May 20, 2015
Many companies practise content marketing in one form or another, whether or not they think of it that way, but relatively few have built a strategy around it. But now, it’s more important than ever that content, in its many and varied forms, is integrated into your marketing strategy.
It can be the perfect way to build customer relationships, increase engagement in and awareness of your brand, and potentially create customer evangelists if you do it really well. But it also delivers big SEO benefits as Google continues down its road of rewarding sites that deliver fresh, relevant, quality content on a regular basis. Even outside of your own site, a good content strategy can help provide third-party links or local endorsement (citation), which will also go a long way in terms of pushing your brand up the search engine results page (SERP). Moz has a citation scoring system that is used by leading search engines as part of the algorithmic computations that get your brand higher in the localised listings, for example.
The very word ‘content’ can be confusing or even misleading. Many believe it just means the words and pictures you post on your website, whereas in fact there are many, many different forms of content that will enhance and boost your marketing efforts, such as:
Articles or blogs, press releases, whitepapers, newsletters, how-to videos or articles, social media articles/posts/updates, videos, webinars, podcasts, e-books, checklists, online tools, online training programs (for the trade or consumer), apps, guest blogs, case studies, infographics, native advertising, expert interviews, expert Q&As, forum posts, blog comments, online events and online workshops.
To create your strategy, follow the same procedure as you would for any strategic decision.
This should always be your starting point. What do you want to achieve from your content strategy and where and how does it fit within an integrated marketing plan?
To set goals, work back e.g. from known conversion rates. Let’s say you decide to invest £5,000 in content. If each booking is worth £1000 and one is generated every 10 enquiries and you get one enquiry from every 50 site visits then you can easily calculate that in order to generate enough new bookings just to cover your investment you will need to generate another 2,500 visits from your content strategy alone. Double your site visits and (if conversion rates stay stable) the cost per booking halves and you make profit. Once you know the relative costs to generate visits, enquiries and bookings, you can use these as levers to ratchet up or down the amount of activity (investment) required at any time, depending on overall business requirements.
For content consumption goals you may need to include best-guesses to start with, until you have some firm stats on which to base your targets. But, using the conversion figures above, you should be able to assess overall consumption and engagement figures that will generate the site traffic you need.
You know your audience, but should consider what form of content is going to work for each segment and through which channels. What style should your content take and how should you present your core messages?
Work out how to determine what your customers’ needs are in terms of content. Talk to your customer services team to find out what the most frequently asked questions are. Similarly, check out questions posted on forums and review sites in your industry or sector. Take a peek at competitor sites too. Talk to others in the industry and the trade and, of course, check your social media pages.
See what the enemy is up to and then make a call – either emulating them but doing it better, or taking a different tack altogether if you don’t think they’re doing it right.
Check to see where they are getting their links and citations and which social channels give them the best engagement figures. What sort of content seems to work best for them and in which channel. There are many online tools you can use to dig into your competitors’ marketing such as WooRank.co or Moz – but plain old-fashioned looking will tell you a lot.
Who will produce your content variants? If in-house, then can it be done with existing resource or will you have to hire someone new? If you hire someone, is there the expertise in-house to guide, manage and monitor them and ensure they are producing the content you need whilst making the most of it in channels you may not fully understand?
If outsourced, can your agency (or freelancer), really understand your company, its products and culture and most of all, your customers, sufficiently to truly engage with them? Outsourcing something as personal as engagingly written content should be carefully considered. Choose an agency that specialises in your sector and sub-sector – one that works with similar clients in terms of size and culture, without directly competing of course. Or better still, use an agency with which you are already acquainted and that already knows and understands your company well.
Consider too how you can spread the cost of content creation by multi-purposing it. Take your core message and use that to create one piece of comprehensive copy – for a blog, perhaps. Then use that single piece as the basis for all other pieces of content by editing down for email channels for example, adding multiple images for social media such as Pinterest or Flickr, chopping into snippets for Twitter, creating a brief for video
production or re-wording for press releases.
Another Google algorithm update to be aware of has been dubbed “Phantom 2” – as it’s the second update in the past couple of years that came unannounced. This has affected “How To” sites (such as answers.com) which have seen traffic drops of more than 20%. However, it could also affect any instructional content you produce. Essentially you need to ensure any such content is well researched, written from a personal perspective and genuinely helps address an issue for your readers. Common sense really, but worth a mention.
Lastly, consider your targeted keywords and ensure you include them in headings and copy. Don’t overdo it though – if it sounds contrived to a human, it will look contrived to Google.
Although some people will find content on your site, you want many people to see, read, engage and act upon it. Think of all your current communication channels and customer touch-points to decide which, if any, will be suitable to promote what you’ve created. If none of them seem likely to work, then consider other channels, possibly new to your existing strategy.
The debates over the value of social media to the marketing efforts of commercial entities continue around the world, but what’s certain is that social channels make ideal platforms for the distribution of quality, engaging content. How you measure ROI against this activity is another question of course.
During the creation process, obtain expert quotes to include in your copy and when promoting the content, make sure your experts share it too. Contact others who have created, shared, linked to or from similar content and see if they are interested in sharing yours. This is essentially what a PR agency does, so you can easily use the resource at hand.
As with all forms of marketing activity, you should have set targets and goals at the start of the planning process. Ideally, these will be end-goal based, such as enquiries generated and sales made but, with content, you will have to throw in consumption and sharing metrics too.
You will need to understand how many people are eyeballing your content and importantly how many engage with it by way of Likes, comments or shares. Set up tracking mechanisms so that you can ascertain how many site visits are from external content and then how many of those hit your site’s sign-up pages, enquiry forms or (Holy Grail-time), booking forms.
If you have costed your content creation and promotion processes, you can quickly see what the ROI is and whether to ramp up or scale back. Before you have these figures there may need to be an element of “finger-in-the-air” guesswork before the right balance is struck. If so, start small-scale, using existing resource or an existing agency who can take on a trial project. That way, if you don’t hit the nail on the head straight away, you will have lost little and can quickly reassess and try another direction.