I’m giving away my age here, but I remember when it was a big deal for a business to have a website. There was this huge cultural gap between companies who were embracing the future and the old fogies who thought the internet was a fad (think Kodak).
But it wasn’t long before businesses that threw up a home page just to prove they were there realized that the content on those websites could actually do something. Change happened fast after that, starting in 1991 when the National Science Foundation lifted the ban on conducting online business transactions. That led to the rise and fall of the dot.com industry, which eventually matured into a vast, trillion-dollar market that’s become an integral part of our purchasing habits:
- 80% of Americans shop online at least once a month.
- 5% shop online daily
- 40% say they couldn’t live without online shopping
What’s that got to do with content marketing?
When even “old school” businesses realized the potential of e-commerce, the race for attention heated up, and online marketing began its evolution from banner ads and popups to PPC and native ads. As consumers became increasingly aware of being marketed to, things shifted once again. This time, it was less of a “change” than an evolutionary leap: one of those “blinding glimpse of the obvious” scenarios where marketers everywhere realized that customers would be more likely to pay attention to “ads” that were helpful and/or entertaining — in other words, content marketing.
There’s no doubt that content marketing works — when people see it, that is. But that’s becoming harder every day. Take a look at these stats from Littlejack Marketing:
- Email users send 204,000,000 messages
- Google receives over 4,000,000 search queries
- Blog writers post 1400 new blog posts
- Facebook users share 2,460,000 pieces of content
- Twitter users tweet 277,000 times
- Amazon makes $83,000 in online sales
- Tinder users swipe 416,667 times
- Whats App users share 347,222 photos
- Instagram users post 216,000 new photos
- Pandora users listen to 61,141 hours of music
- Apple users download 48,000 apps
- Yelp users post 26,380 reviews
- Skype users connect for 23,300 hours
- Vine users share 8,333 videos
- Pinterest users pin 3,472 images
- Youtube users upload 72 hours of new video
Still wondering why it’s so hard for your content to attract attention?
The temptation to cross over to the Dark Side
Ask any parent: The more you ignore a pre-schooler trying to get your attention, the more insistent they become, ramping things up until somebody can’t take it anymore and caves.
We adults aren’t that different — especially when we only have so much money to spend on marketing, and the c-suite folks are wanting to see an increase in ROI. When the pressure’s on, it can be really tempting to stick a little pinky toe over the line. Maybe not even the whole pinky toe — it’s not that big a deal, right?
Wrong. Most of time it is. Because those little concessions keep piling up. You start with a pinky toe over the line to the Dark Side, and the next thing you know, you’re so far over the line you need binoculars to see it.
The worst part is that it’s insidious. It’s just a little concession here, a little blind eye there, etc. — until you run headlong in to the fact that customers don’t trust you or your content anymore.
The gateway to the Dark Side
Feeling just a tad bit uncomfortable? Let’s take a look at some of the “gateway” behaviors that start companies down the road to content untrustworthiness.
Anyone who’s ever waited in line at a grocery store has seen the print version of this: “Supposedly dead alien filmed painting fences at Area 51!” Content marketing clickbait is usually something along the lines of, “The miracle diet doctors don’t want you to know about!”
That trick may garner a quick boost in traffic, but once visitors realize your content is nothing more than a bait-and-switch, they’ll leave and never come back.
Headlines are extremely important, but don’t promise something your content can’t deliver.
Questionable sources or statistics
Anybody who works online can verify that you can find a source for just about any claim you want to make. Think you can attract readers by claiming that aliens were behind the JFK assassination? Here you go: Shock claims ETs caused president’s death.
The only thing worse than having readers think you’re stupid is having them conclude that you think they’re stupid. Don’t insult your readers by linking to a junk site just because it gives you an excuse to include something outrageous in your content.
Misleading use of facts and statistics
Something can be true and still be misleading — all it takes is tweaking a word or two. Let’s say you find some statistics on Americans and weight loss. Depending on your objective, you could write, “Only 40% of Americans are trying to lose weight,”or “A full 40% of Americans are trying to lose weight.” Both sentences are true, but their implied meanings are very different.
Another way content marketers can cheat without technically lying is by implying causation when there’s only correlation. Here’s an example: “Improve your marriage by eating butter instead of margarine!”
What the heck, right? Well, it’s not completely made up. There’s a 99% correlation between per capita margarine consumption and the divorce rate in Maine. There’s also a 66% percent correlation between Nicholas Cage movies and the number of people who drown after falling into swimming pools. But suggesting that he retire in the interest of saving lives is taking it a bit too far.
Teenagers are masters at manipulating the truth to answer questions from their parents without — technically — lying. But we content marketers are supposed to be professionals, not to mention adults. Don’t misrepresent the truth.
Don’t ask, don’t tell
Otherwise known as lying by omission.
A lot of things fall into this category. You could, for example, make up your own customer testimonials. As long as you don’t explicitly say that they’re real testimonials from real customers, you’re not technically lying. But it’s not the truth, either — and, if you get busted, you’ll have a hard time gaining that trust back. And, if the testimonials describe results that are better than what a typical customer would experience, you might draw some unwanted attention from the FTC.
This one is easy: Don’t make stuff up.
What you don’t say
This is my personal favorite. Every company has to make money to stay in business. For retailers and most other businesses, it’s obvious: Sell something for more than you paid to get/make it.
Other times, it’s not so obvious — referral sites, for example. A Place for Mom helps people find long-term care facilities for their parents. And the best part? It’s free! To consumers, that is. But if users aren’t paying, who is? Somebody has to. In this case, it’s the long-term care facilities themselves. They have to pay for the privilege of being on the company’s list of care facilities. Think that might affect objectivity?
Another example is the “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product” model. Google is the obvious example. You get their services, they get your data.
Neither of those is unethical as long as you’re upfront about it. But if you have a strong reason for not wanting users to know how you make money — let’s just say that[s a huge red flag.
Be transparent in your content.
I know as well as anybody — and probably a lot more than some! — how frustratingly difficult it can be to find eyeballs for your content. But play fair. Do the hard work, and be committed to sticking around for the long haul. You only have so much trust to waste, and once it’s gone, it’s often gone for good.