Content marketing is an SEO strategy focused on creating, optimizing, publishing, and promoting various kinds of content, using it as a core part of your marketing strategy.
This can cover anything from blog posts and professionally-written articles to video content and ebooks: anything that you are publishing online that is not a typical paid ad.
Whether you have only just heard of content marketing recently or have been developing a content marketing strategy for a while, it is important to understand the ins and outs of how to use it effectively.
No matter your industry, an effective content marketing strategy can be a major part of how you market yourself – and a bad one can destroy your potential success online in the short term.
Table of Contents
What is Content Marketing Overall?
In general, content marketing involves the planning, development, creation, publishing, sharing, and long-term impact of content. While the exact content may vary for each content marketing strategy, the end goal is always the same – to build brand awareness, engagement, and, ideally, sales.
The internet is a huge place full of a wide range of information, and many users are looking for that information. From simple social media posts to well-written dissertations, most internet users are looking for specific kinds of content with every search they make.
Naturally, this means that the sites that are offering that content tend to get more attention, especially if they can create content that directly meets the needs and wants of their potential customers. From there, they have an excellent opportunity to turn those potential customers into real customers.
In other words, a successful content marketing strategy is all about trying to create content that gives your business attention and useful traffic, then capitalizing on those benefits as effectively as possible.
Understanding Content Marketing
While “what is content marketing?” is an easy question to answer, it does not explain some of the nuances of a typical content marketing strategy. Content is not a single monolithic idea but a lot of individual concepts that each business needs to handle in a way that suits them specifically.
While there are technically ways to approach offline content marketing, such as brochures, online content marketing has more or less become the standard for most businesses.
But what does content marketing actually entail, especially if your business is just beginning its content marketing efforts?
Types of Content Marketing
There are a lot of ways to approach constructing a content marketing strategy, especially when it comes to the types of content that you are actually going to use.
While all content marketing strategies are geared towards the same goals of building brand awareness and securing more potential customers, different businesses may target specific kinds of content more than others – especially if it would help them play to their strengths or capture a certain target audience.
Online Content/Website Content
While all online content marketing involves online content in a literal sense, the general term “online content” often refers to the content that you are placing on your own web pages as part of the site’s overall design. This could be anything from a home page to a product page.
Unlike other kinds of content mentioned in this list, website content is important primarily because it will always exist in one form or another. If you have a website with a home page, then that home page is going to influence your position in search engines and the way that users engage with your site.
Strong website content can be invaluable for boosting SEO and securing more traffic, especially if you are updating pages that already see quite a lot of visitors. Product pages can be valuable content sources, as can a site’s FAQ page or the page that breaks down a specific service you offer.
Blog Content Marketing
Blog post content marketing is often seen as the most reliable way to handle content marketing. A website blog allows you to create blog articles whenever you want, focused on whatever relevant content subjects you need to target next.
While you still need a decent content marketing strategy to make full use of a blog, each individual blog post can become a great way of building links (both internally and externally) as well as gaining traction on social media or receiving attention from other sites and communities.
Creating good blog posts can be a surprisingly effective way of generating even more content to market to your audience without actually requiring much extra effort aside from writing the post itself.
Social Media Content Marketing
With social media being such a huge part of the internet today, it is no surprise that it has become a major part of many content marketing efforts by both independent businesses and major international companies.
Having a presence on popular social media platforms effectively gives you a free place to post short-form content entirely for free, as well as a way to build up a dedicated audience on that platform.
Since most social media platforms allow for a variety of content (social media posts, video content, links, images, etc.), they can become quite an invaluable tool in building awareness and presenting users with the information that you want them to see.
Podcast Content Marketing
While podcasts take more effort than a simple blog post would, it is no secret that podcasts have become one of the more popular forms of entertainment these days. While a podcast is not right for every business, it can work well if it has a clearly defined audience.
Podcasts allow you to build a marketing strategy around creativity, whether you are aiming for something funny and engaging or something serious and informative. With the right hosts and planning, podcasts can be very compelling content that can build up their own distinct audience – one that you have full freedom to target.
The only risk to podcasting is the amount of effort required. While you can start distributing content on a wide range of podcast sites and networks, you still need to make the podcast, and even the most basic two-person podcast still needs some careful prep work to actually sound good and feel interesting.
Video Content Marketing
Videos have become another massive source of marketing and engagement in recent years, and for good reason. Video content is easily one of the most consumed things on the internet, so pushing yourself into a video content niche is exactly as powerful as you might assume.
If you have the right setup, video content is an incredibly powerful way of getting a message out there and engaging with people. Even videos recorded on a phone can be enough to go viral or at least get some worthwhile video content out on social media platforms.
The only real downside with video content is that you might have to play around with tags and titles a lot more than articles. Unlike a blog post, you have a lot less text to work with, so video marketing relies on using the right terms in the right ways to get the traction you want.
Infographic Content Marketing
While it can sound strange to people who are new to this kind of content strategy, infographics are surprisingly good at building awareness and making your brand an authority on a topic.
Creating content that simplifies something complex down into an infographic can be a good way to streamline a topic, which naturally makes it more appealing to people who want an easy breakdown (or just prefer a visual as a reference). Depending on the topic, this can get you a lot more visitors than you might think.
Creating your own content that simplifies something larger or more complex provides less-experienced readers with valuable information that they can understand, potentially securing a slew of new customers.
This is because you have been able to create content tailored to a specific audience – people with an interest in the topic but not enough expertise to understand an in-depth breakdown.
Paid Advertising Content Marketing
Paid ads are content, too. Whether it is a regular banner ad on a website’s main page or an entire piece of sponsored blog content, your content marketing strategy can contain paid ads just as often as it can contain entirely free internal content tweaks.
Like any marketing strategy, there are obviously a lot of factors to consider when dealing with paid ads. For example, a paid blog post might be more expensive than you would be willing to normally pay, or you might find that certain sites will not allow specific kinds of blog posts.
However, paid advertising does have one core benefit – if you have the right budget and even a decent understanding of what to target, you can effectively guarantee a certain level of brand awareness (and, sometimes, engagement).
How Does a Content Marketing Strategy Actually Work?
While it is not hard to grasp the basic idea behind content marketing, it is still important to understand how these content marketing efforts are meant to work and what their overall impacts are.
Aside from just providing your audience with the information that they need, you want the content you provide to have an impact on their actions and opinions or at least influence how they think about your business.
This is the heart of content marketing as a whole.
The general idea behind content marketing is simple enough: by providing users with quality content that they are actively interested in, you are creating a situation where they are more likely to think of your brand in a positive light and to view you as a trustworthy business.
This usually also leads to more traffic, more sales, and more business success overall.
When it comes to content marketing, there are a lot of ways to go about this, and most content marketing efforts are only part of a larger marketing plan. However, the end goals are always generally the same – it is just the path to achieve them that is different.
Building Brand Awareness with Content Marketing
When it comes to marketing, brand awareness is one of the first things that you need to work on. In general, brand awareness is all about ensuring that people know about your brand and that they are able to identify it with whatever products or services that you are providing.
Content marketing makes this easier by providing an effective means of reaching a wider audience than ever before, especially on a budget.
When you create a blog post or other pieces of content, you can either pay to promote it on another platform or use it on your own website to bolster your presence in search engines – with both options having a major impact on your success if used correctly.
Methods such as placing content on social media can provide a huge amount of success through top-of-the-funnel techniques, which focus on pulling customers in from your target audience and getting them aware of your brand, products, and services.
This can be done effectively by creating content that gets as many eyes on it as possible and placing it on platforms that will expose a lot of users to it.
Sometimes, even just seeing the headline can be enough to set somebody on a customer journey that eventually ends up with them buying from you.
Increasing Sales through Content Marketing
Sales are obviously a key metric for any business, and part of a good content marketing campaign is increasing sales either directly or indirectly.
By creating compelling content, you can encourage potential customers to think of your business positively and, ultimately, choose to give it their money.
This obviously works better with the right kind of marketing efforts targeted at the right places, such as promoting products on social media channels in a way that makes them appealing.
However, in most cases, more online visibility still leads to more sales simply because there are more users exposed to your site.
Content marketing for sales is most effective when it is used as a lead-generation tool.
More leads translate to more sales, and some of the best content marketing examples in history were used as a tool to sway leads into changing their entire customer journey by choosing one brand over another.
In general, creating good content that connects back to your business and site gives you two advantages: a better reputation and more brand awareness.
These two things are the basis of many customers’ purchasing decisions, so a business with a lot of both is a business that will tend to do a lot better overall.
Using Content Marketing Strategically
One of the best things about content marketing is that it can be applied to almost any kind of business, no matter what the focus of the business is. Content marketing strategies can be applied to everything from an online store selling clothes to an app, to a restaurant chain, or to a local gym.
No matter the industry, if you have the right mindset and a clear content marketing strategy, there are countless ways that you can improve your results and build the right awareness for your business.
Content marketing is not always an end in itself, though. In most cases, it is just part of a bigger marketing strategy, but one that should not be overlooked even when there are other, more obvious marketing options available.
Like any of the many marketing strategies used by professionals throughout the industry, it needs to be used like a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer.
Knowing the right time, place, and approach to take for any given content marketing opportunity and being careful with how you use your resources.
Creating a Successful Content Marketing Campaign
The content creation process can cover everything from a short social media post to entire video campaigns spanning hours of footage.
Different platforms, audiences, business niches, and topics demand different techniques, and your content marketing campaigns are always unique to your own business.
However, there are often some fairly common examples that you can fall back on when planning a content marketing strategy.
Between real-world content marketing examples and some obvious patterns that every marketing team eventually recognized, there are usually some “general rules” worth following.
When you are starting out with a content marketing strategy, keep in mind the following points:
1. Find Your Target Audiences
Before you begin creating content for your business, it is important to determine the types of audiences that you want to target.
In general, most businesses have a clear idea of their audience already and are familiar with their general characteristics.
However, by content marketing definition, most businesses do not just have one target audience that they need to focus on – especially not if they offer more than one product or service.
Knowing this is important because you need to create content that is specifically tailored to whichever audience(s) you are targeting.
If you write blog posts about something completely unrelated to your intended target audience, it will not do much to draw them into the buying process or get them invested in your business.
Finding your ideal audience means asking yourself a few key questions, such as:
- Which products or services are you trying to market?
- Who are the most likely people to purchase those items?
- Where do those people tend to exist most on the internet, and what are their interests?
- What is the most engaging way to bring their attention toward your brand?
- What would lead to that audience naturally finding your products or services?
2. Understand How To Target That Audience
Knowing who your target audience is helps, but you also need to know how you can capitalize on that information.
For example, should your content marketing team rely on blog posts about a specific topic, or would boosting your social media presence help?
More importantly, what kind of relevant content would resonate with them the most?
One of the most common problems that inexperienced content marketers face is the need to target the wrong audience or target the right audience in the wrong way.
This can happen in many ways and can easily lead to a failure to engage an audience in any way.
If your target audience is not interested in your business, no amount of content marketing will secure their interest unless you are outright lying to them.
If they are interested, but you are not hitting them with the right content, then you are not giving them a reason to look at your site or future content.
3. Have a Clear Vision for Content Creation
Once you know your target audience, you need a clear vision of how you want to reach them.
This means you need to understand the purpose of the content and have a clear plan for the kind of content that you are going to use.
Content is most effective when it has value since that gives users a reason to click on it and read it.
This, naturally, means more organic traffic, which you can use to boost overall brand awareness or secure more sales with the right techniques.
Valuable content is anything that is relevant, useful, and ideally usable as some kind of resource.
High-quality content that solves a problem or answers a question, such as how-to guides, is incredibly powerful for securing new customers for this exact reason.
You do not need to limit yourself to guides, though.
You just want a page that has some actual value behind it and gives users a reason to visit or use it as a source of information: product breakdowns, review blog posts, or even the about page on your own company site can all qualify, too.
4. Use a Mix of Types of Content Marketing
A lot of companies will often focus on a single kind of content, usually either video, blog posts, or some other medium.
While this can be a decent way of marketing to one target audience, it can lead to a lot of missed opportunities.
A better solution is to try and use a variety of different kinds of content, with each type having its own advantages and disadvantages.
For example, video content is ideal for capturing a lot of attention on video-based sites, while blog posts and how-to articles are useful for providing valuable resources that other sites can easily refer back to.
Creating high-quality content is great, but if you are not spreading that over multiple types of content marketing, you are missing a lot of opportunities to get more leads.
If you are not careful, you may even start to create content that overlaps, leading to no new audiences targeted.
5. Aim to Become An Industry Leader or Authority
One of the easiest ways to succeed at content marketing is by becoming a leading voice in the audiences that you are trying to reach.
This means creating original content that has value and offers something important, such as key statistics or reliably-sourced information.
The most successful content marketers are the ones who can earn the trust of their audiences and spread by word-of-mouth rather than following behind, creating blog posts based on industry trends.
If you are creating original high-quality content instead of simply recycling information ripped from elsewhere on the internet, your content marketing efforts become much easier.
As long as you can guide users to that content, you can gradually become a trusted voice in that niche.
Once your audience trusts you, the ideal content strategy becomes less about convincing them to look at your site and more about informing them of events, products, or services that would benefit your site.
6. Know Your Goals
While all of the points above might sound like a solid strategy, you do not always have to push for multi-channel content or aim to be a key voice in your industry. It all depends on what your business would benefit from the most.
For example, if you want to focus on social media marketing to push more users towards your landing pages, then that is a completely valid way to approach content marketing.
The same goes for producing audio content to try and break into a podcast market or relying mostly on conventional digital marketing tactics.
Your goals will always depend on what you are actually trying to achieve and your resources. Set both long-term and short-term goals, and be prepared to tweak them depending on the types of content marketing you have the most success with.
What Do I Need to Succeed with Content Marketing?
Now, we have gone over the basics of what content marketing is and what it is meant to achieve. However, before you can truly start your content marketing journey, it is important to remember that success does not come just because you follow a checklist.
Effective content marketing means two things: drawing from experts and advice sources like the Content Marketing Institute and understanding that there is a huge range of factors involved that can completely change your overall plan.
When you first start content marketing, there can be a lot of questions on your mind and a lot of things that will not necessarily make sense. Here, in no particular order, are some of the many things that you may encounter when planning out a content strategy.
A Defined Audience
A good content marketing strategy can’t function without a defined audience. This means knowing exactly the kind of users you want to reach, as well as the most effective ways to reach them.
Working out the details behind your audience – like average demographics and common habits – takes some time and careful use of SEO or marketing tools, but the end result is absolutely worth it.
Trending Topics to Target
Knowing your audience is good, but you also want to know what you can target to get their attention.
Tools like Google Trends are invaluable for picking out the latest trends and topics in specific areas or certain audiences so you can quickly adapt your strategy to meet their needs.
An Understanding of The Buyer’s Journey
The Buyer’s Journey is not just a term for the individual journey that your users take but also a defined set of three stages involved in capturing somebody’s interest in a product or service.
In general, users will go through three stages of connection to a product or service that they are being advertised, whether they know they are being marketed to or not:
- Awareness stage: the buyer is experiencing a problem and understands that they need a solution or have a need that they want filled. They are aware that something can probably fix it but do not understand what or where to find it.
- Consideration stage: the buyer now understands more about their issue from the awareness stage and understands the potential solutions. They may also be actively looking at different products or services that could be a potential solution.
- Decision stage: the buyer understands what they want and is making an effort to get it, or at least heavily debating whether or not they want to pull the trigger on a purchase. They are looking at any trustworthy sources that can offer that particular thing, either to directly buy or to approach for more information.
This applies to all content formats because it does not necessarily have to be tied to a purchase. For example, users might undergo this journey when looking for a how-to article about something.
This is important to know because different kinds of content might target people in different stages.
Users in the awareness and consideration stages may be more interested in advice and guides, while decision-stage users could be after something closer to a sales pitch.
Identified Pain Points and Interests
Before you create any kind of content, it is important to determine what the audience that you are marketing to actually wants.
Audiences have two main factors to focus on: pain points, which are their problems and frustrations, and their more positive interests.
The customer journey focuses on either resolving one of their pain points, indulging one of their interests, or both.
If you can identify these in your audience, you give yourself a fantastic way to create content that is directly suited to their common wants and needs.
Good Landing Pages
Attracting organic traffic is pointless if they do not actually stay on your site. Landing pages are your first impression to prospective customers, and you want to ensure that it is a good one.
If your landing pages are not properly optimized for a given target audience or simply are not attractive, they can ruin the impression that your company’s brand and website are meant to give.
Having custom landing pages for specific groups of customers or online marketing campaigns is a very common tactic, and it works incredibly well most of the time.
If the first thing a user sees on your site is well-made, relevant content on a fancy landing page, they are much more likely to keep reading.
An editorial calendar (a calendar of which content goes out when) can be invaluable for scheduling your content plan.
With a consistent editorial calendar, you can ensure that you always have new content coming out at just the right time to work alongside the others.
This becomes important if you are working across multiple platforms or if your business’ personal content marketing definition begins to get a bit blurred due to focusing on so many niches at once.
Scheduling also makes it easy to avoid stepping on your own toes by posting multiple similar articles at the same time, making them basically redundant.
A Plan for Adaptation
Your content marketing plan does not have to be a solid block of text; it can be a list of ideas or a collection of bullet points. It can even just be a general goal surrounded by potential ways to achieve it.
Content marketing is not just a one-way road, and you want to make sure that you are able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
For example, if a major event is happening and you know a lot of users will be interested in the topic, it is probably best to have a few pre-written posts ready to go before the day arrives.
Some of the best content marketers are the ones who can turn an upcoming event by a completely different company or industry into an online marketing opportunity for themselves.
Experience from Existing Customers
It can be difficult to tell what works and what does not when it comes to your business and marketing strategies.
However, if you have some existing customers, you can use them as a baseline for future content marketing efforts.
For example, if your current customer base has a common problem (for example, many of them were past customers looking for last-minute services that other companies do not offer), then creating some content specifically addressing that niche is a good way to get more eyes on the post.
A Brand Image
As strange as it might sound, it is possible to be a company with effectively no brand image.
While you can have a name and a logo, they do not mean much if nobody has ever had a reason to recognize them or if there is not actually any meat behind the brand that you can use in any meaningful way.
Creating a strong brand identity is one of the biggest things you can do to improve your content marketing.
The clearer your brand, the easier it is to create some content around, and the more likely you are to stick in customers’ minds.
For example, look at social media marketing. Would a user actually recognize your site’s brand if they had seen your social media profile in passing?
Probably not, but if you can plant some kind of hook (such as posting regular social media content that might have caught their eye), there is something there to tie the two encounters together in their mind.
You want people to find your content, and this can be done through a variety of means. However, SEO will always be the easiest and the cheapest way of making yourself more visible.
If you can tweak your site’s existing content (or build more links) to boost your rankings for relevant search results, your site (and accounts on a social media platform, etc.) are more likely to appear for those searches.
The more likely you are to appear for users searching for something related to your business, the more likely you are to capture their interest, so improving your SEO makes a big difference.
A Successful Content Marketing Strategy
No matter what else you do, you need an overall strategy that works. Without an overarching strategy behind what you are doing, it is hard to know if you are even making the right choices.
For example, do you want to be a leading authority in a niche or a business with a strong online presence? How much is your content actually going to cost, and will it pay off in the long run?
While these are things you can still only guess at, a decent strategy can at least give you an estimate to work with and can help you stay on track when you are trying to manage a range of different content formats across a wide variety of platforms and websites.
Content Marketing FAQ
Before you decide to invest your time or budget in a content marketing plan, it is worth going through a few questions that you might have about the entire concept.
How Important Is Social Media Marketing Content?
Social media has become one of the biggest ways to interact with an audience online, and for good reason.
There are more than three billion active social media users in the world, and that number has been steadily growing every year.
Social media is absolutely vital for achieving true content marketing success.
How do I get into content marketing with no experience?
The most important thing is to start small.
You do not need a huge budget, just a few ideas and the willingness to produce content that suits your business.
Can a single article bring in a lot of traffic?
This depends on a lot of factors. For an already-popular site or brand and a well-chosen content placement, potentially, yes.
For a brand new business, no, but starting small is important anyway.
Do I need to hire an expert to write my content marketing material?
Some business owners create their own content or have experts on hand to do it, while others turn to third-party experts.
This all depends on the time, money, and expertise you have to spare for this kind of project.
Is audio content an effective marketing option?
While originally fairly niche, podcasts have made auto content incredibly effective in the right hands.
This effectively lets you create engaging long-form content without relying on written content formats.
There are also other audio-only ways to engage users, too, depending on what your brand offers and how you can tie the audio back to your brand.
What is the ideal number of blog posts per month for an active website?
Blogs that post at least 15 times a month tend to get the most traction.
Note that these do not need to be long-form content. A simple blog post can sometimes be surprisingly effective for inbound marketing.
Should I Copy Famous Content Marketing Examples?
While there is nothing inherently wrong with using content marketing strategies that are proven to work, you do want to be careful.
If you are going to copy a strategy, it is important to remember that there are probably factors behind the scenes that help it work, such as specific keyword choices or partnerships that would not work in the same way for your business or site.
Is User Generated Content Worthwhile?
If you are creating a brand around something that is relatively accessible and easily spread through word-of-mouth, then you might find that user-generated content can help build your brand in the right niche.
However, you still want a solid core of regular marketing surrounding your business.
Should I Focus on Content That Targets Local Users or International Audiences?
In most cases, the answer is “both,” but not equally.
If you are looking to make an impact on local users, you will need local content, especially if your site is a brick-and-mortar store.
On the other hand, if your business is all online and has no real local audience, it is not necessarily as important. This is especially true if you only sell digital goods, so there is no delivery involved.
As you can see, there is a lot of value behind content marketing and a lot of potential to be found. It can be a major way of improving a brand or building one up from scratch and has been proven to have a significant impact on businesses of all sizes.
However, like any marketing technique, it is not a guaranteed success.
While content marketing can be highly effective, it also requires a lot of time and effort and a lot of attention paid to your content. If you are not willing to dedicate the necessary time or resources, then you are not likely to succeed.
Take your time, learn how to approach it properly, and make sure that you always have other options to fall back on if something goes wrong.
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