’s a couple of things I can see changing:

  1. Other content types: right now, when people think about content, they mostly consider written content. The rise of podcasts and video is undeniable, and we’ll start to see these content types be more and more intertwined.
  2. Increase in competition: the competition is only going to get tougher and tougher. We’ll really start to see some brands utterly fail, while others — more adaptable and newer brands — surge.
  3. Working smarter: Jeff’s point in the interview I did with him recently is great too: “The biggest challenge by far is dealing with the vast amount of data involved in all the stages I just described. There’s far too much information to process this manually. Those days are over and content marketers that fail to realize it will fall by the wayside.” As competition increases, the barrier for successful content is set higher and higher, too — you need to be smart about your processes and automate what you can. You need to be able to process a lot of data quickly, and frankly, you can’t rely on manual processes for this moving forward.
  4. Survival: the “fire and forget” mindset of writing a 400-word piece and just mindlessly publishing it and moving onto the next one will lead to zero ROI. These content marketers will need to reinvent themselves and level up if they want to be successful.

How important is SEO to the success of a content marketer?

It’s essential. To benefit from the compounding effect of content marketing, you need to make sure your content ranks.

Here’s how that works in practice for us:

  1. We research what queries people use to solve their problems.
  2. We research the topic in-depth and ideate. We ask other team members and industry peers for input and feedback (doing this with people from different backgrounds is great). In this phase, we also establish what we need to do to write the best article.
  3. We start writing, ensuring the content we write is relevant for the queries we’ve found in step 1. We don’t overdo it, and we’re realistic too — we can’t expect to rank for high competition queries from day one, so we usually aim for medium-competition queries and work our way up from there.
  4. We try to keep our content up-to-date. With a few dozen in-depth pieces in a fast-changing industry, that’s quite a challenge — but we do our best :)
  5. Every few months, we evaluate the performance of our articles. We always find new queries that we had never considered before, and we figure out if and how we can incorporate those. Sometimes we can include them in the same article; sometimes, we fuel new topic ideas with the queries we’ve found. Improving existing content is one of the most underestimated tactics. We’ve done it very successfully with our Redirects guide, for example. We’ve recently rewritten a large part of that article and doubled organic traffic within six weeks. The reason it only took six weeks is that the existing article was already performing well. It’s low-hanging fruit.
  6. We’re always on the lookout for winning links to our content. Our organic link velocity is increasing organically. Because we’re so active in the content marketing and SEO communities, a lot of people know where to find us if they’re looking to reference resources.

What’s one skill that content marketers should level-up if they want to improve their results?

I’d say: learning how to promote content, without annoying others (too much). If you can’t do this, you can only do half the job.

Having said that, I want to take the opportunity to highlight something else I see content marketers do wrong: to this date; there are lots of content marketers that focus on quantity over quality. If you’re producing 20 crappy articles that no one is going to read, you could have written two, promoted them, and reeled in a few thousand visitors!

They need to look beyond just creating new content too. For lots of companies, there’s tremendous value in maintaining existing content. Content is highly dynamic; old content is getting removed, content is being moved, URLs change, links break, people make mistakes, and content may end up missing because of technical changes. Keeping a watchful eye on existing content and creating links from it to new pieces, fixing broken links, correcting links to redirecting pages within your site, and tweaking titles help drive more organic traffic. It’s one of the key reasons why our customers work with ContentKing — the platform enables you to do everything I just mentioned efficiently and quickly.

How do you define success as a content marketer?

At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the bottom line — what results are your efforts driving? Ideally, you put a monetary valuation on it, but if that’s not possible, go for the next best thing: leads.

Don’t focus on vanity metrics like social shares and traffic; look at what that resulted in. Learn from it, improve and try to do even better next time.

What do most content marketers get wrong about their profession?

I’ve already touched on this in the previous section about what skills content marketers need to level up on; content marketers need to realize they’re responsible for the “marketing” part in content marketing — making sure people read what they create.

It’s not your job to create A+ content that no one reads. It’s your job to balance creation and promoting it. If you need to settle for a B+ to make sure you have time to make sure people actually read it, you need to go for it. If you really want to, you can always go in and redo bits later if that will lead to an even better ROI.

And, content marketers need to realize they are responsible for existing content too — they’re not just responsible for creating new content.

Stephen leads the content strategy blog for MarketMuse, an AI-powered Content Intelligence and Strategy Platform. You can connect with him on social or his personal blog.