Inbound marketing mistakes run the gamut, from ignoring the power of original content to trying to cut corners. And the worst could be expecting inbound marketing to work on the same success timeline as paid advertising — because it’s not the same at all. 

A lot of executives and business owners might not want to get into content marketing at all. I actually see their point. We can argue that it always existed — from as far back as cave painting days, and certainly in the ‘Mad Men’ era.

But it was different then. One’s livelihood was not dependent on search engine algorithms — and more recently, search engine ranking was not dependent on original, optimized, high-quality written content.

Want to ignore that reality? Sit back… and watch your inbound traffic plummet. The algorithms have no sympathy. Even if you think you “have content” on your site, you might actually be sabotaging your business by having bad content.

Last year’s black hat tactics can get your site demoted, and you could have to spend serious bank just to stop the bleeding. Here are some common mistakes (and spoiler alert, your site or social channels probably are making at least one of them). Also, some expert advice on what Google wants and how use content to bring in customers.

9 inbound marketing mistakes to avoid:

Inbound marketing mistakes: Avoid repeating the same copy on multiple pages, as search algorithms know templates when they see them.

1. Repeat copy across pages or use copy that’s too similar on multiple pages.

A few years ago, the most abused algorithm hack was to create templated content that could be barely tweaked and posted repeatedly across 10 or 100 or 1000 pages. This was widely abused by city-based online directories, but also by “how to” guides and by companies attempting to own a keyword across multiple cities. Now, Google penalizes sites for this kind of content, because the humans behind the algorithm know that repetitious non-specific content does not benefit the site visitors.

“You have to think in terms of what matters to a search engine’s revenue model, which is advertising,” says website developer and structured data early adopter Scott Frankum. “To maximize revenue, Google decided they have to deliver users with the most meaningful search results, at scale. This means search rank extends to all the things that help searchers find exactly what they’re looking for.”

The algorithms are sophisticated enough to recognize the same content pasted across many pages and lower the offending domain’s score accordingly.

2. Publish zero or very little written content.

I can actually understand this impulse if your company sells products that are visually appealing and don’t have much to write about. Clothing companies, cosmetics, flowers… Why bore the site visitor by writing two sentences per product page? Answer: You’re not writing for the human visitors, you’re writing for the search engines.

“The search engines, for lack of a better word, are blind. They do not ‘see’ images and understand the content or context of your site like most people can,” explains Cari Baconof SEO Inc. “Even with amazing titles and alt descriptions, you need more on the site than just images. You must tell the search engines who you are and what you are offering. Otherwise, they will make the decision for you.”

Your site doesn’t necessarily need a lot of content, she says, but you do need well-crafted, relevant and relatable content.

Top content marketing mistake: Relying on generic terms and phrases.

3. Rely on generic terms and phrases.

It’s the great challenge of copywriters in the social media age to come up with original, engaging social content every single day — sometimes multiple times a day — for one brand, for an extended period of time.

Industry-leading companies have entire teams agonizing over whether their content is fresh and original enough. Influencers and smaller companies — or those newer to social media — tend to note words or catchphrases they like and then just reuse them endlessly. That is how consumers wind up seeing the captions, “We’re loving this look!” and “Obsessed with this!” and “We’ve got something for everyone!” a thousand times in a given month.

Not only is this copy entirely meaningless, but it’s also generic enough to blandly hold a place across many categories — and not stand out anywhere.

The right approach to creating content that ranks with search engines, according to Cari Bacon, is threefold:

  • Own your space (understand the topic your site is about)
  • Identify your people (Who are you marketing to?)
  • Speak their language (use terms and phrasing your clients understand and are looking for online)

4. Borrow another brand’s voice.

It is the easiest tactic if you’re not practiced in writing about a certain topic, to read quality content that already exists and emulate it. Unfortunately, too many people can’t understand the line between following an example and plagiarizing. If a writer is copying a string of five words or closely paraphrasing multiple sentences so that it’s basically the same as the source text — it’s plagiarism.

Social media will not penalize you for this. In fact, a client brought to my attention recently that a competing brand’s social copy was so similar to my voice, she could have sworn I was writing it. Only, the brand is based in Italy, and the captions that were so eerily written in my exact voice were ones I’d written 9 months earlier.

Google algorithms will penalize you for this, especially if it’s done across large chunks of content. See the earlier section on repeating copy across multiple pages:  Your site will also get penalized for lifting content from other sites and publishing it as your own.

Going to editorial can be a mistake in your marketing

5. Go too “editorial.”

In an effort to not come off as hard-selling the product, some folks will err on the other extreme and create branded content in the “lifestyle magazine” style of blog that has nothing whatsoever to do with the brand or merchandise.

If you’ve ever seen a fashion company blogging about ice cream or a food company posting about “The Bachelor,” and wondered, “Why was this published?” Your answer is: They were trying not to turn off the Google crawlers, or the site’s human visitors, with over-marketing.

This is an admirable thought, but ultimately misguided. Google ranks site authority based in large part on whether the content establishes the site as an authority. If your company sells shoes, your site does not and should not attempt to be an authority on cheeseburgers.

“Content is about you, the reader, and where you want to travel to,” blogs Steve Bryant of Article Group via Medium. “Done right, where you’re going leads to a sale.”

6. Don’t engage on your own social content.

“I post regularly at the peak times. All my content is quality. I use well-researched hashtags. But my engagement is not growing.”

I’ve heard this lament literally hundreds of times. Stagnated growth especially on Instagram but also on Twitter and Facebook usually comes down to one thing: The account owner isn’t proactively engaging. They don’t reply to the comments on their own posts. Sometimes they ask followers a question, but they don’t bother to answer the commenters’ questions.

The point of social media content is to entice people to engage with you. If they engage and you don’t acknowledge it, then you are killing the momentum created by your content.

Don't overplan your inbound marketing

7. Keep a programmatic-only, scheduled in advance, non-responsive online and social strategy.

A lot of people rely on scheduling tools, especially when they’re handling multiple brands or a heavy post volume. The risk of this is that it takes away the spontaneous nature of social media.

If you’re scheduling every post a month in advance and not looking at it when it posts, you can’t take advantage of current events or trending topics, and worse yet, can’t modify your posts in the event of a tragedy or sensitive event. This type of perceived tone-deafness gets brands into trouble on social media all the time.

In terms of larger strategy, if you just want to “set and forget” your social, you probably aren’t finding and reposting the best UGC, leveraging simple social co-ops (i.e., cross-posts) with other brands, or social listening to know the topics (or products!) that your customers/followers find most interesting.

8. Never refresh your content.

Keeping content fresh is a pain point for a lot of business owners and communications executives. Once you’ve built a site that represents your brand and products well, why change it unless your offering changes? In short, because Google says you must.

“If you’re not building quality, you’re stagnant or sinking in search,” says Frankum. “To Google, this means you need to be an active publisher of quality content on a blazing fast mobile-forward website.”

For more insights on how long content should be and when to refresh, check out an article by our Director of Content Marketing on Conductor: Unlocking Organic Search With the 20/20 Rule.

Empty work desks

9. Refuse to extend your presence beyond what’s online.

Content should be the digital reflection of your real-life brand, to the point where it gives searchers/site visitors an actual feeling for your brand even if they have never physically experienced it.

People who don’t believe in content marketing don’t believe that any content can accomplish this — maybe because the product is intangible, or because the brand is built around a physical experience. But expert lifestyle content creators not only understand it, they know how to create a symbiosis between the content and the physical.

The best example of this that I’ve seen recently is the website of The Assemblage, a unique co-working, co-living and community space located (physically) in New York. Digitally, it’s global, and very much feels global. It also feels like the digital content delivers as rich of an experience as the physical space possibly could. I asked content director Simone Spilka to explain her methodology for curating this experience:

Our social content is a reflection of the community and house experience, giving our audience an inside look into the people and culture that make up The Assemblage. The Assemblage is a physical space for those who want to come together to improve themselves and the world. Our digital verticals parallel the types of conversations and content we have at our locations nightly, from lectures with blockchain experts to consciousness panels with Deepak Chopra.

But for people who drop by the site, it doesn’t feel like O Magazine, where only luminaries like Deepak Chopra are allowed the floor. The Assemblage’s digital platforms exist to enable the community’s collective narrative, and Spilka as the curator believes every person has a story to tell, they just need a platform to do so. She offers the Assemblage digital publication, Mozaic, as that platform — and readers 3000 miles from the New York space can discover and enjoy it.

Let’s recap the 9 worst inbound marketing mistakes:

  1. Repeat copy across pages or use copy that’s too similar on multiple pages.
  2. Publish zero or very little written content.
  3. Rely on generic terms and phrases.
  4. Borrow another brand’s voice.
  5. Go too “editorial.”
  6. Don’t engage on your own social content.
  7. Keep a programmatic-only, scheduled in advance, non-responsive online and social strategy.
  8. Never refresh your content.
  9. Refuse to extend your presence beyond what’s online.

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