In a crowded market place where consumers are bombarded with advertising, social media updates and absorbed with time-sucking apps such as Pokemon Go; it’s easy to see why content marketing has become so important to modern marketers.
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.
Source: Content Marketing Institute
Done right, content marketing is a fundamental pillar of your inbound marketing strategy. Enticing prospects and customers to flock to your website in their droves. Whilst also driving social shares and giving your organic search traffic a nuclear charge. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Problem is, for many it rarely pans out like that. This leaves marketers scratching their heads, dismissing content marketing as ‘yet another fad’ and reverting back to more traditional marketing methods.
If we’re being honest, we would probably agree that these failings are due to a lack of planning, researching, distributing and analyzing. In fact, it’s only really the creation of content that is seen as productive. This is entirely wrong.
To increase the chances of success, a content marketing strategy should focus on four key aspects; with each as important as the other.
Researching and planning your content marketing campaign
It’s not enough to simply write what you want to tell the world. First you must understand what your audience wants to hear. What questions are they asking? What problems do they have? What channels are they using? What types of content are they sharing?
I can almost hear you sigh at what may seem like a daunting task, but answering these questions is relatively straightforward.
If you have an existing website, a technical department or customer service centre. These places are a gold mine for topics your customers and prospects are interested in. Through Google Analytics and Search Console, you should be able to see the search terms driving traffic to your site. If you have enabled internal search, you can see what your visitors have been entering your site search. Technical support and customer services should be able to provide you with the questions they get asked frequently.
But don’t stop there!
BuzzSumo also highlights the social shares of particular posts around a topic. Highlighting what social channels are driving shares and helping you identify the type of content you need to create. Ranked by popularity, you’ll be able to review similar posts that have been successful. Note: this is your benchmark and you should aim to create something bigger and better than this.
Ahrefs is a powerful SEO research tool; identifying key search terms for your competitors, which you may wish to target. It also pinpoints content that’s working well in your niche.
Armed with this information, it’s time to cross-reference this with your business and marketing objectives. The purpose of the content is to attract prospects to your business or products, or continue to engage and nurture your current customers. Keep this in mind when agreeing your content plan.
Now get yourself comfortable.
Particularly when writing content, you need to ensure you are in a place that allows you to be creative and engaging. Chances are, if you’re crammed in to a noisy office with no windows, it’s going to impact your writing process and your readers will feel it.
I personally like to listen to music whilst writing. A conflict of senses, but it relaxes the mind. Others need to shut themselves away from any noise or distraction. Whatever works for you, do it!
I mentioned earlier that you should aim to create something bigger and better than popular content in your field. You really need to own this. Good quality content is painstakingly researched and the same goes for its creation.
Brian Dean’s Skyscrapper technique goes to the extreme of illustrating how to successfully create content that drives shares, links and search traffic. If someone has provided 100 tips on a topic, you need to go further, or go into more detail. Making sure your content is more up to date, more relevant. Whatever it takes you need to set your goals as high as possible.
Creation of great content
Once your research and planning is complete; it’s time to start creating those awesome pieces of content.
You will need to decide on the type of content that is most suited to your topic. Earlier research would have shown you where each topic is being shared and the type of content that is popular. However don’t be swayed by this. If you think an alternative form of content such as videos, infographics, ebooks or articles, are better, then go for it. In fact, who says you have to do just one?
As you’ve already spent time researching the topic, you are armed with insights and related posts that can help add significant weight to your piece. However don’t be afraid to go further. Online or customer surveys, market research, polls or questionnaires can all add meat to the bones for your content. Substantially improving the quality of your piece. Gapminder is a really useful online tool that provides access to a world of social, economic and environmental statistics.
A common question is “how long should a piece of content be”? I wouldn’t get too caught up in maximum and minimum lengths, because you should be aiming for something that is useful to your audience. That being said, Yoast advise that pieces over 1000 words have a higher chance of ranking well in Google. This is because the longer the text the more chance Google has to determine what your piece is about. And, as the text length increases so does the number of long tail keywords you will pick up along the way. Here’s an interesting graph I, err… borrowed from Snap Agency’s article investigating the best length of a blog for SEO in 2016.
However, I fundamentally believe you should aim for the piece to be useful to your audience first. SEO configuration should be integrated but it shouldn’t steer the piece. More on SEO later.
Another pitfall is using blogs as an extension of your news room. This often means poorly repurposed news releases are dressed up as a blog post. I imagine it’s great if you are a PR agency, but not so great for much else.
Information is consumed differently online, so ensure your writing style is adapted in line with this. There are useful tools available that help you craft a piece that’s well suited to the way people read online content. The Hemingway App reviews your content and scores its readability. Whilst Yoast’s SEO plugin has a similar function for those using WordPress. Both tools are a great companion to ensure your content is readable and web friendly.
Some of you on your content marketing journey will be looking for SEO performance benefits through your newly created pieces. To give your piece the best shot ensure you include important SEO signals to increase the chances of Google and co. picking up your piece.
Meta titles and descriptions
Meta tags are snippets of text that tell search engines what a web page is about. With this in mind ensure you front load your keyword or phrase in your meta title, as Google places more emphasis on this.
Your meta description is what appears in the search engine results page; so this is your chance to persuade searchers to click on your web page. A compelling description will increase your click through rate (CTR) and therefore tell Google that your page is important for that keyword.
Add internal links to your piece
Including internal links early on in the piece, helps reduce bounce rates. It also shows that the rest of your website is useful too. For those with commercial websites. Ensure you tie the piece back into the original objective of the content campaign. Whilst it’s great to have lots of views, it’s also good to get lots of sales or leads.
Include multimedia in your posts
OK if it’s a video, you’re already there. But for written posts, too much text can be draining. Including a mixture of video, images or presentations can help engage your reader. This improves the user-interaction with your piece which is a positive signal for search engines.
Use your keywords early on in the piece
Whilst I wouldn’t crowbar keywords into a piece, prominence is important. Additional points goes to those who also include it in an H1 or H2 tag.
Show the breadth of your reading
Including links to external resources helps show that you’ve done the appropriate planning and research (see point 1 – *cough*).
For more advice on SEO tips check out Backlinko’s – On the page SEO checklist. See what I did there…
Now before you get too excited and publish your new piece of content. Walk away!
Switch your laptop off and do something else to occupy your mind. The morning after, with fresh eyes, re-read or view your content. If you’re authoring and publishing content yourself, ask a friend or colleague to double check for spelling or grammatical errors.
Now you’re ready to hit publish and show the world your awesome new piece of content.
Publishing and distribution
This is the stage where most content pieces fail. I think the perception is that all the hard work is done and with a couple of mentions on Twitter, Facebook and in the monthly e-bulletin, the piece will fly on its own.
I also think those who author and publish their own content, sometimes feel a bit awkward promoting themselves. Meaning it’s left to chance that people will find and enjoy the wonderful content you painstakingly planned, researched and created.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced both traditional and digital marketing. Whilst content marketing isn’t and shouldn’t be treated as an extension of PR; there are a few things we could learn from the discipline.
PR agencies and professionals distribute press releases to appropriate journalists and editors. Following this up quickly with a phone call or email to drum up interest. In order to maximize the chances of success for your piece, you will need to do the same. Predominantly this will be bloggers, relevant Facebook groups or forums and key social media accounts, but I would also approach traditional journos and editors too. A nice bit of national press exposure doesn’t harm anyone’s traffic figures. They often have digital adaptations too, which will help add authority to your site if they link to you.
During your research and planning you should have discovered who was talking about your topic or niche. Identifying which sites were linking to similar content to yours or even your competitor’s website. These are key prospects for you to approach.
A simple email introducing yourself and inviting them to view or link to your content, would suffice. But try to highlight why you think they would be interested and show that you’ve taken time to understand what they do.
As mentioned earlier, searching for your topic, keyword or phrase will help identify these prospects. In addition you can also use more sophisticated tools such as BuzzSumo or Ahrefs.
If you’re really serious about driving a captive audience to your piece quickly, social media advertising can really kick start interest in your piece. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn… the lot, now have tools that allow you to promote or boost your posts.
Twitter allows you to target followers of other accounts. Meaning if you know who’s an authority with a large following in your niche, you can promote your piece directly to their followers. For a fee of course. If you want to identify those with a large following in your topic area, sites such as Followerwonk can help.
Facebook’s boost mechanism, allows you to target on so many different aspects, you can quickly drill down to really tight niches:
- Demographics – these are quantifiable characteristics of an audience. Such as education, nationality, religion, ethnicity, social economic status etc.
- Interests – This profiles what people share on their timelines, apps they use, pages they like and other activities into specific interest categories.
- Behaviours – This is what activities people do on and off Facebook such as device uses, purchase history, travel preferences and more.
- There are additional targeting functions too such as the ability to upload a list of email contacts you already have.
With all forms of social media advertising you can set your budget for as much or as little as you want. But be careful and monitor the performance of the traffic any advertising provides.
If you’ve been savvy enough to build an email list of customers or contacts then also take the time to let these know about your new content. As they’ve already shown an interest in what you do, it wouldn’t hurt to ask them nicely to share the piece.
Which reminds me. You need to make it easy for them to share your content. Plugins such as ShareThis, are really easy to install and have many prominent display settings.
Now that the word has been spread and viewers are engaging with your content, it’s important to regularly analyze the interaction with your piece and be prepared to make improvements along the way.
Analyze and Improve
One thing is for certain. Once your piece of content is out there, you will soon discover if your piece is any good or not. Without meaning to sound harsh, but if your visitors are only spending milliseconds on your page or watching your video, chances are it’s not for them. So what do you do next?
The great thing about online content is that it’s an evolving beast. Like a website, you should monitor your content to learn what’s working and what isn’t. This will help you fine tune the piece or future content to be more relevant or engaging.
With this in mind, ensure you are able to track your content through web analytics tools. Many people stop at the top level audience report, but there could be some hidden gems. For example if you drill down to how visitors from each traffic source interact with your piece, you can soon discover which keywords, referring websites or campaigns have provided traffic that are interested or not interested in what you’re doing.
At the beginning of this adventure you should have identified a clear purpose or objective for the content campaign. Remember to go back to this and benchmark it against the results you’re seeing. If you’re content isn’t converting into leads or sales, think about what tweaks you could make to improve this.
If your content marketing campaign is ticking all the boxes, then you’re on to a winner and it’s time to do more of the same.
Listen to what your readers or viewers are saying. All social media platforms give your audience the chance to have their say, ask questions and ultimately review your work. Listen to this carefully for inclusions you may have missed, future content ideas and to show that you care.
In reality, it’s going to take time and perseverance. It may not be until your 10th or even 100th piece that you begin seeing the results that you’re aiming for. But if you continuously improve and adapt with what results you’re seeing, you’re increasing the probability of success.