It's an exciting time to be in the digital marketing space. Small business owners can now compete on an (almost) level playing field with big brands, all through applying the principles and use of content marketing. Regardless of the size of the business, the goal is the same: to use relevant content to attract qualified customers or clients.
But while the basic concept behind content marketing isn't difficult, achieving optimal results through content creation and promotion can be. This post will look at 12 ways you can take your content marketing to the next level.
1. Incorporate storytelling into your content strategy
Stories aren't just for kids anymore. Storytelling is an integral part of content marketing. Stories have a way of creating an emotional connection between the reader and the business or product. Marie Curie, an organization that provides support and resources for terminally ill patients and their families, is a great example of an organization that uses poignant storytelling to make a connection with readers.
- Marie Curie uses stories to make an emotional connection with readers.
Instead of talking about how qualified and compassionate their nursing staff is, they use personal stories from individual nurses to "show, not tell." Instead of telling about the great care their patients receive, they share first-hand accounts from patients and their family members. These stories are not only more compelling than sales copy, they do a far better job of establishing a sense of trust and familiarity.
2. Decide exactly what you want your content to accomplish
One of the biggest challenges content marketers face is determining the ROI of their content. The primary reason for this is very simple: they haven't nailed down exactly what they want their content to accomplish. Before you even put pen to paper (or more accurately, fingers to keyboard), determine exactly how you'll know if your content is hitting its mark. Some possibilities include:
- Increased visibility on social media: Track total reach, shares, retweets, etc.
- Leads: Monitor email opt-ins, contact form submissions, click-throughs from social media.
- Sales: Set up tracking so you can see exactly which content is leading directly to sales.
Once you know what results you want to achieve, you can track the corresponding metrics and analytics to monitor your progress. Without this critical piece, you could easily be left wondering whether your content marketing efforts are worth the investment at all.
3. Write longer, more comprehensive content
Over the past few years, we've seen a steady progression in terms of the length of high-ranking content. It's not that the search engines just want long content for long content's sake, however; it's that longer content tends to be more complete and more comprehensive, thereby providing a better user experience.
According to Searchmetrics' 2015 Search Ranking Factors and Rank Correlations report, the average word count of top-ranking content increased again this year. While the average word count for top 30 pages in 2014 was just 902, in 2015 this number rose to 1,140.
- The average word count of top-ranking content increased again in 2015
When creating content, make sure it does a great job of covering all angles of your topic. Choose broad themes for your content, and then dig down to cover more specific elements. By structuring your content in this way, you're likely to produce much longer content that is more appealing both for your users and the search engines.
4. Spend more time on the distribution of your content
According to recent research by Moz and Buzzsumo, the majority of content that gets published online receives little to no traction in terms of links or social shares. One common reason for this is that many business owners invest the majority of their time and resources into the creation of their content, and spend very little on the promotion and distribution of that content.
How are you going to get your valuable content directly in front of your target market? Do you have a plan in place that you can use for distributing each new piece of content you create? Possible distribution channels include:
- Your email list
- Social media: Either organically by sharing with your social media fans and followers or through paid social ads or promoted posts
- Guest posts
- RSS subscribers
- Social bookmarking sites like Reddit or StumbleUpon
5. Create a style guide
There are many strategies for creating content within an organization. Larger companies may have a dedicated content marketing department, whereas smaller businesses may outsource their content creation to freelancers. In any case, chances are good that your content will be created by a number of different people.
In order to ensure consistency in grammar, voice and formatting, I highly recommend creating a company-wide content style guide. Some of the elements that should be included in your guide are:
- Which common industry terms will be hyphenated, capitalized, etc.? You may find there's a great deal of variation within your industry, so the key is consistency, and accuracy.
- How and when will you use common punctuation types (particularly colons, semicolons and brackets)?
- What voice and tone do you want your writers to use? More formal and academic, or personal and informal?
- Linking policies: Would you like your writers to use internal linking within their posts? When and how should they link to related content? What type of anchor text should they use?
- Images: How many images should be included in each piece of content? Where should these images be sourced from, and how should attribution be given?
6. Take a data-driven approach to finding relevant topics
- Buzzsumo can help you find topics that have already proven to get traction in your industry.
I've heard it too many times to count - business owners who say, "Our content is exactly what our audience wants, but it's still not getting traction." Generally speaking, there are two reasons why this may be the case. First, because that content isn't actually getting in front of the right audience (proper distribution can help with this...see #4 above); second, because that content isn't actually what their audience wants at all.
Many business owners assume they know what their audience wants, but they're often relying on their own experience or intuition to guide the process of topic selection. Instead, use real data to choose the topics and themes for your content. Some of the most effective ways to do this include:
- Using a tool like BuzzSumo to find popular and relevant topics that have already proven successful in your industry.
- Using Facebook Insights to gauge which post formats and topics have had the highest engagement and reach.
- Consulting your website analytics to see which content on your site receives the highest time on site and lowest bounce rates.
- Using Google Site Search data to find out which topics your visitors are regularly looking for on your site.
These strategies will give you the best chance of finding industry-related topics that have already been proven relevant and popular among your target audience.
7. Incorporate guest blogging into your content strategy
If you're not already using guest blogging as part of your content strategy, you're missing out on a huge opportunity for increased reach and inbound links. Guest blogging has come under fire over the past few years due to the overabundance of low-quality posts being used for the sole purpose of link building. However, when done right, guest blogging can be a key part of a successful content marketing strategy.
Reach out to complimentary sites in your niche and suggest a guest post exchange; you'll promote your guest post to your audience and he/she will do the same for you. This is a great way to reach a new audience and to establish mutually-beneficial relationships with other business owners in your industry.
If you've already achieved some success with your own blog content, and/or if you've built up a large and engaged social media following, you may also want to apply to become a guest contributor on some large, popular sites like Forbes or Huffington Post. Getting your content featured on these sites can not only drive large amounts of traffic to your site, it can help solidify your reputation as an expert in your industry. Here is my expert guide to guest blogging on bigger sites.
8. Realize the importance of mobile-optimized content
- Google's Mobile-Friendly test is a good starting for making sure your site and content are accessible on all devices
The best content marketing strategy is doomed to fail if it doesn't take into account the needs of mobile users. Since Mobilegeddon, Google's mobile-friendly update, we know that sites that aren't responsive (or available as a dedicated mobile site or app) will have serious difficulties ranking, particularly in mobile search.
Considering that there are now more mobile than desktop searches, this is a serious cause for concern for business owners who haven't yet adopted a mobile-first mindset. Your first step will be to make sure your site is mobile-friendly; using Google's Mobile-Friendly tool can help with this. Your next step still be ensuring your site loads quickly on all devices; Google's PageSpeed Insights tool is a great tool for this.
Is your site optimized for mobile? Great! But is your content also optimized for your mobile users? Are you covering topics mobile users are likely to search for? Are you formatting your content in a way that makes it easy for mobile users to consume? Along with the long-form content you're creating, are you also creating shorter content that's easy to read on mobile in quick snatches?
9. Focus primarily on quality, with an eye to SEO
I'm shocked when I still see job postings for content writers who can write "SEO content." What is SEO content? It sounds like content that's written primarily with the search engines in mind. While this may have worked a few years ago, high-quality content should now be focused on users first, and search engines second.
By creating long-form, comprehensive content, you'll naturally be providing a better user experience for your audience. Does this mean that keyword research is no longer necessary? Not at all. While keyword research will still be the starting point for finding relevant themes and sub-topics to cover; remember that the one-to-one relationship between specific keywords and rankings is on a downward trend. Producing longer, more meaty content that covers all angels of your topic is a much better strategy in 2015 and beyond.
10. Create marketing personas
If you want to create content that has the best chance of hitting its mark with your audience, I'd recommend creating a number of marketing personas to inform your topic selection process. You have to brand both yourself and your company with these personas. These personas - fictitious characterizations of your ideal customers or clients - can help you approach your content creation and promotion process from a much more user-focused and consistent perspective.
There are no rules when it comes to defining your personas. You can create as many or as few as you like, and they can be highly detailed and specific, or more general. Some elements you may want to consider are age, gender, social or economic status, occupation, marital status and varying interests.
Once you've developed your personas, you can use these to inform your content creation process. When you know exactly who you're writing for, it can give you a clearer strategy for the topics you're going to cover, the voice you're going to use when writing, and how and where you're going to promote and distribute your content.
11. Use a content funnel to guide users through the buying cycle
Web-based content needs to meet the needs of your users along the entire spectrum of the buying cycle. Even if we assume the most basic purchase cycle of awareness, evaluation and purchase, creating content aimed at visitors in each of these stages can still be a challenge.
Image courtesy of Inbound Works
Understanding where a piece of content will fit in this cycle is imperative to achieving the results you want. Visitors at the awareness stage, for instance, will be attracted to content that specifically addresses the problem or issue they're struggling with. Visitors at the purchase stage, on the other hand, will want information that will reduce the risk they feel in making their purchase.
For each new piece of content you create, ask yourself: Where does this fit into my visitors' journey on the path to purchase? How can I help by answering their important questions at this stage? How can I gently move them to the next stage in the process?
12. Repurpose or revamp existing content
If you're like most business owners, trying to consistently create new content can be a challenge. One of the best ways to reduce the time and money you spend on content creation is to repurpose or revamp your existing content. Creating new content from scratch will always be necessary, but re-using content can be an extremely valuable add-on strategy.
Repurpose existing content: Reformat or re-distribute an existing piece of content to meet a new purpose. Examples include: Packaging up a series of related blog posts to create an eBook, editing and uploading a Periscope broadcast to YouTube or re-using old blog posts as the content for an email newsletter. Try to have a different subgroup and persona in mind for the content.
Revamp existing content: High-quality content should always be salvaged, even it's no longer meeting its intended purpose. Editing or adding to older content and then re-distributing it to your list and social media followers can give it a new lease on life. Examples include: Updating old statistics and data to make them more relevant and current, adding additional insights to a short blog post to make it more comprehensive, and build inbound links to content that's no longer ranking in the search engines.
There will always be ideas for improving your content marketing. Many of the ideas above can be summarized in one sentence: figure out what your audience wants - and how and when they want it - and then deliver exactly what they are asking for. Using this method will not only lead to a better user experience and ranking, it will ultimately lead to increased conversions and sales as well.
What strategies would you recommend business owners use for improving their content marketing? Share below!