Content is King: Getting Started with Content Marketing
By Tim Russell
According to a 2019 SEMRush survey, 77% of companies claim to have a content marketing strategy. If you’re one of the 23% that don’t, or you’re one of the 77% but aren’t seeing any results or are unsure you’re doing it right, then this article is for you!
Let’s start right at the very beginning, and define exactly what content marketing is. You will find dozens of different definitions online, but I particularly like this one:
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” (Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute)
Or to put it even more simply, it basically means giving away free, non-salesy, educational content (articles, blogs, webinars, videos etc). In order to persuade people to buy your product or service. And whilst the growth of the internet and social media has seen it explode as a marketing strategy in recent years, it’s been around longer than you might think. John Deere’s magazine for farmers, The Plow, was launched in 1895 and had over 4 million subscribers at its peak. The Michelin Guide, probably THE most famous piece of content marketing ever created, was launched in 1900 and has since sold over 30 million copies. This makes it probably more well known than the product it was originally designed to promote!
Done well, content marketing is a highly effective way to drive web traffic, grow engagement, nurture leads, and increase conversion rates. But to do it well requires a strategy. So here are our ten steps to getting started with content marketing…
Define Your Content Marketing Goals
As with any marketing strategy, the first thing to do is define your goals and establish exactly what you want to achieve. It helps to think of the customer journey not as a funnel, as has traditionally been the case. But in terms of a flywheel – a self-perpetuating cycle of attracting, engaging and delighting customers.
Image courtesy of Hubspot
Your strategy at each stage of the cycle may differ. But you should be thinking about what content to offer your audience at each stage, that will encourage them to move onto the next.
Know Your Audience
The key to any successful marketing campaign is knowing and understanding who you’re talking to. As I discussed in my previous article on growth-driven web design, it’s not enough just to say “baby boomers”, “40-50 year olds in Florida” or “online camera buyers”. To target your audience effectively, you need to dive deeper and build what are called buyer personas. These are semi-fictional biographies of your target clients based on real-world stats, feedback from your sales & service teams, and some assumptions or guesses. Ask yourself: How old is this person? What do they do? Where do they search for their information? How do they want me to interact with them? And most importantly, what challenges or problems do they face that my business can solve? You should end up with 3-4 different personas, and they should look generally like the following:
Image courtesy of Hubspot
That may seem quite complicated, but there are plenty of free buyer persona generators online to guide you through the process. And the more details you have, the better.
Create a Topic List
Now you know what your goals are, exactly who your audience is, and what their needs are. Then you can begin putting together a topic list. There are various ways you can come up with suitable topics, including:
- Internal brainstorming. Everyone in your organization can contribute. Especially those who regularly interact with prospects and customers and know what their issues are
- Competitors – check out your (successful) competitors and see what kind of content they are creating
- Online keyword tools. There are various tools that will look at your regular keywords and show search volumes for similar queries, as well as search trends. They’re a fantastic way of discovering new topics related to your keywords
- Online reviews & forums. A great way to see exactly what your audience is looking for, and what they think of your competitors’ products
Once you have a few topics, one proven approach is building topic clusters. Put your main keyword at the center and then associated topics/keywords built around it, as in the following example:
Image courtesy of Startup Boom
Then think about which topics are most relevant to which stage of the buyer journey. A prospect who is still trying to figure out what their problem is will require different content to one who knows what their problem is and is looking for solutions.
Create a Content Marketing Calendar
One of the biggest mistakes businesses make when getting started with content marketing is not planning ahead and creating content ad hoc. Content marketing is only effective when it is tied to a strategy and a plan. Yes, you need to leave some space for off-the-cuff content responding to news events or sudden changes in your marketplace. But you should really always be planning at least three months ahead. Plan too short and your content will be random and unfocused. Plan too far and your strategy won’t be responsive or flexible to a changing business environment.
There are numerous approaches to building a calendar. But the key things to include are the content topic, the keyword around which it is based, the format (blog, video, podcast etc), the person responsible for creating it, the buyer persona and journey stage for which it is intended, and the publication deadline.
Image courtesy of SmarterQueue
Make sure all your stakeholders and teams are aware of the calendar. Because not only are they a good source of ideas, but they should also be aware of what the business’s content strategy is. And they should be sharing the content on their own social networks too.
Mix Your Content Length
Whilst research indicates that longer articles and blog posts (2000 words or more) get more shares, this doesn’t mean that you should stick solely to longer pieces. Not everyone in your audience has the time to read long posts. So think about creating some shorter, snappier pieces that people can quickly digest on their coffee break. And for really long pieces, think about turning them into PDF or white paper downloads. So people can read them at their leisure, at home or during their commute. And downloads are a great way to harvest email addresses and build lists too.
Keywords Are Key
While keywords are no longer the only game in town when it comes to SEO, they’re still vitally important and each piece of content you create should be built around a single keyword. That keyword should feature in your post title (H1 tag) and, ideally, in your subheaders (H2 tag), and should also feature several times in the text. Though be careful to avoid keyword stuffing!
You can use a keyword tool to generate suitable keyword ideas. I use a Chrome add-on called Keyword Surfer, which shows search volumes for my keyword and similar keywords:
According to marketer Jeff Bullas, posts with images get an astonishing 94% more traffic than those without. Mainly because posts with images simply look more attractive and are more likely to retain site visitors. Images break up the text, provide visual explanations of difficult concepts, and get more social media shares. You can use your own photos, stock photography, infographics, charts, or create your own graphics using a free site like Canva. Image alt text also gives your articles a little bit more SEO juice.
And videos are becoming more and more popular as a marketing tool too. And are cheaper and easier to create than ever! Gone are the days when you needed an expensive videographer to shoot footage for you; now a smartphone and some editing software are often all you need. Video is really popular with consumers too, as this graph shows.
Image courtesy of Hubspot
Repurpose Your Content
Written a blog post that is getting loads of traffic, conversions and shares? Great! Now you can think about repurposing it. Going back over old content, identifying a top performer and then repurposing it can often be better from an SEO standpoint than creating something new. And turning your article into different formats can appeal to different buyer personas. Remember, some personas don’t get their information from blogs. They might prefer to listen to a podcast, watch a video, or download a PDF; and different personas may be engaged by different types of content at different stages of their buyer journey. So think about taking that blog post and turning it into one or several new formats, and see its appeal increase even further.
You should also regularly look back on old posts and see if they need updating with up-to-date facts or stats. Or if you can slightly tweak them to reflect current trends or news events, COVID-19 being a perfect example!
Publish & Share
Now you’ve gone to all the effort of creating your first piece of content, you want people to see it, so it’s time to publish it – usually on your website – and then share it.
The first thing to think about is which channels to share it on. If your audience is mostly baby boomers, there’s little point sharing it on Tik Tok or Snapchat; likewise, if your audience is mostly young males, there’s probably little point in using Pinterest. Look at your buyer personas and think about where they get their information, and then use those channels. And don’t just blindly share the same content and accompanying text across every channel; different audiences require a different approach. So the text you might use on Facebook will probably be quite different to the text you use on LinkedIn. And as I mentioned above, don’t forget to share content internally so your team can see what you’re doing and share it to their own networks.
You should also think about what it is the best time to post, as different channels have different times for peak engagement. And this can vary across topic or post types. This excellent article from Sprout Social gives a very good breakdown of the best times to share content. Here is an overview of Facebook for example:
Rather than manage different posting times manually, look at using a social media scheduling tool like Hootsuite or Sprout Social to automate the process.
And don’t forget email marketing. Sending out targeted content to a carefully segmented email list is still one of the most effective digital marketing techniques there is (and will be the subject of a future article!).
Analyze & Optimize
Finally, every time you publish a piece of content you should be using analytics tools to measure its performance. So you can gradually learn which topics and formats appeal to your audience, and which don’t. These need to be tied to the goals you set in the very first stage. And you should use metrics that directly affect those goals. Beware of vanity metrics that might sound impressive during the weekly marketing call but which have zero impact on your bottom line; 200 Facebook likes for your last blog post might sound impressive. But if only 5% of those visit other pages on your website and none of them submit a form or buy a product, then it’s ultimately meaningless. Although it will help you make your blog posts more sticky in the future!
Meaningful metrics may vary from business to business. But key ones include web traffic, traffic sources & referrers, bounce rate, and conversion rate (using Google Analytics’ Goals tool). Once you have these statistics, you can then use them to dictate your future content strategy, as well as to repurpose and optimize previously created content.
If this is all a little too much for you, which is completely understandable, you can always outsource your content marketing to the experts here at Booming Businesses.
Obviously content marketing is a HUGE topic and has spawned books, conferences, businesses and more. And we have only scratched the surface here. But if you’re new to the concept, I hope this article has both inspired you to get started and made the process a little clearer and simpler. I wish you luck and success with your content marketing endeavours!