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

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.
» More blog posts by Tommy Walker


  1. Sean Green

    Awesome read! Bonus points for the Bob Ross photo. I hire a number of bloggers and I’m going to forward this to them to help organize their content.

    • Tommy Walker

      That’s Awesome Sean, if you need any additional pointers on this strategy, I’ll be happy to provide some assistance. Keep me posted and I hope it works well for you!

  2. Tamar @ShopletPromos

    True, it’s easy to write content, but it’s hard to engage your audience with your content.

  3. DeVonna Johnson

    I agree with many points made in this article, and I certainly think that it helps Content Marketers like myself refocus and get our heads out of the clouds. I, especially think point #2 lays it out nicely. I, more often than I’d like to admit, sometimes find myself seeking that “social proof” and justifying it by saying it’s creating a discussion.

    • Tommy Walker

      It’s true DeVonna, and it’s an easy trap to fall into. I can’t tell you how many times I set myself up for disappointment just trying to get comments for the sake of getting comments. My hope is that moving forward this will help people get more focus and stay sharp with the content.

      Can you think of a time where you started a discussion, but had no idea where to go with it after?

  4. Brendan

    I wonder could a fifth reason for creating content be considered? 5. To achieve SERP visibility. Perhaps this is a given?

    • Tommy Walker

      Perhaps, but then you’re not creating content for people, you’re creating for search engines, which can easily result in less than stellar content.

      My suggestion, start with one of these four goals, and once you feel like it’s absolutely going to achieve it’s goal, ONLY THEN tweak the piece for the target keyword. Search visibility will come as a natural by-product when you focus on the prime 4 goals first, then tweak for keywords after.

  5. Gloria Lafont

    Excellent article. Content is the most talked about trend in marketing these days, yet without a purpose that supports other marketing efforts it can be a waste of time and money. Oh, and I will be sharing this!

  6. Stephen Furnari

    What do you suggest in situations where your Community of target buyers does not typically share or comment? Our target market is small firm and solo attorneys who, we know, engage with our content (they tell us in person) but are not likely to repost/like/or comment. I think that this is a function of the fact that they do not use social media tools as part of their day-to-day responsibilities.

    • Tommy Walker

      What a great question!

      Actually, there’s a whole mess of small firm and solo attorneys sharing stuff in groups on Linkedin ( I only know this because I had a client that sold to attorneys)

      But in general, you still want to keep the share & comment vibe in tact with the writing, but alter the call to action to encourage email sharing or emailing comments.

      But really, check out Linkedin groups for attorneys. The ABA alone has a very active group of digitally savvy lawyers.

  7. Bryan

    Great Article…Thank you for sharing!

  8. Cesar

    A note for unbounces UX/UI department.

    If you include social sharing buttons at the end of the article I bet your shares will increase drastically. As it stands, I had to scroll up after reading the article for your social notifications side bar (that doesn’t even have any share options aside from linkedin).

    Otherwise Tommy.
    Great fu**in article dude.

  9. Collin Davis

    Totally agree with Cesar here and since this is a long piece, the scroll time required to reach the top is even more. Nevertheless take nothing away from the article, its a fantastic read and once again reiterates the need to create conversational, valuable content.

    By the way, the social sharing used on Jon Loomer’s website may be a pretty good fit for Unbounce –

  10. Monica Womble

    Wow. Looks like I’ve missed the point. I’m going to go and do my homework, now!

  11. Brandon Carroll

    Starting out, isn’t it important to produce content that “builds a brand” and trust in a community? I get it — post content that is worth sharing. But, I also think it’s important to think empathetically about the type of content you’d enjoy and try to emulate that….

    Great read. Thanks.

    • Tommy Walker

      Of course it is Brandon!

      The secretis, you can’t really reach any of these goals unless you’re doing exactly what you’re saying.

      My point is, you can’t really build a brand if you’re not reaching people or grabbing leads, so you have to focus on both.

      I pick on content marketers because we often think we’re “building a brand” or “establishing trust” when really we’re putting out great writing that nobody sees (because it didn’t have a real goal) . Great content is the cost of entry, but it isn’t what (always) pays the bills.

      There is a time for it, obviously. But that has to come after you have grabbed people’s attention. Otherwise you contract “tree falls in the woods” syndrome.

  12. John Brennan

    This is what I call “smart guy”. If you want to learn something from experts, learn how they do that starting with
    investigate their blog.

    Use the exactly same with their strategies to grow that suitable with our own product or services.

  13. Stan Eigi

    True enough, trying to push your content without some work is a doomed plan. An interesting article, you really see what is what and what it should be.

  14. David

    Great post – could be summed up quickly with a simple reminder of not losing sight of the fundamentals of marketing like “attract customers.” Your goals should be backed out from this starting point and then you can layer on top other items that might help you get there.

  15. Tamar @ShopletPromos

    Awesome article.
    great point for content marketing

  16. Alex Rodriguez

    Outstanding! This is my first time commenting on anything anywhere and now I know, like & trust you – therefore I will fill in the required fields and click submit – you have broken my cherry.
    Thanks for the great advice – I know what I must do now.

  17. Vincent Messina

    I hate to sound like an asshat, or in other words, a party pooper, but when did we decide that content was exclusive to marketers, and when did we decide that there should be a separate category called “content marketing”?

    The shift was as it relates to content. There was always content. The shift was in the nature of the content and the distribution channels. I remember, long ago, before anyone called themselves content marketers, there was something called a white paper. Wasnt that content.

    Wait, isnt a TV commercial content. Hold on, isnt a conversation where you tell somebody something they didnt already know CONTENT.

    The saddest thing about the entire concept is peoples desperate need for labels.

    Content marketing is marketing, just done with a different style. Instead of bombarding people with how awesome you are, you provide useful advice. So, the useful advice approach is more effective, for some, but it doesn’t need a new label.

    More importantly, and hilariously enough, the PURPOSE of all of it is to get it done, whatever it may be. When your style ceases to achieve a business objective, it ceases to be an effective business tactic.

    Engaging the observer and getting them to take action IS AWESOME. That is all there is too it. Content has ALWAYS been a part of that cycle. Why then, today, do we need a hole new separate category???

    You are not content marketers. You are marketers who use content in a more acceptable way to get peoples attention and get them to take action. Some day, people are going to change their preferences, and we will need a new label. Content will become “Osmosis Marketing” where I put my head against yours and my knowledge transfers. And guess what, it is still content.

    • Vincent Messina

      Sorry, the shift WASN’T.

    • Tommy Walker

      Comments are content marketing too.

      So, what was the goal of this one?

      • Vincent Messina

        Great question. I didn’t comment for the purpose of sales and marketing. I just wanted to express my opinion.

        Sorry if I offended anyone. Wasnt what I wanted to do. Just stumbled on your blog, read it, and had a moment of unchained self expression…no purpose at all.

        My bad.

      • Vincent Messina

        Note, I stumbled on your blog by searching for the origin of the term “Content Marketing”. I was curious to understand the history of the label, since content has always been a part of marketing.

        I got a little animated by your opening remarks, because I agree with you. Then the unchained self expression happened.

        In any event, do you have any insight into A. The origin of Content Marketing and B. Why we needed the new label?

        • Tommy Walker

          According to Google Trends, the term “content marketing” has actually been in use since at least 2004

          & if you look at old searches from that time period, you’ll see that people were calling themselves “content marketers” even back then (

          Looking at the “Trends” data, you’ll see the upward trend really starts to happen around November 2011.

          This is around the time the content marketing institute put out it’s Content marketing benchmark report, and when sites like Adage started picking up on the trend.

          Being in this field for some time, I know that Brian Clark of Copyblogger along with others like Chris Brogan, Darren Rowse, Jeff Bullis, Neil Patel etc, really started popularizing the term.

          A search that is restricted to that first period of growth between Nov 2011 and Feb 2012 gives some insight as to what was going on in the industry around then (

          It’s important to remember the context of internet marketing at the time as well.

          This was a period shortly after Facebook had introduced the “like” button to the web ( & when Twitter started reaching critical mass at 140 million tweets daily (

          Before that, internet marketing had mostly consisted of red text, highlighters, and obnoxious BUY NOW text.

          There wasn’t really this idea of “social selling” or just creating cool stuff knowing that the content alone would cover all the bases.

          Many businesses still don’t get that, and so “content marketing” has become this branch of online marketing that’s all about creating good, sharable, awesome, informative stuff.

          Not commercials, or advertisements, but stuff we actually want to interact with.

          While technically you’re right, it is all the same, in the context of where the internet as a global society was, and where it is headed, it was important to put some parameters around what content marketing specifically was and was not.

          Otherwise Reddit would be filled with sparkly blinking text with red arrows pointing to calls to action nobody would ever take.

          • Vincent Messina

            Really appreciate the audit trail. Very useful Tom.

            Let me try to explain my outburst.

            Your article started off by, in essence, asserting that content for content sake does not make for a good marketing strategy. The problem, as I see it, is that people lost site of what the point of it all is. To me, the article expresses it exactly right. Business objectives matter. Without them, its just content.

            My outburst is partially the result of people who call themselves content marketers because they have a youtube channel. Or because they created an eBook. Or because they are on Twitter. But NOT producing anything as a result.

            All the folks you mentioned, Particularly Neil Patel, I have supreme respect for. But I was using content to sell big business solutions back in 2000. We didnt think of it as content anything. It was just using thought leadership and knowledge to build relationships, and make a business case.

            I really am sorry for the rant, particularly, because deep down inside my being, I AGREE with every word you wrote.

            And, I also fully appreciate the need to put parameters around it, to characterize the “shift”. Content marketing is easier to say than “We no longer promote ourselves” Marketing.

            That said, I am a purest when it comes to sales and marketing. The purpose for it all is to achieve business objectives.

            Again, thanks for the audit trail.

            P.S. your response to my original rant was priceless. Are you a jedi? Very Zen. Loved it.

  18. Vincent Messina

    By the way, the artist in your image is Bob Ross. I watched him as a kid, when he was on PBS. He was a strange dude, but it was a great painting show.

    • Tommy Walker

      Lol I get that a lot when I respond to ranty comments :-p been doing this too long to take anything too personally.

    • Tommy Walker

      Happy little trees ;-) watched Bob a lot as a kid!

      • Vincent Messina

        Its all good. Separately, are you on a first name basis with Peep Laja? I have to say, even though I am not a website designer by trade, I read his stuff regularly. Makes more sense than just about anything I’ve seen on website design. That is not to discount others. I am sure there are equally robust sources out there. But ConversionXL’s articles really drive it home.

        Well, I am old and tired. I appreciate the exchange. Your a damn good man Charlie Brown! Tell Peep I said “You Rock!”