As they develop their inbound marketing strategy, all businesses set out to create quality content that converts prospects into customers. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t always lead to positive results. Many companies start heading down the right track only to see their inbound marketing program stall. Whether it’s due to poor planning, lack of resources, difficulty producing enough of the right type of content, or being unable to effectively engage consumers with their content, it’s not uncommon for businesses to struggle with a broad range of content challenges.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Aside from time constraints, which is consistently cited as the top content challenge (69 percent), the vast majority of businesses report that their main challenges are creating enough content (55 percent) and developing content that engages (47 percent). When you add these to the challenge of producing content that can be found in the first place, it’s clear that we have some work to do to ensure our content efforts pay off.
Establish Content Goals
First of all, we need to set clear goals for our content and understand how each piece fits into the larger inbound marketing puzzle (which can be puzzling, to be sure). Although these goals will inevitably vary depending on our type of business, generally speaking we want our content to:
- Have a business purpose: Whether it’s giving away a white paper to acquire a prospect’s contact information or writing an article to demonstrate thought leadership on a particular topic, every piece of content needs to be focused on achieving a business goal.
- Elevate the brand: Ultimately, our content reflects our brand, so we want our target audience to have a positive impression of it. Quality content builds relationships with prospects. It increases brand awareness, promotes thought leadership, and gives prospects a reason to do business with us.
- Build trust and loyalty: Quality content does the heavy lifting of gaining prospects’ trust. Great content keeps them in the sales funnel by establishing our authority as a trusted industry resource. It makes prospects that are not ready to do business when they first come across our content (which is most of them) more likely to do business with us in the future.
- Generate qualified leads: Producing quality content that is geared towards the right prospects at the right time and in the right place sends qualified leads our way. Of course, it’s more difficult than that. But as we will see in the following sections, we can use many different—but connected—strategies to produce content that engages our target audience.
Create Engaging Content
The first rule of content creation is to understand that it’s far better to measure content in terms of quality rather than quantity. We hear it all the time, but the quality over quantity mantra is repeated over and over because its importance cannot be overemphasized. The businesses that consider producing enough content among their chief concerns should be more focused on creating enough stunning content.
Whether it’s in the form of a blog post, a video, an infographic, or any other type of content, it simply has to be good enough to cut through the clutter. Anyone who’s done a Google search lately knows there’s plenty of that. The difference between the content that gets lost in this clutter and the content that rises to the top of it involves its ability to 1) be found by the search engines, and 2) be useful to the consumers who find it. It’s an easy equation, but we have to overcome some difficult challenges to achieve both of these goals. To do that, we need a specific strategy to optimize our content and then make it easy and pleasurable for readers to interact with it.
1. How to optimize content for search
While human readers are obviously the audience for whom we are creating content, SEO is still very important to the success of our content. In fact, without a solid SEO strategy, our content won’t be findable and all of the time and money spent on creating it will have gone to waste.
Optimizing content begins with keyword research. This discovery process uncovers the best long-tail keyphrases we’ll strategically incorporate into the content we want to be found online. There are dozens of tools—both free and paid—to identify these ideal terms. Although there are many nuances to selecting keyphrases, the primary focus is to choose those that have a relatively high search volume compared to relatively low competition. This ensures that we not only use a keyphrase that our target audience searches frequently, but also one that isn’t being used by so many competitors that ranking well for it would be extremely difficult.
Let’s take a closer look at how we put this keyphrase to work in our content by using a thought leadership article about business growth as an example. We may find our ideal long-tail keyphrase to be “small business marketing tips.” This will be the primary keyphrase we’ll use in our article.
Now, it’s important to note that search engines have gotten much smarter in the past few years, which means that they do a better job of understanding content without relying on the frequent repetition of a specific keyphrase. This is good news, because we don’t have to worry about competitors with inferior content using questionable strategies to rank higher than us. Still, since we want to be found for this keyphrase, we need to use it strategically to signal to the search engines what this article is primarily about.
Again, while keeping the focus on the reader but also paying attention to optimization for organic search, we want to use our primary keyphrase in the:
- Headline: As the very first thing a content consumer sees, from a search perspective the headline is one of the most important parts of the article. As such, we want to use our primary keyphrase in a headline that stimulates a reader to want to click on it to learn more. In our example, our headline might be, “6 Small Business Marketing Tips to Grow Your Business.”
- Body of the article: Use the keyphrase as soon as possible in the first paragraph, and then include it naturally throughout the article. Never stuff keywords into the copy. In addition to giving the reader a negative experience (defeating the purpose of our thought leadership article), search engines will penalize it for being linkbait and not offering any value to information seekers.
- Anchor text: Include links that point to other relevant content that may be useful to the reader, such as related blog posts or even a product page on the site. If our core value is providing entrepreneurs with tools to grow their business, we may link our “small business marketing tips” keyphrase to a landing page where the user can download a white paper that goes into greater depth on the topic.
- Meta data: This is the content working behind the scenes and has a major impact on the findability of a piece of content. Although not visible on the page, meta data is the first thing we see when we encounter content in a search. In our example, the meta title would be the same as our article’s title. We would write a meta description that provides a brief synopsis of the article, and also tag any images with our keyphrase.
It’s an extensive process, to be sure, but every step is critical to give our content the best chance of being returned as relevant information when our target audience performs a search.
2. How to make content connect with consumers
First and foremost, we have to understand our consumers before we can begin creating content for them. We need to focus on their needs, their problems, and their interests, and provide educational content that shares valuable information that meets those needs and solves those problems.
Continuing with our example above, the last thing we want to do is turn our thought leadership article into a sales pitch. We want to deliver true value and give our audience information they can start using right away. We’ll give them those six marketing tips to help grow their small business—not six reasons they should hire us as a marketing consultant thinly veiled as helpful “tips.” An engaging article has the following elements:
- A thought-provoking headline: Although mentioned above, the importance of the headline bears repeating. It’s our first and, if we don’t get it right, last opportunity to hook our reader. There are many tried and true types of headline conventions, a few of the most popular being lists or rankings (“6 Small Business Marketing Tips to Grow Your Business”), how to’s/not to’s (“How to Grow Your Small Business With a Tiny Marketing Budget”), or asking a question (“Is Your Small Business Marketing Leading to Sales?”). Headlines need to deliver on their promise, not just be eye candy that misleads readers. This bait and switch tactic is a sure-fire way to instantly lose credibility and ensure that prospects never engage with our brand again.
- A point to make: We have to grab our readers’ attention quickly and keep them interested. That means doing whatever it takes to make the point of our article. Tell a story, be personal, be controversial, use emotion, make a claim and back it up with statistics. Above all, provide valuable information and keep the reader wanting more.
- An appealing presentation: The way our content is presented makes a huge impact as well—both from a visual and stylistic perspective. Break up text into easy-to-skim, bite-size chunks with subheads and bullets, and try to use shorter sentences and paragraphs. Using the appropriate style and voice for our audience is important as well. A conversational style is typically more engaging, but a more formal approach may be a better fit for some audiences. Avoid using industry jargon unless the content is geared towards industry insiders.
- A strong call-to-action: Every engaging piece of content tells readers what they should do next. Ask a question at the end of a blog post and encourage readers to comment. Point them to other content, such as an eBook or a product page where they can find more information. All great content should direct prospects and customers to more compelling content where they can continue to interact with our brand.
Leverage Content to Engage Prospects
Creating great content is essential, but it will only be effective if we can manage to engage our target audience with it. Not surprisingly, this process also starts with gaining a clear understanding of our prospects. Where do they spend their time online? How do they prefer to interact with content? When do they want to receive content? These are just a few of the many questions we need to ask to determine the best way to connect with them. We have many tools and techniques we can use to give our content the best chance of getting in front of our prospects:
- Identify social sites: In terms of popularity, the top social media platforms are undeniably LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, SlideShare, and Pinterest. Where does our audience hang out and engage with businesses? The first mistake many businesses make is to try to be active everywhere. While this may be possible for large companies, most small businesses simply don’t have the time and resources to do this well. It’s far better to choose one or two of these sites and get very involved in relevant communities within them. Start building relationships and focus on adding value with the content you share.
- Optimize updates: Use keyphrases when promoting content in social media posts to give it a better chance of being indexed by search engines. Google+ posts, in particular, benefit from keyword-rich shares.
- Use social sharing buttons: Wherever possible—especially on your blog—make it easy for readers to share content with their network of contacts. Add social sharing widgets for the major social media platforms, and include buttons for popular social bookmarking sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, and Delicious. Remember that your prospects want to share great content because they want to be adding value to their audience as well.
- Mix it up: Don’t be all business and don’t always be promoting your own content. Ask questions, start and participate in group conversations, and share both educational and entertaining content. We also want to mix it up when it comes to promoting our own content, since prospects start ignoring content that’s shared over and over within a short period of time. Marketing automation tools are very beneficial for scheduling different content to be posted at specific times every day. In fact, 85 percent of top performers report using marketing automation to simplify their engagement efforts with prospects.
- Respond to comments: Never underestimate the power of comments on blog posts. Getting a prospect to read an entire blog post is no small feat. If he’s taken the time to comment as well, we have a golden opportunity to start a dialogue.
The Bottom Line
Above all, be consistent. The more you engage with the right people on the right social media platforms, the more prospects you’ll attract to your content. If they like your content, those prospects can quickly become part of your sales funnel so you can continue to engage them with more of your valuable content. It really is that simple. Of course, ultimately, we gauge the success of content on conversions. But that’s a topic for another article.
Engaging content doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so measure its effectiveness with an analytics tool and adjust your strategy based on your findings. You will undoubtedly find that some content outperforms other content. Create more of the best of it and keep sharing it with your prospects wherever they spend their time online. Be persistent without being a pest, optimize content so it can be more easily found, and always focus on adding value in every interaction. If you do it right, your content will work for you and attract a steady stream of loyal customers. And that’s what inbound marketing is all about, isn’t it?