I was listening to a live talk from Jay Baer not too long ago, and this quote hit me hard:

“Stop doing random acts of content. Stop firing content bullets into the air hoping that a customer bird will fly by and that it’ll WORK.”

As this quote permeated my brain, subconsciously stewing while I carried on a typical month interacting with marketers, going through meeting after meeting, leading my team, writing and brainstorming content for all my publications… this thought hit me:

The reason why random content acts don’t work, and why so many believe these low-ROI tactics are still worth trying.

here’s a concept I teach in my Content Strategy & Marketing Course called the “content net.” It’s the antithesis to random acts of content. But, it’s not the norm.

I’m bringing it up today, because, well: content bullets. They need to STOP.

Why? Because one-off content tactics result in dismal content marketing. In an industry that’s already ridiculously tough to break into, relying on content bullets makes NO sense.

Consider this: According to a Backlinko study, 94% of blog posts earn zero external links.

If only 6% of blog posts published get any backlinks, that means it’s a mighty feat to build your link profile and brand authority – especially if your site is brand new.

Even worse, when you ARE able to rank in Google, settling for position #2-10 isn’t enough. You need to be #1 to get the best shot at traffic and leads. That’s because click-through rates (CTR) drastically drop as soon as you fall to position 2, according to an Advanced Web Ranking study. In fact, at position 2, CTR is cut in half.

Unfortunately, ranking #1 for a keyword requires much more than random acts of content. You need more than one bullet to hit the bullseye – especially when that bullseye is a moving target.

So, what exactly does it take?

Let’s get into today’s original concept by yours truly, called the “content ecosystem”, developed to help you understand how and why a long-term, consistent approach to content over time works.

content ecosystem graphic

Your Content Bullets Aren’t Working (Why You’re Still Trying Them)

Learn about @JuliaEMcCoy's original concept called the 'content ecosystem,' developed to help you understand how and why a long-term, consistent approach to content over time works. Click To Tweet

Marketers and brands are still relying on content to be their magic shot – the golden bullet that will miraculously hit whatever targets or goals they’re aiming for.

They regard random content as their “golden egg” that will bring in ALL the traffic, leads, and sales $$$ they’ve ever wanted, much like the mythical golden egg from Jack and the Beanstalk (which ensures Jack and his mother live in comfort the rest of their days).

magic content bullets

But content doesn’t operate that way.

For it to work, content needs work. It needs a basic foundation of strategic fundamentals in place to succeed. Most marketers don’t do this, or they don’t fully understand how to do it.

According to a ClearVoice survey of 1,000 marketers, the biggest content challenges are centered around production: time, content quality, creating content, scaling content, and generating ideas.

But, instead of getting strategic and putting in more legwork, they expect a one-off content bullet to make the magic happen and the sales fly in.

How did this happen? How did so many marketers come to think of content as a miraculous solution?

No matter the situation, pretty much nothing in life works like this.

One random act rarely to never equals a level 10 success.

Does a workout, for instance, lead to an instant buff physique? NO. If you pick up the violin, will you be able to play Bach in a week? AS IF.

Look at any major “people” success story. Oprah and her empire. Elon Musk and Tesla. Steve Jobs and Mac. NONE of these mega-brand legacies came about from overnight success or a shot in the dark. These people all worked their butts off to succeed.

Does any good thing in life work this way? Typically not.

So, why are we trying to apply this line of thinking to marketing, to business?

If you could get one-on-one advice from Oprah or Steve Jobs’ ghost or Elon Musk (dreams, am I right?), what do you think they would say?

Here’s my guess:

Quit wimping out and trying to take shortcuts. Quit copying and pasting what “experts” do or say and hoping instant success will come. Stop trying one little tweak and expecting the world to fall in your lap.

Success is about hard work. Not luck, not a shot in the dark, and certainly not a magic bullet. And that absolutely holds true for content.

Success is about hard work. Not luck, not a shot in the dark, and not a magic bullet. And that absolutely holds true for content. Click To Tweet

Hire a team of proven, capable content experts to boost your online ROI through great content. Visit the content shop here.

Why Today’s Audience Won’t Stand for the Content Bullet

Let’s take this one step further. Content bullets won’t work for you, but also, they won’t EVER work for your audience.

Look at the state of marketing online – people can smell an inauthentic, fake, or “doing it for the likes, follows, traffic, $$” approach from a mile away.

  • The CTR of Facebook ads is dismal – 0.5 – 1.6% – because people are seeing through the bullsh*t marketers and the Lamborghini lies.
  • Every marketing channel you’ve ever relied on is decaying. Andrew Chen calls this “the law of shitty clickthroughs.” It just means that, even when you find a marketing strategy that works, it will inevitably stop working due to increased competition, fading novelty, and more scale. “First to market” means nothing in an online world where saturation happens FAST.
  • As recently as 2018, Instagram has doubled-down on eradicating fake bot accounts, fake likes, and fake followers. People who used to pay to fake a super-popular, engaged account are up a creek without a paddle. (It’s no wonder users prize authenticity online since so much of what we see is staged or fake.)
  • Finally, let’s not forget that people don’t trust ads. In particular, 79% of Gen Z participants said in a recent study that they “avoid ads whenever [they] can.”

Simply put, content bullets pushed out with a “get ROI NOW” mentality are entirely dependent on luck – not a proven formula. Most of all, they can’t possibly contain the heart or soul they need to succeed with audiences hungry for authentic experiences.

Think Beyond Content Bullets – Enter: The Content Ecosystem

That brings us back around to something I mentioned earlier, a concept I teach in my Content Strategy & Marketing Course: the content net.

It’s the opposite of a magic content bullet.

Another synonymous name for it is a content ecosystem.

Your content ecosystem is a whole host of content pieces tied together and supported by consistency and underlying brand quality.

It. Does. Not. Compromise.

Instead of taking a shot at content in the dark, using a content marketing ecosystem is like sitting down to an elaborate content blueprint under a floodlight.

content ecosystem

7 Pathways in the Content Ecosystem

The content marketing ecosystem encompasses your entire content marketing operation. It’s made up of separate parts that affect each other. Without the dedication and a commitment to providing value to your audience above all, you can’t hope to make your content ecosystem a smoothly flowing stream of amazingness.

Here’s how it breaks down. Scroll below the infographic for more details in the blog text.

1. Brand Quality (Affects content consistency, scaling content, and brand authority)

At the deepest levels of your content ecosystem lies our first pathway: brand quality. This needs to exist at the foundation because it does two MAJOR jobs:

  • It gives your readers an amazing experience at your brand touch points, especially your website and content.
  • It gears up your pages to earn Google rankings and pull in organic traffic.

Brand quality begins and ends with a great website, one that’s smooth, fast, and all-around awesome. That’s not all, though. Along with speed and responsiveness, your website should also include:

  • Great content
  • Beautiful visuals/photography
  • A clear brand style with:
    • A distinctive, audience-aimed voice and tone
    • A recognizable, professional logo and brand color palette

For more about why a fantastic website serves as the foundation of brand quality, check out my SEMrush webinar recap: How to Write & Publish Authority-Building SEO Blogs in 2019.

Express Writers' home page with highlights on its user-friendly design

Content ecosystem pathway #1: Brand quality. Qualities: great content, beautiful visuals, audience-aimed voice and tone, a recognizable logo and brand color palette, and an awesome website. Click To Tweet

2. Brand Consistency (Affects brand quality, distribution, scaling content, and brand authority)

Hand-in-hand with brand quality, brand consistency is our next important pathway in the content ecosystem.

Specifically, consistency means upholding your quality standards repeatedly over time. If readers can count on your brand to publish and distribute amazing content and experiences, the better off you’ll be. To achieve consistency, you need:

  • Dependable content quality
  • Regular content scheduling and maintenance

For example, look at our own high-volume content plan at Express Writers. Our commitment for 8 years has been one long-form, comprehensive piece of content weekly, and we update content on a monthly basis, too.

Thanks to this consistency, we rank for over 18,000 keywords in Google and regularly bring in six-figure income for months.

Express Writers' page stats on SEMrush. It's ranking for over 18,000 keywords.

Another fantastic case study that shows off how brand consistency wins comes from the Cleveland Clinic. If you’ve ever searched a medical health question on Google, you’ve probably seen one of their blogs in the results.

That’s because their consistency is incredible. As their Manager of Digital Engagement, Amanda Todorovich, revealed in an interview with Kuno Creative, they post 3-5 times per day with a team of 40 medical expert bloggers contributing.

Since launching the blog in April 2012, they regularly see over 5 million visitors in a single month. Now that’s the power of quality and consistency!

Cleveland Clinic's Health Essentials blog

Content ecosystem pathway #2: Brand consistency. How to achieve it: Dependable content quality and regular content scheduling and maintenance. Click To Tweet

3. Content Creation (Offshoot of brand consistency – affects scaling content and brand authority)

On the path through our content ecosystem, the next step takes us to an offshoot of brand consistency – content creation.

Pouring your best into content creation won’t matter if you can’t uphold that consistently. You need to keep your standards high 24/7 if you expect to grow your brand authority.

Consistency of content creation standards also affects scale. If you can’t replicate your blog quality from one post to the next, you’re probably doing too much and need to scale back for better results.

Content creation standards should always include the following pieces:

  • Researched
  • Audience-focused and relevant
  • Organized and logical
  • Informative, entertaining, or useful
Content ecosystem pathway #3: Content creation. Content qualities include: researched, audience-focused, organized and logical, and informative and useful. Click To Tweet

4. Content Distribution (Affects brand authority and reach)

Next up, brand consistency and content creation directly affect content distribution. This is how and when you serve your content to your audience.

Of course, part and parcel of distribution is promotion. Sharing your content on social networks is a natural way to ensure more and more people lay their eyeballs on it.

You can’t just distribute content anywhere, though. A major component is posting on the social channels where your audience lives, at the times they’re most likely to engage. If your audience is mainly B2B, that might mean LinkedIn and/or Twitter in the mornings and late evenings. For B2C or ecommerce, it might mean brand presences on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. during hours of the day when engagement is highest.

Sprout Social's study results on the best time to post in Instagram. Highest engagement appears during weekday noons.

Finally, content distribution is a direct pathway to brand authority and reach. The more relevant, interesting, and engaging you can be to your audience, the more they will see your posts, interact with your content, and keep you top-of-mind.

Content ecosystem pathway #4: Content distribution. Major component: Posting on social channels where your audience lives and engage. Click To Tweet

5. Scaling Content (Affects brand authority and reach)

As your content gains success, the next pathway in the content ecosystem is scaling. This means producing more or branching out into different types of content, without sacrificing your original commitment to quality.

Scaling is all about optimizing your content workflows to keep production consistent, yet reach more people.

Amanda Todorovich and the Cleveland Clinic blog are great examples of scaling as well as consistency. Although the blog and brand have reached new heights of success, Amanda and her team remain committed to what they can do to produce the highest-quality content possible with the most relevant information for their audience niches.

Cleveland Clinic Health Essential blog's article titled, "Does Sun Protection Clothing Actually Work?"

According to Amanda, their content marketing ethos is “not more, but better.”

From a feature on Content Marketing Institute, here are a few insights into how the Cleveland Clinic content marketing team accomplishes this:

  • They constantly reuse and revise old content. To keep up their daily social media posting quotas, they will share posts from the archives or old posts updated with new research.
  • They tap the expertise of 40 medical professionals to write, review, and vet posts before they go live. (They need this many people to keep up with their rigorous publishing schedule.)
  • They have developed formulas for creating great headlines and choosing photos for posts.
  • They keep tabs on specific measurements for success.
  • The content team meets daily to discuss how their content efforts are doing.

As you can see, scaling content requires a few keys in place to work:

  • Efficient and effective workflows in place
  • Well-defined team roles
    • Strategists
    • Writers
    • Editors
    • Designers

If you scale the right way, that will naturally lead to higher brand authority and better reach.

Content ecosystem pathway #5: Scaling content. What you need: Efficient and effective workflows and well-defined team roles (strategists, writers, editors, and designers). Click To Tweet

6. Brand Authority (Affects reach)

Results time. (Or, as they say, all roads lead here.)

Most of the pathways in the content ecosystem point here. Once you have the other pieces working harmoniously in a continuous rhythm, your brand authority will grow and evolve.

At this point, the value of one incredibly unique, distinguishing idea grows, too. In other words, it’s time to start publishing your MASTER content pieces, the ones that may put you on the map. This is how you level-up from simply having a brand-aware audience to being “known” in your niche.

Remember: This level is impossible to hit without both brand consistency and quality leading you here, first.

Content ecosystem pathway #6: Brand authority. What you need: Brand consistency and quality pathways + starting to publish master content pieces to be known in your niche. Click To Tweet

Download the profitable content strategist skills cheat sheet here

7. Reach (Affects scaling content)

If you scale your content correctly, if you leverage your newfound brand authority, then your overall reach will begin to climb, too.

Reach is about reaching new audience members, growing your impact and influence, and adding more people to your loyal tribe.

The major points you need to understand about reach:

  • Reach shoots up when all other parts of the content ecosystem hit their highest levels
  • The greater your brand authority/visibility, the greater your reach
  • Reach propels your content marketing forward to new levels
  • Scaling content to maintain quality and consistency is key

When your content ecosystem is a smoothly running system, when all pathways naturally flow together, only then can your reach truly explode.

content ecosystem

Content ecosystem pathway #7: Reach. What you need: Greater brand authority/visibility, scaling content to maintain quality and consistency. Click To Tweet

Forget Content Bullets or Shots in the Dark: Make Your Content Marketing a Flowing Ecosystem

As you can see, a content ecosystem is a holistic way of thinking about your entire content marketing scheme. It should all flow together.

You can’t let it drop. You can’t compromise for the sake of time or money. And you can’t put all your faith in one or two content bullets.

To truly see sustainable success, marketers MUST uphold a content ecosystem over time and understand how the parts connect, intertwine, and mingle. It’s a series of pathways that require dedication at every stage.

Ideally, as it evolves, it will get better and better until you reach your goals. After that, you can forge ahead to set new goals bigger than you ever dreamed.

CTA content ecosystem.