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Driving Traffic With Content: 12 Content Marketing Leaders Reveal the Truth

Content is king; just ask Google. That being said, the adage falls flat when your content hides behind a veil of secrecy the NSA would envy. The fact is, there is not only plenty of dubious content published online every day, there is a boatload of really fantastic stuff as well. Is your organization is creating content you can be proud of? Great! How do you use it to drive traffic to your brand's online empire?

I'm a freelance writer, content creator and content strategy consultant. I've a decade under my belt (explains why it's grown a few notches!) creating and planning online content for organizations large and small. I haven't seen it all, though. Far from it. To give you a more complete picture of how content creates traffic, I put some questions on how it all works to some of the world's leading online traffic and content experts.

Here's some of what we discussed:

  1. What's the most misunderstood aspect of using content to drive traffic?
  2. What's the most ignored, yet effective way brands use content to drive traffic?
  3. What is the most effective, high ROI way brands can leverage content to drive traffic?

There are some common threads here. One thing is apparent; whether you're a small business employing 40, or a multinational with a staff of 40,000, your organization may be leaving behind some R on your content I.

Jay Baer – CEO, Convince and Convert. Convince and convert is one of the nation's most respected social media and content marketing consulting firms, who work on social media and content strategies with major brands such as Walmart, Columbia Sportswear, and Allstate. Jay is also leading marketing blogger, a frequent speaker at major marketing conferences around the world. You can see his words of wisdom on GooglePlus 

"The most misunderstood aspect of using content to drive traffic is that headlines (and increasingly visuals) are by far the most important element. Usually that's all people have to go on to make a decision to click. There are zero popular blogs that don't feature consistently good headlines."

That makes sense. If they don't click, you don't sell! Updated for the content marketing age: If they don't click (now), you don't sell (eventually)!

Robert Davis - Executive Director of Content Marketing, OgilvyOne Worldwide, ranked by Forrester Research Inc. as the world's pre-eminent customer engagement agency. Mr. Davis has been on the forefront of online video marketing, including serving as MTV Networks' first Executive Producer of Convergence and leading Ogilvy’s Advanced Video Practice Group.

"What's the most misunderstood aspect of using content to drive traffic? Data. We, as an industry, still aren't use to using the data gathered from digital interactions to help us shape the development of effective content.

A lot of folks still prefer to use the "test and guess" methods of the TV and radio era. Today, we have the benefit of knowing every click (and lack of click) our customers make. We know how the converse, how they search and how they react to the consumption of content. It is truly irresponsible to create content without understanding this data, but it happens all the time."

What's the most ignored, yet effective way brands use content to drive traffic?

"That's easy. SEM. It is the most underutilized tool in our business."

What is the most effective, high ROI way brands can leverage content to drive traffic?

"The YouTube TrueView skippable ad unit is one of, if not the most, economically efficient way to drive traffic. Besides the obvious benefits of advertisers only paying for the view when users engage (or, more accurately, when they chose not to disengage), it also provides a very targeted way to reach people who are actively looking to engage in content at that moment. It is also a great tool to use with longer form content, not just the dreaded short pre-roll. It is a no-brainer for anyone serious about getting views without breaking the bank."

Michael Brenner - Head of Strategy, NewsCred, a leading content marketing software platform used by a diverse brand portfolio, including Pepsi, Blue Cross, and NASCAR. Michael is a Forbes Top Social Media Marketer, Top Content Marketing Influencer and Most Mentioned Marketer on Twitter. In addition, he authors the B2B Marketing Insider blog, and is a frequent contributor on leading publications like Forbes, The Economist, and The Guardian. He's an experienced marketing executive as well, most recently serving as Vice President of Global Marketing and Content Strategy for SAP. Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael), LinkedIn, and Google+.

" The most misunderstood aspect of how to use content to drive real business value is what I call a culture of content. Most businesses think that the best way to drive new sales is to talk about themselves. They think that if they are not outright asking for new business that they won't get it. This is a business-centric view. In today's world, we tune out promotional messages. We can see in an instant which content is trying to sell us vs. help us or entertain us. Businesses need to (get) the brand out of their content and make the customer the hero of the stories they tell.

One of the most effective ways to use content to drive traffic that many businesses forget is to simply answer your customers' most basic questions. If you sell widgets, the first question you should answer with your content is "what are widgets?" Then go on to answer "How can widgets help a business like mine?" Once you've done that regularly, you can go on to answer why your widgets are best.

There is no magic pill for effective content to drive traffic. The best businesses have a documented strategy for publishing high quality content that helps their audience. They put someone in charge to drive that strategy. And they publish on a consistent basis. Businesses that publish audience-focused content more than once per day are many times more effective than those that publish less frequently. This requires a culture of content."

"Culture of content"; I like that. How can brands establish one?

"The best way to build a "culture of content" is to help your employees across the entire business understand your brand's higher purpose. Companies that do this well make sure their ecosystem understands the larger world they operate in and how they fit into that world. Then they activate their employees to tell authentic and personal stories about how they contribute. As a content marketer, I found myself more often in the role of coach. Teaching others how to write, how to share on social media, and how to build their personal brands."

Eric Enge – CEO, Stone Temple Consulting, a top online marketing agency known for research on social media and Internet marketing. Eric is the host of The Digital Marketing Excellence Show, and frequent contributor to leading business and online marketing outlets, including Forbes, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, and Copyblogger. He's also a frequent speaker, who counts PubCon, Search Marketing Expo, and Search Engine Strategies. Eric on LinkedIn

"The most misunderstood part of this is that people expect content marketing to drive direct revenue. This is rarely the case, and this is the wrong goal. Content marketing is a top of funnel activity, and it can take many months, or even years, to get sales conversions from it. In the meantime, more immediate conversions come in the form of shares, reshares, exposure to new people, and a growing audience.

We deal with many major brands, and for most of them, their efforts are fragmented. The social media team, the PR team, and the SEO team are all engaged in separate campaigns that do not work well together, hence they do not leverage each other. Having all these channels working from the same content playbook provides huge leverage and creates a 1 + 1 + 1 = 5 effect!"

What is the most effective, high ROI way brands can leverage content to drive traffic?

"This question seems closely related to the last one, so I will approach it this way - find your niche. Nobody is an industry leading expert at everything in their market. Find an initial area of focus, get established, and then expand carefully from there. This makes it much easier for you to allocate your time wisely and get the best ROI from it.

Keep in mind I am viewing ROI as expanding your audience, reshares, +1s, Likes, favorites, and payoffs of this kind. Most content marketing efforts take a year to start paying off in terms of a clear cash ROI. Patience is key here."

Ted Rubin - Leading Social Marketing Strategist, Keynote Speaker, Brand Evangelist, and Acting CMO of Brand Innovators – Ted is an experienced marketing executive, including serving as Chief Social Marketing Officer at Collective Bias, CMO of e.l.f. Cosmetics, and working alongside Seth Godin at Yoyodyne in 1998. Ted was named the most followed CMO on Twitter by Social Media Marketing Magazine, number #2 on the Leadtail list of Top 25 People Most Mentioned by digital marketers, and a Forbes Top 50 Social Media Power Influencer in 2013. ROR, #RonR, is the basis of his philosophy…It’s All About Relationships! His book, Return on Relationship was released January 29, 2013. Connect with Ted... http://TedRubin.com or @TedRubin.

What's the most misunderstood aspect of using content to drive traffic?

"For me it is not about tools, but about strategy, and execution."

What's the most ignored, yet effective way brands use content to drive traffic?

"Look for Holes in Your Competition: Take a look at your competition’s blogs and websites. Are there content holes they’ve missed that you can take advantage of? Ways to add value not already available and help you stand out. Those consistently provide lots of content have a bigger chance of attracting people who are actively looking for information."

What is the most effective, high ROI way brands can leverage content to drive traffic?

"Syndicate, syndicate, syndicate… share your content via all social channels always including Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, which also makes it easy for others to share. And don’t be afraid to do it more than once periodically sharing old posts via your social channels, especially those that were well received. Also, let others freely repost your content with a link back to the original post. "

Neil Patel – CEO, Quicksprout and Kissmetrics. Neil is a life long serial entrepreneur who's been helping businesses use the online universe to grow sales since starting his first consulting firm while still in high school. He left that behind long ago, co-founding the software firm Crazy Egg. He put his background to good use, helping businesses discover how to make their websites profitable with his next software venture, Kissmetrics. More recently, he co-founded Quicksprout, a software firm focused on driving website traffic. Neil's worked closely with a broad spectrum of major brands, including Toyota, Dell, Hilton, and Costco. He's on Twitter @neilpatel

"One of the most misunderstood aspect of using content to drive traffic is that an increase in traffic won't directly correlate to more sales. A lot of companies blog to gain traffic in hopes that those visitors will convert into customers. Although this is true to some extent, you typically won't see blog readers convert into customers right away. They'll visit your site a few times, get to know you, your brand, and then convert when they are ready."

Ana Hoffman – Blogger, Traffic Generation Cafe a leading blog focusing on showing small businesses on how to effectively use minimum resources to maximize profitable traffic. Ana also publishes the “Weekly Marketing Skinny” newsletter. Catch up with her at her Traffic Generation Cafe blog or on Twitter @AnaTrafficCafe

"The biggest content marketing mistake I see people make is thinking that anyone would want to read what we have to say. Truth is people want to read what we have to say about them. Making your content beneficial, practical, and actionable, as well as interactive, engaging, and yes, entertaining, are the keys.

Come up with ways to write that kind of content, and you won't have to worry about traffic - it'll drive itself. And for the sake of making this answer beneficial, practical, and actionable, may I suggest the following exercise before writing your next blog post:

1. Come up with one single benefit that should answer your readers' question "What's in it for me?" after reading your post. If you are not clear on that benefit, don't write the post.

2. Include at least one way to engage your readers. For instance, ask them a question, quote them (their thoughts from previous comments work great for that), link out to their posts.

3. Make sure there's at least one entertaining/engaging element in the post: a clever image, a Slideshare presentation, a video, etc."

What's the most ignored, yet effective way brands use content to drive traffic? 

"Publish original beneficial, practical, and actionable content on third-party platforms like Slideshare, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc."

What is the most effective, high ROI way brands can leverage content to drive traffic?

"Build the kind of loyal fanatical readership that will take your content to the ends of the World Wide Web and beyond for you. "

Andy Crestodina – Strategic Director and Co-Founder, Orbit Media – With a staff of 30+, 13 year old Orbit Media is one of Chicago's leading web design and Internet marketing firms. Andy has provided web strategy advice to more than 1000 businesses over the last 12 years. He authored Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing, and is a featured speaker at major marketing conferences, including Social Media Marketing World, Content Marketing World, and CEO Roundtable. Find Andy on LinkedIn

What's the most misunderstood aspect of using content to drive traffic?

"Few people realize how indirect the benefits of content really are. A great post well promoted to other content creators may never be seen by potential buyers, but it may drive follows that create social proof and links that create higher rankings for that buyer-keyphrase. It's a long, circuitous but it works really really well."

What's the most ignored, yet effective way brands use content to drive traffic?

"If the content is written specifically for a stage in the buyer funnel (especially for B2B) you can drive the most targeted traffic in the world by personally emailing it to prospects in the sales process. These super-targeted visitors may be worth a bazillion times more to you than a random person from Instagram."

What is the most effective, high ROI way brands can leverage content to drive traffic?

"Build up a very structured, internally linked library of content that answers real questions and solves real problems. Start by listing the table of contents. Write the outline for your entire field. Now blog your way through it, filling in each gap. Be the Wikipedia for your industry.

Be more persistent and structured than your competitors. That's where the real ROI lies. You'll give yourself an almost unfair advantage!"

Josh Haynam – CEO and co-Founder, Interact, a software firm dedicated to helping businesses use online surveys to drive engagement, discover audience intent, and tune content. Interact counts major brands, nonprofits, and media companies among their customers, including The BBC, World Vision, Philips, and UCLA. Josh also speaks at major Internet marketing conferences. He's on Twitter @JHaynam

"#1 Most content should be primarily to entertain. Shaquille O'neal created a rule which rings true. He says that 85% of your content should be to make people's day better, 10% should be to inform, and 5% should be to sell. Too many people try to push their knowledge and insights, forgetting that they are competing for their audience's attention.

#3 Answering real questions that your customers ask you. Some of my best pieces have been in response to a question that a customer asked through email. I keep a running tab of questions that come in and answer the top questions with blog posts. "

Arnie Kuenn - CEO, Vertical Measures, a well known search, social & content marketing company. He's held executive positions in the world of new technologies and marketing for more than 25 years, is a frequent speaker and author of the award winning content marketing book Accelerate! In 2014, Arnie was honored as the Interactive Person of the Year in Arizona. You can find Arnie on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn

What's the most misunderstood aspect of using content to drive traffic?

"I would say it is having the primary goal of driving more traffic. Unless your business is 100% dependent on ad revenue from your website, you really need to focus on what drives revenue for your business. Therefore you need to create content that has the goal of generating either leads or sales on your site. And in that case, conversion rates from your traffic become the big focus."

What's the most ignored, yet effective way brands use content to drive traffic?

"Since the question is about driving traffic (not leads or sales), I would say images are most ignored, yet can be very effective. This can occur in two different ways. First, optimized images should be used at every opportunity on your website. It’s the optimization part that is key. Second, use images on your social platforms to push traffic to your website. This can be so powerful, yet it is not done very well by many brands."

What is the most effective, high ROI way brands can leverage content to drive traffic?

"I hate to appear “non-progressive” but I still say free guides, whitepapers and case studies are the best bang for the buck (ROI) when it comes to generating traffic, leads and even backlinks to your website. It’s tempting to chase the next shiny object, but if your business has not put this basic type of content to use, you should seriously consider it."

Richard Parker – Managing Partner and Head of Strategy, Edge, Australia's leading content marketing agency. Richard has spent the last dozen years developing and running integrated content marketing campaigns with branded content agencies for diverse verticals ranging from retail to health care and travel. He's spoken at major conferences on such as the Mumbrella Festival of Branded Content and Entertainment, Content Marketing World, and the CMO Summit. Richard is on Twitter at @Kingsgrove.

What's the most misunderstood aspect of using content to drive traffic?

"That simply creating content will in and of itself drive traffic. It won't. In the early days of content marketing, a brand could 'own' a subject matter and secure incredible organic search results very quickly. Nowadays most content marketing plays need an SEM spend to launch. In the early days, Facebook loved brand content and surfaced it to the newsfeed organically. Now, Facebook is gradually reducing organic reach so that it becomes a paid media platform. All of which means we need to consider driving traffic to content, as much using content to drive traffic."

What's the most ignored, yet effective way brands use content to drive traffic?

"It's not necessarily ignored, just often badly executed: the most effective way for brands to use content to drive traffic is to get the mix between brand drivers, commercial drivers and audience drivers right to develop a coherent content strategy and framework. If this mix is right, consumers will want to read, watch or interact with the content. That's step one.

Step two is getting them to notice it in a very crowded space, and that's where the art of the headline comes in. Headlines written for Google can be dry and boring - they have to squeeze in keywords and summarise the article in a small number of words. Headlines written for magazines can be more conceptual, make oblique references, use puns - basically you are already reading the magazine and the effort to go on to fead the stand-first and then the article is small. And there are lots of pull quotes and images to pull you into the story.

Headlines written for social feeds have started to all look the same and follow the BuzzFeed model: 9 most awesome things ever that you can't afford not to read!' etc. Today's content marketer needs to draw from all of these techniques - and the fact is that what people want to click on changes all the time as we get bored or over-exposed to a particular style. So: test, test, test and optimise, optimise, optimise - and be flexible enough to change it up often!"

What is the most effective, high ROI way brands can leverage content to drive traffic?

"This isn't a simple question, and there isn't one single 'way'. I think there are a number of key principles. First, think long-term. It takes 6-12 months for a content play to start to really kick in. Secondly, don't ignore paid. You might need to invest in order to build traffic around the content initially, before the organic effect kicks in. Think of it as priming an engine. Thirdly, ensure what you do is aligned to key brand principles. Fourth, test and optimise on a short cycle - weekly is preferential, although for some clients we are testing and optimising on a daily, 'always-on' basis."

Heidi Cohen - Chief Content Officer, Actionable Marketing Guide, leading blogger, and major conference speaker

What's the most misunderstood aspect of using content to drive traffic?

Just producing content by itself is insufficient to drive sales. Marketers must provide the information their prospects actively seek, namely product information, answers to their purchase-related questions, how-to’s, styling support and customer ratings and reviews.

These information searches often occur before the marketer realizes that the prospect is in market for their product. Research showed that customers are at least 60% of the way through their buying process before they contact the company.

Therefore it’s critical to include a contextually call-to-action to encourage potential buyers to take the next step towards purchase. Even more important is adding tracking to your call-to-action so that you can measure results.

What's the most ignored, yet effective way brands use content to drive traffic?

Use a blog to answer all of your prospects’ questions. It’s what Marcus Sheridan  (aka The Sales Lion) calls the secret sauce, they ask and you answer approach.

The added benefit is that it supports your search optimization and reduces your sales cycle.

The biggest questions to answer are price and defining whom you don’t want as customers. While most marketers and business owners are squeamish about putting this information into writing, it’s what attracts prospects to your business. According to Sheridan, these 2 answers are major sales generators. Check out the details.

What does it all mean?

To Drive Traffic, Content Must:

  • Be customer, not brand focused, and deliver clear audience benefits.

  • Entertain, no matter the subject. Even informative content on “boring” subjects can be entertaining. Entertaining boosts results and ROI.

  • Answer customers' most pressing and basic questions first.

  • Have compelling, keyword focused headlines – Strike the tough balance between compelling for humans and keyword optimized for search engines. Take it a step further. Platform optimize headlines. Social media, print, and websites/blogs all respond best to different headline styles. It's like this; if they don't click, you don't convert!

  • Provide an engagement avenue. - Make it a 2-way street. People hate driving around the block, but they love conversation.

  • Include images, graphics, or video. Not only does it make content more visually appealing, it communicates some ideas better and faster. Visuals take advantage of learning differences among individuals. Some learn better through reading, while others absorb visual media more effectively. From a traffic perspective, visuals are shared more, meaning they have a significant traffic and reach impact. Finally, visuals are proven attention grabbers. People notice them among the clutter. If you're trying to stand out, use video and images.

Organizations successful at using content to drive traffic:

  • Have a documented content strategy with a person responsible for its execution

  • Publish regularly. It not only delivers more search engine opportunities, but audiences come to expect it. Building that audience expectation is a large factor in successful content traffic driving, and they know it.

  • Know exactly what they are creating, who the intended audience is, why they are creating it for them, and what stage it occupies in their funnel.

  • Create what Michael Brenner calls a “Culture of Content”

  • Take a long-term view of content. Too many expect instant results, as if they were running direct response ads. It rarely works that way. They know content is not going to flood them with traffic overnight. It's a long term strategy. Many still don't get this. I recently had a VP of Marketing ask “How many sales did we get from the blog last week?” In most cases it's a positioning and long term brand enhancer, not a sales page series.

  • Don't ignore SEM, and use it in combination with their content to drive traffic.

  • Know that creating excellent content requires significant resources, and only excellent content will get the kind of results they're looking for.

High ROI Traffic Driving Content Strategies Many Organizations Miss:

  • YouTube, including the skippable ad unit

  • Hyper-focused content, sent directly to specific prospects.

  • Syndicating their content on targeted outlets. Trade journals and their websites/blogs are highly effective for B2B organizations. They need a fresh content supply for their ongoing publishing needs. Become a resource for them. Build publisher relationships in these markets.

  • Repurposing content on other platforms; slideshare, LinkedIn, etc.

  • Look to dominate a small niche, then expand to others. Be very strategic and intentional when selecting which niches to start with. Do research; it's vital to maximize this strategy's effectiveness. Look not only for opportunity, but how it benefits your organization long term, and ease of domination.

To Boost Content ROI:

  • Focus content strategy on your core competency, then focus on executing your strategy. Many organizations strike out in several directions simultaneously. That pulls resources and marketplace attention from your content and its mission. Many of the experts mentioned strategy development, focus and execution as the primary keys to successfully driving traffic with content.

  • Involve and coordinate the content success teams; PR, social media, content, SEO, etc. All parts of the organization that have a part in making the content truly successful should run a unified campaign, rather than running their own, separate campaigns and looking at what of the organization's content they can pick and choose from. This creates leverage, and ultimately pulls in much more traffic.

  • Use persistent promotion. Make an exception for time sensitive content, but promoting content on social media especially benefits from a long term promotional strategy. Re-share strategically for greater reach form the same content. Content created for an annual event can often be re-promoted year after year.

  • Look for opportunities in your market others miss. Simplistic? Perhaps, but there are countless opportunities in every market that competitors put little or no attention toward. These underserved markets can be a content gold mine. They bring you the ability to create traffic with content your market is thirsting for. Since this content stands alone, it is frequently shared. As this content is typically not more resource intensive to create, its ROI is often sky high.

  • Leverage established, 3rd party content platforms to distribute and promote your content. Think Slideshare, LinkedIn, Yahoo, YouTube, etc. They have a built-in audience and distribution system and spent millions developing it. Why waste it?

These experts have built their careers largely through effective content creation and use. Their knowledge and experience is priceless, and can help your organization develop and implement effective content-based traffic generation strategies.

What are your favorite ways to drive traffic with content?  

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