There’s no denying that the practice of SEO has changed dramatically in recent years. It’s no longer enough to just rely on keywords and links to drive traffic — the most successful content marketers provide high-quality, relevant, useful content. You might even argue that the terms SEO and content marketing have actually become synonymous, given the emphasis on creating content for customers and users rather than for search engines.
As the notion of creating quality content has gained traction, so has the idea of becoming a “thought leader.” In the simplest terms, becoming a thought leader means becoming someone influential, with ideas and opinions that are seen as authoritative and worthy of note. While there are many ways of becoming a thought leader — and most will argue that true thought leadership requires looking beyond the online world and building influence via books, media appearances, speaking engagements, and more — cultivating a strong following online is an important part of the process.
Until recently, though, thought leadership has been focused on SEO, as in the more authority and influence you have, the more likely that your content will appear near the top of search results. One of the basic tenets of SEO is links, and the idea behind creating content that’s incisive, analytical, and useful is that it can attract links on its own without a great deal of behind-the-scenes effort. Links drive traffic — and the greater your authority, the more likely that customers will actively seek your thoughts, products, or services.
For all of those who are calling thought leadership the “new SEO,” though, there are just as many who see the worlds of content marketing, SEO, and thought leadership diverging yet again. While content’s purpose will always be to attract new visitors to your site, many now argue that thought leadership should be less focused attracting as many users as possible and more focused on attracting your ideal customer and making the case that they should do business with you.
Thought Leadership and Strategic Sales
For many companies focusing on B2B sales, the purpose of SEO isn’t to be found. Sure, a potential client may find them via an online search, but most people looking to award major contracts aren’t looking searching for vendors using generic search terms like “best accountant in Fresno” or even more complex terms related to their industry. This begs the question, then, of whether it’s even worthwhile for B2B companies to bother trying to establish thought leadership via content marketing. Isn’t a website that demonstrates their knowledge, a solid portfolio, and references enough? The short answer is no, it’s not enough.
When a company is looking to make a major purchase or launch a major project, they want to know for certain that they are hiring the right person. They want the leading experts in the field, and as killer as your marketing materials may be, that’s only the beginning. Having tons of content online doesn’t necessary demonstrate your expertise, either.
However, if your content is created with an eye toward thought leadership, and your team members are recognized thought leaders in your industry, then it can make a significant difference in how seriously potential clients take your business. In short, you want your content to demonstrate your credibility, and support the claims you make in your marketing materials.
Pulling It All Together
So what does this mean for B2B marketers? It simply means that they need to shift their thinking about content marketing. Content still needs to be created to foster thought leadership, but with a different final intent. It means being more strategic in your placement approach, and developing content that is richer, more advanced, and more focused on insight than reporting. Some of the more effective approaches to thought leadership focused content development include:
- Journal publications. Academic and trade journals may only reach a small, niche audience, but they are your audience — and appearing in a peer-reviewed publication adds credibility to your message. Industry specific blogs are another good target; again, you’re establishing credibility.
- Speaking engagements. While speaking at conferences and industry events via a speaker’s bureau like Leading Authorities is an excellent way to establish your authority, so is participating in and posting webinars. As a bonus, you can turn your webinar into additional content.
- Publishing on media outlets. Contributing articles and blog posts to client-facing media outlets allows you to build your publishing record, and establishes your credibility with clients who may not follow your industry publications.
In many ways, content marketing for thought leadership is not that different than doing so for SEO. Understanding your audience and your goals becomes more important, though, as you use your content for a sales tool, so approach your content strategically and with a focus on relevancy and consistency to achieve the greatest benefit.