I have been working as an online marketer for 15 years. During this time, I have seen many trends and innovations come and go, some of which turned out to be nothing more than entertaining hype topics. One insight has remained, however: The majority of Internet users are getting tired of noisy and insubstantial advertising messages.
Convincing content, on the other hand, has a significant lifespan, and is ultimately the key to successful marketing. But convincing content can only be created if you have a good roadmap and the right strategy. So I would like to share with you the things I have learned over the course of my career, and help you to build your own, successful strategy for long-lived and convincing content.
The days when you were able to push your position in the search results with a 300-word website and a keyword density of 2 to 3% are long gone. Inferior quality is no longer convincing search engines, which means that people are unlikely to read it. In fact, it is highly likely that keyword stuffing, i.e. the unnatural enrichment of content with certain keywords, will have a negative effect on your website. Because Google now punishes this attempt to manipulate, your motto should always be: Focus on group-oriented and authentic content that fits your business and your niche, ensuring an appeal to both your readers and the search engines.
But first, let’s start with the basics…
What exactly is a content marketing strategy? And do you really need one?
Ahoy – high-quality content on board! If you create content for your website, you will surely have certain goals. To arouse interest in your services by providing a reader with valuable and easily understandable information, perhaps. Or maybe it’s also about establishing a brand or strengthening your image. But ultimately, you always want to create a specific user action, so you need a well thought-out strategy. And the basis for this is good content. In this context, we often talk about ‘content marketing strategy’ and ‘content strategy’ as they go hand-in-hand and are not always used in a selective manner. But are these similar approaches with the same purpose, or do we have to differentiate more precisely?
Let’s first take a look at the definition of content marketing: In contrast to conventional product advertising, the focus here is on the user. After all, it’s all about the user. As a potential buyer, they constantly move through the Internet, comparing interesting offers and demanding convincing content. In this context, content has a clear function: It should inform, advise, entertain and build trust. It is therefore important that your content conveys knowledge and covers exactly the topics that the reader is concerned with when it comes to your company, your products or your services. Your content should therefore not only convey knowledge, but also solve the problems of your potential customer and provide answers to possible questions in advance. Only in this way can you attract the user in a targeted way.
When creating content, the term “holistic” is often used. It is important to solve potential problems by considering them holistically (as a whole), and to provide the user with utterly relevant information. The uniqueness of the content is also essential. In order that you do not get lost in the flood of content provided on the net, the challenge is to produce interesting content that does not yet exist online.
What makes a good strategy?
There is no success without a strategy. And without relevant content, there is no customer satisfaction, no visibility in search engines, no traffic and therefore no generation of leads.
A professional strategy can be compared to a well-thought-out shipping route. When planning your route, the focus is always on the port as your destination. Your journey, however, takes into account how you reach port, with which boat, on what fuel, with what cargo, via which sea route. In content marketing strategy terms, this determines your budget parameters, the content you use, which customers you want, and which publication channel is best suited to achieve your content marketing goals. If you don’t have a strategy, you can’t do much more than react to current developments, many of which are short-lived trends. You might also be addressing the wrong users and not even be able to measure what you have achieved. In short: Your route would fail and you would sail to America instead of docking in the port of India.
When considered as a whole, content marketing strategy records the content planning for certain target and demand groups and creates the framework conditions for certain structures. It therefore deals with everything you do on your journey to successful content – including distribution and success analysis. Your content marketing strategy always precedes the content strategy – the planning of the content itself – and should answer the following questions:
If you can answer these questions, you have already defined your content marketing strategy.
Content strategy, however, is about the detailed planning of your content as part of your overall marketing strategy. This involves the calculated implementation of strategy, as well as the creation of specific content formats and identifying the desired theme.
This content strategy will be responsible for the success of your content marketing, and therefore deals with these questions:
Which problems, questions and needs do your potential customers have? What content do you have to provide to them, and how, in order to best satisfy their needs?
To stick with the image of seafaring: The captain deals with the planning and use of the right ship so that the cargo arrives safely where it should.
Understanding user intention: Your key to content marketing success
Your strategy is always closely linked to the following questions: Where do potential customers go online and where do they look for advice? When does which user need what information? What customer contact points are there with your brand on the (often very complex) Customer Journey? How can you identify (and potentially solve) the user’s problems?
One thing is certain: You want to create an outstanding customer experience and provide the user with useful information along the entire (purchase) process so that their journey ultimately leads to a purchase decision. To do this, you have to put yourself in your user’s shoes and consider how they will perceive your services before, during and after the purchase; which communication channels they use and which customer contact points are offered by the individual departments; and which players have a direct influence on customer satisfaction. This requires content that solves every possible user problem from the point of initial interest, through each individual stage of their journey, before ultimately leading to a purchase decision.
In order to identify these points of contact and choose the appropriate response, you obviously need to know who your prospects and customers are. User intention is therefore the primary driver for you and your strategy.
Remember that your strategy is all about the (potential) customer, so a target group analysis should always come first. Because in order to deploy target-oriented actions on the appropriate communication channels, you have to know who your potential customers are and what problems and needs they have. An established way to better understand your customers is the Buyer/Content Persona approach. Based on a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer, you create buyer and content personas that will guide all steps in the implementation of your content strategy. Representing your target group with their specific needs, these personas will provide you with the answers to the following questions: What influences the buying decisions of your customers and with what content can they be reached?
Offer a colourful range of content
For purchases and decisions of all kinds, people – including some digital natives – scour the Internet in search of groundbreaking information. That’s why a successful Internet presence with convincing Web content, in combination with trust-inspiring positive evaluations and comments in other networks, is enormously important.
In order to cover all facets of the information cycle and accommodate informational needs, you should aim to collect your (potential) customers through different content formats along the predicted customer journey. Currently, the most popular content formats include classic articles such as blog posts and press reports, newsletters, infographics, e-books, white papers, case studies and multimedia content such as webinars, image videos and explanatory films.
List of content formats
|Resources||Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)||Polls|
|Pinboards||“Behind the Scenes” Contributions||Press Releases|
|Lists||User Generated Content (UGC)||Online Games|
|Case Studies||Vlogs||Email Newsletters|
Why a content marketing strategy is so important
By defining your content marketing strategy and some comprehensive planning, you will be able to deal with your content strategy and ensure that all measures contribute to your goals. Frankly, the only way to determine if your measures have served their purpose and whether the investment has been worthwhile is if you plan your moves carefully in advance. This transparency gives you security and also protects you from short-term, unnecessary activities. But you need to have a little patience! Often the desired results do not appear immediately but need some time before they show up. It is not uncommon for full content marketing success to take many months, sometimes years, before it becomes solid. Always keep in mind the speed and position of ranking, your competitive situation, as well as the information processes and purchase decision cycles of your customers.
What content does my strategy work with?
A good way to plan your content is to look at past efforts and see if they helped you to reach your goals. Another approach is to look for content gaps. Read on for a brief guide and some handy tips on how to quickly achieve your desired result.
After you’ve looked at possible formats, take a closer look at content that’s already been published. List the full contents of your website and try to sort it by topic. You can then analyse what has worked well and what hasn’t. There will inevitably be potential for optimisation, but it is important that you are clear in advance about the goals and scope of your analysis, and that you define precise evaluation criteria that will serve as a yardstick for the assessment. This is the only way you will be able to classify and evaluate your findings – and the only way to determine if a piece of content has been so successful that you should use it as the basis for further planning.
Among other things, you could identify these goals for your content:
Such a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the existing content is always useful when your site is in a state of upheaval – be it through a relaunch, new product availability or a reorientation of your brand. It also helps if you are as yet unaware of your SEO performance, suffer deteriorating rankings, or simply notice that your content does not appear in the search results. At first, this sounds like a boring task that requires too much time and effort. However, a content audit provides you with valuable data for your strategic orientation. On the one hand, you can revise your content by updating or deleting anything that is no longer relevant. On the other, you can also combine individual topics to create an up-to-date holistic content piece. So check your past publications against your goals, then use these findings for future planning.
Find your unicorns!
We join Larry Kim, the founder of the world’s largest PPC marketing software, WordStream, in recommending the following: Go in search of real “Unicorns” in your content landscape. This landscape, on most sites, will consist of a large amount of useless or non-relevant content, interspersed by the occasional article which generates the desired reaction from users and achieves a good position in search results.
By using Web Analytics, Search Console, Mention, Google Trends, Google Alerts, Talkwalker Alerts, the Google Search Console, your social media statistics – either from individual networks or at a glance through tools like Hootsuite and Falcon – you can identify your personal content unicorns.
This well-performing content is then worth promoting more. You can also use it as a template for new content and themes. Furthermore, you can use gap analysis to find out which trend topics are interesting for your users that you have not yet covered, and the answer to why you are not yet ranked for some topics.
For each phase of your buying cycle, you should critically question whether your user is provided with all the information they need to make their buying decisions. So try to think your way into your customer’s mindset and consider what questions they have that are, as yet, unanswered.
The following tools support this search for topics:
Good topic research in combination with a detailed keyword and competition analysis forms the basis for your content. But you can only incorporate this into your planning if you know what your customers are looking for and – ideally – how your competition is positioned. Your topic plan – we’ll come to this later – can also show you unrecognised potential, letting you see at a glance which topics you haven’t covered yet.
Strengthen your image as an expert!
Just as a curator collects and compiles suitable exhibits, you too can collate relevant items to attract an audience. For you, this will be articles on a specific topic in order to offer users orientation in the online flood. This approach is called Content Curation and can help you to be viewed as a pioneer in your field. If the reader perceives you as an expert, this strengthens their trust in your product, your company, your services or offerings, and forms the basis for effective content marketing.
To achieve top quality and consolidate your expert image, it is best to check your existing content portfolio at regular intervals, always with a view to key figures such as page visitors or conversions.
Nothing comes for free: Why SEO and content cost money
Good results take time. They also need reach and rankings to facilitate conversions and, ultimately, more sales. If your first attempts already bear fruit, you can negotiate more budget on the basis of these successes. Above all, however, content marketing is a long-term investment and you should treat it as such. If a page makes it to a top position, it may generate multiple new customers for you over the years.
But this requires resources – both in terms of time and money. It is interesting to note that successful companies are increasingly investing in content creation and are spending more money there over other areas such as content distribution, AKA content seeding. Basically, budgets in online marketing are growing exponentially – especially in terms of actual content. And according to the German Marketing Association, two thirds of companies want to expand their future content marketing activities even further. It’s therefore worthwhile to apportion funds for both search engine optimisation and the creation of high-quality and relevant content. Because what is absolutely certain is that content is still king. With that in mind, aim for “regal” in creation to give you the best chance possible with potential customers and search machines. After all, online, no content works without SEO and SEO does not work without content.
In a best case scenario, you’ll deliver exactly the content that your target group lacks, even if they are unaware – as yet – of its absence.
Keywords are key
Without a sophisticated keyword search, you’ll struggle. I know I told you at the beginning that search engines are clever these days; they know whether content is reader-friendly and can screen the quality of a page very accurately – without focussing on individual keywords.
But an initial keyword search is still enormously important to understand your users and their search queries. It gives you vital data about their informational and action needs, as well as an idea of reach potentials, and will form the basis of your content creation.
With this in mind, I highly recommend that you follow these basic SEO tips:
Check the performance of your site by using the following SEO tools:
Use experts in writing
Good SEO content will give you a broader range and higher visibility – and of course have a positive effect on your reputation on the net. Creating content that is also lively, gets to the heart of the matter, grabs the reader’s attention, and emotionally engages them is an art in itself. Many companies lack either the appropriate expertise and/or the necessary time. In addition, online marketing professionals should not have to be writing experts in order to succeed. Instead, if you bring experienced copywriters on board, you can easily solve the expertise/time conundrum and confidently look forward to a positive SEO performance.
Good planning is half the battle: Your editorial plan
Good content planning leads to an effective editorial plan. This editorial plan will define what content is to be published in which time period, thereby offering a visual structure to your content planning. It not only helps you to keep track of important events and identify specific times for certain posts, but is also a huge motivational aid to help stay on the ball and consistently pursue your content strategy.
Serve readers regularly by meeting deadlines
Your content marketing should be handled in the same way that magazines and print publications do it: For them – and you – the editorial plan is an indispensable tool for everyone involved in content creation.
Long-term planning helps you to deliver a structured and effective result – even when it comes to resource and budget allocation for authors. So, who creates which contribution and when? This is regulated by your editorial plan. It also helps you to always stay in flow, allowing new topics and ideas to appear from the planned tasks.
In order to prepare your content in the best possible way, you ask yourself the same question as when developing your strategy: Who do I want to address? You should never lose sight of which target group you are creating your content for.
An efficient editorial plan will always contain the following points:
In addition, a clear and detailed editorial plan can be a great help when it comes to monitoring the progress of your campaign, assessing the potential for improvement, and evaluating the success of your overall strategy. Your plan should also have room for spontaneity. After all, you want to be able to react to new trends and topics, as well as market changes and legislative adaptations.
Content creation: How do I generate more leads and customers?
The following situation will be all-too familiar: After enduring hours of effort, you finish writing your article but – to your horror – it’s less a lightening bolt and more a damp squib. Very few readers are interested or inspired. All I can say is: Invest in your content. You’ll never reach your goal without good content as it is the sails of your ship, driven by the engine of your editorial plan.
With long-term editorial planning, you can enjoy continuous positive results over an extended period. If you invest in the short term, you may see new customers and boost lead and revenue generation for a short while, but it won’t be sustainable. Instead, look to the future and create content of the highest quantity in different formats so you can accompany your user in every step of their journey!
Whether you choose to free up resources and hire internal writing talent, commission an agency, or find the right freelancer – for example via an online text exchange – is up to you.
Whatever you do, if you are active on an international level, you should consider providing information to users in their mother tongue and localising the content accordingly. But only content created by native speakers and professional translators can guarantee effectiveness. Remember: You can signal to the search engines that your site is multilingual and that the content in the respective languages is not duplicated by using the hreflang tag.
Content and graphics go hand in hand
Every message and every complex idea can best be conveyed with a strong combination of text and image. Visual deserts, on the other hand, deter. So it’s no coincidence that infographics are becoming more and more popular as they provide information descriptively. Text and image enrich each other: If you add strong visual elements to your content, you are guaranteed to achieve greater reach and attention. After all, it is well known that content that includes graphics is shared twice as often in social media channels as stand-alone texts.
With your online presence in mind, this means that in well-functioning websites, attention-grabbing texts go hand in hand with an equally attention-grabbing design.
Give your blog articles personality and colour
It is easy to provide your articles with meaningful pictures. Not every company can rely on an in-house designer or photographer, however. Fortunately, the net has some tools for design and some databases offer image search with free download. Some examples include:
Content seeding: Clever placement with your target group
Before you can really reap the rewards, the seeds of your content must first be sown because your company can only gain attention and trust if the content reaches your target group. Share content links on your social networks so you don’t have to wait for users to find their way to your site. Instead, the social media posts will help you with seeding. Often, your publication will need a boost so that Google can properly index and rank your site, so use all of your existing channels to promote newly created content. As this needs to be done strategically, always allow enough time for the seeding as well as the initial content creation.
To promote your content, you can use the following:
In addition, it is particularly efficient if you not only use your own channels, but also bring influential multipliers on board. These influencers – such as well-known bloggers or online marketers – in turn use their platforms and networks to disseminate your content. The aim is to find multipliers who are happy to share your content for the information or entertainment of their users, who will succeed in highlighting the benefits of your offerings and signal competence.
Spamming should be avoided in this context, so you should refrain from exclusively using paid seeding. A balanced relationship between Owned Media (own channels) and Paid Media (paid advertising) is ideal. Ultimately, the quality of the content is what counts.
Content monitoring and assessment: The cycle starts all over again
Your content strategy is considered successful when it engages your users by dealing with topics in a unique and novel way.
Ideally, when searching for a solution to their problem, the user lands on your site via the search engine. Your content leads them to conversion, binds them to your brand, and then perhaps prompts them to become a fan and leave a good review.
So have you finally reached your destination? Not quite!
First, you should check if your efforts have really paid off: Have you reached your goals? Has the content been received positively by your users? You need to assess the individual formats and channels, always keeping your goals and key figures in mind!
Have you been able to find any weaknesses? If so, consider every single step of your strategy and think about where it’s heading and why. Use proven analysis tools like Google Analytics or the Google Search Console as, no matter how well your content performs and how satisfied you are with the output of your current content strategy, it’s a cycle. New optimisation potentials will open up again and again, leading to new learning processes.
My conclusion for you
This guide will hopefully serve as a useful blueprint, because you need a good strategy to be able to create a well-functioning timetable that will help you to achieve your long-term content marketing goals. And there’s one thing you should keep in mind when you check your Google ranking: SEO takes time. So don’t be disheartened if it takes a few months before you see your first SEO success.
Nevertheless, you should always remember: It’s the excellence of content that counts. This is what will appeal to potential customers and search engines alike. If you don’t have the writing talent or time, look for a suitable author for your business and start your journey today.