The Internet is full of content—blogs, tweets, videos—some useful, others not so much. As small business owners work to make their mark online, they come face-to-face with the need to create content that engages customers and boosts revenue. In his new book, The Beginner's Guide to Content Marketing for Small Businesses, author Matt Mansfield, president of Matt About Business, spells out the basics of content marketing and shows small business owners how they can generate material that hits home with their customer base.
The Content Marketing Evolution
Mansfield says content marketing isn't new. In fact, it's been around a long time. "It's an evolution, not a revolution," he says. Content marketing springs from the days when SEO was emerging as a game changer and businesses worked to create content that would score well with search engines. But how content and SEO work together is changing.
First, search engines are becoming a lot smarter. The makers of Google's algorithm, for instance, strive for it to be as smart as a human being. "They want it to be just like you and me," Mansfield says. "So it goes out to look up a topic and it looks at your content like a human being would look at it." That's different from the days when search engines just looked for key words stuffed into a web page, a practice that's quickly fading from use. While SEO is still important, content now must be written for people, not search engines.
Secondly, consumers' expectations around content marketing—what it is and what they get out of it—have evolved. Words on a page need to mean something, they need to convey something useful. "People buy from people they trust, people they like, people who help them," Mansfield says. "Putting content out there lets you do that in so many ways." Small businesses that focus on useful content earn customers' trust and goodwill, which in turn leads to sales and revenue.
Create Good Content
Every small business is different, and there's no one-size-fits-all formula for good content. But Mansfield offers key elements that small business operators should keep in mind. For starters, really good content focuses on the customer's needs. Forget the old "here's what we can do for you" approach. "As a customer," Mansfield says, "I want to know if you can solve the problem that I have."
Thinking like a customer is an essential aspect behind creating great content. Unfortunately, companies of every size focus a lot of energy on making sales, and that carries over to the content they use in their marketing efforts. "It's a really hard hump to get over, especially for small businesses," Mansfield says. Creating content just to make a sale is often a good way to turn customers off.
Creativity Not Required
Not a creative person? Not a problem. Mansfield believes that creativity is overrated. "Creating content is the biggest obstacle, because people are terrified of it," he says. Creativity is only important to the degree that you need to be able to think like your customer (something successful small business owners already know how to do). "You just need to be creative enough to put yourself into your customer's shoes and think about what questions they ask," Mansfield says.
Own a tire shop? Customers have probably asked how deep their tread should be. Run a bakery? You've likely been asked if cupcakes do well in the freezer. Business owners have a wealth of knowledge in their brains, but many assume everyone already knows the information they hold. Even Mansfield says he's often surprised when his own posts—those he thinks are simple or basic—become popular.
"People don't know the stuff I think they already know," he explains. It's a phenomenon he says actually contributes to how much customers value good content. "It builds authority, and that's what makes them trust you."
The other challenge behind creating good content is carving time in a busy schedule to sit down and do it. Mansfield suggests looking for new ways to find a few minutes here and there. "If you don't want to write it out, use a voice recorder, and then just type out what you said," he says.
Another option is to use a non-written variety of content. "Make a little video of yourself, and if you don't want to appear make it audio." You can add still photos or even simple diagrams to give customers some visual reference. The key is to get past your concerns about creativity.
"Your customers need help, that's why they come to you," Mansfield says. Offer that help through good content and the revenue will follow.
Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from foodservice to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.
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