These days, a solid marketing program needs to include a rockin’ content marketing strategy. This holds true for businesses, non-profits, educational institutions — pretty much any biz or org that wants to really connect with today’s consumers. All the kool kidz are doing it; the minimum bar has been raised. If you want to stay competitive — and successful! — you must adapt and excel at modern marketing approaches like content marketing.
Read on to learn the keys to a thoughtful, comprehensive and compelling content marketing strategy.
What the heck is content marketing anyway?
Ok, let’s deconstruct this a bit. First, what is content and what is marketing?
- Content. Content is any material that is created in order to to inform, educate, entertain or persuade its consumer. It can take many shapes and sizes — blogs, webpages, PDFs, videos, audio files, images, social media posts, swag…. Yes, your TikTok dance challenge clip and that recipe card count as content!
- Marketing. Marketing is a fundamental function by which an entity finds, retains, converts and engages with target audiences. This function consists of various programs, projects and tasks, ideally bound together via an overarching strategy. The goal is to communicate your products’ and services’ value to your stakeholders (e.g., customers, clients, members, patients, etc.).
Pure Content Marketing
So, it naturally follows that:
“Content marketing is a form of inbound marketing that leverages the content to reach a target audience.”
One of the hallmarks of pure content marketing, though, is that the content doesn’t explicitly promote your business/organization, brand or products and services. Rather the content is used to generate interest or excitement, build awareness, and so on in a more general way.
For example, a yoga studio could write a blog post about five poses that help alleviate back pain. These poses might leverage props like blocks or bolsters, which is info included in the article. Nowhere in the piece does it say “Come to our Back Care Class.” or “Buy your yoga supplies in our shop.” The approach is more subtle and indirect. The aim is to reach people with chronic back troubles, inform them that there’s this particular way of dealing with it and hopefully inspire them to explore the studio’s offerings.
Hybrid Content Marketing
To be clear, hybrid (as opposed to pure ?) content marketing is done All. The. Time. In hybrid content marketing, there may be some direct references to the business/organization, brand and/or products and services. With this scenario, your content almost has a sort of “Special Advertisement” flair. (Your content hasn’t quite slipped that far to The Dark Side…yet.)
Let’s take that yoga blog example. If the studio peppered the post with links to the particular props in its store or outright plugged its Back Care Class within the text — it would be a hybrid post, not pure content.
Highlighting the distinction of hybrid versus pure is a bit academic. But we like to be thorough, soooo…. It’s good, though, to have a clear understanding so you know what the H-E-?? you’re doing. (That makes a difference in expectations and outcomes!)
Does content marketing really work?
This is a really tough question to answer. Partly because it can be difficult to define work. Partly because there are so many variables at play. Partly because it can be challenging to source, gather and synthesize data to measure your content’s performance.
There’s no universal ROI of Content Marketing Strategy formula. You’ll likely have to cobble together quantitative and qualitative data from multiple sources. This collection of hard numbers and soft-n-squishy info will give you a sense of how your content marketing is going, even if you can’t pin an exact ROI $ or % to your efforts. You should also be able to develop actionable insights from this tableau of facts and figures.
Success is relative to your goals and benchmarks. This will be different for every marketing team. That said, here are a couple of points to keep in mind:
- Content marketing is sort of a must-do. Your competitors are doing it. (Estimates are that 70% to 90% of organizations do content marketing.) SEO loves fresh, plentiful, expert content like this “tornado” dog likes his chow. Cookies and advertising are going the way of the dodo (thanks ad blockers!). Some people actually make the argument that content marketing is so ubiquitous that it’s now just marketing.
- Many related indicators seem to confirm the value proposition of content marketing. Especially when compared to certain other forms of marketing. When you do it right and really dedicate your efforts to a content marketing program, you can acquire and keep high-quality target audience members. And it may prove to be a more resource-effective approach for you than other kinds of marketing.
In general, it looks like content marketing deserves a thumbs up. But, more specifically, is content marketing a powerful means of generating website traffic?
Again, the numbers (e.g., annual growth of 19.7%) point to a “yes-asterisk.” The asterisk(*) denotes that the wins must be qualified. By this we mean that the folks showing the most success, did all the right things.
The Right Stuff
They created the right content in the right format at the right time for their target audiences. Plus, they promoted that content in the right ways/times/places to grab the attention of their target audiences. One dude even saw his site traffic increase by 272% in just 30 days.
Quantity Matters, Too
But even brute force can reap rewards. Posting some content is better than none. The Content Marketing Institute found that publishing 16 or more pieces of content per month could yield 3.5 times more traffic than publishing four or fewer pieces. By publishing and promoting loads of content, you end up with backlinks all over the place. Each one leads back to your website (or social media). And those pathways persist indefinitely. Over time — think of that vast network of paths to your site!
According to HubSpot, website traffic is one of the most commonly used metrics for gauging content marketing strategy success. (This assumes, of course, web traffic correlates to your goals that you’re measuring against.) Web traffic data is relatively easy to track, so this can be a terrific way to get a temperature read and see how smokin’ hot your content marketing is.
Just for sh*tz and giggles, here are some interesting stats about content marketing that you might find super enlightening.
- The Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics for 2020 (Content Marketing Statistics tab)
- 38 Content Marketing Stats That Every Marketer Needs to Know
- 9 Stats That Will Make You Want to Invest in Content Marketing
- 85 Fascinating Content Marketing Statistics To Make You A Marketing Genius
Top 5 Reasons Content Marketing Fails
If one of these scenarios describes you, you’re in the right place.
- You’re up to your eyeballs in content marketing and it’s not going as well as you’d hoped. What’s going on?!
- You’re gearing up to jump on the content marketing bandwagon and want to avoid pitfalls. What should you beware of?
It’s good that you’re asking the questions. Knowing common content marketing snafus and roadblocks can lead you to understanding how to develop a productive, high-quality content marketing program and killer content. Go ahead — hoover up the grains of wisdom below and you’ll be jumping on the learning curve way up at the top! ?
Biggest Content Marketing Mistakes & Stumbling Blocks
- Your operational environment. Maybe you’re in a super small or obscure niche or one that doesn’t respond to a content marketing approach. Perhaps your competitors are gigantic, well-established or otherwise dominate the scene. In this sitch, it’s hard to gain a foothold because you either have an audience that’s not substantial or is uninterested or the amount of resources it’d take might be disproportionate to your size. Your options here to try other forms of marketing that may be a better fit or change your content marketing strategy to better align with your reality.
- Your mindset. A lot is under this umbrella. It could be that your expectations are unrealistic or your attitude is off. Having your head in the game — with an appropriate outlook — is huge! If this is the source of your woes, take some time to figure out how to rightsize your expectations and to make content marketing something you can be excited about (and this will shine through to your team and audience!).
- Your strategy. A content marketing program is a big commitment. Without buy-in from the top down and sufficient resourcing, it’s hard to develop a #winning strategy. Your content marketing strategy needs to reflect that you’re personally dedicated to seeing this through and that you’re willing to invest in making it happen. Your content marketing spend needs to align with your goals and level of tactical activities. Only then will you be able to generate enough content of sufficient quality and promote the bejeezus out of it so your target audience knows it exists and is super amazing (maybe even nirvanic).
- Your timeframe. Are you a pot watcher? Were you the kid who incessantly asked “Are we there yet?” on family car trips? The prob here could be that you aren’t giving your content enough time to demonstrate results. It can take days, months or longer to take your peeps by storm. (Clue: Not every piece of content goes instaviral….) Over time you’ll start to recognize patterns and get a sense of the publish-results cadence. Only then will you truly know how well your content is hitting its intended marks.
- Your content. We know; it stinks to think the rotten egg is your beloved content that you’ve slaved over. But, hello-o Occam’s Razor! Sometimes content doesn’t perform well because it falls short somehow. Saying it’s not good is too simplistic, though. It’s necessary to discover how your content is lacking. Maybe it’s not delivering value to your consumers or it defies the SEO gods. Once you have a grasp of your content’s flaws, you can work to correct the issues.
Top 12 Tips for Content Marketing Success
Now that you’re girded up with a bunch of content marketing no-nos and hazards, how about the opposite? We dug deep for the best tips and tricks. You are welcome, thank us later.
- If you’re just starting on your content marketing program, these will give you an encouraging nudge in the right direction.
- If you’ve already got your content marketing in full swing, these will offer some new ideas and perspective.
Regardless of where you are on your content marketing adventure, we hope these suggestions inspire and invigorate you to have your most stellar strategy and content.
With no further ado…(? drumroll, please!)
Tips For Successful Content Marketing
- Align your tactics with your strategy. How and what you do needs to help you achieve your content marketing goals. So don’t create content or undertake activities that aren’t in support of your strategic objectives.
- Do some research. Learn about your target audiences to find out what kinds of content they want. See what your competitors or other companies/organizations you admire are doing and adopt+adapt for yourself. Research keyword performance.
- Learn from the best. Seek out those that are successful — in any sector — with their content marketing and emulate them.
- Incorporate SEO best practices. Fortunately, winning content will inherently incorporate many of the most important SEO golden rules. Just be sure to go the extra distance and do stuff like including the strongest keywords, proper formatting (e.g., <H1> and <H2> tags on those webpages) and imagery with your text.
- Follow the 80/20 rule. This age-old management “rule” is often applied to content marketing. It basically says that only 20% of your content should be new and created by you. The other 80% should be a combo of repurposing content you already created and your engagements with others’ content. Repurposing content might look like this: Take a quote from your video and use it (with an image) in a post on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. (You just turned an existing piece of content into three new pieces of content! Go you!). As for engagement with others’ content, think: retweeting, commenting and so on.
- Try new and varied kinds of content media/formats and different content genres. A bit of experimentation can help you see what resonates with your target audiences. It can also breathe some new life into a program that’s getting stale or re-energize both your team and your audiences.
- Create content that offers real benefit to consumers. Based on all that research you did, what would be of value to them? From their perspective. (Your opinion of value doesn’t count so much here…sorry!)
- Be consistent with publishing. Create and disseminate content on a regular basis. How often and when you should produce and share content depends on your mission, audience, content, platform, etc. The easiest way to keep it all in order is to establish a rolling schedule of what you’re going to publish, when and where. Organization, preparedness and that 80/20 rule go a long way in making content marketing manageable.
- Get out of your own space. One of the greatest ways to boost your own content and traffic is to appear elsewhere. Here are some common examples to get your brainsparks flying: guest posting on someone else’s blog, getting an op-ed printed in your local paper, speaking at an industry conference, co-hosting someone else’s podcast, being a featured guest on someone’s webinar, getting featured in a trade journal series about movers-and-shakers. You’ll gain exposure, reputation and lots of backlinks.
- Go offline. Yes, we live in a digital world. But we also still live in an analog world! Look for ways to connect your content to your target audiences via offline opportunities. This could be sharing your biz card at a network meeting, posting a flyer on the bulletin board of your local grocery store, sending a postcard in the mail and so on. These can all be very effective in driving traffic your way.
- Check content performance periodically and adjust course as needed. Plan Do Check Act (aka PDCA). In the context here, this management framework guides you to prepare for and conduct content marketing, then assess your awesomeness and make any changes in your strategy or content that would lead to improvement. It’s an iterative process that you repeat throughout the lifespan of your content marketing program.
- Refer to the content marketing strategy/plan. This is important not only because these are living docs that should be updated on a regular period basis (PDCA!), but because they are guiding lights. They help you stay on task and mission-focused. They facilitate continuity and training. They keep everyone rowing in the same, correct direction.
Content marketing is here to stay, so ya might as well own it. With our extensive listicle of tips and tricks to take advantage of, it couldn’t be easier.
Still, there are many points at which your strategy or the content itself can go sideways. But, learning what the errors and stumbling blocks are can help you prevent them from happening or resolve them ASAP when they do occur.
- Develop, implement or overhaul your content management strategy.
- Create compelling, impactful content.