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No Content Is an Island

I love digital marketing.

I love it because it gives me the chance to explore complex systems, and to make connections between those systems in order to build spectacular results. And, although it may sound somewhat underhanded, I also enjoy the thrill that comes from figuring out how to manipulate complex systems to my client’s advantage. And you know what? I think most digital marketers would say the same.

But that same complexity that drives and excites us sometimes throws us for a loop. Understanding a system’s strengths, weaknesses, and blindspots is fundamental to shaping that system to suit your purposes.

I’m writing now to let you know that there’s a gap in a complex system that too many marketers overlook. By acknowledging this gap, you have the opportunity to make a connection which will prevent you from wasting thousands, or even millions (well, probably not millions, but you get the idea), of dollars in marketing budget. How could something so potentially devastating be so easily disregarded? Well, because this gap isn’t some loophole in the FaceBook ad algorithm, or a forgotten tool, or even a new method of keyword research; the gap exists in the content strategies and the collective thinking of those in our industry.

When marketers talk about content marketing, almost inevitably someone chimes in to remind us all that the concept isn’t anything new. They point to legacy brands like P&G that have been doing content marketing since before anyone had even coined the term. And it’s true; content marketing has been around for about as long as content itself. But, what those marketers often fail to recognize is that while content marketing has existed for a long time, the digital landscape in which we work is brand new. Unfortunately, many of us have carried over a lot of the old world into this new one, and that just doesn’t make sense.

Maybe it’s because some content marketers started in the traditional marketing world. Maybe it’s because some were taught by people who worked their entire lives in the traditional marketing world. Maybe it’s because some work for people who have worked their entire lives in the traditional marketing world. But the digital marketing world is anything but traditional, and the same rules simply do not apply.

One assumption I see made over and over is the idea that content is an island. But, in the slightly revised words of John Donne,


“No piece of content is an island,

Entire of itself, 

Every piece of content is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.”


Too often, we judge each piece of content by the same metrics, when, in reality, each piece should be serving a different function. A good piece of content will typically sit on one stage of the customer journey. If you have a semi-complex conversion funnel, judging that piece by how many conversions it generates may be a mistake. It would be much better to judge the success of the piece on how it fits and operates within your content ecosystem, rather than using the same metrics to measure it against every other piece on the site.

With this in mind, it seems obvious that the better approach would be to focus on creating a content ecosystem full of micro-conversions, where you test each piece and its affect on the conversion rate of the others, rather than hitting your audience over the head with one macro-conversion, over and over. Pieces of content should be built to work with each other rather than alone. Creating content pieces designed to encourage downloads, e-mail signups, or further exploration may not generate conversions immediately, but that’s why CRMs exist.

Simply put, you’ll catch more customers with a net of content than you will with one big hook.

We need to stop churning out and promoting infographics and blog posts like we’re on an assembly line. Instead, we need to take a holistic view of our content ecosystem, find gaps, and strategically fill them while building and refining our customer journey. After all, we as digital marketers define ourselves by our ability to work within complex systems; our content should be judged on its ability to do the same.

Paxton Gray

Paxton Gray is CEO of 97th Floor, serves on the Marketing and Business Education board as an advisor to the Alpine School District, and teaches marketing and SEO at Brigham Young University.

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