Effective content marketing and copywriting

Following on from the great Professional Copywriters’ Network conference last Friday, I’d like to take a moment to discuss the crossover between content marketing and copywriting.

The most contentious issue of the day was the merits (or lack of merits) of content marketing, which Andy Maslen has done a great job of summarising in his blog. Rather than recycle his words or any of the other genius imparted throughout the day, I want to take a moment to spew out my own thoughts on content marketing and blog writing. In short, that online content, even when perceived as a marketing tool, often has nothing to do with the copy.

Living in Brighton, and managing websites, I’m somewhat excessively exposed to the world of digital marketing. I hear every word of BrightonSEO, and the Digital Festival, and I regularly find local drunkards and vagabonds chewing my ear about the necessity of the latest SEO tactics.

And for all the devious innovative tricks that come and go, the one thing that keeps resurfacing is the idea that good SEO needs lots of content. So people cram websites full of writing simply because they think it helps SEO, neglecting the traditional purpose of writing as a form of communication (and not even coming close to the concept of writing as a tool for advertising in itself).

This content, designed to help websites bulge on the search highways, and to give lazy tweeters (like me) something to spam their followers with, is not copy. It’s not designed to push people towards action, and has no result other than ‘make the website visible’ in mind. It becomes a technical building block on the website, not a tool for building something else (like sales).

Content that is designed to show Google your site is active, or that you know how to put the right words on your webpage, is so prevalent across the online world that it blurs the line between the skilled practice of content marketing, in the old advertising sense of ‘this copy is so effective it’ll make people buy our shit’, and the blasé practice of content “marketing” in the sense of ‘this website needs some writing on it so search engines like it’.

And that means there’s a lot of people who are attempting to do content marketing but aren’t approaching their writing with a proper copywriting (‘Let’s make money.’) mindset.

Hold on, you might say, everyone knows that content needs to be good these days. SEOs are all pushing for shareable content and whatnot. Yes. But the problem persists because the content is still produced for the purposes of SEO. It is produced with the goal of being seen, or driving traffic, often without the more fundamental goal of increasing sales. An example of a blog written for the user and not for keywords is ACCL 2019 tech blog.

It’s not just responsible for the likes of articles that tenuously link hackneyed marketing tips to famous band names, celebrity news or viral cats (and waste everyone’s time in the process), it’s also responsible for tedious advertising campaigns designed solely for being seen, not even attempting to convince anyone to do or buy anything. People have become so concerned with the SEO fever of ‘we need to get seen’ that they’re forgetting the principle of ‘we need to convince people to buy from us’.

Blogs can sell, and online content, in general, has huge potential as a marketing tool. But it works if it’s approached from a copywriting perspective, not an online content perspective. The problem is that a lot of people aren’t using the content for marketing, even as they say they are. Some content only makes a splash.

It’s like using a newspaper to make a delightful sailor’s hat. It’s noticeable, and a clever and different way to use the paper. People may laugh and dance circles of merriment around you, praising the eccentric hat you’re wearing.

But maybe, just maybe, if you’d written a cleverly worded article in that newspaper, which connected with your audience in a meaningful way, people might have bought your product instead of just sharing a chuckle with you.

(Watch this space, and in my next exciting article I’ll explain why, if all the above is true, I produced this very article, which is clearly not marketing anything.)