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.
Great tips Georgina! It’s all about investing not just in your blog but in your readers. After all, if you want to make money through your blog then your content needs to be quality.
If you can’t write your own content because of time limitations, and you can’t make changes to these limitations then, the best way to find quality content writers is to look for guest bloggers whose writing on their own and guest blogs, is writing that inspires and resonates with you.
In the end, your blog and its content is your shop window. If it sucks, your potential customers will probably assume your products and services do too.
If you value customers, you’ll need to prove it to them by the quality of the writing that appears on your blog. It doesn’t even have to be updated regularly. It just has to show readers that they’re important, and that they’re welcome to join in.
That wall of text looks absolutely hilarious. I’m going to go hit up a Black Friday shopping blog to host a guest post from me about anti-consumerism and early retirement.
Great tips on what not to do, thanks!
Well I’m OK I can’t afford to hire an agency. You make some points worth remembering though if I am ever able to.
You know – I never thought about this from the “other side”. I have received many requests for unrelated guest posts and other pitches from PR companies that have been a complete waste of my time. But I never thought about the people that are hiring these companies to do a subpar job.
There definitely is an art to blogging.
Interesting read here.
Content marketing can be tricky way to spot the spammers.
Every post that comes into your blog needs to be checked thoroughly.
Thanks Georgina for the excellent article!
Such a great post and timely; each week, I receive several post with “unique” content completely “free of charge” for me to share on my blog. I used to respond to each one, sharing my guest posting guidelines, but now I just click delete, because they honestly don’t care.
Thanks for sharing this. This is the first time I’ve ever thought about the clients who are working with these “spammers.”
Thanks for sharing this tips. 98% of content marketers make the no.2 mistakes every time. They are more interested on the monetary aspect not what you will gain from their work.
Thank you for your tips and I believe that this information is really helpful especially for people who waste their money to promising works!! There are many agencies out there which can achieve a great work for you in exchange of a lot of money but if you want to find quality then the best thing is to make a clearly research on what service you are paying for! Problogger.net for me is one of the best places with the most interesting and relevant content to internet marketing so if someone really wants to engage with guest blogging here for example he must read the guidelines carefully!
You mention that agency are filled with people that went to “grad school.” Do you think that the blogosphere is SO new that the topic of content marketing in this space is not being taught?
It sure looks like it.
BTW…a draft post of mine looked TOO much like your example of a “wall of text.” I’ll keep working on it.
Thanks for your thoughts :) You made me wonder who they’d get to teach blogging at grad school ;)
Well i never thought about such things from this angle. This article will help me to understand how the things work in proper way.Thanks a lot….
I agree with all of it, minus the points about the agency and the agency blog. Hunter & Bard (my agency) hires per client – I hire the right writer as per the voice of the account and I teach the writer marketing. I’ve found the work is considerably better that way and more cost effective for the client.
We have several blogs that we write for clients and all of them are doing great – but our own blog isn’t active because we’re busy working for clients :)
While I do plan on changing that soon – if the blog is weak – have the individual or agency show you current work instead and list what results have delivered. They could be a case of “the cobbler wears no shoes.”
Oh – and Hunter & Bard has even had a post on Problogger for our client AppsGeyser (we read the post on How to Pitch and followed it by the letter.)
It’s all about bringing value.
Great to see an agency take on this issue—thanks for your comment. Yours is an interesting approach—hiring per account, and then teaching the writer marketing.You’re right about value. It’s just that different agencies define that differently.
I’m glad you have highlighted this Georgina as it’s something that I would fall for when I started blogging but which I’ve learned to avoid. It’s flattering to receive a message telling you what a great blog you have and how someone would love to provide ‘free’ copy for you to publish without having to go to all the bother of doing it yourself. It usually comes with the ‘all we ask in return is a link to’ statement.
I too, even on my humble blog in comparison to Problogger, receive a steady stream of such requests although since I tightened up my guidelines I am seeing less now. To my mind a blogger who publishes these posts risks losing credibility and potentially damaging their reputation with the search engines.
You give it an interesting angle by looking at what the content marketers are doing wrong in the approach they are taking. I hope you are right about independent bloggers being hired at some time in the future as that’s one way I see my blogging future developing.
Many thanks for your interesting and thought provoking post Georgina.
I always write my own content but I do have a spot for guest posts. Most do no read our guidelines and if they do they are usually irrelevant. This post should be required reading for anyone aspiring to become a blogger. Very informative, to the point and spot on.
Rarely does a blog post make me smile and chuckle like that one. Love it Georgina! Sassy, with the accuracy/precision of a roger federer serve!
Woo! Federer! Thanks Greg :)
I especially like the first 2 questions you suggest asking an agency and their writers. All agency writers should aspire to hit those two points with or without it being required by anyone else. At the very least, if a writer has his own blog and has been approached by other guest bloggers, he has a better understanding of both sides of the situation.
It would also be important to distinguish between whether the lack of quality is really from lack of caring, or rather from inexperience, lack of knowledge, and lack of time (due to too many assignments). Also, just because someone is hired as a writer doesn’t mean they understand blogging or are an expert in the niche they are being asked to write about.
Excellent post! Excellent perspective!
Great content! I’m just getting into blogging and am noticing a lot of blogs that are made like the above.. I don’t want I read through your web sticks., I just want to get the valuable content..
Thanks for the tips on finding a blogger because I may just have to so that
Honestly, I did the one of Fatal Mistakes.. :(
Anyway, thanks for share..