A well-planned content marketing strategy is the secret of many successful businesses online.
Whether your target audience is B2B or B2C, there are many great examples of companies that are absolutely killing it with their content. For some, it is their main source of marketing, while for others it forms part of a wider online marketing strategy.
For many smaller business owners, developing a content marketing plan and investing the time and/or money into content creation can seem like a mammoth task. We’ll admit, content strategy isn’t “easy,” but if you approach it with a good plan, you can see the reward for your marketing efforts.
Ready to build your killer content strategy? Let’s dig in…
What is content marketing strategy?
Content marketing strategy involves the creation and sharing of different types of content online. Generally speaking, this content isn’t directly selling or promoting products or services, but is intended to stimulate the interest of the target audience for the brand in question.
Content Marketing Institute identifies three key benefits to brands that follow a good content strategy:
- Increased sales
- Cost savings
- Better, more loyal customers
There are no set mixes of “best” content types to use in your content marketing strategy. Each business will have their own mix that works for their business goals and buyer personas. The bottom line is that your content should be interesting and valuable for those you want to see it, and presented in a format that they will consume.
Examples of content types include: blogs, white papers, downloadable e-books, social media posts, video, podcast, infographic, case studies, checklists and interviews. Of these, blogging is definitely one of the most popular content types, although recent survey results from Content Marketing Institute show that audio/visual content is increasingly popular among B2B marketers.
Is content strategy still worth it?
If you were to go back in time about a decade, content marketing was a new and novel approach. It rapidly caught on among businesses of all types, so that there are phenomenal volumes of content being produced and consumed every day. Data from a Donmo infographic shows that the popular content site Buzzfeed generates 50,925.92 video views every minute of every day.
This raises the question for many marketers, is content strategy still worth it? Is there so much content out there already that yours won’t make an impact?
Content marketing does still work, but it’s important that you have realistic expectations before committing to a content strategy. For starters, don’t expect to see results immediately. With consistent content marketing efforts, you can still expect that it will be a “slow burn” with results over time. A common benchmark is that you should be seeing some results after six months, IF you have been consistent and followed a good content marketing plan.
What is content doing for you over that time? For one thing, search engines are crawling your site and indexing your content. As it starts to get more hits over time and send signals of its relevance, your search results improve. Secondly, you’re hopefully building an audience over that time. Part of content marketing strategy is promoting your content – you should be getting people to look for and consume your content over time.
Another important point is that you have to keep up with what works in content marketing, testing and refining for your own target audience. Here’s what Content Marketing Institute says about whether content marketing is still worth it:
“As long as you evolve the way you create and distribute your content and keep pace with trends, content marketing will continue to be an authentic, useful, and engaging method that gets results.”
What makes for an effective content strategy?
There are a few “ingredients” that tend to commonly lead to an effective content marketing strategy. Here’s what we’ve found:
- Your content should have clear links to business goals. Why are you doing content in the first place? What is it you are hoping people will do as a result of your content? It’s pretty hard to get results if you don’t know what to measure. Google Analytics might tell you your website got more traffic, but if you were hoping to make more sales and didn’t, then it tells you that you either attracted the wrong type of audience, or there’s something ineffective about your website/content.
As an example, if you’re thinking strategically, then your content should include a way to gather sign-ups so that you’re able to follow up later. In the scenario above, perhaps there was no way of capturing the details of website visitors. They’re more likely to buy later than the first time they land on your site – in fact around 96% of website visitors are not ready to buy.
- Your content should be appealing to your target audience. “Content for content’s sake” is not likely to work. Good content is of value to those you want to attract. Perhaps it teaches them something, helps to solve pain points or entertains them.
The whole idea is that your content should be relevant and make sense for your brand. You might look at what others do with content for inspiration, but it makes no sense to start doing something simply because it’s trendy. You should be prepared to be flexible with your content strategy. Start creating content and try different things, but be ready to make changes if you’re not engaging your audience.
Good content is of value to your target audience. “Content for content’s sake” doesn’t work Click To Tweet
- Your content should be of high quality. There is a lot of content out there, but so much of it is garbage. This leads to the question, what does “high quality” mean for content? There are many traits we can come up with, so here are a few basics:
- The content is well-written. This means it reads well and doesn’t contain glaring spelling or grammatical errors.
- The content has a clear point. No one wants to read 1000 words of waffle – the content should deliver salient points without fluff.
- The content is well-targeted as per point #2. Cat memes might be generally popular, but they would be rather odd on a blog about boating.
- The content is optimized for SEO without APPEARING to be “SEO content.” Keyword stuffing is not only tiresome to read, it can get you penalized in search results.
- The content is persuasive and shareable.
- Your content should be consistent. If you’re going to have a content marketing strategy, then you need to be prepared to make the commitment of time and/or resources to get it done consistently. This means developing a schedule or editorial calendar and sticking with the program.
Again, this schedule won’t look the same for every business. Each industry, platform and target audience is different, so it’s okay to test and adjust your plan. For example, as a general rule, if you’re blogging you should put out a new post at least twice per month. Some businesses will find they need to do much more, while others can get away with one per month. The schedule may look different again for video or podcast episodes.
Social media platforms have much less longevity to their posts. An individual post might disappear from being shown in news feeds after a couple of hours, especially if it didn’t get much engagement when posted. It’s important to figure out what sort of posting schedule gets you results, then stick to or improve on that. The bottom line is that you should never let your content strategy go dormant, otherwise you have to work harder to bring back engagement.
- You’ve got to work on content promotion. Whether that is paid, unpaid or a mixture of both, it’s important to get out there and tell people about your content. It’s a very long shot to think that by putting up a blog post, people will simply show up. They may start to after a while, but during the initial stages of a content marketing strategy, they definitely need to be given direction.
- Your content strategy should be measured and revised. You’ve got to have the right metrics for your business goals so that you have a real idea of whether your strategy is working. Look at your results at least monthly and revise your content marketing plan if they’re not headed in the right direction.
How do you create a content marketing strategy?
A documented content marketing plan is always a good idea to ensure that you meet your goals for content. Some statistics from Content Marketing Institute highlight why a documented plan is so important:
- 62% of the most successful content marketers have a documented strategy vs. 16% of the least successful.
- 72% of content marketers who increased their level of success over the past year credit their strategy as a major contributor.
Content marketing success doesn’t just happen, it is planned for. Here are a few pointers for creating your successful content strategy:
Content for your target audience
As we’ve touched on previously, your content must be appealing to your target audience. This means that your first task is to define who that target audience is. We talked about buyer personas in an article here, but you should also consider the “buyer’s journey.” Different content can be more effective for different stages.
The buyer’s journey is the process that anyone goes through to get from being completely unaware of a product or service, to being a buyer. HubSpot provides a great pictorial representation, shown below:
So when you’re thinking about what content, you also have to consider “for when?” At some point, you will want to end up with a mix of different pieces for the different stages. In the table below, we’ve shown some examples of content for each stage:
While you’re at it, do you already have some content posted? If you’ve had content up for a while, it can be worth conducting a content audit. Look at what you have, the quality of it, whether it has attracted traffic and whether it has served to help with your marketing goals. You may find that you already have great ideas to build on.
Determine your content types
Developing your buyer personas should also help to give you an idea of the types of content you should produce. For example, let’s say you have a B2B audience that includes busy executives. How likely are they to download and consume a 50-page ebook? Some might, but for others this will seem too time-consuming.
This is where you think about the mode of content that will fit best with your target audience. It might be a mixture in the end, but if you’re just beginning, it’s better to start with the most likely type. A busy executive might prefer quick, actionable blog posts, or a podcast they can listen to during their commute, for example.
Demographics will also play a role. Research from HubSpot shows that content preferences can vary greatly along generational lines. For example, you can see in the chart below that a future downturn is expected in email marketing; younger consumers just don’t prefer it.
On the other hand, this research shows that video has consistent appeal across all age groups. For any business whose target audience covers a broad generational range, video would seem to be a great content strategy.
Assess competitor content strategy
Content success generally comes when you’re able to create useful content that helps you to differentiate from what is already out there. Conducting an analysis of competitor content strategy can be very helpful to guide you.
It’s not that you want to copy them directly (you definitely don’t!), but it’s very useful to determine a benchmark of sorts. For example, you can notice trends like “competitor A gets very little interaction on long blog posts, but has a lot of comments on shorter ones.” If competitor A’s target audience looks very much like your own, then this is good to know!
A competitor content analysis begins by taking stock of what they have and where. Note the types of content and the places they post it, on and off their own website. This doesn’t mean that you’ll need to produce content in all the same places, but it can give you an idea of what is working for them.
You’ll also want to note the quality of the content. Look for those overall quality aspects as well as the engagement they are getting. How does the audience receive the content? How many shares? How many comments? You can also use tools such as Buzzsumo to quickly find the most popular content on certain topics.
Analyse quantity and frequency as well as quality. You might notice patterns such as whether the competitor that posts shorter pieces more frequently gets more or less engagement than the one that posts longer pieces less frequently.
Pay attention to any other places your competitors appear online. For example, have they partnered with anyone else? Do they guest post on other blogs or give interviews on podcasts? Are they posting on platforms such as Reddit, Medium or LinkedIn? This all forms part of their wider content marketing strategy.
You’ll start to build an idea of what you can do to be competitive. You might notice areas where they’ve only touched on a subject that seems to be important to the audience. This gives you an immediate starting point with more detailed content.
Know what makes content shareable
A major goal of content marketing is to get your content shared widely. You hope that people read or watch your content, find it interesting, useful or amusing, then share it among their friends and contacts.
What makes content shareable? Psychologists from UCLA found that there are three common motivations for sharing ideas (or content):
- The content has utility. The person sharing believes it will be helpful for others. Most humans enjoy being able to help someone, so they share with that in mind.
- The content is amusing. We like to laugh and it makes us feel good to share that experience with others.
- The content is inspiring. Content that piques interest or stimulates curiosity encourages us to share, hoping that others will feel the same way.
When thinking about your own target audience and the content topics that appeal to them AND relate to your business goals, consider how you can make your content shareable. When Moz and Buzzsumo teamed up a few years ago to analyze 1 million pieces of content, they found that the most shares were earned by a few good outliers. Most content got no shares at all. The suggestion is that you focus more on creating a few outstanding pieces, rather than many mediocre pieces.
Create a content marketing plan
Now that you’ve assessed your target audience, your business goals and your competitor’s strategies, it’s time to formulate a documented content marketing plan for your own business. Let’s look at some steps for getting that done:
- Have a good place to document your content marketing plan. If you work with a team or are likely to hire freelancers or external contractors to help, it’s important that you create policies and procedures that are accessible. Cloud-based options for doing so include Google Docs, Zoho Docs or Dropbox Paper.
- Include a definition of your target audience in your plan. Creating buyer personas can be a useful way to do this.
- Clearly define the business goals for the content. Define the metrics you will use to measure these.
- Clearly define what the audience needs to get out of the content.
- Include the content formats you will focus on.
- Include the channels where your content will be published.
- Decide upon your preferred publishing schedule.
- Plan how you will manage content creation and publication. The fact is that content marketing done well takes a considerable investment of time and requires a good set of content creation skills. Those who write or design the most popular content tend to be talented creatively and have a good grasp of content marketing overall. Not everyone will have the talent for creating their own content, and most business owners are short on the time!
If you’re going to do content, it’s worth doing well. If you have good skills yourself and the time to do it, great, but there are other options if you don’t. For example, you could; hire a team member to do content marketing, hire a freelancer that specializes in content or, hire an agency that offers content marketing as part of its services.
- Create a plan for promoting your content. Consider any channels you have at your disposal where you’re likely to find your target audience (email marketing, social media…)
It’s also worth creating a set of standards or “rules” for your content so that what you publish will meet a consistent standard. Many businesses choose to create their own content marketing guidelines, including directives on tone, reading level and style. This is especially important if you’re getting other people to create your content.
A clear content marketing strategy is important for every business that produces content as part of their marketing mix. If you’re going to do content, it’s worth doing it well. Otherwise you can actually harm rather than help your reputation.
To develop a content marketing strategy, you need to be able to devote time and resources to thorough research. Great content doesn’t just happen, it is planned for by knowing your audience, you competitors and the elements that go into appealing content.
We might be bombarded with online content at this stage, but there is still plenty of room for you to make your mark. Content that is of high quality and is shareable is actually a relative rarity online – take the time to develop a great strategy, pair that with talent to bring your content to life, and you can see success from your content strategy.