Content Marketing is Dying
Here’s why you need to develop thought leadership instead
NOTE: The following is an excerpt from “The Solo Thought Leader: From Solopreneur to Go-To Expert in 7 Steps” — see solothoughtleader.com
Content marketing (and marketing in general) is broken. The old ways don’t work anymore.
Take for example, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is what you do to be found on search engines such as Google or Bing.
A decade ago, you could add a few keywords to your blog posts, some backlinks, and voilà, you were on page one of Google’s search results for your desired keywords.
In fact, when I started creating online content in 2004 for a non-profit, we didn’t even think about keywords. We just wrote blog posts that we thought our readers would like and it worked — 50,000 visitors per month through organic (not paid advertising) traffic.
Today, the market is so saturated that ranking for competitive words is extremely difficult for most and almost impossible for new websites with no domain authority.
“SEO is becoming harder and harder. It takes longer to rank and you have to spend more money to get results.” That’s a quote from Neil Patel, the guru of SEO.
And it’s even harder for small businesses and solopreneurs. On the one hand, they don’t have the resources to hire an SEO agency or a full-time SEO specialist to keep up with the constant changes in the algorithms.
And on the other hand, because Google, just like people in general, favors known brands and publications over small businesses and little websites. Bigger brands have had more time to build an online presence, get quoted (and linked) in the media, buy expensive AI tools to optimize their content perfectly, and may even have a dedicated Google rep to help them out when rankings fall.
Let’s say, for example, that you are a career coach and you wanted to be found in Google. With a monthly search volume of 22,000, it is very hard to rank for it; you would have to pay around $12 to get a click on an ad for it, and you’d need thousands of backlinks and a high domain authority to compete with the top sites ranking for that word.
As an independent coach, SEO is the least cost-effective strategy for getting new clients. And even for small companies, it won’t be enough either.
A Tale of Two Companies
Not long ago, Nick (not his real name) was the Marketing Director at a B2B company. He had a well-thought out content marketing strategy based on Neil Patel’s recommendations and implemented all the strategies and tactics for months, increasing traffic from 6,000 to 13,000 organic visitors per month. His team managed to rank 50 keywords on page one of Google.
They had more website visitors, more views of their content. But there was no impact on revenue. Why? Because competing for generic keywords brought unqualified leads, people looking for information, not people with buying intent.
“Let’s focus on conversions,” Nick told the team. “Let’s improve the user experience on the website and add more focused calls to actions.”
But the CEO of the company insisted that the devil was in the details and they just needed to keep tweaking the blog. The CEO would email the marketing team in the middle of the night with instructions to update and refine stuff:
Make the site faster to load!
Add thirty to fifty internal links to every article!
Name every image the right way!
Embed more videos into the blog posts!
Change the headlines to match relevant search keywords!
“We were playing the SEO game,” Nick says. “One day we were on page one of Google, the next one we dropped 20 spots. Rankings changed and we ended up spending hours adding keywords, headlines and links just to move up a notch temporarily. It was exhausting. The CEO was happy when we were up and perplexed when we went down. And he threatened to fire us if we missed a tiny SEO detail next time.”
The CEO could have used all that time he used obsessing over SEO, to come up with original thought leadership ideas and build the company’s brand, creating a cult following.
“The funny thing was,” Nick says, “that we got more traction from one of the CEO’s LinkedIn posts than from our blog posts. He had a large following and influence, but he would only post every now and then. Despite all the work we put in every day, the company struggled to hit its revenue targets and marketing was always underperforming. At the end of the day, that focus on the details that didn’t matter ended up burning out the marketing team and many got fired. I quit before it happened to me.”
Contrast that story with another company, Refine Labs, and its CEO, Chris Walker.
Refine Labs does not publish a blog, nor do they do email marketing, or any SEO at all.
I asked Megan Bowen, COO & CCO at Refine Labs (and Chris Walker’s founding partner) about the origin of their content strategy. She says that in 2019, Chris saw an opportunity with video on LinkedIn. He had been writing original content, but people were plagiarizing his text posts. In the meantime, not too many people were leveraging video.
So, he started recording videos by himself and posting them. His unique point of view started attracting followers. By early 2020, they decided to add a live event strategy with other LinkedIn influencers in different cities.
“The plan was to continue to execute that live event strategy,” Megan says, “but then the pandemic happened and we moved to virtual events. So, the creation of the weekly demand gen live series is what then inspired the formal creation of the State of Demand Gen podcast in April 2020. And then it just became a natural flywheel, because you would record a long audio podcast episode, chop that up into five micro videos for LinkedIn and then just continue to do that over and over again.”
Chris records a 90-minute video podcast every week, where he interviews subject matter experts, or he provides the content himself, and then they distribute that piece of content through different channels:
* The audio file through podcast aggregators.
* Short video clips (3 to 7 minutes) on LinkedIn.
* Both long and short videos on YouTube and TikTok.
That’s all they do and it works marvels for them. Chris is a marketing thought leader with a unique angle (more about that later) that has created a cult following on LinkedIn. He may not have as many followers as some influencers out there, but his audience is engaged and, most importantly, many companies have hired Refine Labs because of the podcast or the LinkedIn posts.
The growth of the company has been incredible,” Megan says. “We’re 100% bootstrapped. A year-and-a-half ago we had about seven customers. Now, we have more than forty. Our prices have changed from ten thousand dollars a month to forty thousand dollars a month. We now have more than sixty people at the company and so the growth has been significant and we’ve been able to maintain and operate a profitable business from the beginning.”
Solo Thought Leaders vs. Content Creators
There are five secrets every solo thought leader knows that regular content creators don’t know:
Solo thought leaders dive deep into their niches to become the go-to experts.
Content creators create broad pillar topics to compete for search results.
Solo thought leaders take a stand on their topics and aren’t afraid of controversy.
Content creators present the pros and cons of a topic to let the reader decide.
Solo thought leaders are passionate about building a community of engaged fans.
Content creators are obsessed with likes and post views.
Solo thought leaders develop a unique voice and style for their content.
Content creators keyword-stuff their blog posts to please Google’s algorithm.
Solo thought leaders create intellectual property (e.g. books) out of their frameworks.
Content creators ghostwrite guest blogs to get a few backlinks.
Solo thought leaders innovate. Content creators copy Neil Patel.
You are working hard to create content and grow your business, so make sure you are focusing on the long game and not just the quick wins.
Are you developing thought leadership or just offering content marketing?
In the following pages, I will guide you through the process of becoming a solo thought leader and not just a content creator.
In Making Money is Killing Your Business, Chuck Blakeman uses the analogy of a treadmill to describe business owners who get stuck in the urgent things and have no time to take care of the important things that will grow their businesses.
I believe it’s the same with traditional content marketing. We can run on a treadmill, getting tired doing a bunch of stuff but not going anywhere. Or, we can get off the treadmill and take the exciting path to becoming solo thought leaders.
DISCLAIMER: Please be advised that nothing in this video shall be construed to be financial, legal or tax advice. The content of this video is solely the opinions of the speaker who is not a licensed financial advisor. All personal opinion is intended for general information purposes only.