How much do you know about content marketing? While some people are masters of the craft, others believe in the misguided notion that inserting a couple of keywords into well written content is enough. That may have worked a couple of years ago, but it’s now as effective as trying to raise revenue by installing a payphone at your property.
If you want to be successful in content marketing — really, truly successful — you need more than just a handful of keywords and the will to succeed.
You need a documented content marketing strategy.
Most enterprises don’t start out with a content marketing strategy in place before they go to town posting on their blog. Instead, they pursue an ad hoc approach and hope for the best.
Sure enough, organizations that consistently refine their content marketing usually develop processes that lead to lasting success. But this is a long, laborious process. Yet, you didn’t start a business because you liked to do things the easy way. So let’s go over what it entails to come up with good content strategies.
Content strategy is an action plan to achieve your business objectives through content. This can be in the form of blogs, videos, infographics, webinars, tutorials, podcasts, eBooks, white papers, etc... Pretty much all information you share with your target market hoping that they will purchase your goods or services at some point.
Developing a good content strategy involves planning how you’re going to create content. To adequately inform your target audience of what you do, you have to take into account:
- What are your business goals? (attracting more website visitors? Closing more sales? Retaining existing customers?)
- Who’s your buyer persona
- What form of medium do they prefer when consuming content
- How to structure it so that it is always relevant (taking into account publishing dates)
- What SEO best practices to use to ensure your audience can find you
Having a good content strategy ensures that you’re being intentional with what you’re posting. Is it aligned with what you want to accomplish? This is crucial, since time is money. You don’t want to be posting content just for the sake of posting something. When you take the time to develop a good strategy, you’ll notice the following benefits:
It Provides a Roadmap for Your Content Team
When you create a content strategy, it gives your team direction. They’ll have topics to write about, keywords to include, subtopics to develop, and specific questions to answer. They won’t only be creating content, they’ll know why they’re creating each piece: What’s the goal? Which problems are they solving? What are they explaining? Who are they creating it for? They’re not going from Point A to Point Z blindly, hoping for results.
It Creates Consistency
Out of sight, out of mind — especially in the age of shiny objects and instant gratification. If you post today, then wing it and try again next month, by then, your target audience will already be following one of your competitors. On the other hand, having a strategy gives your content team a long list of topics to write about, along with dates to publish them by. Typically this means sharing content on the same days of the week, at the same time. This is also an integral part of a successful strategy, since content marketing takes time to build a following and yield results.
It Increases Brand Awareness
Every time you publish a new piece of content (whether it’s a new blog, video, infographic, podcast), you’re creating a new page on your site that Google then indexes. And when you have a good SEO strategy, you’re increasing the chances of people finding them when they do online searches. A brand that posts once or twice a week will have a significantly higher likelihood of showing up on SERP than someone who does it once every couple of months when they feel like it.
It Improves Search Engine Rankings
Once you’ve been publishing consistently for a long enough period of time, your content starts gaining traction. You get more regular visitors, more shares on social media, more backlinks to your site. These are all the makings of an industry authority. The more people go to you as a source of information, the more likely it is that you’ll end up ranking higher
It Helps You Track Your Progress
Tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) is an integral part of an effective content marketing strategy. At the end of the day, creating buyer personas and designing content relies in part on educated guesses, but analytics give you hard data regarding website traffic, open rates, click through rates, bounce rates, lead conversion, and customer retention, to name a few. If your numbers reflect what you want them to reflect, you’re doing things right. On the other hand, if you’re not getting enough traffic or too many people leave a page after spending only a few seconds in it, you can take it as an opportunity to discard something that’s not working and pivot to something else that may.
It Supports Your Sales Team
Successful marketing is perfectly aligned with your sales team. When creating a content strategy, it’s important to keep your sales team informed of the type of content that’s being published. This helps them better understand prospects who contact your business as a result of consuming your content. When done correctly, this means sales gets an increase in sales qualified leads (SQLs)
It Supports Your Current Customers
The content you publish needs to address your customers’ pain points — how can they put together a product they bought from you? Which resources can they use to maximize your services? Are you providing relevant helpful content (e.g. training and nutrition tips if you’re a running coach or how to implement better cybersecurity policies if you offer managed IT services). This is a surefire way to retain existing customers, as well as to get more referrals from them.
Now, you can create the most informative, relevant, and helpful content in the industry, but if it never pops up on Google searches when people are looking for answers, you’re wasting your time. It’s like having a Ferrari you keep inside your closed garage for eternity. What’s the point?
In order for your efforts to yield results, you need good search engine optimization (SEO). But what does that even mean?
In simple terms, SEO makes it easier for search engines to understand that your content is relevant to what a person is searching for online.
Once upon a time, doing keyword research was enough. But as competition grew, content creators started doing what’s called keyword stuffing. This practice involved inserting the terms as often as possible into content, without little regard as to whether it made sense. But what’s the point of ranking high on Google if when a prospect clicks on your link, you didn’t answer any of your questions? They would just leave your website and go elsewhere for something that’s actually helpful.
As Google’s algorithms became more sophisticated, they were able to identify such practice, so today, it won’t land you on the much coveted first page of search results. But there are plenty of practices that can significantly increase your chances of eventually getting there. These include:
- Writing helpful, relevant content
- Crafting a succinct and persuasive meta description
- Modifying the URL to include your main keyword
- Linking to reputable sources
- Focusing on user experience
- Formatting your content to be scannable
- Formatting portions to fit into featured snippets
- Resizing images for faster page loading times
- Improving outdated content
Staying well versed on SEO best practices is your best chance of having people actually find your content, and eventually turn into leads and customers.
Content strategy needs vary by industry and business goals. However, there are several steps that should be implemented across the board.
1. Define Your Goals
Content marketing is about attracting leads to your website and cultivating a relationship that will eventually end in a sale. Along the way, there are many smaller conversions, all aided by content.
Although this is a good “big picture,” you need tangible, concrete objectives. Many first-time content marketers document one of the following goals:
- Raise brand awareness
- Heighten social engagement
- Attract more website traffic
- Win more email subscribers
- Improve total marketing ROI
Even if you can’t be sure how much improvement is realistic with content, you should work to determine which metrics and data will guide you in quantifying that improvement. As you learn more about content, you’ll be able to establish specific monthly and quarterly goals.
With that in mind, one of the best things you can do to get started with your content strategy has very little to do with content itself: Make sure you have a reliable analytics suite in place so you can track changes in website activity over time, so that you can accurately attribute them to specific pieces of content.
2. Research Your Audience
There’s no such thing as general content. All content is for someone.
To make a great impression with your content, you have to know who that someone is. Every piece of content you develop should answer a specific burning question or solve a problem.
To narrow down your target audience, turn back to your buyer personas.
A buyer persona defines exactly who will consume a certain product and how they will use it. Once you’ve worked out all their details, you can understand where your content can meet a need for them.
If you don’t have any buyer persona yet, then now’s the time to create one.
Some of the questions you could ask about potential buyers include:
- What industry do they work in? What size is the typical employer?
- What are the main business problems they face? Opportunities?
- What role do they hold within the organization? Who is their boss?
- What region do they live in? What is their educational attainment?
- What influencers do they like? What platforms do they research on?
Naturally, you’ll have to fill out your buyer persona with your best understanding and validate assumptions as you go. The data you collect in content marketing will make this easier over time. Use your buyer persona to distill your knowledge down to what you’ll want to know at a glance.
3. Map the Buyer’s Journey
Once you have a buyer persona, you have to walk them through their journey as they become acquainted with your goods or services. This buyer’s journey takes them through different stages of the sales funnel — first, as they become aware of what you have to offer; then they start asking questions as they try to figure out whether you can help them with a pain point; and finally, as they make a decision regarding which business they want to purchase from.
Since all of these stages involve different thought processes, you want to include all three of them into your content strategy. To do so, you’ll want to create ToFu, MoFu, and BoFu content: Information that’s specifically geared to new people who are now just becoming acquainted with your brand, information targeting those who are starting to engage, and information that pushes them towards that finish line as they complete a sale.
To narrow down possible content topics, ask yourself the following questions:
- How does your buyer persona discover they have a problem?
- What are those exact pain points?
- How are they feeling?
- What are their motivations to resolve them?
- What are possible challenges they may encounter?
- Where do they usually go to search for information?
- What should they take into account when weighing options?
- What are possible touchpoints with your company?
4. Establish Content Pillars
To keep your content marketing strategy on track, you need to consistently add new content that speaks to the basic needs of your readers. Distilling your work down to a few core categories allows you to track their growth and see their effect on your audience.
These categories can also be thought of as content pillars or content silos.
While providing a consistent theme and general direction to your work, they also allow you to branch out into adjacent topics that will add value for your audience. When you set up your blog, its navigation and topic structure should be reflective of your pillars.
Your content pillars provide you with the structure to create cornerstone content.
Cornerstone content is big, deep content that provides so much value, you can easily cycle it into different formats and use it across multiple channels. It’s aligned with a content pillar and pertains to one step in the buyer journey, but it ultimately touches all of them.
For example, a good ebook can be repurposed as an email series, video series, infographics, social updates (or even a whole social community!), slide decks, and much more. The ebook itself is the cornerstone content that all the other content springs from.
Cornerstone content can be 2,000 words — or even more — with multiple installments.
When planning it, keep the following in mind:
- Big content should be relevant to most readers and accurate for a long time to come.
- It should be divided into meaningful chapters; so, start with a detailed outline ready.
- Each chapter should be designed with its future use in other content pieces in mind.
5. Align Your Content With the Buyer’s Journey
Each piece of content you generate will help move your readers forward through one of the steps in the three-phase buyer journey: awareness, consideration, and decision.
In general, each time someone moves forward from one step to the next, they will start looking for more sophisticated, detailed content to provide more pieces of the puzzle.
The best way to understand this is to look at each step individually:
Blog posts will be the mainstay of your awareness content. These posts not only serve to drive traffic to your door, but also equip you to inform prospective buyers about whatever problem they happen to be dealing with. This builds rapport as they begin to trust in your advice.
- Conversion Goal: Getting users onto your email subscriber list for future mailings.
- Best Content Types: Blog posts with some infographics and short-form video content.
During the consideration stage, your content helps prospects establish their buying criteria as they start to draw up a list of potential solutions. As you demonstrate the success factors that make some options preferable to others, you’ll also spark interest in your own offerings.
In the decision phase, your leads narrow down the options to just a small handful and are ready to make the final choice. They know certain products or services might work, but now they’re trying to understand which one will work best for them, in their specific context.
- Conversion Goal: A final purchase that converts the lead into a customer.
- Best Content Types: Case studies, product literature, demos, and trials.
Of course, this isn’t the whole story. Once someone buys, you have an established relationship with them that your content will continue to cultivate. Luckily, you’ll also get all kinds of new insights about them that you can use to craft truly customized content around their needs.
Before you push forward any further on your content marketing strategy, consider what content you already have and what resources you could devise over the next month or quarter. Which of the goals you outlined above can you meet the fastest by deploying more web content?
6. Research Your Competitors
You already know that a competitive analysis is a great step for SEO.
Now, you can apply those same ideas to your content marketing efforts. The gaps in your rivals’ content strategies will allow you to capitalize on your readers’ unmet needs.
Your existing SEO tools will come in handy here, as you can learn which keywords competitors are targeting with their content and what content attracts the most backlinks.
As you explore existing content, ask yourself:
- What content types, topics, and media choices are your competitors using?
- How often is new content published? Where? Does it inspire engagement?
- What topics have been covered to exhaustion? What topics are still missing?
7. Conduct a Gap Analysis
In order to provide better content than what’s already out there, look for topics people are researching, but (a) there’s either not enough content in the Google results pages, (b) the content is outdated, or (c) it could be further developed.
This includes conducting a content audit of your own website to see how each page is performing. This will help you identify areas that need to be improved, such as blogs that need to be expanded on or optimized, more interesting videos, or identify additional audience needs, such as maybe developing How To guides or product tutorials.
You’ll also want to compare the content that you’re offering with what’s currently popular/trending within your industry. It’s a surefire way to remain relevant and to bridge where you are to where you want to go.
8. Build an Editorial Calendar
If you don’t have a calendar for your content, when will you get it done? And what will you do on the days when your content team is scarce on ideas while deadlines loom around the corner?
At the beginning of your content marketing strategy, it might be enough to say that you’ll write and post a keyword-rich blog post once a week.
Pretty soon, however, you’ll be spinning a lot of plates, and unless you want them to start slipping, you’ll need to keep them organized.
This is especially important when you’re working on cornerstone content. Basic blog posts might require just one person — a writer who also handles all the related research — but thought leadership content might call for input from a graphic designer, video expert, or others.
Your favorite workplace collaboration suite probably already has the features you need to coordinate the different workstreams. You can also try out a content calendar spreadsheet such as this one available from Content Marketing Institute to get you started.
Some teams handle the process directly within their site’s Content Management System, too.
9. Listen To Your Customers
Educated guesses are a great starting point. But to increase your accuracy, ask the people whom you’re serving exactly what it is they want to read about, watch, or listen to. You can do this by asking them directly, using social media management tools to monitor comments and mentions, or gathering feedback through customer survey software. This is one of the most effective ways to get insights that you can use as inspiration for future pieces of content.
10. Study Analytics
Analytics tools provide you with a goldmine of information. As a starting point, you can learn about the behavior of your website visitors. Which content are they gravitating towards? Which pages are they leaving in a split second?
You can also learn where they are visiting your website from — Google searches, social media, marketing emails, online ads, or backlinks in other websites. By the same token, you can find out how many people are opening those marketing emails, and how many are clicking on your website link once they open those emails.
All this information helps you track your progress: Are your email subject lines working? Are your blog topics interesting enough? Are people following a conversion path for them or leaving your site?
For great examples of content strategy done right, think about the companies you interact with regularly. What is it about them that makes you trust them? Is it their reputation? Witty marketing emails? Helpful answers when you’re looking to figure things out? Some popular companies that are doing this well include:
Runner’s World is a magazine where you can get training tips and buy shoes and apparel. But also, they publish regular content on finding specialty shoes, the perfect sports bra depending on the intensity of exercise and chest size, nutrition, YouTube videos with running shoes reviews, best hotels near major races, best socks for running, speed workouts, post run care, GPS watches, training tips (for beginners and for advanced runners), how to recover from injuries, inspiring stories… You name it; if it’s related to the sport, you’ll find either an article or a video that will answer all of your questions and give you suggestions based on your needs.
They also offer different mediums to consume content: their print magazine, website, newsletter, a blog, and a podcast. Bottom line: they have built up their credibility to the point where they are considered as leading industry experts worldwide. You can thank their consistency, SEO strategy, and prolific useful content for that.
It’s what all the cool kids and hipsters use. And you know this because of their clean and simple ads, newsroom content, brilliant product placement in all the hot TV shows, and the way their content is organized per topic on their website.
And they have been so effective at conveying their worth, that they don’t even have to bother to sell at competitive prices or have regular sales to lure customers. People line up to buy their latest gadgets, regardless of costs. Their unique value proposition is that they will sell you cutting edge, sleek, clean products that are simple to use, yet elegant.
What’s even more admirable is how their marketing strategy is just like their brand — simple, sparse, and straight to the point. No embellishments necessary.
Kayak helps you find low air fares. But is that all they do? No. Sign up for their newsletter, and you’ll get weekly content regarding popular travel destinations, staying safe while abroad, price drops from your local airports, how to find the best car rentals, and which countries are requiring proof of COVID vaccination and/or X days of quarantine upon arrival. If you weren’t even planning on going on a trip, they know how to get you to block off time on your calendar and start considering your next vacation.
They also publish regular blog content on practical topics organized by categories — business travel, COVID-19, cancellable trips, and how to travel safely as an LGBTTQ+ traveler.
And because they also target younger demographics, they do fun stuff like quizzes: Where should you go?, travel hacks, budget tips, and uber cheap steals to popular party spots. Useful, helpful, and relevant.
When you look at the companies who are doing content strategy the right way, it’s easy to see a pattern: They all publish consistently, they all educate on tips that are specifically designed to make life easier for their target audience, and they have all built instant brand recognition within their industry. None of this happened by chance. Don’t leave your brand up to luck, either.