Across the B2C landscape, content production is exploding. Every brand on every medium wants to stake its claim. Blogging is up. Social is up. Video, email, and podcasting are up. And of course, so is investment.
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According to Content Marketing Institute’s latest report, 86% of B2C companies use content marketing. What’s more, over half plan to increase their budgets in 2019 and 56% say they’re going to spend it on creation.
Here’s the problem: despite the claims that their content is “extremely” (3%), “very” (25%), or “moderately” (54%) successful, only a third of those same companies have a documented strategy – and the majority do not measure the ROI of content marketing efforts.
Ironically, the fundamental failure of B2C content is precisely where most brands invest … in more.
Feeding the Monster: Content for the Sake of Content
Today’s B2C approach to content is an age-old problem set loose by cheap consumption and the internet’s ethereal heartbeat. Back in 1913, Leslie’s Illustrated Week Newspaper ran a cartoon entitled “The Fool Who Feeds the Monster.” It illustrated big business’s symbiotic and precarious relationship to the press. In 2012’s Trust Me I’m Lying, Ryan Holiday reimagined the metaphor and applied it to online media.
“The Times,” Holiday wrote, “has to fill a newspaper only once per day. A cable news channel has to fill twenty-four hours of programming 365 days a year. But blogs have to fill an infinite amount of space. The site that covers the most stuff wins.”
While no B2C company defines itself foremost as a publisher, nearly all have imbibed this ethos. That two-thirds lack a documented strategy only intensifies the problem. In fact, if a company’s documented strategy is driven by time-bound publishing quotas — as most are — that’s not a strategy. That’s content for the sake of content: feeding the monster.
For creators, the danger is two-fold. First, burnout. The grueling cycle of article after article, video after video, robs creators of their creative spirit. It’s a grind that inevitably lowers content quality and guts ROI. Second, when the only identifiable goal is to “post ____ times a day,” it divorces job performance from legitimate results. Rather than improve traffic, email signups, and sales, success becomes a slave to the calendar.
For brands, the consequences are even worse.
Starving Amidst the Feast: Less Is So Much More
Take written content as a test case. The power of words lies in their ability to (1) tell stories, (2) help readers solve problems, and (3) create an audience whose affinity extends beyond products and purchases.
All that, however, hinges on discoverability. If a page goes live and Google doesn’t rank it, does it make a sound? Nope. Nor will it produce top-of-funnel results. Why not?
Because for informational queries that drive acquisition, content will always outrank products.
For instance, Google’s page-one results for a lucrative CPG phrase like “how to apply eyeliner” doesn’t contain a single product. Instead, it opens with a series of YouTube videos in what’s referred to as “position zero” or the “featured snippet,” followed by how-to articles. Of those onsite articles, only two are by cosmetic manufacturers — Into the Gloss (Glossier) and Maybelline:
Where are all the other major brands? Don’t they create articles on applying eyeliner?
Of course, they do. Tons of them. And that’s exactly the problem.
The best way to illustrate this is by Googling “site:insertdomain.com” — which limits search queries to whichever domain you insert. Doing so with the keywords “how to apply eyeliner” for Covergirl, Estée Lauder, Maybelline, and Into the Gloss reveals a striking disparity:
- Covergirl: 1,440 results
- Estée Lauder: 1,570 results
- Maybelline: 702 results
- Into the Gloss: 313 results
Even more telling is the relative domain authority (DA) of the above examples:
- Covergirl: DA 71
- Estée Lauder: DA 76
- Maybelline: DA 75
- Into the Gloss: DA 69
In other words, less content, lower domain authority… higher rank.
The question is, why does Into the Gloss come out on top? Certainly, many factors may be at play, but the chief cause seems to be cannibalization: different URLs on the same domain competing for the same keywords.
Going back to the last screenshots, notice how ruthlessly focused Into the Gloss’s A Cheater’s Guide to Applying Eyeliner is compared to the other brands, particularly its title and URL: /how-to-apply-eyeliner. Interestingly, the rest of Into the Gloss’s eyeliner content contains synonyms for “apply” — like “tips,” “tutorials,” and “how to do” — or long-tail variations.
As another test, take “right shoe size.” This time, four brands appear on page one of Google:
- com: position 2
- Wiivvit: position 4
- The Shoe Mart: position 6
- Running Warehouse: position 7
Given Shoes.com’s pride of place let’s compare its total onsite results for “right shoe size” — along with domain authority — with Zappos and Nike:
- Zappos: 71,300 results (DA 84)
- Nike: 21,900 results (DA 89)
- com: 8,930 results (DA 71)
Again, lower domain authority, less content related to the query… higher rank.
Lastly, does “less is more” also apply to videos? Absolutely.
A branded video search for “Sephora how to apply eyeliner” — whose YouTube video occupies Google’s featured snippet — and “Covergirl how to apply eyeliner” vividly displays the difference.
Sephora’s video results (on the left) contain just one appearance of the word “apply.” Covergirl’s contains the word 13 times on page one alone:
Naturally, Sephora hosts more than one eyeliner tutorial on YouTube. But by limiting the use of “apply,” it essentially informs Google, YouTube, and the real humans looking for help on this subject: “If you need to know how to apply eyeliner, this video and this video alone will give you exactly what you need.”
It takes discipline to maintain this sort of focus, but in a world drowning in content, such discipline is handsomely rewarded.
What’s a B2C Brand to Do?
The glaring exception is social media, where no one escapes the monster. You can, however, do more with less by filling your content pipeline with user-generated content (UGC), micro-influencers, and loyalty or referral programs that reward brand ambassadors for social sharing.
In all other cases, use these three steps to guide you:
First, ensure your B2C content strategy is a genuine strategy. Jettison your allegiances to publishing quotas and instead set a clear objective governed by key results like ranking, traffic, email list growth, and sales. Second, identify the 10-20 keywords that matter most. Third, ruthlessly cull your existing content for those keywords.
In most cases, this culling process means consolidating your most relevant and high-quality content into (1) a single pillar page to rule them all and (2) long-tail pages as needed. Everything else should either be 301 redirected or un-indexed.
Structure your tactical approach with a clear hierarchy both for search engines and, more importantly, for users. Going back to “how to apply eyeliner,” this would look something like:
B2C content is a powerful thing – but only if you can kill the monster named “too much.”