What is content marketing and why should you care?
Content marketing is a slow but reliable way to grow an audience, build authority, and market to your customers.
By Ryan Carruthers
February 11, 2021
What is content marketing?
Content marketing answers the questions that your target audience has through blog posts, videos, podcasts, and other forms of educational content.
Content marketing is different from traditional marketing because it isn’t directly promoting your products or services. It’s more subtle. The most important thing for your audience is that they are getting their questions answered and being educated. For you and your business, the objective is to become a thought leader or authoritative resource for that audience over time. Simply, as you produce more content that answers your customer’s questions, they will look to your content first in the future. A percentage of that audience will become customers.
Achieving business growth through content marketing is a process that takes consistent effort but compounds over time.
“For you and your business, the objective is to become a thought leader or authoritative resource for that audience over time.“
Why is content marketing important?
When you invest in content marketing, it’s different from running paid ads on Facebook and Google. You won’t see the immediate payoff of clicks, impressions, and conversions. Instead, you’ll have to spend time and effort finding out the questions your audience has and creating blog posts, videos, podcasts, and many other forms of media that answer those questions.
In addition to finding out what your customers like, you’ll have to find out what search engines like. Google is the gatekeeper to getting your content in front of your customers. Whether it’s YouTube, a blog post, or a social media post, there are algorithms that govern how your content is distributed. And each platform’s algorithm is different. Understanding how hashtags and keywords affect your content is an excellent first step to reaching your audience online.
Brand loyalty and trust
The goal behind any marketing activity is ultimately sales. Content marketing is no different. But the sales process is more subtle because you have to provide your customer with so much value that they stop and consider purchasing from you.
They become customers because your helpfulness and knowledge win them over that you share freely. They begin to trust you and your brand.
Trust is hard-won but incredibly valuable.
Use it as sales collateral
Content marketing is different from direct sales because you don’t directly pitch your products or services. However, when you start looking for the questions that your target audience is asking online, the content you produce will answer many of them.
For that reason, if you have a sales team, or if it’s you pitching a customer, you can point them towards your content to help convert them.
Search engine benefits to your website (show up more when people are searching for what you sell)
Content marketing should first and foremost be about providing content that is helpful to your audience. If it isn’t, then why are you creating it? Putting out bad content that only wants to appease the algorithms to rank online will lead to clickbait. You will just add more noise. In 2019, over 4.4 million blog posts were published every day. We have plenty of content online. If you’re going to add to it, make it worthwhile.
That being said, you still have to balance your helpful content with the way search engines like Google judge your content. Suppose Google sees that you are using specific search terms (keywords) repeatedly in your article, and it is easy to read with descriptive headings then, overtime. In that case, your content will begin to show up closer to the top of the search results on Google (ranking).
When you start investing in content marketing, the goal is to balance optimizing your content for search engines and providing evergreen content for your audience.
Set yourself apart from your customers
What are your competitors doing online? Do they have large budgets to run lots of online ads? It can seem hard to compete when they are paying attention, and they have deep pockets. But here’s the thing. If you rely on paid advertising for growth, you’ll always be paying for results. It’s not defensible, and it stops as soon as you stop paying for space online.
Instead, if you create evergreen content that is helpful rather than pushy, your customers will trust you more than your competitors. Additionally, as your content begins to rank higher than your competitors in search results, you will secure consistent traffic from those searches. In contrast, your competitors will have to pay for that traffic indefinitely.
Types of content marketing
Blogging was the first form of publishing on the internet, along with online forums. Your primary form of content marketing will most likely be blogging if you want to create long-form content that answers your customer questions online.
Here are the different types of blog posts you could write that are great content marketing.
A how-to blog post is a walkthrough of how to do something. If you’re a food blogger, then publishing your recipes and how to make them is a how-to post. If you sell software or are a service-based business, then providing instructions on how to use a tool or do something is a great way to reach your audience.
A how-to post can also be a list post because you are most likely listing how to do something. A list-post is usually a breakdown of something into different pieces to make it easier to understand. Additionally, list posts are great to cover a broad topic in an easy to understand way.
An example of a list post is this blog post. I’m listing off the different types of content marketing to easily understand what your options are and make an informed decision of which is best for you and your business.
Comparison posts are great for giving your audience the differences, pros and cons, and features of competing products or services. Going back to the food blogger example, a blog post comparing chocolate to vanilla ice cream would be a blog post I’d make my girlfriend read. Obviously, vanilla is the supreme flavour because it pairs so well with other desert foods, but she would push back that chocolate is rich and sweet.
Ultimate guides are usually a long post that covers a topic broadly. If you have several blog posts about different areas of a topic, you can combine them into an ultimate guide. These posts are usually must longer than a regular blog post and will hopefully rank for many different keywords to rank highly.
Interviews are a great way to bring in experts and use their knowledge as content for your audience. Another form of content marketing is collaborating with others, and interviews are included here. Finding the people and businesses that aren’t your competitors but your audience respects are great people to bring into your content. You can leverage their influence to grow your own.
Case studies or success stories
Case studies or success stories are a more direct form of marketing. It can be an interview, but it’s a blog post that explains how your business has helped one of your customers. These are great opportunities to show that you know what you’re doing and show your experience.
Gated content is content that you provide in exchange for an email sign up or subscription. Some news outlet websites will let you read the introduction of an article to hook you but then ask you to subscribe to continue reading. Content like this has to be of high value and evergreen because you’re asking something in exchange for it. But once you have an email, you can use that to build an email newsletter and continue marketing to them.
According to Wikipedia, “a white paper is a report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body’s philosophy on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.”
If you’re an expert in a field, a white paper is a great way to engage your customers.
Ebooks are a step down from a white paper. They don’t have to be as formal as a white paper and less formal cover topics.
Right after blogging, video creation is the next most popular way to invest in content marketing for your business.
YouTube is the most popular platform to publish videos on. If you’re looking for a place to have all of your informative videos live as evergreen content, YouTube is your channel.
Many social media platforms are shifting to allow live videos. Thanks to the new remote-first world we live in, attending video conferences is the new normal. For businesses, a webinar is a great way to reach your audience with informative content. It’s a great way to become an authoritative resource in your industry and capture emails when they register.
Podcasts are a great way to reach your audience with helpful content and interviews. According to research conducted by Grand View Research, it “has seen tremendous growth in both production volume and consumption over the past decade.”
Podcasts are growing, and it’s a great way to become a thought leader in your industry. It’s also a great opportunity to connect with experts in your industry by interviewing them.
Email is a great way to have direct access to your customers. Instead of sending sporadic promotional emails, consider sending your email list valuable insight? Matt Lepinski, a UI/UX designer & web developer and freelance influencer, does a great job leveraging his email marketing. He doesn’t sell. He provides valuable insight and advice to freelancers by sharing tips, stories, and lessons he’s learned from his extensive experience.
Collaborations have been mentioned several times already, but it’s worth noting the importance of connecting with others in your industry. It takes a long time to build a reputation online.
Working with others to publish on their sites instead of just your own is a great way to expand your reach and connect with others in your audience. From an SEO perspective, it will strengthen your domain by having another link back to yours. A guest post is a great way to obtain a backlink.
In the same way that you can create content on your own channels, securing an interview on someone else’s channels will help you reach new audiences.
Social media content marketing
Social media is a great way to build an audience as well as reach new ones. Many platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn all allow sharing in different formats.
- Make carousel posts to explain topics in a visual way
- Publish snippets of your video content as vertical storey posts or posts
- Publish photos to enhance your brand
- Interact with your audience by asking them questions and responding to comments.
Paid promotion content marketing
In addition to social media marketing, using paid advertising to expand your content’s reach is a great way to get an initial bump in getting your content out there. If content marketing is the primary way you engage with potential customers, then a much smaller budget will be to grow than your competitors who rely solely on paid advertising.
Print content marketing
The original form of content marketing coming straight from the printing press. There are plenty of ways that print mail and printed content can successfully be done even though the world has moved digital. The Incite Magazine has many blogs and case studies on how brands are authentically connecting with their customer with physical print content.
Content marketing examples
Justin Champion from Hubspot's website Wild We Wander
If you’re a content marketing student, it’s likely that you’ve come across the HubSpot blog and learned from Justin Champion. The author of the Inbound Content book, Justin, teaches many students content marketing when they’re starting.
He’s also a digital nomad. Many people want to know how he did it. How he is able to live out of his truck 365 days of the year. He’s shared his knowledge by creating a guide on his website. The guide teaches people step-by-step how to make your vehicle your home without breaking the bank.
“He and his partner are digital nomads who have transformed their truck into a liveable van. They have put together a great guide on building a vehicle you can live in as a digital nomad.“
Acadium matches online business owners with aspiring digital marketers for three-month remote apprenticeships to help them launch or grow their careers. The apprenticeships offer accessible training for anyone to launch their careers with no prior experience. For businesses, Acadium is the best place to get work done and find talent at a low cost.
Their blog contains content geared towards answering the questions people have about starting a digital marketing career or learning digital marketing.
Content marketing for a business
What to focus on first (you can't do it all)
As a small business, or team of one, you can’t expect to execute all the types of content marketing listed above. Instead, start with one, master that over 3-6 months and then you will naturally branch into other areas as you continue to grow.
How to find topics for your content (who is your audience?)
If you already have an audience go to them to find topics. Conduct user interviews with them and ask them about what they want to learn about. Build a persona and produce content that would help them and they’d want to engage with.
If you’re a team of one, write for yourself. What do you want to learn about? Chances are you’re not the only one.
Content marketing is for the long run. You can’t write one blog or make one video and expect the world to come banging on your door. Alternatively, as you write and publish consistently, you will learn how to optimize your content that will rank. Unless you don’t learn, you will begin to improve.
Finally, focus on adding value. There is enough clickbait articles written by people who are just writing for Google algorithms. Google won’t buy your products; your audience will. Produce content for them. Focus on them, their needs, and serve them.
When you have done that, you can adjust your content to leverage the algorithms on Google and other search engines.
Content marketing is a slow but reliable way to grow an audience, build authority, and market to your customers. It takes more than just one blog post or video. You must be consistent to reap the benefits of content marketing. But if you define your audience, focus on one form of content marketing as you learn, and repurpose your content into other forms as you grow and learn, you will successfully grow your content marketing strategy.
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