Author and entrepreneur Andrea Fryrear once said, “Our job is not to create content. Our job is to change the world of the people who consume it.”
And it’s true: at its core, content creation is about messages, communication, and interactive connection to educate and drive change.
The fact is that content is part of your brand, no matter your industry. From your About page, blog, and product descriptions to your social media posts and the copywriting in your paid search ads, it all falls under the umbrella of content.
Publishing great content can boost brand awareness, your search engine optimization (SEO), help gain your target audience’s trust, and allow you to rise through the search engine results page (SERP) ranks.
Whether you’ve got a process that needs refreshing or are starting a content marketing campaign from scratch, here’s what you need to know.
Having educational, interesting content on your website helps visitors see your company as one that’s trustworthy and reputable. (Image: Unsplash)
What is content marketing?
Content marketing is a digital marketing strategy that involves the strategy, creation, production, and distribution of online media that educates and engages a brand’s target audience.
Sometimes referred to as inbound marketing, brands use content marketing to increase organic traffic and guide people along the buyer’s journey. However, the most effective content marketing is all about creating high quality material that provides a whole lot of value to a specific audience.
Examples of content marketing
Whether you want to be a thought leader in your industry, or just more drive traffic to your site, producing different content formats that speak to your audience at every stage of the marketing funnel is critical to meeting your marketing goals.
In the early stage of the sales cycle, your audience is looking for educational content to further investigate their problem or interest. At this phase, educational content typically looks like:
Blogs and articles
When your audience is well informed about their issue or interest, content can help your audience consider your offer as the solution in the form of:
Downloadable templates and checklists
Finally, you need to offer content that seals the deal once your audience is ready to convert. Providing more detailed product or service-driven pieces of content are the final move before your visitor becomes a lifelong customer. This can look like:
Why does content marketing matter?
A successful content marketing plan can benefit your brand in multiple ways. It can increase your website’s organic search engine traffic, grow your email marketing list, and expand your reach on your social media platforms, to name a few. But that’s not all your content marketing efforts are good for.
Educational, relevant content on your website helps potential customers see your company as one that’s trustworthy and reputable. It also shows that you’re paying attention to your customers and your particular industry.
Valuable content helps people find your business, learn more about you, and, ideally, become customers.
Many brands make the mistake of randomly churning out unedited online content, posting it on their site, then wondering why no one is reading it. But creating content without a plan or strategy in place likely won’t do much to boost your SEO (or your conversion rate).
Your time and resources are valuable, so it’s worth it to invest in creating a solid, sustainable content marketing strategy that has SEO in mind.
The best content speaks directly to its target audience at every stage of the customer journey. Think about it: a blog focused on wedding planning likely won’t use the same tone and verbiage as one about BMX biking.
It’s not that the same person wouldn’t be interested in both, but each site has different offerings and, thus, different goals.
If you don’t already have your personas fleshed out, now’s a good time to do that. Personas help you envision the people you’re speaking to by offering additional demographic information, like their job title and where they reside.
The good news: You probably already have all the info you need to develop ideal client personas. Look for this data in your customer relationship management (CRM) tool, Google Analytics, or the analytics section of your social media profiles.
If you want to build it out, you can always create a customer survey to garner additional feedback. Looking into this data will be especially interesting if you begin to notice behaviors or interests that you weren’t expecting or previously targeting.
Pro tip: When sending out surveys, you’re asking clients for a favor. While a customer feedback survey should only take a few minutes, you may get a better response by sweetening the deal. For example, you could promote the survey via email and mention that one random responder who completes the survey will win a $100 gift card.
How many types of content marketing are there?
If you only think of “blogs” when you hear the phrase “content marketing,” then you’re not seeing the full picture.
Content comes in many formats, from blogs, guides, and whitepapers to ebooks, offsitesponsored content, webinars, infographics, video content, podcasts, and more.
Videos, for example, are a content type that can positively benefit your SEO. “If it’s a well done video, it can be very engaging to your users,” one of our SEM experts explained in ourSEO content strategy webinar.
Plus, videos can also keep visitors on your website longer while they watch or listen to your content.
Ebooks and case studies can help you set yourself apart from competitors, and you can leverage these more in-depth content types as lead generation opportunities. The same goes for your PPC and paid social efforts.
Once you’ve built up a sizable content library, you can work on expanding your reach through experimenting with other kinds of content content types. See what your audience responds to, then optimize (or try a new content type) from there.
Pro tip: AI content writing tools have been generating quite a bit of buzz lately. However, Google’s webmaster guidelines state that the search engine considers AI-generated content as spam, which could lead to a penalty.
Writing down your content strategy makes it easier to optimize, build on, and update as time goes on. (Image: Unsplash)
How do you create a content marketing strategy?
Whether you’ve got a digital library full of content or are starting at square one, there’s never a bad time to implement a cohesive content strategy.
A good content strategy:
Keeps you organized
Helps you work smarter, not harder
Can boost your website SEO
Attracts visitors (and new customers) to your site
Helps educate and inform your audience
Everything in this post can fall under the umbrella of content strategy. But the key aspects are understanding your audience, knowing what keywords you want to rank for, analyzing which content performs best, having a cohesive brand voice, and being consistent.
It helps to map out your strategy to ensure transparency across your team and the company at large. Writing down your strategy also makes it easier to optimize, build on, and update as time goes on.
How do you brainstorm content ideas through keyword research?
Keyword research is table stakes for any thought-out content strategy. Not only does it help you determine what topics you want to tackle through content, but it also reveals what keywords you’re already ranking for, if any.
You can conduct keyword research through tools like Moz, Ahrefs, and Semrush. These sites can reveal insight into what industry-related questions and topics people are already searching for on search engines.
They can also provide insight into related keywords, the volume of people searching for certain keywords, and how competitive certain keywords are when it comes to ranking for them.
Once you pinpoint the keywords you want to rank for, it’s a good idea to create a spreadsheet that includes these keywords, and pull in info about volume and competition too, so you can prioritize accordingly.
Once you determine the topics and keywords you want your site to rank for, don’t skip doing your own research on Google itself. The SERP can show you what other keywords and questions Google is associating with your key terms.
The SERP can be a good indicator of what other things people are searching for when they’re searching for your product or service. See what comes up in the “People also ask” box and under “Related searches,” as well as the source behind the featured snippet.
All of these places can spark ideas about how to tackle keywords through content.
Pro tip: Check out your website’s Google Search Console profile to see some of the terms that you’re currently ranking for.
How to use content to beat competitors
Speaking of checking out the SERP, this is also an opportunity to see what your competition is outranking you for — and how you can use content to fight back. (You know, figuratively. No roughhousing!)
See what content ranks at the top of the results page as well as in the featured snippet section. How is the content formatted? How long is it? When was it published or last updated?
You don’t merely want to copy what another brand is doing in a thinly-veiled attempt to outrank them, but this can give you helpful insight into what you might do differently.
Outside of the SERP, check out a few of your competitors’ websites. (And if you’re not sure who they are, simply search for your specific business and see what other related sites come up.) It’s hard to outrank the sites of big-name brands, but you should at least be able to glean ideas about what content they cover and how they present it.
How to keep your content strategy organized
Having a strategy mapped out is one thing — having an organized system in place to make it happen is quite another. But if you want your plan to be sustainable and manageable, organization is key. That’s where a content marketing calendar comes in.
Many content marketing teams create a cloud-based spreadsheet (like a Google Sheet) that can be modified, shared, and updated as needed. This spreadsheet can be a catch-all for your content.
A content calendar often includes elements such as:
Due date for the final content
A content calendar can be as basic or as detailed as you need it to be. The more people on your team, the information you may need to add for transparency and to make sure everyone knows their responsibilities, such as editing, proofreading, and uploading.
It also helps you plan for the content you want to publish in the future, so you can make sure you’re posting the right mix of topics, keywords, and funnel stages for your audience.
Pro tip: Another way to organize your content is through pillar pages, also known as the hub-and-spoke style of content publishing. This means you create larger, more broad pieces of content (such as this one about, uh, content!) that are considered the pillar or hub, and then link to more specific pieces that are considered the spokes.
Content audits help you identify content that’s outdated or no longer relevant. (Image: Unsplash)
Content marketing stats and facts
70% of marketers are actively investing in content marketing.
Companies with blogs receive 97% more links to their website.
72% of marketers say content boosts engagement and leads.
43% of marketers say consistent production is their biggest struggle when it comes to creating engaging content.
Nearly half of companies with a content marketing strategy leverage blogging.
81% of marketers view content as a core business strategy.
72% of companies plan to increase their content marketing budget in 2022.
Want more insight into how content can help take your digital marketing to the next level? Hit us up!
The best ways to publish and promote content
Once your content is edited, finalized, and formatted correctly, it’s time to publish. Whether you’re a team of one or 100, your content should be as high quality as possible.
That means checking for common content marketing mistakes like misspellings, grammar errors, wonky formatting, and dead links before your content goes live.
And with all that goes into the strategy and creation, it’s easy for the task of promoting it to fall by the wayside. But failing to promote your content is a huge mistake. If no one reads what you publish, then what’s the point?
After all, you’re writing for people, not search engines — if you want your content to be truly effective, that is.
Carve out time to regularly promote your content, both new and older pieces. You can promote organically and through paid efforts. On the organic side, you can lean on social media marketing and post links to your social channels, like Facebook and LinkedIn.
The most effective organic posts generally feature a visual element — like a graphic, GIF, video (TikTok, anyone?), or photo — and short, eye-catching verbiage about why someone should click through. You can also promote this copy through your company newsletter.
On the paid side, you can boost some of your social posts and turn them into paid social efforts. You can also gate some of your longer-form content and promote landing pages that offer that content once someone fills out a form.
Conducting content marketing audits
The longer you publish content, the more likely it is that some pieces will become outdated. That’s one reason why conducting regular content audits is so crucial.
Content audits (also called revamps or revitalizations) help you identify content that’s outdated, redundant, or no longer relevant. This way, you can update these pieces without losing the link authority the URL has built up.
If a post is more than six months old, chances are it could at least use revisiting to make sure all the links are still active and all the information is accurate and up to date.
Audits are also a great opportunity to look for:
Thin content (blogs that are less than 600 words, for example)
Posts with similar content that could be combined or redirected
Data or statistics that have more recent numbers tied to them
Content that is underperforming and could be reworked or fleshed out
With all the benefits that come from content marketing — from better SEO to increased reach — brands that don’t prioritize it simply can’t compete with those that do.
By investing the time and effort it takes to produce high-quality content for your target audience, you can show them that you understand their pain points, can provide them with solutions, and are a trustworthy resource in your industry.
This article has been updated and was originally published in April 2020.
Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of reading, yoga, quick vegetarian recipes, and making lists.
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