Content marketing is the hot topic among digital marketers this year. We look at why and how small businesses should use it to attract targeted customers.
"Content marketing is the future of marketing," says Daryl Colwell, vice president of MediaWhiz, a digital media and performance marketing agency. "It's how you should be building your business," he adds.
If you haven't heard of content marketing yet, it's "a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience -- with the objective of driving profitable customer action," as defined by the Content Marketing Institute.
Great, but what's that mean in real life? Well, have you ever produced a webinar, white paper, customer success story, podcast, blog post, or Facebook status update that offers something meaningful to prospects and customers -- while also giving them a reason to do business with you? Congratulations, you've done content marketing.
According to a recent Econsultancy and Adobe report, content marketing is the top priority for digital marketers in 2013. In the survey, 39 percent of respondents said content marketing was their number one focus this year. By comparison, in 2012 only 29 percent of digital marketers cited content marketing as a top priority. During that year, content marketing ranked below social media engagement, content optimization, conversion rate optimization, and brand building/viral marketing.
The recent Online Marketing Summit (OMS) in San Diego, devoted five sessions to some aspect of content marketing. If you've never heard of content marketing, much less understand how to do it, don't worry. Here's what small business owners and managers need to know.
No doubt about it, this is content marketing's moment.
Why Content Marketing Matters Now
The Panda update to Google's algorithm, first rolled out in February 2011 and subsequently revised several times, has helped make content marketing a top priority among marketers. The Panda update lowered the Google search rankings of many sites with low-quality content, such as pages overly stuffed with keywords that offer little, if any, real information.
Conversely, Google wants pages that offer original, fresh, non-spammy content from trusted and authoritative websites to place higher in its search rankings.
In addition, there's a consensus that consumers are tired of online ads and are looking for valuable information. Some 70 percent of consumers prefer to learn about companies from original content instead of ads, according to recent data from the Custom Content Council.
"Advertising interrupts, seeks to sell, is one-sided, unsolicited, and often ignored or forgotten," says Clayton Stobbs, director of client experience at content marketing platform Compendium.
"Good content invites, seeks to inform, is conversational, sought after, engaged and shared."
Content marketing has another important benefit, noted Arnie Kuenn, president of Internet marketing company Vertical Measures. "An online advertising campaign disappears when you stop paying for it, but a piece of content posted online lives on as long as you want," he says.
Content Marketing Tips, Best Practices and Strategies
As with any small business marketing campaign, it's important to create a solid strategy and to employ best practices. Our content marketing experts share their content marketing tips for small business.
1. Clearly define your target audience
Know exactly for whom you're developing content, notes Stobbs. Develop specific personas, such as a working mother in her mid-30s who lives in the suburbs -- to inspire whatever you create. "If you don't have a specific target in mind, everything you create will be fundamentally flawed," Clayton Stobbs says.
2. Optimize with relevant keywords
Start by doing your keyword research, advises Andrew Delamarter, director of search and inbound marketing for Huge, a digital marketing agency. Know which keywords you want your content to be found for in Google searches. Then use those keywords in your content to attract targeted traffic from search engines. For example, if you wanted to be found for the keyword phrase best computer mouse, you could create a YouTube video on the topic and use the phrase in the video's title and description.
3. Link your Google+ profile
Anyone who creates online content should have a Google+ profile linked to the site on which they post content, Delamarter says. This helps the content -- presentations, blog posts and such -- rank higher in Google search results. (Read Google's explanation for linking a Google+ profile to your content.)
4. Develop content your audience cares about
To get content ideas, use the Google Adwords Keyword tool to understand what people are searching for, Colwell at MediaWhiz suggests. Also, read questions on topics relevant to your business posted on Yahoo Answers, Quora, and other answer sites.
5. Make your content easy to share
The more that people share your content over social networks, the greater your chances are of attracting new, targeted customers, says Colwell. Always add Facebook Like buttons next to your content, as well as icons for sharing on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Stumble Upon and other social sites.
6. Put a business hook in your content
"If you're not putting some kind of potential hook to future business into your efforts, you're not content marketing," writes Chris Brogan, CEO of Human Business Works. "You're writing. And that's great. But it's not going to help your business."
Take care that you aren’t too pushy. You want the customer to take action, but Brogan recommends that what you ask should be both reasonable and related to the content you've created.
"If you make it too jarring, people won't really seek to play along," Brogan says. "For instance, a home improvement company might write a post about how to get your bathroom looking better in seven easy steps. In that post they might invite people to subscribe to a newsletter, or the company might offer a free appraisal, or something that lets customers commit just a little bit, without going too deep too fast."
7. Make your customer a hero
Develop useful content that will help your target customer solve a problem or answer an important question, thereby making them "look great to their boss," says Colwell.
8. Create an editorial calendar for content and share it with your sales people
This helps them know when a video, white paper or other piece of content goes live, so they can share it with prospects, Colwell says. You might also get your sales team's advice in creating an editorial calendar.
9. Repurpose content
You could turn a webinar you recently conducted might into a downloadable PDF whitepaper, or turn portions of it into a podcast series. You might think about expanding a blog post into a YouTube video, and an infographic might serve as the foundation for a blog post. Colwell advises businesses to think creatively about how to reuse the same information to get it out to as many potential customers as possible.
10. Be timely
When possible, develop content that tackles questions or concerns your customers have right now. Look to see what's trending in Google News, on Twitter and on other social media for ideas.
11. Track and measure
Use Google Analytics, Facebook engagement data and other information to see how your content performs. Look for new visitors to your site from a particular piece of content you've posted elsewhere (such as a YouTube video), the number of page views and leads generated from your content and the volume of social shares, among other metrics.
James A. Martin consults on and writes about SEO, social media, and content marketing. Follow him on Twitter, @james_a_martin.
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