When we talk about SEO, we are referring to one major branch of digital marketing that itself splits off into several smaller branches. Looking at SEO from a broad perspective, it is composed of three primary areas: on-site technical SEO, content marketing, and link building. A significant portion of SEO comes down to content marketing, the creation of authoritative information that addresses user queries and concurrently sends good signals to Google to rank it highly.
The fact is that, without content, a website would be nothing. You would not be able to advertise your products or services, and people would be unable to learn more about your industry or what you do. Without content, a website could not effectively attract an audience, and if you don’t have an audience, you can’t sell anything to anyone.
Content marketing, therefore, deserves as much attention as any other part of your SEO strategy for lead generation. It is not the only lead-generation tactic in digital marketing or even in SEO, but it is one of the major players. However, even within the digital-marketing community, there are different opinions on whether content marketing is viable as a lead-generation method.
Of course, we at LSEO know that it is. Content is always necessary for SEO in the long run, but, at the same time, it tends to be a slow-moving game that requires a lot of patience and likely will not deliver overnight leads, if that is what you are looking for. The positive track record of content marketing is seen more from the 30,000-foot view.
With all that said, let’s look more closely at the place of content marketing within SEO and examine the pros and cons of using this particular lead-generation tool.
What is the Purpose of Content Marketing?
The interesting aspect of content marketing is that it serves so many purposes at the same time. Website content tells visitors about your company and how it does business. It explains the products you sell or the services you offer. Then, over on the blog or supporting content side of things, the posts you create (ideally on a regular schedule) expand upon the information on your service, product, or location pages to give users more nuances about what they can expect from working with you.
The other major purpose of content marketing is to get more web pages to rank higher on Google. Content marketing should always be written with the user in mind, to inform and educate them about how your business is the thought leader in its industry and can help them navigate relevant problems. But, at the same time, content needs to be constructed so it is SEO friendly and Google picks it up in its rankings. Expertly crafted SEO content will trend toward being long-form (more than 1,800 words), use optimized meta tags and visual media, and implement carefully chosen keywords and keyword variants that point up to the site’s main service pages. The right kind of internal link structure tells Google which website pages you value the most. In this way, all, or most, of your website’s content pages should connect to one another and expand on ideas only mentioned on other pages.
So, What about Those Leads?
I mentioned that the point of writing so much content, aside from getting web pages to rank, is to educate people on the finer points of your industry. You want them to learn new things in great detail when they come to your site, and, obviously, it is important that they learn it from you specifically. That’s the between-the-lines aspect of content marketing: you need to make yourself appear as a consummate subject-matter expert so that your online visitors trust you before they ever even decide to buy your product or use your service. That trust creates an aura of authority around you. Your authority will generate user engagement, and engagement leads to sales.
Content Marketing Can Absolutely Generate Leads
You can hear business leaders testify to this fact in all kinds of industries. We spoke about content marketing with Daniela Andreevska, marketing director at real estate data analytics company Mashvisor. When we asked her about generating leads through content marketing, she responded, “Yes, it is absolutely possible to generate leads – qualified leads – with content marketing, and our experience at Mashvisor proves it. Up until now, our blog has been our main marketing tool and main lead-generation technique. We get about 80 percent of the traffic to our website organically. Then we take users down the sales funnel and convert them into customers at a good rate.”
Daniela’s point perfectly exemplifies the primary purposes of content marketing: first to engage users by exposing them to authoritative and relevant information and then to use that engagement to transform leads into actual customers.
And we see these sentiments almost across the board in the digital-marketing industry. Debra Murphy, owner of the small business marketing agency Masterful Marketing, had this to say: “I use content marketing primarily for my clients as part of an inbound marketing strategy. Creating content that demonstrates expertise raises visibility for the business and puts them ahead of their competition. Content marketing works for small local businesses and for those who want visibility on a more national or international scale. Clients that I use content marketing with include landscape construction companies, financial advisors, health and wellness professionals, and my own marketing agency. About 50 percent of my business is generated through well-optimized content that gets on the first page of the search engine results. My landscape construction client gets several quality leads for large projects per month, keeping their pipeline full.”
Here, again, we see the crux of this post, as told by someone who works directly in the marketing business: optimized, authoritative SEO content helps the public to see businesses as the experts they are in their industries. Experts seem trustworthy to us, and nobody wants to buy from a business they can’t trust.
The Backlink Connection
Speaking of trust, do you remember when I said that a fairly large part of SEO comes down to content? It’s true, and you see this on display when you get into SEO’s link-building branch. Link building is all about forming relationships with others online based on the high-quality content you each have to offer. And the stress is on the words “high-quality.” Asking for links to a blog post you wrote likely won’t have your desired effect if the post is 250 words and contains little research or useful information for readers.
But, since Google always encourages us to earn links to our top-caliber content from other trustworthy sites to bolster our backlink profiles and increase our domain authorities, it’s well worth your time to create the best content you possibly can. It generates leads from users who see it first, it earns backlinks over time, and it can produce even more leads from those backlinks.
How Does Gated Content Fare?
Now, remember that the content we have discussed to this point is completely free for online users to access. We put massive amounts of time into creating free content because of the great potential it has to attract organic leads. But you can also get creative with the content you build and how you make it available to people.
Kasia Majewska, marketing executive at social-media management and analysis platform NapoleonCat, described her strategy to us: “We do believe that content marketing is a viable lead-generation tactic. Fans and followers make fantastic potential leads: once they’re interested in your online presence, you can take the relationship a couple of steps further and turn them into happy, paying customers. Certain valuable content types justify restricted access and create an opportunity for you to expand your email database: webinars, e-book downloads, or online competitions. Once you have the necessary contact details, you can follow up with newsletters, personalized deals, and, in general, more tailored communications.”
The restricted-access content that Kasia is referring to–the type of content that you secure behind a form-fill wall–is known as gated content. I could write an entirely separate article on the advantages and drawbacks of gated content, but, since we are talking about leads and whether organic content can efficiently generate them, it is worth it to cover this subject briefly.
Anyone with a mind for sales should immediately be able to see the major benefit of creating gated content. That is the idea that, once people complete a contact form and get your content, you will be able to follow up with them using the information they themselves provided. Reaching out to these individuals later will be more likely to succeed if you know where your contacts work, what their annual budget is, etc. Using gated content creates a give-and-take scenario with which many highly interested users will be happy to engage. Then, at least you know they are already interested in your business when you call them.
At the same time, gated content can drive away users who just want to access your resources without divulging any personal information. These might be people who are simply researching a topic and are not yet interested in buying and so, in turn, would derive no value from a sales outreach. Upon seeing that a form-fill is required to view the content, people may leave the page immediately, which will spike that page’s bounce rate. In any case, users who truly want the content but do not want to be contacted might also cheat the form wall by simply providing false contact information. That way, they access your content while you call a wrong number or write to a burner email account.
Ultimately, whether gated content helps or hurts your lead generation comes down to your business and what you believe is most worthwhile to pursue. If you want to reach as many internet users as you possibly can, then make your content 100 percent accessible. If you feel you need to focus more on leads about which you have some concrete details, then make a subscription wall.
Content Marketing Has Shortcomings, Too
As with anything, however, content marketing has a few drawbacks that discourage some business leaders from using it, or that at least make them approach it with caution. For example, Bryan Ng, founder and digital-marketing consultant at Bryan Digital, said this when asked about content marketing and lead generation: “No, content marketing is not a viable lead-generation tactic. Content marketing requires time to build the article, whereas other digital-marketing channels such as search engine marketing and social media marketing are quicker ways to generate leads. The only advantage of content marketing is that it is free to create content of your own, and it is easily applicable for SEO, which also takes a long time to rank.”
Bryan’s argument that content marketing is not a quick way of gaining leads is certainly true. Content marketing, like SEO in general, is an endeavor for companies and people with a particular amount of patience. There is no doubt that content marketing can generate leads for a business in the long run, but if you need to make sales in a short timeframe, as Bryan said, paid advertising or social media might be better options.
Another concern that many digital marketers share is that, while content marketing is a relatively inexpensive yet effective way to generate leads, it is difficult to measure ROI from content alone. We asked Shannon Trimble, owner of the financial content-writing website Lightning Virtual Solutions, about this. “Content marketing…is a long-term strategy, comparable to SEO, and brings in long-term results. Once your content is published, there is no limit to the amount of times it can be shared, promoted, and used to start conversations with an ideal client. The only downside with content marketing is that the results are hard to measure, especially when other marketing methods are being used (as in most businesses). Deciding on metrics to analyze can be difficult, and even so, they may not reflect the payoff from your content-marketing efforts.”
Shannon is correct in saying that the ultimate results of your content marketing strategy are hard to measure. They can be, but it all depends on exactly what metrics are important to you. If you own an e-commerce business, it’s easy to see if a content page led to a sale based on what type of attribution you are using, whether it’s first or last click. If you are a service-based business, you can set up events/goals in Google Analytics to track if a user filled out a contact form or clicked the phone number on your site. Where it can get tricky is if you are a service-based company and are interested only in true conversions, such as when an online user turns into an actual customer. This will require some manual effort on your part. You will need to buy a CRM system or create your own in Google Sheets to track where the lead came from (with information such as the page where the user entered your site) and if you ultimately closed the deal.
Content Marketing Can Generate Leads
In this post, we have looked at the purpose of content marketing, its place in the wider landscape of SEO, and how real-world business owners and digital marketers use content marketing to drive actual sales. What business owners who are new to digital marketing want to know is, what is the answer to the question posed in the title of this article? Is content marketing viable as a lead-generation tactic?
The answer is a resounding “yes.” Content marketing serves the twofold purpose of getting a page to rank highly on Google and to educate eventual page readers in the products or services of the business. Education builds up a company’s authority, and that authority invites customer trust. You don’t even have to take my word for it: read all the quotes above from real-life business owners who rely heavily on content marketing to bring in quality leads to whom they can sell their services.
Creating that top-notch content takes time, and it isn’t easy. But it truly is a viable way forward for your business’s lead-generation strategy, and it deserves your attention.