Is Your Content Too Salesy? When That’s OK (and When It’s Not)

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  • Content marketing is a long game. It works in the background, establishing your brand’s trustworthiness and authority over time by providing internet searchers with reliable information.
  • Content marketing succeeds when it meets audiences’ expectations. Readers want reliable information, not a sales pitch.
  • Deciding how salesy your content should be depends on what your audience expects from that particular content channel.
  • Content can still include brand mentions and CTAs; the key is to keep it short and save it for the end, after the reader’s informational needs have been met.

Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as a strategic approach to attracting and retaining a clearly defined audience through the creation and distribution of valuable content – with the ultimate goal of driving “profitable customer action.” They go on to identify three benefits of content marketing: higher customer loyalty, cost savings, and increased sales.

So, if content marketing is intended to increase sales and profits, why would salesy content be a bad thing? The answer has to do with how content marketing accomplishes its goals. Below, we’ll explore that question before providing some content marketing tips to help you avoid being too salesy.

The how and why of content marketing

Unlike a short-term targeted ad campaign, which would likely consist of paid ads aimed at selling specific services or products, content marketing is a long game. Content works in the background, establishing your brand’s trustworthiness and authority over time by providing internet searchers with reliable information.

Thus, content marketing succeeds not by driving customers to make a purchase right away, but by slowly, steadily building an audience of readers that may one day turn into loyal customers. Basically, using content to close a sale is like using a fork to eat soup: that’s just not what it’s intended to do.

Audience expectations

To drive home the point above, it’s helpful to understand how content gets distributed and what people expect from it when they find it. Though a lot of content is distributed through channels like social media and email marketing, the holy grail of organic traffic for most sites is going to be the search engine results page, or SERP – in most cases Google.

This is why a good content marketing strategy always starts with keyword research. Brands collect short- and long-tail keywords that are relevant to their products, services, and audience’s interests and pain points, then create high quality content using those keywords. In order to be successful, that content needs to satisfy readers’ expectations.

Specific keywords will convey specific intentions, or what SEOs call “search intent.” But it’s also worth noting the intent of searchers in general.

Why do people use Google? To find information. Even if you’re targeting a search term with an implied e-commerce intent – say, “best project management software” – it’s not wise to write a piece of content that does nothing but tout the features of your project management software. That’s because someone searching “best project management software” is likely looking for general, objective information to help them narrow down their options. A blog article that instead attempts to sell the reader a single product is likely to turn them off.

Some types of content where you want to avoid overt sales pitches include:

  • Blog articles
  • Whitepapers
  • Case studies

Again, it’s all about the audience’s expectations. When someone clicks on a blog article, whitepaper, or case study, they’re looking to learn something – not be convinced to buy something.

But how can I increase sales without mentioning my products or services?

It’s a valid question. In fact, we’d be bad content marketers if we told you not to mention your products or services at al. Readers are humans, not automatons, and they understand when they’re reading branded content, even if their intention is to gain trustworthy information.

The key is to strike a balance. A good rule of thumb is to save your CTA for the end of the piece, after you’ve met the reader’s expectations for quality, informative content and, hopefully, genuinely gained their trust. Keep the CTA short, sweet, and specific to the content at hand.

For example, in an article targeting the keyword “best project management software,” it makes sense to include a link to a free trial or demo, since the reader is likely in the research stage of the buyer journey and may be looking to try a product before buying.

Content marketing tips: Avoiding salesy content by considering intent

The following content marketing tips can help you avoid turning off readers and instead satisfy your audience’s expectations:

  • Use a style guide to establish the purpose of your content and create a unified voice and tone.
  • Perform regular keyword research and consider the search intent behind relevant terms.
  • Create personas for potential readers in order to better align your content with your target audience’s expectations.

When a sales pitch is OK

There are some situations where it may be okay or even advisable to create content that’s more overtly salesy. The key is to make sure you’re only including a sales pitch in mediums where readers actually expect it. Below are some examples we’ve seen:

1. Differentiated blogs

Okay, so we did say that blog content should be informational rather than salesy. In general, this is true – but there are exceptions. One notable example is when a brand has multiple blogs or resources pages (or other type of content channel, such as a YouTube series) with different purposes.

For instance, we have a client that uses its blog for shorter-form, trending content that often covers news on its specific products. This might include an addition to its product line, an improvement to an existing product, or a feature piece on a company employee. It’s not uncommon for this content to be overtly salesy. On the other hand, the company uses an entirely separate resource page for longer form content providing more objective, technical information on topics relevant to its field.

The strategy works because readers know what to expect from each content channel. This is in large part due to careful keyword research tactics that ensure that the content being produced matches the search intent of the target keywords.

2. Email marketing

There is a caveat here. Subscribers will get fed up if they receive nothing but sales pitches in their inbox. In general, you should consider email as a kind of extension of your content strategy. Newsletters are a great way to disseminate your (informational) content to an audience that is already bought into your brand.

That said, because subscribers have already demonstrated interest and trust, you can get away with more salesy content through email marketing than through your other channels. Theoretically, subscribers know they’ve signed up for branded content, and they’ve done so because they want to hear what your brand has to say.

Don’t be afraid to ping your email lists when you’ve got a new product or service launch. These readers are much more ready for such a pitch than your average Google searcher.

Tip: Make sure to segment your email marketing lists based on intent and placement in the buyer journey. This can help you target the right audiences for your more salesy content. Make this a part of your onboarding process, asking subscribers how often they’d like to hear from you and what kind of content they’re interested in. 

Got more questions?

We’ll put our money where our mouth is and keep this short and sweet. For more content marketing tips, check out our other blog articles, or feel free to reach out to the Redefine team with your digital marketing questions.

Author avatar
Mariah Muller
Mariah is the Content Specialist at Redefine Marketing Group, supporting editorial operations for our clients' blogs and other written content. She studied Spanish Language and Literature at UC Berkeley and has worked in a variety of fields, including tutoring and law. She lives, writes, and watches too much TV in Los Angeles.
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