Everybody seems to be in love with content marketing these days. From traditional industries, to the smallest and most nimble of startups, marketers from all walks of industry say they plan to invest more in content in 2016 and beyond.
However, for many, content marketing remains perplexing. Understanding the basic logic is easy, but structuring your effort to get tangible results for your business is a whole different story.
If you are one of those looking to explore content marketing for your business, but not sure where to get started, our guide to content strategy will come in handy. We’ll cover everything you need to get started step by step.
The first and most important thing is to understand why you want to invest in content.
Define the Business Rationale
Many think all it takes to do this type of marketing is… to produce content. But before you even think about writing your first blog post, you have to be very clear about the business reasons for engaging in content marketing.
Defining your business rationale is what differentiates content marketing and blogging.
What are some of the business aspects you have to think through?
Why use content?
Why are you creating content in the first place and what do you hope to achieve with it? Many business owners set out, thinking their efforts in producing content will lead to direct sales, finding themselves disappointed when that doesn’t happen at scale.
Building trust is key in content marketing. Think of it as a long-term strategy that builds your general reputation and creates a bond with your audience that gets stronger as time goes by.
What is your unique proposition (competitive advantage)?
What is the one thing your business is offering that none of your competitors can hope to replicate? It could be anything from a superior product to having staff that are both extremely knowledgeable about your business and always willing to go above and beyond in helping your clients.
Building your content strategy around your competitive advantage is useful for your business, as over time your audience will come to associate your business with it.
Think of brands like Buffer and HelpScout and how they’ve tied what they want to be known for (superior customer service) to the content they produce, the topics they write on, and even the voice and tone they project across their communication channels.
What are your goals with content marketing?
Finally for this stage, think hard about the concrete business goals you want to achieve with content marketing. Here are some of the goals people typically have for content:
- Raise awareness about company and product
- Build a reputation
- Generate leads for a salesforce to work with
- Help in nurturing leads during sales cycle
- Educate potential or existing clients on how to use product/service to increase adoption/retention levels
- Generate new sales
Typically, your content strategy should focus on one or two of these goals. If you go beyond that, you risk becoming too unfocused in your efforts.
Figuring out how you are going to measure your progress is very important in this stage. After you come up with your high-level goals, spend some time to complement them with a set of key performance indicators (or KPIs) that you will be tracking.
To get a feel for what this whole step looks like in practice, here’s an example:
Most content marketing strategies are aimed at generating leads for the business they’re operating under. In the last few years, people have found that the most effective way to do this is by collecting emails, so we’ve seen an explosion in so-called ‘email harvesting techniques’ around the web (when was the last time you visited a website and weren’t asked for your email?).
If your content strategy falls under the same category, a good KPI to track is the size of your email list.
Now that you are done with the initial stages of your content marketing strategy, you are ready to dive deep into figuring out its technical details.
Figure Out Your Target Audience
Every content strategy should start with the audience. Every piece of content that you create as part of this strategy will be aimed at a specific audience. If you don’t know who this is, your efforts will fall flat because they will not be targeted.
Your content audience might be different from your existing customer base (especially if you want to target a new market segment with your content), but your current customers are a good place to start.
Create marketing personas
Marketing personas (sometimes also called ‘customer avatars’) are a great tool for marketers. Use them to create a stylized version of your dream customer/reader and keep them in mind when creating your content.
These avatars are great because they serve a two-fold purpose:
- They keep your whole organization on the same page — by looking at your avatar, every member of the team will know who it is they’re talking to — this will help you keep a consistent message and tone across all interactions with this given customer.
- They help you humanize your voice — when you have a clear picture of who you’re producing for, it is much easier to be talking like a human.
What are the needs of your audience?
Now that you have a clear understanding of your ideal audience member(s), figure out what their needs and pains are.
Creating content around those is the surest way to make a mark, attract your audience, and build trust with them (only if you can demonstrate your ability to solve those pains).
What is the buyer’s journey for your reader/customer?
The final element of discovering your audience is to get an excellent understanding of what the Buyer’s Journey looks like for your prospects. The main stages in this, as formulated by Hubspot, are Awareness, Consideration, and Decision.
Think about the topics and questions your audience has in each of these stages, and also where they would go to get these answered. The findings in this stage of the creation of your strategy will guide your decisions about what topic to produce content on and how to distribute it.
Now that you know why you want to use content marketing, and who it is you want to target with it, you can move to the implementation stage of your strategy. It starts with reviewing what content you have already produced and how well it serves the audience you want to reach.
Audit Your Existing Content
You could be thinking that as a beginner, this is a step you can legitimately skip. That might very well be the case, if you’ve just started your business and you don’t have a website yet.
If your company has been around for a while, and you have a website (even if it doesn’t contain a ‘Blog’ section), you already have some existing content. You need to have a clear understanding of where this content fits in your general strategy.
Perform a content audit and tie your existing content to the business goals, your audience, and the buyer’s journey — all of which we’ve discussed above.
If you already have experience with content marketing and have put some effort in it, a tool such as the content matrix, as described by Buffer, might be useful in order to understand which pieces are performing well, which need to be improved, and which should be scrapped altogether.
Find Topics to Produce Content For
Too many marketers start here and skip the steps described in the previous sections. Next, they find themselves struggling to find meaningful topics or see little benefit from their energetic efforts to produce content.
Hopefully, if you’ve take the time to apply the methods for audience discovery, creating a strategy, and a plan to implement it, you’ll find this step much less challenging.
You’d still need to put in the time and effort though, if you are to find the topics your audience wants to consume.
Know the language of your audience
First of all, you need to know very well not just what problems your potential buyers want to have solved, but also how they talk about them. Using a language your audience understands is just as important as knowing the topics they care about.
Fortunately, there are numerous places online where you can meet your readers. Quora is one great place and a great tool for research, but there are many topical discussion forums, Reddit directories, and so on that you can use for research.
Do keyword research
SEO and organic traffic still play an important role in content marketing. It would be a grave mistake to ignore them.
Another mistake many marketers still make is to focus only on the most popular (and hence competitive) keywords. Plenty of evidence exists suggesting that long-tail keywords get a lot of traffic and are much easier to rank for:
Spending enough time on Quora, Reddit, and other similar forums will give you knowledge about the main terms people in your target audience use to talk about the topics they care about. It may even give you some ideas about concrete topics and questions you’d like to answer with your content.
Spy on your competitors
When thinking about competitors, you shouldn’t limit yourself to other companies offering the exact same product (or service) as you, but rather focus on everyone who’s aiming at the same audience and fighting for the same dollar as you. For example, if you’re a company offering support and tweaking for WordPress sites as a service (like WPCurve for example), your competition includes pretty much every freelance WordPress developer on Upwork.
Take the time to find out who your true competitors are. Take the top 5–10 keywords you’d want to rank for on Google and do an anonymized search to see who the top performers currently are. Analyze the top 10–20 search results carefully to see what they’re doing right and get ideas for your own content.
Keep an eye on what content your competitors are putting out on a regular basis (use feedly to keep everything in one place). While at it, create a control group of companies that are doing great with content marketing, such that you’d like to emulate with your own content, and read and analyze everything they publish.
If you need some inspiration, here are some of my favorites:
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