How to Set Appropriate Expectations in Content Marketing

Tom Salvat on Apr 1, 2019 in Content Marketing

Instant gratification. It has somehow become ingrained in our world’s society that it’s best to have everything “now.” We’ve grown impatient. We want to lose weight “now.” We want to own a home “now.” And if we don’t have cash, we can use a credit card to purchase items “now.”

Companies, especially their marketing departments, have taken notice. From same-day to two-day shipping via Amazon Prime, sending money, contacting loved ones, or picking up a grab-and-go meal, instant gratification is built into our culture.

But it shouldn’t be part of your content marketing.

Quick Takeaways:

  • Have a balanced mix of evergreen and timely topics in your content strategy.
  • Build domain authority with thought leadership content to increase your visibility in the search engines.
  • Consistency in publication helps you build a relationship with your audience slowly but surely.
  • Prepare monthly content performance reports to remain transparent in your reporting.

Give Your Content Time to Grow

In his article “Why content marketers don’t want instant gratification,” Henry Bruce analogizes it best:

Writing a single blog post and asking your team to “make it go viral” is like planting a seed one morning before heading to work and demanding it become an aloe plant by the time you get home. Speed just isn’t a big part of the equation.

If you’ve heard of – or have ever produced – evergreen content, you know this statement is a fact.

“Evergreen content” is content that stays continuously fresh (much like an evergreen tree does, even in the dead of winter) due to the eternal timeliness of the topic or with the help of regular updates. This content is optimized to show up at the top of search results and drive traffic to your website over time.

Not all content fits the criteria to be evergreen, and you don’t want only evergreen content either. Instead, strive for a nice balance of evergreen content and content that may only be timely for a while. The idea is that, like evergreen content, you cannot expect it to work for you right away – and yes, “right away” means up to a few weeks post publish.

Keep SEO in Mind

If you’re a brand new website or even a website that doesn’t have a lot of content, you lack significant clout with search engines. You’ll need to work twice as hard to create exceptional content and avoid disastrous mistakes so that search engines will include your content toward the top of search results.

You’ll need to build domain authority and authenticity. To do so you’ll need to curate a treasure trove of researched and well-written content. Your quality standards need to be strict; each post should be vetted and edited prior to posting. You need to make sure you write on a variety of topics that are not only appropriate to your industry but are also appealing to the different interests of your audience. Once you have quality, crawlable content, search engines will take your site more seriously–and your content will continue to help your SEO in the long term.

In addition to search engines, you need to prove your authority to your prospective audience and use it to establish a relationship with them.

Building a Relationship with Your Audience

Creating content is part of establishing a relationship with your audience. While there are always exceptions, you will likely not immediately gain someone’s loyalty based on one article. You have to prove, article after article, that you are an authority in a particular area of your industry.

You have to showcase to your audience that you are not only well versed and have a command of the topics and issues related to your industry but that you can help guide and educate them. Only when you have proven your capabilities will you begin to grow your audience one by one.

This takes time and diligence.

Setting Appropriate Expectations

When it comes to content marketing, there are two groups for whom you must set reasonable expectations: Your superiors, individuals to whom you report, and your audience. That’s because each expects something different from your content marketing. Your superiors expect lead generation and customer conversions. Your audience expects quality, helpful, and informative content.

We’ll explore each in turn.

Keep your Superiors Well-Informed

While you understand that results take time, those to whom you report (outside of the marketing department) may not. That’s why it’s necessary to set appropriate expectations regarding the content marketing strategy and how and when it will produce results ( it doesn’t hurt to reinforce it for yourself). Here’s how to do so:

1. Educate/Inform. Give superiors a high-level overview of what content marketing is, what goals it aims to achieve, and the time it takes to achieve them.

2. Review the Timeline. Setting expectations can involve using visuals to show a piece of content’s expected performance timeline. For example, you can take a piece of content and track its progress over the next six months. If you repeat the process with other pieces of similar content (such as all videos or all blog posts), you can get an idea of how soon your content produces results (remove the outliers, such as viral content, to avoid skewing the data). You can present the data in graphs and trends and show that your content “does” produce results – it just takes X amount of days/months.

3. Prepare Monthly Reports. It’s important to prepare monthly reports so you can review your content’s performance and make adjustments. You can also create a modified (as in, not too deep in the weeds with data and industry jargon) version to present to your supervisors, company board, or others. It will provide the necessary transparency needed so that they can see continued growth over time. Producing a high-level overview is a great way to continue to solidify expectations: That slow, meticulous, and well-written content will produce better and more long-term results than content that is hastily written to try and secure temporary, short-term results.

Curate Content and Keep your Audience (and Search Engines) Happy!

The easiest way for someone to distrust your website is by failing to live up to expectations. We can all think of a musician that made us excited for new material only to be disappointed by what was released. Or a movie, event, book, or food dish was so overhyped that when we finally saw, attended, read, or ate, we felt betrayed.

The same idea applies to your content marketing. You don’t want to put time and effort into producing exceptional first posts only to have your follow-up posts poorly written and not helpful. It will turn them off from your content, and you’ll lose your audience before you even had the opportunity to build it.

To set appropriate audience expectations, you’ll need to have a strategy. This strategy can (and should) include:

Posting fresh content. By this statement, we do not mean posting frequently (more on that next). Fresh means covering a topic you haven’t before or, at the very least, covering a topic from a new angle. We know all too well the challenge of coming up with new topics for content. It will make your website better by establishing authority and expertise while also setting an expectation for your audience that you won’t post repeated content.

Posting frequently. By this we mean, a minimum, posting new content once a week. If you have the resources, posting more frequently is best. Not everyone has a team of full-time writers or the financial backing to support such a team, instead, try to post one high-quality article a week. Sure, you may not have the volume of some other sites, but your audience will come to expect that you’ll post at least one well-written, well-researched article a week. By keeping that schedule, you will continue to foster a relationship of trust.

Proving your expertise. You want people to believe that you’re a credible source, and proving expertise includes the knowledge but also understanding that optics come into play too.

Your website should be user-friendly and helpful; not frustrating your audience is good practice in general, but it helps your credibility by seeming like a legitimate website. Spelling and writing chops are also important. Few people are going to trust a post that is full of spelling errors or poor grammar (their”they’re”there). If the article is difficult to read–the sentences are confusing or appear to be missing words, your credibility will take another hit. While it’s best to have an editor review your work, at the very least you should be using the spellcheck function “and” reading the post again, out loud (that way you can actually hear if a sentence sounds funny).

When you post one quality, factual article after another, your audience will naturally come to expect posts of a certain caliber.

Answering audience questions. Interacting with your readers through email and social media is beneficial for a few key reasons. First, it shows that you care about and appreciate them taking the time to continue the discussion. Second, it helps establish a sense of trust. Third, it reinforces the idea that you are an expert in your field. Fourth and finally, it can help drive traffic back to your website (by helping your SEO and by you suggesting articles for further reading).

Search engine bots will have an easier time of crawling your content and gathering information, all of which can positively impact your SEO.

Expectations Managed

Waiting isn’t fun. Even though many people “do” have patience as a virtue, that doesn’t mean they “want” to wait. But for content marketing, you need to learn to love the wait. Let the bots crawl and index your site, let the content’s ranking build–and watch your traffic increase over time.