Content marketing is on the rise—no doubt about that. Yet somehow, despite the increasing number of brands that understand the premise, very few startups actually know how to implement a content marketing strategy.
In this guide we’re going to dig into the basics of content marketing to get you started on solid ground!
Part 1: Content Marketing Basics
What Exactly is Content Marketing Today?
According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is a strategic marketing approach that focuses on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent “content” (articles, tweets, blogs, videos—any type of media, really) to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience.
The goal of this type of marketing is ultimately to prompt profitable customer action by offering something of high value at no cost to the consumer. Keep in mind that customer action might not be a sale. It might mean someone forwarding your infographic to a friend, or sharing your article on social media—in other words, helping you expand your audience.
What Content Marketing is NOT
Before we get too much deeper into what content marketing is, let’s clear up what it’s not:
- It’s NOT poorly-produced videos/graphics. Making a great video or infographic takes strategy, and often a professional touch.
- It’s NOT all about pitching sales. If you’re constantly bragging about your company in your content, it’ll end up being more you-focused than customer-focused. Your content has to be customer-focused in order to deliver enough value for people to stop and engage.
- It’s NOT a one-time solution. Successful content marketing requires consistent creation and strategic distribution of valuable content. If the quality of your content begins to suffer, so will your results.
- It’s NOT cheap. It takes serious time, labor, and strategy to produce real results. If you think your customers are going to go wild over a single-page whitepaper, forget about it.
For an example of high-quality content, check out HelpScout.com This company seriously rocks at content marketing. Below is an example of one of HelpScout’s graphics:
Content Creation Ideas for Your Startup
Keep in mind that there are a ton of ways you can bring value to your audience. Instead of just writing another one of those “10 Ways to Save Money on [x]” type of posts, we encourage you to develop fresh, unique, high-value content that will still grab people’s attention. That said, here are three gold mines to consider.
Questions, Questions, and More Questions
Have you ever noticed that when you’re searching something on Google the search-bar automatically fills out with the question you were going to pose? Take a look at this Google Instant Search:
Forming content based on common questions is a great approach to content marketing. What are the FAQs in your niche? These could range from basic things like,
“How much does [x] product cost?”
To more complex questions, like,
“How do I compare two web developers when designing a new website?”
If you really want to master this approach, consider creating content around the questions that everyone’s wondering about but no one has the guts to ask. For example, a high-priced private university would typically skirt around questions about their tuition cost, but what if instead they created an entire content campaign around,
“Why our university is so expensive.”
Sounds risky, right? But if they tackle it head on, they’ll be much more likely to gain the trust of prospective students. They’ll have the opportunity to justify their prices rather than continue hiding behind them.
We’re not saying this direction is right for everybody, but it’s definitely a way to ensure that your content is unique!
“Show Me” Content
Many companies are still afraid to share too much about what they do for fear of rendering their services unnecessary for prospective users. However, the majority of the time this anxiety is irrational.
Very few prospects will read something you wrote about the tools and strategies your business uses and think to themselves, “Great, now I don’t need that service anymore.” When you pull back the curtain and let your customers see what you’re doing, it reinforces your level of market expertise.
Think of it like you’re at the mechanic. Maybe they’ll talk you through things, tell you what’s broken and what parts you need, but what are the odds that you’ll walk out of the shop and go do it yourself? If you can offer enough free information to prove that you know what you’re talking about, people will be much more likely to entrust you.
Surveys can be an incredible source of inspiration for content. Think of it this way: you’re literally asking your target audience what they like about you, what they wish was different, and what they want more or less of. This is an amazing opportunity—if you do it right.
To put this strategy to work, send a short survey out to your audience with a few key questions (if it’s too long you’ll lose people). Tell them you’re working on some free resources that’ll help them better [insert benefit here], and ask if they’d be willing to take a short survey to give you ideas for making your content more valuable. Make sure to include an incentive!
Part 2: Is Content Marketing For You?
Content marketing isn’t something to do half-heartedly. If you’re not going to do it right, it’s not worth doing at all.
If you really believe content marketing is right for your business, then go for it, and go all-out. It’s a proven way to generate leads. It helps with SEO. If your content is really good, it might even go viral.
But again, it’s a big commitment. How many small businesses have the time to create valuable, actionable content, and the resources to give it away for free? Not a lot. In order to make the most informed decision, ask yourself a few things:
WHO WILL CREATE YOUR CONTENT?
Do you have a talented content cultivator on staff, or would you just assign this job to your head salesperson, who also happens to be your CEO? Not everyone can write quality content, much more strike that delicate balance of writing-to-teach and writing-to-sell.
Getting off on the right foot from the start is key to your success with content marketing. If you put out content that’s not quite up to par and a handful of important leads see it, they’re probably not going to come back. Point being, there’s very little room for a trial period, so make sure your content writer is someone you can trust to produce quality work.
ARE YOU LOOKING FOR INBOUND LEADS?
This one might seem kind of silly—who wouldn’t want incoming leads, right? But if your small business has an in-house lead-generating team, or operates strictly by referrals, you might not need incoming leads at all. If this is the case for you, content marketing might be a waste of your valuable resources.
WHO DO YOU SELL TO?
Content marketing can be a B2B and a B2C game, but who you sell to is still an important factor in deciding whether this approach is right for you, and should certainly impact the type of content you create. If you sell B2C, you probably want to start off by focusing on social media or mobile marketing (via your mobile site or your app). If you sell B2B, ebooks, whitepapers and case studies are among the most effective tools.
Part 3: How to Make a First Impression
People will decide whether or not they like your content within a matter of seconds based on its appearance, voice, and relevance. When undertaking a content marketing campaign, it’s important to deploy content that makes a strong first impression. Here are a few things you can do to make your content as effective as possible!
Know Your Audience
Yes, we know we already said this, but this step must be stressed. Knowing your audience is the #1 most crucial part of any marketing campaign. Period.
Being aware of your audience will not only help you figure out what type of content you should be creating, but also give you insight into the most effective strategies for implementing it. The only way to bring your followers the best possible content is to get to know them as well. It’s a relationship that requires time and effort!
Note: Use buyer personas. Check out this great Buyer Persona Template from HubSpot that outlines exactly what to do and how to do it!
Create Great Content
Kind of a no-brainer, but also easier said than done. You have to make yourself stand out. There’s no point in creating content that’s been done a million times before. Your content has to be fresh, unique, and absolutely flawless. Create something that will excite your customers and move them to share your content with others!
Note: Keep in mind that once you start creating awesome content, your audience will expect a constant stream, so keep it coming. See this Creating Content Guide for ideas about how to make an amazing first impression.
Use Social Media
Nothing’s a bigger turn-off to savvy customers than an incomplete or apathetic social media presence, so be purposeful and consistent. Either have a polished social media presence, or none at all.
Of course, having a polished social media presence is the better option. Choose a platform or two and go all out! There’s no reason not to take advantage of the opportunity to cast a wider net!
Note: To establish a consistent social media presence, it’s essential to create a schedule and stick with it. If managing social media seems like a burden to you, outsource it. There are some great social media management tools out there that are affordable and easy to use, like Buffer and HootSuite.
Part 4: Cut Down On Waste
The average content marketing strategy, as well as the content itself, is full of waste. Marketers have goals to hit, and often times they’ll publish content just for the sake of meeting a deadline. It’s important to make sure you’re only publishing content when you have something valuable to share. Quality is much more important that quantity here.
You’ve heard the phrase, “reduce, reuse, recycle,” right? Well, it perfectly outlines our practical approach to cutting down on waste and increasing the value of your content!
If you don’t see real value in each piece of content you’re producing, it’s time to make some cuts. Pushing out a few ebooks, whitepapers and blogs each month isn’t going to do you any good if the content isn’t top quality.
This insight probably contradicts a lot of the content-marketing advice you’ve heard, but it’s super important to increasing the value of your content, and thus your credibility. Again, go for quality, not quantity.
Don’t pour a bunch of time and money into an amazing piece of content only to forget about it a week later. To get the most out of your content-marketing, you need to continuously promote your best content.
Do this at whatever pace you choose. Repost your “new” blog for a few weeks, then a month later, “replay” your most popular blogs from the previous month to increase readership. Partner with complementary websites and thought leaders in your industry to republish your blogs. Increase awareness of your company and content any way you can!
Is that incredible white paper you published in 2013 just sitting in the archives on your website?
Recycle your old content by adding new research and revamping the design. This will eliminate the time your marketing team would otherwise be spending coming up with a concept and doing research, and will still provide tremendous value to your customers.
Part 5: Tips to Create Great Content
Whether you’re creating infographics, articles or videos, words are going to be your primary means of engaging your audience. If you don’t get the words right, your content-marketing strategy will be doomed before it begins.
If you’re going to be involved in the content-creation yourself, here are some things you can do to improve the quality of your content:
Tip #1) Focus on Spelling, Grammar, and Syntax
Whether it’s a conversational blog or a scholarly paper, your readers aren’t going to respect you if your content is full of flaws. Whatever you’re publishing, make sure it’s polished. Edit, edit, edit!
Tip #2) Try Impulsive Writing
If you or your writer are feeling uninspired, try simply writing whatever is on your mind. This will at least get your creative juices flowing, and maybe even inspire your next great idea. Even the best writers get stuck sometimes!
Tip #3) Truly Become Your Reader
Think about what kind of online content you find most valuable. When you encounter a problem or a need, what kinds of solutions do you seek on the internet?
Putting yourself in your readers’ shoes is important for creating quality content. After all, you are a consumer, right? It shouldn’t be difficult to transition into this role!
Tip #4) Leverage Online Tools
Roughly 90% of high-quality online content relies on technology to some degree. To get the most out of your content, consider leveraging some of these tools:
- Portent’s Content Idea Generator gives you different title suggestions based on your topic. It actually comes up with some really cool ideas. You don’t have to copy the exact title, though—you can easily modify it according to your style and audience preferences.
- Essaymama.com can save you in times of trouble. For example, if you started working on a topic that’s proven more challenging than you anticipated, the expert writers and editors at this website can come to your rescue. They can help you finish your awesome content even if you don’t possess the knowledge yourself. Don’t forget to consult their glossary of essay terms and their essay writing guide while you’re there, too—some academic writing skills are seriously helpful.
- Thesaurus helps you fight your greatest enemy: repetitiveness. Finding synonyms to replace your habit words will instantaneously improve your content.
- ProWritingAid is a great tool to use during the editing stage. The software helps you improve readability and eliminate any errors that went unnoticed by MS Word or Google Docs.
- PlagTracker provides editing and proofreading assistance to make absolutely sure your content is error-free!
That’s just to name a few—there are tons of tools out there. Don’t feel like you’re above these resources! Everybody’s using them.
Tip #5) Brand Voicing
If you still haven’t quite found your brand voice, it’s time to start searching and defining. Once you have a clearly-defined voice that’s attractive to your target audience, the effectiveness of your content will skyrocket. People need to be able to recognize your voice to develop trust with your brand.
Tip #6) Research, Research, Research!
This stage should really never end for you. Research shouldn’t just be something you do before you start writing a new piece of content—it should be a part of your lifestyle. Your creative mind should never stop churning. You need to feed it new information daily!
Tip #7) Get Rid of Filler!
Filler’s what people write when they don’t have much to say but they want their content seem more substantial. In reality, what it actually does is dramatically take away from the substance that is there.
Don’t be so focused on hitting a certain word count that you end up releasing content that’s 80% filler. More than anything else, content-marketing is a competition of value.
Part 6: Trendsetting Strategies
The content-marketing game is saturated. Because it’s proven to work, tons of businesses are doing it—but once again, very few have the proper strategy in place. Some startups aren’t going at it with enough gusto; others are spending thousands of hours on it while the other important aspects of the business are falling apart.
You need to plan out your content-marketing approach based on up-and-coming trends before diving in. Keep in mind, marketing trends are usually consumer-driven, and many more will emerge in coming years, so stay vigilant. That said, let’s talk strategy!
Keeping an eye on new trends is essential to smarter marketing. It’ll allow you to get in front of any competition that isn’t paying as close attention. Maintain your blog, social media, email tactics, etc. with new trends in mind! It’s pretty much guaranteed to get results.
According to Google, by the end of 2015 mobile traffic had overtaken desktop traffic. Their recently-released “Mobilegeddon” algorithm will phase out sites that aren’t mobile-optimized, and businesses that aren’t prepared for this will be in much worse marketing positions. Make sure your site is mobile-optimized, and keep in mind that the millennial market is almost completely mobile!
Leveraging More Video
Video and written media are both valuable forms of content, but many users enjoy the fact that watching a video allows them to play a more passive role. They can get information quicker and easier from a video than reading an article. This is another thing you can leverage to get ahead of your competition!
If you and your competitor are both creating high-quality content on the same topic but yours is in the form of a video and theirs is an article, yours will probably be more appealing to your audience. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t invest in written content—just that you should consider incorporating more video on your current platforms, as well in your paid advertising!
Consider a Dedicated App
While mobile-optimized websites are good, apps are truly the future of e-commerce. They can dramatically improve user-experience with features such as geolocation and cloud technology.
Creating an app for your business can also help you expand your user-base. There’s no stopping it, more businesses are turning over to the way of the app every day!
Digital Assistants to Replace Conventional SEO
With Siri, Cortana and other digital assistants on the rise, you need to be certain that your information is easily accessible by these assistants. SEO and PPC marketing are still very effective for getting visibility, and Google searches are certainly not dead. That said, many mobile-users do prefer using digital assistants, so don’t ignore them!
Wearable Tech & IOT
While this isn’t as critical as general mobile optimization, it’s of growing importance that websites are optimized for wearables. The Apple Watch 2 was just launched and other manufacturers are following suit with smartwatches and other types of wearables. This has significant implications for local marketing, so don’t just blow it off!
Emerging Virtual Reality
VR devices such as the Oculus Rift present a huge opportunity for online marketing, as they’re integrated into social media platforms, direct messaging, and video channels. We’re not saying that your small startup should get into the world of VR right off the bat, but this trend is definitely worth keeping an eye on for future planning.
Small businesses that haven’t personalized their content-marketing efforts will soon be left in the dust. Consumers are only going to continue demanding more personalized content over time to get the value they’re looking for. You simply need to have targeted advertisements, geolocation, and the ability to pinpoint individual needs within customer demographics! Luckily, there are plenty of tools that can help you streamline this process.
Part 7: Content Marketing Tools
Lastly, let’s take a look at some powerful tools for crafting brilliant content!
Mind mapping is a technique that can help you organize and develop your content ideas, and WiseMapping is one of the best online mind mapping services out there. It doesn’t cost you a dime, and can work wonders during those difficult brainstorming sessions with your team.
Hemingway App highlights errors in your content and suggests corrections, as well as provides you with an overall “readability” score. This app is super educational, and the web version is free. It can only make you a better writer!
You need to provide some eye-catching visual content to grab the attention of your readers. If you don’t want to hire a graphic designer, Canva is a great resource. It has tons of templates for creating presentations, infographics, posters—even Facebook covers.
EduGeeksClub is an online writing and editing service with some of the most reputable professionals in the field. If you don’t have the time or skill-set to write consistent blog posts, hire a professional writer to do it for you. Their editors can also go through your existing content if you feel like it needs some polishing!
NinjaEssays is another service you can use to recruit an expert editor. In addition to editing your content, they’ll give you personalized advice on research and overall structure, while keeping your specific needs and target audience in mind.
6) CoSchedule.com (Headline Analyzer)
A good headline is key to luring in readers. CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer is a browser-based tool that calculates the effectiveness of your title based on its length, uniqueness, impact, and other factors. You could write the most brilliant article to ever grace the internet, but if your headline isn’t attention-grabbing no one’s ever going to see it!
Unlike CoSchedule, Title Generator will actually create a headline for you. All you have to do is enter a keyword to summarize your post, and the app will generate hundreds of headlines based on search engine visibility and reader-impact. Pick the one you like best, tweak it if you want, and run with it!
Infographics have become wildly popular in the past few years, and for a good reason: they offer important information in an easily digestible and visually appealing format. Piktochart allows you choose from over 400 existing templates to create your own infographic. We highly recommend you try this—don’t underestimate the importance of creating and maintaining a distinctive business aesthetic.
Evernote helps small businesses get organized by consolidating all your information in one location. Notes, online links, photos, audio files—wouldn’t it be great to have all of them in one place? There’s a free version that’s perfect for individuals, as well as premium/business versions that offer more collaborative options.
CoSchedule is constantly upgrading its capabilities. You can import and export information to/from it, connect with your Evernote, Google Docs or WordPress material, plan your content schedule, and more. This is an amazing resource that’s getting more sophisticated by the minute!
This comprehensive resource for content marketing was a group effort made possible by professionals who live and breathe content marketing: Jackie Steinmetz, Benedict Brychta, Ali Schwanke, Julie Petersen, Antonio Tooley and Robert Morris.