Content and SEO are equally as important… But which do you start with? We asked 60+ experts to share the strategy they prioritize—and why.
Content Marketing | Jun 25
Elise Dopson on January 8, 2019 (last modified on June 24, 2020) • 18 minute read
In his book 10x Marketing Formula, Garrett Moon says most editorial calendars turn into gym memberships. What once started with determination and excitement turns into the thing you neglect. Things just get in the way, right?
They don’t have to.
A report by Content Marketing Institute discovered that the two biggest benefits of a well-documented content marketing strategy are:
But if you’re not in on the action and are publishing content by the seat of your pants, you’re not the only one.
The same report found that just 39% of B2B marketers have a documented content strategy.
So, how do you start a content marketing strategy from scratch–and actually hit the gas pedal on a strategy that brings in targeted website visitors, while also being realistic with the resources you have available?
We asked 40 top marketers exactly that. Here’s what they said.
*Editor’s note: Whether you’re already a prolific blogger or just now building the foundation, track the success of your efforts in real-time with the free Blog Quality Metrics template.
There’s not much point in investing in content marketing if it doesn’t impact your company-wide goals.
But Brandon Anderson of Ceralytics says you shouldn’t shrug off the word ‘awareness’ when asked why you’re investing in content marketing:
“Seriously, which specific business goals are you trying to accomplish? Drive revenue? Decrease churn? Build a top-level sales pipeline? Once you know what your goal is, how will you measure its success?
If your goal is awareness, how will you measure successful awareness? Is it social shares? Site traffic? Brand recognition? Identify what those metrics are and specifically what your goals are for your objectives, i.e., increase leads 10% YoY.”
Anderson explains that unless you define these two things and avoid vanity metrics, you’ll be flying blind: “You may be able to get low-cost eyeballs to your content, but will those eyeballs translate to business results? Without identifying why you’re doing content in the first place, audiences don’t mean a whole lot. And chasing vanity metrics can result in spending a lot of money to get very little value (ever bought Facebook Likes?).”
“Don’t be like other content creators in your niche”, says R.J. Weiss of The Ways to Wealth. “Realize you and your company’s strengths and weaknesses. Then, create a content strategy around your strengths that does the best job in your industry of helping people solve their problems.”
The way you think about your content marketing strategy has a huge impact on your success.
Daniel Daines from Ampmycontent recommends marketers “think of your content like the conversations you have with customers. Your goal should be to create content that meets those same conversations.”
Don’t go into your content marketing strategy praying to instantly create content your target customer craves without any prior research.
“It’s really easy to create content that gets a lot of social traction or organic traffic, but if the content is just not right for these people (for example because they don’t have that specific problem just yet), then that’s worthless traffic”, says BOOM Marketing Agency’s CEO David Balogh.
Steve James says you need to do the legwork to uncover their preferences, first: “Start with research on what people are searching for in your prospect community, rather than what you offer as benefits and services.”
Best Company‘s Chad Zollinger puts that into practice: “Record (in writing or on audio/video) your conversations with customers. Discover their pain points and expectations. Remember that your audience is more important than everything else–even more important than the type of content you choose to create.”
Remember how earlier we discussed how focusing on vanity metrics is likely to result in a content marketing strategy that fails to drive business growth?
Chances are, your business goals will be related to revenue–hence why the content you’re creating needs to be written for your top customers in mind, as explained by Foti Panagio of Growth Mentor: “Focus on solving specific problems for small clusters of people, this will build your brand’s traction.”
Determine those problems by creating buyer personas.
Roman from LyntonWeb says you’ll need to “identify at least one piece of content you can create for each persona. An IT Director might be interested in the switching costs that would be incurred in moving to your product or service. While an IT Manager might be more interested in how quickly they can ramp up in the use of your software, for example. Pain points, baby. Address them.”
Any guesswork at your buyer persona creation could increase the chances of missing a key trait your ideal customers share.
“Do research and completely understand them before taking any other steps”, recommends How To Make My Blog‘s Marko Saric. “Where are they spending time online? What questions do they have? What issues do they want to solve?”.
He says the answers to these smart questions will “assure that the content you create actually answers questions real people have and this will help you start building an audience.”
Don’t be stuck in limbo, debating whether the content you’re going to invest huge amounts of time in is actually worth it.
If you don’t create content around topics your audience (and target customers) want, you’ll stand a tough chance at meeting those goals we defined earlier.
“If you don’t know where to start, start with the most frequently asked questions you get and start writing about those. Or what do you wish prospects would ask you”, explains Content Bacon‘s Wendy Lieber.
Dan Reed of Square 2 seconds that: “Figure out what keeps your customers up a night. Then write detailed blog posts that help them overcome their problems. Explore the topics you’re writing about in detail. Basically, create content the length of a long-form guide or a pillar page, but publish it through your blog. It will save you time and money.”
“Your customer service and sales teams are also great assets for content ideas. Ask them what type of content will support their goals”, says Kaylee Pope of Prime Publishing LLC. “What pain points can you blog about? What solutions can you offer?”.
“When we develop marketing strategies for our retirement community clients, our inbound marketing experts dig deep into the data to see what content is likely to truly engage their audiences”, says Chantelle Stevenson of Clear Pivot.
“In other words, we get to the heart of what makes them click, read, and ultimately take action.”
Examples of free data you can reference include:
Chantelle explains how this research prevents her agency from creating content that doesn’t perform well: “Oftentimes, our retirement community clients are surprised by the insights we share. What you think your prospective residents need to hear may be completely different from what truly resonates with them.”
Blogging has long been hailed as the holy grail channel in content marketing.
Almost half of the marketers we asked would name it as their top priority were they starting a content marketing strategy from scratch in 2019.
But with so many channels for you to explore, it can be tough to resist the temptation of including multiple in your strategy.
Jackie Kossoff advises against this: “Focusing on one or two channels that you can do really well is going to yield better results than trying to create content in different kinds of media right from the beginning.”
The secret to excellent content marketing is finding out which type of content your audience wants through the feedback stages we discussed earlier.
That doesn’t mean blogging should form 100% of your strategy.
In 2019, marketers are planning to invest more resources into long-form guides, email, and podcasts:
And Matthew Boyle of Adventii Media recommends exploring video content: “Though high-production videos can be costly, even leveraging live video and short-form video from a smartphone can be smart and valuable.”
But regardless of which channel you’re testing, he says “consumers and potential clients are drawn more to valuable content than ‘beautiful looking’ content.”
Brandon Schroth from Gillware Data Recovery says: “Establishing a voice in your industry is important for anyone who wants to continue to grow and expand.”
Mavens & Moguls‘ Paige Arnof-Fenn agrees because she thinks “there is more confidence in trusted content, friends and influencers than advertising today.”
Establishing yourself as a go-to figure in your industry is built through sharing opinions thought leadership.
Paige explains some activities that could form part of your thought leadership plans: “Activities like speaking at a conference, writing articles, building your following on social media all contribute increasing your awareness with potential customers and building your credibility with a larger community.”
Did you know that the average person spends just 37 seconds reading a piece of online content? It’s disheartening, but Syed Irfan Ajmal from GigWorker explains how you can increase the likelihood of your content being consumed by keeping it interesting.
“Use charts, bar graphs, numbers, quotations (in nice banners), animated GIFs, cool formatting to keep the reader engaged rather than getting distracted.”
The topic ideas you’ve listed are likely to cover one overarching topic.
“Understand all aspects of one main keyword”, says Jay Kang from Referral Rock. “What questions are being asked, what related terms, topics, phrases are being used? How’s the article written by competitors? What’s being discussed? Having an overview of what’s out there and then formulate what and how many articles you would need to produce 1,500-3,000 word article that can cover all bases.”
Now you understand your competition, you’ll have a good understanding of what you’ll need to do to beat it.
Jennifer Lux of Lynton Web advises marketers, “don’t be afraid to take risks and try something different rather than just repackage the information that already exists on the internet.”
Once you’ve done the legwork and convinced someone to read through your entire content, don’t let them exit without completing an action. This should be something related to your business goals, as summed-up by Tyler Pigott of Lone Fir Creative: “Think through how you can move them down the funnel.”
Pigott says: “The biggest piece of advice I can give once you’ve started writing is to make sure you have calls to action in your copy. Once they’ve read this piece of content, what’s the logical next step? This will help to inform you of what the best call to action is.”
Over 70,000 searches are made through Google every second. That’s good news for marketers–but the even better news? Leads that come from organic search have significantly higher close rates than outbound leads (14.6% versus 1.7%).
It goes without saying that you’ll want a slice of the action.
SmallPDF‘s Hung Nguyen says you should “start with competitive keyword analysis of your top 3-4 competitors, and see which keywords they are currently ranking for that you are not” when planning your SEO takeover.
Nguyen recommends SEMrush’s Keyword Gap tool, and explains how a combined SEO and content marketing strategy could help you hit the coveted featured snippet box: “Ranking in number 1, with a featured snippet, will guarantee at least 50% of the search traffic to your platform. Through practice, you’ll learn how to create content that ranks highly, drives CTR and retain traffic.”
Ready to hit publish on your new website? Double-check the location of your blog isn’t going to cause any SEO problems.
“Depending on your overall domain’s SEO, the location of your blog can have a lot of impact on its success”, says Alan Santillan from G2 Crowd. “Whether it is located on a subdomain or a subfolder can have different impacts on each web page’s ability to be crawled by search engines and overall SEO.”
You likely already know that keywords are vital to SEO. Understanding the search terms people are using, and targeting them in your own content, helps your website to rank when your target customers are browsing.
But which type of keywords should you start with?
Relentless Pursuit of Perfection Ltd‘s Jason Lavis recommends “you clump together similar low volume, low competition phrases and create content including them”.
He also explains how targeting low-hanging fruit (keyword-wise) can be beneficial: “Due to so many related words and phrases, the monthly search volume of your top keywords often bears no relation to the overall page potential. A page with a top keyword search volume of 100, can get more views overall, than a 1000 search word, if there are fewer variations that get searched. Hardly anyone else will target these terms.”
Google’s top priority is to show the highest quality results for any search query–hence why you’ll need to focus on the quality of content you’re creating, rather than quantity.
Don’t be a slave to a jam-packed editorial calendar if you’re not publishing your best stuff.
No Exam‘s John Holloway explains how this impacts your SEO: “Work on building topical authority. Build out each category of your site with tons of relevant content. Interlink related articles and form hubs or related content. This will increase relevance and increase search traffic.”
On a page-level, Amanda Edens from Yokel Local Marketing reiterates this: “We know that click-through rate, time on site, and page authority matter for ranking. What does that translate into? Working on creating a headline that people will click on, creating content that they’ll read and engage with (embed videos, infographics, and more on the page to keep them around longer!), and continue promoting and doing outreach long after the content is produced.”
If you’ve poured time, effort and cash into creating a piece of content, you don’t want it to rot in your blog’s archive–only viewed once every few weeks. That strategy will never get results.
This is why you need to be smart with promoting and driving relevant eyeballs to your website.
Social media is a fantastic way to do that, especially with the number of social media users set to soar to 2.77 billion in 2019.
“Don’t be spammy, but social is arguably one of the easiest and fastest ways to grow your top of funnel”, says Catherine Giese from Fundera. “You can then continue to bring potential customers through the funnel by directing them to content on your site.”
But Steve Yanor of Sky Alphabet Social Media thinks you should be strategic with which platforms you’re using: “From an organic (non-paid) standpoint, not all social networks are created equally. You’ll want to avoid Facebook and Instagram because unless you’re paying for an audience they won’t show your content. For organic audience growth, Twitter and LinkedIn represent your best bet. Twitter remains the hands-on winner for agencies and brands looking to grow a fanbase without paying for it while LinkedIn’s ‘groups’ feature is a good way to fast-track content that is suitable for all platforms.”
The usage of online communities is set to soar this year.
Facebook Groups, forums, and Q&A-style sites house communities for likeminded people to discuss a specific topic. But some marketers have jumped onto the shift towards niche communities for content promotion.
“Reach out to admins of Facebook groups in your niche, and ask them if you can share that piece of content in the groups”, says Daniel Lynch from Empathy First Media. “If you message 100 groups and only 1 allows you share the content, then that may be all you need to start driving referral traffic to your website and create even more social media shares to that piece of content, as well as organic SEO rankings.”
So, which online communities should you be using?
Growth Hackers‘ Jonathan Aufray recommends heading to those with minimal competition: “A great way to gain traction with content is by sharing it to places underused by your competitors. Are your competitors on Instagram but not Pinterest? Maybe you should try both. Have you tried a platform like Mix? Have you tried answering questions in your industry on Quora? Those are ideas you could try and where the competition might be less fierce.”
The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.
That’s why David Hoos of The Good recommends you play the waiting game: “Start with the communities and channels your audience are already active on and see what types of content they are sharing, liking, and commenting on.”
Then, “interact with your followers and other companies to get your name out there”, says Content Bacon‘s Sarah Doyle. “Without spending money on paid promotions, actively participating in conversations will get your brand in front of more people.”
These experts recommend harnessing that power in your content marketing strategy.
“Do pre-outreach to find influencers or other content creators who can give you a quote for the article”, says Sophie from And CO by Fiverr. “Include them in it and ask them to help you promote it when it’s live.”
But before you send outreach emails to huge names in your industry, work on your credibility first.
Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media Solutions explains: “There are only two shortcuts in content marketing:
But to make either of these work, you need credibility with those editors and influencers. This starts with a credible website with a few very strong pieces of content. As soon as you pitch, these people are going to look you up. And what they find needs to sparkle with quality. Put a lot of work into a small set of high value, visual, detailed pieces on your site first.”
Failing to secure enough time on content marketing activities was the leading factor contributing to B2B marketers’ decreased success, according to a 2017 report by Content Marketing Insitute.
These three marketers share how to manage your time effectively.
“Content can be reused for things like email marketing and sales outreach”, says ONEFIRE‘s Adam Bockler. “Plus, content can be repurposed for many different formats, such as podcasting and long-form guides.”
So, how can you make one piece of content multiply?
Casey Bowden, of Design Extensions, says: “For example, if you have a video of your company performing a service or maybe you have a client testimonial, take that video and post it on multiple social media channels, turn it into a blog and post on social media, add it to your newsletter, schedule future posts about it, etc.”
Jeremy Ellens says their company, LeadQuizzes, grew revenue from search by $122k and increased search by 959% in one year using three steps:
“One of the hardest if not the hardest thing about content marketing is that you need to stay consistent because it’s the only way to remain relevant”, says Nate Masterson of Maple Holistics. “Additionally, not producing content on a regular basis makes you look unprofessional.”
GuidedChoice‘s Tracy Julien agrees: “Post often and be dependable, but don’t sacrifice quality for quantity.”
Riley Panko of Clutch seconds that sentiment. She says: “My advice would be – don’t cut corners. Starting to build a content strategy from zero seems like an overwhelming task. You may be tempted to put out low-quality content or slack on the strategy to do the most in the smallest amount of time. This won’t serve you well in the long-term, though.
Panko summarizes: “Creating a well-rounded content strategy is a thought-intensive, time-consuming task – but it rewards your business well.”
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