Content marketing is not only one of the most popular trends in internet marketing today, but it’s also one of the most effective tactics you can use to drive traffic and leads to your site (but only if you do it right. It you cut corners you can waste so much time and money). This strategy can allow you to build a dedicated community for your business that will regularly consume the content you produce and over time, those readers become leads that can result in sales.
I wanted to put this guide together to help de-mystify all the concepts behind content marketing, as well as show you all the key strategies, tools, and ways you can measure your content’s results.
My hope is that after reading this guide, you will be a content marketing machine (or at least have learned a lot about it), able to produce content that leads directly to an increase to your company’s bottom line.
What is Content Marketing?
While the term “content marketing” might be considered one of the latest buzzwords to occupy an already crowded marketing space, but when it’s used correctly, content marketing is one of the most effective strategies out there to bring more paying customers into your business.
In his book “Epic Content Marketing,” Joe Pulizzi defines “content marketing” as:
“The strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
Essentially, your business or brand produces its own content that your target audience will find relevant and valuable. Over time, your audience for that content grows while your authority as a valuable content producer grows as well, making you an influencer and subject matter expert. That way, when it comes time for your audience to buy, they’re already aware of you and your products, making your company the logical choice for that product when they’re ready.
Some Content Marketing Examples
Content marketing has actually been around for quite some time—you’ve probably just not realized that it was the specific strategy that brands had been using. Here are a few examples of content marketing in practice:
- Back in 1904, Jell-O gave copies of their recipe book for free and enjoyed sales of over $1 million by 1906 as a result.
- American Express OPEN Forum provides posts to help any business figure out how to build a brand, hiring techniques, different marketing ideas, etc.
- Whole Foods Blog provides recipes, tips for saving money on groceries, and healthy eating tips, all while showcasing products you can buy at Whole Foods.
- Callaway Golf YouTube posts near-daily videos of golf tips, interviews with golf personalities, reviews of new Callaway golf equipment, etc.
All these brands have embraced content marketing and become “content publishers,” and all of the content they’ve generated is available online for free. The idea is to attract leads by providing them with valuable content, and positioning your brand as the authority, making your company the logical choice when it comes time for the customer to make the decision to buy.
If you are really good at content marketing, now matter where the world looks online, they find content that you have created on your subject.
How Content Marketing Affects SEO
Google has long said that the best way to rank highly on the SERPs is to create great content.
Content and Search Engine Optimization are inextricably linked, for better or worse. More and more people believe that Google’s insistence on “quality content” is actually going to evolve further and further until the search results reflect only the best pieces of content, not just spam that has been artificially ranked.
If you’re using content marketing and incorporating SEO best practices, you’re giving your company the greatest chance to rank highly for any particular piece of content, no matter the keyword. And the better that content is, the more likely you’ll become an authority in that content space, which will ultimately lead to more traffic.
When you combine your content marketing with SEO in mind, you are privy to a large segment of traffic. Because most of your website traffic probably already comes from search engines, you’re reaching the biggest amount of potential customers you can.
Some Content Marketing Statistics
Here are just a few statistics that make a strong case for your business incorporating content marketing as a strategy:
- 80 percent of buyers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement.
- 70 percent say content marketing makes them feel closer to the sponsoring company.
- 60 percent say that company content helps them make better product decisions.
What these statistics all illustrate is that if you can create a content marketing system where people look forward to receiving your marketing, then you’ll really have created something special. That’s how you can turn your brand into a thought leader; a company that provides a unique marketing strategy without sacrificing any sales.
Getting Started: Perform a Content Audit
A content audit is an important part of starting your content marketing journey because it helps you see what types of content you already own that might help you hone your strategy going forward. You can also see what types of content are not present in your sales cycle. In addition, you are also going to want to find the channels the company is doing content marketing on. If you don’t have good distribution, your content marketing is useless.
For instance, maybe you have no visual content but work for a company that sells a product that has a big visual component to it, like an art gallery. Doing a content audit will help you see gaps like this where you will be able to determine how your new content marketing strategy will help your business.
For any business I work with, I like to sit down with them and have them show me all the content assets they currently have. All the blog posts, white papers, articles, etc. That way, I can get a sense of all the content they already have and see how I can assist them with their strategy.
A content audit will help define your strategy going forward, so it’s important to take a look at all the content you already have, seeing what has worked and what hasn’t.
Generally, a Content Marketing Audit Looks Like This
- Create personas for the companies customer types
- Mary Rose
- CFO who is 47 years old. Has 2 kids and very busy work schedule. Enjoys Yoga two times a week and free weekends. Is seeking <insert your service> because <insert reason here>.
- Determine the main pain points and motivation for those customers
- Select the websites those customers are on
- Determine most popular content on those websites for your vertical (this could be a social site, a news site, etc)
- Create a content strategy that aligns with the main types of content that hit pain points
- Create distribution channels that mimic the channels that allow top content to reach maximum exposure
- Use tools like Buzz Sumo, FollowerWonk, etc, for further analsysis
My Top Content Marketing Strategy
The strategy that I’m most fond of when I talk to companies and encourage them to embrace content marketing is the “Hub and Spoke” model.
The Hub and Spoke Model looks like this:
The idea behind the hub and spoke model is that you have a central “hub” where your main content lives. Off the main content creation area there are “spokes” that feed off the main content on the “hub.”
By creating effective communities and growing networks off the hub, you increase the exposure of your content and increase the probability of links and traffic/shares back to your hub. Links serve to send traffic and increase your search visibility.
How to Determine Your Content Marketing Plan
The most important parts of implementing your content marketing strategy are the objectives you hope to accomplish.
Depending on the type of business or industry you work in, certain types of content marketing might not work for you. Generally, you can get a good idea if your demographic is on a website by setting up an ad and looking at the demographic targeting they offer. But even if your customer is there, you also need to get a feel for the website to make sure you create the right piece of content. For example, any type of mainstream product post should not be done on reddit but can be done on Facebook.
No matter what the site, before engaging, consider how effective your content and distribution will be at accomplishing the following.
- Increasing brand awareness
- Generating traffic to your site
- Increasing leads
- Increasing micro or macro conversions
No matter what, you should figure out what it is you hope your content will accomplish based on your measurement plan. While there might be some overlap, it’s still important to ensure that you’re creating content that has a specific goal in mind. Creating content for the sake of creating content is not going to do you any favors with your target audience.
Example Unique Content Marketing Strategies
Oreo Content Marketing
Oreo is easily one of the most recognizable brands in the United States. But in the 21st century with social media, how could an iconic brand like them utilize content marketing to get people interested?
Take a look at what they’ve done with the visual content on their Instagram page.
They’ve used the medium to create all kinds of creative and fun content that appeals to people, gets them to share it, and gives Oreo a platform to market to those people at the same time. As of this blog posting, Oreo has more than 917,000 followers.
Birchbox Content Marketing Strategy
Birchbox sells subscription boxes filled with different kinds of beauty and grooming products, you can see that their blog is a logical extension of targeting the kind of customers that would be interested in those types of posts.
Not only can visitors to the blog find useful tips on beauty and beauty products, but they can easily purchase those products without much work. Birchbox is a great example of content marketing done right. The blog ranks for a significant amount of keywords. Too bad they have it on a subdomain, which most of us know is not a good move for SEO. I hope they give this a read and contact us so we can get that migrated and help their main site rank.
Marriott Content Marketing
The famous hotel’s content team put together a short action comedy film that has more than 5 million views so far on the company’s website. It’s this kind of outside-the-box approach that makes content marketing such a unique strategy. How else would a hotel chain be able to get that kind of recognition in the normal marketing channels of advertising on TV and radio?
If you’re in the online marketing or social media space, you’re probably aware of Buffer, a company that provides social promotion tools for businesses. What you may not have realized is that they’re a content marketing powerhouse.
Buffer’s blog is filled with all kinds of useful information that, even if you’re not a customer of theirs, you’d still find useful and enjoy. Buffer’s posts are hooked on the idea of reaching influencers, who then reach potential customers.
Leo Widrich, one of the founders of Buffer, explained it this way:
“‘We want to scale this.’ We want to really, really have a large audience that could be inspired, be interested by the content we produce and go away and maybe tell someone, ‘Hey, I read this great post on the Buffer blog.’ And this guy says, ‘Actually, that’s cool, and also Buffer looks cool—I might use that.’”
That’s quite possibly the greatest argument for content marketing that anyone can use.
Example of What WOULD be a Top Strategy
Let’s say that you work for a company that sells pet supplies—how do you come up with a content marketing strategy that works for your specific business?
Let’s say that you’re active on social media, you’ve got a blog you post to, and you’ve got an email marketing campaign with about 1,000 subscribers. How can you create a content marketing strategy that’s going to build your brand?
A Step by Step Process for Creating a Content Marketing Strategy
- First, as I mentioned above, you need to clearly define your goals.
- Second, define your audience. The buying audience might not be the same as the audience your content has.
- Third, combine your content marketing strategy with your target customer’s buying journey.
- Fourth, define your content niche. How and on what topic can you establish your company as the thought leader or expert?
- Fifth, build an editorial calendar that helps you organize, plan, and execute your content marketing strategy.
Types of Content Marketing
There are a ton of options when it comes to figuring out how to build out your content marketing strategy. Here is a list of many types of content marketing that you can incorporate into your strategy. Whether you use one, some, or all, this list should be enough to get you started in the right direction. While most of us think of content marketing as blogging, pretty much any content can fall into this bucket.
Blog – You might have one already, but this is where most businesses start. A blog gives you the ability to churn out content regularly, and is easy to get started.
E-newsletter – An e-newsletter is also commonly referred to as an email marketing campaign. This is a regularly-scheduled communication with customers/prospects that have subscribed to you. The content is usually centered around industry news or descriptions with links to articles on your website.
White Paper – A white paper is a topical report that ranges in length from 5-15 pages long, and are generally used for topics that require a lot of explanation. These could be referred to as “research reports” or “technical briefs” that show your thought leadership on a particular subject.
Article – An article is one of the more useful and dynamic pieces of content you can create. Because they vary in length and are relatively easy to produce, articles are a flexible content asset for any business. With articles, you have so much creative license when it comes to topics that it’s relatively easy to position yourself as a thought leader.
E-book – An e-book is essentially a white paper that’s been expanded and enhanced to provide even more information on a particular topic. E-books can range anywhere from 12 pages to more than 100, and are generally found in a reader-friendly format perfect for small tablets or smartphones.
Case Study – A case study is a short document that provides some first-person authority on a particular product or service. Case studies generally have a “storytelling” feel to them, and are usually centered around real-life events that are designed to create trust with the content’s audience.
Testimonials – Along the same lines as a case study, a testimonial is a “boast” by a customer or user. These come from real people who leave a review or comment describing how a particular product or service worked for them. They work best when they’re authentic and come from a reliable source.
Webinars/Webcasts – These are essentially presentations that have been put online for people to see. A webinar typically has slides and audio, while a webcast combines slides, audio, and video. They require a bit more technology and manpower, but they’re quite effective at establishing the presenters as thought leaders and industry experts.
Videos – Videos are relatively easy to produce, especially given the rise of platforms like YouTube and Vimeo. You can upload and share videos to social media straight from the platform, making it a very direct way to get your content out there.
Online Press Release – When you have an important announcement that the general news media might find interesting, an online press release can help syndicate your news online and help you get faster and wider distribution.
Print Magazine – If you want your brand to keep up with content marketing, you need to think of your brand as a publisher. Along those lines, a print magazine defines you as a publisher. Although expensive to distribute, a print magazine will go a long way towards maintaining your subscribers’ interests in your products or services.
Print Newsletter – This is simply a piece of printed content that works well for “on-the-go” audiences like business travelers and commuters. Believe it or not, there are still people that refuse to consume content on digital devices like iPads or smartphones, making a print newsletter ideal for those that would rather see things in print.
Digital Magazine – You can think of a digital magazine as an oversized PDF. Generally distributed by email, they’re usually made to conform to the look and feel of a traditional print magazine, and are a great way to keep subscribers engaged with your content.
Online Learning Course – An online learning course is essentially a course that focuses on a particular topic, but can include several different mediums: slideshows, audio presentations, videos, etc. You automatically position yourself as an expert when you create one of these courses. And the content usually comes with a built-in audience, making it even easier to use content marketing.
Mobile App – All the rage these days, mobile apps are ubiquitous. The trick with creating a mobile app is giving people a reason to use them regularly. Usually though, they’re quite effective at tapping into social media.
Podcast – Essentially just an audio file, this is another perfectly-made opportunity for you to establish yourself as an authority on any given subject. Most podcasts are generally produced weekly and often include relevant guests.
Book – The granddaddy of all content marketing, the old fashioned book. A book isn’t easy to produce, but it’s a great way to build authority in your particular industry. With the rise of self-publishing houses, it’s gotten easier to publish a book, even if it is a lengthy process to write one.
Comic Book – Comic books don’t have to be just for kids. You can create one that is entertaining and tells a story, making your content marketing a little more unique than some of your competitors. See the one we did on “Where is Matt Cutts?”
Branded Content Tool/App – A branded content tool or app is where you gather information from prospects/customers, then provide them something in return. For instance, if you were a realtor and provided someone who filled out your app with their information, they might get a free home estimate or mortgage rate in return.
Online Game – The same as any other game, but with branded content created by you. This could be something like a quiz for use on social media, or a “Test Your IQ” on a certain topic game.
Infographic – An infographic is a visual representation of data that are quite popular on social media lately. You can use infographics to explore the relationship between different pieces of information. They’re tailor-made for social media, and the best ones are easily spreadable and shareable online.
What is an Editorial Calendar?
An editorial calendar is a calendar made up of a few different components that allows brands to see and organize their content marketing strategy. Because your company might have lots of different content creators, an editorial calendar allows you to effectively manage all the content producers, pieces/types of content, and schedule for that content.
It’s a great way to stay on top of your content marketing efforts. Plus, if you’re on vacation or the CEO is asking about it, you can easily point to your editorial calendar to show all the marketing and content work you have coming up.
How to Make an Editorial Calendar
HubSpot created a guide for an editorial calendar that you can use when creating your own editorial calendar, along with offering a few simple steps to help you organize all your content marketing efforts.
There are plenty of different things you might want to include in your editorial calendar, but I would recommend including most of these sections:
- Content Topic
- Content Type
- Call to Action
- Main Keyword
- Publish Date
For smaller organizations or businesses with fewer employees doing content marketing, you don’t need to overcomplicate your editorial calendar. If you’re just tackling a blog post a week or an e-newsletter once a month, there’s no reason you need to have anything other than a simple visualization of your content marketing.
It’s important to have an editorial calendar in place though, because you want to be able to organize, plan, and visualize how your content marketing will take shape.
Syndicating Your Content Marketing on Social Media
So now that you’ve created all these great pieces of content, what are the next steps? What are you supposed to do with them?
Once your content goes live, now the work of promotion and syndication begins.
This is where things like the “Hub and Spoke” model become important, because it gives you a framework for all the places you can promote your posts. The more channels you have access to, the higher the likelihood that your content gets picked up and linked to, or shared by an “influencer.”
Content Production Tools
Content Marketing Discovery Tools
- Feedly – allows you to combine all the blogs you follow into one collection of articles, so you’re never short on reading material.
- Quora – users ask questions and get them answered by members of the community. Great place to help you generate ideas for content creation.
- Alltop – content that is indexed from a variety of different online publications, and is searchable by many different topics.
Content Marketing Writing Tools
- Hemingway – a distraction-free writing app that helps you write without interruption.
- Grammarly – a plugin/app you can use to make sure that what you’re writing is grammatically correct. Plugin available for Microsoft Word and Google Chrome.
- Contently – an all-inclusive platform that lets you find freelance writers to write your content while the platform itself handles payment, etc.
Content Marketing Distribution Tools
- Buffer – a social media tool that lets you curate social media content ahead of time, then shares it on a schedule that you arrange.
- Inbound Writer – helps you optimize content and find interesting topics, and lets you find content that will resonate with your target audience.
- MailChimp – an email marketing tool that helps you create campaigns, build a list from scratch, and schedule campaigns.
Content Marketing Content Creation Tools
- ly – helps you create inforgraphics and visualizations from a marketplace of experts and designers.
- Google Keyword Tool – lets you see the estimated numbers of searches per month on a given keyword.
- it – a tool that helps you resize images so that they better fit on your content.
How Do I Measure Content Marketing Results?
After you’ve created your content, planned your content output going forward, and sent it out into the world, it’s time to measure how your content marketing has performed.
If you’re reporting to the CEO or any C-Level executives, they’re going to want to know the return on investment (ROI) of any content marketing campaign you undertake.
Essentially, you need to answer one question at the end of the day… How is this content marketing strategy making us more money?!
Any executives are going to want to see trackable results in any big content marketing push. Luckily, there are a few different ways you can go about tracking your content marketing results.
The Content Marketing Pyramid
The Content Marketing Pyramid is an analytics tool that you can use to visualize and measure your content marketing results.
It looks like this:
I like to segment my pyramid into three distinct sections:
Primary Indicators – these are the indicators that your C-Level executives are going to care most about:
- Number of Converted Leads
- Total Cost Per Lead
Secondary Indicators – these are things like blog subscribers, email subscribers, etc. that are a step below actual money-generating conversions. They’re still very important to track, because these are qualified leads that may result in sales eventually. For example, it is generally industry standard that a qualified email is worth $5.
User Indicators – these are more general analytics that are still useful to know, but might not result in a sale. Things like page views, visitors, keywords, comments, etc. are all important to track because every piece of analytics data tells a story. This is also where you’ll be able to get an idea on what content is working and resonating with people, as well as content that’s not working. From there, you’ll be able to hone your content marketing strategy even further.
Other Types of Content Marketing Metrics
In his book, “Epic Content Marketing,” Joe Pulizzi goes on to provide four distinct forms of metrics that you can apply to your content marketing that will help you tell a fuller story and extract loads of analytics data from your results.
- Consumption Metrics – these are things like page views, video views, social conversations, etc. that help you see a bit clearer how your content is performing with people.
- Sharing Metrics – these are likes, shares, tweets, +1s, pins, forwards, inbound links, etc. that show you whether a piece of content performed like you wanted it to.
- Lead Generation Metrics – downloads, email subscriptions, blog comments, conversion rate. This is an important group of metrics because it lets you see how a piece of your content marketing can move someone from a prospect to a lead.
- Sales Metrics – the most important metric. If you’re not growing your business with content marketing, there’s no point. These can be online sales, offline sales, even handshake deals your sales team has made.
Calculating the ROI of Content Marketing
Once you’ve taken stock of all the content marketing metrics you have available to you, it’s important to see the full business impact of your content marketing strategy.
I’ll walk you through how you can calculate the ROI of your content marketing with a hypothetical blog from “Epic Content Marketing.”
Step 1: Calculate the investment.
- Multiply the hours per month needed to create the content by the hourly pay rate of the employees or contractors used to create the content.
- Add the overhead factor. (This accounts for rent, insurance, utilities, and so on.)
- Add all other costs, such as design fees, hosting fees, subscriptions, and software. Allocate them to a content program specifically, or amortize them monthly and spread the costs evenly across each content program.
For Example: Assume 20 hours per month at $50 per hour to produce a corporate blog, multiplied by a 50 percent overhead factor. Add in $1,000 per month for design, $50 per month for hosting, and $200 per month for miscellaneous fees.
The true monthly blogging cost = $2,750
Step 2: Calculate the return. Multiply your leads per month by your lead conversion rate, average lifetime customer value, and average profit margin.
Example: You collect 40 leads per month from the corporate blog (determined by lead form, CRM system, and so on). At a 10 percent lead conversion rate, you’ll generate four new customers. Assume a $5,000 average lifetime customer value and a 30 percent average profit margin.
True monthly blogging return = $6,000
Step 3: Calculate ROI. Subtract the investment from the return, then divide by the investment, and multiply by 100 to find out your ROI.
$6,000 – $2,750 = $3,250
3,250 / 2,750 = 1.18
Return = 118% for the one month period
The importance of being able to prove to anyone in your organization what your content marketing is bringing in is key to proving the validity of your content. You’re not blogging for the sake of blogging. You’re blogging because you are able to prove that it brings in money for your business.
Embrace Content Marketing to Grow Your Business
As I’ve mentioned throughout this guide, it’s important for your content marketing strategy to be tied to making your business grow. Otherwise, there’s no point in creating all this content. Fundamentally, content marketing is a strategy you should use to make more money for your business.
I’ve shown you how to create a strategy from scratch, how to determine specific goals for your content, where to syndicate your content, how to measure results, and how you can calculate the ROI of your content marketing.
The most important thing is to center your content around your target customers. Writing simply about how great your products are is the surest path to sending your customers elsewhere.
Resources for Content Marketing Inspiration
- Here are just a few more places you can find inspiration for your very own content marketing journey (keep in mind, they are being listed here because they do great content marketing 🙂
- GoPro – A company that sells an “action” camera for extreme sports. Perhaps the most famous example of content marketing done right, their YouTube channel is filled with user-generated content that is often shared on the company’s site. Users are encouraged to share content they’ve created with their GoPro camera.
- Patagonia – A company that sells outdoor clothing and gear, they create blog content and videos that serve to highlight the company’s target market and trends in the industry.
- Intuit – A business software company, they create contests where the winners get cash and help solve entrepreneurial business challenges.
- Zendesk – An online customer service platform that creates entertaining videos and blogs to help tell their customers’ stories about frustrating customer service issues.
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