For decades, advertising and marketing centered around thrusting a persuasive ad in front of eyeballs. We relied on media companies to develop interesting and informative content, and build their audience, and then rented ad space on their content platform.
As a society suffering from serious information overload, we no longer have time to listen to, view or read all those ads, and we’re sick of filtering them out.
Traditional television is on the decline. People are opting for Netflix, iTunes, Tivo, Shaw on Demand and satellite TV, to name a few.
The same thing has happened with radio. We’re choosing iTunes Radio, or SirriusXM to experience only our chosen programming, free of disruptive, time-wasting ads.
The Yellow Pages were once our ‘bible’ for business phone numbers. Today, it’s just a whole lot more efficient to Google it, then check out a company’s website and reputation online.
Magazines and newspapers are either going out of business or scrambling to go digital. Initially, the surviving periodicals started out with exact digital replicas of their print publications. But more recently, many are selling out an issue to a single sponsor. A single pop-up ad displays when the publication opens on a tablet, and once closed, gives the reader an ad-free reading experience, often enhanced with video and other special features. The cost of publishing has gone way down. Publishers are not churning out pulp any more or covering the costs of distribution, so the need for heavy advertiser support no longer exists. Writers for these publications create free content in exchange for a credit link to their website, and the credibility they will receive as an authority in their industry.
Google, Yahoo! and Bing were established to index and provide the best “links” to high quality, relevant content. Google has openly declared war on SEO practices that manipulate search engine results through clever keyword tactics, on-page over-optimization and contrived linking strategies. To rank well today, we must give the search engines and natural link partners what they have always wanted, plenty of quality, relevant “content worth linking to”, published on a reliable basis.
Here’s something to think about. Would bloggers that write for hockey enthusiasts link to a page that shamelessly toots a sports company’s horn or describes their line of skates and protective gear? Of course not. So why would Google index those pages? An article or post that provides information on choosing hockey gear that can be handed down from one child to the next, cutting the costs of raising a “hockey family” would be of interest to a great many people. That query would turn up in searches and Google would respond by listing the most relevant articles, with a regional emphasis. When you create content other site owners believe would benefit their readership, you’ll attract links from other websites as well as the top search engines.
Despite its decline, some businesses have tried to adapt the traditional advertising model to the Internet, with limited success. Google Adwords and banner ads are popular examples. Studies by marketing analysts indicate that only 8% of Internet users account for 85% of clicks on web display ads, including banners and pay-per-click*. Most of us have learned to ignore Internet ads just as effectively as in other media. The average clickthrough rate of display ads is a paltry 0.1%**, but just under 50% of your traffic will come from natural search***. That means most of your web traffic will come from organic SERPs (search engine result pages) and other inbound links from websites, blogs and social media mentions that recommend your site.
The bottom line: Almost all inbound traffic comes from links. Quality, interesting and relevant content is what attracts links, including the ones on the first page of search engine results.
Search engines monitor social media mentions and engagement, so these influence rankings. And social media can be used to promote blog posts. But there’s a much bigger picture. Discovering where your buyer personas are hanging out online, then engaging with these people, without “selling”, builds real relationships. Nothing beats good old-fashioned word-of-mouth advertising by some of the people you’ve befriended.
Old school SEO was convenient, and for the most part simple, even if it was risky. Business owners handed over money and let the gurus practice their mysterious art. If the ranking and traffic reports showed an upward trend, it was assumed they were doing their job. And then Google introduced their algorithm counter measures.
Many business owners are upset by the shift from rented content to owned media. Others have embraced the new direction enthusiastically. Owning your own media, instead of renting space on someone else’s content, gives you control. Most medium and large companies now have sizable in-house media departments. Small businesses will generally hire local copywriters for part of the content and experts in social media engagement, while handling some of the work in-house with professional coaching.
The question of the hour: Do you believe that we must publish or perish, creating regular “epic” content that is significantly better than anything your competition is putting out, in order to survive and build your brand online? If you’re skeptical, you will never invest the money or time required to get fully behind content creation and social engagement the way you need to. Buying into your content asset is much like deciding to build a house. You have to be all in.
What about other non-media alternatives?
Even non-media approaches like trade shows have seen a decline. People don’t have the time to leave their offices or homes to make their way through crowded, noisy isles of booths, filling bags with marketing crap and then rebuff one pushy salesperson after another for a few hours. For the most part, the salespeople from other booths mill about the show and you might sell one of them, if you’re lucky.
Marketing analysts tell us that email has taken up the discretionary time business people and executives once had available for telephone conversations with sales people. Call screening and gatekeeper blocking has created almost impenetrable walls for cold callers. Even where a prior introduction exists, by way of email, “warm” calls will typically be met with a chilly reception.
Unsolicited email has taken a heavy hit, as the Can-Spam Act has lowered the boom on many offenders. It can be illegal for providers to host the website of a company with too many spam complaints. In some cases, prison sentences have been handed out. Anti-spam software continues to become more aggressive and intelligent.
We need to stop selling all the time and try being useful for a change. Many companies believe it is their earned right to send out regular offers to existing customers. Trust me, they don’t like sales copy in their inbox any more than non-customers. And spamming customers causes them to seriously question the wisdom of their purchase. The general recommendation here is around the 80/20 rule. For every offer you send out, there should have been at least four preceding emails that only shared invaluable information. In other words, you earn the right to “sell” when you’ve reestablished your worth. A previous sale doesn’t allow you to sidestep that rule.
One company that has done a brilliant job with email is Smile. They create the PDFpen Pro software. I would say I receive at least a dozen useful tips on streamlining my business filing by email before seeing another offer. Consequently, I’ve been on their mailing list for over two years and have pulled out the plastic for several major upgrades. Would I have purchased more software if I were not on their mailing list? Doubtful. I was still on that list for one reason. They were more concerned about the value they provided than in selling all the time.
We’re all content developers and media companies now, like it or not. We must “out content” the competiontion to win market share. Epic, relevant content has become today’s marketing currency
Over to You
Are you embracing “owned media/content”, or still struggling with it? Do you miss the good old days when marketing meant buying ads, and creating the content was some media company’s problem?