It’s easy to see the allure of content marketing, to follow the stories of the many successful startups that have used it to build an army of followers and create a renowned brand.
Like Groove HQ, that just 3 years ago was a few months away from running out of cash and now has 5 million in annual recurring revenue. They simply changed their content marketing strategy.
If you want to see these same results for your business, you’re going to need a documented content strategy. A long-term vision that not only guides your content but sets you up for success in other aspects of your marketing.
In this post, I’m going to show you the key elements of a content strategy that will guide you to long-term success and set you up to get amazing results with your paid traffic campaigns as well.
Three years ago Alex Turnbull, CEO & Founder of Groove, a customer service SaaS, hated Fridays. This was because Friday was the day that their metrics provider would send a weekly summary of their numbers for that week. And those numbers reminded him that his company was on the edge of collapse, a few months away from running out of cash.
Up to this point in 2013, their marketing efforts weren’t working. Nobody was visiting their site; nobody was buying their product. Faced with a “gun to the head” situation, they decided to rework their content marketing strategy.
“We realized that there was an entire world beneath the surface of content marketing strategy that we had been missing the entire time.” – Alex Turnbull
They ditched their blog that focused on customer service and started to research and talk with businesses about what they actually needed help with. They found most businesses had problems just like theirs; challenges like cash flow, hiring, marketing. So they reworked their strategy to genuinely help people with these issues.
“Just as we did with our product, we decided to rebuild our content marketing strategy from the ground up with an eye towards what could actually help our market, rather than what we thought might look nice on a blog.” – Alex Turnbull
Three years later, they get a quarter million visits a month and 5 million in annual recurring revenue. They credit this all to the changes they made to their content marketing strategy.
Read the full story here: Behind the Scenes: How We’ve Built a $5M/Year Business in 3 Years With Content Marketing.
Why have a documented strategy?
“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” – Yogi Berra
Many people start content marketing by just creating whenever they feel inspired by whatever is on their mind or interesting to them at the time. Their content ends up being scattered and never gets any traction. A written strategy keeps you consistent; it crystallizes your ideas and your vision, and it enables you to share that vision in a clear way. It protects you from the risk of getting caught up in “shiny object syndrome” with whatever new marketing trend appears. The written document also gives you a tool to make decisions on your content.
Take a look at these statistics from the B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America showing the dramatic difference a content marketing strategy can make for your business.
Last year, 35% of B2B marketers had a documented content strategy, 48% had a verbal-only strategy, and 14% had no strategy. A documented content marketing strategy impacts effectiveness:
- 53% of the most effective marketers have a documented content marketing strategy
- 40% of the least effective marketers have no strategy at all.”
The target audience for your blog may be different than the target customer for your business. Content marketing is a “broad net” you cast and a long-term play. Someone who starts reading your blog may not become a customer for months or years, or they may never become a customer at all, but they’ll refer a close friend to you after reading your blog.
For example, Meryl Johnson, co-founder of Bean Ninjas, has an ideal customer of an online business that’s making 6 figures. But her content strategy targets people in much earlier stages of their business. She has lots of great articles on how a bootstrapper can manage their bookkeeping with Xero. The bootstrapper she writes the article for may not be an ideal customer now, but they are on their way to becoming one. In 6-12 months, they may hit that 6 figure mark, and by then, they’ll have a well-established relationship with Bean Ninjas and want to buy from them.
Identify the core problems you want to solve
If there’s one element of your target persona that you must emphasize and understand for content, it’s their “core problems.” A core problem is a persistent challenge that your audience faces. It should be specific enough that people immediately understand it, but broad enough that you’ll be able to create lots of variations of content for it. Each core problem should have an obvious relationship to your product or service so you can be sure you’re attracting the right people to your site.
Here are some examples of core problems that WP Curve, a startup that provides unlimited WordPress support, chose to solve with their content. They target entrepreneurs and startups for their service and have grown almost exclusively using content marketing.
- Content marketing – Many entrepreneurs are attracted to content marketing as a growth strategy. WP Curve has grown almost exclusively using content, so they are an authority and a resource.
- Improving your WordPress site – Common WordPress issues that entrepreneurs face on their sites, like optimizing for site speed.
- Driving traffic to your site – Strategies and tactics, like SEO, paid traffic and email marketing, that can drive more traffic to your site.
- Starting / launching a business – How to successfully launch a business and the many key decisions that need to be made before you launch.
- Business growth – There are countless strategies and tactics to grow a business online, but with limited resources, an entrepreneur needs to identify the most effective from these and not waste time on the rest.
Your core problems should become a framework for how you organize the categories on your blog. Each problem gets its own category. All of the content you create should fit nicely into one of these categories. This gives you several advantages down the road.
- You’re able to see which categories or core problems are resonating with your audience.
- You’re able to hone in your messaging based on the core problem the viewer has.
- You can retarget people based on the core problem they resonate with.
Find influencers to build relationships with for each problem
Each of your core problems should have a unique set of influencers and thought leaders related to it. Your documented strategy should list influencers you want to build a relationship with.
For every piece of content, you create, you should quote 3 or more other influencers in the space. This could be the first step to future backlinks, collaborations, and opportunities with these influencers.
This will also help with your paid traffic campaigns, but I’ll explain that later in the post.
Identify keywords related to the problem
Do some keyword research on each of the categories or core problems you discuss in your content.
Create a list of 5-10 keywords you would want to target for each core problem. Include these keywords in your documented strategy. Each time you write a post, you can sprinkle a few of these keywords in, to slowly climb the search rankings for these keywords and related ones.
These keywords should also help you frame the messaging on your landing pages, email series and lead magnets that you develop for that core problem.
Create a lead magnet that helps with each problem
Once you have your core problems determined, create an attractive lead magnet for each problem. The lead magnet should clearly relate to the core problem and give actionable advice on how to solve a very specific and common aspect of the problem.
A lead magnet does not have to be a long ebook; make your lead magnet short. This increases the chances that the people who download your lead magnets will use and be successful with them. If it’s too long, someone may start reading but never finish or take action, which does not help your brand.
Place the lead magnet offer in your content. If you use WordPress, you can use a plugin like Widget Context to setup your blog so that the appropriate lead magnet appears for each category automatically.
I prefer minimally disruptive placement so that the viewer can have a good experience with the content then make a decision on the lead magnet. My favorite place is the sidebar. You can use Q2W3 Fixed Widget to make sure your opt-in box stays visible and scrolls with the viewer as they go down your post.
Each lead magnet should have its own landing page, in-post or sidebar opt-in, and a thank you page
Create welcome series for each category
If someone downloads a lead magnet for a specific core problem, they’re sending you a specific signal about their wants, needs and the current state of their business. This gives you an opportunity to send them more content related to that core problem.
For each core problem and lead magnet you develop, you should create a simple email series to follow up, introduce yourself and your team, and suggest more content that they might find useful.
Helpscout’s post Building a newsletter series from scratch provides a great framework
These series should consist of 3-5 emails, each discussing different aspects of the core problem. Since they’ve already pointed out the core problem that’s on their minds currently, it’s more than likely that they’ll find another piece of content in this category helpful. This will keep them engaged with your brand, amazed at how you seem to be reading their minds, and more likely to advocate for you or become a customer.
Gasoline on the fire – boost your content with paid traffic
Now that we have this content marketing strategy and campaign set up, we can start driving some traffic to it. All of the work you have done up to this point will make it easier to setup your ads, and make them more effective in the long-run.
The first step is to send cold traffic to your best posts. You can define “best” in a few ways.
- Posts with the most search traffic
- Posts with the highest conversion rates for lead magnet downloads
- Posts that have the highest rate of social shares and engagement
Sending cold traffic to content is less expensive than trying to generate leads; people are less skeptical when they see an ad for content instead of something trying to capture their email. Don’t worry about conversion from the traffic you drive at this stage. You’ll be able to retarget them in the future and move them forward. For now, you just want your content to make a good first impression with your audience.
If you need help with targeting for cold traffic, check out Why Retargeting Isn’t the End All to Facebook Ads (And How to Get Cold Traffic That Is).
Use your Keywords – The keywords that you have found for your core problem are also useful for your ad copy. Since those are the words people are searching for when looking for a solution to the core problem you solve, including them in your ads is a no-brainer.
Using the same keywords throughout your campaign from ad to content to your lead magnet also builds up consistency and familiarity in your messaging. Consistency builds trust, and trust is the foundation of a successful content marketing campaign.
Target the influencers you mention – Target the followers of the same influencers you are building relationships with and mentioning in your content. Seeing people they already know and trust quoted and mentioned in your content will cultivate a sense of familiarity with your blog, even if it’s their first visit.
If you have a good amount of traffic flowing to your site, you can set up some warm traffic campaigns.
Create some ads for your lead magnets that send people to the landing page for the lead magnet. You can retarget people who have visited posts in the category that corresponds to the core problem the lead magnet solves. Since the people have read or at least visited your content, there’s a good chance they’re feeling the pain from that core problem you’re discussing and are looking for ways to solve it.
You’ll want to carefully watch the frequency of your ads here. With a small audience size (3-10k), it’s easy to over-send ads to your audience and frustrate them. You’ll want to exclude anyone who has visited the “thank you” page for your lead magnet. Since they’ve already converted, there’s no sense in sending ads to them. You may want to exclude anyone that has visited your landing page within the past week as well. This will keep people from seeing your ad so much it annoys them but still leaves room for “second chances” to convert.
If you’re starting with a small audience size, I recommend choosing your highest converting lead magnet and retargeting all of your visitors. As traffic grows over time, you can start to segment your traffic and test new lead magnets.
By focusing on the core problems of your audience, you’ll be able to create content that truly helps your readers. You’re able to get much more specific on the content you create, the messaging you send and how you present yourself to your audience.
Remember that this is a long-term strategy, designed to build a relationship with your audience over time and cultivate trust along the way. Don’t jump into content marketing expecting immediate results. Focus on adding value to your audience first, the results will follow if you can get that right.
Kyle Gray is the founder of Conversion Cake, he helps startups and small businesses build content marketing strategies and teams. He is the author of “The College Entrepreneur” A book for students who want to break into entrepreneurship. Follow him @kylethegray.”