Every business today needs to have an online presence. Whether it’s Yelp and Google My Business pages for a local business, listing pages for a real estate company, or pages tailored towards your audience for a SaaS business, you have to be findable online.
And for a lot of businesses, digital content marketing (content marketing is not just online!) makes a lot of sense. You can educate your audience, help them make better decisions about buying, and use it to build a new audience through organic traffic and link acquisition.
Content marketing can be a HUGE win for businesses that invest in it the right way.
But content marketing is hard. Everyone is doing it:
And honestly, a lot of businesses are wasting their budget on “content marketing” that is really just written words and no actual marketing going into it.
Why businesses waste budget on content marketing
Many businesses have been sold on the idea of doing content. They see companies like Scripted saying that you can get “content” for pennies per word, and that you can hire someone for $200 a month to write “four blog posts”.
Not GOOD blog posts, but blog posts.
And then I see comments like this online:
“I’ll give some of these services a try. What do I have to lose?”
What do you have to lose?!
If you’re paying someone money and asking this, then you will likely lose your money.
If you have this attitude, then you will likely lose the time you put into it.
Notice at the top of this section I said that businesses have been sold on the idea of “content marketing”, but really what they are getting is blog posts.
Blog posts alone are not content marketing.
Blog posts are content that you can use for marketing, and they will work for you if you put the marketing behind them. Simply publishing posts on your blog that are 500 words in length because you’ve been told to have “fresh content” and “write on your blog” will not do anything for your business.
Rant: also, you do not publish “blogs”. You publish blog posts on your blog. The only time you can say that you publish “blogs” is when you have multiple blogs on which you are publishing posts. </rant>
What kind of content should you be creating?
This is a question that those of us in the digital marketing/SEO/content marketing spaces get asked all the time by business owners or people who are not marketers themselves. And for good reason, because the idea of writing words that serve a business purpose, get across a point, and others might read is daunting to many.
My advice to solo business owners
If you are a solo business owner and you don’t like to write, let me say this – don’t. Either pay someone else to do it for you or don’t do it at all.
If you have the desire to learn to right well, then you should write and learn to publish and learn to get eyeballs on it. But don’t do it because someone said you should or “it’s good for SEO”.
There are many other ways to increase your organic traffic and get links to your site than through publishing content. Great content, the type of content that moves your business forward, is an investment over time. I’ve been writing online for about 15 years now. If you’re not willing to put in the time to become great, then I encourage you to not start.
My advice to small to medium size businesses ($100k-$5M a year)
For small to medium size businesses, assuming you or someone on your team loves to create content, you can fairly easily stand out from the crowd. You’re not going to do it through just creating blog posts though. Blog content can be foundational and drive a good amount of traffic over time if you do keyword research well, but it won’t make you stand out in your space unless you do an incredible job with it, like Groove did with their startup journey blog:
This is a stellar example of a blog done well by a medium sized company, but there are not many others. So I’m not going to tell you to “blog like Groove”.
And I’m not going to tell you to blog like Groove because you don’t need to. Your business is likely very different from theirs.
If you’re not a master content creator like Groove, then what can you do to create content that is genuinely useful to your industry?
Luckily, there are many other types of content other than blog content. You might announce it there, but you can do:
- Video content
- Longform content and guides
- Case studies (of your customers or other people)
- Checklists, resources, and tools
The key here is that you don’t have to, nor should you try to, do all of them. I always recommend that you find the type of content that you are best at and that plays to your strengths, and go hard into that.
Let’s also recognize that you’re better at some things than others because you’ve practiced them. If you are great at generating an audience through written content, then do that until you get to the point that your business supports itself and you can experiment with new types of content.
If your business is on the bigger side of the revenue scale that we are addressing here, then I bet you are at that point now.
I personally am a writer (I have published over 250,000 words on this site since October 2015), but I don’t just keep to blog posts. I’ve created big guides (10,000+ words) and learned how to drive email subscribers from them. The first one I did got 30 subscribers. Now I can publish a guide and know how to get 500+ email subscribers to it pretty easily. But that came with writing 5-6 more guides and practicing.
My advice to the enterprise ($5M+ a year)
If you’re an enterprise company, with 100+ employees and doing $5M+ a year in revenue, then why are you blogging? I’ve said this other places online, but I do not believe that companies of this side should have a traditional blog.
When you reach this scale of revenue, and hopefully have outlined a specific budget for marketing, then you get to do big and cool things. Instead of having a blog, why not do a legitimate publication? If you have a news background, then you can create the publication for your industry. That will serve you much better than a “blog”.
Of course, to get to $5M+ a year in revenue you had to go through the previous two steps. Once you’re doing bigger revenue and have a bigger budget, you can afford to build out your team with experts across different types of content and allow them to show you that it’s profitable.
At the same time, you can create better processes and dramatically improve the production value of your content. I would argue that as your company is growing from $100k a year to $5M per year then your production value should increase as you go as well, but when you have a $5M+ company there is zero excuse to not have the best designed and created stuff out there. That’s what sets you apart.
What does “marketing” mean for “content marketing”?
If you’re investing in creating content, then to get it seen you also need to invest in the promotion side of content marketing. This is where the rubber meets the road, because it’s where you get new eyeballs on your content that you can then turn into new customers.
Often times when I ask someone how they are driving traffic to the content they are creating, they tell me “SEO”. As an SEO, this hurts my heart. SEO is not a promotion strategy.
Sure, you can drive traffic over the long term through your search rankings. But you’re not going to rank tomorrow for a 10,000 searches per month term. SEO is a long term strategy.
Promotion is a skill set in its own right. To be honest, it’s one that I have struggled for YEARS to learn how to do better and I still feel quite amateur at it. I can create all day, but promotion is not my thing.
There are many ways to promote your content, but before you do it you should be crystal clear about who you created the content for. In reality, you should have known this before you even started creating it.
If you are creating content for a new audience, then your promotion strategy might look something like this:
- Identify influencers in that space and figure out how to get them talking about it;
- Ask a group of peers in your industry to share it with their audiences, ideally via email;
- Guest post, be on podcasts, and otherwise be wherever you can be to talk about it.
Usually, unless your content is absolutely amazing, you won’t get press coverage. Everyone thinks they want press coverage, but the reality is that you won’t get mainstream press with a niche campaign. Instead, focus on the major publications in your space and offer yourself as an expert (see guest post, podcasts, interviews, etc).
I should also say something about social media here. Social media is usually a good way to reach your current customers, but I’ve found it to be relatively lacking (unless you’re a social click baiting genius) in generating new audience. Share your content on your channels, but don’t expect it to be a big traffic driver.
If you are creating content for your existing audience, then your promotion will look different from a new audience promotion strategy. You’ll probably use these channels:
- Email marketing;
- In-app announcements (if you run a software company or have an in-app, either web or mobile, experience);
- Social media;
- Trade publications.
Some of these channels will take time to build up, and you will have to work at the connections to get into trade publications, but these are going to be your best way to promote content to existing customers and audience.
Remember: not every piece of content you produce has to be to generate new audience!
What should you hire a content marketing agency to do?
So this brings us to the question of “How do I get all of these things done?”
This depends on the size of your company, but if you are in the position to hire a content marketing agency then you need to determine your specific goals and the gaps that your current team has that you will be relying on them to fill.
This could be anything from content creation, because your team doesn’t have the time or expertise, to promotion, because they do it all day and can get you quicker results, to a combination of the two because you simply need more hands on deck. At the same time, you need to ask yourself if they are also going to help you with the strategy and pitch you ideas for them to execute on, which will take a lot longer than them simply running with the campaigns that you have already determined that you want to do.
I recommend reading our guide to hiring an agency which will help you figure out the best way to go about it.