The principal issue for many businesses "getting started" with content marketing is that the strategy behind it has been afforded little time - or they are not sure of where to start.
They have all seen the statistics, read the reviews and heard the praises on how content marketing is effective and absolutely necessary in today's world - but instead of stepping back and developing a strategy, they have jumped in head-first without consideration.
The result is that often the content they produce has no long-term goal behind it or value to their target audience. And even though this content is well-written and interesting, it fails to answer the most salient questions the business' prospects have.
Before you deploy any Inbound Marketing strategy, it’s vital that you ascertain just who you should be marketing to. With advancements in mobile technology, the Internet and various social media applications, there are now a variety of channels through which marketers can hope to engage with their potential prospects – but also numerous ways those prospects can tune out.
As a result, it becomes a challenge for you and your business to not only get its message out, but also to ensure that its message is read – and by the right people.
With this considered, a fundamental part of your inbound marketing strategy, and a key foundation upon which you will build your efforts, are your 'buyer personas'. Every person you want to market to has a problem or pain they’re looking to solve or alleviate, and in an ideal world, you want to be the one to solve that problem.
But you also need to think about the kind of content you want to create and how you want to amplify it.
Buyer personas are, according to HubSpot, 'semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers'. Buyer personas are based on market research, actual data about your existing customers and a few educated assumptions. Buyer personas help you to identify and understand your target audience - allowing you to create tailored content.
As mentioned previously, buyer personas are based on actual data and educated assumptions. You can look to your existing customers to identify underlying trends and characteristics they share to then use that information to broadly define your personas. For example, you might find that a number of your existing customers are at senior management level, operate in the same industry and generally have the same challenges - you can bucket all of them under one broad persona and then ask more specific questions to further segment them.
Drilling down into details, such as buying motivations, education level, income level, interests, will help to further define your personas and segment your audience.
Remember, you are marketing to individuals, so you must consider that they are people; they have likes and dislikes, aims and objectives, issues and concerns. Your job as a marketer is to empathise with those individuals and construct buyer personas that help to inform and develop content based on the understanding that you can get from them.
By creating buyer personas which embody your ideal customers, you will then be able to create specific, prospect-orientated content which appeals to your ideal customers on a granular level. This content will help to educate and inform your ideal customers, allowing them to understand and solve the business problems they are facing, as well as position your business as a trustworthy source of information.
As you create content orientated around specific pain points your buyer personas are expressing and utilise the inbound marketing methodology to determine where your buyers are in the funnel, your Content Marketing gradually becomes more effective, more precise, more relevant. And slowly, you will begin to push prospects down the funnel, from the top, through the middle and finally towards a purchase. And, if you can demonstrate an intricate understanding of their problems, their situation and their objectives, your customers will look to you as a source of credibility and authority - and that trust makes them a stronger and stronger prospect.
It's crucial that you include other teams in the buyer persona development process as they will likely have answers to the questions you ask - or perspectives on customers you may not have considered.
But as well as creating new content that focuses on the needs of your target audience, you should also leverage and repurpose existing content. So the next step is a content audit.
Audit your existing content
Having developed buyer personas, the next step is auditing and evaluating the content you already have - this includes everything from web pages to downloadable assets and blogs; you might be surprised by how much you have already created.
By auditing your content you can identify what you have and don't have. You may have loads of blogs but very few eBooks, typically meaning you have a lot of top of the funnel content but little middle of the funnel content, making it hard for you to move website visitors through the buyer's journey.
You should aim to fill any content gaps that you identify. Ideally, there should be content at every stage of the buyer's journey to ensure website visitors are nurtured from a point of awareness to being ready to make a purchase. Start with your existing content and map it to relevant personas and stages of the buyer journey.
As you fill the gaps you can carefully build a content strategy to move website visitors from blogs, to eBooks, to case studies and finally to product documentation and pricing pages. If there are still gaps after your existing content has been mapped out - you'll need to conduct a content brainstorm.
To plug any gaps you should conduct a content brainstorm. This means bringing together as many people in the business to come up with potential topics that align with the needs of your buyer personas. Sales, for example, will have a good understanding of the business challenges your target audience has as they routinely engage with prospects. The finance department, on the other hand, will know a lot about how prospects go about the purchase decision process and how many people in the business are involved in the final decision.
These are but a few examples but highlight how each business unit can provide input into content creation for the business and ensure that the information on the website addresses the key concerns of website visitors. As you leverage the expertise of everyone in the business, you can create varied, high-quality content assets that are relevant to the needs of your target audience and help them to make a purchase decision.
Having brainstormed new content to plug the gaps and address the needs of your personas, the next step is structuring that content in such a way that is not only helps website visitors to find what they are looking for, but search engines as well. Next step, topic clusters.
Optimising content for search engines using specific, long-tail keyword terms is no longer enough on its own. Search engines have become much more sophisticated - and searchers today are comfortable posing the most complex of search queries to search engines. As such, search engines focus less on keywords and more on what's called 'topic-based content' or, more accurately, topic clusters.
What is a topic cluster?
A topic cluster is, according to HubSpot, where a single "pillar" page acts as the main hub of content for an overarching topic and multiple content pages that are related to that same topic link to and from the pillar page. Think of it as a repository of content or an eBook laid out as a web page, with each individual sub section of the page linking to a relevant blog - and the blog back to the web page.
First and foremost, pick a topic - it should be something of importance to your business, perhaps a product or service that you provide. As it's a core service or product you should already have a web page on it which you can expand.
The next step is to brainstorm sub topics. Sub topics will connect to your pillar pages and should be relevant to the main topic area; Think of them as in-depth articles that explain a particular element of your product or service in detail or answer a specific question about your product or service.
Having brainstormed your sub topics, you need to choose relevant long-tail keyword terms to optimise them with. These are the keyword terms that searchers will type into Google to find your content. Your main pillar page will target a broad keyword term (i.e. whatever your service is) and any value attributed to the sub topics or the pillar page will be shared throughout the cluster.
Of course, a pillar page is never truly complete - you should aim to add to it regularly to ensure it's a resource of up-to-date and high-quality information.
Topic clusters consisting of blogs - or other content assets - that target specific keywords will generate a steady stream of organic traffic to your website, but you want to supplement that traffic further and increase the reach and exposure of your content.
A great way to do this is through social media. LinkedIn, for example, is an excellent platform for businesses to connect with their target audience. As it's a professional platform the value from engagements with those interested in what you have to say is significantly higher. Twitter, on the other hand, provides incredible reach and exposure and can help you to find new audiences interested in what your business does.
Take the time to evaluate social media channels and work out where your ideal buyers spend their time online. LinkedIn will enable you to connect on a more professional level, start conversations and, potentially, generate high-quality leads, whilst Twitter will improve brand awareness and exposure significantly.
From a brand awareness perspective, Instagram is also incredibly useful and worth considering. It requires little time and investment to build a following on Instagram and will give you the opportunity to show off what your business does on a day-to-day basis.
All of these channels are free and can be leveraged to drive more traffic back to your website, increase brand awareness and generate quality leads.
As mentioned earlier, all of the content you produce should be for the express purpose of educating your prospects and nurturing them through to a point of purchase. If you have identified the gaps in your content strategy and brainstormed relevant content ideas - including eBooks, white papers, case studies and other collateral - you should be using those assets to move website visitors through the buyer's journey.
Your blog is the point at which most website visitors will land - but you should include calls-to-action (CTAs) within your blog content to direct readers to other relevant content on your website and eventually to a landing page. On your landing pages you should include a content asset that relates to what the website visitor has been reading and lock that content asset behind a form. Only by filling in the form - providing their details in the process - can the content asset be acquired.
Using calls-to-action, landing pages and forms, you can quickly nurture website visitors, qualify their interest and generate leads. Your content should be built around not just helping website visitors but getting them to convert and further engage with your business!
Even after you hit the publish button and share your content on the social media channels relevant to your business - there's still work to do. Your content may be up to date right now but what about in a few months or a year? Your prospects want accurate, up-to-date and high-quality information, so it falls to you (and your team) to update the content you produce and publish on a regular basis. There may be new information you need to include or an unexpected development that changes the very message you are trying to convey in your content.
The other benefit of keeping your content fresh and up to date is that Google loves fresh content and rewards web pages that are updated with new, accurate information on a regular basis as it seems them as a helpful and authoritative source of information!
Go back and look through the blogs, web pages or any other content assets you have produced in the past and think about how you can improve them - there must be new information you can include?
We are a specialist Content Marketing agency, built out of a team of Content Marketing consultants. We have spent extensive time and effort investigating, interpreting and strength-testing our clients’ key messages so that the very best content can be distilled. We examine the most suitable channels through which to push this content for greatest impact and go to great lengths to ensure that all content is easy to find, whether via search engines, paid media or via social and digital channels.
The best B2B marketing campaigns are founded on making sure that you have optimum content and that you are distributing it in the correct fashion through the most appropriate network channels.
A structured programme for those looking for support to prepare and plan their content and buyer persona before they start their Inbound Marketing strategy
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