Businesses wanting to reach users in more subtle ways are jumping on the blogging bandwagon. Well and truly.
In a recent Australian study, 62% of respondents said “blogs are the most appealing medium for business to promote a brand.”
If you’re in a business that’s paying an agency to create content on your behalf and place it on niche- and audience-appropriate sites around the web, you might be surprised to learn how far short your chosen agency is falling.
As Content manager at Problogger.net, I see agency pitches all the time, from marketing shops large and small. Just this week, I turned down content submitted by a global digital marketing agency. Why? Because it managed to achieve four of these five fatal mistakes.
How much do I think this probably cost their client? Between pitching, concepting and writing the posts (let’s say a total of four hours), keyword research (an hour?), and client and legal approvals (two hours), at $300 an hour (global agency rates!) we’re looking at $2,100, at a minimum. That’s without any back-and-forth revisions. I really hope that client had these guys on retainer…
If you pay an agency to create and post content to promote your business, now’s the time to ask yourself: how many of these mistakes are they making?
1. They hit sites with spam pitches
ProBlogger has a pretty unambiguous name, and if you’ve ever visited the blog, you’ll see immediately that it has a clear mandate.
Yet every day I receive pitches for “relevant”, “unique” posts on topics like:
- mattresses and bedding
- home decorating
- and so on.
Sure, this is a complete waste of my time, and bad news for your brand in the relationship-focused blogosphere.
But if you’re paying your agency to make these pitches, automated or not, you’re throwing money out the window.
2. They don’t read the submission guidelines
If your well-paid content marketing “expert” is pitching a post on bedding to ProBlogger, they obviously haven’t read the guidelines. But that’s not the only way their wasting their time and your money, nor the only way they’re swiftly undermining blog-industry respect for your brand.
Many agencies pitch us topics that appear relevant to our readership, then send us vaguely relevant articles containing backlinks to businesses that are completely unrelated to either the topic or our readers.
Our guidelines clearly state that we only include relevant links in posts. So if you’ve paid an agency to carefully research your keywords, and craft the posts, and maybe even had your lawyer approve the posts themselves (which many businesses do), and the host blog has rejected those posts, you’ve wasted some serious money.
If only your agency took a more thorough approach to targeting content. Oh wait, that’s what you’re paying them for, isn’t it?
3. They target host sites on the basis of PageRank, not audience or topic
Of course, most of these mistargeting issues arise because content agencies assess potential host sites primarily on the basis of PageRank, traffic levels, and similar factors.
What should they assess host sites on? Their appropriateness to your product, and relevance to your audience.
If your content marketing strategy is positioned as an SEO tool, you’re doing it wrong.
4. They’re unwilling, or unable, to make editorial changes
Let’s be honest. There are plenty of people in the world who can string a few sentences together and call it a guest blog post. Only a small (or, looking at the agency submission we receive, I’d say miniscule) percentage of them have ever written to a brief, or know how to work with an editor.
Writing to a brief—even one you’ve set yourself—is an art.
So is taking in feedback on that draft to make it better suit the readers of the site you’ve pitched it to.
To say that not all people who present themselves as pro writers can do this is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. This stuff is hard. It takes practice.
And if your paid content marketer can’t do it, you’ve blown your dough.
5. They’re unable to write for the medium
I know: blogging looks so easy. Most people in this industry haven’t had professional training in either writing or marketing. The people in your shiny marketing agency have been to grad school, for crying out loud! They know how to put a pen to paper! And really, how hard can it be anyway, right?
Well, pretty darn hard, judging by the paid-agency drafts I receive every day of the live-long week. An ability to write a media release, radio script, print ad, ebook, whitepaper, or essay does not naturally translate to skill in writing for blogs.
For example, your agency might be submitting “blog posts” that look like this:
What’s wrong here? Ask your content marketing agency. If they can’t tell you, find one that can.
Finding good help
How can you find a good agency? First up, I’d say: stop looking for an agency.
You know who wouldn’t make any of these fatal mistakes? Any actual blogger worth his or her salt. If you want to make an impact using blogs as a medium, it seems that right now, you should hire a blogger.
It’ll be interesting to see how this situation evolves as the industry matures—I have a feeling agencies are eventually going to have to hire actual bloggers before too long, but from what I’m seeing, that’s not happening yet.
That’s the whole problem.
Whoever you’re considering, ask to see these things:
- Their blog. If they don’t have a current, engaging one, run.
- Five guest posts they’ve had published on other relevant blogs, as well as:
- the comments and sharing stats for those posts on the host sites
- evidence of the impact of the guest post publications on the blogger’s own traffic levels
- the search positioning of those posts for the relevant topic keywords.
- The details of, say, three independent bloggers or blog editors they’ve worked with, so you can contact these people and find out how well the blogger’s writing is received by “peers.” Blogging is a relationship-based industry. The better your blogger’s relationship-building skills, the more successful your content marketing efforts are likely to be.
Your chosen blogger doesn’t need to be a big name with a massive following. Far from it. All they need to be able to do is write blog posts that have an impact on the target readers, and work effectively within this rather unique industry.
Too few agencies can manage that.