As we’ve closed out the year, it’s time to reflect on lessons learned from 2020. With Covid accelerating digital transformation for every business, from the work from home to the rapid shift to online everything, we can investigate this year from a marketing standpoint and begin our strategic planning.
2021 will be the year of earned media. More than ever, customers are taking a long, fragmented journey that involves many touchpoints.
To improve your content ROI, here are five things to consider.
1. Know your audience
When most content marketers think about their audience, they assume they have a huge total addressable audience. While this can be true, succeeding in content marketing requires you to narrow your focus.
When I look back on our experience running content campaigns for clients, I can assure you that they believe everyone is a potential customer. While this might feel good, you end up creating content that is overly broad and provides little value to your audience. Instead of diving into your content marketing strategy based on a generalized audience, try to put yourself in the shoes of your end-user. Not only as it relates to your product or service, but what is their typical daily routine. Consider how the product might help them save time or improve their routine.
How can you help them achieve their goals beyond the specific features/benefits of the product? Thinking about your end user, their goals, aspirations, and how you can help them beyond completing a task. Knowing your audience and the challenges they face, on a high-level, can help you craft content that resonates and inspires action.
2. Focus on Solving Problems
Creating great content involves solving specific problems. Customers seek answers when they have a need; as a content marketer, your goal is to anticipate that need and clearly and succinctly answer that need. Instead of writing about overly broad subjects and topics, focus on a particular problem.
For example, instead of writing about “how to do SEO,” focus on a specific aspect of SEO. Once you identify a specific area, go deeper. For example, you could start with this sequence – How to do SEO -> How to SEO your WordPress Site -> Best SEO plugins for WordPress.
As you can see, we started with a broad theme, narrowed it down to a specific topic, and then narrowed down even further to a particular actionable solution for a specific problem. By focusing on solving specific problems, you will increase the chances of your content being discovered and ultimately solving a specific customer problem.
3. Themes and Topic Clusters
A high-performing content strategy must be diversified – in themes, topics, and voice. While I could write about technical SEO all day long, I understand that my audience can only consume so much information about caching, compression, and rel=canonical tags. To drive better content ROI, it’s important to expand your range of topics. The easiest way to do this is to create several themes. For example, if one of my themes is SEO, I can break that down into several topics – page load Speed, on-site optimization, off-site optimization, link building, etc. While the theme is singular, it presents an opportunity to create topic clusters. When you have a strong top-level theme, several topic clusters, you can go further and continue to build more content under each topic cluster. An example of this is SEO as the theme, on-site optimization as a topic, and cross-linking as a sub-topic. When you approach content marketing in this way, you are building a strategy that builds subject expertise and ultimately drives organic rankings and traffic growth.
4. Improve your Process
The biggest challenge implementing a content marketing strategy is a wildly inefficient process. It typically goes like this: “We need to start using content marketing to drive more inbound leads.” Then we look around the table and decide who will take on this new initiative. Usually, someone who already has too much work on their plate, cannot dedicate the time required, and implements a half-baked content strategy that fails. Mapping the content marketing workflow from the start will help ensure deadlines are hit, and goals are achieved. The content creation process involves three key steps – research and out line, write and revise, polish and optimize.
First, create a pre-production process that includes audience research (building personas), keyword research (use google trends and google instant answers), breaking down your content into three parts – intro paragraph, supporting paragraphs, and conclusion. For now, leave your title until the end. Now that you’ve done the research and created the outline, It’s time to write and revise.
Now that you have your outline, your first step is to write the leading sentence for each paragraph. This will guide your writing for the first draft. Start by writing with ease and flow. Don’t worry about the specifics, organization, or grammar at this point. You can fix that when you do your revisions. It usually takes me 90 minutes to write 1000 words using this process. After you’ve written the first draft, take a small break for 10 minutes. When you return, you will start the revision process. Read through each paragraph and start trimming the fat. Remember, you want your content to be easy for the readers, while providing value. The revision process typically takes me about 30-45 minutes.
Finally, you are going to polish and optimize. Start this step by reviewing your title and introduction paragraph. These two elements are critical. The title is what captures attention and gets the user to click and view your content. The introduction paragraph is what keeps the reader engaged and consuming your content. Your title should be catchy, speak directly to the issue/problem you are solving and not be overly complicated.
The intro paragraph should summarize what they are about to read and what outcome/benefit they should expect. Your analytics will tell you If you nailed these two elements. You will see a low bounce rate and higher time-on-page. Those are the key metrics that should guide your engagement measurement.
5. Promote your Content
Now that you’ve created your content masterpiece, it’s time to improve focus on visibility. While the long-term goal of content marketing is to be discovered in search engines, when you are just getting started, it won’t happen. As a general rule of thumb, it takes 6-8 weeks for content to start generating organic traffic. And that’s assuming your blog/website already has a high level of site/page authority.
After you’ve posted your content on your blog, the next thing you will do is create social media posts to promote your blog post. Don’t make the mistake of creating great content, publishing it to your blog, and hoping it will immediately generate organic traffic. It rarely happens. You are investing time creating great content, don’t stop 10 yards from the goal line.
After you publish your content to your blog, you are going to follow a promotion cadence. Here’s what we recommend.
Choose your social media channels; in our case, we choose Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Next, head over to Canva and create custom images for each social channel that are the right size and contain relevant imagery. Now create two custom images for each social channel. Each image will have a different layout – including where and how you place the title of your content. You are going to A/B test which design/layout drives higher click-thru rates.
After you’ve created two images for each channel (six total), you will load up your post cadence in your social media publishing tool.
Your post cadence will be as follows. During the first week, you post two times to each social media channel.
For example, if you publish your blog post on Monday, you will schedule one post on each social channel for Tuesday and Thursday. In the first week, you will promote your blog post six times (2x Twitter, 2x Facebook, and 2x LinkedIn). Schedule each post on a different day and different time: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Most people stop here. But social media moves fast. Continue a modified cadence for the next 3 weeks. You invested a lot of time and effort into this excellent blog post, so we are not going let age yet.
After your first-week cadence, you will move to once per week promotion. During weeks 2-4, choose the highest performing post image from your A/B test and schedule additional social media posts to continue the promotion. Week two you will post to each channel on Monday, week 3 post to each channel on Wednesday, and finally, on week four, post on Friday. This promotional cadence ensures you maximized content visibility. With the right social media publishing tool, this entire process can be automated by spending one hour to setup and schedule your promotion.
Content marketing is not going anywhere; it’s more important than it’s ever been. Gone are the days of when you could simply write a few blog posts and watch the traffic (and sales) climb. As more and more companies adopt content marketing, it’s never been more critical for your content marketing process to be run like an operational schematic. Know your audience, work hard to become a topic/subject expert and produce consistent, valuable content.
You don’t have to be the best writer, you just need to start. As we move into 2021, take time to think about your audience and how you can help them. Start brainstorming topics and themes you know are essential. Review your content creation process and look for ways to improve. And last but not least, when you invest time and effort into crafting the perfect blog post, make sure you follow through with promotion. Your audience is waiting.
Featured image from Content Vectors by Vecteezy