Content marketing is no longer a marketing buzz word, it is a key component of a holistic marketing strategy to achieve business goals. Most businesses, large or small, are seeking ways to bring leads into the sales funnel, grow their customer base and build loyalty with existing customers. Content marketing is a central component of achieving this and yet some strategies get results and others do not. There are three main reasons content marketing strategies fail:
Quality over quantity
Content is created with no strategic insight or understanding of what it takes to create high quality content that resonates with customers.
Relationship comes first
Content marketing is about relationship building and building trust, a key component in the sales process today. This means that content marketing is not a quick lead generation tactic, it is part of a longer-term marketing strategy.
Integrated with other tactics
Content Marketing should not be a separate strategy but is integral to the marketing, public relations and customer relationship management process.
What is content marketing?
Before unpacking what makes a successful content marketing strategy, let’s start with what content marketing is. There are many different definitions depending on who you are talking to, but this one by the Content Marketing Institute we believe is the best:
“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.”
For those of you who who are not sold on content marketing, this explanation from Joe Pulizzi, Founder of Content Marketing Institute is very candid:
“Your customers don’t care about you, your products, your services…they care about themselves, their wants and their needs. Content marketing is about creating interesting information your customers are passionate about, so they actually pay attention to you.”
Whichever definition you look at or choose to agree with, there are 7 essential elements of a content marketing strategy that you need to consider.
Strategy # 1 – Know your Target Audience
Creating valuable and relevant content hinges on the audience you are targeting. How well do you know them? Having an in-depth understanding of the audiences you are targeting is critical to the content creation process.
When creating content for our customers we always ask ourselves the following questions:
- What do the audience we are targeting want from a brand like ours?
- How do they like to consume this content – mobile, at home, print, digital, at work desktop
- Which format do they enjoy most – multimedia, written, audio?
- What type of content are they searching for on the web?
- How relevant is our brand to the content they want?
Creating high quality content without an understanding of the above simply means you will waste valuable time and resources on activities that achieve lack luster results.
What tactics do you use to find out more about your target audience?
Step 1: it’s in the keywords!
Without having to do any lengthy customer market research, a good starting point is to do keyword research. Understanding what people are searching for and asking questions about, will clue you in to their interests.
We use a tool called Ahref’s which is allows us to explore keywords and do other necessary SEO research. However, there are many other free tools to get you started, for example Google’s keyword planner is 100% free. You would need to have a Google account though. If you don’t have a Google account get one for free here.
To learn how to access the Google Keyword Planner, go here.
Now you have access to your keyword planner on Google, what next?
Start by clicking on “find new keywords” and insert the keyword.
As an SEO company what are some of the keywords or terms we could look at:
Some obvious terms are:
- Google marketing
Some less obvious terms:
- How to get leads online
- Generating business leads
- Web traffic for my business
Remember that not everyone knows what they are looking for using your industry terminology, so you may want to take some time to consider all possible terms. Think like your customers, not like yourself.
Start by looking at your core area of business and think about the likely keywords or terms that your target audience would use when seeking a service or product like yours.
Once you have thought of some possible keywords put them one at a time into the Google Keyword Planner or another free tool like Answer the Public. We mainly use Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer but it is a paid for product.
We put in SEO as one of our keywords in the Google Keyword Planner and as you can see below it gives you a very comprehensive list of keyword ideas for your consideration.
In Answer the Public, we also did a quick search for a possible term “marketing trends” which you can view below. Answer the Public is nifty because it provides a visualization of keyword ideas.
The tool gave us 21 questions typically asked around marketing trends. It also provides the prepositions that accompany the keywords. Why is this important? Because in your SEO you want to target the phrases and words that are being specifically and most commonly used.
Whichever keyword planner you use, spend a good length of time researching the best keywords for your content marketing strategy.
Step 2: It’s in the search intent
This is where it gets interesting. Let’s take one of the phrases above “marketing trends for 2020”. What do you think the intention behind this search term is? What are they looking for? Do they want to buy something? Are they looking to learn? Search intent is critical when developing a content marketing strategy because it informs the type of content you will need to create.
Why you may ask? Well Google is interested in relevance and if you want to rank on Google you need to be the most relevant result for the search term. Knowing the search intent of your target customer enables you to create the exact type of content they are looking for. There are four types of search intents: Informational, Navigational, Transactional or Commercial.
Informational content – here the searcher is looking for more information on a subject, sometimes it’s for a simple answer, other times the searcher is looking for more detailed information. Note that the searcher doesn’t always ask a question.
- “Who is the prime minister of Australia?”
- “UEFA final”
- “What is xenophobia?”
Navigational – the searcher is looking for something specific, they will know what they are looking for and simply find it easier to enter this phrase versus putting in the entire URL, or they do not know the actual URL.
- “LinkedIn login”
- “SEO company”
- “Beginners guide to SEO”
Transactional – the searcher is looking to buy and will usually know what they are looking for; what they are searching for is the best place to buy it from and usually at the best price.
- “Price Samsung S10”
- “Buy airtime online”
- “Hotel deals London”
Commercial investigation – the searcher is in the market for a service or product but hasn’t yet decided, they are still investigating which product or service is the right one. They are probably comparing products, prices or looking at customer reviews.
- “Auto electrician near me”
- “Freshdesk vs Zendesk”
- “Top restaurant in Johannesburg”
Understanding the search intent behind keyword terms and questions means you will be better equipped to develop content aligned to your target customer’s needs.
To illustrate, if we were to target the term “best SEO company”, ask yourself what is the intent of the person doing the search? Commercial Investigation or Informational? They are looking for more information on who to contact or speak to and are probably looking for a company to do business with, so it would be Commercial Investigation right?
Now let’s do the search. Guess who comes up? The tagline #1 Award-Winning Digital Agency – Best SEO Company in South Africa. Is this going to resonate? You bet.
Let’s also consider a search; “how to generate business leads through SEO”, the intent is clearly to learn something. Here, you would need more informational content which could take the form of an eBook, slideshow or Video. You can see clearly how the search intent is a key part of the strategic process.
Step 3: Competitor keywords
There is another way to get search term ideas and that is by researching what is working for your competitors. If you go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer > put in your competitor’s URL > go to Top Pages report. This report ranks the pages of a website based on how much organic search traffic they attract which means you have a list of competitors’ top performing articles and the keywords that send them the most traffic.
At our company we use tools such as MOZ, Ahrefs and Buzzsumo to formulate the right channel and content (video, blog posts, infographics, etc.) to attack and create a multiple touch point marketing strategy based on keyword search, search intent and competitor analysis.
Step 4: Select the topics with the most potential
Now you have a great list of keywords, what is next? What you want to do is filter your list of keywords down so that you select only the best ones for your content campaign. One tactic that works for us is to identify keywords that have low competition, high traffic and strong business value.
Low competition – if you are starting out or your website has a low authority, you need to tackle keywords that have a low competition. Why? Because the chances of getting your content to rank will be significantly higher. It is easy to figure out whether a topic you are looking at has high or low competition.
In the Google Keyword planner, first do your keyword search, then you will find a column titled competition – this is where you will find the keywords identified as either high, medium or low.
In the report of keywords done through Ahrefs Keyword Explorer you would set the Keyword Difficulty filter to 1-10 – it will filter the keywords that are easier to rank for.
Traffic potential – then you should look for search terms that have higher traffic. Even if a keyword ranks as low competition, it doesn’t mean it is the right keyword. Here you are looking for terms from your initial list that have low competition but also high search traffic.
In Google it is easy to view in the column marked average monthly searches, however Google has been heavily criticized for providing a range versus the exact number of searches.
To determine traffic potential in Ahref’s tool, paste your topic or keyword into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and scroll down to find the Traffic column in SERP overview. The Traffic column tells you how much estimated monthly organic traffic the top‐ranking pages have. Continue refining all the keywords on your list of topics to delete those with low traffic potential.
What’s the Business value? The final way that we refine our keyword lists into viable content areas is by examining their business value. This is about how relevant your business is for solving the problem of the keyword search term. Here is the thing, if what you are selling is not relevant to the search problem and intent, your content strategy will be a total waste of effort. You must refine your topic list based on whether you can naturally mention how your product or services help solve their overarching problem.
When refining your keyword topics, give the topics a score based on their relevance, which we call business value.
Your scoring could look like this:
0 – there is no way to link your product or service as a solution
1 – your product or service can only be mentioned fleetingly: in other words, you cannot sell it clearly as a solution
2 – your product or service is not essential to solving the problem, but will help
3 – your product or service will clearly solve the problem
Only focus on creating content that covers topics scoring a 2 or 3. This approach really helps to focus your team on creating content that has a strong potential of success.
Let’s move onto the second most important strategic element of content marketing: creating the content.
#Strategy 2: Create high quality content with the right skills
Once you understand what your audience is looking for, then you need the right set of skills to create quality content that will resonate. Do you have access to people, either internally our externally, who can provide high quality writing, videos, infographics, animations or podcasts?
All successful content marketing strategies are executed by creative content creators who excel at their craft. If you are going to invest in a content marketing strategy, then you need to do it properly with the right resources by your side.
You need people who can produce grammatically correct and awesome copy – typically ex journalists or editors are great at SEO content writing. In a world of texting and tweeting, many young graduates are known to have poor grammar skills, so be careful of compromising quality over resource cost: bad spelling and grammar can hurt your brand’s reputation.
Besides grammar, a skilled copywriter knows how to choose the right words, tone and use the art of persuasion in headlines, long form content, video scripts or even in a simple tweet.
While keyword planning is critical using the tools we have outlined above, a good content writer knows how to appeal to people – after all people come first before search algorithms. Being able to write quality content is at the core of solid content marketing. You need to be able to write content that’s packed with valuable information yet simple to understand. Doing this helps make your content more engaging, which means your audience stays longer on your site and acts.
Strategy #3: Consistency is king
Consistency is king when it comes to any content marketing strategy. Now, many companies would think about consistency last, however your content plan must be created upfront with enough content ideas to last at least three months. You need loads of quality topics to ensure you don’t run out of steam. Consistent content creation is all about planning and finding the balance between quality of content and the speed of producing it.
You must plan, produce a content calendar based on keyword research and focus your resources on the high priority topics. While speed is important, we recommend focusing on high priority content that will have a bigger impact versus low priority content that can be churned out quickly. The adage of quality over quantity applies here.
Let’s say you have an awesome calendar of topics, but you still need a little inspiration getting content ideas flowing, try using Ahref’s Content Gap tool.
For example, a water company supplies customers with healthy, filtered water and they want to write a blog series on water and health. You would start by checking Google for the top‐ranking pages for “healthy filtered water”. Drop these URLs into Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool, then hit “Show keywords” to see which other keywords these pages are ranking for.
Make sure to choose the prefix or URL mode when doing this for pages. By looking at what keywords are being used, you will uncover some very interesting subtopics to consider for your content plan. Also remember that not everything has to be a written article. For example, let’s say you run a tax business and you realize people are searching for “how much will I take home after tax”. You could create a tool that helps people to calculate their take-home pay.
Strategy #4 Distributing or Promoting content
Promoting your content is a key part of your content marketing strategy. The more people see your content, the more successful your content will be. It is pointless even creating content if you are not going to promote it. It is like hosting an event for your family and friends and NOT inviting them. That’s a total waste of money and time.
Without Search Engine Optimization (SEO) your content marketing strategy will fail. Let me say that again, without SEO your content marketing strategy will fail.
SEO is the best content promotion tactic eliminating traditional promotion techniques almost entirely. The beauty of SEO‐optimized content, if done properly, is that people naturally search for, and find, your content in search results. The goal is for people to find you organically versus advertising directly. Organic SEO is such a powerful strategic element of your content strategy because people who are already interested in your topic, by searching and naturally finding your content, are already predisposed to what you have to say. This ups the chances significantly of your content resonating with target audiences, therefore giving you the opportunity to nurture interested prospects and turn them into customers.
This is what your traffic might look like if you’re making content without SEO:
Here’s what your traffic would look like if your content is optimized for SEO:
Remember that SEO has a similar effect as compound interest, the more people enjoy it the more they share it and maybe even link to it. With each share and link, the likelihood of ranking higher increases significantly over time.
Realistically though SEO takes time for your content to start ranking with search engines, so you will need a little patience here. But this doesn’t mean you need to wait for optimized content to start ranking, there are other ways to help boost the promotion of your content while you wait.
As an SEO company we are invested in SEO, but we also use other promotional tactics that have proven to be very successful.
Email still works, so don’t discount your databases entirely. If you have a clean opt-in database of relevant people that you know will interact with the type of content you are producing, you can boost your content campaign by sending out an email every time you produce new content. Now if you have a database of say 20 000 people and you get a 5% return, that is a 1000 people who would share your content. Imagine those 1000 people might forward your content to their own social networks where your content will get even more eyeballs. Again, it’s the compound effect in action.
Repurpose and Repurpose
Repurposing is not a new concept but if you do it properly – not just going copy and paste – repurposing can be very effective. Different tactics work for different companies and brands, so explore and have a little fun with it.
Some ideas include:
- Share excerpts or snippets of data
- Create a visual graph or infographic to illustrate some of your content
- Share videos that point to your content for more information
Paid ads are still one of the quickest ways to get content in front of new people. They also do not have to be very expensive. We have found advertising in social channels like Facebook gets great results and is affordable too.
While Google advertising can be expensive – especially with highly competitive keywords – it is still an effective promotional tactic as long as you know what you are doing and setup your keyword bids properly.
What we love about paid advertising in the digital realm, is that it is trackable, and you only pay for a result – from impressions to link clicks and even conversions. Your advert can also be quickly and easily changed, should you find an ad image or copy is not having the desired effect.
Strategy #5: Monitor and Measure
It is important to agree on how you are going to track and measure your content effectiveness.
Here are some tips about monitoring and measuring your content:
- Track it in real-time. Do not wait a month or two to review your content, by then it may be too late to make the tweaks necessary to make it more relevant.
- Review which content is doing well, and which is not. By looking at the top and least performing content you will be able to tweak your content plan to include more of the top content and less of the bad performing ones. This will also allow you to use your resources more effectively.
- Look at your engagement levels as these are a very strong indicator of the performance of your content in social channels. Do more content like those that have high engagement levels in your social channels.
So, what are the most effective tools to use?
Rank Tracker, monitors rankings over time and is an awesome SEO tool for content sitting on your own website.
Google analytics is also an effective way to monitor web traffic and more specifically to track the performance of content located on your website. The downside is that it is not so easy to understand by those not so familiar with website statistics and analytics.
Things you want to keep an eye on:
- Drop in traffic to specific pages over a few months
- Drop in conversions such as downloads or content signups
- Increase in traffic to specific content pages
- Significant low levels of engagement with content in social channels
- Traffic sources such as clicks from your YouTube channel if you are doing videos
Strategy #6 Retain your audience
Many companies focus on attracting audiences and then move onto creating new content that will get an even bigger and better result. What they forget is that content can be used to tell an integrated and effective brand story. A good content marketing strategy requires bigger picture thinking.
- Once people have interacted with my content, what else can I do to interest them and add more value?
- Where else can I reach the same people in different channels by remarketing to them in an organic and natural way?
Do not view each piece of content as a separate entity, rather consider a series of “episodes” that tell a unique story that will keep audiences coming back for more.
Perhaps you want to reward those who have interacted with your content more than once on various platforms by offering something for free.
A good content marketing strategy requires strategically thinking about the entire lifecycle of a prospect along the customer journey – from awareness, engagement, consideration, trial, purchase to loyalty. Many companies forget that content should also be created to retain customers, build loyalty and turn loyal customers into brand advocates.
Strategy #7 Keep it Fresh
When monitoring your results keep an eye out for continual drops in ranks and visibility of your content. If this happens you may need to give your content a makeover.
Use these simple techniques to keep your content fresh:
- Update outdated information in your content. This tactic helps rankings for search queries where people are looking for updated and specific time sensitive information.
- Add an infographic or updated statistical graph in the content.
- Rewrite the content – you may want to wait a while before doing this as your content may need time to rank. If after six months your content is still not ranking, then it isn’t what people are looking from. Learn from it and move on.
For the more technical person who understands SEO you can:
- Fix broken links
- Redirect or delete pages
Strategy #8: Drive Profitable Customer Action
Remember the definition of content marketing? “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.”
In the beginning of this article we mentioned how a content marketing strategy is not a short-term one, this does NOT mean that lead generation is not a key goal of your strategy. What it means is that you must strategically set out to create content that is relevant to your target customer at key occasions or what we like to call “trigger conditions”. The best lead is all about timing – that magical moment when a potential customer is ready to buy. Knowing when to “sell” and when not to, is a combination of science and intuition. It may require some trial and error in the beginning, however the science – the data – will refine your content strategy as you go. If you build sales trigger content into your campaign from the outset, and rely less on trial and error, you will be leaps ahead of other content marketers. Let us show you how.
Trigger 1: Search intent – this is an easy one because if a potential customer is searching with the intent to transact you will lead them to a sales page versus a content page. Make sense?
Trigger 2: Repeat visitors – if a potential customer returns three times and each time they are interacting with content of a particular subject or product. This could be a trigger moment where you provide a special offer or bring them further into the sales funnel with more in-depth content.
Trigger 3: In content triggers – Many companies create beautiful and engaging content that draws a target customer in, but they forget to add subtle yet simple Call to Actions (CTA’s) within the content.
Some examples include:
- A link to more information which takes them to a sales page.
- Contact us for a one-on-one consultation or book an appointment.
- Join a webinar to find out more about this subject
- Take our survey and find out which product is best for you
While you may wonder why this is the last strategy, it is not #8 because it is not important. It is however fitting that it is the last strategy. I am reminded of one of the 7 habits of effective people by author Stephen Covey “Begin with the end in mind”. In the case of content marketing the End is not a transaction, it is a continual cycle of building trust, relationships and then selling. Strategy #8 is not the end, it is just the beginning of a new cycle of content creation and relationship building.