Many see 2013 as the year content marketing really took off. But that newfound popularity comes with a certain shallowness – or at least shrewdness – of thought on the topic. How can you stand out? Great content! Many firms and marketers pay lip service to “great content”, but the result is a glut of mediocre work, all keyword-optimized within an inch of its life.

“Content” alone is meaningless, and producing it simply for the sake of producing it tends to turn out about the way you’d expect.

So who really stands out? And what does this mean for SEO and content marketing?

New ideas and perspectives

We partnered with RAIN Group to develop a better understanding of how professional services firms succeed at building reputation and visibility among their audiences – and what distinguishes firms that consistently close sales. We matched buyers and sellers in over 1300 professional services transactions and surveyed these organizations in order to understand what works and what doesn’t.

We identified a wide variety of both persistent misconceptions and common paths to success.

One result in particular stood out.

The research setup

We asked buyers to think about the final stage of a sale – when they’re choosing between qualified sellers. When we asked these buyers to identify the characteristics that distinguished sale-winning sellers from their competition, professional services buyers consistently named one quality:

“They educated me with new ideas and perspectives.”

Buyers characterized sellers who lost the sale as lacking this quality – in fact, out of 42 factors, it was the least common characteristic attributed to those firms that didn’t make the cut.

The left column in the figure below depicts the top 10 factors that predict success in closing the sale. Comparatively, the right column shows how unfocused runners-up are on these same factors. 

10 factors that predict success in closing the sale

The takeaway: A sincere education

Educate your target clients and prioritize the basics, like understanding prospects’ needs, to set yourself apart and increase your chances of winning the sale. Embrace the role of educator with sincerity and dedication.

In the technology space, you might point to Google or Apple. Or on a somewhat smaller scale, Salesforce subsidiary Heroku, which creates a wealth of rich educational resources for software developers.

Providing prospects with meaningful content and resources will not only put you in a favorable position to win the sale, but will also help your firm stay visible in search engines.

The foreseeable future is clear, particularly with Hummingbird and Panda. Google won’t be gamed. The search engine rewards firms that provide educational content to its searchers. Quality of content trumps quantity of keywords.

Search engines mean to answer questions as richly and relevantly as possible, and they’re not looking for results that play keyword bingo. On behalf of their users, search engines are looking for meaningful answers to plain language, semantic questions. Informed marketers know this already. But the consequence is that in SEO as in content, firms can succeed by truly being educators – and truly thinking like educators.

Who are your students? What might they need to know? What are they coming to you to learn, and what do they not yet know that they need to know?

“Thought leadership” has started to sound hollower and hollower, and there’s a reason for that: purported thought leadership so rarely constitutes thought or leadership. Yet by embracing the humbler role of teacher, firms have the opportunity to achieve a greater stature: successful, respected institutions that support growth for clients and students alike.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

  1. > The search engine rewards firms that provide educational content to its searchers.

    I’d like to be able to accept that’s really true…it sounds great, but, there are still enough examples proving the contrary.

    However, not knowing better, we’ll continue with education no matter what is the outcome. At least, I know it’s good to me. 😉

  2. I’ve found that my clients have a better understanding of the value of Marketing when I can help them understand its significance in today’s digital marketing plans and speak to them about it without being too technical with the terms.

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