Some time ago I gave a lecture to Estonian Business School's MBA students. The lecture topic is content marketing strategy, and it gives an overview how to use blogs, content and social media to drive business results for your brand.
Content marketing goals (measurable user actions)
Content marketing goals are notoriously hard to measure. Tracking how a potential customer moves in the sales funnel is difficult. The time from the first visit to a blog post to a completed transaction can take days or even weeks. This journey may contain dozens of visits on different devices.
The time lag is why many marketers measure the easy results. Number of visitors, bounce rate, and other vanity metrics.
- Sales and leads – the goal of all marketing is to sell more! Everything else is just there to help. Finding a way to connect your content marketing efforts to revenue is the most important task you have.
- Branding – branding or top of the funnel marketing is notoriously hard to measure because there are so many channels that play a role in building your brand. Putting the finger on an exact value content marketing added to that is hard.
- Lead nurturing – this is one of the most measurable parts of the content marketing activities. You can see how specific content helps to keep prospects in the sales cycle and lead them to the transaction.
- Retention – keeping your existing customers coming back. Your goal is to deliver value so that they remember you and wouldn’t get any ideas about going to competitors.
Always try to connect the metrics you measure to the sales and revenue.
- Content converts readers to the email list at 2%
- Email list sells $10 worth of your product or service per year to per email address
This means that 1000 readers of your blog post convert to 20 subscribers that will generate you 200 dollars of revenue. Now you can ask:
- How to get more readers
- How to increase email subscription rate
- How to sell more to the list members
Improving the results for any of these questions will increase your stores revenue. If you can get better in all areas then your results compound.
Next step: Set your realistic goals and find ways to measure them.
Content marketing models
Your content marketing needs to be on a solid foundation. To get results every time you need:
Consistency is key here. When you put in the work, then you will find tactics that you can repeat and be confident that they will work time and again.
Start with the techniques that have worked for others in similar situation and tweak them to match your exact needs. Keep what works and experiment with new possibilities.
Your target audience and buyer persona
Make sure you know the person you are selling to.
Create a buyer persona.
The buyer persona is one of the most important tools in your marketing arsenal. Interview existing customers to find out why they buy from you. If you select your target group correctly, then you need only 3 to 5 interviews to create your buyer persona.
- Find 3 to 5 people from the target group and interview them personally
- Analyze interviews and find any common problems, needs, wants, and values
- Repeat the process for different target groups
Repeat that with other target groups but make sure one marketing person manages maximum two groups.
Content marketing strategy
Nobody cares about you or your product. Why should I pay attention to you? What value are you offering me? Interviewing your buyer personas will give you a list of topics that resonate with them. Analyze the interview results and come up with larger topic areas around which to build your content machine.
Build your content marketing strategy based on the knowledge you gain from creating your buyer personas. Answer their questions and help to solve their problems with your content. Aim to do that better than anybody else on the internet. The value you provide will lead to explosive growth in your web traffic, which in turn will lead to more sales.
Good content marketing strategy will work for years. Your content will become a moat around your business. When your competitors want to get better results they need to put in more effort than you originally did. Time makes content stronger!
Listen to conversations blog, forums, Q&A sites, social networks
Monitor internet conversations to find out what are the hottest topics in your area and create a list of key areas.
Find key web properties that focus on the topic areas your buying personas are interested in.
Find out which content is currently ranking well in those areas. Find any holes or missing topics. Evaluate the existing content and estimate the amount of work you need to do to be better.
Some businesses sell exciting products and services. Cars, gadgets, snowboards, movies, etc. These are areas where the buyer is heavily invested.
These are the products and services that define their lifestyle. They will spend the time to read and watch videos on the subject. Every once in a while they will share that content with their friends, family, and colleagues.
Then there are the boring industries. Milk, credit cards, toothpaste, etc.
In this case, you need to help your audience solve problems that are related to your industry. If you are responsible for content marketing make sure you check out this slide deck: Content Marketing in Boring Industries
One of the best examples of content marketing for boring products is the American Express Open Forum. The content helps small business owners run their companies.
The site contains everything from marketing to HR. The goal of American Express is to be present when their audience makes financing decisions.
Create a list of topics for your persona
Combine hot topics with value for your buyer persona and come up with the draft headlines for the content you are going to create.
Types of content
When you interview your target audience, they will tell you what type of content helps them get results. Create a plan with content that caters to their needs. Here’s a long list of topics that usually match your audience’ needs:
- industry trends
- top 10
- advice about x
- interview with a specialist
- industry events
- ask questions
- review products
- find a guest blogger
- pros and cons of x
- important people in the industry
- helpful books
- really long list of industry resources
- answer comments
- series of posts
- list of best posts
- explain the complicated
- a picture
- x for beginners
- industry statistics
- survey the audience
- list of web based tools
- myth buster
- rewrite old posts
- case studies and best customers
- issues in your industry that need attention
If you create one piece of content per week from the above list, then you have material for 6 months. Make sure that you also atomize your content, and this will boost your content creation rate to several times a week.
Make sure that you create content that has a chance to get noticed. If you have an epic blog post with a ton of material then use that content in as many formats as possible:
- Infographics with data
- Slides with key insights
- Videos based on the slides and data
Using content atomization strategy will splinter your content into many smaller pieces. Each piece of atomized content will act as a doorway to your main content.
SEO and keywords
Keyword research and technical on-site SEO are activities that you need to incorporate into your content marketing process.
It’s a huge waste of time to “do” SEO after the fact. Make sure you do SEO when you publish and update your content.
Integrating on-site SEO into your publishing process will make a huge difference in how much resources you need for SEO. Here’s a complete list of site elements to consider when publishing your content:
- Know the keywords for the content
- Page titles with keywords
- Short URLs with keywords
- H1 title with keywords
- Some subheadings with keywords
- Images with keywords as a file name and alt-tag
- Meta description with keywords at the beginning and call-to-action at the end
- Internal links from other pages to the new content and from new material to related sources on your site
- External links to an authority website
There are SEO experts who say that keywords are not important anymore. Sure, if you have a really authoritative site, your article can rank for keywords that you don’t have in your copy.
However, having a keyword in your copy is a basic tactic that will give you a slight edge.
Links are still the most important SEO factor. Find sites where people are discussing and asking questions on the topic of your content.
Write helpful answers and link the audience to find out more about your original content. Blogs, forums, and Q&A sites will spread your message and accumulate links.
Promoting your content
Whenever you publish new content or update evergreen material make sure you promote it.
There’s a huge difference in traffic to the content you actively promote. Use all the channels available to you and constantly look for new promotion opportunities. For example, you can use following channels:
Facebook page – post your content on your Facebook page at least three times. Immediately after publishing or updating, one week after, and one month after the initial release.
Boosting Facebook posts – If the post gives you above average results then select the desired audience and boost the post. Avoid boosting posts that don’t work organically as no amount of money will make a boring post interesting.
Other social media channels – Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Reddit, and others. Promote your posts organically and consider paid promotion for successful posts.
Email newsletters – always send an update about your new content to your email list. Email is one of the best tools to kickstart your viral loop.
Push notifications – use push notifications to let people know about new content on your website. The number of subscribers might be low, but engagement rates of push notifications are very high.
Forums, blogs, and industry websites – research the most important sites in your field and use your content to participate in conversations and answer questions.
Promoting your content works well with content atomization as different content formats help you to keep up the interest. Your audience will be engaged even if they see the same material, but it’s in a different format.
Getting people to buy stuff
The reason you create the vast amount of content is sales. Make sure that your content has links to your products and services. The goal of your content marketing is to influence visitors to convert to buyers.
The conversion may not be the final transaction. There are micro conversions that are steps in the sales funnel.
As most businesses are not e-commerce sites then I list some examples of conversions you might want to track:
- Newsletter signup – email is one of the most effective marketing channels you can have. Adding people to your list will lead to better sales
- Asking for a price quote – this is usually as close to sales as you can get with a site that is not an e-commerce site. Make sure you also track the lead to sales conversion rates offline.
- Downloading – a brochure, demo, software, guide, manual, etc. Downloading indicates engagement and interest. Exchange free stuff for contact information.
- Booking – a non-binding reservation or booking gets you contact information and will lead to a transaction later.
There are countless other non-monetary actions that people are willing to take after interacting with your engaging content.
Planning content marketing resources (people, time, money)
I have often seen people start with their content marketing activities and fail because they have miscalculated the effort it takes to keep going and resources they have available.
In corporate environments, you have to talk to people and get them on your side. There are three major components you need to consider: people, time and money.
People you need for content marketing
Who are the people who will be involved in your content marketing activities? Who will write the content, who will answer the comments and so forth?
Talk to people you plan to include and get their commitment to follow through. Create incentives for insiders and let the outside contractors share the glory.
Allocate a specific amount of their time to the tasks dedicated to social media and content marketing.
Get someone from senior management to support your project, so that it won't be put on hold when „more important“ things need attention.
Time: put content marketing in your calendar
Everything takes time. Mostly more time than you expect. Create a content marketing plan. In that plan consider all the important elements of the content you are creating. Let’s take an article as an example:
- Researching – you need to give value to your readers, make notes, and consult resources. The time you put into research easily matches that you set aside for writing.
- Writing – who writes it. You can write articles in-house or outsource the work. When you choose to outsource, make sure you check the result thoroughly.
- Editing, proofreading, and grammar – use spellcheckers and tools like Grammarly to get all the typos on other mistakes. Proofreading by another person also helps to make your content better. If you don’t have anyone to proofread for you, do it yourself, but leave at least 24 hours between writing and proofreading.
- Visuals – I would suggest that you use original material that will set your content apart from others. Avoid stock photography when possible. Check out Free Images for Blogs and Marketing (42 sites).
- SEO – when you publish the article use all the on-page SEO techniques. Attributes like titles, descriptions, etc. Link your new content with old material.
- Promotion – everything you publish needs promotion. Set aside enough time to get the word out on all the channels that are relevant to you.
All this work is not something you can do in one day. To get a 2,000-word post live, it will take you 6 to 10 hours. 10 hours is quarter of the standard 40-hour work week.
Even if you don't have to pay directly for the contributions of your co-workers, it will take their time to provide you with the support you need.
When planning your publishing schedule consider what other obligations you and your team members have and base your publishing schedule on that. Make sure that they have the time. If you don't do that and people get overloaded with their main activities they will forget, delay and fail to deliver.
Talk to the managers responsible and get their commitment to give you the time needed.
Money: set your content marketing budget
People and time equal money for the company.
You may also need a budget for outsourcing some of the work to write content, design work, develop Facebook or iPhone apps, etc. You may need advertising, media coverage, email blasts and so forth.
Outsourcing may considerably boost your timetables, but the cost is usually higher than the same work done by your team.
Add all this together and see if you can justify the budget to the management. Budget is also the base for your ROI calculation.
All this applies to the corporate environment. But even if you happen to work in a small company (or alone), then you have to have those resources clearly in place.
Most of the time a single person effort will fail due to underestimating time requirements.
So, small business or enterprise, get your plan ready and check if you have what it takes. Scale down if necessary. This way you will set yourself up for success.
Here's Buffer's analysis how much time it takes to write a post.
Set up your analytics tools to capture any transactions that your content may generate. You can understand the really simple flow from the content to a lead with Google Analytics. But you need more complex tool to follow the whole path across devices and sessions.
But don’t worry if you don’t have complex tools. Even if you can’t track all the leads from their initial visits, you can use that data as a guide to understand how your content works.
In Google Analytics you can look at two basic results:
Landing pages report shows you how many goals you get from a specific page being the first page of the visit. If people land on page X and that eventually leads to a conversion you can attribute some of that result to that pace. The landing pages report uses first interaction attribution model.
Another report that indicates pages role in conversions is reverse goal path report. In that report, you can find out what was the last page before the conversion. Here you use last interaction attribution model.
Combining the results from these two models will give you an understanding of the value of each page in driving conversions on your website. Improve your low performing content and promote the hell out of the pieces that already work.