Clicks and increased traffic have dominated the minds of marketers as they race to show ROI for their digital efforts. However, what many content strategists fail to see is that these factors don’t necessarily equate to dollars. Putting up content purely for the sake of drawing in viewers can be detrimental, both to their rankings and to their reputation.
The internet has become a deep, nearly unquantifiable cave of content, so to say there’s competition out there is an understatement. In fact, your audience is being targeted so heavily by marketers that they’re not just skeptical of content, they’re probably becoming sick of it. As such, your content better offer something good, whether it’s information, entertainment, or a unique point of view on relevant topics.
This doesn’t just mean writing more eye-catching headlines, optimizing word count, or hacking your link-building scheme. It also means creating content that’s useful, above all else. It means making the most of your content marketing budget by getting at the heart of what your readership wants. It means putting your customers first.
In this post we’ll talk about the social and technical costs of bad online content, as well as how you can set your strategy on the right path. Let’s dig in!
What Is “Bad Content”?
‘Bad content’ ranges from the benignly boring to the malignantly manipulative. On the more severe end of the spectrum, we have content that’s automated, aggregated (i.e. taken from another source and re-published), or duplicated. That's the kind of content Google’s Panda algorithm was designed to find and penalize. For that reason, honest marketers don’t use them and haven’t for some time, so we’re not going to cover them in depth. Just know that you’re only hurting yourself by posting this type of content.
Other types of bad content may not be as obvious. On the more benign end of the spectrum, some content will have mostly social costs, meaning that you probably won’t see any penalties from Google. However, you also won’t see users return because they will be bored and potentially put off. Performance metrics will likely suffer over the long term. Here are some of the more common types of bad content:
- Unoriginal. Distinct from duplicate content, content that’s unoriginal doesn’t provide anything new or novel. You’ll see a lot of this at large content agencies, where entry-level writers simply re-write what’s already out there on the internet.
- Aimless. This refers to posts written without a strategy in mind. It's like when a post touches on an issue without going in depth and the next is a completely new topic altogether.
- Thoughtless. When content is written without the audience’s needs in mind, viewers can tell. An example would be a post targeted to software developers, when your audience should be the end user.
- Overly Promotional. Many companies fall into this rut, where they use their blog as a platform for public relations or repeatedly send advertorials via email. Thinking only of yourself is considered poor form in most areas of life, including content marketing.
- Overly Optimized. Yes, there is such a thing as being too optimized. Content that contains too many links, awkward/repetitive keywords, or shouts the same message repeatedly will quickly turn off your audience.
Now, let’s talk about the type of content that’s so bad that Google’s Panda will find and penalize it, even if it’s original:
- Thin. When Google sees a page that provides little value to a viewer it may assume you’re using manipulative strategies to draw traffic.
- Irrelevant. If you’re trying to boost your results for a certain keyword, make sure the content you’re posting is 100% relevant. Do some research into the topics related to your keyword to make sure your targets are relevant to the content on your page.
If you’re ever in doubt, there are a few ways to tell whether your content falls under any of these categories. First, you can have another person read it, ideally someone outside of your company who falls into your consumer demographics. You can also run it through the MarketMuse Content Analyzer. Here you'll get a read on your content depth, keyword use, and how it compares to similar existing pieces of content. This will give you specific guidance on ways you can improve, taking much of the guesswork out of the process.
Now you know what we mean by ‘bad content,’ so let’s talk about some of the ways in which it can cost your company.
How Much Is Bad Content Costing Your Company?
In 2015, Moz and Buzzsumo conducted a study that analyzed over 1 million pieces of content on the web. They found a lot of information about the relationship between shares and backlinks, metrics that are good indicators of both readership and the quality of your content. They found that out of a random selection of 750,000 pieces of content, 50 percent had zero backlinks, indicating that they either weren’t being read or those who were reading them didn’t find them engaging or informative enough to reference.
Now, if your content falls into the category of that which is not shared or linked to regularly, it means you’re not getting the full benefit of your content marketing strategy. As such, any money you’ve invested in it might be chalked up to at least a partial loss. If your content has no engagement metrics and you’re unable to show ROI in other ways (i.e. tracking your customers from click to purchase) then it’s a total loss. This is one reason why it’s important to know exactly how much money your company is spending on content.
To determine your cost of content, consider:
- Cost of writers, editors, and strategists (whether in-house, freelance, or agency)
- Cost of your CMS (Wordpress is cheap; Hubspot is not)
- Cost of distribution channels (email automation, press release distribution, social media platforms, etc)
- Cost of advertising to promote content
Now, let’s add some hypothetical numbers to this to give you an even better idea of the actual cost of a content marketing strategy. These are rough estimates, based on a mid-size company with a small in-house content marketing staff. (We didn’t include ad spend here because it will vary widely depending on your industry and strategy.)
- One in-house content writer: $55,000 per year
- One in-house strategist/editor: $65,000 per year
- One year of Hubspot’s basic plan: $2,400
- One year of PR Newswire: $3,000
- One year of MailChimp: $420
- One year of Sprout Social: $2,800
- Total annual: $128,620 per year
Now let’s say you're posting twice a week. That amounts to $1,224 per piece of content. Not exactly chump change, which is why it’s important to make sure everything you create is targeted and high quality.
As you can see, the cost of a content marketing strategy goes well beyond your cost per article. In fact, you should be tracking your ROI for each of these factors so you can see who your most effective writers are, which ad platform gives you the best return, and which distribution channels are most effective. This allows you to optimize your entire strategy and get the most out of your budget.
These costs are direct and measurable, but the cost of missed opportunity is more difficult to quantify. It’s hard to put an exact value on social media followers, shares, and backlinks. However, AdWeek reported on a study by Syncapse that indicated, unsurprisingly, the value of a follower is directly proportionate to the cost of the product being promoted. For example, it found that Coke fans are worth about $70 each, while BMW followers are worth roughly $1,600.
We’ve covered the monetary and technical costs of bad content, but distributing low-quality posts and emails has other costs as well. Next, we’ll talk about some of the social costs of a thoughtless content strategy.
Bad Content Damages Your Reputation
Today, corporate social responsibility is more important than it’s ever been, mostly because consumers have more options than ever, so they can be picky about with whom they do business. Plus, digital marketing has given companies a voice to talk about their values and culture, so many wisely choose to use that platform to tout the good they do in their community and perhaps even the world. The savvy consumer notices this, and they’ll also notice if you’re out there polluting the internet with bad content.
Last year, Alexandra Samuel at the Harvard Business Review wrote about the social cost of bad online marketing. In her article, she takes a few digs at content marketers who go after the vanity metrics – clicks, traffic, and pageviews – by using clickbait and other tactics.
“It would be terrific if we could be delivered from this dynamic by some miraculous new marketing model that demonstrates the ROI of creating really great content, even if it costs more to create, as well as the benefit of a restrained approach to email, even if it yields fewer leads,” Samuel wrote in the HBR.
In fact, the model that she’s describing already exists. We know that companies that produce relevant, high-quality content see not just traffic and clicks, but dedicated consumers who want to be a part of the lifestyle they’re selling. One oft-used example of a business with exemplary content marketing is Warby Parker. The eyewear company not only has the social responsibility aspect down (they donate a pair of glasses to a nonprofit partner for every pair purchased), but they produce entertaining and informative content that gets shared. Here’s a screenshot of their top performing content, via Buzzsumo:
With their frames quiz, they found a unique way for their customers to determine which styles look best on them, while a page specifically dedicated to low bridge fit caters to a niche demographic, and solves a long-standing pain point for people with specific face shapes. Meanwhile, their collections pages are always aesthetically pleasing - i.e. highly shareable. Warby Parker was founded in 2010 with $2,500 in seed money. Today it’s worth $1.2 billion, and it’s all because they have a keen understanding of their customer’s wants and how to serve them.
On the flip side, brands that send pointless emails, post self-aggrandizing blogs, and use tricks to gain pageviews might as well be spending their marketing dollars on billboards in rural Montana. At a time when people have endless options and expect companies to do good in the world, these tactics have a negative effect on branding and can do permanent damage to a business’ reputation. Worse yet – their bad content could go viral.
There are businesses that will see short-term results with flimsy content, but there’s usually another factor at play – maybe they found a great distribution channel or, hey, maybe they just have a great product despite bad content. But without highly targeted emails, posts, and other resources, you will not see long-term ROI on your content marketing budget.
So, What Is Good Content?
We wrote an in-depth post about high-quality content, so check it out to find what truly constitutes good content. Additionally, it helps to know your business, its values, and your customer if you want to create content that delights and keeps users coming back.
If your content marketing goals aren’t already clearly defined, that’s step one. Decide as a business what you want to achieve with each type of content you produce, then brainstorm different ways to reach your goals. Ideally, you should create content for your viewers based on both their point in the sales funnel (from awareness to repeat purchase) and their persona.
Next, think about your company’s values and determine how you can incorporate those values into your strategy. Speak to your customer in your own unique voice about what you value, and how their business helps you continue to make a difference. As a content strategist, it’s your job to ensure the content you create serves to inform, educate, and maybe even entertain your audience.
The cost of bad content is a legitimate threat to your business, and should be avoided…at all costs!