A complete guide to content marketing

While content marketing has been around for many years now, it’s recently become a must-have for modern marketing strategies. But how do you get started with content marketing, what is it, and how can you use it to attract your perfect customers without paying for clicks?

Let’s explore...

What is content marketing?

Content marketing does what it says on the tin – it allows you to market your business, product, or service using content. As a pull marketing strategy, you won’t be paying to reach your customers as with other forms of advertising. Instead, you’ll be creating valuable and relevant content for your target audience, who will then be able to find you at the right moment. However, this form of marketing isn’t a short-term quick win. A proper content strategy needs time to grow and should be built gradually over the long term to see results.

One of the great things about creating content is that it can be repurposed to create other forms of content. For example, a video could also be used as a podcast, turned into a blog and images can be taken from the video to create stills. Or a blog post could be turned into smaller social media bites or even an infographic.

Content marketing’s ultimate goals are to boost revenue by creating traffic and building brand awareness. Instead of a focus on driving volume, content marketing often looks at bringing in those ideal customers who fit your brand’s niche. There are many forms of content marketing and best practice for each platform, which we’ll analyse more throughout this article.

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Why is content marketing important?

In 2021, the online marketing space is more competitive than ever before. With digital acceleration driven by the pandemic and barriers to starting an online business lower than ever before, content marketing is becoming a crucial part of any successful marketing strategy.

Your target audience and dream customers are bombarded by ads everywhere they look; YouTube, emails, TV, their social media networks, search engines, and even on most of the websites they visit. Because of this, many internet-savvy users can not only ignore online advertising but will take active steps to block adverts and tracking.

One very relevant example is the recent Apple iOS 14 update, which has caused havoc among internet marketers, and Facebook marketers in particular. With the iOS 14.5 updates rolled out on 26th April 2021, all apps downloaded or sold from the App store now must ask users whether that particular app can track the users’ information across apps and websites owned by other companies. Moves such as this from Apple combined with the rise of VPNs (virtual private networks) and cookie blockers mean that multiple forms of internet advertising and digital marketing will struggle. This is where content marketing comes into play.

Below, we’ll look at content marketing within various subsets such as channels, content types, goals, and platforms, to give you valuable hints, tips, and best practices on where to get started with each. Let’s begin!

Content marketing by channel

To get started with all things content marketing, it’s important to get to grips with where the content can be and should be used.

SEO

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of optimising your website and content for search engines. Once you manage to do this well, you’ll be able to drive free (organic) traffic from your target audience to your website – with the search engine promoting your content for you

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Search engines exist to provide accurate and relevant information to their users, so they only promote websites and content that meets their criteria. Google, the world’s number one search engine, has over 200 organic ranking factors it looks for when reviewing each website; only some of these factors are known but most are unknown.

We recently published an article showing the link between content marketing and SEO – as SEO can’t be done without content! But, in essence, quality content helps your website rise up the organic ranks on search engines by demonstrating authority and expertise and uses keywords to help search engines match user queries to your website.

Paid ads and PPC

PPC, or pay-per-click marketing, is a method of online advertising where you only pay whenever someone clicks your advert. Mainly, the term PPC refers to Google and Microsoft Ads, but this form of advertising also applies to platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, Outbrain, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more.

PPC ads are made up of either text or a combination of text and imagery. However, all forms of PPC have a set space available, and so they cap the number of characters you can use in your ad copy as a result. For example, Google has a 30-character limit on headlines and 90-character limits on descriptions. Without short, catchy, and clickable content, your ads won’t get clicked!

Social

Similar to PPC, social media is all about content too. Luckily, social media facilitates a wider range of content forms such as:

  • Text and emojis
  • Images and infographics
  • Video including ‘stories’ and live video
  • GIFs

When it comes to organic social media, driving followers and interactions is critical to growing your online presence. So, engaging your audiences with great content is key. You can use combinations of text, emojis, and videos to create your posts.

Remember that to make your social media marketing strategy effective, it’s important to only create content for the platforms that your audiences are on. Snapchat and TikTok are unlikely to work for women aged 40+ – for example – so instead of creating content for all platforms, focus on just two or three of the most relevant.

Below is a table with the majority demographics for each platform, as well as the accepted forms of content for each.

Platform Largest Age Group Majority gender Content forms
Facebook 25-34 56% female

Images/Video/Text/Stories/Live videos

Instagram (now owned by Facebook) 25-34 57% female

Images/Video/Stories/

Live videos

Twitter 30-49 68% male

Text/Images/Videos/

Live videos

LinkedIn 46-55 51% male

Text/Images/Videos/

Live videos

Snapchat 13-34 58% female Images/video
TikTok 18-24 59% female Video
Pinterest 30-49 78% female Images
YouTube 15-25 72% of all male and female internet users Video

‘The best part of content marketing is that it allows marketers to try different platforms and types of media,’ says Jenny Winter, Head of Marketing at Degree 53. ‘It’s important that these are tailored to their audiences and the platforms they’d be seeing them on. For example, there’s no point in creating a text-heavy image for Instagram that uses predominantly visual content.

‘Social media platforms offer analytics around how the entire account and each post performs. Google Analytics also shows which platform drives the most traffic to your website. Analysing this data will allow you to determine where your target audience is, how they engage with your content and which platforms you need to focus on.’

Email

Email marketing can be effectively used to drive action, sales, leads, up-sales or cross-sales and build relationships with customers old and new. So, emails and email marketing would seriously struggle without content! Whether it’s the background, the subject line, the images, or the call-to-action (CTA), you’re unlikely to find success in email marketing without great content.

Content marketing by content type

As well as choosing a platform (or a few platforms) to get started with, there are plenty of content types to consider. Remember to select types that match your desired platforms and use the table above for inspiration as needed.

Blog copy

Blog copy is often what springs to mind when discussing content marketing. Blogs are particularly useful for the awareness stage of the sales funnel, as you can create blogs (with or without accompanying images or videos) that help address your customer’s needs.

For example, if you sell window blinds, you could create blog content around the following topics:

  • What’s the difference between roller and shutter blinds?
  • How to fit blinds at home
  • How much are blinds?
  • Should I choose blinds or curtains?
  • What types of blinds are best for a patio door?

These are all questions that potential future customers could be searching for, and it gives you the perfect opportunity to get in front of them at the right stage of the funnel. Not only will they (hopefully!) find your content helpful, and their question answered, but they’ll remember your brand once they move further down the funnel. Blog content is also a great way of positioning your brand as an experienced authority and as a thought leader in your sector. This demonstrates to Google ‘Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness’ (EAT), which is a key ranking factor on search engines.

Luke Budka, Director Digital PR and SEO, Definition Group, says: ‘While EAT is not technically a ranking factor, it is something that impacts ranking, especially if your organisation is in the finance or healthcare sectors (known as Your Money Your Life or YMYL for short in SEO/Google circles). One of the key things to do is author your blog content to a recognised expert and consolidate all those authorship signals to one place i.e., the author's LinkedIn profile. It's fair to say that if Google recognises that the author of the blog is a bona fide expert, the blog has more chance of ranking for the keywords you're targeting.’

Website copy

Website copy is absolutely critical for businesses, especially if you sell any form of product or service online. Not only will great copy help attract customers, but it will also drive customer action and conversions on your website.

Effective website copy can help you articulate:

  • Who you are as a brand, including your history and expertise?
  • Your tone of voice
  • Why you create or sell what you do – your mission and values
  • The benefits of working with or buying from your company
  • The benefits and attributes of each individual product or service

Smart Themes Big CTA

Your web copy can truly make or break the customer journey. While often accessed at the awareness stage of the sales funnel, it’s likely that your website will be viewed many times more by the same customer, especially when they’re comparing you to the competition. So, creating great website content – yes, including images, video, and blog posts – is crucial.

Video

Video content is usually captivating, eye-catching, and engaging, and that’s why so many social media networks now promote video content over any other content form.

Videos can be repurposed in many ways and may take the form of stories, vlogs, sit-down sessions, interviews or even product tutorials. Live video has also taken off recently, especially on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Audience recall and engagement are also much higher after viewing a video rather than a single image, which can help boost your reach and brand awareness.

Audio

With fewer of us turning the radio on, podcasts are one of the newer forms of content to take off. Less advertising, more value, and a wide selection of topics available means that many people now turn to podcasts over music when travelling, exercising or walking the dog!

While we don’t necessarily suggest creating your own podcast, guest spots on other podcasts are often available, and you can piggyback off someone else’s growing audience in your customer niche. Again, podcasts can also be recorded and repurposed.

How-to guides

Whether it’s “how to fit blinds” or a guide on using your own products, how-to guides are a brilliant way of capturing an engaged and interested audience. Similar to the benefits of blog posts outlined above, how-to guides will help address an issue that your potential customers are currently faced with.

These can come in a few different forms of content. They can be written into steps with screenshots, they can be presented with actual photographs, or shown as a video. These have the benefit of only being put together once and viewed regularly, helping lots of people through just one initial piece of work. They also help demonstrate your authority position in the market – putting you at the front of customer’s minds when they need you.

Infographics

Infographics are a really engaging way to get across lots of content, without paragraphs upon paragraphs of text. They’re a great way of explaining the benefits of a product and showcasing the highlights of a piece of research or a whitepaper. Infographics are often used for social media and website content, and there’s usually an attribution or reference section at the bottom of the piece.

Here’s an example of one of our own infographics, which summarises a big research piece we did into consumer behaviour across the purchasing journey. It clearly demonstrates the key takeaways from the findings and has a good combination of images vs text to keep it engaging. This infographic has been shared and written about by other companies, which has given us backlinks, another well-researched SEO ranking factor.

Infographics are also frequently used on Pinterest and help to demonstrate everything from recipes and workouts to travel tips and animal care. A great example of engaging infographic use is from the RSPCA’s account, which has created infographics and image pins to encourage animal kindness as well as DIY treats for furry friends.

Content marketing by goal

Beyond choosing a platform and suitable content forms, considering your goals is important. Whether you want to drive engagement, build brand awareness, or position your CEO as a thought leader, there are different content marketing forms to suit.

Building brand awareness

Building brand awareness is a longer-term strategy, but it can be done successfully with a great website, positive social media presence, PR, and consistent high-quality blog content. To build brand awareness, you need to create plenty of useful and free-to-access content such as guides, videos, podcasts, and blogs so that your brand is at the forefront of your potential customer’s minds when they come to make their next purchase.

Lead generation

Luckily, almost all forms of content can be used for lead generation. Building on your initial, free content strategy used to drive awareness, you can then create more in-depth pieces that cost a nominal fee to purchase such as templates, research findings or eBooks. Or, to capture contact information, ask for email addresses and company information/phone numbers in exchange for whitepapers, resources, or reports.

For B2C businesses, lead generation can generally be done by running a competition or giveaway or by creating an incentive to sign up to a newsletter mailing list.

Kathryn Strachan, Managing Director of Copy House, reveals that ‘B2B brands can also generate leads through content marketing by producing a content strategy that highlights and creates noise surrounding their brand. They need to first dig into their customer avatars’ pain points, see what’s keeping them up at night and target that through their personalised content strategy. It’s not just about shouting about your benefits and your brand, a great content strategy should delve into the deep insights of your industry, the solutions you can provide to your customers and start conversations with your audience about things that matter to them.’

Customer loyalty

As well as acquiring new customers, keeping your current and previous customers loyal to your brand is just as, if not more, crucial to business success. You can drive customer loyalty with targeted and relevant email marketing, using personalisation so that each email is tailored to an individual customer’s preferences. You could also create customer forums, Facebook groups or encourage the use of hashtags to continue to build your relationship with customers online.

Driving engagement

To simply drive engagement and keep the buzz going, social media content is your best bet. With the ability to post as little or as frequently as you want, social media posts will get the highest level of engagement quickly after they’re posted. For maximum engagement, GIFs, videos, and competitions work best!

Strengthening your thought-leadership position

While mostly applicable to B2B businesses, thought leadership is a great way to organically grow inbound queries, leads, and brand awareness. For thought leadership, blogs written by your business’ thought leader (usually CEO or COO) can be published on your website and places like LinkedIn and Medium. Other less-often used thought leadership content marketing strategies include answering queries on forums, or places like Quora where you can answer questions and showcase your knowledge and expertise. Thought leadership pieces tend to be more formal, so think more along the lines of PR, articles, presentations, and reports.

Where to start with content marketing

Understanding your business goal(s)

The first step when it comes to content marketing is to decide your goal(s). As a long-term strategy, your content is unlikely to lead to overnight success and a quick spike in revenue. So, what’s your plan? While the ultimate goal should be revenue generation, how long are you willing to wait, and where specifically do you want to drive revenue?

Once you have your ultimate goal in place, work backwards to create KPIs and targets along the way. For example, if you want to drive more traffic to certain pages, take base volumes before implementing your content marketing plan, and then check back at agreed-upon timescales to see if you’re on track. To drive thought leadership, you can monitor this by brand search volumes, CEO LinkedIn requests or event speaking opportunities.

By understanding and plotting your goals and targets, you can prioritise the areas that need working on first, instead of taking a scattergun approach.

Understanding your main channels and platforms

As we briefly mentioned above, it’s important to identify and understand your two or three focus channels. To start, use your target customer buyer persona. Depending on their age, gender, location, and other core demographics, this should give you a good insight into the places they can be found online.

Choosing content forms

Now you’ve got your business goals and channel plan in place, it’s important to choose some content forms. This, of course, will vary based on your target audience – not only which platforms they can be found on, but which forms of content they’re most likely to engage with.

For example, are they more likely to Google something, or follow a link on an Instagram story? Are they more likely to click and convert if they see a video of your product/service in action, or if they read a blog about it?

However, it’s important to also think about what’s feasible for your company. If you want to make six YouTube videos a week but don’t have the equipment or anyone who is comfortable in front of the camera, you need to be practical about content creation.

Finalising budget

If you’re just getting started with a concerted content marketing effort, you may have no frame of reference for an appropriate budget!

To help you put something together, think about things like the cost of content creation. This may include some or all of the following:

  • A content writer, proofreader and/or copy editor
  • A content marketing strategist or manager
  • New equipment such as video filming equipment and lighting
  • An editor for video content
  • A graphic designer for images and infographics
  • SEO researchers and support to help with keyword and content ideas based on search engine trends and data
  • Potential new programmes such as graphic design and video editing software
  • Someone to upload the content to your website and schedule social media posts

You could also outsource all or some of your content creation to a specialist content marketing agency or freelancers. This will give you control over content creation without the in-house costs.

While the costs of content vary between industries, we recommend starting by allocating around 10-15% of your total marketing budget to content creation and increasing this up to 25-30% as you get comfortable and start to see results.

Summary

The above should give you a strong head start in pinpointing your content marketing strategy, which can always start with one focus and change in a few months, depending on how your content is performing. It is fine if you need to adapt your strategy or change it completely as you get to know your business and your customers better. One important thing to remember is there is no one-size-fits-all content marketing strategy. By experimenting with trial and error, you can find the channel, goal, platform, and content type combination that works well for your business.


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