It’s almost impossible to effectively market your products, services or brand online without effective content. Content has to be entertaining, engaging and useful. All while converting visitors without them even knowing it. Unfortunately, creating effective copy can be one of the most difficult parts of content marketing. There’s a lot of ways your content marketing efforts can go astray.

That’s why we’ve put together this list of six of the most common content marketing mistakes people make when planning and creating their content.

1. Not Knowing Who You’re Talking To

Your content isn’t created in a vacuum; it’s part of your overall marketing efforts. Or at least it should be. That means you need to create a strategy for your content and plan it accordingly. Failing to do so will cause your content to fail before it even gets a chance.

There are two very important things to sort out when coming up with your content marketing strategy:

  1. Audience: How can you write good content if you don’t know who you’re talking to? The answer is you can’t. So your first step avoiding this content marketing mistake is coming up with buyer personas (also known as marketing personas). These personas are generalized avatars representing your customers’ wants, needs, goals and pain points. Take a look at your analytics data as well to make sure you’re not missing a segment, or that you’re way off base. Keeping this information in mind when planning and creating content will allow you to tailor messaging to emphasize features, benefits and use cases that will resonate with each persona.

  2. Content Lifecycle: The fact is, a lot of your content isn’t going to drive direct conversions on your website. And that’s ok! People seek out, consume and react to content differently at each stage of the buying process. This means that you should have content designed and optimized for each stage of the conversion process. A blog post targeting an informational keyword, for example, won’t bring the results you want if you’re using it as a lead magnet in a retargeting campaign. However, if you have articles designed specifically for each stage, your content marketing will be much more effective.

Creating a content strategy that incorporates buyer personas and the content lifecycle will make all stages of your content marketing more effective. It will allow you to find the right keywords for each user at each step of the funnel, and build trust and emotional ties more easily (steps six and seven in the content writing process.

2 Not Knowing Why

When you get in your car and start driving, you usually know what destination you’re driving to. That’s usually the whole reason you got in your car in the first place. Knowing your destination is how you know what turns to make and how you know if you’re on the right track to get there on time. Otherwise, you’re just burning gas.

The same goes for your content marketing. Publishing content without goals in mind is just burning gas.

Creating goals for content will allow you to:

  • Determine what content is successful
  • Gauge what content is not successful
  • Refine your marketing personas and content lifecycle strategy
  • Measure business benefits of your content

After you set your goals, you also need to create and measure the appropriate metrics. While they might seem similar, goals and metrics are two different concepts:

  • Goals: The end result you want to achieve for your business. You goals can be somewhat generic, such as "increase awareness", “grow audience”, “grow marketing lists”, “increase conversions” or “improve retention”. Note that goals will generally start of more generic, becoming more concrete as you move down the funnel. Avoid setting goals related to website vanity metrics such as website traffic, social media engagement and comments.

  • Metrics: The actual data you will track and analyze to determine if you are achieving your goal. The big difference between goals and metrics is that metrics are specific, measurable, numbers with which to evaluate your efforts. Content marketing metrics can include website traffic, retargeting and/or email list size, click-through rate or number of return customers.

If you’re struggling to come up with a good metric for your goal, that’s a good sign your goal isn’t a very good goal. When creating your goals, I suggest using the SMART framework.

3. Overselling Yourself

One of the easiest content marketing mistakes to make is spending too much time talking about yourself, your products and/or your services. Content marketing is an excellent opportunity for you to build trust with your audience by guiding them through the decision-making process and establishing your business as an authority in your niche. Spending too much time talking about yourself, or pushing a hard sell to someone at the top of the funnel, is going send users running for the hills. And they won’t come back because they won’t see what you say as anything other than a sales pitch.

It sounds counterintuitive, but it often makes sense not to talk about your company or products at all, especially when creating content that targets top of funnel users and informational queries. Other times, it might make sense to mention a competitor or to discuss products or features you don’t offer.

Taking this approach will actually have multiple benefits for your marketing:

  • Trust: As mentioned above, trying to sell to someone who’s not ready to buy will make them trust you, as a brand, less. However, you can flip that around to build trust and differentiate your business as a resource for authoritative, unbiased information.

  • Links: People are going to be really eager to show off the compliments you pay them, and that means links and likely some social media promotion. Link building without link building!

  • Competition: Wouldn’t it be great if your content appeared on the first page for your competition’s branded keywords? Well, including them in your content can make that happen.

4. Not Adding Value

This content marketing mistake closely relates to the previous one. Creating content that oversells yourself means creating content that’s less valuable for your readers. And content of little or no value doesn’t convert users.

So how does "valuable" content look or read? When we talk about valuable content, we mean content that is well-written, of course, but also:

  • Unique: Ever have someone repeat what someone else just said? Or post a comment in a forum that just says "This."? Super annoying, right? Well, the same applies to content marketing articles. If you want your content to be effective, write about something that hasn’t been covered to death, or provide a new perspective on the topic.

  • Consumable: No one wants to read two unbroken pages of solid text. Or watch a talking head drone on for 11 straight minutes. Consumable content is short and broken up into easily digestible chunks. This also makes selling easier. Dispensing information that doesn’t require interpretation or too much thinking, will make your company seem more authoritative and trustworthy.

  • Attractive: Users form their opinions of a website in the first half second of their visit. Almost all of them - 95% - base that opinion on the visual design. So, in the eye of the user, "valuable" content means pretty content. Use colorful visuals, illustrations, photos and screenshots to drive your point home and show off your products and features. Whatever design elements you use, stay away from stock photos. Unless, of course, your content is about the hilarity of salad.

Remember when we said to avoid using website vanity metrics as a goal for your strategy? Well, this is actually a good place to use those metrics. If your content isn’t getting much traction in the way of traffic, shares or engagements, that could be a sign that it doesn’t add value or is otherwise low quality.

5. Lacking Variety

While you want to avoid duplicate content, but that doesn’t mean you should use a piece of content only once. In fact, you should plan to use each piece of content three or four, or even five, different ways.

How can you get away with this?

By using multiple channels.

When most people think about "content marketing," they think of their website’s blog. Blogs are a big part of content marketing, but their not the only avenue. Think of all the places the members or your audience hangs out:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Quora
  • reddit
  • YouTube
  • SlideShare

Each channel represents an opportunity to reformat a piece of content. Got an awesome, case study posted on your blog? Awesome! Turn it into

  • An infographic
  • A video
  • A slideshow
  • A PDF checklist
  • An email
  • A product demo webinar

Look at that. You’ve written one article and now you can flip it into six other formats. And each format can be customized to appeal to a different persona in a different stage of the funnel.

6. Lacking Emotion

People aren’t rational, not matter how much we like to think we are, especially when it comes to buying a product. What really works on us is creating an emotional response tied to a product, service or brand. So it stands to reason that failing to create content that resonates emotionally is a mistake that can really tank your content marketing.

Ok, so just saying "make compelling content" isn’t really great advice. How can you really go about doing that? This is a big reason why you created those personas at the very beginning.

Remember when you listed each personas’ wants, needs, challenges and frustrations? Creating content that speaks to those points is how you create that emotional tie with the consumer. Explain how your business will add value to the customer’s life, help them achieve their goal and/or overcome an obstacle. You can dig deeper in consumer psychology to create really compelling content. You see this a lot in consumer goods.

Finally, create a sense of urgency. Even if it’s artificial urgency, it will still light a metaphorical fire under the customer and get them to convert. There are two main ways to create urgency:

  1. Use special offers that expire quickly. If someone thinks a discount or special rate will disappear soon, they’ll jump on it to avoid missing an opportunity. If the offer sticks around for awhile, people will drag their feet researching their competitors. They might talk themselves out of purchasing at all.

  2. Emphasize the immediate benefit of your business. Every second a person delays converting, they’re putting off happiness, security, business opportunities, or whatever value you’re bringing them. Use comparisons, metaphors and analogies to show just how much they’re missing out by not converting as quickly as possible.

Finally, bonds are built through shared experiences. Now, you can’t go do a bunch of trust falls with all your customers, but you can still bond with them via your content.

  • Easter Eggs - Easter eggs are hidden little jokes or references in a piece of media. They’re a great way to create a bond between your brand and audience, as people who get the references will feel rewarded.

  • Nostalgia - There’s no doubt that nostalgia is a powerful advertising tool. Even if your business isn’t that old, harken back to the pop culture and fads of your target audience to associate those warm, fuzzy feelings with your brand.

Optimize, Optimize, Optimize

Finally, since content marketing is a form of digital marketing, the biggest mistake you can make is failing to test, optimize and improve. This means that, to be a successful content strategist, you should constantly be refining and tweaking your personas, funnel, messaging and distribution channels to maximize your conversions.