What is Content Marketing? A Modern Guide

The internet contains many types of content: web pages, blogs, podcasts, images, social posts, infographics and other visual content – which all co-exist and compete for your attention. But only the strongest content pieces succeed in that mission. There is a danger that your content marketing efforts could be wasted if you don’t produce great content in the first place.

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All content competes for limited resources, and it’s up to you to understand the environment, the resources, and the obstacles your content faces in order to be noticed by the target audience. For instance, the messaging will be quite different for b2b marketers (selling to businesses) compared with b2c marketers selling to consumers. You need a Content Marketing Strategy, and it is really important to get it right if you want your digital content marketing to succeed.

Just to emphasise that this is not some new fad, there is a Content Marketing Institute based in the USA which produces a steady stream of information on content marketing. If you want examples of content marketing you could do worse than browse the Content Marketing Institute’s website or subscribe to their emails. We reproduce some of their content marketing examples below.

The good news is that there are some new tools available that use artificial intelligence (AI) to quickly analyse the competitive environment and to produce content briefs that, if followed, will rank as well if not better than the currently highest-ranking content. These can be used for web content creation as well as blog posts but they are generally less suitable for shorter posts on platforms like Twitter. Using AI tools to help you ensures that your editorial calendar is always full as you are presented with great ideas for valuable content. When you rely solely on user-generated content there are frequently gaps in your content calendar.

Content Marketing Strategy

A successful Content Marketing plan involves three primary components which are essentially the same as traditional marketing. Marketing has been around for a very long time and, although the internet has changed the environment, the basic principles remain unchanged.

1) The audience is how you define the people that you want to see your content. A clearly defined audience enables you to define a buyer persona which helps you to produce useful content for each buyer persona.

2) The goals are the objectives you seek after your Audience has engaged with the content. That could include things like brand awareness, getting familiar with your product or service, purchasing your product or service, or becoming a brand advocate.

3) The distribution refers to the tactics you use to get people to discover and check out your content. Because the Internet has billions of pages, it’s more important than ever to know how you can serve your content to the right people. Tactics, or marketing channels, can include the use of social platforms, email blasts, paid search adverts, blogging and more.

Because you need to produce valuable relevant and consistent quality content it is essential that you correctly define your buyer personas, otherwise, you may not get a good return on investment from your marketing campaign. No matter what you create, the goal is that someone will not only find it but also find it valuable to them. For this, we need to understand:

  • Audiences
  • User intent
  • The sales funnel

Your audience is who you want to see your content. There are three main aspects to an audience:

  • WHO they are,
  • WHAT they want,
  • WHERE they’re headed in the buyer’s journey.

When defining WHO your potential customers are, it is helpful to look at:

Demographics refer to general information that helps you segment your audience in ways that make sense for your brand. This generally includes factors like gender, age, education, and income. The more niche the audience you want to target, the more specific you need to get.

Psychographics refers to the interests of your audience. For example, if you’re developing content about an air conditioning contractor’s website, an important psychographic aspect of your audience is that they would like a controlled environment at work or home.

Geographics refers to the location of your target audience. There are ways to get as specific as you wish with geographics. You can leave this out if you’re going for a global audience, or use local keywords to target people in a specific local region.

When defining WHAT our audience is looking for, it is helpful to study its differing intents to guide your content marketing. Is it

  • Undertaking High-level Research Only
  • Looking for ideas and Recommendations
  • Comparing Products and Services Before Making a Purchase?
When defining WHERE each of these intents tells us the stage these people are in the buying cycle or sales funnel. The sales funnel is a concept in content marketing that represents the customer journey or the path a person takes from having never heard of your brand to becoming a loyal customer.
  • Awareness is the initial point of contact a person will make with a brand or topic. It may be accidental, due to seeing an advert on social media or intentional by performing a Google search. A person in the brand awareness stage is not yet thinking about products or services, they are merely a passive audience.
  • Education takes place when the person shows interest in the topic (let’s stay with air conditioning) and decides to learn more about it. This is still too early for most people to be thinking about a purchase but they are receptive to spending time learning about the subject.
  • Consideration is when the person has begun to think about making a purchase. They may now be seeking more specialist information, ideas for projects, or tips from people with experience.
  • Evaluation occurs when a person has decided to make a purchase and they want to make a decision. They may be looking for product comparisons, reviews, and ratings of brands and service providers.
  • Purchase is self-evident. The person has either made a purchase, converted on the website or some other action that is definitive purchase behaviour. Whereas the person may have made the investment in your product or service, they are not guaranteed to remain a customer. To move on to the next stage, it is very important to have customer support resources, such as FAQ pages.
  • Loyalty is the stage in the customer journey where the person has decided they prefer your brand over your competitors. A sense of community, or customer relationships, is a key aspect of fostering loyalty. This is a great place for social media to fit into your Content Strategy.

What is Content Marketing and How it Works?

It could be described as generating the right content piece to achieve your marketing goals. Let’s now examine how we can go about creating and distributing valuable pieces to attract our audience. We will start with the two environments with the densest populations of content:

Google, and YouTube (which also belongs to Google). Google and YouTube are two of the largest resources for browsing content in the world, and they’re highly connected. They have overlapping areas but are also unique in their own ways. The content that we build should be created to thrive in its intended environment.

To prepare our content to compete in the Google ecosystem we should first go over the fundamentals of SEO. We need to look at the areas of:

  • Keywords & keyword distribution
  • Content length & formatting
  • Link strategy, and
  • Topic clusters

But if you’re creating video content (and these days, you should be) we also need to make sure that content is fit for purpose before publishing it on YouTube (or TikTok etc.). We’ll look at some optimisation best practices – it may surprise you how these two different beasts are so similar.

The term SEO is one that confuses most people, but the principles are actually very straightforward. It is all about constructing and formatting your content in a way that is easy for the likes of Google to understand. Humans are almost an afterthought because the objective is to rank your content so that they will find it in the first place. Google uses artificial intelligence (AI) and its “bot” is known as Google Rankbrain. It has become very sophisticated and will recognise “keyword stuffing” and award a higher ranking for natural language which humans find more valuable.

SEO practices impact the “rankings”, or where the content will appear on the search engine results pages (SERPs). There are some important SEO basics that anyone developing a Content Marketing Strategy should know about, including:

Keyword Strategy

They are just like they sound – the key terms (groups of words) about a topic that tell us humans, and Google Rankbrain, what a piece of content is about. For example, if you’re writing about the game of cricket, some keywords you would use would be “overs”, “batsmen”, “bowlers”, “tests”, “innings”, and so on. Keyword distribution is how densely you use those terms in a given piece of content. This is the primary way Google matches your content with a search query made by someone in your target audience. However, keywords can be ambiguous when out of context; think about the word “tests” in the absence of cricket as the context, for example.

Length and formatting

These refer to the more structural aspects of your content. Length usually means word count, and formatting means the use of titles and HTML header tags (h1, h2, h3, and h4) when building the content. Google can tell that you probably have more information about a topic in your 1500-word piece than say, a competitor’s 500-word piece. HTML tags give hierarchy to your content and they help Google understand the high-level view of your content when used correctly.

Link Strategy

This pertains to the links between your content pages and other sites on the Internet or internally on your own website. If someone else’s site links to your content page, Google interprets that as an endorsement. Similarly, if you create a link on your content page to other pages that are well-established in their own right, Google interprets that to mean that you’ve done your research. However, if you link to authority pages such as Wikipedia at the outset of your content, Google may not give your own content the credit that it deserves.

Topic clusters

These are groups of connected content pieces, often blog articles, that focus on a highly related topic. A typical cluster will usually have one pillar article – a longer, general piece (for example, a 3000-word article called “The Game of Cricket”) and several cluster pieces, or shorter, related articles that zero in on a specific tangential topic (for example, three 500-word pieces called, respectively: “The origins of cricket”, “The highest run scorers?”, and “The best bowlers”).

The idea is that by creating links from the pillar piece to and between cluster pieces, you are building topic authority in Google’s algorithm. As a result, Google is more likely to view your site as a better authority on “cricket” than your competitors.

Your Content Marketing Strategy Needs Time

You should now have a better grasp on the people that you’re trying to attract, the way their intent connects with the content they read, how their evolving intent leads them through the sales funnel, and how to translate this knowledge into how to build your content for search, it’s time to look in more detail at how to go about it.

There are billions of pieces of content in the world, so even if you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of SEO best practices, it’s very difficult to get to page 1 of any search query straight away. Even with regular updates and consistent posting on your site, it can take years for your content to rise to the top.

You need to get competitive to build traffic fast. Some people liken social media to a big ongoing conversation but if you want to succeed in getting your content seen, you have to think of it more as a battleground. It’s the front lines of content competition, and only the cleverest, most strategic, and most aggressive will prevail.

In the world of social media, there are two paths you can take: organic, or paid.

Organic is just a normal post without spending any money on adverts or placements. It’s what you might already be doing if you use social media personally. The backbone of all social media strategies is your organic content – the stuff you post day-to-day.

Sharing your content such as a blog post organically on your social pages helps to grow the value of your accounts, as it increases followers. The more followers you have, the more traffic you’re likely to get when you share links to your content. However, if your content is low-quality and you don’t apply the concepts discussed above very well, you might experience an inverse effect.

Paid social media posting is exactly what it sounds like: putting down some money to substantially increase the number of people who see your posts. With organic social media, you must rely on your existing follower base to view and share your posts to reach new people.

Paying for, or “sponsoring” posts, allows your posts to appear in the timelines of people who aren’t yet in the awareness stage of your sales funnel. Paid features also allow you to target people who fit your audience segments.

While there is enormous value in social media as a distribution method, it isn’t the only one. Search Engine Marketing (SEM), and Inbound Marketing are other powerful methods of distributing content in the ever-competitive Internet world.

What Is SEM?

SEM is a paid digital marketing strategy used to increase the visibility of a website in the SERPs. While the industry term once referred to both organic search activities and paid, it now refers almost exclusively to paid search advertising. SEM is also alternately referred to as paid search or pay per click (PPC).

Why Is SEM Important?

With the increasing number of consumers shopping for products online, SEM has become a crucial online marketing strategy for increasing a company’s sales. Often the majority of new visitors to a website find it by performing an online query which is classed as organic traffic. In SEM, advertisers only pay for impressions that result in visitors, making it a more efficient way for a company to spend on advertising than traditional advertising. As a bonus, each additional visitor to a website incrementally contributes to the website’s rankings in the organic search results.

Since many consumers use search queries with the intention of making a commercial purchase, they are a better target audience compared with other sites such as social media where users are not usually explicitly searching for something to buy. PPC advertising is non-intrusive and does not interrupt people’s daily tasks. Instead, search marketing reaches consumers at the time they are open to new information which is not the case in the majority of digital advertising. Results can be immediate with SEM; it is arguably the fastest way to drive traffic to a website and is certainly recommended for new websites.

How SEM Works

Google, Bing, Facebook and others use complicated algorithms to ensure that the most relevant results are returned for each search, including location and other available information. In paid search advertising, the adverts appear at the top of and/or on the side of the SERPs to gain more visibility and prominence than the organic results. This is facilitated by Google, Bing & Facebook who are also the advertising platforms.

Let’s say that you are a customer looking for a product or service online. You go to Google and type in your keywords. On the search results page, there will be various company adverts with keywords that match yours. The paid listings are highly relevant to your specific search, making it more likely that you will click on them.

From the marketer’s perspective, SEM networks are self-service operations. You can select a network and get a campaign up within a very short time. When setting up a campaign, you are prompted to:

  • Conduct keyword research and select a set of keywords related to their website or product;
  • Select a geographic location for the advert to be displayed within;
  • Create a text-based advert to display in the search results;
  • Set a price they are willing to pay for each click on their advert and a budget.

Text-only adverts are easy to produce, they require a headline, text for the body, a call-to-action and the URL for the hyperlink. SEM is considered by many to be the most efficient way to spend a marketing budget.

Examples Of Search Advertising Networks

The two primary search networks that SEM professionals target are Google and Bing which is part of Microsoft. Google AdWords is two networks: Google Search Network and Google Display Network. The first network consists exclusively of search-related websites owned by Google, while the second includes properties such as YouTube, Blogger and Gmail. The Bing Ads platform allows customers to buy adverts on both Yahoo’s network of websites and Bing’s network.

While Google Ads is a much larger network (around 2x the size), the pricing is often lower for Bing Ads. Marketers may be able to get a better rank for a competitive keyword phrase on Bing for less cost than on Google. And sometimes the clickthrough rates are higher as well.

How A/B Testing Can Complement SEM

If you are already making an investment in SEM to bring traffic to your website, it will be worthwhile optimising that traffic for conversions to increase the efficiency of your spending. A/B testing your landing pages is a good way to maximise your spend, by either optimising for average order value or by revenue per page. Optimising your landing page can increase your Quality Score with SEM networks, thus reducing your average cost per click (CPC).

Optimizely – and other platforms like it – can help you easily structure and implement your A/B tests, offering real-time results to give you confidence in your business decisions. Optimizely has integrations with popular ad networks such as Google Adwords and Facebook that make setting up ad-related experiments quick and easy.

Inbound Marketing

This is the use of tactics on your website to gather contact information from your page visitors. That way you can distribute more content to them later, which helps “nurture” your audience through the sales funnel. For example, you may offer a free download of a PDF copy of your White Paper in exchange for the website visitor’s email address, which is then subscribed to your email drip campaign. A drip campaign is a series of emails timed to go out over several days or weeks and designed to educate the recipients and familiarise them with your brand. The use of a platform such as Hubspot gives you the tools to do this with a CRM (customer relationship manager) tool to manage your audience segments by intent.

Video Content Marketing

There are several different criteria that the YouTube algorithm looks at when it comes time to rank videos:

  • How often the video has been viewed?
  • For how long do people view the video?
  • How often the video appears in people’s playlists?
  • The number of positive rankings/comments.
  • The number of subscribers you have.
  • How often the video is added to someone’s playlist?
  • How often the video was embedded on the web?

To create a video that has a good number of these factors, your video must be of good quality that is relevant to your audience but also optimised for the YouTube bots. We list below some video optimisation tips:

Use Keywords

This is an excellent place to start when it comes to YouTube optimisation. Just as with a traditional piece of content, you want to be able to tell the bots what your conexatent is about, and keywords are a huge part of that. You want to make sure your keywords are natural, but it helps to include keywords in your title, description, and tags (see below).

Part of using keywords for optimisation is doing a little bit of keyword research, which you do with Google Adwords or other keyword research tools. Keyword research for YouTube is similar to normal keyword research but it uses different sources of information so you have a better chance of ranking well on a YouTube search. However, it is possible to rank on both a YouTube and a Google search with the same keywords. Certain keywords lend themselves to ranking well on Google, such as the popular example “Fortnite.” Google knows that when people type this in they want to see something interactive as opposed to an article about the popular online game.

Long story short, when you are choosing a keyword that might work well for YouTube, do a quick check to see if Google is putting video results for that keyword on the first page. If so, you’ve picked a good one.

Have a Catchy Title

Part of optimising on YouTube is having a title that will really stand out. What many people forget, however, is that your title should also include your keyword to cater to the YouTube bots. The way in which you word your title has an effect on your SEO results. For example, if you’re trying to rank for the phrase “learn to kite-surf,” you would want your title to say something like “learn to kite-surf in 10 Steps” and not “10 Steps to Learn to kite-surf.” The best place for a keyword is at the beginning of the title, and it should also appear natural.

Create a Thorough Description

It’s important to remember that YouTube bots cannot watch your video, so YouTube determines the contents of your video from the content you have on the page. The description area has the most space for text, and it is worth filling in as much detail as possible. You should be utilising your main keywords as well as long-tail keywords in the description area to help you rank.

Including a transcript in the description is also a good idea. People may wish to refer back to different sections of the video, and a well-written transcript gives them the ability to do that. It may also drive more organic visitors to your YouTube channel which is a ranking metric.

Include Tags

Tags are an important feature to help with video ranking. You should use important key phrases and keywords as tags as another way to let the bots know how your video should be categorised. Research what your target audience might search for and then use those terms as additional tags.

Sitemaps and Schema.org

Creating a sitemap is the easiest way to let the bots know you have a video on your website and this will help them to index it. This is the best way to help show people that it is on your website as opposed to being hosted exclusively on YouTube. Although it may be easier to link from your website to YouTube, there are advantages to hosting directly on your website. Visit Google Developers Resources to learn how to create a video sitemap and more about why it matters.

Using Schema.org is also a great way to ensure you have an optimised video. This HTML markup offers additional information describing your video to the bots and complements any video sitemaps that you may already be using.

A Few Extra Tips

Other factors to help spread the word include link building, syndication, and constant social sharing. It has a domino effect in the same way that it does for traditional marketing: the more popular your video becomes, the more natural links and embeds will start to pop up across the web, the more natural SEO will come your way, a snowball effect.

There are also extra things you can do to help make sure your video stands out from the rest including annotations, rich snippets, and custom thumbnail images.

What are Examples of Content Marketing?

To get a better understanding of what is content marketing, it can help to look at some content marketing examples. Here are some reasons for content marketing and the examples are taken from the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) where you can find more details if required.

To be found by the right people (potential customers).

Answering people’s questions via blog posts, e-books, videos, and other content assets is a key way to make this happen. A YouTube channel that answers questions and educates is a very effective tactic as the content is evergreen and as more people subscribe the benefits are cumulative. An example of a successful content marketing campaign they refer to is outdoor retailer REI.

To build an interested and engaged audience

They say that your content is only as valuable as its ability to attract audience members and compel them to engage with your business on an ongoing basis – as subscribers, customers, and evangelists (ideally, all three). Once you have an addressable audience, your content efforts will help increase sales, gather valuable customer insights, and activate your most ardent followers as brand advocates. The example they provide is the Insurance company Liberty Mutual.

To acquire new customers

The Content Marketing Institute says that of course, generating revenue is a key goal for many marketers, and content marketing can be a powerful driver. When you build an audience that trusts you and wants to hear from you, they are more likely to purchase your products. For instance, CMI subscribers are more likely to take advantage of CMI paid offerings such as attending Content Marketing World than non-subscribers. The example they provide is the financial services company TD Ameritrade.

To build increased revenue with existing customers

Another reason organisations use content marketing is to create more loyal customers, which has the potential to increase sales through cross-selling or up-selling. In some cases, the brand can monetise the content itself. The example they provide is the supermarket group Sainsbury’s cooking magazine.

To reallocate or reduce marketing costs

Organisations also use content marketing because they can see similar – or better – results when compared to a “traditional” marketing programme. The example they provide is Jyske Bank, a large Danish bank that now also functions as a media company.

Please visit the Content Marketing Institute on the web for more details on these examples.

What is the role of a content marketer?

We have covered what content is, and why it’s a powerful tool for brand identity. We explored what audiences are, how to define them, and how their different intents have implications for the kinds of content that need to be created. We explained how to adapt our content to survive on Google and YouTube, to better capture those audiences whether they’re “hunting” or “fishing” for content on either platform. We learned some of the other landscapes for getting our content noticed and how to gain a competitive advantage within them. A content creator has to produce successful material and therefore requires a good grasp of how to produce consistent content to attract profitable customer action. They also need to understand marketing automation to increase their productivity or reduce their content marketing effort.

When it comes to local businesses the vast majority cannot afford to employ a marketing team let alone have a full-time person focused on creating content. They may employ a content marketing agency to help them or work with a website design agency or a trusted advisor. In many cases, the business owner is best qualified to generate or at least check the content used for brand awareness, but they need to work with someone who can take an outside view.

MyLocal works with a handful of local businesses to ensure that their marketing spend is not wasted effort, using the latest AI technology to help. Individual local businesses cannot afford to research tools like Market Muse, SEO Surfer or Frase let alone subscribe to them. In any event, optimising their content using these tools is essentially a one-off exercise and would not justify an ongoing subscription. By working with MyLocal, businesses can take advantage of the latest AI technology for optimising their website content which will give them the best chance of ranking well and being found by their target audience over time.

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