You’re an established business owner or a complete newcomer, convinced that your company is the next big thing. But no one knows you exist. Or maybe you’re a freelancer — a writer, photographer, or graphic designer — who wants to get out there and connect with the people you know you can help with your service.
How do you do it?
You market yourself with great content.
Content marketing is defined as:
…a type of marketing strategy focused on creating valuable, audience-specific content in order to attract customers.
Give customers information they can use, and they’ll connect with you.
In this article, we’ll explain the importance of content marketing, and seven things you can do to build an effective content marketing strategy.
- how to identify your target audience,
- ways to connect with them, and
- how you can improve their engagement with your website.
By the time you reach the end of this piece, you’ll have a better understanding of what content marketing is, why it’s important, and how it can help you grow your business.
Ready to get started?
Step 1: Create User Personas
This is the meat and potatoes of the marketing game. In this step, you create profiles, or user personas, meant to encapsulate your potential customers.
Say you’re trying to sell a mobile laundry service app. Who would benefit from that? User personas help you narrow down and define what your target audience looks like. If you focus on the people most likely to need your product and customize your content accordingly, you’ll get a higher rate of return.
For your laundry app, a sample persona might be Daniel, the single dad. Daniel works in tech, earned a degree from MIT, and likes building his own computers. He has two children, a boy and a girl, both in elementary school, and as a single father, doesn’t have much time for housework. He already uses a meal delivery app service, so you know he’s open to something similar.
See how that profile paints a picture of a potential customer? It looks at Daniel not just in economic terms, but also in more personal facets of his life.
Customer personas can be very involved, depending on the amount of research you’re willing to invest on your target audience. Even if you can’t pay a company to create them for you, put some thought into the people most likely to connect with you or your product. It’ll go a long way toward reaching them.
Step 2: Create Shareable Content
People hate ads. They skip them, fast-forward through them, or install ad-blocking software. That’s why it’s important to create shareable content that grabs your audience’s attention. It doesn’t even need to promote your product, or can do so very loosely, so long as people link back to you.
You can do this in a few ways:
Creating a Viral Post
Every year, people look forward to the Super Bowl as much for the advertising as the game. They make lists of the best and worst, analyze them, and share them on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, where they rack up millions of views. The last few years, Super Bowl ads have leaked online before the game.
The spots aren’t so much advertisements as miniature movies; they’re designed to be highly entertaining. Thus, the content gets shared and re-shared. The end result is millions more eyes on the brand's product — and hopefully a big return on their expensive ad investment.
The writers of Buzzfeed are masters of shareable content, mixing hard news they know their readers want with quizzes and funny video clips like a guy playing through Minecraft with no instructions, or a mesmerizing video of a matcha latte being made. Each piece of content is valuable to a different type of customer.
Fast food companies like Denny’s and Wendy’s are brilliant at sharing funny content on Twitter. When Denny’s posted a picture of a banana octopus with the caption, “Anyway, here’s Wonderwall,” they knew the people they wanted to reach would find it hilarious — even if others found it completely absurd.
The Super Bowl is shareable content marketing on an epic scale, but the principles remain the same for small companies and solo entrepreneurs. As long as what you‘re creating is engaging and speaks to people on their level, you’ve got a good chance at your voice being heard and shared.
Creating Citable Resources
It pays off to create useful content that others will bookmark and refer to over and over again.
Jorden Roper, founder of the blog Writing Revolt, uses her site to teach people how they can start their own writing business and ditch their 9-to-5 office job. She dispenses free information people can use, and then lets them know how they can purchase her courses to learn even more. Her step-by-step blog-building guide, tips for cold emailing clients, and advice on choosing a profitable blog niche all establish her authority in the realm of blogging.
Roper also has a YouTube channel where she posts advice videos with links to her free resources and her website. Combined, her active presence across multiple channels drive traffic and make it easier for people to share and find out about her business.
Creating Citable Research
Kati Morton, a licensed marriage and family therapist, makes informative videos on YouTube about mental health and well-being. Her content is centered around issues many people confront, like depression or imposter syndrome. Her videos are short, informative, and backed by both Morton’s experience as a therapist and her own research.
While she emphasizes that her videos are no substitute for therapy, they act as a gateway for people to find the help they need. If a video helps one person, they’ll share it with others. Morton is passionate about her subject and does her homework, and that shines through in the content she produces. It's also made her channel grow to over 300,000 subscribers as of this writing.
When you tailor your content to your audience, the odds of it being shared are significantly higher. And every share is free advertising.
Step 3: Publish Content Consistently
Every marketing guru will tell you that a consistent publishing schedule keeps you at the top of your audience’s mind, and makes it more likely that they’ll engage with your content. But you have to be careful about this—though you may be tempted to push out a high volume of content, quality wins over quantity.
For reference, take a look at your favorite YouTuber or blogger’s posting schedule. You'll find they usually publish:
You don’t have to choose just one method, and every business will have different audience requirements. For instance, you could publish one longer, well-researched blog post a month and supplement it with weekly videos.
In the end, you'll have to choose what works best for you — and what works best for your audience. To help set up a regular publishing schedule, use a content calendar.
How can I know what works best for me?
Measure how long it takes you to produce a really insightful podcast, YouTube video, or article, and then figure out how many you could feasibly produce in a week or month. Two long-form blog posts with real meat to them per week outweigh five shorter posts of lower quality, and will decrease the odds of your audience becoming overwhelmed and tuning out.
Melyssa Griffin, founder of entrepreneurship blog The Nectar Collective, explains how she figured out a content schedule in a recent podcast with filmmaker Matt D’Avelia. At first, she was cranking out shorter blog posts five days a week, but later moved to a twice monthly format. This schedule was more manageable for her, allowing Melyssa to provide greater value with her content by digging deeper into her subject matter than it was possible to do in a 300-word blog post.
<div class="tip">Having trouble keeping up with your content schedule? Consider hiring a freelance writer. If you're not sure about the process and best practices for hiring freelancers, check out our comprehensive guide here.</div>
Step 4: Write Good Copy
You can construct the most thorough customer personas ever, know all the trendiest memes, and do mind-blowing original research, but without good copy, it's all useless.
So how do you avoid copy that falls flat?
- Speak to your reader in plain language they can understand.
- Don’t annoy your audience.
- Omit unnecessary “filler” words.
- Keep your readers engaged with the right voice and messaging.
- Include a strong call to action.
- Never forget who you’re writing for or the need you’re fulfilling.
Apple’s copy checks all of these boxes. It’s straight to the point, and it dispenses with nearly all jargon. What little technical language remains is clarified by context clues, and the text is made more exciting with descriptive phrases and action words. Check out their description for the iPhone X:
“Our vision has always been to create an iPhone that is entirely screen. One so immersive the device itself disappears into the experience. And so intelligent it can respond to a tap, your voice, and even a glance. With iPhone X, that vision is now a reality. Say hello to the future.”
It doesn’t patronize the reader, gives hints about the product to get them excited, and ends with an intriguing tagline.
Similarly, you’ll see that other successful companies follow these copywriting rules as well, although they take creative liberties to make their messaging uniquely engaging.
Of course, this isn’t limited to product copy; these guidelines can be utilized in blog posts, articles, or posts shared on social media. Keep them in the back of your mind whenever you’re writing!
Step 5: Optimize Your Content For SEO
Everyone is vying for a spot on Google’s page one search results, and optimized content can help you get there.
Conduct Keyword Research and Avoid Keyword Stuffing
Do research to identify keywords you know people will use when they’re looking for a business or professional similar to you or what you provide, but note that “optimized” also means “readable.” Don’t stuff your article so full of keywords it becomes a chore to read (and gets penalized by Google).
While this would be good copy for the website of a freelance photographer living in Texas:
“One of my favorite things about being a Texas photographer is the people I get to work with.”
This wouldn’t be:
“I’m a Texas photographer, and I can help you with all your Texas photographer needs. If you’re looking for a Texas photographer, give me a call.”
The second example has the key phrase jammed in everywhere, making the overall text clunky and repetitive. One way to get keywords out of the body of your text is by including them in your website’s meta tags and titles, as well as the site description.
Make Your Content Skimmable
It’s also helpful to break up your content with subheadings and lists. This creates space within the text, making it less intimidating for the reader to approach (you’ll notice that technique used throughout this very article).
You can also include a table of contents for readers looking for a specific section. This makes navigating the article easier and thus, more user-friendly.
Do not copy/paste content. It’s unethical, and duplicated or otherwise low quality content can earn you a penalty from Google, and knock you off the top of the search pile. The search engine's Panda update penalizes pages with “thin” content, or meaningless content that offers users little value.
Step 6: Track Your Site's Progress with Web Analytics
Here's a basic fact:
You can’t find out where your strategy is lacking if you don’t measure anything in the first place.
That's why it's critical to use analytics tools designed for content marketing to help you measure traffic and engagement on your website or app.
You can find out crucial data points like:
- how many people are visiting your site or app (number of sessions)
- if they're engaging with your content (bounce rate)
- how long they’re engaged (session duration)
- how they're engaging with your content (with heatmaps)
- where your visitors live (location)
If visitors spend a good amount of time on your site or app, they’re probably interested in what you’re offering and want to know more, which could lead to them converting, or becoming a paying customer. If people routinely click away from your site after only a few seconds — known as a "bounce" — then you know something needs to be fixed.
For instance, it could be that you aren't targeting the right audience or offering what people are seeking, or your content is disorganized, hard-to-read, or poorly interlinked. After identifying the issue, you should make changes, conduct A/B tests, and finally revisit your stats to see if they worked or not.
There are hundreds of awesome tools out there to help you determine the strength of your content — but our "top priority" list includes:
- Traffic Analysis: Google Analytics (free)
- Keyword Ranking: Accuranker (expensive), SERPlab (less expensive)
- Content Heatmaps: Clicky
- Backlinks: Ahrefs
In addition to these content analytics tools, social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn also give businesses insights on traffic, post engagement, and number of people reached for posts. Between your social media and website analytics, you'll start to develop a deeper understanding of how users are interacting with your brand.
Step 7: Build Your Email Subscriber List
For most businesses, an email subscriber base is crucial to promoting and maintaining the growth of your business. Treated properly, an email list represents an audience that you can sell and market to directly, bringing reliable traffic and customers back to your website again and again.
Grow Your Email List
Building up your subscriber base takes time and effort, but it can be done. One popular way to do that is by offering incentives to a potential customer in exchange for their email. A few common methods of getting users to provide you their emails are:
- Discounts on your goods or services
- Providing free resources (white papers, webinars, research)
- Simply asking for it in a popup, your sidebar, or within your content
You can get creative with what you offer, but the basic rule is this: if it provides value, it’s more likely to get you subscribers. From there, you can pitch them paid products and services (in small doses, of course).
Keep Your Subscribers Happy — and Willing to Spend
Once you've grown your list, your job will be to keep subscribers engaged, happy, and ready to spend. One critical thing to remember is to NOT just spam them. Nobody likes spam. The role of content marketing is creating relationships, not irritation.
Writing Revolt founder Jorden Roper uses her blog’s email list to provide free content that's helpful and meaningful to her audience. For instance, she provides a step-by-step guide to planning a successful blog, and then uses that free resource to pitch paid services like her video marketing course. This makes her subscriber base a source of revenue for her business, and gives her a way to provide them with quality content that also keeps them happy.
Email Marketing Tools
MailChimp and Constant Contact are two popular services for managing mass emails, but review all the options and choose the one best for your needs.
Communication with your readers isn’t a one-way street, however. Invite your readers to provide their feedback by sending out short questionnaires, which can help you optimize your business even further. Maybe you can tweak a form on your site, or there’s a usability issue you hadn’t even considered.
What defines a "working" content strategy is going to be different for every business. However, at minimum, every content marketing strategy requires that you understand:
- who your audience is
- what they want to hear from you
- how often they want to hear it, and
- where they want to hear it.
If you can identify these key pieces, you'll unlock growth for your business you never thought was possible.
Did we miss anything? Let us know with a comment below.
This article was written by Compose.ly writer John Bogna.