An Open Letter to Content Marketers: You’re Missing the Goal

Content Marketing Goals
Content without a goal is art, not marketing.

Dear content marketer,

I think it’s time we had a little talk.

What you’re doing isn’t really marketing, at least not in any way that marketing was ever done before “content marketing” came along.

Before you flash that smug smile, dismiss me, tell me I don’t get it, and continue getting people to “know, like, and trust” you, I’m going to let you in on a little secret…

There’s no metric for Know, Like or Trust. 

Seriously, go look at Google Analytics.

Do you see a “know” tab? Did they add a “Trust” report in the content drill down section I’m not aware of?

No. They didn’t. You know why?

Because they’re foolish metrics to chase after. You can’t measure the amount of “know” generated from an article. Trying to do so, and hoping things like reach, discussion, or leads will follow is not sustainable way to build a business.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of content marketing and I think Know Like & Trust are important. I’ve been surviving off content marketing almost exclusively for the past 5 years.

What I’m saying is that you’ve got it all wrong.

Marketing in it’s purest form is about doing exactly two things: Engaging the observer and compelling them to take action. That’s it.

If your content doesn’t drive actions, it’s not really marketing. It’s just content.

I think it’s fine to create content for content’s sake. That’s art, and it’s important to have in your media mix. Just don’t trick yourself into thinking you’re “marketing” if nobody’s talking about or sharing your stuff.

The Evolution of Content Marketing


Back in 2005/2006, the popular advice was to start a blog, build an audience, and sell stuff later. Because we buy from people we know, trust, and like, experts at the time were talking about just how important it was to build a relationship with people long before you ever sold them anything.

While the concept behind “know, like and trust” is true, the problem is, after the U.S economy tanked EVERYONE started doing the “create awesome content, then ask people to buy stuff” strategy:

 how to start a blog

It didn’t create a bunch of internet millionaires. It just created noise.

“Awesome” content worked then because there were fewer people competing for attention. Now, “awesome” is the cost of entry to even stand a chance of starting a blog that will make a difference.

There’s too much noise, too much competition, and your “1,000 true fans” aren’t going to grow your blog for you – likely because they’re too busy trying to grow their own.

Every Piece Of Content Needs A Goal To Be Considered “Marketing”

From what I’ve found, there are basically only four things a marketer needs from any piece of content:

  • To be shared
  • To get comments
  • To generate leads
  • To make sales

Problem is, most of us (myself included sometimes) aren’t creating individual pieces of content with one of these goals in mind. We either forget about the goal entirely, or worse, we expect a single piece of content to everything.

Fortunately, the remedy to this is a structured content calendar and a slightly different perspective on how you publish.

Once you create content with a single goal, you give yourself a metric to measure against in the future.

For example, comparing the social share metrics of the content you designed to be shared lets you know what your viewers are willing to share and gives you a foundation for creating more sharable content later.

So let’s talk about how to do this, shall we?

1. If You Want The Content To Be Shared

You’d be a fool to try and make the content “go viral” but that shouldn’t prevent you from trying to get it shared throughout the community.

The reason why content spreads is widely discussed and debated. But from what I’ve found, having written a couple of breakthrough pieces myself, is that “sharable” content is mostly:

  1. Hilarious, cute, heartwarming, controversial, disgusting, scary, or insanely informative and perception changing
  2. Created for an extremely specific audience.

For example, I wrote this article about why “simple” websites are scientifically better. It was shared more than 4,300 times.

My best guess as to why it was successful was that it was about a subject the design community considers controversial. And it cited several scientific studies to back up its claim.

On top of that, it was loaded with two practical benefits for readers. It featured actionable tips on how to simplify your own website and it could be shared with clients, colleagues, and rivals.

Content Marketing Goals - Twitter Screenshot

Many designers, agencies and UX folks who shared the post on Twitter were doing a victory dance because they now had something to point at and say “PROOF! HA” (while others were saying things like “I don’t agree”).

Content Marketing Goals - Screenshot

Another great example of content that’s designed to be shared is Neil Patel’s “Double Your Traffic In 30 Days“, in which he and co-author Sherice Jacob give you 30 actionable things to do every day for 30 days.


Clocking in at nearly 19,000 words, this single-page guide is chock full of practical, useful, perception-changing information.

2. If You Want The Content To Be Discussed


Can I be honest? I’ve Googled “How to get more comments on your blog” more than I care to admit. But it was only recently that I considered why I wanted people commenting in the first place.

Comments are ultimately about conversion. .

You want comments because you want people to consider your point of view. If they consider your perspective, it’ll be much easier to get them sign up for your email list. If they sign up for your email, it’ll be much easier to get them to buy.

Getting comments is a micro-conversion – and a very misunderstood one at that.

You don’t want comments just to validate the post– that’s a waste. You want comments so visitors will freely reveal information you couldn’t get otherwise. With this information, you can develop better products, create better marketing, and be sure that you’re attracting the right people into your funnel.

For example, in a recent article for Social Triggers, Derek Halpern asked “Why do people hate ambition?

He shared a short 13-line rant following a classic “Us vs Them” theme, asking questions like, “Is there anything wrong with wanting to get ahead in business and life?”

As you’d imagine, his readers got fired up and the article generated a total of 204 comments.

Knowing Derek, he started the conversation to incorporate the feedback into something he’s creating. He even said so in the comments.

Derek Crowdsourced research

That’s what you want discussion content to do.

It’s not just about generating social proof. It’s about customer development, product research, understanding problems, fears, desires and points of view.

If you write a discussion post where the comments are “great post”, there’s something wrong with the way you wrote the article.

You MUST inspire conversation so you know who the hell you’re talking to and if your other efforts are connecting you with the right people.


When someone comments, get their Name, Email, and Website. Doesn’t seem like much, but think about how much harder that information is to get on a lead form.

3. If You Want The Content To Generate Leads

Lead-generating content is content that details the problem, and promises to solve it if you take a deeper step (read a white-paper, attend a webinar, etc.).

There is always a gap between where someone is, and where they would like to be.

Your content’s job is to expose that gap and then promise to fix it in exchange for something more valuable, like an email address.

If you’ve been strategic about it, and are using your content calendar to lead up to this, it’s a lot more natural.

Imagine you want to sell a Facebook advertising consultation. How could your content lead people into buying your service?

  • Viral Post – 101 Examples Of Amazing Facebook Advertising Campaigns!
  • Discussion Post – What was your worst experience with Facebook Advertising?
  • Lead Post – 15 Common Facebook Advertising Mistakes & How To Fix Them. (Offer for live webinar at the end of post).

Notice how everything leads up to the webinar?

Regardless of the vertical, the ideal lead conversion outline takes the viewer on a journey where they eventually realize, “I need help.”

If you can start creating content that gets people to realize that, you’ll start generating a lot more leads. I promise.

4. If You Want The Content To Make Sales

This is actually the most straight-forward content goal. When your lead generation content has prospects admitting they need help, your job is to make an offer their alleviates the problem with as little friction as possible.

At this point you’re asking them to make a decision.

Do they want to live in a world where the problem still exists? What’s it costing them to not fix the problem? Money, time, headaches, respect from bosses and co-workers?

Don’t try to convince them to buy, remind them of what it’s costing them if they don’t.

In other words, don’t be afraid to ask for the sale.  Your content has been strategically leading up to something, it only makes sense to be direct.


Here are a couple of examples of this at work:

With sales content, you know exactly what you want the reader to do: buy.

If you’ve done the other work, asking for the sale is not disrespectful. It’s more disrespectful to market passive aggressively, expecting people will buy just because you’ve created awesome content.

Here’s Your Homework Assignment

First, pick one of these four goals and weave that goal into the very fabric of the next thing you create this week. You will be amazed by how responsive people are once the content has a strong intent.

Next, please share this article if you feel like it will help you cut through the noise and earn more in 2014.

I wrote this article to be shared, so I hope to god I don’t make an ass out of myself :-P

— Tommy Walker

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About Tommy Walker
Tommy Walker is the founder of WalkerBots Content Studios, a content marketing consultancy for growth-stage B2B startups and enterprises. Prior to forming his own consultancy, Tommy was the Global Editor-in-Chief of the QuickBooks Resource Center, the Editor-in-Chief at Shopify Plus, and CXL before that.
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