Surveys suggest that many marketers are uncertain of the effect of content marketing.

Working in a range of organisations over the last few years as a content strategy consultant, I’ve seen quite an array of specific business problems that hamper content marketing efforts.

But these often boil down to the same old problems – most of which I’ve outlined below so you can avoid them.

For a comprehensive checklist for content strategy, check out my blog about the 24 ingredients for a delicious content strategy. This post is really the yang to that earlier post’s yin.

12. Lack of initial research

A concurrent theme of this post is that content marketing activity is not properly planned out and often done on a whim.

A ‘just get on and do it’ mentality doesn’t really help. The first place I’ll always go for an initial plan is Google’s keyword planner – why wouldn’t you?

It tells you how people search within a niche (user needs), and from there you can better plan your content.

11. Lack of objectives

Not doing your homework early on, asking questions like ‘where are we now?’ is going to hurt your likelihood of being able to answer ‘where do we want do be?’

This lack of clarity will almost certainly lead to an undefined failure. If you’re scratching your head of what to measure, check out Chris Lake’s Smorgasboard of Content Marketing Metrics.

10. Lack of a decent brief

Briefing content creators, inhouse or externally, requires a solid brief, but this rarely exists.

Things like user personas, tone of voice and formatting guides are often skipped over…

A clear audience brief – a component of a briefing document.

This leads to:

9. Inconsistency cross-channel

Lots of people like to see brands having ludicrous conversations on Twitter, occasionally they even attempt to join in while their website simply puts across a stiff corporate demeanour.

While certain ‘channels’ can be test beds for new activity, it’s important that your messaging matches up cross channel.

This is particularly important in your copywriting – something that should be easily fixable.

8. Bad channel selection

Often when auditing a company’s activity, my eyebrows raise and I murmur, ‘What are you doing there?’

It’s so easy to get your brand onto every other social network and have a presence, but doing it well is another matter.

Also just ask yourself why? Some brands might be testing the waters on fairly minor social networks (tumblr is the most regular offender), but it doesn’t mean you need to.

Stick to where your prospective audience is going to be.

While social media has gone through something of a consolidation in the last 4-5 years, new networks often appear, which can distract marketer attention.

7. Bad blogging

Linked to the above – brand has blog… brand doesn’t really know what to do with blog. Brand employs untrained ‘blogger’ to write blog with no formal brief (10). Blog doesn’t work.

It is far more likely that your blog isn’t working than it is – mostly because a lot of company blogging simply doesn’t meet user needs or even good levels of web standards.

6. Bad formatting

Such a consistent element of bad blogging I thought it deserved its own point.

I would say close to 100% of company blogs I’ve reviewed have bad formatting. Create a good style guide that meets common web standards and be adamant about its usage – there shouldn’t be any excuses if the brief is correct.

If you’re unsure, purchase a copy of The Yahoo! Style Guide.

5. The consistent oversell

‘We sell, or else,’ says David Ogilvy’s mantra. Certainly it’s a marketer’s main goal, but few people ever signed up to a Facebook page to have words to that degree meeting them each time they login.

Overselling when companies have a massive reach seems almost irresistible.

Fashion ecommerce websites are particularly bad for it, when they have plenty of other things they could be talking to their audiences about.

No wonder Facebook page engagement rates are falling like rocks.

See New Report Reveals Just How Drastically Brand Engagement Is Plummeting on Facebook.

4. Lack of diversity

Messaging being entirely sales based is a classic example of this, but also not really experimenting with the amazing array of formats that are available to use online (and often very cheap or free to use).

Companies that use Facebook need to consider other methods of engaging fans beyond photos and links, while those that blog can go beyond words and pictures articles and attempt different styles.

It’s important, of course, that diversity for diversity’s sake doesn’t eclipse consistency, but companies can mix up their content formats while the message can remain consistent.

A good rule to follow here is the 70/20/10 content planning model.

3. Bad headlines (and subject lines)

A common cause of bad blogging is bad headlines, but having problems with content headlines effects SEO and social media as well.

Perhaps my most interesting find analysing fashion ecommerce in content marketing was that full meanings of articles could not be deciphered from the majority of editorial headlines in the industry – a big problem for search and social distribution. 

Writing in 1998, Jakob Nielsen stated: ‘the headline text has to stand on its own and make sense when the rest of the content is not available. It’s perhaps even more true in a multiplatform web.’

Generally speaking, attempting multiple meanings in a headline does not mix well with marketing.

2. Bad user experience design

Content sections of websites seem consistently at the bottom of lists of the concerns of web developers. The most common problem is typography – small text in a standard font that is nearly impossible to read.

It’s so easy to fix this problem that I’m amazed it’s so rampant, but it is.

Beyond typography, lack of integration between a WordPress site and the main platform is also extremely common – it seems to be an instance when many marketers forget content marketing can be a sales tool.

Image via SAP Design Guild.

1. Not putting the user first

This is my number one because it links with all the other points. You might even think it interchangeable with the last point.

I’ve divided it from that because I think it’s linked to planning, briefing and all the other elements above. Most of the time companies have a failing content marketing operation is because they haven’t considered what their prospective customers are actually doing online – content doesn’t match search demand, they haven’t really thought about which social channels customers are using and they don’t consider that most don’t really care about ‘brand X’ has to say over a more impartial media brand.

Put yourself in your prospective customer’s shoes and create personas. Think about what these people do online and what they’re needs are, and you’re going to be quite a distance in front of many companies who are ‘doing’ content marketing.