As Ian Laurie (CEO, Portent Inc.) put it, content is anything that communicates a certain message to the target audience. Content marketing is the approach taken to build connections with the target audience and get them to trust your brand. It is a great way to increase brand awareness and comes with great benefits, some of which are highlighted below.
- Bridges the gap between brands and their customers, both existing and potential ones
- Provides much needed help to customers and positions a business as an authority
- Attracts and nurtures loyal audience
- Provides increased visibility for your brand
So how do you leverage content and make it work for your business? This step-by-step guide to content marketing breaks down the process.
Every Strategy Needs a Strong Foundation
What are your objectives?
The first thing you should do is determine what you want to accomplish. Start by deciding how you’ll use content marketing to grow your brand. While there is no right answer here, there are plenty of business objectives you can achieve with content marketing.
- Develop a community of customers and prospects who interact with your brand in social platforms
- Generate leads so that the marketing and sales team can follow up
- Generate interest in your products and services
- Help customers answer burning questions, especially about your product
- Develop increased brand recognition and become niche authoritative
You can specify time frames for achieving each of the objectives. Write down the percentage improvement you want to see and why you’d like to achieve the goals. Don’t forget to create a system that allows you to track results. You could include details like sales figures, number of click-throughs, profits and anything else that’ll help track progress.
Choose a strategy
But before we get ahead of ourselves, have you decided how you want content to factor into the general marketing plan? There are multiple strategies you can implement including integrated messaging, directed traffic or single focus on sales.
With integrated messaging, marketers can leverage content to drive a precise action. It is particularly useful for membership sites, blogs and social media. If your main focus is to increase sales, you can use blog posts, vides and podcasts to pique interest in your products. Additionally, you can increase traffic by directing visitors from social media to your blog and then a landing page.
Depending on your objectives, you may create other types of content such as white papers, eBooks, courses, infographics, PowerPoint presentations, webinars, podcasts, magazine articles, speeches & workshop interviews, and newsletters. For each of the content types chosen decide on a publishing platform e.g. WordPress for a website and blog, YouTube for videos, and iTunes or Stitcher for podcasts.
Create a core message
You will also need to create a core message for your readers, stating the primary benefit you offer them. Use the mission statement to tell them how you want to impact their lives. Take a look at your competitor’s core message and overall content marketing strategy. Determine how you can improve on their strategy and capitalize on their weakness.
Choose a niche and target audience
Another key aspect of building a strong foundation understands your customers. Targeting everyone is just a waste of resources. Optimize the resources by identifying who is interested in what you write about. Choose a more refined niche to be more specific about who you write for. For instance, ‘cat lovers’ is more targeted niche compared to ‘animal lovers’ and makes for a better target audience. If you can create a smaller niche than cat lovers, say hairless cats or cat breeders, then go for it. The idea is to choose as small a group as possible to streamline your marketing strategy.
Keep in mind that wanting to write in a certain niche doesn’t make it the right decision for your business. Your niche should be a viable market. Are there enough people interested in the niche to help meet your objectives? Are they interested your messages? Are they accessible via social media and email? Can they benefit from your information or afford your products? These are just a few of the factors that will help determine viability of a niche.
Create a publishing schedule
Some people publish blog posts once a day, twice a month or once a week. Create a schedule in this range that works for you. Consider the amount of time that you’ll need to create each type of content.
It’s also important you decide how long you want blog posts and videos to be. You can opt for a specific length, or let each piece of content be as long as it needs to be to communicate the intended message. Either way, don’t compromise standards and quality. Also, how do you want the content to sound? Friendly? Formal? A combination of both? Is use of slang allowed?
Create a workflow
Create a workflow to manage content marketing more easily. Who decides on blog post topics? When are they written? Is there someone responsible for producing the content and maintaining the editorial calendar? Will you outsource content production, or do you have an in-house team of writers? Who handles editing and content approval? These are just a few of the issues that need to be addressed by the workflow.
Content Marketing Will Keep You Going for Months, Maybe Even Years
According to a study published by Content Marketing Institute, the biggest challenges faced by content marketers are producing engaging content and producing enough content. Both are due to the core problem of generating new ideas. So how do you ensure you have an unending stream of unique ideas that will get clicks?
Start by creating a place to capture your ideas. Because they appear out of nowhere and disappear almost immediately, having such a place ensures you have the ideas on hand when you need them. It could be an Excel document, an Evernote notebook, or even the Memo app on your phone.
The process of generating content ideas is more or less like gears fitted into a machine. It depends on a set of independent components that work together and create the right outcome. These include trends, search engines, brainstorms, forums and more.
Keep up with trends
Knowing what your target audience reads and discusses with one another is a great way to generate ideas. Start by setting up Google Alerts for every topic you’d like to stay current on, preferably in your niche. You can opt to have the alerts delivered to your email address or RSS feed. Either way, take time to review the links sent by Google. Other specification options include region, sources, frequency, and how many results.
Another way to keep up with trends is to set up an RSS feed, probably with Feedly. This helps streamline online reading. Feedly also recommends blogs in the Starter Kit based on your search queries. You can narrow down the search by industry, skill, fun or trends.
Be sure to follow your competitors and industry leaders. Get to know what they post about to assess reader expectations. Best-selling books in your industry will give you ideas influence people’s thoughts about life in general. Try to identify ones that are in line with your core message.
Google is a powerful tool for generating new ideas to write about. The search engine provides suggestions of what others search for as you type a query. While quick, this method doesn’t provide a lot of insight. The good news is that Google Keyword Planner helps with this. It is one of the best tools for finding information about your primary keywords. You can use it to review keyword performance, their competitiveness, and number of monthly searches.
There are two ways you can go about brainstorming ideas i.e. brain mapping and listing them. Mind maps provide a visual of connections being made. Take a look at the one below by northeastern.edu.
You don’t have to create something so detailed. Write the brainstorm topic in the middle of the map and draw lines radiating from it. Write related keywords or ideas at the end of each line. This could be subcategories or ideas that are related to the brainstorm subject somehow. Keeping connecting the ideas with radiating lines until you run out of paper or ideas, whichever comes first. There are no rules to this tactic, except that each idea has to be connected to a previous one.
Online forums such as Reddit, LinkedIn and Quora are a goldmine. Members sign up for free and discuss topics that interest them. Most have multiple categories, so identify one that fits your niche. LinkedIn groups are great for professionals. Quora users answers each other’s questions while Reddit members discuss ideas and comment on other posts.
Social media interactions offer plenty of ideas. Be sure to follow the right people i.e. thought leaders in your industry and individuals who set trends. Use your primary keywords as search queries in each social media platform. Follow pages and groups that discuss your core topic, and take time to review the posts. Better yet, take part in the discussions.
Since reading each social media post can take up too much time, consider using an application that allows you to manage each account and view all streams in one place. Examples include SocialOomph, TweetDeck and HootSuite.
Of course, the simplest way to generate content ideas is to listen to others. Get to know what they talk about and the questions they ask. What gaps are in their conversations and how do they relate to your core topic? The words they use when talking about your topic are probably used by your target audience, so make them your target keywords.
Optimize Content Production
All your efforts will prove futile if you don’t optimize production. Start by creating categories for your blog, ensuring each of them aligns with the core message. If possible create subcategories of the main categories to go deeper with the ideal customer. For instance, you can have Social Media Marketing and Content Marketing under Marketing.
For each category, create a Title Tag, Keywords and Meta Description. These details help optimize your site for SEO. The Title Tag should contain the main keyword and not exceed 70 characters. The Meta Description is brief description of the articles in the category and should be a maximum of 150 characters.
Conducting interviews with a few customers gives plenty of insight into the questions they ask at every stage of the purchasing cycle. Get to know what they are thinking when looking at your product and what prompts them to actually make a purchase. Use the information you learn to create an editorial planner.
Be sure to involve the editorial team at this stage. This may include the writers, editors, graphic artists and photographers. This is where you get to finalize the publication schedule discussed in Stage 1 i.e. Building a Strong Foundation. Decide on how long it should take to create different types of content. Factor in the time it take research and write, create graphics and layout, as well as edit and upload. You should also make a decision regarding how often you’ll hold planning sessions. At least once a year, preferably in December or early January, hold a high-profile meeting to create a strategy for the coming year.
A sample content workflow may look something like this;
Your workflow should align with your business resources and needs. For instance, publishing once a day may not leave a lot of time for review but it raises the need for meetings to keep fresh ideas flowing. On the other hand, having more writers and editors may help with the workload.
Remember those content ideas you generated? Evaluate each one of them to determine if they provide real value to your readers, are relevant to your core topic and matter to the ideal audience. If necessary, reframe the topics to address the issue. Improve on the ideas by providing additional information, including visual elements and using them to shed light on trending news. Keep working on the ideas until you’re sure they’ll engage and benefit your readers.
Write down the refined topics, assign them to team members and set production deadlines. Last but not least, ensure that each topic fulfills at least one business objective.
Learn to be a Pro Content Creator
The next challenge is to produce engaging content. This is particularly important if you are a solopreneur who handles everything by yourself. Identify the idea scheduled for production and narrow down your focus. If the topic is Improving Responses on Your Landing Pages, you narrow down the focus to Incorporating More Clickable Elements.
Conduct some preliminary research, starting with Google Search. You can also utilize the RSS feeds and forums you subscribed to. Be careful not to rewrite content produced by other blogs. Search engines don’t just look at uniqueness when ranking sites. They also evaluate usefulness.
Go deeper and look for any information that validates your opinions including statistics, case studies, quotes and ideas from influencers in your industry. Other things to consider when conducting research include;
- Primary resources are always more accurate and authoritative compared to secondary resources
- Use sources recognized by your readers
- Industry-respected sources help validate your blog posts
- Wikipedia is NOT an authoritative source
- Use copyrighted information with permission from the owner
- Fact check everything
Organize your ideas to match the following structure;
The Body consists of multiple subheadings and is meant to address the issue raised in the introduction. Ideas in this section should be organized cohesively. Whether you are working on a blog post or eBook, use shorter paragraphs as they get the point across more effectively.
Before you start writing, figure out what you want to say and note down a few supporting statements. The number of these statements will depend on the type of content you’re writing. These will be subheadings for your piece.
The next step is to create a rough outline, ensuring that your ideas are arranged in a chronological order. Evaluate the outline to determine if you’re offering a fresh perspective on the topic, making one or multiple points. This is where you decide if the subheadings relate to the core topic, if there is enough research to prove your point(s).
Create a rough draft, focusing mainly on putting down your ideas. Keep in mind what you want the ideal reader to gain, and write for them. Write in the first person, as though you are talking with the reader face to face. Use 2-3 paragraphs to tackle each subheading. Hook your reader’s attention and get them to keep reading by writing a captivating introduction. You could use a startling statement, historical reference, personal story or even a metaphor. The conclusion should summarize your ideas and explain why your idea matters. You can include a call-to-action i.e. ask readers to take a specific action. This may be share the post on social media, click on a link or share their opinions in the comment section.
Put yourself in the shoes of the ideal reader, and read the draft. Is the article unique enough and does it make the point you wanted to make? Are there any organizational problems? What about grammar errors? This is the time to fix any shortcomings the article may have. Save the finished document. Below are more resources on how to become a pro content writer
Optimize Your Content for Search
If one of your objectives is to increase online visibility, optimizing your content for search is a must. Having good content is simply not enough. Start by improving website speed. Websites that load slowly are particularly annoying for readers and search engines.
Strategic keyword use can help place your site at the top of search results. Choose a primary keyword for each piece of content and use it naturally, both in the title and throughout the article. Conduct extensive research on the keyword using tools like Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends, Social Media and forums.
Perhaps the most important thing is to ALWAYS write for humans. Forget about the search engines and create engaging content for people who will, hopefully, share it.
While better for SEO, longer posts don’t engage in a fun way like shorter ones. However, quality lengthy posts created for humans can earn you some points with the search engines.
A blend of inbound and outbound links reduces bounce rates. Link to relevant content on other websites, and your site too. Heading tags make your content easier to read while a good meta description persuades visitors to read the article. Additionally, remember to include title tags.
More tips for optimizing your content can be found here;
Realize Business Objectives With Monetized Content
A simple way to drive business objectives with your content is to monetize it. You can create a membership site where you offer subscribers VIP treatment, insider access to the site director, high-value information, access to members-only forum, exclusive offers, elite status and other benefits.
There are three ways you can handle paid content i.e. subscription/paywall, metered and transaction. With a subscription model, users pay a monthly or annual fee to access premium content. You can create membership levels to cater to different budget ranges. The transaction model is where customers pay for individual pieces of content like eBooks, special reports and training programs. With metered model, free access to content is offered to low-volume readers. It is a particularly effective strategy for newspaper companies.
Readers need to know that they get premium content on time. This is where auto-responders come in. Additionally, decide whether membership will be renewed monthly or annually. Don’t forget about setting up payment processors.
More ideas on monetizing content can be found here;
I hope you’ve enjoyed this comprehensive guide to content marketing. Put the tips discussed here to work, and you’ll realize increased website traffic. Don’t hesitate to refer to this guide as you go, and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.