Last updated: March 6, 2014 by Loz James

content marketing strategy

[This is a guest post by Allison Boyer]

The first time I heard the phrase content marketing, I thought, “Oh great. Another type of online marketing I have to worry about. What now?”

But after doing some research, I found that “content marketing” is just a new phrase for old ideas. Content marketing is nothing more than using entertaining, educational, or inspirational media to promote your business. Instead of selling directly, you’re simply communicating with your potential customers so they get to know your brand.

This concept has been used in business for over 100 years. For example, in the late 1800s, John Deere started The Furrow, a publication to teach farmers how to make more money. Today, content marketing has gone digital. Blogs, ebooks, videos, infographics, and podcasts are all examples of how some small business owners are using content marketing to grow their businesses – and you can too!

John Deere content marketing
John Deere were at the forefront of content marketing

So let’s look at the four key stages that any business can deploy to implement a successful content marketing strategy based around their company blog…

Stage One: Customer Research

Audience research
Knowing your target market is the essential first stage

Before you ever write your first blog post, you need to do some customer research. Who buys your products already? Who do you want to buy your products? You can’t create effective content without understanding your target market. Think about…

  • Age
  • Income
  • Gender
  • Family Status
  • Hobbies
  • Education Level
  • Other factors that influence the buying decision in your industry

Yes, all of these details matter. For example, let’s say you own a salon. If your customers are primarily male, they probably won’t be interested in a blog about latest prom styles.

The more details, the better. You want to find out what really drives your customers. One of the best pieces of advice was something Darren Rowse of Problogger told me. Don’t just think about your audience in data. Actually sit down and write out a few fictional profiles of people who are in your target market.

Not exactly sure who makes up your target audience? It’s time to do a little digging.

First, the best source about your customers is…your customers! Ask them about demographic information. I love Survey Monkey to collect information like this, but there are lots of survey services out there.

You can also use other tactics to figure out information about your readers. For example, Google Analytics gives lots of information about who is already reading your blog or visiting your website.

Sign into Google Analytics and click on demographics on the left, then on overview. You’ll see some preliminary information here, but if you want more details, you have to enable this feature. It takes about 24 hours to update. Once you do that, you can see the breakdown of age and gender for your blog readers.

Even better, if you click to see the age or gender pages on the left-hand side, you’ll see more information, such as where those people are finding your site. If you are writing a site primarily for men and you see that 99% of the traffic from Pinterest comes from women, it might be an indication that you need to focus your promotions elsewhere.

Another bit of demographic information that I like to look at with Google Analytics is language. Again, on the left-hand sidebar, click Geo, and from there you can choose to view both language and location. My readers are primarily native English speakers, but if yours are not, you might want to review the idioms you’re using. This can also help you land advertisers, since a company in, say, London, might be interested to learn that over 50% of your blog’s readers are from Great Britain.

The Google Analytics audience information can also uncover buried treasure when it comes to learning about your audience. You have to do some digging and inference, though! For example, let’s say that 80% of first-time visitors to your site are using a mobile device, but only 10% of returning visitors are using a mobile device. That might be an indication that your mobile site is hard to use, so mobile readers aren’t returning.

I encourage you to take some time to learn every state available with Google Analytics. Google actually runs in-person seminars on both Adwords and Analytics, and I highly recommend going if you live near an upcoming training session.

Do you have a Facebook page customers can like? If so, this is a goldmine of information about your customers. Not only can you see information on their profiles, but Facebook Insights also gives you some demographic information about everyone who liked your page.

You can also gain insight by finding out where your customers hang out only. Do most of your readers come from LinkedIn? Is your audience very different from a blog who gets most of their readers from Pinterest? Which links to your site drive the most traffic?

Also consider which links to your site drive the most traffic that converts to sales (this video is a great tutorial to set up conversion/goal tracking in Google Analytics if you haven’t done so already)? Which links send traffic that stays on your site (i.e. the bounce rate is low)?

Don’t forget to also look at the keywords people are using to find your site in search engines and how those keywords are converting. Again, goal tracking in Google Analytics is great to find out this information.

Stage Two: Creating an Editorial Calendar

Editorial calendar
We recommend the WordPress Editorial Calendar plugin

One of the very first posts I wrote on my personal content marketing blog was about how important it is to have an editorial calendar. Your content is not the backbone of your content marketing strategy; your schedule is.

By far, the biggest way to make an impact with content is to be consistent and to support everything you create with proper promotion. This isn’t possible without an editorial calendar.

Your content strategy should include three different kinds of content:

  1. Short, “snackable” content like tweets, photos on Instagram, and Vines
  2. Medium-sized content like blog posts and Youtube videos
  3. Long content like ebooks and video series

An editorial calendar helps you track goals to ensure your short content is supporting your medium-sized content and that your medium-sized content is supporting your long content. If you’re publishing a high volume of blog posts, for example, it can be hard to remember if you promoted each new post on social sites unless you have an editorial calendar. This also allows you to easily track how long it has been since you promoted a post so you know when to promote it again.

Best of all, editorial calendars allow you to see the big picture. Are you posting too much about a single topic? Are you promoting your links too much and not tweeting links to other sites? What’s the last time you creating a piece of long-form content? With an editorial calendar, you can stay organized, even if you’re spending most of your time running your business, not worrying about content.

I recommend having an editorial calendar for your blog posts alone, and then having a second larger editorial calendar for all of your content. For your blog, I like this WordPress Editorial Calendar plugin, because it makes it easy to see right from your blog dashboard what posts you published and what you have scheduled.

For your overall editorial calendar…well, I’m old school and prefer using an actual physically written day planner, but a lot of people like using Excel, and there are also some programs out there for tracking your content as well.

Plan out at least a week or two of content to start. Some people work ahead by six weeks or even more. It depends on how much content you’re putting out.

Stage Three: Content Development

Business blogging
Business blogging can definitely raise your company profile

Your entire goal is to convert your audience into sales, right? Let’s talk about how to develop content that will do just that – and then how to plug that content into your editorial calendar. I like to remember BALANCE, for the seven types of content you should be creating.

  • B for Branding – This kind of content is directly related to your brand to encourage people to think about you in a specific way. For example, if your brand is “young and fun” you might share the latest funny video that’s going viral on the Internet. This is best for snackable content, but can occasionally be a blog post.
  • A is for Answers – What questions do people ask most about your company services and products? Answer these questions on your blog.
  • L is for Like and Trust – Create content that will help your audience get to “know” you, not just your logo, so they can start to like and trust you. Remember, people buy from friends, so if your customers start to consider you a friend, they’ll become repeat customers.
  • A is for Answers, part 2 – What questions do people ask most about your industry in general? Answer these questions on your blog as well, and heavily optimize for search engines.
  • N is for News – Share the latest news about your company and about the industry. Consider writing more than a blurb about what happened – share your thoughts in an op ed.
  • C is for Cliffhanger – Occasionally, you may want to create content that has people on the edge of their seats, wanting more. For example, you might show a sneak peak of your new product design, which will be available next week.
  • E is for Education – Help people solve problems they didn’t even know they had. Like with Answers, optimize these posts heavily so they bring in SEO traffic.

As you start writing, picture one of the profiles you’ve create in stage one. What would that person most like to read? What would move them down the buying cycle, closer to a sale?

The three most important parts of any blog post (or other piece of medium-sized content) are the title, the very beginning and the very end, so pay special attention to these.

Start with a title that is extremely shareable, and that is optimized for search engines. I could write an entire book on writing great headlines, so instead of doing that here, let me link to a few great resources on this topic:

Next, you need a compelling intro. If your intro doesn’t hook the reader, they’ll hit the back button in less than ten seconds. I love this post on Write to Done about writing better intros for great tips on making sure readers make it past the first few words.

As important as it is to write a great intro, you also need an amazing end to your post in the form of a call to action, or CTA. This tells the reader what to do next and will help boost your conversions. Depending on your audience and goals, your CTA might be to purchase a product, sign up for a mailing list, leave a comment, check out another blog post, etc.

Most people use their blog as a lead magnet, which means that your CTA is not going to ask readers to purchase a product directly, but instead to collect information. Remember, unless you have some kind of form for the reader to fill out, when they’re done reading your blog, they’re gone, so make sure you have a strong CTA.

One of the most common questions I get is this: what should I blog about?

Trust me…no matter what kind of small business you have, there are THOUSANDS of topics you can blog about. I know a guy who has an extremely successful blog about swimming pools, so if he can do it, so can you. He was even featured in the New York Times because of his blog!

Here are just a few great ways to come up with content ideas:

  • Look through your old content. What was popular enough to warrant a blog post with even more details? What content is due for an update? What links did you include to outside resources even though you could have covered the topic on your own blog?
  • Check out your competitors. Don’t steal content, but look at what topics they’re writing about and think about how you can put your own spin on those topics. .
  • Ask your team what questions they get most often. Answer them in blog posts, and as a bonus, compile those posts for an FAQ on your site.
  • Compare products. What’s the difference between your wooden widgets and your metal widgets? Help readers make the buying decision.
  • Crowd source. Directly ask your readers what topics they want you to cover. You can also look at comments left by readers to find content ideas.
  • Share stories. Again, stories are great for evoking emotion, so use them often. What is your overall brand story, for example? How did your company come to exist?

I also love Word Tracker as a way to come up with content ideas that are also SEO-friendly.

Stage Four: Tracking Your Progress

Content marketing analytics
Measuring your ROI is also crucial to your success

Many small business owners skip this stage, but if you aren’t tracking your ROI, you might as well not be doing content marketing at all. You need to know which content is performing well and which content is not so you can repeat successes and avoid repeating mistakes.

Google Analytics is of course an amazing tool for tracking content performance. Here are others you can add to the mix:

  • KISSmetrics: Okay, this is a bit of an investment, with plans starting at $150 and going up in price from there. However, the data you get from KISSmetrics is amazing. Every single person who lands on your site is tracked, so you can see how individual people are interacting with your content. Perform A/B split testing, analyze retention, sort your contacts into groups, and more with this tool.
  • Crazy Egg: This is an awesome conversion tool that gives you a heat map. You can see where people are clicking, how far down they scroll before giving up, and see clicks by referral. Plus, accounts start at just $9 per month, and they have a 30 day free trial.
  • StatCounter: If Google Analytics intimidates you, try getting started with StatCounter. The information here isn’t as detailed, and the free version only records your previous 500 visits, but it gets you started with some basic information about your readers and content performance. It’s a little easier to understand that Google Analytics, and I’ve found that states are fairly comparable, unlike with some other free tools, which give you drastically different stats than Google Analytics, the industry standard.

Remember, content is often a long game. Don’t just track your stats over the course of 24 hours. Plan to track over the course of weeks, months, and even years.

A blog post that is a viral hit might get you 1000 new email subscribers today before dropping into obscurity, but a “slow and steady” post that draws in moderate amounts traffic might bring in 10,000 new email subscribers over the course of three months.

Also keep in mind what stats matter most. Yes, pageviews are important, because more people in the top of the funnel generally means more sales at the end of the funnel, but actual conversion is always more important than raw pageviews.

Some sources of traffic can bring massive spikes in stats, but unless you make money directly from traffic, this might not matter. You can pay your mortgage with pageviews!

Social shares are another tempting way to track your success. Again, unless you somehow make money directly from tweets or likes, resist the urge to consider a post with 100 shares more successful than a post with 5 shares. That’s not to say that social shares (and pageviews) aren’t important at all; just make sure you’re tracking conversion as well.

I recommend that, at the end of every month (or every week or every month, depending on how much content you put out), you sit down and look at your ten most popular posts (both old and new), the ten posts that converted best, and your ten least successful new posts. What did you do right? What could have been done better?

If this all seems like a lot of work for a single content marketing campaign, you’re not seeing the bigger picture. Once you’ve done your research, you can use that for future campaigns as well. And, as you develop your editorial calendar, finding out what works and what doesn’t, you can create a template for success that you use over and over again.

Even better, when you write content, you can repurpose it to get more use out of it. A group of blog posts about a specific topic can become an ebook. A video can be transcribed to become a blog post. A guide can be broken into smaller chunks for a series.

Play it smart, and you’ll be reaping the benefits of your work today for years to come! Have these tips helped you? Let us know with a comment below.

content marketing strategy guide

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