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Few marketing strategies have gotten as much press in the past decade as content marketing—which is appropriate, considering the nature of the strategy. If you're not familiar with the tenets of content marketing, it won't take you long to learn the high-level basics. But at the same time, it could take you years to truly master its execution.
SEO.co specializes in content marketing because content marketing and SEO (search engine optimization) are inextricably intertwined. Though both strategies have their own principles, tactics, and individual benefits, it's virtually impossible to have one without the other.
Here, you'll find a wealth of detail on what content marketing is, why it's effective, and how you can get started with the strategy.
What Is Content Marketing?
So what is content marketing?
Well, it's marketing with… content. Content refers to any piece of material that provides some value to users; typically, this value is informative, entertaining, practical, or some mix of these categories. The idea is to create high-quality pieces of content tied directly to your brand to improve its visibility, reputation, and ability to land more sales.
Content marketing is attractive to marketers in part because of its sheer versatility. Depending on how you optimize the content you write and what your goals are, you could use content primarily to improve your brand's reputation, attract more traffic to your site, or convert more visitors to becoming customers. You might even use content as a value-add to your existing customers to improve customer retention.
Most content marketing strategies have a two-pronged approach:
- Onsite content. Onsite content is developed for your main site, including your core pages, your landing pages, your press/news page, and most importantly, your blog. Exact strategies vary, but this content serves to improve the perceived value of your site, optimize your site for more keywords, and improve the authority of your site—which is Google's way of measuring your site's trustworthiness (and a major factor in how your pages rank). Even better, onsite content can be used to provide and promote calls-to-action (CTA), which can direct goal user behavior on your site like making purchases or filling out contact forms.
- Offsite content. Offsite content takes things a step further by featuring your content on external publications. Typically through the use of a guest author account, the goal is to promote the visibility of your brand by taking advantage of the existing reputation of other high-profile publishers. You'll get brand visibility, extra credibility, and if you include a link back to your site, you'll also earn referral traffic and a boost to your domain authority.
The Inbound Marketing Philosophy Behind Content Marketing
Much of content marketing's success comes from its "inbound" philosophy. Many conventional marketing strategies are "outbound," going out of their way to generate attention from targeted potential customers. For example, television and radio ads explicitly promote a brand to new audiences. Outbound strategies can be advantageous since they're powerful and provide a way to reach new people, but they can also be seen as annoying—and they're ridiculously expensive.
Inbound marketing takes a different approach. With inbound marketing, the goal is to increase the desirability of your site and your brand overall. If implemented properly, people will naturally want to visit your website; you'll have content that they genuinely want to read and a network of links that are easy for your audience to follow.
Inbound marketing is advantageous not only because it's less expensive, but also because it decreases the "annoyance factor" and increases the relevance of the people you do manage to attract.
Content Marketing ROI
Let's talk about your return on investment (ROI) in the content marketing space, since it's one of the biggest appeals of the strategy.
The input costs are minimal and controllable. It's feasible to create content on your own—especially if your primary focus is written content and you're already an expert in the industry. However, for most brands, it's better to work with a content marketing agency; agencies have much more knowledge and experience on what makes a content marketing strategy effective, and they have access to writers and content creators who can do higher-quality work (and more efficiently). Even so, the costs of content marketing are much more reasonable than comparable paid advertising strategies.
The return is what really counts, and content marketing benefits from a variety of advantages here:
- Versatility. Content marketing can be used for a variety of purposes, oftentimes all at once. You can use it to increase your inbound traffic, improve perceptions of your company, and boost conversion rates, all of which increase your total return.
- Effects on other strategies. Content marketing has incredible synergy with other strategies in your arsenal, dramatically boosting the effectiveness of your search engine optimization (SEO) campaign, your social media marketing, and even your targeted ad strategies.
- Infinite scalability. Content doesn't have an upper limit on scale. You can start small, working on your blog and with a few local publishers, and eventually work up to publishing new pieces on national-level publications on a regular basis, with virtually no loss of momentum. This makes it ideal for small and large businesses alike.
- Permanence. Unless the information becomes outdated, your content will remain valuable indefinitely. Even if it does become obsolete, you can always update it. This permanence allows for an ongoing return on your investment long after your initial push for new content is over.
Accordingly, content marketing has one of the highest ROIs of any modern marketing strategy.
Content Marketing and Related Strategies
We mentioned how content marketing has the power to greatly increase the power of other marketing strategies, but how exactly does it do this?
- Search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is the process of getting your site and individual pages to rank higher in search engines like Google, and content helps you in several ways. Search engines prioritize content based on two broad categories: relevance and authority, and content helps in each area. Onsite content gives you control over the keywords your site is recognized for, which helps you rank for the most relevant queries to your brand. It also provides you an opportunity to improve the perceived trustworthiness of your site, or "authority." Offsite content complements this approach, using links to directly increase your authority and draw more attention to your onsite content at the same time.
- Link building. Link building is one of the most important elements of SEO, since links are the primary way to calculate a site's authority. Link building is also useful for attracting referral traffic to your site. However, these effects are only worthwhile if your links are natural (i.e., they serve a purpose, and aren't just spam meant to manipulate your rankings). Offsite content serves as the perfect vessel for these offsite links, since it provides context for the links and additional value to the users encountering them.
- Conversion optimization. A solid content strategy can help you earn far more conversions. On a basic level, you can include more CTAs in your blog posts, but you can also use premium content as a form of exchange; for example, you might provide a free eBook download in exchange for a visitor's contact information.
- Social media marketing. Content can serve as a kind of fuel for your social media marketing campaign. Social media users are only going to follow and engage with brands that provide them some form of informative or entertainment value. Linking to your onsite content or using your offsite content as a jumping-off point can help you build and nurture your audience. Readers discovering your content can also be persuaded to follow your accounts for the first time.
- Advertising. Even a paid advertising campaign can be made more effective with a complementary content strategy. Using a strong piece of content as a landing page for your targeted ads can improve your final conversion rates. You can also build your reputation with content initially, so your ads are more recognizable and more valued by your targeted users.
Types of Content
Now let's get into the details. "Content" can take many forms, and all of them are worth your time, so long as they're created with your target audience in mind and are created with quality in mind. They can also be created with a specific purpose in mind; for example, an article intended to convert a reader might have a different slant than one simply designed to attract new visitors.
These are some of the main types of content you'll be working with:
- Blog posts. Blog posts are the most common form of content marketing, and for good reason. They're versatile, useful for both onsite and offsite content, and can be adapted to many different needs. For example, you can write both short-form and long-form blog posts, embed images if you desire, and optimize them for inbound traffic, user retention, conversion, or social media distribution.
- Whitepapers and eBooks. Whitepapers and eBooks tend to be longer-form pieces of content, and may be offered as a downloadable PDF rather than being published onsite. This reduces your ability to optimize for various keywords, since your content will be "hidden" behind a download link, but you can use the download link as an incentive to get users to take a specific action—like filling out a contact form.
- Photos and infographics. You can also use photos and infographics to improve your onsite content, especially if you use them in combination with written content. Photos and infographics are highly shareable, making it easier to reach wider audiences.
- Videos. Video content marketing is becoming increasingly popular as well. Video platforms like YouTube make it easier than ever to create and maintain a video channel, and more users are demanding streaming video content. There's much room for exploration here; your videos could cover live events, provide how-to guides for your customers, showcase interviews, or provide sheer entertainment for your target audience.
Promotion and Syndication in Content Marketing
With strong content and a solid strategy, you should hypothetically grow organically. Eventually, web users would discover your content naturally, through search engines or by stumbling upon your site. The quality of the content would inspire them to build links to it, enabling further discovery, culminating in a snowball effect that grows from there.
However, in reality, this rarely occurs. Good content and ongoing nurturing can help a content strategy grow over time, but it's important to have an initial strategy to attract your readership. For most brands, that means spending time deliberately syndicating and promoting your content.
Syndication and promotion can unfold in many different ways, depending on your goals and the type of content you're producing. For example, you might start by circulating your best blog posts on your social media channels, then spend a bit of money on paid advertising for an additional boost in visibility.
The most reliable way to signal boost your content is to use a guest post-based offsite content strategy, establishing more visibility for your author account and brand while driving traffic to your best onsite content via external links. If you're just starting out and you're not using a content agency, you'll need to start from the ground up, getting published in little-known or local publications until you build enough authority to go after the bigger, more valuable publishers.
Key Tenets for Success in Content Marketing
Everyone wants to be a content marketer these days, but merely adopting a content marketing strategy isn't enough to guarantee your success. You'll need to think carefully about these categories if you're going to plan a successful campaign:
- Your target audience. Your content shouldn't be targeted toward everyone; it may be intuitive to try and reach as many people as possible, but it's usually better to start with a specific niche and expand outward from there. Choosing a niche allows you to create much richer, more relevant content, and helps you differentiate your brand from your competitors. On top of that, you'll need to research and understand your target audience thoroughly, so you can create content most likely to please or persuade them.
- Your budget. In content marketing, you tend to get what you pay for. It's possible to hire someone to write a large volume of content for cheap, but the type of content you get will probably be riddled with errors and hard to read. Creating good content requires time, experience, and attention to detail, and getting featured in high-profile publications can take years of effort (or working with someone who's spent years of effort building their reputation). If you want to be successful, you'll need to be prepared to spend some serious time, money, or both. The ROI of a well-planned strategy will almost always make it worth it.
- Your consistency. Writing blogs only when you feel like it isn't going to help you attract traffic or achieve conversions. To improve your authority, you'll need to churn out posts on a regular basis. To scale, you'll need to keep working up the hierarchal ladder of publishers. In other words, your strategy needs to be executed consistently—and for a long period of time, sometimes years—to get the results you want.
- Your competition. Remember, you're not the only business pursuing content marketing. Chances are, many businesses like yours are already in the content game. It's important that you acknowledge these competitors and work up a plan to compensate for them. That could mean differentiating yourself by targeting a different niche, capitalizing on one of their weaknesses, or simply investing more in your long-term growth.
- Your measurement, analysis, and improvements. Content marketing is an art form, but it's also a science. It's impossible to be successful with a strategy if you treat your content development like a guessing game. Instead of writing articles based on what you think your readers would like, use surveys and user behavior analytics to determine what they actually like. You'll need to measure the impact and results of your content strategy on a regular basis, reporting on new activity at least on a monthly basis, and use the data you gather to make improvements. If a certain type of content or topic isn't working, ditch it. If there's an offsite source sending thousands of visitors to your site, keep pumping it.
- Your plan to scale. Most brands won't be satisfied with starting a low-key content strategy and keeping it idling. Instead, you'll need some way to grow your influence, your traffic, and your ROI over time—but it's impossible to do that without a plan. How quickly do you plan to scale? What's your long-term vision? How much are you willing to spend to get there? These aren't easy questions to answer, but it's important to think about them even before you take the first steps on your content marketing journey.
Working With a Content Marketing Agency
The most efficient way to see the benefits of a content marketing strategy is to work with a content marketing agency. Agencies bring many advantages to the table since they likely have more knowledge, experience, and access to resources than the typical business owner. Though their rates are slightly higher than what you'd pay for a freelancer or in doing it yourself, the end results are usually much more impressive. Together, you'll design a strategy and approach unique to your brand, and start pumping out content that improves your brand's position.
If you're interested in learning more about how content marketing can accelerate your brand's growth, or if you're ready to draw up a strategy, contact SEO.co today for a free analysis!