It’s 2020 and like it or not, content still rules.
According to Hubspot’s 2020 marketing statistics and predictions, 72% of marketers point out that an effective content marketing strategy is a key factor in their marketing success. Content creation, as an extension of content marketing, continues to be one of the most crucial weapons in your marketing strategy in 2020 – and beyond.
The question is: are you ready to get the best out of it?
If you shouted “yes!” (and did a fist pump when no one was looking), we’ve got you covered. Join us as we take a look at how to create a powerful content marketing strategy for your business.
The anatomy of a content marketing strategy
Creating a content marketing strategy is not something you can do in a couple of days. It is a multi-step process that can be roughly split into 3 phases:
Don’t let the graphic confuse you, lead earning and nurturing is technically a part of the execution step, but we decided to give them a spotlight since these methods are what directly impacts your bottom line.
Now that we have the theory down, let’s see how to implement a content marketing plan in practice.
1. Due to the necessary groundwork
All good plans have one thing in common – they are based on quality research. Crafting a content marketing plan without doing your due diligence is bound to fail. Let’s see where to look – and what to look for.
Find and understand your target audience
Alright, it makes sense to start off with knowing who are you writing for. Conducting a comprehensive target audience analysis is a must if you want to understand your audience’s expectations.
Some of the ways you can gather useful data are to:
- send out questionnaires and surveys
- monitor your audience’s behavior on your page
- competitor analysis (more on that later in the article)
- read through relevant Quora and Reddit questions
- join niche forums discussions
- look at what top blogs in your industry are talking about
if you want to automate things, you can even install chatbots and let them gather valuable data by asking qualifying questions to your website visitors
Perform content audit & content gap analysis
Once you know who your audience is, where they hang out, and what are their needs and wants, it’s time to review and update your existing content. Perhaps you’ve already got some solid information published on your blog. Maybe all that’s needed is a little tweak here and there to make it more relevant to your audience. This process is also known as existing content audit.
In conjunction with a content audit, you can also run a content gap analysis. It is essentially an analysis that helps to fill in the gaps in the content that’s already written and content that is sought after by the public (including your target audience).
Take TeamBuzz for example. They are producing content related to building a positive workplace culture. They could be writing about things every other employee feedback tool writes about – giving feedback and recognition or ways to engage your employees.
Instead, they’ve noticed that the sought-after piece of information is not how to engage your employees, but rather how to build a framework that helps measuring employee engagement, as companies seem to struggle with that. They used a tool called BuzzSumo to identify this gap.
The content around the topic that already exists is incomplete and lacking solid data. Therefore, the focus of their content marketing strategy should be on exploring this topic in more depth.
2. Competitor analysis
Not sure where to start? Checking out the best in your field is a great first step so that you understand who you’re competing with. Conducting a competitor analysis is crucial because you need to know what worked for them, what works in your niche in general, and how saturated with content your niche is.
Choose the right competitors to analyze
Your biggest competitors on the market might not be the best candidates for this analysis. They often are, but not always (some might be pioneers in the industry that get clients mostly through word of mouth and brand reputation).
The best candidates are the ones that are focusing on content marketing – and they are successful at it. In practice, the easiest way to do that is to use tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush to look at their organic traffic and choose 5 or so competitors who have the highest numbers.
What kind of content performs best for them
The performance of a content piece can be broken down into two general categories:
- most engaging content – content that got most likes/shares/comments
- best performing content in SERPs – content that earns your competitors most of their organic traffic
With the help of tools like BuzzSumo and Ahrefs, you can uncover a list of posts that have already built a strong presence in the SERPs, as well as gained a decent number of social shares and links.
First, pop over to BuzzSumo. Then, export all the blog posts that a competitor set live in a specific time frame of your choosing. As you can see from the screenshot below, I took a look at the posts that were published in 2019 on the mention.com blog:
BuzzSumo tells you how well posts have been performing in terms of social engagement and links. However, to get an organic traffic stat, you need to go use the Ahrefs Batch Analysis tool. Before you do that, make sure you export the list of posts (URLs) from BuzzSumo.
In Ahrefs, you can upload as many as 200 URLs at once and learn about each pages of organic traffic. As you can see from the screenshot below, we analyzed a number of blog pages where only a few pages are receiving more than 100 organic visitors on a monthly basis:
Lastly, to gain a more in-depth understanding of your rival’s content marketing performance, you can run their content audit. This involves reviewing their keyword research strategy and identifying their keyword gaps.
Alternatively, if you only use Ahrefs, you can look at your competitors’ “Top Pages” to see which kind of content gets them the most organic traffic or switch to “Top Content” to see which pieces got the most shares.
Understand the general landscape
Focusing on specific competitors is definitely worth your time and effort, but it can give you a very fragmented overview of what’s going on in your industry. For this reason, you should also investigate the general landscape as well, as this will help you uncover new content ideas that can bring in a healthier flow of traffic.
You can get this data by using the same approach described above. BuzzSumo allows you to analyze particular websites, but it also lets you export a list of the most successful posts in terms of the number of acquired links and social signals via any search term.
For example, below is a list of posts that have attracted the biggest number of links about email outreach topic (woohoo, our own post slips in straight after Brian Dean’s research).
This data reveals what kind of content has the highest chances of attracting links. As you can see, Brian’s research secured over 70 referring domains, while the rest of the posts got way fewer links.
What’s the conclusion to make here? Well, we can surmise that content that involves sharing some analytical data has a better chance of generating more links. Data helps to cement your article as an authority on a particular subject and creates trust among readers. Straight after this, we have posts that are delivered in the form of guides and how-tos.
3. Keyword research
Skipping keyword research is never a good idea. If you’re targeting the wrong keywords, it doesn’t matter how good your content is or how many links you’ve been able to build.
Because great content doesn’t bring visitors by just “being there”. Planning ahead is at the core of every content marketing strategy. Without keyword research, your content marketing plan is as good as blindfolded LeBron James on a bicycle trying to score a basket. No matter how good he is, the ball is not going in.
Here is the kind of search queries (keywords) you need to focus on:
- they have decent monthly search volume (which depends on your budget and the size of your business)
- they are not insanely competitive
- they have the right search intent
Having a decent search volume and not an insane amount of competition in the SERPs
Your potential clients are searching for your products and services in Google, but not all search queries have sufficient search volume. Your goal, then, is to find those queries that have enough demand. Otherwise, you might spend 60 hours to publish and promote content that only attracts 3 visitors a month and simply doesn’t offer a good ROI.
There are a few ways to learn more about your user’s search behavior.
If you want to search the volume and level of competition in the SERPs in one table, I highly recommend checking out SEMrush’s Magic Tool. You can use this tool to find a whole host of search terms that your customers are searching for right now in a particular niche or topic. More importantly, you can use it to uncover how popular any search term is. All you need to do is check the search column.
By checking the keyword difficult column, meanwhile, you can decipher how hard it will be to rank for any search term you bring up.
Alternatively, you can use Ahrefs’s Keyword research feature that does basically the same thing.
If the budget is tight, your best bet is to use Ubersuggest as it also features both metrics – and it’s completely free.
Understanding the search intent
When you type something into Google, in most cases, you are looking for very specific information. Matching what people are searching for with the phrases they’re using isn’t always as straightforward as you might think. That is why you need to pay special attention to search intent.
For example, a person who is searching for discounts has what we call a high commercial intent. In other words, they’re ready to buy.
Conversely, a customer who wants to read some reviews or guides is running a market analysis and still hasn’t selected a company that he or she wants to do business with. So, if your guide is overly promotional, that might put the reader off and get them looking at other resources.
Another potential challenge is avoiding targeting keywords that have a double meaning or are popular in multiple industries. For instance, “asset management” is a popular term in both the maintenance and the financial sector which means you need to be careful if you want to cover something related to that keyword.
In general, it is a good practice to try and deliver on what you promise in your title and meta descriptions as both of these elements are great tools to manage prospect’s expectations of what your content/pages are all about.
4. Create your content marketing plan
That finally brings us to the action plan. Let’s go through the steps you gotta take to get your content marketing plan up and running.
Develop a content strategy
During this step you need to define:
- How much content you plan to produce over the next X months. Ideally, this can be defined as a part of your content calendar.
- Which type of content you are focusing on. Written guides, videos, infographics, interactive content (quizzes/calculators/surveys…), or all of the above.
- Who will be producing this content? Do you plan to do everything in-house or you need to outsource (outsourcing is often using by firms looking to scale content production).
- How are you going to promote it? I will present you with some options later in the article.
- How will you measure content performance? As the famous saying goes: “what can’t be measured can’t be managed.” And that rings true for your content marketing strategy too. Set KPIs related to the traffic your content drives, on-page performance (like “time on page”, “bounce rate”, etc.), backlinks leading to it, and, perhaps, even the number of shares it gets on social media.
If you want to take KPIs a step further, you could also look to define how many leads you’re aiming to gather, how many free trials sign-ups you want to generate, and similar.
In order to be as efficient as you possibly can content creation process can really be time and energy-consuming), you need the right content marketing tools. And I assure you, there is one for every step of this process.
Schedule content calendar
It is hard to produce content on a regular basis if you do not have a proper calendar in place. If you are creating an extensive content marketing plan, it’s only natural that you have a lot of content in the pipeline.
Content marketing calendar is here to help you stay on track.
There isn’t a universal template you need to follow. Your content marketing calendar should contain the fields YOU need. Below, you can see a version of CM calendar used by Point Visible.
Lastly, consider supplementing content calendar with a project management tool. Content creation process often involves research, writing, graphic design, SEO optimization, and content promotion – which is a team effort. Even a very basic PM tool can help coordinate all of those tasks and keep team members accountable for their assignments.
5. Distribute your content in the most effective way
There are various ways to approach content promotion. If you want to learn more about the most effective content distribution channels, take a look at these content promotion strategies from Buffer.
In continuation, I will discuss two proven content promotion techniques in more detail.
Create a promo shout-out on social media
SMM shout-outs can bring a good spike in traffic from social media sources if they’re done right. For example, our own email outreach guide has got over 500 users just after it was launched:
Here’s what you need to do to capture a decent number of users from social media sites:
- Create a list of people that you’re going to ask to share your post once it goes live. The first on the list should be people and tools you mention in the post. After that, you can try contacting influencers and other people in the niche that might be interested in sharing your content.
- Write a short and sweet email where you not only ask them to share your new post but where you also tell them that you’re happy to promote something from their blog as well (or some other type of incentive).
- Add links to already published social media posts to simplify the sharing process.
Here’s how our email looked:
PRO TIP: Branded links have found an increased use in social media marketing as they’re known to improve brand trust and increase click-through rates. Marketers can create branded links using platforms like Rebrandly URL Shortener.
Content promotion through link building
Now, let’s focus on the real work you have to do to get to the top of Google by showing you how our approach to content marketing evolved through the years. Back in 2016, we were big believers that once we started publishing something and promoting it across our channels, we would soon get tons of traction.
We started to accept guest posts, and in total, we published more than 30 posts during that year!
What happened with traffic? Nothing. We were getting so-called ‘spikes of hope’ (credit Rand Fishkin for that phrase) … but we were soon back to zero traffic mode. A few years passed, and we deleted roughly 70% of our content pages and invested heavily in link building:
And here’s how many unique referring domains we built-in 2019:
Why am I telling you this?
Because, while general promotion through social channels is helpful, links are what ensure that your content is able to earn a steady stream of readers in the long run.
If you want to start building links that refer back to your content pages, here are a few viable strategies to consider:
- Guest posting. Good ol’ article writing for high authority websites in your niche. It not only gets you a well-deserved link back to your content or a landing page, but helps build an authority for you and your brand.
- Get links from HARO. We don’t use this method ourselves, but I’ve heard enough positive feedback about this strategy to know that it works. HARO is a platform where journalists and editors search for experts across various niches. Check out this step-by-step process of building links with the help of HARO to learn more.
- Collaborate with people in your circles. To cut a long story short, we’ve learned that people who are somehow connected to our brand are more eager to give us a link than sites that aren’t connected to our brand. Some time ago, our very own Alex Tachalova wrote a guest post on the CXL blog where she shows exactly how you can build links via already established connections.
How does organic traffic lead to clients and customers?
Traffic =/= more customers.
Well written and distributed content is one thing, but convincing your audience to invest in your products or services is a separate challenge. Luckily, content is a powerful tool to make it happen (if you know how).
So, how do you use your content skillfully and convert your website traffic into leads and customers?
Here are some tried and tested methods:
1) Use strong CTAs in your copy
That’s right, telling your readers clearly what they should do while (or after) reading your content is crucial. You’d be surprised to know what a difference it makes when you actually ask people to take a certain action. Use simple, yet clear words such as “Sign up”, “Read more”, “Click here”, “Subscribe”, etc.
2) Mention your product and link to feature pages
Your content should aim at providing solutions to the issues that your target audience is facing. If you’re smart, you mostly focus on content related to your core business.
This means that when you are creating a guide, it will only be natural that one or more sections or steps in your guide mention how you (or your product) can be helpful. In those sections, you can use screenshots to show off your product and/or link to your money pages where some of the audience will hopefully convert into leads.
3) Combine lead magnets with email marketing
Lead magnets are something you give to your website’s visitor in exchange for their contact information. Once they decide to trust you with their contact info, they become your “leads”.
At this point, you can use email marketing to nurture those leads and try to convince them to become paying customers. Depending on your business model, this can be something as simple as sending them discount codes and one CTA, or something as complicated as crafting automated email sequences with multiple branching options (used more in a B2B environment).
4) PPC (re)targeting
Once you’ve created a killer piece of content, it’s the time to share it with the world. One way to do it is to set up Facebook ads and start bringing in your target audience to your blog. People who decide to visit are most likely interested in what you have to say (or write about).
If you use something like a Facebook pixel, you can target people that have already been on your website before.
When you have enough content on your blog that covers all phases of the marketing funnel, you can use this method to nurture leads to conversion. People that have clicked on the adds that promote content in the awareness phase can be targeted with content in the evaluation phase, and so on.
As you can see, the word “content” is not only limited to written guides.
All in all, content marketing takes effort, endeavor, and talent. Tools are here to help you along the way, but what’s key right now is that you put together a solid team that can assist you every step of the way, from keyword research to distribution.
The next thing to do is to draft some ideas, stick them in your content calendar – and start executing on your content domination goals for this year.
If this doesn’t seem like something you can do yourself, check out how Point Visible can help you set up and execute a sound content marketing strategy.
Kas Szatylowicz is a Content Marketing Manager at Digital Olympus. She writes about all things SEO, content marketing, and social media. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter: @KasSzatylowicz