Time for a story.
Once upon a time, the “content farm” model meant business websites could publish tons of keyword-stuffed content and rank high for every search term under the sun, even if the content was useless to anyone.
Then came Google’s Panda update in 2011. The search giant started to look at the editorial focus and content quality of the overall site. The low-quality content sites tanked in the rankings, and since then businesses have to be seen as an authority in their niche to rank well.
In short, you have to not suck.
This is a good thing. A content marketing strategy that doesn’t suck will give you predictable, cost-effective, and scalable traffic and lead generation.
A content marketing strategy that doesn’t suck will support your sales team by building brand awareness using social media, blogs, infographics, and premium content like online tools, ebooks and webinars.
These efforts won’t be rewarded right away. You probably won’t see much of a return on your investment of time and effort for many weeks. Creating great content isn’t easy, but business owners who are doing it right find that paid search (pay-per-click, or PPC) and other traditional forms of paid advertising are more expensive and not as effective.
Indeed, content can snowball and deliver exponentially awesome business results.
Think of content marketing as an annuity. Annuities are a popular choice for investors who want to receive a reliable income stream in the future. They have to put in a little now, and next month, and the month after that … It takes time and patience. And it’s boring. But in the end, slow and steady wins the race.
As a business owner and entrepreneur, how can you come up with a reliable content marketing strategy for 2016 and beyond?
Before we can answer this, let’s look at the different types of content your business can offer.
At minimum, this is where you begin. I talked about blogging quite a bit in my last post. There are some good blogs, and there are some bad ones. Here are some common types of good ones:
- “How-to” blogs: Teach readers how to do something.
- “Listicles”: Combine a “list” and an “article” and you get a “listicle.” You’ve seen them—in fact, thanks to BuzzFeed, it’s impossible to avoid them. They can be annoying, but these curated lists can also be informative, entertaining, shareable and search-friendly.
- Thought Leadership: Show off your expertise by explaining industry trends.
- News-jacking: Take advantage of a trending topic to offer your perspective. If you can tie-in your product with what everyone is already talking about, go for it.
Premium assets take longer to read (and create) than a blog. They are usually “gated” (meaning the reader has to fill out a form and give up their name, phone number, and email address, for example). As such, they’re great for lead-generation.
Here are some common premium content types:
- Ebooks/Whitepapers: Often in PDF form, they can be from a few pages long to true “book” length. The words “ebook” and “whitepaper” are often used interchangeably, but most people consider whitepapers to be longer and more technical.
- Webinars: If you’re an expert, or if you can get a guest speaker who can bring his or her own audience, a webinar (with gated sign-up/registration, of course) combines classroom learning with top-of-the-funnel lead generation. Let participants ask questions during the presentation and participate in real-time polls. You can even record the webinar and “gate” the recording for ongoing lead-gen benefits.
- Site Tools: If your business is software-as-a-service (SaaS), for example, consider offering a scaled-back free version that requires signup to use. Or (if you can outlay the upfront resources), build a tool that your target audience will find helpful. For example, marketing automation provider HubSpot has a free tool called the HubSpot Marketing Grader that will give you a free analysis of your marketing efforts. Naturally, you’ll need to enter your email address to get it, and you can be sure their sales team will come a-calling before long.
Here are some visual content examples:
- Infographics: Some ideas are best presented visually, and these eye-catching graphics are great for sharing on social media.
- Videos: YouTube and other video platforms can help you with your audience outreach and branding.
- SlideShares: PowerPoint presentations can be converted into Slideshares. SlideShare is a slide hosting service that lets you share presentations. Check out the SlideShare below to learn more.
BRINGING THESE CONTENT TYPES ALL TOGETHER …
I keep hearing business owners and entrepreneurs talk about content marketing, social media marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO) as if they are three different things.
There are some great blogs out there with a tiny audience because they’re ignoring social and SEO marketing. There are also some great SEO and social marketers promoting worthless content. All those guys are doing is getting the word about how much their crap stinks.
Content marketing, social media marketing, and SEO are the three interconnected pillars of a winning content marketing effort. Let’s look at each of them individually.
Content marketing is all about commutating with (not talking to) your target audience, demonstrating (but not saying it outright) that you’re the best person they could do business with. This content might be written or visual, long-form (such as a white paper or ebook placed behind a gated sign-up form) or short-form (something free and publicly available, like a Tweet or a blog post).
Make good content a habit your readers expect. Don’t try to sell your products, and don’t try to bulk up your content with irrelevant crap. Every piece should solve a problem or entertain. If it does both, even better.
How do you create great content? It’s simple. Follow these steps:
Step one: Take an educated guess what people want. These guesses will come from market research into your target demographic. What are they buying? What problems are they needing to solve? What desires can your product satisfy?
Step two: Create and release the content. Don’t wait for a huge audience to start delivering your message.
Step three: Optimize the content based on feedback
Step four: Connect via guest blogging, growing your social networks, and other ways to expose your content.
Step Five: Repeat and Refine. Content marketing is a continual process, not a set-it and forget-it strategy.
SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING
“Word of mouth” continues to be one of the most valuable ways to promote your product, and social-shared content is the way it’s done these days.
What is social media marketing, at its core? It’s content distribution to the widest audience possible.. It’s giving people what they want and letting them share it with their networks. Email and PPC campaigns can be leveraged to amplify content that has already shown itself to generate organic traffic. But if your content distribution strategy is hinged on ranking well in Google at the expense of social sharing, you’re selling yourself short.
Indeed, social marketing gives Google signals about quality and relevance that Google looks for in their ranking algorithms. Be sure to measure the number of followers/fans on each of your most important social networks and see how engagement increases with each post. Tracking will make it easy for you to repeat what works and eliminate what doesn’t.
I believe that creating high-value content without thinking about SEO value might actually be the best way to achieve higher search rankings. If you focus on building your website as an authority in your industry, you’ll build industry trust and influence, and Google will notice.
Also, sites with new content published frequently will be indexed more quickly and see a boost in the search engine result pages (SERP’s). Frequent updates on existing content is also rewarded.
Still, you have to optimize your content. This means performing keyword research, and optimizing site architecture, content and metadata to meet Google’s search-friendly recommendations. After you’ve optimized your website, adding links, content, and submitting your site on related directories, Google will re-index your site and (hopefully) reward you for your efforts.
Always write for people first, then go back and make your content search-engine friendly so new readers can find you.
DOCUMENT YOUR APPROACH
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that “slow and steady wins the race” in content marketing. It takes a while to build up a library of valuable, shareable, rankable website content. How do you get there? At least with PPC and other paid advertisements, you get to reap the rewards of your efforts fairly quickly. How do you keep your content strategy on-track in the early weeks and months, when you aren’t seeing a lot of reward for your efforts?
This is where having a plan is crucial. A content marketing plan lays out how you will use content to address your business goals and customer needs. You’ll use it to develop your business “story” and build and engage an audience.
Your content marketing plan should include:
- Your business case for creating content, the goals you want to achieve and a timeline to achieve those goals. A common goal would be “To increase website traffic.”
- Your customer personas, including their needs/motivations, and a description of the pain points they have that your product seeks to address.
- Your plan to address those pain points and needs among your audience, plus the obstacles (and opportunities) you foresee.
- Your brand story, including how you will position your product and differentiate it from the competition.
- Your plan to leverage multiple platforms to speak to your audience, and how those channels will be tied together in cross-promotional efforts.
BUILDING YOUR CONTENT TEAM
A good content marketing team is focused on site traffic and leads.
If you’re a one-man (or one-woman) operation, it’s all on your shoulders. You have to create content, optimize it for SEO and manage social media. This is where your time management skills will come into play.
If your business is larger, A CMO or marketing director will be leading the program, and you may be able to break out the responsibilities among multiple team members. With five employees dedicated to content, you might have two of them handling blogs, one handling long-form (premium) content, one handling SEO, and the fifth working on design and layout.
Regardless of the size of your company, give everyone access to your content marketing strategy. All stakeholders need to be on the same page to ensure that everyone is working toward the same content goals.
KNOW WHEN TO SELL
People will (hopefully) flock to read and share your content while they are making a purchasing decision because they crave the valuable expertise that only you can offer. But if they feel like they’re being “advertised to” they will bounce faster than you can say “back button.”
However, your ultimate marketing goal is to generate leads or to convert prospects into customers. Therefore, you must never forget the MARKETING part of CONTENT MARKETING.
Yes, build trust and authority by providing valuable content, but at some point you’ll need to make an offer. A good content marketing strategy has prepared and primed your audience to make a purchasing decision, and a good landing page makes it easy to buy. Your blogs and other website content have navigation links to encourage visitors to jump around the site, deciding what to give their attention to. A separate “hard sell” offer sprinkled here and there does the opposite—it focuses their attention on the action (“buy” or “subscribe,” usually).
Be sure to explain your service or product on well-crafted landing pages with clear calls to action. Landing pages (also called “squeeze pages”) will look like a lot like your other content-rich pages, but they need to clearly explain your service or product and compel your readers to act.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Finally, your business needs and your content strategy will determine what tools you need, but here are some that you may want to consider:
- Adobe Creative Suite: For laying out ebooks, infographics, and social images.
- Project Management: If your content team is larger than one person, you may need this. Basecamp is a popular choice.
- Content Management System (CMS): For adding blogs and web pages without involving your IT department.
- Analytics: For measuring performance. Google Analytics may be all you need. Other teams require robust closed-loop solutions that can directly correlate content marketing activities to revenue. Analytics tools let you measure things like bounce rate, time spent on page, traffic, and (later) subscribers and leads generated by a blog or other type of content.
Again, thanks reading. Let me know (via the comments below) what content marketing successes … and failures … you’ve had with your business.