Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted in 2021. It was updated in 2022.
A quick Google search returns a long list of quotes about content. The one you’re probably the most familiar with is Bill Gates’s “Content is king.” It’s short, memorable and accurate. Content is immensely important for businesses today, so much so that perhaps an even more on-point quote would be “Content is EVERYTHING.”
But here’s the problem… many companies either don’t produce content regularly or don’t have a content strategy that aligns with their overall marketing plan.
How can this be? Content marketing is nothing new. Marketing experts have been preaching its necessity for years. Customers are thirsty for information at every stage of the sales funnel. Content quenches that thirst.
In our experience, these are some of the primary reasons companies fail to produce quality content:
- Content creation is low on the priority list
- No documented content strategy
- Lack of experienced content creators within the company
- Hesitant to outsource because “no one knows my business like me”
Sound familiar? If one or more of these items are hindering your content efforts, it’s time for a reset. You need to make content the focal point of your demand gen and sales process, and it needs to start happening today.
Put your previous objections behind you and get ready for a change for the better. Let this article be your guide. You’ll learn why content is crucial to your business efforts. We’ll also provide you with our three-step process for creating a content strategy that will fill your sales funnel and increase your customer base. Along the way, you’ll pick up tips, suggestions and tools that will enable you to develop the ideal content strategy for your business.
Let’s get started.
Why Content Matters
Writer and keynote speaker Marcus Sheridan has another profound quote about content: “Great content is the best sales tool in the world.”
Think about what happens when someone enters a search query on their computer or phone. When the results appear, there’s a good chance that most of them will direct to the interior pages of websites. A homepage usually will show up only if the company’s name is included in the query. The reason for this is because interior pages like product/service pages or blog posts are more likely to be relevant to the searcher’s intent than a homepage.
Homepages are typically more generic in nature. They offer a high-level overview of what the company does and why it’s better than the competition. But they don’t get into the nitty, gritty details of the solutions to people’s pain points. That’s content’s job, and that’s why you need to ensure your website is a sales tool and not just a glorified business listing.
If your website content hooks visitors and provides them with valuable information, it’s a win even if they don’t buy right away. You just needed to get their attention first. Once they show initial interest, you can continue to nurture them and provide more content to move them through your sales funnel.
Now, let’s go through the content strategy process step by step.
Content Strategy Step 1: Planning
Before you start writing your blog post, designing your infographic or filming your video, you need to do some prep work.
The first step is determining who you want to bring into your sales funnel. We call this targeting your ideal customer. These are the types of companies that possess attributes similar to your best customers, the ones that:
- Spend the most
- Order frequently
- Produce the largest profits
- Have purchased recently
Once you’ve got an idea of the types of companies you want to target, take it a step further by thinking about the key personnel within those companies. Who are the purchase decision-makers and influencers? What are their attributes? What motivates them?
The answers to these questions can be theorized by creating personas, which are hypothetical representations of your best prospective customers based on existing customer data and additional market research. When developing personas, factor in both demographic and psychographic attributes.
- Purchaser or influencer?
- Job title
- Education level
- Value propositions
- Unique selling propositions
- Most important purchasing factors
Once you have a good idea of who you will be producing content for, you can begin thinking about what kinds of subjects you want to touch upon to meet their information needs.
Brainstorming Content Ideas
When it comes to content, it can be tempting to want to shine the spotlight on your company. You’ll want to spread the word about your innovative products and money-saving solutions that can’t be matched by competitors. However, you must resist this urge. Make your content about your audience, not you.
What information (not sales pitch) can you provide that will help them solve a problem, realize an opportunity or answer a question? Buyers, at least initially, want to learn on their own terms. They don’t want to be sold to. Your goal is to provide valuable information to build trust in your company and keep it top of mind. Once you become an expert or a thought leader in their mind, they’ll be more likely to consider you when they are ready to make a purchase.
When you brainstorm content ideas, start by thinking about keywords. Keywords are essential for SEO and also help you keep the focus on the topics that matter most to consumers.
Did you know that 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine (according to Forrester)? When you identify a variety of short-tail keywords and long-tail keywords, you’re laying the groundwork for content that will be relevant to buyers and be presented to them by Google as a possible resource based on their search query.
You can also come up with content ideas by thinking about various pieces of content as sales tools. We’re not talking about spec sheets or catalogs here. Rather, we mean content that can answer questions sales staff frequently get asked by leads and customers.
For example, you could have content that serves as an FAQ. Creating content to answer the questions repeatedly asked by customers and prospects offers two valuable benefits. First, it provides them with a source of immediate answers. Second, it frees up time for your sales staff by minimizing the time they spend answering the same questions over and over.
Examples of our content that fall into this category include our posts on setting expectations of color and how to get ROI from print ads.
Another sales tool approach to content is to develop thought-starter messaging. This type of content gets decision-makers thinking about new ideas or concepts or gets their head in a place to better understand (and eventually purchase) the products and services you offer. Again, this content is not intended to close the sale but rather to position your company as a thought leader/expert.
We have several examples of thought-starter content. Topics include:
- Top tradeshow giveaways
- Understanding digital marketing
- Saving money on graphic design
- Lowering print and mail costs
- Benefits of hiring a marketing agency
Content Strategy Step 2: Creation
Identifying your target audience, developing a keyword list and brainstorming a topic bank set the stage. The next step in your content strategy is the creation of content. The first decision you’ll need to make is what type of content to create. There are many possibilities:
- Blog posts
- Case studies
- Long-form – guides, white papers, etc.
Blog posts are the most common and are also highly recommended. That’s because frequently adding new content to your website that contains the keywords you identified will boost your SEO efforts.
A good tip for deciding which topics to utilize for blog posts is to think about the product categories you offer. Try to come up with a variety of blog posts that support your various product categories. This will enable you to link to those category pages within your posts, which also helps with SEO and helps direct web visitors to additional information they may find useful.
There are numerous blog types from which to choose. Here are a few of the most popular:
- How To – A post that describes how to execute a process
- List/Checklist – A post that includes a list/checklist of solutions, tools, resources, etc.
- Definition – A post that defines complicated ideas or confusing terms
- Comparison – A post that compares one item or idea to a competing item or idea
- News/Update – A post that provides industry or company news and updates
- Q&A – A post that lists questions and provides answers in a Q&A format
- Tips – A post that shares tips and insight
- Cost & Pricing – A post that provides commentary on cost/pricing on a product/service
- Reviews – A post that provides a review of something (article, company, product, service, etc.)
Case studies are good for sharing real-world examples of how your expertise helps customers solve their problems and achieve their goals. Long-form content is good to use as a lead magnet that you can gate to collect prospect information. Videos, infographics and photos can help people more easily grasp complex ideas since people are visual learners.
Quality is key when it comes to content. Text-based content should be produced by someone with training and experience in journalism or writing. Visual content should be created by someone with a background in graphic design, photography and videography.
If you don’t have someone within your company with these capabilities, it’s a good investment to hire an expert. They can help you go from idea to finished product efficiently. Just make sure you provide plenty of support throughout the process to ensure you get the result you’re expecting. For specifics on how to help your copywriter create a winning blog post, click here.
Content Strategy Step 3: Distribution & Promotion
Creating quality content and posting it to your website is a great start. But it’s only half the battle. If you’ve created and optimized the content correctly, SEO will certainly drive some traffic. The next part of the content strategy is distributing and promoting it. That’s what will take it next level.
As Jonah Peretti, CEO of Buzzfeed, famously said: “Content is king, but distribution is queen and she wears the pants.”
There are numerous ways you could (and should) get your content in front of your audience.
Google Business Profile (GBP)
Many in the marketing industry (including us) now believe that Google Business Profile (GBP) is the most important tool in your digital toolbox. This includes your website. These statistics will give you a reason why:
- Nearly 65% of Google searches in 2020 ended without a click to another web property
- 93% of local searches now feature Google Business Profile listings [Source: STAT Analytics]
- 49% of businesses receive more than 1,000 views on Search per month
- 78% of local mobile searches result in offline purchases
Quite simply, Google is people’s #1 source of local business information. Optimizing your Google Business Profile and regularly adding content to it will help you climb and maintain a high position in the search engine result pages (SERPs).
One of the tools available to you within Google Business Profile is posts. The GBP posts section of your profile is where you can create messaging related to content, upcoming events, current offers and products.
When you add new content to your website, promote it with a GBP post. You’re able to add an image, some descriptive copy and a CTA button that links to the content, just like a social media post. Posts will display on your profile to be discovered by anyone who views your business listing after performing a search.
It should come as no surprise that social media has long been a staple for companies to distribute and promote their content. You’ve likely seen countless content pieces of all kinds appear on your social feeds.
There are several ways to promote your content on social networks:
- Posts – These are the organic posts that you can create for free to be seen by those who like and follow your pages. The primary goal is to generate website traffic, while a secondary goal is building social proof of your brand’s authority by garnering likes and comments.
- Ads – Your best content should be promoted with paid ads that retarget existing website visitors by utilizing the Facebook pixel and LinkedIn insight tag, with the goal of remaining top of mind with that audience. You can also build a cold audience of users that match your ideal account profile to increase awareness of your brand and, again, drive website traffic.
- Boosted Posts – Boosted posts can be described as “lite” ads. You pay to get your content in front of a targeted audience, but the features and capabilities aren’t as extensive as you get with regular ads. To learn more about the differences between ads and boosted posts, click here.
- Cyber Soldier – “Cyber soldier” is a term we use for the practice of joining Facebook or LinkedIn groups that your target audiences frequent and monitoring discussions with the goal of sharing links to your content when and where they fit into the conversation. You can join groups and post using either your personal profile or your company page. People may be more receptive to a human being providing input unless your brand has enough notoriety and has built enough trust that your message won’t be discounted as just a sales pitch.
A common tactic for mass distribution of content is to utilize email. One of the benefits of email is that you can expect with relative certainty that your content will at least be delivered to recipients’ inboxes, provided you keep up with list maintenance. This doesn’t guarantee your email will be opened for your content to be discovered, but the user will at least be forced to decide.
This differs from other distribution/promotion tactics that are dependent on algorithms and user behavior to even be seen.
One suggested tactic is to promote your most recent and best content via a monthly email newsletter sent to your existing opt-in list or customer base. This would be considered a nurturing (warm lead) tactic. The goal is to remain in contact with an audience that’s previously interacted with you in some way and knows you exist.
You can also consider using email to promote your best content to a newly acquired lead list. The goal here is to build brand awareness and share helpful information so those leads will be more receptive to future messaging. They will now recognize your name and know you provide value.
One tip for demand gen (cold lead) email marketing is to build a multi-part drip where leads receive multiple emails over a few weeks until they click to consume your content on your website. The reason for this is because when you contact leads out of the blue who barely know you or don’t know you at all, they may be hesitant to engage with your email on the first attempt. Patience and persistence are necessary to make headway.
Tying It All Together
A content strategy is only as good as the sum of its parts. You need all the parts, they need to be strong, and they need to be cohesive.
When you visualize it — Targeting Your Audience > Creating Content > Posting to Your Website/Blog > Posting to Your GBP > Posting to Your Social Properties Like LinkedIn and Facebook > Sending Out an Email — everything ties together.
This offers two big benefits. First, it broadens the reach of your content. You get more impact for the work you put in. Second, it’s very beneficial to your SEO efforts.
By thinking about the planning, development and distribution steps and the components involved in each, you can create a content strategy that will pay dividends not just in the here and now but for years to come.
Speaking from Experience: Tips for Your Content Strategy
Every company’s situation is different. There’s not a one-size-fits-all content strategy that works perfectly for everyone. However, there are some general suggestions we want to provide. These are some tips and best practices based on our years of experience and numerous clients.
Map Out Your Year
Think long-term with your content strategy. Don’t piece it together on the fly. You may not be able to have every little detail finalized for the entire year, but map out as much as you can. In a perfect world, you should shoot for 52 content pieces — one a week.
Posting to your website with that frequency will help with SEO. Additionally, regular GBP posts, social posts and emails will keep you in front of leads and keep your web traffic up.
Utilize a Detailed Schedule
When planning content for an entire year, you need a schedule to keep you on track. It could be a calendar, an Excel spreadsheet or some kind of web-based solution. Whatever you utilize, we suggest including more than just the content type, topic and posting date. Your schedule can serve as the hub of your content activity if you set it up the right way.
Here are some examples of elements to include that will help you paint a more complete picture:
- Topic – The subject matter of the content piece
- Content Type – Article, case study, infographic, social post, etc.
- Channel – Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Business Profile, etc.
- Category – The section(s) of the blog in which an article will be posted
- Word Count – The target number for words in the content piece
- Keywords – The important words to include in the content to help with SEO
- Notes – Supporting information that will help with the production of the content
- Copywriter – The person tasked with writing the copy
- Designer – The person tasked with designing graphics, taking/editing photos, recording/editing video, etc.
- Status – The current state of the content piece (in production, on proof, approved, etc.)
- Copy Due Date – When a draft of the copy needs to be ready
- Design Due Date – When a proof of the design needs to be ready
- Approval Due Date – When the content piece needs to be finalized
- URL – The link to the content
- UTM – A modification to the link to your content that allows you to track performance
- Post Date – When the content will be posted/made live
We use Smartsheet to create content schedules both internally and for our clients. It’s an online tool that can be shared, accessed and edited by anyone with the app or internet access. Files can be attached to each row of a sheet, and individual conversation posts can be added to each row as well. Content projects can be managed almost completely within the platform — from start to finish. Give it a try or find a similar solution that works well for your needs.
Still have questions about creating a content strategy or want to learn even more? Call us at 815.431.1000 or submit this form to contact us.