If you’ve spent any time at all researching ways to get your brand in front of a larger audience, you’ve probably heard of content marketing.
It’s now considered a staple in the digital marketing world, and many companies attribute a significant amount of their success to this approach.
But if you’ve never used content as a marketing tool, you might be skeptical as to whether investing your time and budget in creating original resources, only to give them away for free, is worth it.
And that’s why we’ve created this guide.
Keep reading for an in-depth explanation of what content marketing entails, a few examples of brands using it effectively, and a four-step process you can use to get started.
What is content marketing?
Before you can start using content as part of your online strategy, you’ll need to know how, exactly, content marketing works.
Fortunately, the basic concept is pretty straightforward. It involves creating and publishing original content on topics related to your business and industry.
That content can take a variety of formats, ranging from blog posts and written guides to graphics, videos, webinars, and podcasts. As long as what you’re creating is relevant to your target audience, you can use it as part of your strategy.
It’s important to note, though, that this tactic is much less overtly promotional than many other forms of marketing. While other tactics, like PPC campaigns, center on driving immediate conversions, content marketing is typically part of a much longer buying process.
That’s because although your content should be related to your audience’s interests, it won’t always involve a direct pitch for your services.
For example, consider Shutterstock’s annual Creative Trends Infographic.
This company develops this annual report by compiling user data and using it to create compelling visual representations of graphic design styles and trends.
And from a marketing standpoint, these reports are extremely effective. The 2017 version earned the company:
- Mentions in more than 100 articles
- 6 billion unique site visits
- 5,300 social media shares, 11,000 social media engagements
So although the content you create as part of your strategy may not instantly generate sales, it can play a major role in growing brand awareness.
And as long as you choose topics that are relevant to your target audience, your content can be the first step in familiarizing prospective buyers with your brand — with the goal that they’ll want to learn more about it, and ultimately become customers and clients.
Why should content marketing be part of your strategy?
At this point, you might be wondering whether content marketing is really worth adding to your strategy.
And if you ask the marketers who are already using it, the answer is yes.
When asked which activity will make the largest commercial impact in 2018, 20% of marketers responded with content marketing — a higher percentage than any other single tactic.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that content is an extremely popular tactic among marketers. According to Content Marketing Institute’s 2018 B2B Content Marketing report, 91% of B2B organizations are already using content marketing.
Of those who aren’t already using it, 54% say they plan to launch a content marketing strategy within the next 12 months.
And if you’re wondering why this tactic is so popular among marketers, it’s because it works. The average conversion rate of sites using content marketing is 2.9%, while the average for sites without one is 0.5%.
That’s almost six times the conversions, which is an impressive jump by any standard.
So if you’re looking to grow your audience and drive more conversions for your brand, content could be the perfect addition to your existing strategy.
Content marketing examples
Understanding the general concept of content marketing is one thing — but knowing how to put it into practice is another one entirely.
So with that in mind, here are three examples of brands using content effectively to reach their marketing goals.
Ecommerce: Frank and Oak’s Handbook
Style-focused content is a logical choice for any clothing retailer, but ecommerce brand Frank and Oak took it a step further with their Handbook blog, which sadly no longer exists. An example that does is Huckberry’s Journal.
Described as an online magazine with “stories and advice on good living,” the publication goes beyond standard fashion content and also features culture-focused pieces from around the world.
This editorial approach is perfect for the brand’s international, millennial focus, and a smart way to bring their target audience back to the site on a regular basis.
SaaS: Wix’s website-building tutorials
Tutorial-style content is a popular approach among SaaS companies, but Wix makes theirs stand out by creating it in video format and publishing it on their YouTube channel.
The channel hosts step-by-step tutorials for common website tasks like creating menus, importing data, and customizing specific elements. Many of the videos also feature prominent YouTube personalities and other influencers.
This approach is not only more engaging for the platform’s users but enables the brand to reach new prospective buyers on YouTube — meaning that each piece of content serves multiple purposes for their strategy.
B2B: MindSea’s original research
Many companies collect a significant amount of data, both on their users and to make informed business decisions — but many of them keep this data limited to their internal teams.
MindSea takes a different approach and shares this data in the form of interesting visuals, like this blog post on the role of color theory in app development.
By sharing these graphics, the company was able to target readers that are interested in app development — which just so happens to be their target audience.
How to start doing content marketing in 4 steps
Now that we’ve established the value of content marketing, as well as the forms it can take for a few types of businesses, you can use the following four-step process to develop a strategy that works for your brand and audience.
1. Identify topics your audience is interested in
The first step in any marketing strategy is research — and it’s essential that you take this step seriously. Otherwise, you risk wasting your content marketing budget on content that no one wants to read.
Fortunately, there are many tools you can use to take a data-backed approach for choosing topics.
For example, let’s say you’re an ecommerce site owner selling nutritional supplements. You can start by using Google’s Autocomplete feature to find topics that users frequently search for.
Start typing a phrase related to your business, and you’ll see a list of suggestions based on real user search data.
If any of these topics are relevant to your target audience, add them to your list of ideas.
Then, you can take it a step further by selecting one of them and scrolling to the bottom of the page, where you’ll see a list of related searches.
Again, these suggestions are all based on user data — meaning that if you base a piece of content on one, you can be confident there’s an audience that wants to read that content.
Then, once you’ve repeated this process for each of your topic ideas, it’s time to move on to competitor research.
Considering the overwhelming popularity of content marketing, there’s a strong chance at least a handful of your competitors are already using it. You can learn from the work they’ve already done with tools like SEMrush.
Enter a competitor’s domain name, then select “Positions” from the “Organic Research” menu, and you’ll see a list of the keywords that competitor ranks for organically.
This will give you a clear picture of the topics they’re covering in their content strategy. And if you’re able to create a better piece of content on any of those topics, you can use this insight to earn a portion of the organic traffic for your own site.
In addition to keyword rankings, you can also use SEMrush to see which pages on your competitors’ sites attract the most traffic.
This report goes beyond showing the topics a competitor has covered and indicates which are the most popular among visitors.
And assuming that your target audiences are similar, you can use this data to confidently select topics that will generate the attention you want.
2. Focus on creating unique, high-quality content
Once you’ve selected topics, it’s time to start creating. But you need to be willing to invest the time and effort it takes to create something that’s high in quality and provides real value to your target audience.
While creating a new page and optimizing it for a target keyword used to be all it took to achieve strong rankings and attract traffic, that’s no longer the case. Content quality is now much more important than keyword density.
And although “quality” is a relatively broad term, one aspect that’s fairly consistent across high-performing content is the length.
In one study, CoSchedule found that the average blog post has 1,142 words and that long-form content outperforms shorter pieces by 40.54%.
And in an analysis of their own top-performing blog posts, they found that their ten highest-traffic posts averaged just over 4,000 words.
That said, it’s important to remember that a high word count won’t necessarily translate into great results unless those words say something that’s helpful and interesting to your target audience.
Focus on finding a unique angle and a way to provide value, then look for ways to make your content as in-depth as possible.
With this focus on quality, you’ll be much more likely to create resources that your audience wants to read — and to see the kinds of results you want from your content marketing strategy.
3. Optimize for search engines
Once you’ve created a piece of content, you’ll want to maximize its ability to reach your target audience. The first step in reaching this goal is optimizing it for search.
If you take a data-backed approach to choose your topics (and you absolutely should!), you’ll already have a target keyword in mind for your page.
So before hitting “Publish,” take the time to run through a few essential optimization steps, like the ones on Search Engine Land’s content optimization checklist.
Compared to the time and energy it takes to create an excellent piece of content, the effort here is minimal — but can have a significant impact on how much value that generates for your company.
4. Promote your content
After you’ve launched a piece of content, it’s time to promote it. Unfortunately, this is the step where many marketers fall short.
As content marketing expert Brittany Berger explains, “The biggest mistake I see content marketers make with creating and promoting content is to view both as a one-off task or project … I like to view distributing content as an ongoing system all content cycles through a few times, instead of something that happens for a little while after publishing a piece of content.”
After all, one of the biggest advantages of content marketing is that the resources you publish can continue to bring in traffic and sales for years after you launch them — but that’s only the case if you continue to promote them to new users.
You can simplify this process by scheduling shares in advance with a tool like Buffer.
But as you create your sharing schedule, it’s worth spending a few extra minutes to write unique copy for each post.
This way, if a follower isn’t intrigued the first time you share a post, you may be able to grab their attention by highlighting a different aspect of your content.
Plus, as you repeat this process with your content, you may pick up trends in the types of headlines your audience clicks the most, which you can use to write even more compelling copy in the future.
Content now plays a significant role in many companies’ marketing strategies, and the reason for this is clear. When done correctly, it’s an extremely effective way for brands to attract their target audience to their websites.
That said, getting excellent results takes a little more effort than hitting “Publish” on a blog post once or twice a month.
So if you’re on the fence about using content marketing, it certainly has the potential to move you closer to your business goals — as long as you’re willing to put in the time it takes to learn about your audience and create the kinds of resources they actually want to read.