Content marketing is hands-down the most powerful method you can use to generate traffic, create a loyal following and convert visitors into customers.
It’s become so common that you may be doing it without really knowing it. Making blog posts, videos, images, infographics and other content is just par for the course these days for anyone in Internet marketing.
The proliferation of digital content marketing makes perfect sense. On a daily basis we are blasted by a firehose of advertising, marketing and information. As a result we’re becoming blind to ads and much more intelligent about how and where to get the information we need and avoid the pitch.
But not all is lost if you’re an online marketer. Enter content marketing to save the day!
As a content marketer, your mission is to produce and promote content that provides value and builds trust with your target market. If done correctly, they get the information they need and will begin to see you as an authority in your niche.
Once you are their go-to information on a certain topic, they will be much more likely to follow your suggestions, take the actions you request of them and, in short, make you money.
What Exactly is Content Marketing?
Content marketing covers a pretty wide range of information, platforms and processes. Wikipedia sums it up best:
"Content marketing is any marketing format that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers. Content marketing creates interest in a product through educational or informative material. Successful content marketing relies on providing consistent, high-quality content that solves people's problems."
Digital content marketing can take a wide variety of forms, including:
- Website copy
- Case studies
- White Papers
- Blog posts
- and much more...
Golden Rules of Content Marketing
No matter what form your content takes, if you want it to be a successful weapon in your marketing arsenal, it needs to adhere to these Golden Rules of Content Marketing:
With content marketing, your primary goal is to provide value up front. Give the user something they haven’t consumed before or deliver it in a new way that brings something helpful to their life.
When someone searches for a keyword and clicks on your site, they are looking for something. Maybe they need general information or their questions answered. Perhaps they are looking to be entertained or distracted from reality for a bit.
Give them this value consistently and in easy-to-consume formats and they will come back to you time and time again.
Give Before You Receive
By providing this value-loaded content, you are giving something to your potential customers first. You’re taking the first step in the relationship and sharing your knowledge and hard work with them.
It’s important that you do so before asking for anything. Yes, we’re in this business to make money, but you will attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. Eventually, it’s OK to ask for something in return — but not up front.
Say, for example, you create an awesome blog post chock full of witty copy, fun videos, awesome pictures and a killer infograph. It’s a lot of work and gives a lot of value to the user. They decide to download a free copy of your e-book to learn more about your niche. At this point, it’s OK to ask for their email in order to get the e-book. You’ve taken the first few steps in the relationship and given them a lot.
Will everyone reciprocate and give you something of value back? No. But the ones that do will be more likely to be loyal followers, buy your products, follow your recommendations and so on. I’d rather have 1,000 die-hard fans than 10,000 casual followers.
No One Cares About You
When creating content makes sure it focuses on what you can provide to others.
Your potential followers don’t care about you, at least at first. They are there to get some information, find an answer to their questions or something else. And they are not going to filter through a bunch of self-promotional garbage to find it.
Of course you want to be a “real person” to them and not just some anonymous content creator. But that is what About pages and author bio boxes are for. If you can relate a personal experience to drive a point home, that is fine. But this isn’t social media: Nobody cares about the trivial ins and outs of your life.
Content is Not Sales Copy!
Never mistake content with sales copy. If you watch the news daily or visit your local mega-super-center discount store you might be left with the distinct impression that people aren’t all that bright. But people are smarter than you think, so give your potential customers some credit.
They will know when you are selling them something. Collectively, we’ve been trained to hear the pitch and know when the “but wait, there’s more” is coming. If you try and interlace your content marketing with sales copy, you’re going to fail at both.
Yes, sales copy is needed and it has its place and time. Make your customers like and trust you first and then they will be a lot more willing to listen to your sales pitch.
Content Creation in 5 Steps
Now that we know what content marketing is and it’s commandments, let’s break down how to create killer content.
Follow these five steps and you’ll be cranking out content like a pro in no time flat:
1. Start Planning
A solid content marketing campaign doesn’t just happen. You can’t create content willy nilly and throw it against a wall hoping it sticks. Well you actually can; just don’t expect any success to follow!
By strategically formulating a plan, you’ll be laying out a road map for your content marketing and be able to cut your losses on your failures while doubling down on your successes.
Here’s your planning blueprint:
- Find Your Niche: Chances are you have already decided on a niche that you’re looking to promote. If not, this is your first step. Make sure to do your research so you know you’re in a viable niche that isn’t too narrow or wide and one that has good monetization prospects.
- Develop Your Message: What is going to be your unique message or take on things in your niche? Your message should let people know the benefits that are in it for them. For example, Pat Flynn’s message on his Smart Passive Income blog and podcast is “It’s all about working hard now so later you don’t have to.” Even the name of his site spells out what he’s going to teach you.
- Research Your Audience: Before a single word is written, you need to know who you are going to be talking to. Research websites that are currently in the niche and see who makes up their audience. To do this:
- Go to Alexa.com and enter a competitor or related site
- If there is enough data, Alexa will estimate breakdowns for audience demographics (gender, education, geography), traffic and other sites those visitors liked.
- While it may not be exact numbers, it will give you enough actionable data to get inside the mind of your customers.
- Create a Persona: Now that you’re starting to understand your audience, create a profile of what your average visitor. This persona will be helpful when deciding what kind of content to create and what angles to take. List out what people like this hypothetical visitor would watch, listen to, wear, drive and so on. Try to get inside their mind. What issues are important to them? What problems do they have?
- Start Your Keyword Research: Take your persona and start brainstorming potential keywords they might search. Is your persona a parent? Does your niche revolve around dogs? Maybe a potential keyword would be “train dogs to like kids” or something along those lines.
- Set Objectives: List out both your broad objectives and specific goals. Broad goals might be to get more traffic from parents looking to train their dogs. Specific goals might be to get visitors to sign up for your newsletter or download your e-book.
- Types of Content: What format do you plan to deliver your content in? Make sure to marry this up with your audience. Do they like videos? Do they listen to podcasts? Are they more visual and dig cool photos?
- Tools: What kind of tools are you going to need to create this content? Do you currently have them? Are you good at using them?
2. Generate Ideas
Now that you have the basics mapped out, it’s time to start coming up with ideas about what to write, film or otherwise create..
If inspiration isn’t hitting you like a lightning bolt, don’t stress. Here’s a whole bunch of ways to figure out what topics you can create content on:
- Follow Trends: Keep up on what’s new in your space by setting up Google Alerts, checking Google Trends or using a content gathering tool like Feedly.
- Follow Thought Leaders: In every niche there are people who are leading the way and making waves. Find them and follow them. Don’t be afraid to follow leaders in other industries besides yours. Seeing what big dogs like Mark Cuban, Seth Godin, Richard Branson and others are doing or talking about will give you tons of ideas.
- Check Social Media: Tap into what people are sharing, reading and liking by keeping an eye on the social media platforms your audience enjoys the most. One awesome tool is Buzzsumo. It shows you the most shared stories for whatever keyword you type in.
- Use Keyword Research: If you didn’t get any ideas when doing your initial keyword research go back and look through it again. The stuff people search for is mind-boggling sometimes and can be the ticket to many great content ideas.
- Check Google Suggest: After you have your keyword research done, start typing them into the Google search box. Big G will start to suggest popular keyword variations that might not show up in standard keyword research.
- Brainstorm: It’s simple but effective. Sit down with your writing tool of choice and just start spitting out ideas. No editing, just write down whatever comes to you. Bonus points if you have a team to join in with you.
- Create Mind Maps: Once you have brainstormed, organize it all with a mind map. Often when you’re organizing your brainstorming session into mind maps, you’ll come across new ideas.
- Visit Forums: For virtually every topic out there, there is a forum. Find the applicable ones for your niche and join in. See what people are talking about, their concerns, their fears, their problems and what questions they are asking.
- Look at Q&A Sites: Websites like Yahoo Answers and Quora allow people to ask questions about every topic imaginable. Find those that apply to your website and see what people are asking about and need help with. They are most likely asking because they couldn’t find the answer in content elsewhere. Make that happen!
- Talk to People: It’s a radical idea, I know! But actually finding interested people and picking their brains will lead you to learn a lot about your niche and what content you should be creating. You can also learn at what frequency they like to have content produced and in what formats.
3. Create an Editorial Calendar
You have your plan and you have your ideas, so now it’s time to start creating, right? Wrong!
One of the keys to great content marketing is consistency. In order to achieve that, you’re going to need to have a solid editorial calendar in place.
Not only do you want to plan out when you want content published and promoted but also the time it will take to research, create and edit it. Give yourself more time than you think and start slow. You don’t want to make yourself hate your business because you have created unrealistic content creation schedules.
Any calendar tool will do just fine for this. If you’re sharing with a team, Google Calendar works perfectly.
4. Let There be Content!
You’ve eaten the raw eggs, chased the chicken and ran up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, Rocky. It’s time to step into the ring!
We’ve been methodical with our preparation for content creation, so there’s no reason to stop doing that now. Here’s the best way to attack content creation:
For the purpose of the upcoming sections, we’ll assume you’re creating written content. However, the ideas behind these steps hold true for all kinds of content creation:
Even if you are your niche’s Albert Einstein, you still need to do some research. You’re hopefully providing valuable information to people, so make sure it’s factual and correct. Check and double check your sources. If you get called out in the comments section, you can at least provide a valid argument.
Researching your content will also provide you chances to incorporate outside statistics, quotes and other information that will let your readers know you are a source worthy of trust.
Make an Outline
Map out the main points of your content and create an outline you can follow. There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a piece and totally forgetting where you were going with it.
Create a Rough Draft
Now it’s time to flesh out that outline and create your first working version of your piece.
While doing this, you are aiming just to get your thoughts in written form. Don’t stop too much to edit or second guess everything. That will come later. Personally, I don’t even fix misspelled words along the way unless I have mangled them so bad I can’t tell what they are supposed to be.
The goal is just to get into the flow of writing and cranking out content. Block outside distractions like email, your phone and anything else that might derail your work. Personally, I have found that it’s incredibly hard to write while trying to consume some other form of content like television. However, listening to music on a service like Pandora or Spotify that I don’t have to switch tracks a lot helps me block out the outside world.
You will also want to try creating content at different times during the day. Some people work best first thing in the morning. Others are night owls. Of course, you don’t always have the option to wait until the optimal time of the day, but bonus if you can.
Experiment and see what works the best for you.
Work hard to include strong hooks in your content. With part of the content, give your readers a strong reason to continue reading. Tease them, tempt them, blow their minds. Do anything you can to keep them around.
Incorporate Calls to Action
People need to be told what to do. It’s 100 percent obvious to you what you want them to do, but its not to your readers. If you want them read more posts, comment, sign up for something or anything else, tell them so.
Again, do this after you have provided value and they will be more likely to do it.
Focus on Headlines
Your headline is your first and sometimes only chance to grab the attention of readers. Make it compelling and attention grabbing. Don’t make it so over the top that your content can’t live up to it, but do your best to suck them in.
This is going to take a lot of practice. There are professional copywriters who just write headlines for a living! The best way to produce a killer headline is to crank out tons of bad ones. Write 20 to 40 headlines and within that ruckus you will find a gem or two.
Drop the Mic, Walk Away
You’ve reached the home stretch, but you’re not in the promised land yet.
After creating that rough draft, take a break. Get up and walk away for awhile. Some people take breaks in the minutes or hours. I like to let a rough draft marinate overnight. Often I’ve created something that I thought was on par with William Shakespeare only to read it the next day and think it’s not worthy to be toilet paper.
Honestly, the best way to edit a piece of content is to have someone else do it for you or with you. A new set of eyes work best.
If that is not possible, then try this. Read through the piece and correct any errors you find. Then, read it again but read it starting with the last sentence and going backwards. This will stop your mind from filling in the gaps that you created the first time around.
You’re a content creator now.
Like anything else you do, the first time is always the hardest. The next time you create something it will be easier and the time after that even easier.
Following this process will allow you to consistently produce high quality content that will provide the value to your customers and make them crave more from you.
How do you handle content creation? What are your best tips? Let us know in the comments!