CONTENT MARKETING STRATEGY: WHAT IS IT AND WHERE DO I START?
Let’s face it, businesses always need new enquiries and content marketing is now recognised as the long-term strategy to increase them. In the last 5-years content marketing has become the way to build a stronger connection with your audience. You can educate them and build trust by feeding them with the information they need to make a decision. Content marketing is also a vital strategy for reaching audiences through organic search. You haven’t got an effective SEO strategy if you don’t have useful, usable content that targets the keywords your audience are searching for.
Businesses who have a strong content marketing strategy stand out from the competition. They are part of the conversations their target audience cares about, they appear knowledgeable on hot industry topics and are easily recognisable within their sector. They engage with their audience on an emotional level and encourage their loyalty with persuasive content that helps them become trusted industry experts. What’s not to like?
However, B2B content marketing is seen as a time-consuming task with many brands not giving it the time or effort it deserves. It also requires proper planning up front to ensure the content themes chosen are relevant to the target audience, and the workflow is in place to consistently produce and distribute quality content.
Fear not, we have designed this step-by-step guide to get you from content zero to content hero!
Firstly, what is content marketing?
The Content Marketing Institue defines content marketing as:
“… 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.“
An effective content marketing strategy is not about selling your products and services. It’s about building trust with your buyers by demonstrating your knowledge and expertise. By informing and helping your audience at various stages in their decision making journey, it is hoped that when the time comes to buy, they will choose you over the competition. In addition, as search algorithms get increasingly more sophisticated, your content will be penalised if it’s not written to be useful to the user (no more keyword stuffing!) and your website delivers a poor experience (visitors can’t find what they are looking for). Therefore content marketing is also intrinsically linked to SEO and should be treated as such. We’ll talk more about this later on.
Why is it important for your business?
Great content marketing establishes your brand as an industry expert and ensures your brand gets seen and heard by your target audience. It allows your company to be part of the conversation and become synonymous with the topics your audience cares about, such as sustainability or supply chain issues within your sector.
Nurture marketing is educating your audience through a series of content marketing activities, designed to target them at each stage in the buyer’s journey. Through different types of content, from guides and whitepapers to check lists and testimonials, you can attract new visitors to your website, help them shortlist/ consider your services and ultimately help them convert.
The content on your website should be as reassuring as your best salesperson. It should be engaging, informative, address possible objections – but not be too pushy. The more your audience engages with your brand, in a positive and constructive way, the more trust they will build with you. They will come to you for advice and guidance and rely on you as a source of industry expertise. But trust doesn’t come instantaneously, it is developed over time and guess what takes time – content marketing.
As well as new business, content marketing affects your existing customer base. Content marketing helps strengthen your relationship with your customers and, in affect, customer retention. We’ve all heard it’s easier to keep a customer than acquire a new one. Content marketing will help with attrition by consistently communicating a positive brand message… that you are the best in the business of course!
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) helps your website perform better in the search engine results pages (SERPs). The search engine (Google, Bing etc) crawls your website’s content in order to determine the usefulness and relevance of your website to the users search term. There are now many factors involved in ranking well, it’s not just about keywords. The readability, quality and depth of the content, the useability of the website and whether or not your audience find what they are looking for on your site (onward journey and conversion) all have a part to play.
Well written, well paced (layout) content designed to effectively meet the search intent of the user and support onward journeys of discovery, will perform well in search. Content marketing and SEO are therefore intrinsically linked, you can’t have one without the other. To rank highly in the SERPs, It’s important to design a content marketing strategy that is grounded in the search intent of your target market.
Research over the past decade has produced an abundance of content marketing statistics. When people are searching for stats on content marketing, data shows it consistently outperforms traditional marketing:
Companies using content marketing generated 97% more backlinks and landed 434% more search engine results pages (SERPs) than those that didn’t. It cost 62% less and resulted in x5 as many sales leads (SEMrush, 2019).
There is perhaps no surprise in the fact that organic content is more attractive to our audiences than it’s paid for counterparts. However the main reason content marketing is so cost effective is that it’s a scalable, long term strategy. Highly informative, long form pieces of content, often called ‘evergreen’, ‘pillar’ or ‘cornerstone’ content, have a cumulative effect on audience reach. The more they are read and shared, the more useful the pieces are deemed by search engines and the higher they rank – reaching yet more people. Over time, a content marketing plan will gather momentum and have a much greater impact on overall site traffic than paid search, which sees incremental increases in relation to spend. A core aim with any content marketing strategy should be to reduce reliance on paid channels by growing more cost effective organic channels.
We’re all in this to create leads. High quality, sales qualified leads that drive revenue for the business. By creating content about topics that interest your target audience, your business is able to reach more relevant prospects. To determine these topics we look at the sweet spot between the needs and interests of your audience, and the unique brand value and expertise your business can offer. Ensuring the topics authentically tie back to the products and services you provide is vital to ensure you come across as an authority on the subject. It also ensures the leads you drive from your content marketing are the right fit for your business.
A strong content marketing strategy can really set you apart from the competition by communicating a unique point of view on an industry specific problem. Nowadays, many small companies have better content than larger ones. It may have only been around since 2015 but Monzo has been making a splash in the banking world thanks to its fun and relatable content marketing campaigns. It’s taken on the biggest names in the world to create a fun and modern way of banking.
10 steps to a winning content marketing strategy
1. Understand who you are
A great content marketing strategy should tie back to your brand strategy and your value proposition – what do you do, who do you do it for and what makes you unique? This will help you get a sense of some overarching content themes that will relate to your audience, communicate your expertise and help build your brand narrative.
2. Know what you want to achieve
What is the purpose of your content marketing activity? Is it to raise awareness of your capabilities in a particular space? Challenge perceptions? Drive leads? Identify the key outcomes of your plan. This will be key to determining the types of content we create. We will also need to define the key metrics for success against these goals.
3. Identify your audience
Who are we speaking to? Who do we want our content to resonate with? What are their needs and motivations? What behaviors/ actions do we want to drive as a result of engaging with our content?
Ideally you will have research validated audience personas to work from before you start out on the content strategy journey. However if this isn’t possible, start with your current best prospects or customers and define a rough portrait of who they are, their interests, where they can be found and what might impact their decision making process. There may be just one primary target audience you wish to speak to, or there may be several. If there are several, see if you can group any of them together into one profile, ie they may operate in different sectors, or different scale of business, but the decision makers actually have very similar needs and motivations.
Having a clear idea of who the content is aimed at will keep it focused and ultimately more successful in converting prospects to customers.
4. Map content types
There are 4 styles of content for compelling marketing content: educational, emotional, motivational and persuasive. Educational and emotional content should be used at the start of the buyer’s journey and motivational and persuasive at the end. Take a look at the content types below and based on your understanding of the audience and their typical decision making process, start to define the types of content you will need to consider as part of the plan.
Less emotional and more rational, educational content aims to provide a solution to the problem. Infographics, guides and articles are the go-to content mediums for educational content. Examples include log form blog posts, white papers and infographics.
In order to gain the initial interest of your target audience, you need to engage with them on a personal level. People are entertained by emotional content, whether laughter, heart-pulling or uplifting content, it is always a winner for new engagement. Videos and podcasts are a great way to help gain awareness to your audience in an entertaining way.
Motivational content can encourage your audience to feel or act as you desire. This could be a review of your company or product, an endorsement or a recommendation.
This kind of content is best to give your target once last push to become customers. Typical content includes case studies, online demos and pricing structures.
5. Audit your existing content
An important component of any marketing plan is understanding where you are now, what works and what doesn’t? Think about reviewing your social channels for the types of posts that gain the greatest engagement. Google provides useful free tools if you have them installed/ configured. Google Analytics to assess the top performing content in terms of sessions and engagement metrics such as time on page and bounce rate. When it comes to search performance, use Google Console to understand your position for key search terms, where are the gaps? What keywords need to work harder?
There are many more tools out there that can help, for example Semrush provides an all singing, all dancing content analyzer that includes sessions, average ranking, social shares and backlinks (amongst many other things) for each page of content on your website. This can be pricey but there is a 7 day free trial available.
The purpose of this audit is to establish any high performing content patterns that suggest specific themes and topics our audience care about, or content that should perform better but perhaps it’s poorly signposted so no one can find it.
6. Do your research
Before we can come up with ideas for content we need to do our research. Organic search is such a huge channel when it comes to potential customers finding your content. Whilst we don’t want our content strategy to be completely keyword led, it must primarily be grounded in the needs of our target audience, keyword research will play a very important role in ensuring your content appears in SERPs and the right people see it.
There are many methods and tools when it comes to keyword research. The simple premise is to understand the primary search terms that your audience uses to find you or your competitors’ products and services, and how this differs depending on where they are in the buyers journey. For example ‘how do I create a content marketing strategy’ is a very different stage to ‘content marketing agency’.
The aim is to have a refined list of priority keywords you wish to appear top of the SERPs for. Looking at your own website performance you can see what you should be ranking higher for. By looking at the competition you can see if there are any terms you are not ranking for at all – is this an opportunity for you? Your priority keywords should be of reasonable search volume per month but also something you can feasibly attain and relevant to your audience. Take Think as an example, ‘brand’ has 33,100 searches a month, but the term is too broad for our potential audience and the competition is huge across non related businesses. A better term to focus on would be ‘brand design’ 1,300 searches per month and ‘brand design agency’ with 480. The competition is still huge for these terms, but that’s where our content strategy comes in!…
7. Develop key themes and topics
Identifying key content themes that resonate with our audience and coming up with content ideas to support these, is the basis of our strategy. The aim is to define the key content areas that we can authentically own, that allow us to be part of the conversations our audience cares about. These themes are subjects we want to become an authority on, so our audience know they can trust us for the latest industry information and opinion and we become the go to experts.
Our high level content themes and topics will be informed by both audience and keyword research. In the same way we wish to be seen as an authority in the eyes of our audience, we also want to be seen as an authority on particular topics by search engines. We do this by using a framework popularised by Hubspot – the Pillar and Cluster model.
“Pillar content is generally focused around a broad keyword with a high search volume, whereas topic clusters are focused on more specific keywords with smaller (attainable) search volumes. For example, let’s say you are a digital agency that focuses on social media marketing/management.“
Search Engine Journal: Why topic clusters are your most powerful SEO wepon
As highlighted before, the priority is to create relevant useful, informative content for HUMANS not algorythms, providing a well rounded view on a particular subject to demonstrate our expertise. However, it is important your keyword research feeds into your content strategy, in particular when choosing sub topic titles and optimising blog posts, to make sure you can be found.
8. Identify channels and create a content calendar
From our audience research we should have a good understanding of where our audience are and thier needs from each of our channels. Through our content planning process, each piece of content will be considered for its role in our audience journey – for example, our bottom of the funnel promotional material shouldn’t take up more than a 3rd of the content we push out on social media. The end goal is a content calendar that the whole business can subscribe to, and reflects the needs of the business across all sales and marketing functions.
Developing related themes and topics for the month/ quarter makes it easier to batch produce and also to track performance of the content, as each content theme will have a different campaign tracking UTM. Refinement of roles and responsibilities and the technology required for integration and measurement will also be completed at this stage.
9. Produce and publish your content
You’ve researched and picked your articles – time to write. Apart from an excellent grasp of the English language and your chosen topic, there’s no absolute method to modern day content writing. Just make sure the following optimisation factors are used:
- Keywords – Need to be in the Title, Meta, H1 and first line of your body text
- Title – Your title needs to be between 50-70 words
- Length – 2000-3000 words are the majority of page 1 articles for search items
- Reading Score – Your researched target audience will determine whether it’s aimed at the standard of a Brief History of Time or Harry Potter. This article for example is deemed fairly difficult to read but that’s because it’s aimed at a particular reader.
- Passive content – Your text should contain no more than 10% passive voice. Passive voice is when the verb becomes more important than the subject. i.e. bananas are adored by monkeys rather than monkeys adore bananas.
- Sub-headings – Split up your sub-headings into easy-to-manage h4 subheadings for reading ease.
Just because you’ve shared it once doesn’t mean you can’t share it again. Some content may be time-sensitive, but evergreen content can be used again and again. Automated nurture marketing can regurgitate content to make sure it gets seen by new audiences indefinitely.
Rather than thinking content marketing as important, think of it as your overriding colossal marketing strategy. Content marketing is the marketing campaign, the social campaign and the email campaign. And its relationship with SEO makes it the fine-line between success and failure.
10. Monitor the SERPs
Content themes and topics also make it easier for teams to batch produce content and track performance as you can create campaign tracking and monitor the
What next for content marketing?
Content marketing continues to change as we try to adapt to the requirements of your buyer. Many B2B marketers keep an eye on what’s happening in the B2C world as many traits soon follow. For example, E-commerce retailers have adapted on-site dynamic-based content marketing as they personally target consumers through their buying habits. We have started to see this adapted in the B2B world as some businesses have started to speak to their buyers on a personal level to encourage trust and loyalty.