An insider’s guide to content marketing success in 2017
The world of content marketing has blossomed in recent years, brimming with enthusiastic service providers all bidding to elevate clients above the competition. However, despite the industry’s exponential growth, our keyword research suggests that much confusion still reigns over the content marketer’s role, with the phrase ‘What is content marketing?’ one of the most common related search terms.
Essentially, digital content marketing boils down to the online presence of your company, encompassing every page of your website, every word that you write, every picture you upload, your entire social media output and any efforts you make at search engine optimisation (SEO), to name but a few. From a business perspective, each of these elements only exist because you’re trying to sell something (a product or service), so whether you directly acknowledge each as marketing or not, they all contribute to the perception of your business.
Herein, perhaps, lies the problem in giving a definitive answer on what actually constitutes content marketing. The many and varied types of content – webpages, blog posts, pictures, videos, tweets, etc. – means that content marketers can be said to cover an incredibly broad spectrum, spawning several sub sectors and constantly evolving areas of specialisation.
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
Creating your content strategy
It’s true that, in a very literal sense, content marketing equates to everything you publish online. However, on a more meaningful level, we believe the term has come to reflect the notion that businesses now appreciate the need to earn respect before audiences connect with their brand – and rightly so. Shouty “BUY NOW!’ messaging simply doesn’t cut it in the Internet Age, so a softer sales approach has taken force, with companies looking to establish themselves as trusted voices within their sectors. Producing quality content that showcases expertise while offering take-home value to the reader/viewer, can subtly frame you as a real authority in your industry, which should, in turn, result in more inbound leads.
As a successful content marketing agency, that’s certainly the approach we recommend when advising clients on how to stay ahead of the pack. We’re primarily in the business of writing words, so we’re going to leave video, imagery and social media to one side for this particular guide, and focus on delivering best practice advice for the written content you produce.
Getting your website up to scratch is the first step to forming a successful content marketing strategy, and once the building blocks are in place you can start amplifying your efforts to reach a wider audience. So, without further ado, here’s our guide to quality content marketing:
Step 1: Audit your website
Many content marketing firms seem to have surprisingly little knowledge of SEO and how the architecture of your website can dramatically influence how you rank in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). It’s all very well writing captivating copy, but if the foundations are creaky then you’ll immediately limit the chances of your work being found by the wider public.
Performing a Digital Health Check is the process of analysing the structure of each webpage to ensure they tick all the boxes that search engine bots look for when ‘reading’ your website. The better you satisfy their criteria, the easier they’ll be able to make sense of your website and the more likely you are to rank at the top of search results for your targeted keywords.
- Top Tip: To guide your SEO audit, check out this article on using the AdWords Keyword Planner to your advantage.
There are many elements to optimise, such as the URLs, page titles, and the hierarchy of headers on each page. It’s surprising how many businesses fall at this hurdle, and how quickly results can improve once these basic optimisation issues have been resolved.
From a content viewpoint, various studies have debated the optimum word count for web pages, but the truth remains that there is no optimum and that you have to write for your audience first and foremost. Writing to satisfy a contentious metric could easily lead to waffle, putting people off and damaging your brand.
As a general rule, fewer than 250 words per page doesn’t give you much room to sell yourself or much fodder for the search bots to accurately gauge what you’re all about. Therefore, we recommend somewhere around the 500 word mark for service pages, but blog posts can certainly afford to be longer – 1,000 words or more gives you a chance to really delve into a particular subject matter and say something truly insightful. The more compelling it is, the more likely your post will attract shares and citation links, extending your reach and boosting your search performance significantly.
One thing that often crops up when auditing a site is the issue of duplicated content – a big no-no that results in hefty Google penalties. We often come across businesses that are, unbeknownst to them, running multiple versions of the same website – maybe using one as a development site, not live to Joe Public but still visible to Google – or running both .co.uk and .com versions of their site with exactly the same content. Some companies even have bespoke domains for every single city they operate in, but still use the same content, only adjusting the place names.
Unfortunately, if this is the case, you’ll be severely downgraded in the search results as Google will think each additional domain is copying the original source.
On the issue of copying, if you duplicate other people’s content and pass it off as your own, you could face copyright lawsuits as well as Google, so stick to keeping every single webpage unique and original. You can certainly quote other people, but make sure you reference them as the source and link back to their web page where appropriate.
- Top Tip: Check to see if your site has any duplicate content issues using Siteliner, and you can compare two documents side-by-side using Copyscape.
Step 2: Make space for case studies
Peer-to-peer influence is a huge factor when it comes to purchasing decisions, so producing case studies should be central to your content strategy, particularly if you’re a B2B operator. Ultimately, a well-written case study should document the story of your work alongside a client and how your services have benefited their business.
If you can explain why they enlisted your help in the first place (the problem), what changes you implemented (the solution) and what the outcome has been (the results), you’ll have charted the journey to success that should inspire others to reach out and contact you.
Your customers can be great brand advocates, so if you’ve got a compelling story waiting to be told, get direct quotes and let them tell the world how great you are.
From our own experience, regularly producing case studies has paid dividends, because you can show prospective clients exactly how you’ve achieved results in the past. Recently, upon publishing a case study detailing our white label services for agencies, another marketing agency got in touch to see how we might help them. They were reassured by the approach outlined in the case study, and knew they could trust us to complete a similar project.
Most businesses see the benefit of producing case studies, but few seem to dedicate the time to doing them properly. It really is the case of ‘miss it, miss out’, because a solid case study can make the difference between a prospect picking up the phone or moving onto the next website.
- Top Tip: The aim of the game is to let your clients do the talking, so sound them out and make it happen. Keep it simple with the ‘problem, solution, results’ method and you’ll find that you can collect the majority of information needed in a short email or quick phone call.
Step 3: Blog with a purpose
Once upon a time, content marketing practitioners would pride themselves on posting a weekly blog and leave it at that. There was a certain ‘if we build it, they will come’ attitude, and novice business owners or marketing managers would readily jump on the blogging bandwagon because everyone else was.
However, the days of blogging for the sake of it are well and truly over, because nobody ever engaged with a blog post without having proper reason to. This is why you have to be much more strategic with your output. There’s certainly room for promoting the company culture on your blog, but if all you’re doing is adding weekly updates on the latest goings-on at company HQ, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll say anything noteworthy that’s going to make people sit up and pay attention.
Your blog should be viewed as the hub of your content marketing activities, because it complements every aspect of your digital presence. Firstly, it’s your platform to showcase industry expertise; writing an in-depth guide (such as this one) is an opportunity to prove your worth, offering valuable advice that readers will (hopefully) find relevant and useful, while subtly framing you as the go-to guy for further assistance.
Your blog also gives you an opportunity to naturally link to your service pages, pointing to the real meat and bones of your business, inviting readers to learn more about you and, potentially, get in touch.
If we go granular for a second and analyse this very article, you’ll see that at various points we’ve linked to relevant webpages on our site. Not only does this aid the user experience, but in terms of SEO it also helps to raise the authority of each page we link to. Google regards links as recommendations, so when we link to our content writing services, for example, we’re improving the chances of Google ranking that page for those particular keywords.
The more frequently we do this and the more variety we can incorporate within our anchor text (the visible words used when linking), the more signals we’ll send to the search engines about each web page. This is a happy by-product of blogging, and the more content you have on your site – and the more in-tune it is with what your targeted audience is searching for – the more pages you’ll have that can potentially rank in the SERPs and drive inbound traffic.
Having a regularly updated blog is also great for social media marketing, as it gives you fresh content to share with your followers, which may also get picked up by social influencers – providing it’s good enough and says something worthwhile. That’s the key word when it comes to effective business blogging – worthwhile. You should only post content when you’ve got something worth saying, otherwise you’ll just add to the noise and your efforts will be redundant. When formulating a content plan, ask yourself – is this going to be the best thing on the Internet that will answer this particular question? If not, you should go back to the drawing board and think again.
- Top Tip: You can create better content using Answer The Public. This free tool lets you see real-time search results for your chosen keywords, giving you an accurate idea of the type of questions your blog posts should be answering if they’re going to be found by the right people.
Step 4: Submit guest articles to high-authority websites
Once you have brilliant blog content that showcases your skills, you can start approaching high-authority websites that are relevant to your niche and propose a series of guest articles. If your writing is to a good standard, backed up with facts or examples, and your pitch is engaging and relevant to the audience, you’ll have a better chance of getting the go ahead.
The benefits of running a focused outreach campaign are threefold: 1) Getting published on an industry-leading site that’s relevant to your niche extends your reach, potentially opening the door to new customers who will immediately engage with your content; 2) It gives you great material to share on social media, again extending your reach but also adding a level of credibility to your brand; 3) Gaining backlinks from authoritative third-party websites is the best way to improve your organic SEO.
As mentioned in the previous step, Google regards links as recommendations or endorsements from one site to another, but some carry greater influence than others. For example, we recently submitted an article to the Chartered Institute of Marketing – a real voice of authority in the marketing world. When they published our article, Fine-tuning your content marketing machine, we initially benefited in terms of audience engagement and social visibility, but the biggest long-term plus is that, in the eyes of Google, CIM (a respected voice) trusts Bespoke Digital and, therefore, some of their authority passes to us and we’ll get a boost in the SERPs for marketing-related search terms.
Having a healthy portfolio of backlinks from respected sources is the best way to consistently rank highly in search results, which is why the mainstay of our business is managing the outreach process for clients, researching and writing articles packed with actionable advice that will appeal to premium websites in specific niches.
Having great blog content on your own website is crucial, as it allows greater freedom to naturally link back to your site when publishing on a third-party. Trying to link to product or service pages is generally frowned upon, as this comes across as being too sales-driven.
Therefore, it’s much easier to link back to your blog content, providing it adds value to the wider conversation. For instance, in the CIM piece we linked to our article on conducting keyword research (a natural, relevant, worthwhile link) which, in turn, then links to our service pages, so the ‘link-juice’ flows throughout our site.
Again, consistency is key, and the more regularly you publish on a variety of high-quality, relevant sites, the better your rankings will be and the larger your audience will grow. One of our clients recently stated how impressive the quality of leads direct from guest articles has been, and you can read more about this in our Telecoms Content Marketing Case Study.
- Top Tip: For a detailed breakdown on our process for finding the very best websites to publish on, check out our guide to influencer outreach and prospecting.
Step 5: Be unique and publish your own research
People love statistics and original insights, so if you have the resources to conduct some form of research that’s relevant to your sector, then you’ll be giving yourself the very best chance of naturally attracting lots of inbound links, as people cite your work and comment on your findings.
If you’re able to survey, say, 500 of your customers and ask pertinent questions that will be of interest to your peers, potential customers and the wider media, then you’ll give yourself a brilliant platform to really establish yourself as a big player. Your content marketing efforts can then be built around ensuring the right people get to hear about you and your revelations.
We’ve recently referenced Beckon (a marketing analytics company) in many of our articles because they’ve conducted extensive content marketing research that concludes: 19 out of 20 pieces of content get little to no engagement.
Using this stat has played well into our belief that content marketers need to do more to make their efforts stand out, and the study has been cited by thousands of others within the marketing world.
As such, Beckon’s stature has risen, opening their insights up to audiences that had previously never heard of them, and one would assume that the upshot has been a significant leap in business.
It’s unlikely that you’ll have the resources to be able to produce the same level of wide-reaching report as Beckon, but if you can find an angle that potentially solves a problem or highlights an issue within your industry, you’ll quickly establish your brand as one that’s ahead of the pack.
Publishing original research as part of an integrated content marketing plan is a surefire way to bring everything together and attract more custom.
- Top Tip: Publish your top-level findings, complete with graphs, charts and infographics on a bespoke landing page, and make the call-to-action an email newsletter sign-up, advising visitors that they can stay in the loop with your latest insights by joining your mailing list – a potentially profitable lead generator.
Content marketing conclusions
Following the steps listed above will certainly put you on course for an enjoyable content marketing campaign that should pay off for years to come. Some doomsday stats have recently predicted the death of content marketing, usually owing to doubts over proving ROI – especially when compared to the quick metrics of native advertising and pay-per-click – but if you commit to producing quality content, the benefits are plain to see.
The trouble with social media ads and PPC is that you have to keep paying for them to work, whereas employing a variety of content techniques ensures that your web rankings and size of audience will grow in Google-friendly, future-proof ways. What is more, content marketing and paid search efforts actually complement each other, rather than detract from one another.
Where some companies struggle with their content efforts is by not amplifying them sufficiently, so it’s crucial to share everything across your social profiles, encourage team members to do the same, promote your content in email newsletters, or update email signatures to include links direct to blog posts.
Some clients have even experienced success in printing the content we’ve produced for them and handing it to prospects during meetings, giving some reading material that really backs up what the business is about and, ultimately, securing contracts. So, make sure your sales team is in cahoots with your content team, and your marketing output will naturally work harder without any greater effort.
If you’d like to learn more about our content marketing process, let’s have a chat.