From multinational empires to sole trading enterprises – in 2015, it doesn’t matter what business you are in, content creation holds the keys to getting noticed online. As one of the most effective forms of attracting new business, creating content continues to be adopted by all manner of enterprises, not least for its significant return on investment compared to traditional advertising. But as more business turn towards content marketing, and the digital space becomes increasingly competitive, a clear strategy for success is now more essential than ever before.
The unfortunate truth is that so many businesses go in blind with their approach to content marketing. They post and praying that their content will somehow shoot to the top of the rankings, create scores of new customers, and will miraculously be shared hundreds of times.
The reality is less rosy. Without a strategy, efforts in content production will likely not provide the results businesses seek. Also, a lack of a clear strategy can dilute the message and defeat purpose of producing content in the first place. Creating a strategy may seem like a daunting task, but for effective content, a detailed strategy will provide a roadmap for success and ensure content efforts are sustained. As marketing is a long game approach, a clear strategy is one of best ways to focus efforts where they are most needed and ensure content that businesses produce gains the most traction possible.
Defining Content Goals and Setting a Brand Story
There may be overlapping elements across all content strategies, but as all businesses have different market and audiences, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Ultimately how you tackle content creation will depend on your industry, your customer base and of course the goals that you want to achieve.
This means that understanding customers and setting goals should be at the heart of any content strategy. Setting content-specific goals will also help to achieve broader business goals, which naturally follow with creating successful content. These could include providing better customer service, increasing company awareness, providing better lead nurturing or improving a product’s after purchase support.
Examples of common business goals achieved through investing in content marketing include:
- Boosting website traffic and improvement in search rankings – increase awareness
- Communicating with customers and rewarding loyalty. – increase awareness, provide better customer service
- Increase email subscriptions – improve lead nurturing
- Educate customers and help them solve problems – provide better customer service, improve product support)
As goals setting theory dictates, the potential to reach goals is increased when they are specific, measurable and achievable with a specific plan of action of how they’ll be implemented.
When setting content specific goals, business should consider their industry and what types content would likely provide the utility or value for their audience. For example, a healthcare insurance fund may provide medical advice and answer medical questions as the focus of their content strategy, but could also supplement advice posts by sharing customer stories. These personal stories would assist reinforcing the value of medical insurance; give a human element to the product, while inspiring others through an overall positive message about taking charge of your health.
i) Setting Your Brand Story
A strong and consistent message should underpin all brand communications, especially content published online that is discoverable with just a Google search. A story surrounding your brand will deliver a consistent message to new and existing customers. But because of this, before you start brainstorming ideas and writing blog posts, its essential to decide on the powerful messages that will formulate your content.
The most powerful brand stories include a number of related messages that their customers buy into and find inspiring. Not only are these carefully crafted stories relatable to customers, they provide clues about what the company believes in, emphasise the businesses selling points in line with customer’s needs with an provide an overarching narrative of why you are in business.
A strong brand story will also help to achieve business goals by providing a consistent communication framework to work from when developing new pieces of content.
To set your brand story consider:
- How is your business the hero that saves the day? What is the mission and quest (i.e. the plot) of your enterprise?
- What are some personality traits and qualities of your business? – e.g. caring, transparent, fun-loving, quirky.
- How does your business help assist with the hopes, dreams and lifestyle aspirations of your customers?
- What is the human interest in what you do?
- What are the stakes? What do customers (the heroes) stand to lose or gain by using you versus a competitor (the story antagonists)
To determine the most compelling story points for a persuasive and consistent message, businesses shouldn’t rely on hunches or their instincts. Speaking to customers and gaining a deep understanding of their industry and their market the will important provide clues to set a story that resonates with your ideal buyer. Gaining this information is achieved through in-depth customer and competitor research, including market research, analysis of industry trends and customer profiling.
Undertaking Customer and Competitor Research
As a business, you might think you know all about your customers and everything about your industry, but your concerns are likely to be very different from your customers. In other words – you are not your target audience. For the most salient selling points, and to develop content that speaks to the needs of your customers, content needs to tap into the minds of the very people that buy from them.
The way do this is through in-depth research on your customers and their habits. This will uncover valuable insights that can be then addressed in your content, helping to ensure it the most powerful impact. One of the best ways to truly understand the motivations of your customers is to create buyer personas. These represent dominant buying groups, and will uncover an ‘ideal’ customer; usually a particularly lucrative group that will be especially worth catering to in your content.
ii) Buyer Personas
To craft content that resonates with your ideal buyers, developing distinct buyer personas help to give your customers a clearer identity. For a microbrewery producing craft beers targeting a young, hip and digitally savvy crowd, a persona might be a 20-something professional male with a large disposable income, living in a capital city and who likes technology, eating at gastro pubs and all-things retro.
This allows the microbrewery to create personalised content for Sydney-based IT-worker Mike (and people like him) tapping into the sorts of language he would use, his interests and personal style. It’s important to remember that a brand may have many different customers and more than one persona may be relevant.
How to Create Successful Customer Personas
To create segments that reflect a picture of the people that buy from you, businesses must do some serious information farming. Ways to extract this information include:
- Interviewing existing customers. Include customers that have complaints about your product to understand concerns or challenges they face.
- Interviewing prospective customers. These are people who may or may not be familiar with your product but have not yet purchased it. It’s worth finding out whether or not they would use your product over a competitor’s and why.
- Speak to sales staff or those in customer facing roles to gain common feedback from customers, including objections and reservations about your product/service.
- Creating data capture forms and surveys on websites and social media sites to determine visitor characteristics. Use Google analytics to see where your website visitors are located, and what search terms bring them to the site.
After undertaking several interviews, look for trends as well as any demographics, opinions and behaviours that are highly represented in the data. Asking questions relating to their career choice, buying habits, where they spend time online and how they prefer to consume information, as well as what challenges they may have with your product will glean their motivations and what drives their buying decisions.
The question ‘why’ should be at the centre of all information gathering, providing valuable insights to form t your personas and what your customer base looks like. From this information you can gain not only an insight into what angle your content should take, but also the off-site platforms where your audiences may be spending their time online.
iii) Competitor Content Research
Customers are not the only are you should study during the research stage of setting a content strategy. Understanding your closest competitors and their content producing habits will let understand the content landscape within your industry. Things to investigate include how often competitors post, the topics covered, the style and structure of the content, what topics get the most attention, and the overall quality of the information.
Look for what keywords are targeted in the titles and subject of the content, and what posts do well on social media platforms. Tools like Buzzsumo allow content creators to search certain terms to see which sites get the most engagement from their content, and can be a worthwhile process when auditing competitor content.
Researching the content that your competitors are producing is also a valuable process to uncover opportunities. From improving on what’s already out there, to filling in the gaps, research should assess what’s already out there with businesses considering how they can approach the topic or niche in a new or different way. Businesses can also capitalise on what those before them have done, to see what’s working well, and implement similar approaches in their own content strategy.
Developing Content Ideas and an Editorial Style
As well as helping formulate a strategy, tapping into the thoughts of your customers and examining the approach of competitors will also help to develop ideas for content topics. But before you start writing though, content creators should consider how they’ll speak to their audience – best achieved through a distinct editorial style. This style will ensure consistency throughout all pieces of content that are produced, dictating the tone, writing style and language used.
Without an editorial style, competing writing styles and tones may undermine the brand’s message and its potency. A style guide can help to achieve consistency through all communication produced by a brand, giving guidelines about what terms to use, formatting standards, (Internet or internet, versus or VS) what words to avoid, and how to use company specific terminology. A style guide will work best if it’s a living document that content creators refer to regularly and add to over time.
Don’t be afraid to inject humour, colloquialisms and other personality into the language of content if your customer personas warrant it. A surf-wear brand will be more speak to their customers in less academic terms than a HR company for example. Once you’ve set the style parameters for the writing, including the tone and personality, it’s time to start planning your content to ensure your business always something on-point ready to discuss.
iv)Editorial Calendars and Content Planning
The constant struggle to come up with ideas can be one of the biggest reasons why content marketing efforts lose momentum. We’ve all been there, staring at the screen blankly, praying for a brainwave or insightful idea that will really be noticed.
Fortunately writer’s block and topic paralysis can be tackled with an editorial calendar. These planning tools are one of the best ways to track, organise and plan each blog or Facebook post, infographic, e-book, meme, or tweet over the weeks and months ahead. Not only does a content calendar provide one place for all those topic ideas, in larger content development teams, they keep track of the frequency of posts and publish dates. Content calendars can also be used to keep up with who is writing what, where images and graphics will come from, while providing the business with a visual companion for all scheduled content. Using them will helps ideas become a reality, when writing down plans and ideas, they become more concrete, helping to ensure what you say is going to happen, actually happens!
There are many ways content creators can pack full their calendars with topic ideas that relevant to their audience that will have an impact. A quick search online provides a number of tools to generate topics for your content. Some of the most popular suggestions include answering questions, capitalising on current trends to leverage increased search traffic, using suggested searches (Google’s helping suggestions as you start typing a search) as well as related searches at the bottom of the search engine result pages.
Other ideas to fill up a content calendar include:
- Set up Google Alerts for specific topics related to your business. Allows you to fill in the gaps in information, and stay up-to-date with developments in the und
- Create content based on seasons, holidays and events. Events and important dates in the business. E.g. company milestones, new product launches.
- Answer questions customers have – even the controversial ones.
- Develop Training Guides. How to posts are web traffic drivers with step-by-step instructions to help complete a job reflecting positively on your brand’s customer service and willingness to help.
- Comment on industry research – and the implications.
- Write Top 10 list articles – easily scannable and popular for social media.
- Trawl Twitter hashtags and sites like Reddit and Quora. These networks offer a glimpse of what people discuss on almost any given topic and what they want to know – perfect for the basis of content topics.
v) Keyword and Trend Research and Keyword Mapping
Creating content around keywords associated with your business is probably the single most important thing businesses can do to drive targeted traffic to their site. Also by being conscious of the terms that your customers are searching for, you’ll also be more likely to tailor content to be as relevant as possible to your customers.
As well short keyword phrases such as “Cheap flights Australia”, long tail terms such as “How to find the cheapest flights in Australia” should form a major part of a content strategy. Long-tail keywords may have a lower search volume, but because they are less competitive they’ll be easier to rank for. Also, because long tails phrases like “best paint for timber fences” are highly specific, the traffic they attract will also be more specific and will have a higher conversion rate than someone who just searches for ‘exterior paint.’
For untapped keyword opportunities, Google’s Keyword Planner returns a number of keywords related to your main product or service that you may not have considered. For example a primary keyword for a surf shop will be surfboards, but other related keywords could be second-hand surfboards and beginner surfboards – all of which could form the basis of content ideas -i.e. “5 Best Boards for Beginner Surfers to Learn On”
Keyword mind maps can also be a useful way to brainstorm ideas for a content strategy helping to visualise content as part of a hierarchy. This involves listing everything you can think of under the main umbrella keyword. For example, the term “Travel Backpacks” could be at the top of the mind map hierarchy, with major categories relating to the keyword underneath such as “Buying a Backpack” “The Backpacker Lifestyle” and “Packing for Success.” From these categories the following topics could follow:
- How to pack a travel backpack successfully
- 10 things you need to pack on a trekking holiday
- What features to look for in hiking pack
- Best countries for backpackers on a budget
- What size backpack do I need?
Building an Audience and Promoting Your Content
Now that you’ve built up a bank of ideas based around the needs of your customers (and what they are searching for) it’s time to start ensuring your content is seen. After all, only if content that is seen, consumed and shared will businesses be on track to achieving their content marketing goals. There are a number of ways to build your audience, and there are some easy ways businesses can publish and format the content for maximum exposure.
vi) On-site Optimisation: Crafting Your Content for Search
Search engines are still one of the biggest drivers of traffic to a website, so it’s important to optimise content to make it easy for the giants like Google and Bing to index.
Headlines and sub-headings contain should contain keywords as close to the front of the title as possible, with each blog post’s URL’s also containing these same keywords. Spend time playing with tools such as CoSchedule’s headline analyser to help you write better headlines. These tools give you a score for a possible headline based on the emotional power of the words used. Attention-grabbing headlines can be the difference between enticing people to read a post, so it’s important to make them as click-able as possible.
Before publishing new content, plug-ins for WordPress such as Yoast help to optimise posts to be SEO friendly as possible. Based on the target keyword, Yoast includes a SEO score for meta-descriptions, page titles and other metadata to ensure posts are indexed quickly and web-code is neat and tidy. Another opportunity you should take advantage of to be found online are through your content’s images. Images should also be labelled, with a descriptive file name and a description of the image in the relevant field to extract additional SEO juice from each article you post. There are also many social sharing WordPress plug ins that include social sharing buttons at the bottom posts, making it easy for customers to share your content with their networks.
To gain additional eyeballs on a post through search engines, semantic terms, common terms associated with a topic should be inserted naturally in the content. For example, the post: “Hot water system buying guide – What to Know and Look For” may also want to mention the related terms of ‘boilers” and “hot water cylinders” in the text, but also other things users would want to know including most efficient hot water systems, gas versus solar systems, how to set up a hot water system and more. Focusing on what the user’s intent is likely to be when searching for your keyword can provide additional more content ideas and opens up a wider range of phrases that can help customers find your business.
vii) Off-site promotion and building a following
Now that you’ve optimised posts for maximum search engine visibility, it’s time to start looking at other places online where you can promote your content. Many businesses go straight to social media, and while at least one social network should be at the centre of your strategy, but there are often other untapped networks and areas of the web where businesses would be well served turning their attention.
For example, pitching a guest article on an established industry website or blog may sound counterproductive when you’re trying to build your own audience but in fact it can boost your own following. Guest blogs include a link back to your site and social media profiles, meaning you’ll get highly targeted referrals and leverage an already an established audience – especially important in the beginning as your content gains momentum. Guest posts can also help to foster new connections and with a backlink to your business website and provide an SEO boost.
Other ways businesses can promote content and reach out to prospective customers include actively participating in the online communities where their customers are. Based on customer personas this could include:
- Posting, genuine and insightful comments on other industry blogs.
- Sharing links to your content in social sharing sites and relevant online forums. E.g. a car mechanic blog posting in auto repair forums.
- Tweeting links to content several times per day, varying the tweet with different headlines, excerpts and hashtags.
- Replying and engaging with readers with meaningful responses to those who comment on your content – no matter the platform.
- Sharing content in LinkedIn groups – particularly useful business-to- business industries.
- Sharing on your own social media platforms. This includes giving popular posts a paid boost through sponsored Facebook and Twitter posts for extra exposure.
- Including content in company newsletters. Also sharing links to new content in email signatures. Encourage staff to share company content through their social media networks.
Evaluating Your Content and Revising Your Strategy
The prevailing wisdom for developing content marketing strategies is to evaluate and revise the strategy every three months based on what’s working and what need further refinement. Three months may not be much time to achieve your most lofty content marketing goals, but it will begin to give an indication if you’re on your way to achieving them. This allows businesses to implement changes before investing further in something that may not be as effective as they hoped.
For example, if a goal was to encourage 1000 customers to subscribe to the company email newsletter, and sign-ups had been less than 100, clearer incentives for subscribing or more prominent directions for subscribing may be needed.
Businesses should guide their decision making based on data from Google Analytics and social media metrics to determine which posts generate the most leads, click through, likes, shares and landing page visits. Some blog posts may perform well, but others may languish in the void of cyber space.
Rewriting old content to provide more value for your audiences based on their needs and enhancing content with images, videos, graphs and other visuals can also boost the engagement factor, and this can be tracked through the time spent on page. Remember, it’s likely that most traffic will come from just a few pieces of content so further optimisation and developing new content based on similar topics would be worth looking at. Businesses shouldn’t shy from hiring the experts to execute their strategy when their in-house resources or skills are limited. Professional writers, digital marketers and design experts can provide the backing to get your business content noticed.
Create Quality. Let Your Audience Set Your Strategy.
Despite the specifics of a content strategy differing between businesses, the basic approach of providing insightful and unique information that people respond and engage with should remain the same. Quality is key, offering something new, and putting the needs of your audience when it comes to standing out from the crowd in today’s cluttered content marketing landscape.
Ultimately the target audience of your business will the approach you should take. From the topics chosen, the brand story and keywords targeted, with a clear plan to address your audience plus ongoing performance measurement and refinement of your content, your businesses can launch from the right platform when boarding the content marketing train. With the return on investment extremely lucrative, businesses thank themselves for the growth that a strategic approach to their content marketing strategy brings.