Five Essential Steps To Creating Content That Works For Your Business
Founder and Managing Director, SEO Sherpa
Most businesses are now aware of the need to create fresh, new content for their websites, perhaps in a bid to improve sales or customer service, or to raise brand awareness. However, not all of these businesses are aware of just how crucial it is to have a carefully considered and organized strategy in place for content creation. Before going ahead and spending good money and valuable time on content creation, there is a lot to consider: audience, reach, aims, timing, delivery, to name but a few. These five essential steps along with an all-important planning document available below, will ensure that each and every new piece of content has been carefully organized to ensure it reaches exactly the right people at the right time in order for you to maximize its efficiency and meet your goals.
1. Define Your Goal
Content marketing can have huge payoffs, but to make it work for your business you must invest time, and lots of it. If you want that time to be well invested, it's important that you start with the end goal in mind. Before you begin, get very clear on the goal for your content marketing efforts. With content marketing there are a number of possible business goals you can have:
Lead generation and nurturing
Depending on your scenario, each one of these goals could be a good fit for you. Perhaps you're trying to create a program that increases awareness? Maybe you are looking to improve your position in the search engine results, or simply drive more leads into the sales funnel? Get focused on the end result before you start and you'll stand a far better chance of building an asset that works for your business in the way that you want it to.
Get Subscribers, Get Customers
When someone opts in to receive email from you, they give you permission to market to them. Well-crafted permission based email marketing can allow you to develop one-to-one relationships en masse, like no other marketing channel can. Step one is to acquire subscribers, then over time through anticipated, personal and relevant emails, you can turn those subscribers into passionate buyers. Soon after launching in 2008, the Content Marketing Institute found that their email subscribers closed to customers three times faster than non-subscribers. Since then they have focused around the one goal of growing their email subscriber base. It now stands at over 90,000.
How to Get Subscribers
In order to build an email subscriber base, you will need to offer something of value on your website as a fair exchange for a new subscriber's email address. Few, if anyone, will give up their email to be added to a newsletter, but many will happily exchange their email to download a premium piece of content such as an e-book, a cheat sheet or an educational course on a topic that's relevant and interesting to them. To get more subscribers, offer more content like this. A simple cheat sheet or resource guide promoted in your website's sidebar and on pop-up forms will do well, but by far the best strategy I've found for growing an email list is the content upgrade.
Recently I've noticed a few of my savvy marketing friends adding bonus content to their blog posts. Brian Dean who wrote a great blog post called Google's 200 Ranking Factors had added a free Ranking Factors Checklist as a bonus to his post. I also saw that LeadPages.net were giving away free bonuses with all of their blog posts. Not a generic bonus but a specific bonus with each piece of content- something that would help the reader get even more out of the post and take their learning to the next level.
I followed suit and implemented the same strategy on my own website starting with my podcast episodes. Instantly I went from adding just a few email subscribers to more than 80 per episode. I now create content upgrades for every piece of content I post to my blog, and if you are serious about building an email list then you should too.
2. Define Your Audience Persona
If your content marketing is to be a success then you must plan your content to fill the wants and needs of your audience, not your own. This is an important point. Business owners and marketers all too often bend their content to their own thinking. If you do the same, your content marketing will fail. Before you begin your content marketing program, get very clear on who you are talking to with your content by developing audience personas. Most businesses will have at least one audience persona, but others will have several.
For example, a nursery school will have all these audience personas: children, parents, teachers and local authorities. Content for each of these personas would be very different. You can develop your audience personas by asking a few key questions of your audience:
1. Who is he or she? 2. What information does this person need? 3. What does this person care about?
Don't assume the answers, instead interview your audience. Take time with this process but don't shoot for perfection, you just need to be detailed enough to guide your content creators.
3. Create A Content Segmentation Grid
In the past we would advertise our businesses by blasting our message in the general direction of our audience persona. The theory went that if you blasted loud enough and long enough, eventually you would reach some of your audience. While advertising does still work, there is much waste, because naturally for most it will not be the right time, the right place and the right message. To ensure you deliver the right content at the right time you need to study your customer's buying process and your own sales process. Consider what content your customer needs when they first come to know of you versus the final stages of a negotiation. At each stage of their buying process (and your sales process) different types of content will be required to help move them to the next stage.
If you are a small business-to-business (B2B) company you may have a simple sales cycle something like this:
People who have contacted you or with whom you've been in contact.
People you have identified as being in the market for your solution.
Qualified as having a need and the budget for your solution.
Considering your solution as one of finalists.
You are chosen.
Define your own sales cycle, and then using a content segmentation grid, map your content to the ap- propriate stage. Why is a content segmentation grid important? It stops you falling in to the "spray-and-pray" trap. Instead of creating content and throwing it out anywhere at any time, the content segmentation grid helps you plan and deliver relevant messaging (that moves people towards your desired action) by ensuring the right content is received by your audience at the right time.
I should note that whilst the grid is drawn in a linear fashion, don't force your audience through every step if they are ready and willing to move faster. If someone contacts you qualified and ready to do business with you, give them your case studies and product information, don't send them your white papers designed for awareness and education. Some will drive slowly through your content cycle, some will drive at break-neck speed. Ensure you have a slow lane and a fast lane set up for both.
4. Ensure All Your Content Has A Call-To-Action
Effective content that works for your business will always give opportunity for your audience to respond. Whether that be sharing your content via social media, downloading your content upgrade, buying your product or service or any other action you want someone to take. If the body of your content has served its purpose it will have engaged, educated, inspired and built trust with your audience. That trust can be repaid to you in kind, such as a share or comment on your blog, or in business with the purchase of your product or service. Always tell your audience what they should do next. Keep them moving through your content segmentation grid.
Here are a few tips to consider that will help you craft calls-to-action that elicit a better response:
Micro-commitments Early in the buying cycle use small micro calls- to-action such as "share this post on social media." New engagers are more likely to make a micro commitment and it makes them more inclined to make a larger commitment later.
Ask questions End your content with a question. It will encourage your readers to post a comment (a micro-commitment).
Clarity Make your calls-to-action very clear. Use simple language and display your main call-to-action in a stand out color.
Reduce friction Use the minimum number of form fields possible for sign up forms. Make it frictionless for your audience to take the next step.
You can see how I apply these rules myself within the call-to-action I've included further on.
5. Build an Editorial Calendar
If I have to name just one thing that will be responsible for making or breaking your content marketing, it is the editorial calendar. For your efforts to be successful you need to approach content marketing less like a marketer and more like a publisher. Instead of short-term tactical content campaigns you need a long-term strategy consistently delivered over time. I have been using content marketing in my business since the beginning, and whilst I have had many successes during that time, by far my best results have come recently. When I compare my Google Analytics statistics from October 2013to October 2014, every measurable metric is up: traffic, time-on-site, bounce rate and conversions, they are all improved. While I made many small improvements to my content marketing approach over the course of 12 months, the one big change I made was consistency.
Consistency Doesn't Mean More
In the past I published no less than I do now, in fact give or take I probably posted more then, however the frequency at which I published was inconsistent. I now stick to a strict calendar; my podcast is released every Tuesday, my marketing cartoons every Friday, and it's a schedule my audience have come to expect and look forward to. Consider this, could Entrepreneur magazine have built such a large audience and subscriber base if it published every once in a while as opposed to every month? Highly unlikely. You need to apply the same consistency to your publishing schedule, and the editorial calendar is the tool to help you do that.
What Exactly Is an Editorial Calendar?
The editorial calendar is much more than just a calendar with content assigned to dates. A good calendar maps content production to audience personas (see point 2), the content segmentation grid (see point 3) and the various media channels you are using. Beyond dates and titles for your content, your editorial calendar should also include the following:
An inventory of content. Could include content ideas, content from third parties or old content you will repackage.
Who is responsible for creating and publishing the content?
A list of channels where the content will published, such as your blog, Slide Share, e-book etc.
When the content will be created, edited and published-setting deadlines.
Set up your calendar in a way that works best for you. I prefer to use a simple spreadsheet which you can create with one tab for each month or all on one sheet. Across the columns you might have:
– Headline – Content type – Audience persona – Person creating the content – Date due – Editor – Channels – Publish date – Status (I like to color code this red, amber, green) – Notes – Call-to-action
Whilst you can use software as a service offerings like Kapost, HubSpot, Contently and others to manage your editorial calendar, the best tool when you are starting out is a spreadsheet. I have our editorial calendar loaded to a Google Drive spreadsheet where all my team can access it online. It's a simple set up and very effective.
Using these five essential steps will ensure that your content is efficient, that it will be well-timed, and honed to the audience that will make the greatest difference in meeting your goals. Once you put this simple process in place, you'll ensure the same results from every new piece of content. Your content really will work wonders for your business! Has your content creation thus far achieved the goals that it set out to? What difference do you hope to make by using these steps?