The Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing
Content marketing is a buzzword that has dominated the digital marketing industry over the past five years or so. It’s not a brand new concept by any stretch, but many marketers and business owners are still getting their feet wet with content marketing.
The reality is this; you need to have a content marketing strategy to stay relevant in 2020.
This can feel like a daunting task if you’ve never done it before, which is why I created this guide. The Internet is flooded with advanced content marketing tactics but lacks information for true beginners.
I’ve helped dozens of businesses with their content marketing strategy over the years, including those who were starting from scratch.
In fact, I’ve been doing content marketing before people even had a proper name for it.
There are lots of misconceptions out there about what content marketing is and how it works. I’ll clarify everything you need to know about content marketing for beginners below.
What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is the practice of creating and distributing digital touchpoints online. These pieces of content act as an alternative way to market your brand, products, and services.
The type of content you create with a content marketing strategy can be presented in written, visual, or audible formats. (We’ll cover some specific types content later).
You’ll be creating content that consumers are actually interested in, as opposed to forcing an advertisement down their throat. In short, you’re creating content that customers want in exchange for the ability to market your brand to them.
This content is typically delivered in one of two ways:
- Educational information
Regardless of the content structure, you’re still providing free access to content that adds value to the consumer.
Content Marketing vs. Traditional Advertising
The biggest difference between content marketing and traditional advertising is the way information is presented and delivered to the consumer. I’ll give you an example to illustrate my point.
Let’s say a customer searches Google for “how to build a mobile app.”
They stumble on a blog post that was written and published by a mobile app development company. The article shows the step-by-step process for how to build and launch an app.
More than likely, the blog will include some type of CTA to get started building an app through that company’s platform. Even if it doesn’t, the brand is still indirectly promoted, since the reader is on their website. This is free content, and the consumer found it on their own.
A traditional advertisement is more disruptive. It could come in the form of a TV commercial, radio advertisement, billboard, or magazine ad.
In each of these cases, the customer is doing something else, and then gets interrupted by an advertisement that may or may not be relevant to their needs.
But traditional advertising has its flaws. Success with a conventional ad relies heavily on timing and placement. Even if they are exposed to a qualified lead, they only capture the person’s attention for a brief period of time.
Benefits of Content Marketing
Content marketing is so versatile. Just take a look at the wide range of marketing goals brands were able to achieve after implementing a content marketing strategy.
Aside from the results that you can generate from content marketing, here are some of the quick advantages of using content marketing instead of traditional advertising:
- Content marketing is free.
- Content marketing educates qualified leads.
- Value is provided to consumers who are interested in your products or services.
- A feeling of reciprocity is established between brands and consumers.
- Content is highly shareable.
- Content marketing provides excellent SEO benefits.
- Since customers are actively searching for content, it’s highly targeted.
While the concept of content marketing is quite simple, proper implementation is a bit more complex. I’ll help you establish a winning content marketing formula for beginners as we continue.
How to Create a Content Strategy
You need to establish a clear content marketing strategy before you do anything else.
This is the most common problem I see with businesses who are creating content for the first time. They are so excited to get started; they just start producing content without any sense of direction. But this can be a waste of valuable time and resources.
Without a content strategy, you could end up producing content that’s irrelevant to your audience. Just because custom infographics work for one business, it doesn’t mean that it will work for another.
Just 42% of marketers have a documented content marketing strategy.
Taking the time to formalize your content strategy will give you an advantage over half of your competition. The entire process can be broken down into five simple steps, which I’ve covered in greater depth below.
Step #1: Define Your Target Audience
It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many businesses skip this step. Without defining your target audience, it’s impossible to know what type of content to create.
The type of content you create will vary depending on the distribution platform.
Here’s an example. A B2C business targeting females between the age of 18 and 26, would have success creating content for Instagram, such as a story or a traditional in-feed photo.
But a B2B company would not have the same success creating content for that platform. They would benefit from creating Linkedin-friendly content or content that can be shared in an email campaign.
Blogs are great for SEO value, so every business should be blogging. But with that said, blogs alone won’t be enough if your target market would rather watch videos or listen to a podcast about a topic.
Without a clear definition of your target market, you can’t create and distribute content effectively. You’re basically just guessing, which is never a good idea.
Step #2: Audit Your Existing Content
Unless you’re starting from zero, there’s a good chance that you’ve already produced some content. Whether it’s a blog post or social media image, it’s essential to take a look at everything you’ve previously published on the web.
Here’s what you should be doing during your content audit:
- Determine what type of content you have
- Segment your content into categories
- Assess what’s working and what’s not
- Identify any content gaps
Leverage online tools like Screaming Frog or SEMRush to see how your content is performing from an SEO standpoint.
You might learn that certain types of content are driving tons of organic traffic to your website. In which case, you can leave those pages as is. Keep track of your top-performing content so you can find ways to replicate it moving forward.
In other instances, you can potentially remove old content that’s not performing well.
I recently consulted with a company that was using software to publish a blog post on their website every time they posted an update on Facebook. This resulted in low-quality and low-value blog posts. Things like this can be deleted altogether.
After you’ve realized what works, what needs improvement, and what can be replaced, you’ll be able to identify any gaps in your content. This will give you a better idea of what type of content needs to be produced first.
Step #3: Define Your Success Metrics and KPIs
Now that you have a firm grasp of how to proceed with your content creation, you need to define what will make your content successful.
What makes a blog post good? Is it traffic? Page views? Average time on page? Conversions?
There is no right or wrong answer here. It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve. But the only way to really know how well your content is doing is if you know what KPIs to track.
I like to break down KPIs into different categories, based on each stage of the customer journey or conversion funnel.
Realistically, there are dozens of KPIs you can track at each stage. But start with the top four or five that matter the most to you. You can use the graphic above as a template.
The reason why it’s important to separate your KPIs into categories is because it will help you improve your process and content strategy down the road.
For example, let’s say you have an ecommerce business. You create new content and your site traffic skyrockets. Engagement is high, time spent on your site has tripled, and the number of articles viewed per user has quadrupled.
But your revenue remains stagnant. What’s wrong?
These metrics tell you that you need to improve your content strategy to entice action from your website visitors. It’s harder to identify this if you’re just tracking sales and nothing else.
Step #4: Set Goals
Once you know what to track and how to track it, you must establish clear goals. Again, this will look different for every business.
Set goals related to your KPIs, then set content goals that will get you there. Here’s an example.
If you want to have…
- 100,000 unique monthly visitors
- Double your social media engagement
- Double your monthly brand mentions
Then you need to start…
- Publishing 10 blogs per week
- Posting on social media 1-2x per day
- Find two new guest posting opportunities every month
Without goals, your content strategy will never improve.
Don’t make assumptions. You could spend two days writing a blog post and pouring your heart into it. When it’s done, you might think it’s the best blog post ever written. But you won’t actually know until you track your KPIs to see if they are meeting your goals.
Formalize your content goals. Write everything down, so your entire organization knows what you are trying to achieve.
Writing down your content marketing goals drastically increases your chances of reaching them.
Step #5: Create and Distribute Content
Only create content once you’ve gone through the first four steps. Now that you know who your audience is, what content performs well, and what you’re trying to achieve, you’ll be able to produce content with your goals in mind.
Create a content plan and schedule. Determine what days of the week and month each type of content will be published and created.
It’s easy to say, “we’re going to start blogging more, creating videos, start a podcast, and publish infographics.”
But without an actionable plan for how, when, and where you’ll create and distribute it, those are just words. Platforms like Trello are a great way to stay organized. You can also use one of the many content calendar templates online.
There’s no one-size-fits-all content creation strategy for every business. Some companies will have more success with video content, while others will benefit more from white papers or case studies.
With that said, these are some of the most popular and common types of content that you can use for your content marketing strategy.
Every business needs to have a blog because of the SEO value it provides. Even if your target audience doesn’t love blogs, you still need to produce them on a regular basis.
There no other way for you to update your site on a regular basis with long-form content while simultaneously targeting relevant keywords and improving your link-building strategy.
Blogging is the king of content creation. From on-page SEO to technical SEO, blogs have it all.
To be a successful blogger, you should use a dedicated writer or even a team of writers. The average blog post takes nearly four hours to write.
Even if you’re only publishing three articles per week, that’s an extra 12 hours you need to find in your schedule. Unless you’re an excellent writer, you’re better off delegating these tasks to someone else.
Although this is a less popular content creation strategy, infographics are highly effective.
65% of people are visual learners. Rather than just filling a blog post with statistics, you can turn them into an infographic. Since 81% of people skim content, an infographic gives them a reason to pause and consume.
That’s why articles with images benefit from 650% higher engagement rates.
Infographics can be repurposed on other platforms like social media or email as well. Plus, it’s a great way to build backlinks.
This blog I’m writing right now is a great example. Every time I use an image, I give credit to the source with a link to their website. So if you have lots of high-quality infographics, other websites will use them as a source and link back to your site.
An eBook is a way to provide longer content to leads and customers. They should be much more in-depth than a blog post.
A consumer interested in an eBook is a highly qualified lead. The content in an eBook should be deep and insightful. Address the needs and challenges of your audience.
Another benefit of eBooks is the ability to collect customer information. In order for someone to download an eBook from your website, they usually need to fill out a lead generation form.
While an eBook requires more of an investment than a blog post or social media post, it can be extremely rewarding if marketed properly.
You can treat your white paper content creation strategy like a condensed version of an eBook.
This is another long-form piece of content used as a lead magnet. In most cases, a white paper will be driven by data and filled with information. Reading a white paper isn’t necessarily as entertaining as reading an eBook.
In my experience, white papers are best for companies in the B2B space. General consumers won’t be as interested in downloading a white paper from an ecommerce retailer or similar brand.
Video has been dominating content marketing for years now. People are constantly consuming videos on all of their devices, and brands have adopted accordingly.
In fact, 87% of marketers use video content as a promotional tool. That’s because the majority of Internet users in the US consume video content on a regular basis.
Furthermore, 54% of consumers say they want to see more video content from brands.
Not only do consumers want to see video, but marketers who are using video in their content strategy are seeing strong results. In fact, video marketers get 66% more qualified leads annually. 88% of marketers producing video content are satisfied with the ROI.
Here’s my recommendation if you’re just getting started with video content.
Invest a small sum in decent equipment. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but you should be using a camera that will give you better quality than a smartphone.
Create a YouTube channel and upload all of your video content there. YouTube makes it easy for you to embed content on your website and distribute it on other platforms as well.
There are two different types of case studies you can publish on your website.
- General case studies about an industry or overall theme.
- Customer story case studies.
The first type of case study involves lots of independent research. Whether you find resources online or conduct the research yourself, it doesn’t matter. The purpose of this type of case study is to educate your audience on a particular topic with data-driven information.
You can also create case studies specific to customers that you’ve helped. For example, an online marketing agency could create a customer case study explaining how they increased a website’s traffic by 600% in three months, or something like that.
Social Media Posts
It’s no secret that your business needs to be active on social media in 2020. This has been a reality for the better part of the last decade.
But we’ve reached a point where businesses can narrow their social focus to just one or two platforms. You don’t necessarily need to be on every social platform under the sun. Stick to the networks that your customers are using the most.
For example, if you have a B2C business targeting college-aged girls, you don’t need to have an active Linkedin presence. If you’re a B2B company targeting CFOs over the age of 50, your business doesn’t need to be on Snapchat or Instagram.
Make sure that your social media goals align with your overall content marketing goals.
I see so many businesses posting on social media just for the sake of posting something. But that’s not effective. Make sure that each post adds value and has a purpose.
More than half of the US population has listened to a podcast. There is a misconception that the majority of people listen to podcasts in the car, but research suggests that 49% of people listen to podcasts in their homes.
This is just another way to reach your target audience when they are away from a screen. They could be cooking, cleaning, driving, commuting, or on a walk and still listen to a podcast.
I like the podcasting strategy because it’s so versatile. A podcast can be entertaining, educating, or both. You have the freedom and flexibility to do whatever you want here, as long as it fits your brand image and content goals.
This guide just barely scratches the surface in terms of the capabilities of content marketing. But it’s an excellent resource for content marketing beginners.
Before you can start with advanced content marketing strategies, you need to master the basics.
So follow my step-by-step process for creating a content marketing strategy from scratch. Once you’ve gone through those steps, you can start producing content on a regular basis.
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