There are so many resources out there talking about Content Marketing & Content Strategy already. Why another one? It's one thing reading about the concept and it's completely another thing to actually implement it.
When we first started with the whole concept at Nilead, we found it pretty straightforward to understand but there were many things here and there that confused us. I want to share with you everything that we learned (so far) in our process to hopefully help you to avoid the mistakes we did.
Content is not only text.
Yup, content can be the photos you post on Instagram, the videos you share on your Youtube channel. Content is anything that helps you communicate your messages to your audience.
In this era, we have to rely on multiple media to bring our messages across to the audience. Yes in Search Engine world text content is still King, but it's only because of the current limitation of technology (for machines to actually understand the meaning of photos and videos). Technology is catching on, however, sooner or later we will be able to search for photos and videos by describing the actual content inside.
I. Content Marketing
Content Marketing is marketing with content.
Did you expect a longer definition?
Okie, how about this: Content marketing is the use of content to market your products and services or whatever it is that you want to promote, by utilizing content.
But does it work?
Yes, it does, at least for us. I was once told that the 2 most important reasons why people don't buy a product/service they need are:
- They don't trust the provider
- They cannot afford the price
Content Marketing helps you to solve issue #1 (and actually part of #2 as well), here are the results we got with Content Marketing:
- Brand awareness: Okie, have you ever heard of us before? If this is the first time you know about us, then our content is already doing a great job of generating brand awareness. More than likely you may not have any immediate need for our services now, but you will at least know that we exist :). If in the future you happen to stumble upon another resource that has our logo or name, you will remember who we are and what we do.
- Respect & trust: We deeply believe that websites can generate GREAT ROI for businesses and that websites deserve much more attention and love from marketers and business owners. We publish many articles, videos, pictures to explain what businesses can do to reap the benefits of their websites. By sharing our experience and knowledge, we gradually build up the professional image and indirectly show our skills to prospects like you.
- Indirect sales: This actually comes from point #1 and #2. When our prospects learn about we can provide and our capabilities, they can actively follow our newsletters and blog posts. At some point when the need for our services arises, they can contact us (and they do) for free consulting and advice which can lead to real business deals.
- Site traffic: Each of our articles will be shared on the appropriate community such as Medium or Alignable, we also have a few of our articles that are ranked in the top 5 for their keywords. Before we started with Content Marketing we had less than 5% visitors coming from Organic Sources, now we are reaching 50% and that number is increasing every day. The great thing about this type of traffic is that it is very relevant and usually has a high conversion rate for us.
- Improved SEO: At the mean time, SEO is almost all about having good content. It's obvious that generating unique, useful content for the users can greatly benefit your Search Engine rankings for a wide range keywords. The more high-quality content you have, the better. It's that simple.
- A better understanding of your own products/services: I find this to be an unexpected but greatly welcomed effect of doing Content Marketing. When I write content (yes our team writes most of the content in-house), I have to put myself in the readers' shoes and try to look at the products/services we offer from the outsiders' point of view. From time to time, we find out that our explanation is too technical, or perhaps some of the things we offer need a bit of tweak to serve the customers better.
It's worth noting that doing all this takes time. It took us around 3 months to get to the top ranking for one of our most important keywords. We didn't have much experience at the time and we can do it faster now, but I don't think you can magically reap benefits Content Marketing in a few days. If you look for instant wins, Content Marketing is not for you. From our experience, I find it takes anywhere from 6 - 12 months for you to see real, substantial results from doing Content Marketing.
Another great thing about Content Marketing is that it works for small businesses. The only thing you need to spend is your time (if you produce your own content). At Nilead we produce 90%+ of our content in-house because we believe that they cannot understand our business the way we do.
II. Content Strategy
My definition of Content Strategy is a bit broad, it includes vision & goals, internal guidelines, creating & curation, promotion & iteration.
Basically, the Content Strategy is the Lighthouse showing the path to successful Content Marketing. It may sound too complicated and you simply want to jump right into writing some wonderful articles that can immediately draw visitors to your site. Believe me, it's worth the time to go through all of this. When we first started with Content Marketing, we didn't do any Content Strategy, we believed we knew exactly what we need to do and that we don't need any strategy when we are so small. We were wrong, deadly wrong. When you are small, you cannot afford to waste any resource, you need to plan out everything you have to do to maximize your results with minimal effort.
1. Vision & Goal
This is actually much simpler than you may think. You need to come up with the Goal(s) for your Content Marketing, for us the goals are:
- Brand awareness: we want more people to know about us and what we do.
- Communication & Trust: website & digital marketing are high-value projects (and very risky if done wrong), we must build the trust and mutual understanding with our prospects.
- Leads & Sales: Due to the nature of our business, we mostly deal with remote customers who find us on Search Engines and other sources. More than 50% of our business deals come from our generated content (and that number is increasing).
We specialize in providing the tools & services for high conversion website and inbound marketing. We plan to capture prospects from this market by posting guides, tutorials, and study cases that target the exact pains our prospects have.
Your content should integrate with your whole marketing & sales process. MOZ's article on Marketing Funnel covers this part very well. Basically, the content you produce should act as the supporting foundation through the discovery - consideration - conversion - retention funnel.
2. Target audience
For the same service/product, each customer may have a different use case.
Have you ever heard of the Arm & Hammer baking soda brand?
Back in the 70’s, executives at Church & Dwight Inc. noticed that sales of their baking soda were falling. Probably people just don't do as much baking as they used to in the past. What did they do?
They came up with new reasons for their product.
Does everyone have the same purpose when they request website service? We found out that each case is different, and we group our customers into several groups according to their needs:
- People who want a website just because: you know, for showing. The reasons are different: some people want new websites for their companies' 10 year anniversary, some people want to have something to put on their business cards.
Generally, the prospects in these cases don't care much about the leads, sales, conversion rate etc... They need something fast, easy, and cheap.
-> we understand this need, and we offer solutions (both by us or by others) that help businesses to fulfill this need. Our articles on Website builders and Website templates are great examples for this.
- People who want a good website but are not ready for Digital Marketing yet. There are many approaches to website design, development. We want to show them all the possibilities that they can do with their websites and suggest them the options they can take. It's great if they go with our solution, but even if they don't want to help them make informed decisions.
-> we have articles that cover the process of creating a great website without going too much into the digital marketing part.
- People who are serious about investing into Digital Marketing. Our ace prospects & customers. We provide highly customized, end-to-end services that focus on conversion, and we love working with businesses that have clear goals for their digital investment and are committed to online success.
-> we provide a wide range of articles covering website conversion optimization, SEO keywords research, content planning (this one), and much more.
- People who already have websites. while they are not our going to purchase our services in foreseeable future, we would like to share with them the useful information to manage their websites and grow their online businesses. Knowledge sharing is a great way to learn from others and at the same time, we would love to see more and more businesses who realize the importance of websites & digital marketing and actually succeed.
-> we share our own experience and what we know about managing and promoting websites. Since we actually practice what we preach, we believe that our content can bring real benefits to businesses who are serious about improving their Digital Marketing.
- People who plan to have new websites. we want to help them make informed decisions. There are many approaches to website design, development, and digital marketing. We want to show them all the possibilities that they can do with their websites, and how to best plan.
-> we provide objective, non-biased information for people to understand about websites, what options they have, the pros and cons of each option.
3. Organize content
I actually find this task much more important than it seems to be at first glance. When we started our own website, we did not have any structure for your content, we had a vague idea of what we need to write (website stuff), and we only wanted to write as much as possible without any clear direction.
The results? We suffered from:
- Content gaps: you have content gaps when you miss out the necessary content to address the pains and needs of your target audience and drive them toward your final goals.
- Messy flow: actually there was no flow, and where there is no flow there is no following. Visitors came to our site to read one single article then just left, which is not what we want to.
Don't make the same mistake we did.
To make everything counts, you must carefully plan out exactly what content you will produce, exactly how they should link to each other, how they should eventually lead to your final goals.
In our case, I found the pyramid structure works best for us. At the top of the pyramids are our landing pages, below them are collections of supporting content that can inter-link but ultimately they should lead to the tops of the pyramids.
Another thing that I found works great for us is tagging or grouping contents. With tagging, it's possible for us to easily spot a pattern (for example, certain types of content may bring in more visitors while other types of content may lead to higher conversion rate).
4. Policies and standards
To ensure your content's consistency, you need to setup a set of guidelines for your content including but not limited to topics, length, tone, delivery schedule, etc... This is extremely important if you have more that one content producer/copywriter.
In our case, we want to ensure that we use professional tone, avoid technical jargons when possible, deliver unbiased messages that do not focus on simply selling our products & services.
5. Measure success
Once you publish your content, you have to measure your success in order to fix published content (whenever possible) or improve future content. Constant success measurement is the key factor for your successful Content Marketing campaign, without that you will not be able to capture users' feedbacks and make appropriate change to improve your ROI. The easiest metric to measure is the number of visits, but there are more than that, there are many other things that you can measure such as:
- time to read
- time on page
- scroll depth
For more information on content success measurement, check Content Marketing Institute's Content Marketing Metrics and Digital Marketing Institute's Content Metrics Guide.
6. Create Contents
We are lazy. We have lots of things to do, stuff happens. There are tons of reasons that can delay your content for "just another day". We find what works best for us is creating a fixed schedule of our content, similar to those TV guide. Using the same concept, you can create a schedule for your content with fixed slots and open slots for breaking news.
I find it works better for us to focus on a topic at a time and finish the batch of articles on that topic before moving to another one. It makes researching much easier, and also it helps to generate a faster result on SEO (as far as we have seen so far). We create most of the content ourselves, though it would be great if we could get some industry experts to do guest-post on our site (we are not that big yet, sadly). If you are in the situation that you can get influencers in your industry to talk about you or create content for you, you should ensure that you take the most out of that.
On the topic regarding content schedule, I find that we never completed a piece of content in one go. It usually takes at least a few days and lots of revisions to create high quality contents so we usually break down the process into multiple tasks:
- SEO check
7. Inventory & Audit Contents
From time to time, you have to go back and check all your old contents. You may find that you have to:
- Update old information to keep them up-to-dated
- Kill contents that no longer contribute to your end goals
- Find content gaps and fill in these gaps with new contents
I find it easier for me to visualize the content structure and gaps with graphs. It takes a bit of time, a tad technical, but this guide on using R tools to generate graphs on articles actually works great for me.
I found the almost everything I needed in the Content Marketing guide on MOZ, if you need a more in-depth understanding of the topic then I strongly recommend you to check it out.