Last year's The Lego Movie was a box-office hit. It was also a "100-minute toy commercial" and an "awesome piece of content marketing" for the privately held company that manufactures the colorful plastic bricks.
Content marketing, as The Lego Movie illustrates, is not "just about blogging," said Kevin Mullett, director of visibility and social media for MarketSnare. Content marketing today is everywhere—just check out the products and services featured in HGTV programs, he added. And content marketing has been around for more than 100 years, harkening back to the magazine for farmers Deere & Co. began producing in 1895.
The Furrow, John Deere & Co.'s magazine for farmers, is one of the oldest examples of content marketing.
Mullett spoke at the March 2015 Search Marketing Expo West conference in San Jose, Calif. In a session entitled Content Marketing & Promotion to Drive Quality Links, he and other two other speakers offered tips for small and midsized businesses on how to use content to increase backlinks to their websites. Earned backlinks can help your site get more targeted traffic, increase conversions of prospects into customers, and drive up its ranking in search engine results.
Here are some of the other session highlights and key takeaways the three speakers offered.
Small Business Content Marketing Tips
How to Appease Both Audiences
Every website has two audiences: humans and search engine bots that index the content, Mullet said. Humans read your content to learn. Bots crawl the content to see if it's good, relevant, and if the website itself is structurally sound. "If you want to earn shares and citations and get backlinks, you have to impress both audiences," Mullett explained.
He said there are two things to remember for your content strategy.
1. Your content should solve problems. Answer your customers' questions, evoke emotion, and entertain with content. Chances are the content that answers your customers' questions or provides them a useful tool, such as a calculator, will earn backlinks. In turn, the links help your site "build relevancy and authority," Mullett said. Ask your front-line people—telephone support staff or your sales force—which questions customers typically ask. Check to see whether your website clearly answers those questions.
2. Being useful helps make your site "algorithm-proof." Because useful content tends to attract backlinks, it helps makes your website less susceptible to future Google algorithm changes, according to Mullett. (Recent algorithm updates known as Panda and Penguin have penalized some sites with shady links or poor content by pushing them down in search result rankings.)
Mullet emphasized the importance of delivering "the right content type for the right audience in the right place at the right time." Blog posts, "listicles" (list-based articles), infographics, videos, podcasts, ebooks, white papers, presentations, and polls can all help you attract backlinks and drive traffic. "We get a ton of traffic from our presentations on SlideShare," Mullett added.
The Two Content Questions to Ask
David Christopher, senior inbound marketing manager for BigWing Interactive, talked about the two most important questions you should ask when planning your content.
1. What's the goal? Make sure you're clear on what you want to achieve with any new piece of content, whether it's to increase conversions or qualified traffic or to drive social engagement or relevant links. The goals should drive your content.
2. How will you promote the content? There are many ways to promote your content, through blogs, social media, and search ads, for example. Person-to-person outreach, through PR or by contacting influencers and webmasters in your industry, is just as important, Christopher said.
He explained how BigWing handles some of those promotional tactics. For example, to connect with journalists, BigWing uses Help a Reporter Out and ProfNet, which "put you in touch with journalists looking for sources to answer questions," Christopher explained. "We create profile pages for our authority sources with pictures and explanations as to why they're awesome. We also look at editorial calendars or events coming up" to connect subject matter experts with journalists working on relevant stories.
You'll get more links from journalists if you provide them with a landing page that's relevant to an article's topic instead of simply giving them your website's home page, Christopher said. Some online publications won't typically include a link to a website in general, he explained. But they might include a link to a page that could be helpful to readers.
A Case Study of Content Marketing in Action
Purna Virji, founder of Purview Marketing and the former director of communications for Petplan Pet Insurance, told audience members about how her former company successfully increased its brand awareness and obtained backlinks through a social-awareness campaign to help protect pets—which is its core business.
During hot summer months, pets are sometimes left unattended in cars. Last summer, there were news reports of police dogs left in cars dying from heat stroke. However, if a passerby breaks a car window to give the dog more air, he or she could get arrested, Virji explained. And only 15 states have statues that specifically prohibit leaving an unattended animal confined in a vehicle.
Petplan decided to take action. The company created its summer 2014 Driven to Bark campaign to raise awareness of the issue and to petition the Obama Administration to encourage all 50 states to pass laws to prevent animals from being left alone in vehicles.
Petplan created a Driven to Bark campaign landing page, which includes a link to the petition; a touching video of Petplan's Chief Veterinary Medical Officer talking about his own experience; social media links to spread awareness of the petition; and facts designed to inform as well as to galvanize readers. Example: "Heat stroke can kill a dog within 15 minutes."
As part of the campaign, Petplan created infographics for Pinterest, a downloadable PDF, and an email blast. The company also alerted the media.
"The response was tremendous," Virji said. The Associated Press, ABC, Fox Business, and other media outlets reported on Petplan's petition and linked to its campaign landing page.
Petplan created a landing page for its Driven to Bark campaign.
During the month before the campaign, Petplan "had only a few hundred mentions" on social media, according to Virji. During the month-long campaign, the company earned "hundreds of thousands" of social media mentions. Conversions increased, and celebrities retweeted some of the company's tweets.
The White House petition didn't meet its goal of receiving 100,000 signatures, however. Still, the campaign was a success because it raised awareness of an important issue while also raising Petplan's profile, Virji said.
How to Build a Content Marketing Campaign
During his presentation, Virji outlined steps that you can take to build a successful content marketing campaign.
1. Start with a concept that's not tied to a particular content channel (such as video or infographics). "Brainstorm without limitations or concepts in mind to be completely free and decide what would your audience relate to?" Virji advised.
2. Understand the audience and the amplifiers. "What will entertain and educate them? Evoke emotion What will cause them to share your content?" She reminded the audience that "SEO isn't just about getting traffic; it's about getting relevant traffic that converts."
3. Identify the campaign's overall goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). "Are you going for media coverage? Trying to improve your email open rate? Reaching out to partners? Having your goals in mind helps you more clearly conceptualize your content," Virji said.
4. Tailor the concept to fit different media. "What's the best way to tell the story in video? Email? On social media? They all work together, but they can stand on their own," she explained.
5. Map out the project plan and distribution schedule "to ensure cross-channel synergies," Virji said. Create a detailed plan for pushing out the content and tracking engagement with it across YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, and other content channels.
Virji also offered a list of "ingredients" to help ensure your content connects with your target audiences.
- Create a campaign landing page where you can engage with your audience.
- Use video. "It makes an emotional connection and explains your concept in a concise manner," Virji said.
- Add "pin-able" content to make your landing page more interesting and to help you reach new users on Pinterest.
- Don't overlook email. "Email drives action and is easily sharable, which can help you improve your engagement metrics," Virji said.
- Downloadable PDFs give your target audiences something that "feels valuable" and helps "encourage interaction."
- Use video, data, infographics and other content in your pitches to journalists. Such content "helps increase your campaign's legitimacy and helps you get links and gain influence."
- Create a list of influencers and reach out to them publicly over social media, an act that Virji called "online ego stroking."
James A. Martin is a marketing consultant specializing in SEO, social media, mobile apps, and business blogging. Follow him on Twitter and Pinterest.
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