How to do content marketing flawlessly?

Perhaps it seems obvious that you should prioritize your content based on the potential ROI. But, while ROI seems like the obvious criterio...

Perhaps it seems obvious that you should prioritize your content based on the potential ROI. But, while ROI seems like the obvious criterion to use for prioritization, it’s not the only thing you should consider.

In many cases, time to market is just as important as ROI. Study your audit to determine which opportunities have existing content that merely needs to be optimized. The pages for which you rank on the second page in Google are your low-hanging fruit. Optimizing existing content might get you to the first page of the search results in a matter of days, while creating new content for the top of the funnel might take months to pay off. You have to do both, but it is always good to get a few quick wins while you are identifying the longer-term plays.

While ROI and time to market are both important criteria for prioritizing your content efforts, don’t ignore your user experience. We need to mention it here because you can’t cherry-pick your keywords if doing so leaves gaps in the user experience. The simplest example of this problem is if you are creating a new microsite. You need to create the home page for the overall category for the microsite even if that particular concept doesn’t correspond to a high priority keyword. You wouldn’t want to build several orphan pages just because those deeper keywords offer the highest ROI.

The ideal site architecture is geared toward the buyer journey, and the main landing experience is based on the first step in a buyer journey. Let’s continue our example of Janet the CMO considering a solution for her company’s big data needs.

The home page for your big data microsite should define what you mean by “big data” and give Janet an infographic or other easily consumed information that explains big data at the highest level. The main call to action might be a TED-style video with an expert in big data inspiring the audience to consider the importance of using big data as a natural resource for marketing. Below that, perhaps you have three calls to action that point Janet to the next stages in her buyer journey. And that’s it.

If you launch a microsite with four pages and a few assets, most of your executives would say, “That’s it?” Here you need to stand strong. Build your minimum viable product and then iterate, building in links to other content for Janet’s journey as time goes along. Eventually, you will plumb this experience down to the conversion or purchase experience. But you start by staking a claim on an area where you have a right to win— not by delaying even longer to build a more elaborate site. If you build a helpful experience, eventually Google will give you credit for your market position, and you will attain higher rankings; this could take four to six months, even if you do everything right. By then, you’ll have optimized all the low-hanging fruit and built a user experience that works for the likes of Janet.

content marketing 2016

Building Quality Content

Once Janet lands on your page from the search engine results, what kind of content experience do you give her? You must actually answer two questions:
  • What is quality web content?
  • How do you create quality web content?

What Is Quality Web Content?

Ask 10 content strategists at a Confab the leading content strategy conferences what quality content is, and you will likely get 10 different answers. Quality is highly subjective, but there are some hallmarks to quality content that most everyone can agree on:

Quality content is relevant. James wrote a whole book about this (Audience, Relevance, and Search: Targeting Web Audiences with Relevant Content), so let that serve as the definitive guide. For now, a good proxy for relevance is whether content meets the needs of the user at the time—which is the same thing Google is trying to do. So, if Google is finding your content, perhaps that is the only data point required.

Quality content is easily scannable. How do you demonstrate to web audiences that their content is relevant to them? Provide visual cues that they pick up at a glance  without thinking. If you make it too difficult to determine whether content is relevant to them, they will jump to the conclusion that the content is irrelevant and bounce off your page. When they do, they will likely find a competitor who provides the content they need.

Quality content is readable. Once they determine that the content is relevant, users are willing to think and read. But they will abandon your page if you make reading too difficult. You need to use plain language to communicate with them without forcing them to understand your jargon, buzzwords, or hyperbole. Most importantly, you need to use their language. Making content more readable to your audience is another benefit of using keyword research early and often in content planning and development.

Quality content is shareable. We’ve talked about shareable content throughout this blog, so you shouldn’t be surprised that we think quality content has this characteristic. Another way of thinking about it is that you will know that your content is high quality when you see that it is being shared often.

Quality content is concise. Web users are extremely time challenged and impatient. They don’t typically go for storytelling or any longer-form content, at least not on the pages themselves. Perhaps assets served from pages case studies or short white papers can be longer form. But pure web content needs to be minimalistic.

Quality content is credible. The biggest problem with most marketing content is that it reads like ad copy. Ad copy is typically full of hyperbolic words like “best of breed” without substantiation. The old adage from journalism “show, don’t tell” provides guidance here.

Quality content uses data. Unlike ad copy, quality marketing content backs up claims with data benchmarks, third-party research, and other proof points.

Quality content is empathetic. A corollary to “show, don’t tell” is “advise, don’t sell.” A lot of marketing content employs the hard sell rather than helping buyers come to their own conclusions. Selling stuff before the audience is ready to buy often pushes them away for good.

Quality content is clean. Typos and other mechanical issues degrade user trust. This might seem obvious, but we do see clients try to skimp on editing. They think that the informality of blogs and other native digital content allows for a relaxation of style and usage cleanliness. It doesn’t. In an A/B test on ibm.com, edited content got 30% more conversions than unedited content across a wide corpus of information.

It’s perhaps this last point that is most important. All of these guidelines are thought to be good ideas, and you can test each one in your situation just as IBM did. Use these ideas as a starting point but use data to test your assumptions on a regular basis so that your content truly is better in your particular situation with your own customers.

content marketing define

 How Do You Create Quality Web Content?

You might know what quality web content looks like when you see it but have no idea how to create it. Investing in writing and editing personnel is the only way to improve your content quality—and it costs less today than ever before. In the move from print to digital, tens of thousands of journalists are unemployed or underemployed. Find them and hire them. They make excellent web content specialists.

When you hire your team, trust them to create the highest-quality content; don’t micromanage them. Empower them with tools that check writing errors including ones that help you standardize on organizational style, usage, and terminology. Don’t think of it as automating editing. Think of it as a way of taking the niggling details out of the editing process so that writers and editors can focus on creating quality content.

Perhaps most critical is adopting an agile development model. By all means, your content needs to be as clean and clear as you can make it when you publish. But it is always subject to change. Measuring its effectiveness for example, with A/B testing and heat mapping software and improving it over time is the way to create quality content. You might lose a few users in the beginning for lack of perfection. But you will gain many more as the content gradually improves over time.

Building Assets for the Buyer Journey

The main point of building a website is not to get people to consume all the quality content on your pages but to get them to take action. Sometimes that action takes the form of a purchase or filling out a contact form, but oftentimes it is merely interacting with a content asset downloading case studies, white papers, buying guides, and other content assets.

Because assets are always embedded in pages, sometimes you might conflate the two: “That page is a video.” But it’s more accurate to think that that page contains a video asset. The distinction between assets and pages is important because you can place the same asset on more than one page and because pages can contain multiple assets. Many pages have no separable assets at all they are merely HTML text and images and they can cause conversions also, so you might want to think about the meat of that page as an asset, too.

Pages don’t help prospects become customers. Assets do. Pages are carriers for those assets. Effective content marketing analytics is a three-part play:
1. Get your page ranked as highly on Google organic search results as you can, with a quality title, snippet (the piece of text that appears under the title), and schema markup to entice clicks.
2. Build a quality landing page for visitors to determine that the content is relevant to the keyword and worth their time.
3. Serve a high-quality asset that is appropriate to the visitor’s state in the buyer journey.

It really is that simple. But if any one of these three does not meet expectations, the whole process fails. It’s the last point that we want to focus on here that the asset is appropriate to the visitor’s stage of the buyer journey, which is often the hardest step of the three.

Planning your pages and your assets together is the key to success, but many companies fail to do so, making one of two mistakes:

Focusing mostly on pages. This often happens when a company has grown used to delivering their market messages in text and images in the meat of an HTML page and only now is beginning to embed videos or podcasts or other assets. They might focus on the search optimization and landing experience but slap in whatever asset appears to be on topic. This seems to happen to B2C companies most frequently.

Focusing mostly on assets. You’ll commonly see this happen when a company has a history of creating assets but is now integrating them into their website. B2B companies tend to suffer from this error, especially with their libraries of case studies and white papers that have been lovingly crafted as standalone documents without enough thought around search optimization and landing experience.

But even if you overcome these problems, you face the problem that many asset types are not equally welcome in every stage of the buyer journey. Podcasts, blogs, and white papers tend to work best at the top of the funnel when buyers are at the beginning of their journey, learning about their problems and what products exist to solve them. Our B2B marketing tests show that customers whose last interaction with an asset was downloading a white paper rarely make a purchase; purchasers interact with other assets after the white paper before they buy.

On the other hand, case studies tend to work in the middle of the B2B buyer journey, when prospects want to know if the solution they are considering works for other similar companies. Trials and demos tend to work toward the end of the buyer journey the bottom of the funnel. These are rules of thumb, of course. You should test these tips in your environment with your data.

Beyond journey-specific asset guidance, each asset type has its own set of considerations. You want to make sure that assets get the search visibility they deserve, regardless of the search visibility of the pages on which they sit. First, there’s no rule against serving the same asset from multiple pages. Yes, search engines penalize you if the majority of your page matches a different page, but just embedding the same video on three different pages is fine. Second, you can sometimes get two listings for the same marketing message on the first page in Google if one of them is a simple page and the other is a page containing an asset. Third, assets and simple pages tend to support each other if both rank well in Google.

how to do content marketing

Videos

Of all of the types of assets you can choose from, it’s hard to go wrong with videos. Videos work for both B2B and B2C marketers, and while they can directly show off your product, they can also feature someone speaking about almost any subject. Perhaps best of all, the advent of the smart phone means that videos work wonderfully on any device. Moreover, videos are so important that they have their own search engine YouTube.

If your budget allows you to concentrate on just one type of asset, videos would be the right type for most marketers, who should make videos the cornerstone of their content strategy.

Fitting with our theme in this blog, videos also have another remarkable quality: They can be appropriate at just about any step in the buyer journey. From TED-style talks at the start of the journey to gorpy how-to videos for the post-purchase phases of the customer relationship, lots of different kinds of videos can be effective.

You might get hung up on having high-production values. Don’t. Some of the best performing videos on YouTube are low-fi how-to videos or vlogs from self-made celebrities who record themselves in their grungy offices with smart phones. That’s not the right image for every brand, but it might be worth testing before you dismiss it out of hand; it certainly would be a lot cheaper than trying to look like a professional broadcast network.

If you’re convinced of the importance of videos, you’ll want to know how to ensure that your videos are found by your intended audience. As we said, videos are an unusual asset type in that they have their own search engine. If you want your videos to be findable, you must publish them on YouTube; because YouTube does not crawl the web looking for video content, merely publishing videos on your own site will hide them from search. So upload your videos to YouTube and embed them on your web pages.

Like many other graphics-intensive assets, videos require a lot of text to clue the search engines into their subject; search engines don’t watch and understand videos yet. Make sure that the YouTube page where you upload your video contains a long description of the video’s content even a transcript, if that seems appropriate. You should include the keywords you expect people to search for to locate your video, just as you would do for any other kind of content.

Once your video is found, and viewed, the next step to focus on is getting viewers to click through to your website to continue the buyer journey. YouTube refers to these as Call to Action overlays, and you’ll pay for each click to your site, but this is the most friction-free way to convert YouTube traffic into visitors to your website. You might also be able to use a free alternative for clicks to your site, called video annotations. Annotations are best used as persistent calls to action at the bottom of the video. When users click them, they should land on content that represents their next logical step in the buyer journey.

To know how well your video is performing, use measurements to count how often it is viewed and how often viewers click through to your site. You can also measure behavior that can be difficult to measure in other types of content assets. For example, the average viewing time metric can help you determine which videos are working and which are not in terms of length. High abandonment rates early in the video might also mean it just doesn’t deliver on its promise.

Perhaps an obvious point for some is that video is more effective if you spread out your publishing schedule rather than dump a large batch on YouTube at once. Unfortunately, while no one would think to publish a month’s worth of blog posts in a single day, we’ve seen cases where a brand commissions an agency to produce a batch of videos by a certain deadline, and the whole pile is uploaded at the eleventh hour. This leads to the odd situation of YouTube channels having 20 videos loaded about every six weeks, with nothing in between. Shoot for publishing a new video about every other day in every active channel so that you publish at the rate your audience can comfortably consume. No one is waiting with anticipation to “binge watch” your marketing content.

Blogs

Blogs are one of the oldest types of content assets, and one of the most popularly used forms for marketers. But despite the perennial popularity of blogs in many ways replacing periodical magazines and newspapers from the print world many brand marketers have failed to capitalize on this popularity and have created blogs with all the charm of a press release or an old company newspaper.

Blogs can effectively foster community on your site if you enable comments and do the appropriate outreach and promotion. But they are not often done well at the corporate level. The best blogs encourage an internal community of experts to regularly blog about a topic in which the company has a right to win by virtue of their expertise. This community connects with peer influencers outside the walls of the blog, encouraging them to join the community and follow or comment on the blog. If you run your blogs this way, you won’t need to worry about search visibility because you will be gaining subdomain authority with each new blog post. The bylines of these bloggers gain value over time as the community gains new followers and subscribers.

In our experience, corporate blogs are rarely run this way. They tend to turn into venues for occasional ghost-written posts by executives. The ghost writers commonly are media relations professionals who write the blog posts like press releases, carefully crafting each line to avoid any risk of overstatement or controversy. Not only do all the executives have the same voice (the corporate voice), they never write anything that might incite comment. Blogs like this are just glorified PR, and they will not gain any subdomain authority or search visibility. Because they are occasional, the executive bylines mean little to the community at large.

If instead a blog focuses on thought leadership what’s new and interesting in your industry, new uses for products or services, and especially problems that your offerings solve you’ll find that it captures significant traffic at the top of the funnel and that it spurs the discussion needed to get an entire community to promote your content.

Setting up a winning blog site is definitely worth the time and effort. Most experts are not writers by trade, so they will need some sort of boot camp writing training followed by a lot of regular editorial guidance. This is quite labor intensive, but don’t be too concerned with the cost because the benefits can hardly be overstated. If your top pages have blogs associated with them, you can curate the best posts on your pages and always have fresh insights from which to draw for your audience.

Podcasts

Podcasts offer a handy way for some of your audience members to consume content while they attend to other matters, such as commuting or working out. As such, they have some value. But expecting your audience to get a lot out of an audio file with half their attention might be a bit optimistic. So we recommend keeping podcasts light and not too taxing. Podcasts tend to be much more effective at the top of the funnel than to convey more detailed information.

Some companies have corporate evangelists who are celebrities in their own right. Podcasts by these folks can gain a lot of reach, especially if they are regularly recorded like a weekly address. Still, unless you have special audiences who look for them, we don’t recommend a heavy use of podcasts because it is difficult to continue the buyer journey at your website from a podcast.

If you do find that podcasts are part of your audience’s regular media consumption, make them findable. First, like videos, they need text wrappers for Google and others to properly index and rank them in their search results. Also, make sure the name of the podcaster is prominently displayed in your text. The authority of the podcaster is a key signal for Google.

Finally, use well-worn techniques from radio and television to try to get listeners to take the next step. Make sure that you provide an easy-to-remember and easy-to-spell URL that you repeat several times so that the audience can come to your site when they have the chance. While it’s great to reach someone during their workout, don’t expect them to be jumping to your website then. Emulate radio commercials designed to imprint a brand name in your head while you are driving so that you will take action after you reach your destination.

White Papers

White papers are a longstanding part of B2B marketing and have some appeal in B2C also but their long-form approach can sometimes seem dated for contemporary readers. White papers tend to lack audience focus; they can be too technical for executives and too rudimentary for the line-of-business professionals. They often don’t play well on mobile devices because of their size and scale. They force readers to consume more information than needed to answer their questions. And they are difficult to update and maintain, so they tend to get out of date before they are taken down.

Despite these drawbacks, there is still a place for white papers, and when they are done well, they can be helpful, especially in the early stages of the buyer journey. We recommend limiting their use to specific buyers, such as technical professionals. We also recommend making sure they provide the detail needed to answer these professionals’ questions. So you have to get experts involved in writing and reviewing them. Finally, we recommend keeping them as short and tightly focused as possible. Ask a common audience question in the heading and answer it in the body, with the kind of detail needed to develop the confidence of your more technical audiences.

If companies all followed these recommendations, most of them would produce a fraction of the white papers they do. And that’s okay. They can transfer the resources devoted to building white papers to building videos or blogs.

If you do produce white papers in PDF format, make sure to include the document properties before posting to your website. If you’ve added the appropriate keywords in the document properties metadata fields, your white paper has a chance to rank well in search. If these fields are not filled out, there is no chance. It’s just that simple.

Case Studies

Storytelling has been the hot topic across content marketing for the past few years, with trendy websites taking a more literary approach. Color us skeptical on this approach because the web medium itself is literal, favoring plain language over metaphor. But there is one place where storytelling is required: the case study.

Case studies are nothing new. They have been a staple of vertical publications for decades, especially those oriented toward technology. The tech press, from Computerworld and Infoworld to Wired and ZDnet, relies heavily on this content type to fill its magazines and websites. The reason is simple: Their readers like them. People making buying decisions read the case studies to compare the companies profiled in those stories with their own. Research has shown case studies to be the most persuasive content that a company can provide about its offerings. This makes sense because case studies are similar to positive user reviews: They show that what the company is selling works for real-life customers.

The most effective case studies are assets in the traditional sense but are digital first. This means that they are built in HTML and served as clickable assets on a page, perhaps with a thumbnail image and a bit of teaser text. At the end of the case study, you can add calls to action for the next logical phases of the buyer journey, such as a trial or demo. It is also important to tag case studies by the company profiled and the industry it occupies (using Schema.org markup). This will help both readers and bots decide whether a particular case study is relevant to them.

Case studies can be used at any point in the buyer journey but tend to be most effective in the middle or at the end. At the beginning of the journey, customers are still trying to understand their problem and the range of solutions. Case studies are most effective in persuading a prospect that your solution to their problem is the best one, which happens later in the buying process.

Demos

Once a buyer is convinced that a solution could work for her, she will want to know how it works. This is where demo content comes in. Some types of digital products, such as software, movies, music, or ebooks, can be demonstrated or sampled directly, but many products can be shown off with a video demonstration. Not all offerings benefit from demonstrations car insurance doesn’t seem like a good candidate—but even these services might benefit from an expert talking about the process.

Toy retailer Step2 faces the problem that retailers stock only a few of its large-scale toys (think kid-size play houses), so they must somehow show the value of their products online to sell what retailers won’t give floor space for. They focused on a series of video demonstrations that help consumers visualize their child playing with their toys, using simple touches such as depicting an average-sized mom in each video to help consumers understand the true size of each toy. Some toys include electronic components such as working doorbells for the play houses, so showing those off in the demo also shows the value of the product and at $140 for an average product, Step2 needs to show the value. With a catalog of more than 100 videos, Step2 has seen that video viewers are 174% more likely to convert than non-viewers.

There’s no substitute for demonstrating an experience. For example, before James recently bought a guitar, he watched videos of several artists playing one particular class of guitars. These demonstrations convinced him to buy one particular make and model within that class. In this case, the demos weren’t even made by the manufacturer (Martin). Martin fans produced the videos.

And so it goes with demo content. Fans and third-party vendors regularly review products in demo form and publish them to YouTube. If you can find and curate this content for the product pages at the bottom of the funnel, you will get conversions. Demos and their cousin, full-fledged product trials, occur later in the buyer journey and often are the trigger for a sale.

Promoting Content

You’ve probably noticed that we emphasize using search marketing techniques to promote your content marketing assets and that we emphasize the quality of those assets to get people to share them in social media. But there is still a place for directly promoting content to influencers and aggregators just not always using the same techniques as oldfashioned public relations.

In the old days, PR folks built press releases that included the URLs for the pages in the content of the releases. This still needs to be done, but its effectiveness is waning for a couple reasons:

Google has cracked down on intentional link building where it borders on manipulation. Experts now advise publishers not to artificially orchestrate links using link-building campaigns that go after links more for their value to search marketing than the value of the links themselves. Now understand, you still need to put links in press releases. And as long as you do, you might as well use the most effective URLs and anchor text (the text you click when you link to something). But avoid loading press releases with link lists. And stop doing typical media relations link-building activities, such as sponsored content and guest blogs that serve to promote the URLs and little else. When you set out to manipulate, you’re more likely to hurt your search marketing than help it.

Press releases are becoming less effective as the media evolves toward a model where key influencers self-publish through blogs outside mainstream media. Unlike traditional media, individual influencers don’t respond well to press releases. Again, as long as you are creating press releases, do them right. But start shifting your focus toward other ways of promoting your content that are more likely to actually influence the influencers.

The best way to promote your content is to enable your site visitors to easily share your assets from your pages. Few users share typical web pages. But they will share videos or blogs or even white papers if the assets are especially compelling. Most of our clients struggle to encourage sharing, however, because it is difficult to code your pages with the right interactivity to help users share. We will discuss this in more depth in the next post. For now, just know that designing for shareability is worth the investment.

Don’t overlook coaxing your employees to share your content but also don’t just ask every employee to share the same stuff; it may seem easy, but it is also remarkably similar to email spam. Instead, try these ideas:

Train employees as brand ambassadors. Encourage your employees to be active in social media to support your marketing but educate them on  how to do content marketing. The interactions have to fit your brand. Some employees might be too informal in their interactions if you are reaching other corporate clients. Don’t hawk products like a used car salesman unless you are actually selling used cars. If your employees act in social media the way you’d want them to act in person, you are probably doing it right.

Focus your attention on your most influential employees. Try to limit sharing to your top influencer employees who already have a lot of friends and followers. A common trap is to encourage a lot of sharing by your employees only to find them overhyping everything, which damages the brand. It is better to have a few designated brand ambassadors write the tweets and other posts and to let the rambunctious masses re-tweet them. Even then, it would be better for them to add their own spin so that your employees are not just mindlessly re-tweeting the same things, but you should focus your training, attention, and mentoring on the employees who are building a genuine following.

Help them share the right links. Left to their own devices, your employees might share a portal URL rather than a genuine asset URL. If you work with a URLshortening vendor, you can manage the URLs your ambassadors promote in their posts. Don’t assume that they know the best content or the best URL; help them share the best stuff.

The reason social sharing typically an outbound marketing topic is also a helpful inbound tactic is that it helps you organically promote the links on your pages externally. The shares themselves might not garner much link equity in Google, but the promoted links will be picked up by the external influencers who have the credibility to enhance your credibility quickly.

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