What is Content Marketing? | Content Handbook 2018

The digital age is owned by search engines and social channels that all marketers must leverage to share content with their audiences. The content marketing landscape changes almost every week. We’re already halfway through the year, and marketers have seen their content strategies being moved by GDPR, Facebook updates, and influencer marketing trends. Marketers must shape content in new ways. Grab a drink and settle in. We’ve bundled up all the content tactics needed to create a successful content marketing strategy in 2018. Let’s get started.
What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is a strategic technique meant to deliver valuable and pertinent information to attract and engage a targeted audience based on their desires, pain points, and needs. The purpose of building a content marketing strategy is to draw more visitors to your website and generate customer action or engagement.

Why is Content Marketing Important?

Content marketing is significant on three levels:

  • It impacts your business: An efficient content marketing strategy can help you build lasting customer relationships, without you having to resort to the hard-sell approach. It highlights your subject-matter prowess and garners trust by showcasing essential issues which affect your prospects. If you handle your content well, you can draw traffic to your website and social media platforms and boost your all-round performance.

  • It impacts search engines: One of the most critical places to catch new customers online is on their search engine. If you haven’t already developed a search engine optimization plan (SEO), then it’s essential that you do. Search engines update their algorithms on a frequent basis, so it’s vital that you keep your content up-to-date.
  • It impacts your customers: Today’s customers are discerning. They want useful information, but they want to be in control of how they use it. They don’t like the hard-sell. When they are researching online before making a purchase, whether it’s for a car, a laptop, or even groceries, the customer wants relevant information that will help them make a good purchasing decision.

 

Content Marketing vs Inbound Marketing

Content marketing and inbound marketing are not two separate entities. In fact, content marketing is the foundation of inbound marketing. Content marketing refers to the way you use content to target your brand to a particular audience or demographic. Inbound marketing relates to providing the appropriate type of content to the right customer at the most opportune time. Many types of content are used for inbound marketing strategies including:

  • Blog articles: Providing informative and up-to-date blog articles will give you a strong internet presence and help your visitors develop confidence in your brand. Publishing regular blog articles also improve your visibility on search engines.

  • Videos: Posting videos on your website is an attractive and entertaining way to deliver your message. It’s more eye-catching than simple text, and when done effectively, can be more memorable. Videos can be turned into lead magnets, podcasts, eBooks, and articles so that you can get the most out of one piece of content.

  • eBooks: An eBook offering practical information relevant to your product or service, such as a how-to guide, is a valuable marketing tool. It builds confidence in your expertise and provides an incentive for your leads to submit their details.

  • Podcasts: You may not realize it, but podcasts can win you customers. They will give you immediate access to the audience already downloading podcasts from the internet and allow you to make a more personal relationship with your prospects.

  • Social media marketing: These days, your company can’t do without social media accounts. But it’s not enough to have Facebook and Twitter; you must also develop a proper social media strategy.

  • Emails: Email marketing may have taken a bit of a back seat lately, but it is still a great way to engage with your customers on a personal level.

  • Webinars: Think of a webinar as the video equivalent of a how-to eBook. It’s a popular way to share information and get your audience to interact with you by asking follow-up questions.

  • In-person events: What better way to make an immediate personal connection. In-person events can help you build an instant rapport with leads.

  • Infographics: This is a simple and effective way to present information and relevant figures at a glance. It can also draw visitors and encourage them to share through social media.

  • White papers: This is considered to be one of the most popular types of marketing content, particularly if you are a B2B. You can use them effectively to capture leads.

  • Quizzes: Using quizzes is a creative way to get your audience to interact with your website. You can also use them to drive e-commerce sales.

  • Generators and calculators: You can use these and other tools to generate business. If you use them well, they can be great lead generators.

  • Assessments: Don’t be afraid to ask your visitors for feedback. Always respond to their input and use the information wisely.

  • Downloads: Offering downloads is another way of providing your visitors with an incentive to leave their contact information. You can offer guides, checklists or even your business’ app.

 

Content marketing goes on beyond blogging. It’s important to keep your web content user-centric. Using varied types of content will help you expand to new niches and to engage your visitors in different ways because every person prefers to digest content in one form over another. If you’re not prepared to stretch beyond simple blogging practices and develop a full funnel strategy, then you will soon see a decrease in the return on your time and money spent writing.

How to Get Started with Content Marketing

To get ahead in content marketing, you need to follow the following steps:

  • Identify personas: A buyer persona is a representation of a real customer, based on data and market research on your actual customers. As well as customer demographics, it will include things such as behavior patterns, goals and motivations. The more detailed a picture you can build, the better.

Persona 2

  • SEO content marketing: Buyer personas can help you with your SEO research. When choosing relevant keywords for your personas, look for seed terms with high search volumes or keyword opportunity. Then create a final list of keywords which you feel reflect your buyer personas accurately. 

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  • Topic modeling: Now you have your buyer personas in place, and you have developed SEO strategies for your content, it’s time to think about what topics of information would be most relevant to those personas. You will also need to include which stage of the buyer's journey your personas are at when you are working out your topic modeling.


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  • Create a content nurturing strategy: Think about what added value or offers you can provide during the users’ experience on your website. Decide what lead magnets you will incorporate into your blog articles and what relevant ads you will use to draw your leads further into the funnel.

  • Cement your content marketing strategy: Work your topics into solidified article titles and video concepts, infographics, quizzes, etc. Organize deadlines in your editorial calendar based on when researched outlines and articles need to be completed. Once you get to writing, make sure SEO strategies are already in place to provide you with an organic traffic boost.



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  • Setup marketing automation: Marketing automation tools provide a great way to keep your content flowing and to test and analyze which pieces of content are working effectively. This will enable you to convert faster. Hubspot inbound marketing software combines automation tools with customer relationship management (CRM) technology. This allows you not only to keep your customers’ contact details up-to-date but also to manage their accounts and to track every interaction they have with your business. You will be able to see at a glance, which content interests your visitors most, so you can remove content from your persona types that doesn’t get clicked on.

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  • Publish content: Before you publish, give your content a final preview so you can see exactly how it will look when it goes live. Schedule an appropriate date and time to post it – this will be based on your market research. Have a promotional plan prepared to draw visitors to your content.

Awareness Stage Content

The awareness stage is the first stage of the buyer’s journey. This stage is at the top of the funnel, where people are researching data and looking for resources, opinions, and insight. In this stage, users realize they have a problem which needs solving. All they are seeking, at this stage, is information to help them clearly define the problem. They are not yet in search of a resolution, or how or where they will find it. This is your opportunity for your company to provide information which draws a potential lead’s attention, raises their awareness and inspires them to choose your company as the solution to their problem.  Examples of awareness stage content are social media tips and hints, email sign-up with eBook or tip sheet incentives, and educational video content.

Research Stage Content

At this point in the journey, the consumer is interested in your product or service and wants to know if you are an expert in your field. The crucial thing here is to provide content that is educational and shows how your product or service can provide a solution to the consumer’s pain point. Examples of research stage content include blogs featuring useful information, reports, and white papers, for taking a more in-depth look at the issue.

Comparison Stage Content

At this stage, the consumer wants to see how you stand up to your competition. Think about all the different aspect this entails, such as product quality and reliability, customer service and support, and ease of use. You can make it much easier for consumers to weigh up the options by providing clear infographics which break down complicated information in easy-to-digest bites. Your infographics might include price comparisons, or feature breakdowns with an appealing, visual design.

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Consideration Stage Content

During the consideration stage, potential customers are interested in purchasing your products or services but are still weighing-up their value. They are seeking proof that your solution is the right one for their specific problem. This is a crucial stage in the buyer’s journey, and at this point customers need some precise information on why they should make this purchase. An example of valuable content for this stage is a buyers’ guide which details essential criteria which they can use to compare your solutions to their pain points. You can add value to this by including insights which will educate the consumer. Including customer testimonials is also a good idea at this stage, as they can highlight how your brand addresses and surpasses the consumer’s needs more than other brands.

Decision Stage Content

At this point, the consumer decides to purchase your product or service. Your content has to be spot on, validating that your consumer should make a purchase right now, and how it will continue to meet his or her future needs. Examples of decision stage content are live demos or trial downloads, which show consumers exactly what they will be getting when they make a purchase. It’s also a good idea to offer limited-time loyalty or discount programs as an extra incentive.

Implementation Stage Content

Now your consumer has made a purchase; this is your chance to show them that they made the right decision. Help them get your product or service up and running and loving its benefits. Perhaps you could offer online tutorials which show not only the basics but also how to get the most from their purchase down the line.

Support Stage Content

Quite often, the availability of an excellent support service will keep your customers loyal. It will also increase their chances of wanting to invest further in your products or services. Offer a friendly, reliable customer service support, with online chat and a detailed FAQ.

Repeat Stage Content

When a consumer has invested in you once, it’s crucial that you implement strategies to keep them around and increase their investment. You can encourage this by offering rewards programs, discounts, or extended features based on their input and their needs. Personalized newsletters providing exclusive content or insider guides are an excellent way to introduce complementary products or services.

Think carefully about the content you create at each stage of the buyer’s journey. Be mindful of your consumers and don’t overwhelm them with information.

Timely Content vs. Evergreen Content

Evergreen content is exactly what it sounds like; content that is fresh at any time of year. For example, it could be a case study detailing how you solved a customer’s particular problem. Or it could be a blog post explaining how to deal with common issues related to your industry for example, how to know when your HVAC needs servicing. This type of content offers long-term value for your visitors. Evergreen content is valuable because once you have created it, you can use it again and again. Always make sure to update your links and references on a regular basis.

Timely content offers information that pertains to the time of year, some current event, or an existing industry event. For example, let’s say your company delivers flowers, you will want to promote your Valentine’s Day special offers in January and February and your Mother’s Day deals in April and May, but these blog posts won’t be as relevant during other times of the year. Alternatively, perhaps you are displaying your floral creations at a local flower show, and you want your customers to know where to find you; your blog and social media pages are great ways to keep them informed. These posts have value because they let your visitors know what’s happening now. AdEspresso does a really neat article that aggregates time-sensitive updates each month on Instagram.

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The best way to maintain a balance between the two types of content is to keep a ratio of 80/20 percent, with evergreen content taking the most prominent portion. However, do remember to leave space in your editorial calendar to fit in some timely content that you may not be able to plan in advance.

Organic Content vs Paid Social Media Marketing

How many prospective clients you reach with organic social media marketing will depend on the number of visitors who happen to come across your posts when you posted them. Unfortunately, the algorithms on social media platforms like Facebook, make it difficult to have much of an organic reach. Paid social media marketing gives you a greater reach because you boost your content by using one-time or regular payments. This way, your posts are targeted towards a specific demographic.

While organic social media posts are great for establishing and getting feedback from your community, you can use paid campaigns to reinforce community messages, highlight promotions or special events, and draw communications from new prospective clients. Remember, use your organic approach to listen and learn about your client community as a whole, and use paid marketing to target specific groups.

Take a look below for two key inbound content strategies. To the left, the piece of content offered is a webinar pushed to a retargeted audience that has previously shown interest to Hubspot. To the right, you can see an example of a lead magnet targeting a user who has recently engaged with influencer marketing content. These are two kinds of content engagements that work great when using paid ads on Facebook.

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You should create a specific budget plan for your paid social media marketing. Start off tentatively and see how it works for you, then adjust your budget as necessary. You can get started doing paid ads for as little as $5-10 a day, and most channels will automatically optimize your ad over time.

Content Marketing Trends

Current marketing trends that you will see more and more over the coming year include:

  • The use of original content: this will focus on information consumers want to reach rather than just pushing a brand.
  • Creative use of video: this means using video in unusual ways to attract new customers.
  • Extending email lists: email is still alive and kicking, and it’s an excellent way to keep in touch with customers on a personal level.
  • Making the most of social media: There are more social media platforms than ever before. Don’t limit your social media to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Make use of Pinterest, Snapchat, and Instagram.

 

Best Practices for Content Marketing

When it comes to content marketing, some best practices should be adhered to, no matter what products or services you are offering. Here’s a rundown.

  • Aim for your target audience: Don’t simply reach out to the broadest market possible. Focus on reaching your target demographic rather than trying to accrue high page view stats and random likes.

  • Provide value: Don’t over focus on talking about your brand. Every single interaction you have with consumers should provide value.

  • Pay attention to word count: You should always prioritize quality over quantity. Don’t fluff up content to make the word count; this detracts from the value.

  • Create pillar content: This is an informative piece of content that covers one topic extensively. It is broken down into several sections to make it easily digestible.

  • Focus on conversions: For content marketing to be successful, you need to build up customer relationships over time. This means it’s imperative for you to engage with prospective customers on a regular basis. Encourage your leads to become conversions by offering them incentives.

  • Make the most of user-generated content (UGC): Leveraging UGC is a great way to strengthen relations with existing customers and to draw in new ones. For example, repurpose user photos on Instagram or Facebook to show how your customers are interacting with your brand. (Don’t forget to get the customer’s permission first.)

  • Use varied content formats: Don’t just stick to blogs and tweets. Be creative, incorporate video, webinars, podcasts, and quizzes into your content. Encourage users to interact with your content as much as possible.

  • Personalize your content: Your users want to know how your products or services are relevant to them. The technology is available to help you personalize content to specific audience demographics; make the most of it.

Top Content Marketing Mistakes

Content marketing is one of the best ways to draw in new leads if you do it right. If you don’t take your time and pay attention to detail, you can end up doing your company more harm than good. Here are some common marketing mistakes to avoid.

  • Over-relying on Google Trends: Using the Google Trends tool to help you generate content ideas is fine, but don’t let it be your sole source of inspiration. There are many other ways to source content ideas, including forums such as Quora, industry publications, and your social media followers. Some of the best alternatives to Google Trends include Ahrefs and Semrush, which provide data on trends as well as keyword volumes. Picking topics around keyword volumes is the first step to creating your organic content strategy, so while Google trends gives you a little insight on if a keyword is trending, other tools can centralize your search for more data: volumes, difficulty, CPC, and more.

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  • Writing sales-centric content: It cannot be over-emphasized how important it is to keep your content customer-centric. Every user will quickly spot a branch-push, and that could be a potential customer you’ve lost forever.

  • Forgetting about lead magnets: A lead magnet is an offer of incentive in exchange for a visitor’s email address or other contact information. Simple examples include cheat sheets, templates, and free downloads.

  • Not researching what your customers want: You can’t afford not to do this. Posting content that interests you will not draw your target audience. Find out what is important to them. Take a poll, ask for their input, look at their demographic. Learn as much as you can about your target audience.

How to Use Personas to Create Content

Content marketing is not forgiving for companies who rely on assumptions, which is why you need to validate your customer personas. The first step is to provide a personal profile and customer journey map for each of your target customer demographics. To do so, you should understand their personal background, industry type, job responsibilities, and challenges. Then you should walk through a sample persona for each stage of the buyer’s journey.


Let’s say you own a software company that helps designers in the sports industry. A persona might be Rebecca Smith, Lead Designer, MKL Skateboards, a skateboarding company for girls. Her daily challenges include knowing what’s trending in the female skating world, staying in tune with what girl skateboarders are buying.


Awareness stage content example: Grab Rebecca’s attention with a blog entitled 12 Skateboard Decks of Pro Female Athletes or 50 Trends in Skateboard Decks. These both offer valuable information because Rebecca needs to stay up-to-date on trends and influencers on skateboards for girls.


Research stage content example: Show Rebecca you are an expert in your field by providing a free white paper on How to Discern the Best Programs for Designing Skateboards Online. As well as helping Rebecca with her research, this will also build confidence in your company.


Comparison stage content example: Here’s your opportunity to show Rebecca how you stand above your competitors. Create an infographic comparing your software and services to two of your top competitors. With a combination of top selling points, figures and graphics, highlight the areas in which your products or services are superior.


Consideration stage content example: At this point, you still need to convince Rebecca that your product is the right one for her specific needs. Perhaps you have another client who uses your software to design skateboards. If so, this would be a good time to share customer testimonials. Alternatively, you could offer a video or webinar demonstrating how your software will work for this kind of project.


Decision stage content example: Rebecca has now decided to buy your software. Use this stage to encourage her to make her purchase now, before she has time to change her mind. A limited-time loyalty program or one-time discount would be a good incentive.


Implementation stage content example: To help maintain Rebecca’s loyalty to your company, you can now help her to get the software up and running so that she can get the most potential from it. How about offering her a series of online tutorials which will show her how to use both the basic and more advanced features?


Support stage content: Keep Rebecca loyal by offering reliable customer service. Provide a detailed FAQ on your website, downloadable guides, and for those times when she needs a more personal touch, offer online chat and a customer service phone number. Little pieces of content can drastically change the customer experience. Bell Canada provides its customers with a short tutorial of crucial features before ending a phone call, and they saw a six percent reduction in churn from that alone.


Repeat stage content example: Now Rebecca has faith in your products and services, it’s important to encourage her to come back for more. Perhaps you have additional software she would be interested in, or there may be a forthcoming upgrade to the software she has already purchased. Keep her up to date with personalized newsletters containing exclusive news and special offers. Asos launched a campaign giving exclusive access to news and events called #AccesstoAsos. Add value to your current customers and increase their customer lifetime value (CLV) as a core part of your content marketing strategy.


3 Templates for Editorial Calendars

You can’t use content marketing successfully without a good content marketing strategy, and you can’t create a valid content marketing strategy without using an editorial calendar. To make your life easier, there are several available templates for editorial calendars. Here are three of the most popular.

HubSpot – Content Planning Template

In collaboration with Smart Insights, HubSpot has designed an Excel-based template to help you manage your content calendar. It has plenty of great features including:

  • SWOT analysis of your marketing efforts
  • Brainstorming help
  • Content matrix to visualise map ideas
  • Timeline creation

Moz – Content Strategy Template

The Moz template helps you break down your strategy into manageable sections so that you can base your marketing program on your audience’s needs. Its features include:

  • Introduction
  • Prologue
  • Onsite content
  • Blog
  • Offsite content
  • Rule creation
  • Workflow
  • Action plan

Shape+Sound – Content Marketing Planning Template for Startups

This is a great content marketing strategy planner because it helps you break your strategy down to each stage of the buyer’s journey. Featured sections include:

  • Buyer stages
  • Buyer considerations
  • Content topic
  • Author
  • Sales expert
  • Content type
  • Call to action


To stay ahead of the game, you need to be aware of how, where and why the content marketing industry is moving. Using your intuition is not going to cut it, you need to have the facts at hand. Here is a breakdown of content marketing solutions, some current statistics, and examples to inspire. 

Blog articles

According to Orbit Media, only 55% percent of bloggers bother to update their previous posts. If this is you, you may want to start updating those old posts, because bloggers who do this are 74% more likely to get substantial results. How often you update your blog posts will largely depend on how quickly things change within your industry. Nuts About Southwest - the blog for Southwest airlines and the travel industry in general. The blog has a significant following because of its compelling content.

Videos

Social Bakers, revealed that an average video post generates 135% greater organic reach than posts containing still images. Make sure you optimize your video content for search engines by using carefully chosen keywords when you name your video. Also, don’t forget to transcribe your video content or at least the main points, so that Google can parse the content. Zendesk got it right with their videos that show how to make the most of their product.

Social media marketing

According to Marketing Sherpa, online adults are most likely follow a brand via social networking. Use your social platforms to provide value not just to promote your brand. Whole Foods Market has over 1.9 million Instagram followers, primarily because they don’t push the brand. Instead, they share sumptuous pictures of food, to inspire people to cook with ingredients from their stores.

eBooks

eBooks are great lead magnets. They give your visitors something tangible that they can take away with them. If you’re struggling to come up with ideas for your eBook, take a look at your web content. You’ll have at least 80 percent of your eBook content right there. Pick your top ten best performing posts and work your eBook around those themes. Salesforce is a customer relationship management (CRM) platform. They offer a free eBook to draw and engage leads and highlight how their CRM can help businesses succeed. SEJ’s offers an ebook on creating content marketing goals.

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Infographics

According to the Nielsen Norman Group, infographics are liked and shared on social media three times more than any other types of content. They can also help you generate leads. You can use them to represent offers or showcase data in a blog post. Infographics are one of the most cost-effective ways to generate leads. Visually uses infographics successfully to convey a significant amount of data in a visually appealing, easy to read manner.

Podcasts


Edison Research reports that podcast listening grew 23% between 2015 and 2016. And the growth continues. Podcasts can generate leads. Use podcasts to interview experts in your field, provide guidance on using your products and services, and update industry news. Your subscribers will receive automated messengers when a new podcast is available so that they won’t miss a thing. SupportOps is hosted by Chase Clemons from the Basecamp Task Management System. He uses the podcasts to provide valuable information about customer service challenges.

How to Find SEO Content Experts

Unless you’re an SEO expert yourself, it’s best to hire a professional, that way you can be sure that your online presence is fully optimized. The best way to find a consultant is online. You can either hire a company or a freelance SEO expert. Here are some things to look out for when you’re making your choice.

    • Look at the SEO expert’s portfolio to see if he’s built successful campaigns for a good number of clients.
    • Choose SEO that follows white hat strategies.
    • Hiring an SEO expert who has a PPC background is a plus
    • Ask for a sample of articles that they helped rank and their associated traffic metrics
    • Your SEO expert should be proficient in all three aspects of SEO: on-page, off-page and technical.
    • Choose an SEO expert who understands content marketing and social media marketing.

While organic content can bring some sites the majority of their traffic, there must be a joint effort between paid and organic. Having both included in your strategy helps minimize risk for sites still building domain authority through site optimization, link building, and content generation.

How to Install Google Analytics to Track Content & Channel Success

Google Analytics is a powerful tool that can help you track all of the content you publish. To make it run effectively, you need to do the following:

  • Add code to every webpage
  • Set up goals
  • Use the URL builder to track your campaigns
  • Add e-commerce tracking
  • Add information about your offline campaigns

Once you are up and running, you will be able to get a high-level view of your marketing campaigns using specific channel graphs and generating reports on your top landing pages.

The Future of Content Marketing

We are about to begin a new transition in content marketing. This transition is all about adopting new techniques and technologies to create new pathways to engage customers. Here are some new trends you should start thinking about using.

    • Creating accountable content: This means content that will initiate specific actions which connect to your marketing objectives.
    • Raising standards of storytelling: You must be laser-focused on your audience demographics and desires to present this optimally.
    • Introducing immersive VR: More and more businesses are taking advantage of this additional channel to incorporate immersive experiences into marketing strategies.
    • Using A.I. to curate content: Artificial intelligence can be a great tool to help you make content for personalized and predictive. For example, companies like OpenInfluence uses A.I. to tag photo content and analyze which product categories are getting the most engagement.
    • Implementing native advertising: Native advertising follows the form of media within which it is placed, they also mesh with the user’s experience. More people see native ads than standard banners, and they often get as much attention as editorial content.
    • Live-streaming content: Outside of real-life conversation, live-streaming offers the most intimate interaction possible. It allows customers to ask questions, get answers, and give feedback, so they get an increased sense of engagement.

Content marketing is already so much more than an editorial calendar loaded with blogs. As marketing strategies become more of a challenge, competitively, content curators are being forced to become more creative. Content marketers have access to more resources and technologies than ever before. We are approaching an exciting time for digital marketing. Before you get started publishing content, view our tips to promoting Pillar articles.

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About the Author: Gregg Anderson

Gregg Anderson

Gregg is a Veteran of the Armed Forces and a graduate of San Diego State University, holding a Bachelor’s degree in Management & Entrepreneurship. Gregg’s experience in the marketing industry ranges from auditing and planning marketing strategies for the small business next door, to crafting strategies for multimillion-dollar ventures. He also has experience in the startup, angel, and venture capital environment.

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