15 indispensable content marketing tips
Some people may hate the term, but there's no doubt that content marketing has caught on big time.
As many people point out, there isn't anything especially new in the concept of using content to attract customers, but what's new is that content marketing roles are being created, and teams are being restructured.
Content is becoming more tactical as a result.
Here's a selection of 15 of the best content marketing tips...
Define your target audience before you start to produce content
Think about audiences rather than customers. The aim is to produce content that is compelling, but also aligned to your brand.
Take a look at your best customers, and your most engaged visitors, and try to figure out what kind of content attracts these people.
What kind of content transforms a visitor into a customer?
Create a style guide
We can argue about the intricacies of grammar, but what's important is consistency, and this is where a style guide comes in.
At Econsultancy, we have a style guide that we give to staff writers and outside contributors, to ensure that there is a consistent approach to the presentation and formatting of articles across the site.
For example, all uses of words such as 'synergy' and 'leverage' are banned.
The list of banned words and phrases in @Econsultancy's style guide is excellent and should be widely followed.
Learn to reuse and repurpose content
We principally create articles, but you should also think about how your content can be adapted and reused to fit other formats.
Using this post, we could create an infographic, a slide presentation, a video, a webinar, or perhaps a series of tweets.
Last year's Periodic Table of Content Marketing is one such example.
Originally used as a post, it turned out to be very popular, so we have since made this into posters and more.
Aim for evergreen content
We use the term evergreen content a lot, as this is the kind of content we aim to produce most of the time.
While news and news-related content has a distinct shelf life, articles containing useful tips and advice can continue to perform well over a longer period of time.
For example, looking at these blog stats for the last 30 days or so, all except the top post were published six months or more ago.
Looking for the gaps on Google is something the content marketer should do to identify valuable search positions that you do not currently own, and steer the content producers in the right direction.
Consider the volume of searches for a particular term. Take a look at the competition, to try to figure out the scale of the challenge, and the type of content you should produce.
Make the most of the tools available
There are some useful content marketing tools out there which take some of the hard work out of content generation and aid the brainstorming process.
For example, we have used Google's Keyword Planner to identify a list of valuable terms and phrases to target in the SERPs.
Having identified these terms, our content team then brainstormed article ideas to target these terms. This king of planning exercise ensures that the content we create does as much work for us as possible.
Learn from others
There are some great examples of content marketing around, so read widely and learn from them.
The Felix Baumgartner / Red Bull parachute jump is a famous and oft-quoted example, but even boring brands can produce some excellent content marketing.
Aim for quality
There's a lot of content out there, and lots of competition so yours needs to be good to stand out.
Doug Kessler put this point very well in his CRAP slideshow last year (itself a very fine piece of content marketing), and I'm not going to try to improve on that.
This is the only way to stand out.
There's lot of samey content and thinly veiled reblogging out there, so coming up with with your own ideas is the best way to differentiate yourself from the rest.
The way to do this is to use your own voice and your own opinions, rather than regurgitating press releases and white papers.
I receive lots of press releases, and you can see how many sites do short rewrites of these and package them as news. This content only works at volume, and has no longlasting value.
Over time, the best content for us is that which is original and cannot be found elsewhere.
Of course, this won't be the only content marketing tips article on the web but these are tips written from experience, not cobbled together from other sources.
Don't rely on news
There's nothing wrong with reporting on news but it's not a strategy that works for us, and it's unlikely to work for most content marketers.
It's not that we don't talk about news, but we have to go further than merely reporting facts and explain why this news is significant for our audience and what they should do about it.
Create readable content
Even if they have been enticed to your post by the title and subject matter, readers can still be deterred if an article is badly formatted.
Huge swathes of text with large paragraphs, little formatting, and no images would be enough to make most readers bail out.
Instead, you need to break up blocks of text with headings and sub-headings, use short paragraphs, highlight key points and stats, and use images and charts, both to illustrate the points you are making, but also to make the article easier to read.
Look at sites like Smashing Magazine. It produces long and detailed posts but, thanks to excellent presentation (and great writing) they never feel a chore to read.
Think about SEO
When planning and creating content, you need to think about how you can use SEO to gain more traffic, but also how said content can improve your search positions.
As mentioned before, we look to identify gaps, but also to optimise for the terms that bring in the traffic.
You can identify these terms in Google Analytics, though this is becoming ever more difficult thanks to (not provided). Site search reports are one useful alternative.
It’s not about quantity
It's very important to keep the articles coming to give people a reason to keep checking your blog, and to give Google some fresh content to crawl, but this shouldn't be at the expense of quality.
Look at your resources and adapt accordingly. If you have a small team, I'd argue it's always better to product smaller amounts of quality content rather than trying to keep the number of articles at a certain level.
Don't be afraid of long form content
The popularity of the expression TL;DR suggests that the online reader is impatient and doesn't have time to read longer articles.
While many may be, there is still an appetite for longer posts. Indeed, some of our most successful evergreen posts fit into this category.
The Quartz Curve is a useful way of thinking about this. The theory goes that people want either short form content which can be digested quickly, or they want to dive into the detail and take some time.
The bit in-between (500 to 800 words) doesn't work as is too long to read quickly and too short for depth.
Measure and learn
I use Google Analytics a lot in my role. We're not obsessed my numbers to the extent that it dominates all else, but I firmly believe in making sure content performs as well as it possibly can.
We use a range of standard and custom GA reports and dashboards to analyse data and view the performance of the blog.
We also use tools like PI Datametrics to track search rankings over time which helps us to target and optimise for important keywords.
We also use tools like Buzzsumo to analyse the performance of our posts on different social channels. We use plenty of other tools too.
Bonus tip...optimise older content
This is something we've done a little here and there, but a recent Hubspot article has convinced me to try this more, and this article is part of it.
The idea is to refresh older content which still performs reasonably well to benefit from Google's preference for fresh content. It should also attract new social shares and inbound links.
At the moment, this post (originally published in June 2014) is at the bottom of page one on Google for 'content marketing tips', though it has been higher in the past.
So, I have updated several points in the article, updated links and references, added new charts and then republished it. (The republishing bit is something I have reservations about, but I'm all for experimentation).
Will this tactic lift it back up? Will it bring in more links and shares? I'll report back later...