When it Comes to Content Marketing, You’d Better Watch Your Language

Anyone who works in marketing knows how powerful words are.

A single updated word can lead to a huge increase in conversions and sales. The wrong phrase used can cause a PR backlash.

Words are used to label things, too, which can be equally – if not more – powerful, when it comes to defining how people then view those things. A recent example is how the extreme right has re-labelled itself as the ‘alt-right’ to sound more legitimate. On the other end of the spectrum, those in minority and discriminated against groups will know all too well the power of words and labels to define and influence.

But this isn’t a post about politics. It’s about content marketing…and a surprisingly little (if ever) discussed aspect of it – the language of content marketing.

I’m betting that one thing you’ll be thinking about is how to create better content in 2017, and of course, how it will drive better results for your business next year.

If you are, then you’re in good company, with the Content Marketing Institute’s latest report finding that although 87% of UK marketers are doing content marketing (with 61% of those ‘extremely or 25% 60% very committed to content marketing’), just 25% consider that they are extremely or very successful with their overall approach.’

Which means at least 75% of everyone practicing content marketing should be thinking about how to move themselves into that ‘successful’ category in 2017.

But what if the very way you internalise and think about content marketing is what holds you back from realising your ambition to be successful with it?

Much like you shouldn’t look at a rock if you want to avoid it, you’ll be surprised to find that thinking about and planning to create ‘content’ will lead you to continue delivering the same results and output.

In other words, the default way you think about your job, and the terminology you use with your team, could be having a big impact on your overall success.


Because ‘content’ is such an amorphous meta-term that it’s practically meaningless. It’s just an empty vessel, a unit of measurement.

If you look at the definition of content (media) in Wikipedia, you’ll see the issue. “Content is something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing or any of various arts.” (Emphasis my own.) In other words, it could be anything…which means it has no inherent value.

And so ‘creating content’ doesn’t result in the great, valuable, entertaining blog posts, infographics, videos etc. that your audience is craving. Instead, ‘creating content’ becomes a unit of measurement (“how much content did we create this month?”) and this often leads to a focus on quantity over quality.

content planning

So what to do about it?

It could be as simple as changing your mindset, and the language you use, when thinking about and discussing what it is that you or your team are creating.

But if you don’t refer to what you’re creating as ‘content,’ then what should you use?

Here’s my suggestion, but it’s kind of tough, because as content marketers, referring to our work (and output) as content is so ingrained, it’s very hard to snap out of it.

But here we go…

By and large, my guess is that new visitors to your site will be driven by two channels: SEO and social media.

Sure you’ll have some email traffic (primarily consisting of your existing audience), referrals, direct etc. but I’m guessing SEO and social media are big drivers of eyeballs to your site, and one will far outweigh the other depending on the type of business and audience you’re targeting.

These new visitors will ultimately become customers if your content marketing programme is working.

Given these two distribution channels work in quite different ways, you probably know you also have to create ‘content’ for each of them specifically.

While generalising, I think it’s helpful to think of the users of search engines as looking for answers, and users of social networks looking for short, sharp distractions during their day (i.e. entertainment).

So if someone is using a search engine to find an answer to a question, like what’s the best nearby Thai restaurant, or what’s the best software solution for their company, maybe that’s what you should be creating. They don’t want content.

They want answers.

Which means if your main channel for driving traffic to your business (or blog) is SEO, don’t create content. Create answers. Build resources. If you create the best answers and resources, and you do a good job of telling enough people about it to earn backlinks, you should rise to the top and be rewarded with more traffic from your target audience (and customers).

Now what about social media?

Well if social media users are scrolling through their feeds to see what’s hot right now, what people are talking about, or to kill a few minutes while waiting for the bus before meeting friends, why not give them something ‘entertaining,’ ‘fun’ or ‘noteworthy’?

How do you think companies like BuzzFeed, which gets over half of its traffic from social media, builds such a big audience? Do they create content, or entertaining, snackable pieces of lighthearted distraction? Do they publish content, or talking points that spark a conversation between friends?

buzzfeed traffic share

Buzzfeed traffic by source; Source: SimilarWeb

Exactly, they’re creating entertainment.

Which means the simple trick to creating better content in 2017 is to stop thinking about ‘content’ at all.

Instead, in your next brainstorm or strategy meeting, replace ‘content’ with ‘answers’ if you’re trying to win an audience via SEO, or ‘entertainment’ where you’re focused on doing well on social.

Just think about it.

“Hey guys, how are we going to create the 30 best answers to these questions this month?” That’s way more powerful than “So, we need 30 fresh pieces of content this month.”


“Right, let’s talk about how we create 10 pieces of great entertainment that our users will love,” instead of “10 more pieces of content.”

answer planning

See the difference?

It’s a subtle, but significant change in mindset that should have a powerful effect on the way you approach your content marketing, and the final quality of your output.

Instead of being satisfied you’ve just finished creating some ‘content’ – which has no inherent value to quality check against – you’ll have to consider whether you really have answered a question well enough to be at the top of the SERPs; or made something entertaining enough to cut through the thousands of mediocre pieces of ‘content’ published to social channels.

Remember, words – and labels – are powerful, so while you may be sceptical about how much effect it will have on the way you plan and execute your campaigns, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

In fact I believe it could be the difference between making your business stand out as extraordinary this year, by really aligning it with what your audience wants, and not considering it as a unit of output that you need to churn out each week.

And the best bit? It’s completely free! If it doesn’t work, you can ditch it and go back to the old way of describing what you do. No major time invested, no new tool to learn or subscription to pay for.

So why not give it a go?

Agree / disagree? Let me know what you think over at GrowthHackers or Inbound.org, and if the shift in mindset is something you will embrace this year.