17 Reasons Why Your Content Marketing Isn’t Working

why your content marketing isn't working

While a lot of companies nail it with their content marketing strategy, a lot of others really struggle with theirs. They spend a ton of money and don’t get the results they expected. Familiar story?

If so, read on, because we’ll show you exactly why your content marketing is failing and how you can fix it in 17 detailed, definitive reasons. So let’s dive in!

Why Your Content Marketing Isn’t Working and how You Can Fix It

1. You Don’t Write for People

Thankfully Google’s recent updates mean that good writing is appreciated and rises to the top of search results, whereas content whose aim is to pack itself full of keywords to manipulate search results, well, doesn’t anymore. Your content should aim to answer the crucial questions related to your sector and solve your ideal client’s problems better than anyone else.

This will go a long way to getting Google to put it top of the pile and eventually to the holy grail: the first page on Google.

2. You Don’t Write for Google

While reason 1 is of utmost importance in modern content marketing, you would do well to follow best SEO practice (which we will blog about later). What is SEO? OK, search engine optimisation yes, but that’s not what I mean. What is it for? Why is it so necessary?

This is why: Google analyses the internet to find the best results to match the search term of a user. Google aims to solve the user’s problem as best as possible. This is why Google is so popular. Because it’s bloody good at it. The best (It’s why Yahoo is circling the drain). SEO best practice helps Google to analyse your content better and therefore rank your stellar content higher. I’m going to say that again as it is very important:

SEO best practice helps Google to analyse your content better and therefore rank your stellar content higher.

The key is to find the right balance between (1) writing for people and (2) writing for Google. Content should flow. It should be natural. Stuffing keywords in here, there and everywhere is a massive no-go. Ten years ago it was the way to success, but those days are long gone. What is very important is strategic keyword (and similar search term) placing, as well as some other SEO tricks.

Let’s not forget Bing, the other, less fashionable search engine. When we talk about search engines, Google is virtually a synonym given its overwhelming dominance, but Bing will still bring you some traffic, albeit a lot less than the Google behemoth.

3. You don’t know SEO well enough

A lot of marketers say they know how blog SEO works. “Oh, SEO? It’s easy.” Is it easy? No, it’s not.

If a marketer tells you blog SEO is easy, they simply don’t know it well enough. I’ve worked with a lot of companies (startups, SMEs, multinationals) as a freelance marketing consultant and some marketing departments had been executing their blog SEO to average standards at best. The marketing departments that excelled had their SEO house in order.

There are over 15 blog SEO steps in total (look out for a future blog post covering these), but putting them all into practice while complementing, not damaging the quality of the content – without making it sound mechanical for the benefit of SEO – is the tricky part and where a knowledgeable, skilled hand is needed.

4. You Don’t Have An Effective Content Calendar

My old maths teacher used to say, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Good old Mr. Pratt, he knew his stuff. It may be a cliché but Mr. Pratt has a point.

What is a content calendar? Yep, you guessed it, exactly what it sounds like – a plan for content idea generation, production and distribution (PR, social media etc) for the coming month, quarter or year.

Content calendars typically include your cornerstone content as well as ideas that look to take advantage of certain holidays (Christmas, Halloween and so forth), important dates (end of tax year for instance) and periods of the year, while leaving room to “newsjack” big trending stories that can happen at any time (more on this in a future blog post – it’s essentially a way of piggybacking something in the news to boost your content).

Bottom line: You need a content calendar. It lays out a roadmap for you and your team to see where you are going, it ensures that time isn’t wasted down the line thinking of what to do next and it creates business goals to achieve.

5. Your Blog Is All You, You, You

The rookie company blogs and tweets and sings their heart out about how great they are and how their product will change the world and how your life will just be amazing as long as you buy their product.

Then they’re shocked when they get ZERO results.

And I’m not just talking about startups or SMEs. I’ve seen some household name, multinational companies with just horrible content strategies and stale blogs (these are usually those blog posts with lots of corporate-speak and sector-specific jargon that sends 99.99% of the population to the land of nod – you know the ones, right?). Boring! Steer clear.

So, does that mean to never talk about your company? NO. It does not mean that.

Of course not. Your clients, your leads, your followers – they’re going to be interested in hearing that you’ve won an award, or that you’ve closed a new partnership deal, or you’ve just hit a new milestone. Of course they are and of course this content is important. It creates brand awareness and helps enormously with PR.

What it does mean is to not drone on in every blog post about how “innovative” you are, how “industry-leading” your product is. Self-praise is no praise and nobody likes a self-congratulator. Do you?

Generally, if it’s easy to do, it’s too good to be true (blowing your own trumpet in this case) and should be avoided, no matter how tempting it is.

What can you do instead? Talk to your reader about??…..your reader! Which brings us to reason 6…

6. You “Sell” Your Product Too Soon

Your blog and your content is to help your reader. Give them value. Give them education. Give them entertainment. Give them useful, urgent information. Solve their problems.

Follow the 4 U’s of content marketing: make your content useful, unique, urgent and ultra-specific.

Once you build a relationship, once you build rapport, then and ONLY THEN do you go for the sale. Don’t be the rookie company who wants results now and never gets them. Be the pro who patiently builds a relationship and reaps the rewards with new clients, revenues and an envious reputation that has your customers going weak at the knees for you.

7. You Don’t Help Your Reader

You try, but it doesn’t work. Take finance as an example. I know one company that writes a weekly economic outlook update. Their clients are SMEs from all types of sectors (manufacturing and retail for instance).

Yet their update is delivered in financial jargon, bank-speak and complex concepts, which makes it frankly ludicrous to think that a managing director of a cosmetics company who has never studied economics understands. If anything, they will be turned off by such content.

Rather than help the reader, such an approach confuses them.

Yet companies keep doing this. They think it makes them look smart – like experts – when really the content expertise lies in taking complex concepts and explaining it in such a way that it is understood well, without causing a headache.

Lesson: keep it simple and ask yourself along every step of the way, “Am I helping my reader with this content?” If you do this, you won’t go far wrong.

It does, of course, imply that you know your customer well – something for instance that the traditional finance sector has struggled with. Do you truly understand your customer wants and needs?

8. Your Target Readership Is Too Broad

This is a concept that is of course not exclusively applicable to content marketing, but business in general. If you spread your net far and wide to reel in as many different fish as you can, you will likely end up empty-handed. But, if you narrow your scope to one or two targets, you’re much more likely to be successful.

If your content is aimed at all types of client profile, it makes it a formidable task to appeal to any one in particular. It’s best to focus your content on one profile (or a few that are very closely linked).

Think of a restaurant. Let’s say you want Mexican food. You have two options – the first restaurant serves Mexican food exclusively and has built up a steady reputation as the Mexican food specialist in town.

Your second option is one of those restaurants that has about 100 different dishes on their menu (we all know these restaurants, right?), from pasta and pizza to Mexican food and burgers. They’re a jack of many trades and master of none. Do I even need to ask which one you would choose?

This might be difficult to accept in the beginning, but it will stand any business in good stead in the long run. Trim the content approach down and zero in on your ideal client with content that targets their pain points (which your product addresses).

Keep it simple.

9. You Don’t Have A Defined Conversion Strategy

Believe me, I have seen so many companies in my over five years in content marketing pump their cash into content without developing a solid conversion strategy.

They generate leads in the thousands but those leads end up sitting in a database or at best, sales do pick them up but without an efficient system in place to define and qualify them. It is really incredible how much venture capital is spent in this way.

Why is this? I believe that the main issue is a lack of understanding.

Businesspeople think, “Content, it’s easy!”

It’s not.

It’s layered and it’s complex. It takes hard graft and knowhow to make it work.

But company executives have thrown money at content (particularly since 2013, when content marketing became all the rage) – “What do you mean you don’t do content?” – the dreaded question. So, companies started “doing content” without proper direction.

Many learned the hard way. Many didn’t learn at all, but didn’t know what to do – “We can’t stop doing content”, so they just kept plugging along, knocking out articles nobody wanted to read.

Some did it right from the beginning. Some did their research and employed the right people. And those right people know how important lead nurturing is.

Lesson: Content is but one part of converting the lead into a client. Be careful not to overlook or rush lead nurturing.

10. Your Sales Funnel Is Wishy-Washy

It’s so common: Sales have some idea of what to do with the content. Some. Ok, I know – it’s a typical issue in companies – getting Sales and Marketing to work together – but work together they must if a content strategy is to succeed. The usual issues are: (1) Too many egos, (2) poor communication and (3) the most important – poor leadership.

It ultimately comes from the top down to enforce processes. If not, the funnel becomes wishy-washy – it lacks focus and discipline, and is doomed to fail.

11. Your Sales Team Is Not On Board

For any of a number of reasons, the sales department might reject the idea of content.

They don’t see results soon and lose patience.

They aren’t taught how content marketing works properly and so have false expectations.

Marketing isn’t organised enough.

The conversion funnel isn’t efficient.

Lead data is poorly managed.

Sales see cold-calling and email campaigns as more effective.

These are all typical reasons. Familiar with any of them? I’m willing to bet that you are.

Again, it comes down to leadership and organisation. Sales absolutely must be on board for content to work.

I have one client in the finance sector and the relationship between marketing and sales works very well.

Their sales guys provide content ideas to the marketing team. They provide specialist information to us to support new pieces (because they understand that valuable, insights-driven content generates good leads and in turn, it helps their sales strategy).

Their inter-departmental communication is efficient and consistent. And everyone keeps their egos in check for the good of progress and of closing sales – the ignition key of any company.

This, unfortunately, is not the norm.

Is your sales team fully on board?

12. You Don’t Have A PR Strategy To Power Your Content Creation

There is no point in putting all that effort (and money) into creating all that content if there is no one around to read it. A tweet here and LinkedIn share there do not count. This is not a distribution strategy.

A content strategy and distribution strategy are inextricably linked. Each needs the other. Else, you may as well just pack it in.

PR – reaching out to the press; building relationships with bloggers, journalists; getting published in industry-specific, client industry-specific and general media outlets, influencer marketing, and cultivating your company network and brand.

This requires the same that content requires: resources – time, effort, specialists and investment.

Many SMEs baulk at the idea of forking out thousands for PR. This brings Henry Ford’s words to mind – “A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.”

13. Your Content Simply Isn’t Good Enough

Is it unique? Is it urgent? Is it ultra-specific? Is it useful to your ideal lead or client?

To produce successful content it requires good hiring and good planning. Pay peanuts and what do you get? Monkeys.

Good writers don’t come cheap. But many companies look to save money by turning to content mills or writing the content themselves. Content mills are cheap for a reason. They might produce content for your blog, but in all likelihood, you’ll gain a reputation for producing work that probably elicits a reaction of “Meh.”

A good writer then needs strong support from within the company and access to resources, be it an interview with a specialist sales member, a product demo or anything else that will make the content hit those 4 U’s.

14. You Don’t Use Unique, High-Quality Images

The man in a suit with a briefcase looking out a window with his back turned to you.

The woman wearing glasses with a notepad in her hand, and of course, the obligatory perfect white teeth.

The team talking over coffee with a few laptops scattered on a desk.

And of course, the one with the two suited men shaking hands.

Really?

We’ve all seen these two-a-penny stock images way too many times on blogs. On social media. In email campaigns. They’re everywhere!

Do these images make a positive impact on the reader? On you?

OK, so you don’t have 200 (insert currency here) to pay for a Getty image. That’s expensive, and all but the biggest companies are priced out of this option. But you don’t have to pay these hefty sums.

What’s the solution? Well, you can find good quality images on sites like Flickr and elsewhere. In my experience though, looking for a good photo which you’re allowed to use by the photographer and that isn’t generic takes a long time.

So what’s the other solution? Take your own photos. Yes, seriously.

Photos I took with an iPhone camera for a company where I used to work as a copywriter regularly went viral on social media.

Why? They were unique. They were clearly taken by someone in the company rather than a pro (I take as good a photo as most people who aren’t professional photographers –  distinctly average ones). People appreciate it all the more for NOT being perfect.

Why? Because people aren’t perfect, while stock images are. They’re airbrushed, they’re overdesigned, they’re NOT REALISTIC.

Make your company realistic. Make it relatable to your ideal reader.

Or, instead of take, MAKE your own images. Like the one atop this article. It took me two minutes to do on Canva, maybe two and a half. And it’s free to boot. OK, it’s no Mona Lisa but I bet it grabbed your attention!

I once worked with a community manager and she made the most beautiful, attention-grabbing images and infographics with apps like Canva and PiktoChart. It’s a great option for your content.

15. Your Specialist Is Your Writer

Ideally, Sales is constantly involved in content production, but in actually writing the content?

Bad idea.

It is exceptionally rare to find a specialist who is also a very good writer. Oftentimes they might be ok. I’ve never seen a specialist who was a good content writer. Who understood what is needed for web content.

I remember one startup I worked with – the specialist business development guy was smart and knew his product inside out, but he wrote in such a jargony, complicated way that only he understood what he was talking about.

The specialist should always always always educate a skilled writer rather than write themselves. This way you get the insider expertise communicated in an attractive way that is designed to help the reader and drive your content marketing business goals.

Rarely does it work when a department specialist creates the content. Companies keep doing it though, because it seems to make sense as a way to save money. The smart companies know not to do this.

We mentioned when things seem too good to be true before, right?

16. Your Writer Isn’t A Native Speaker

This is one of the biggest problems with content marketing and really, if a company employs a non-native to do their content, it’s a sign that they don’t really understand content marketing fully or that they don’t take it seriously.

Someone might (emphasis on the word “might”) speak English really well, fluent even. But writing is a whole other ball game. Most people in their own language wouldn’t be confident writing, let alone in another.

I previously worked as a translator and the agencies who comply with international standards in translation do not let a translator translate into a language other than their own. They just don’t, because it is so hard, and we’re talking about people who study a foreign language for years and work with it in their professional life.

Sure, it’s possible for a non-native to be a good writer in a language that isn’t their mother tongue. But it’s uncommon. In fact, in over five years in content marketing, I’ve seen maybe one person who could, and she still made mistakes that a native wouldn’t.

Would a qualified, native writer do better? Every time.

The fact is that if a reader sees grammar mistakes or language that sounds just plain weird in English (non-idiomatic), which is common when a non-native writes in the language, you will be seen as an amateur and your readers will probably leave your blog, never to return.

And hiring a native writer to proofread or edit a piece written by a non-native will iron out some mistakes, yes, but it will still fall short. It’s a compromise between the two – hiring a writer and getting a non-native team member to write – and one seen as a win for companies eager to save money.

It isn’t.

The proof is always in the pudding and content always shows its quality. While there is a chance that you appeal to non-English native readers, they will spot the non-English writing from a mile away, and with English resources in full supply, they will go likely somewhere where the content is written by a qualified native writer.

17. Your writer isn’t a web copywriter

I’ve seen companies hire print journalists to write web copy and content. “She’s a writer, she’s studied it at university. She’ll be great.” Won’t she? Maybe, but not with a journalistic background alone.

Journalism and copywriting are very different. Yes, journalists have excellent skills such as research that can be brilliant attributes for web content, but it is not enough. A journalist really needs to train as a copywriter.

Copy is about persuasion and requires specific expertise.

And web copy requires different skills on top of that. Knowing how to present content for a digital medium is a specialist area. Not for any Tom, Dick or Harry.

I’ve spent a long time studying the copywriting discipline and putting it into practice – with five years in my locker I’m still learning and honing my craft.

Native English speakers who happen to write well, or journalists, are not copywriters or web content writers until they undergo the requisite training. It’s like asking a tenor to sing the part of a soprano. They both sing, but they sing very differently.

Bringing it all together – Why Your Content Marketing Is Failing  And How To Fix It

Content marketing can drive your business growth but it requires care, like anything worth its salt. It is so effective and so widespread because it is relatively cheap compared to other forms of advertising, it is so versatile and it has created new, unique channels through which to access and communicate with your ideal buyer.

With these 17 reasons why your content marketing is failing and their solutions, you now know what to do. You can now put your business content marketing strategy on the path to success – to lead generation and increased brand awareness – and ultimately, to winning new clients and growing your profit margins.

Anything to say? Did we miss anything? Hope to see you in the comments!

Enquiries at timothy@woodscopywriting.com / +34 659 407 440

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7 Easy Writing Tips For Spectacular Content Marketing

Author: Timothy J. Woods

Founder and copywriter at Woods Copywriting - content for the world's leading financial organisations and innovative fintechs.