Why Content Marketing Will Fail at Your Startup

content marketing startup fail

For six years in San Francisco and two in Seattle, I ran content marketing for startups. I learned a lot about what worked: which I now use when building content strategies for First Page clients. I also learned a lot about failure — things that don't work when you're trying to build a content marketing channel, grow organic traffic and spend less money on SEM campaigns. Here are six reasons I think content marketing will fail at your startup:

You’ve heard content marketing is the “next big thing,” but you’re not willing to invest

High-quality content costs money. It requires paying journalists, freelancers or a copywriter to create the content and someone to edit it. You also have to pay someone for the strategy: what are you going to say, to who and why? You'll likely need an SEO to conduct keyword research and optimize your content for Google. After you create the content, you should be paying to promote it. Content doesn't share itself. Especially these days with Facebook's algorithm and so many brands competing for newsfeed territory.

Regardless if these roles and initiatives are internal or external through an agency or consultant, it takes a good, steady budget to start content marketing, distribute the content, and continue to invest and evolve the strategy. I would recommend spending a couple thousand dollars a month on content marketing and for six to nine months, at minimum. Also, be sure you have someone who can run analytics for your business to understand the investment you're making in content marketing: is your organic traffic growing, are leads converting and what content is working best?

You think organic marketing should be free compared to acquisition channels

Organic marketing is seen as the "cheaper" acquisition channel, true. But this does not mean it is free. Overall, content marketing requires a budget to pay for multiple full-time roles or an inbound marketing agency. It also requires a budget for creating and editing content, investing in a tool for content production and distribution, as well as paying for content promotion because social media algorithms are a b*tch.

Social media is no longer free, despite starting out that way. Now, it takes money to get your message in front of the right people on social media sites that have figured out they can charge brands trying to reach their users. It also costs to have a social media manager. And as I previously mentioned, it is not free to create content! Even if you decide to write blog posts yourself as an entrepreneur or business owner, the time it takes you to write, edit and distribute those blog posts is also money.

But, organic marketing is beneficial for long-term gain and sustained traffic to your website, and it is definitely worth the time and money. Where organic marketing does pay off and become cheaper is when you start to win keywords that your content ranks for on the first page of Google. This will save your business infinite costs previously spent on PPC ads.

Let me share an example from one of my clients... They are targeting "LLC formation" as a keyword, which has a monthly search volume of 1,200. The cost-per-click on this keyword is $20.00. My client is currently ranking third for LLC formation. Based on industry research, the third position of Google's organic results should get 12 percent of the monthly clicks, which is 144 clicks a month. If my client paid for these clicks with SEM budget, this would save them $2,880 a month on "free" organic traffic. Or $34,560 a year. Worth the money, huh!

You don’t understand how long it takes for content marketing to build

And, you’re not willing to invest in a year-long trial run for content marketing. When starting a content marketing program, you're not going to see a ton of cash and new customers role in on month one. Especially if you're a new website with little authority to Google. It takes time to build all of the things that lead to increased organic traffic and acquisition: website authority, backlinks, keyword density, ranked keywords, social media shares and more.

You should give organic marketing at least 6 - 9 months to start to see significant results. Even more if you’re starting from scratch. Each month you invest, the results will exponentially grow. I promise — I've seen it work for many brands doing content marketing right. That growth is not luck either. It takes investing time, failing with certain content and succeeding with experimental content, and making strategic shifts. Content marketing is trial and error at scale.

You don’t have analytics set up properly

You need to measure how well your content performs and analyze its progress in order to continue to evolve and hone in on your content marketing strategy. The #1 way to do so is to have Google Analytics tied to all parts of your website and revenue. Google Analytics needs to be set up properly (by an expert) so that it has appropriate goals and revenue associated with the conversions for your business. You should be able to go into your Google Analytics dashboard and see Goal 1 (whatever this may be) and how your content marketing is driving conversion and revenue. This will help you directly track what landing pages and blog posts result in sales. It will also help you understand what content you should rewrite or optimize, and where you should double-down your content efforts.

If your startup uses internal analytics as your system of record and not Google Analytics, you need to figure out how your internal analytics can tie into website analytics. It is critical to understand what content people are visiting on your website, how people are finding this content via organic search results or other channels, and how this content assists in conversions. If this is missing, you will be spending money on content and not properly tying conversions from content to revenue, and you might as well just give up and go home now.

Your leadership isn’t invested or participating

Content marketing requires multiple investment and commitment levels from the leadership at a startup. First, a startup CMO needs to communicate to startup founders the value and goal of content marketing. If the founders just see an expensive line item in the marketing budget and don't understand the long-term investment of organic marketing, then it’ll be a line item they think they can chop. (Big mistake, huge. In the words of one bad-ass female "entrepreneur").

In addition, the best content marketing programs have buy-in, understanding and participation from the C-levels who actually write and share content. For example, Rand Fishkin is the (former) CEO of Moz, an SEO analysis software company. Rand developed an initiative called “Whiteboard Friday” that has a large cult following. Rand talks weekly about top-of-mind SEO topics through video and blog content. With Whiteboard Friday, Rand has built a name, brand and thought leadership for Moz that any company would kill for.

You’re not promoting posts and content with as much effort as you’re producing

Content marketing is not just production, it’s a hustle to get the word out about your content in a world where content is produced at an incredible amount — over 2 million blogs are published each day. It takes a ton of time and effort to distribute your blogs. You can't just pay to have content written in your startup marketing budget, but then not pay to distribute the content. Or not pay someone to help distribute the content (such as a social media manager).

If you're doing any of the above at your startup, chances are content marketing will not work for you. But, if you do want to save money on expensive search engine marketing budgets or need a new way to generate leads and acquire customers for your startup, consider inbound marketing the right way.

(And we're always here to help at First Page — drop us a line).

Jeanna Barrett

San Francisco, CA