9 Keys to an Effective Content Marketing Strategy

Content marketing is a hot topic these days for very good reason. When it comes to capturing the attention of an audience in our message-saturated environment, modern content marketing becomes paramount as it can be an effective way to introduce your company to new prospects without hitting them over the head with banner ads, spending a ton on advertising, or forcing promotional messages in social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. 

If your content is interesting, informative or entertaining enough, people will be happy to share it with their contacts, spreading your brand and connecting your company with quality content. Not only is original content valuable in this climate, but this content needs to be a resource of credible opinions backed up with original data.

But before you jump in (or if you’re already neck deep), make sure your content marketing efforts aren’t being held back by fundamental issues. Everyone’s creating swarms of content, but how effective is it? In a recent study, marketing intelligence SaaS Beckon found that only 5% of branded content garners 90% of all engagement. That means a very small fraction of your content is doing the lion’s share of the work and your ROI can be negative if the content you create doesn’t attract any attention or add real value to anyone.

So how do you ensure that your golden 5% has a chance of increasing to 10 or 15?

In order to help you think through your content marketing strategy, here are 9 key areas and tips to consider for content writing:

1) Focus on Quality First

Companies that focus on volume of content will lose out over companies that focus on quality. High quality posts will get significantly more shares on social media, will get the attention of other industry stakeholders, and will position your company as more of a thought leader, expert or educator. In addition, there’s an overabundance of average to poor content out there. People will gravitate to, follow, and refer providers of quality knowledge.

For blog posts, here are some writing tips will help you publish high-quality articles for relevant audiences and readers. You need more than clever content; you need a good presentation that pays attention to structure, format, SEO, and the overall quality of the content:

1. Pick a central keyword or phrase. 

Think about what terms a potential reader might use to find your content. (research what people are using in searches with Google’s keyword planner). Know your main keyword and three to five variations BEFORE you start writing.

2. Structure your article; 

an outline helps tremendously:
• Core thesis
• Supporting point and evidence
• Supporting point and evidence
• Summary/so what/what to do next

3. Article length matters

Aim for between 301 and 500 words. If your article is shorter it hurts your SEO. If it is longer, you most likely don’t have a tight, focused, high-impact idea. Consider breaking a long article into a multi-part series. That actually helps SEO and encourages reader engagement.

4. Revise with keywords. 

Go over your first draft and sprinkle keywords throughout. A rough rule of thumb is to use the keyword once every 100 words, and then use:
• In the headline
• In the first sentence
• In at least one subheading
• Use variations throughout as needed

Visuals can be photos, illustrations, graphs, icons, logos. Name the image file name the central keyword. If “naming products” is my keyword, I change my image name from IMG_20150805.jpg to Naming_Products.jpg. Make sure the alt-text also contains the keyword.

6. Add at least one outbound link to some other source or resource

Add at least one outbound link to some other source or resource with the anchor text containing the central keyword.

7. Provide metadata that includes a title and description for Google that uses your keyword: 

Title of 55 characters and description of 115 characters. Be sure to use the keyword in your post URL and on all alt-tags on the page.

8. Include social media posts for Linked In, Facebook and Twitter. 

It makes sense to write this important content at the same time you are writing your blog. Use an active statement that invites a click.

Good example: Get advice for naming products from brand naming expert Lisa Merriam with important “do’s and don’ts to avoid product naming problems.”

Not so good example: Lisa Merriam offers good advice about how to name products in this month’s blog entry.

Now that you’re ready to begin writing high-impact content, make sure that coworkers, who are also writing for your blog, have access to the same toolbox. Share this information with your colleagues to help them along on their content creation journey.

2) Topics Your Prospects/Customers Care About

When starting out with content marketing, lots of companies take an internally-focused (I call it a “me-centric”) perspective. They think, “how can we get more details out about our products and services via our blog!”. This is the wrong way to think about it.

To really add value and to have success with content writing and marketing, you need to start by putting yourself in the shoes of your prospects and customers. Think about their questions, concerns and “information gaps” that you can address on your website, via your blog in video content and in other places and ways (read this deep dive on customer-focused blog topics).

Sharing a unique point of view or opinion in brand-owned content can be impactful to your readers and target audience, especially if it inspires shifts in perspective or societal change, but today’s most effective content is often more resource-focused than it is opinion-based. Opinions are fleeting as new insights are revealed, but resource-rich content is long-lasting.

For instance, Home Depot’s blog provides homeowners with evergreen organization ideas for tight spaces and Upwork’s blog provides freelancers with tips for budgeting. These types of “problem-solving” posts sometimes include curated lists of additional resources in their outros where readers can find more information on the topic at hand without further searching.

3) Don’t Ignore SEO

Content marketing is beautiful because it has the ability to combine Content (which can establish your expertise) with Social Media (which can help you exponentially spread your message) with Search (helping you be found via Google, Bing or other search engines to make your content SEO-friendly).

Some companies limit the “Search” part of the equation by not being knowledgeable about the basics of SEO, by using terms that people don’t use (e.g. internal company jargon vs. commonly used terms) and by not posting enough keyword-rich textual content on their website or blog. A simple example – when embedding a YouTube video in your blog, why not include some of the key points or a full transcript (if not too long) in text below it so Google can pick up on these terms?

4) Think About Variety

When people think about content marketing, they may quickly think that this means a lot of writing. Cranking out text-heavy blog posts, lots of ebooks and various white papers. In reality, creativity and variety will help you stand out more in your industry and among your target audience.

Think about using a variety of media (pictures, videos, infographics, checklists, audio content, webinars and even live events), in addition to written content like blog posts, ebooks and white papers. Don’t underestimate the value that visuals can bring to your content. Images have an incredible influence on engagement levels. In fact, researchers in one study found that colored visuals increased people’s willingness to read a piece of content by 80%.

Use a free visual content creation tool such as Canva to create flawless graphics for your audience. Choose from pre-formatted sizes that make it easy to share on any social network, and use their endless supply of stock photos, elements, and text to enhance your graphic.

Video content is rapidly growing in popularity across all audiences. In fact, when it comes to products, customers reported that they were 4 times more likely to watch a video than read an article, so play on that! Create videos on industry tips and tricks, popular issues that your audience faces, as well as your products and how to use them.

According to one study, three-quarters of companies view email as either “good” or “excellent” in terms of ROI. Promoting your content in your email campaigns can increase your content’s visibility.

You could send out emails with the specific goal of highlighting your created content. You could also include a few pieces of content to include at the bottom of your other email campaigns. Whatever way you choose to do this, emails are a great way to introduce your audience to new content.

Also, variety can extend to what kind of content you create. A tip here is to create thought leadership pieces, “behind the scenes” content (e.g. pictures of your product/service being created), customer features, interviews, list of resources and many other types of content. Use your imagination! It will pay off in terms of attention.

Create content that is visual by nature, such as infographics and SlideShares. Even in non-visual content, such as blog posts and ebooks, include visual graphics that enhance your content.

5) Build a Social Foundation

Social media is a perfect complement to content marketing. Content is the fuel that keeps the social media “engine” humming as people share and re-share content they’ve discovered or that someone else (in most cases) shared with them.

By building up your connections on the social platforms that other industry influencers and your prospects spend time at (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ and many others), you’ll be laying the groundwork for potential sharing of your (great) content! In addition, engaging and sharing other people’s content before you have something to share is another critical part of getting your social foundation built.

Encourage your customers to engage with your brand. Create contests with incentives that get your customers to share their stories and even photos of how they use your product or service. Once you have this, it becomes valuable owned media with the power to draw in your audience.

Show your audience how past customers are using and loving your product to make their work easier. This kind of word-of-mouth content gives a nod of approval to your brand from third parties, which is just the kind of recommendation that audiences want.

6) Get Your Employees to Share

There’s nothing worse than coming to a company blog and seeing “0” or “1” shares for a given post. If you believe in your content, you should share it after you produce it. The next step is to make sure employees are aware of the content and to encourage them to share it on accounts that they manage (or optionally on their personal accounts in some cases).

Create content that draws attention to your peers and employees—other experts in your industry that create amazing content. This builds valuable relationships within your industry—relationships that you and your employees can rely on in the future.

Exactly how can you do this? Write a roundup post that links to key content from your employees on a certain subject—consider this one we did on calls to action. Interview fellow experts within your industry, and use those quotes to enhance your content.

This kind of owned media will attract their audience in addition to your own.

7) Align Content Marketing and Advertising Efforts

Content marketing should be aligned with all of the marketing you’re doing in your company. In fact, you probably want to do some specific promotions for some of your content – e.g. a new ebook or a webinar are great hooks to pull people in via PPC or Facebook ads.

But effective content is never about a quick sell; it’s about becoming a trusted source for information, whether that information is filling a specific niche or broad need. Instead of positioning content to answer customer needs in the form of products, effective content is positioned to answer customer needs in the form of information.

While consumers are bombarded with personalized ads that eerily echo their age, sex, and income level, content is an opportunity to demonstrate authenticity and build trust in a way ads can’t. For this reason, effective content strategies don’t include needless self-promotion or sell-speak but there should be alignment between the two. 

8) Monitor The Reactions Online

“Content and Technology are strange bed fellows. We are joined together. Sometimes we misunderstand each other. But isn’t that after all the definition of marriage?” –Howard Stringer

In addition to seeing the numbers of shares in social media, it’s important to see what people are saying about it. This is where social media monitoring comes in. You can use a tool like Meltwater Buzz to monitor brand mentions, specific keywords and industry influencers. Then you can then see which pieces of content or campaigns are working and which are not.

The number of tools and technology available to make content marketing faster, easier, and more effective is amazing. From deciding what to write about to coming up with the most effective title for a content piece to determining who are the influencers for a particular topic—tools and technology are a powerful boon. The key is to identify which technology and tools are relevant in your context…and to effectively use them.

Constantly monitoring, tracking and reporting conversion metrics at regular intervals with all key stakeholders is the most important checkpoint in the content journey. With an ample number of social media listening/analytics/monitoring tools, it is important to identify the right tools for your context, define a frequency for reporting, and then start. Reporting on metrics doesn’t stop there, it’s crucial to spend time analyzing the metrics to draw actionable insights.

9) Engage With People Who Share and Comment

In addition to monitoring mentions and shares, engaging with people who responded to the content can be a very powerful way to spread your reach and to connect with potential prospects or industry stakeholders.

Social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are a great way to reach your audience and direct them back to your website.

The problem that many companies run into is the short life that content has on social media. For example, most content reaches the majority of its audience on Twitter within 3 hours, and on Facebook within 5 hours.

How do you compensate for such a short social media shelf-life? Share your content on your social media networks multiple times. Find out when your audience often takes to social media—what days and times—and post your content during those times.

Content marketing is not just creating content, it’s about sharing and engaging with people who resonate with the content.

Is your content marketing strategy in shape?

Based on the insights from your metrics, it is important to refine your content plan.

Simple rule of thumb is this: Whatever’s working; do more of it. Whatever’s not working; do less of it. Be flexible enough to test new things. Conversion based on content takes time and focused efforts. Patience, persistence, and a positive outlook yield results. You may not be able to immediately see a conversion based on content, but if you are patient, you will see the impact of your content marketing.