Every CEO or marketing team I speak to understands the need for a content marketing strategy but always has a lot of confusion with how to go about it. As they say, “failure to plan is planning to fail” – Ben Franklin.
Having a strategy in place means that you have a roadmap to success, are not wasting time, money, or resources on marketing that does not work, and from an SEO perspective, are not simply “writing for the sake of writing.”
I wanted to develop this content marketing strategy guide that focuses on traffic, leads, and brand awareness because these are often the goals of the CEOs and marketing teams we are talking to and because, ultimately, that is what content marketing is for.
Daniel Lofaso, Digital Elevator CEO
For all intents and purposes, this guide will focus on blog content marketing, as this is the strategy that tends to be the money-maker for most content marketing initiatives. This is not to say other forms of content marketing are not as necessary; it’s just to say that other types of content marketing — videos, white papers, podcasts, etc. — deserve comprehensive guides of their own.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The ROI of Content Marketing
- Content Marketing Buyer Personas and Understanding Your Reader
- Why Content Marketing Strategy is All About the Competition
- Content Marketing Best Practices
- Badass Content Marketing Examples
Why Develop a Content Marketing Strategy? Answering the ROI Question
Let’s face it. You have a lot of marketing options to invest in. But why am I telling you that content marketing could quite possibly be the best?
Content marketing is often the marketing channel that provides the lowest cost per acquisition
The TLDR version, based on my experience, is that it is often the channel that provides the lowest cost per acquisition. More bang. Less buck. While your dirty mind is thinking about some sort of innuendo there, let’s back up my claim with some legitimate content marketing stats.
Content Marketing ROI Stats
- Annual growth in unique site traffic is 7.8x higher for content marketing leaders than followers (19.7% vs. 2.5%). Aberdeen
- Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing yet generates 3 times as many leads as traditional marketing. Demand Metric
- Companies who adopt content marketing have conversion rates that are 6 times higher than those that don’t. Aberdeen
- Marketers who say they blog boast an 82% positive ROI. HubSpot
What’s the good news in all of this? The same Aberdeen reference above also cites that 56% (the majority of content marketers) don’t have a content marketing strategy. They don’t know who they are writing for, what to write about, or how the hell content marketing works.
But you will… if you read on.
Content Marketing Buyer Personas and Understanding Your Reader
Perhaps the biggest train wreck we run into with companies that want to begin content marketing is their lack of understanding of who their customer is and why they should care about their product or service.
From a content marketing perspective, it is fundamental to understand who you are writing for and what the takeaways need to be. This is the point of buyer personas, but they do have their flaws.
The issue with buyer personas is that you can pay big bucks to research firms like Gartner or Forrester to define them or use quick and easy tools like HubSpot’s Make My Persona tool. The problem with the former is that the price is out of reach for even some of the biggest organizations.
On the other hand, free buyer persona tools are fantastic for companies who need something to start with. Still, the way they are presented usually only creates more confusion about how the hell to use the information in a meaningful way.
For example, good ol’ “Marketing Mary” and the traditional basic takeaways regarding her age, college education, and publications she reads doesn’t really tell you how to write to her, now does it?
Instead of trying to write for demographic data points, dissect what stage in the decision-making process your persona is in and craft accordingly.
For example, I personally like to steal some reader types from the Emyth book and chunk personas into the following categories:
As it relates to content marketing strategy, these personas are also aligned with the various stages of the buying cycle. While a more advanced definition would isolate five stages in the buying cycle, let’s keep things simple with three buying cycles and align directly with our buyer persona:
- Top of the funnel: Top of the funnel content is often used as brand awareness content and covers high search volume content. Top of the funnel content is great for driving a lot of traffic, but it rarely, if ever, converts traffic to leads (initially).
- Top of funnel content example: how to write a blog (authored by a company that sells blog software).
- Buyer persona example: A technician who has been tasked with blogging for her company.
- Middle of the funnel: Middle of the funnel is steeped in low to moderate search volume topics and provides feedback to something that your company offers a specific solution for, yet without directly pushing sales content down the reader’s throat.
- Middle of funnel content example: how to automate email marketing with white paper leads (authored by a company that offers email marketing automation software).
- Buyer persona example: The manager of a small business who needs to find a software solution to his very specific marketing channel of white papers.
- Bottom of the funnel: Bottom of the funnel content is generally very low search volume but very high intent. It converts the best out of all three content types.
- Bottom of funnel content example: a case study for a technology company (authored by a company that provides a service for technology companies).
- Buyer persona example: The Entrepreneur who was looking for specific solutions on how to grow their company may search for case studies of other companies in similar verticals as they are in the decision-making process of hiring an outside vendor, for example.
As you may have drawn from the above explanations, there are pros and cons to each of the segments of the sales funnel. These have to do with the ability to drive traffic and brand awareness (top of the funnel), help convince during buying decisions (middle of the funnel), and ultimately decide on a partner (bottom of funnel).
- Understand that decision-makers have different searches and desires in your content marketing funnel
- Combine content types that serve all levels of the funnel to reach prospects at all stages
Ok, so now you know why it is important to invest in content marketing, the importance of using buyer personas to create content for your reader, and how to mix up your content to appeal to various stages of the sales cycle.
Now it’s time to hone in on what topics you should or shouldn’t cover and why.
Why Content Marketing Strategy is All About the Competition
At Digital Elevator, we spend a lot of time doing SEO competitive analyses for our clients. An SEO competitive analysis reveals, in part, the types of content marketing strategies that your competitors are leveraging to be successful, what their weaknesses are, and how you can create a roadmap of your own to crush them.
There are a lot of factors we look into when doing a competitive analysis, but as it concerns content marketing, this is what you need to know:
- Who your competitors are from an SEO and content marketing perspective
- How to identify keyword gaps
- How to find competitors’ top pages (and beat them at their own game)
- Knowing which topics not to go after
Who your competitors are from an SEO and content marketing perspective
The best way to understand what I mean when I say “understand competitors from an SEO and content marketing perspective” is best served up with an example.
For the site, Fitness Mentors, a quick software search reveals that there are several other sites that are the primary organic competitors (SEMRush: Competitive domains are displayed depending on competition level, which is based on the number of keywords of each domain, and the number of the domains’ common keywords).
With this information, I can now go into each of these competitors’ sites, reverse engineer their best-performing content, and strategize ways for my client to outperform them. This strategy is, and should always be fundamental in any sound content marketing strategy.
However, the competitive analysis should not end there. We also need to understand the most important keywords to our client and perform a competitive analysis on the search engine rankings page (SERPs) to determine if these competitors are different from what was revealed on a domain-level basis.
For example, the Fitness Mentors site has a top blog targeting “best personal training certification” that reveals different competitors from what the initial software analysis revealed:
Here, I can see that just below our client is a People also ask SERP result as well as some other sites that don’t compete with Fitness Mentors on a product or service level (as in the Main Organic Competitors result), but on a keyword level.
Now this is a simplified example of a content marketing competitive analysis, but reveals some key takeaways:
- It is essential to know who offers similar products or services — and how and why they rank.
- It is also important to know competitors who may fall outside what you may define as a direct competitor as they may be potentially taking market share due to their rankings above you.
How to identify keyword gaps
A Content Gap analysis is important to a content marketing strategy because it reveals keywords your competitors rank for, but you don’t.
Content Gaps can be performed on a domain-level or on a URL level, meaning you can evaluate competitors’ content as a whole or segment one of their blogs against yours (on the same topic).
For example, this Content Gap on a domain level (using Ahrefs) reveals 1,159 keywords
that www.fitnessmentors.com/ doesn’t rank for. With this insight, I can choose to reverse engineer the content pieces and add them to the content calendar, strategically formulating a plan to go after their best-performing content.
How to find competitors’ top pages (and beat them at their own game)
SEO software also allows us to reverse engineer our competitors’ best content, the estimated traffic, and other important metrics that help determine if we want to beef up our content on similar topics or create rival content.
In this example, I can see one of Fitness Mentors’ biggest competitors’ best-performing content, see the keywords they rank for, how much traffic they get, and then determine if that same content makes sense for our client’s site.
Knowing which topics not to go after (keyword difficulty)
You may be thinking, “Great, I’ll just go after the 20 best pages on my competitors’ sites, and I’ll dominate market share.” While this sounds good in theory, the reality is not all keywords are as easy to rank for as others.
Let’s take a look at Fitness Mentors’ competitor NASM, and their 4th most popular resource, a Calorie Calculator, as an example:
Aside from the contextual irrelevancy this particular topic has to Fitness Mentors, lies the challenge of actually competing for this resource and the primary keyword “calorie deficit calculator.” Let’s assume for this exercise, we were interested in competing.
The metric called “KD,” or Keyword Difficulty, is a scale of 0-100 that establishes how difficult it would be to rank for this keyword (with 100 being the most difficult). The KD of this keyword is a 59, meaning it is really competitive. In fact, Ahrefs estimates that you’d need 123 links to rank for this keyword.
Without getting into the ins and outs of link building and algorithm factors, the primary takeaway here is the following:
- Knowing what content that you can compete for easily is important to your overall content marketing strategy.
- Knowing that content is really difficult to rank for, and why, will help you determine if you want to dedicate the resources to going after that type of content and keywords.
Content Marketing Best Practices
Ok, let’s say you now have buy-in and want to get started on content marketing. You should know some content marketing best practices to ensure you are moving things in the right direction.
Have Realistic Time Expectations
If you think content marketing will be a quick win, you may want to consider other marketing strategies. To provide some context, Ahrefs did a study to determine how long it takes to rank a page. Needless to say, their results were startling:
Only 22% of pages that rank in the top 10 of the search results were less than a year old.
Content marketing takes time. If you are going to commit to this strategy, make sure your team understands it is a long-term play, not a quick win. That said, you should set up some metrics to measure your success.
Establish Some OKRs
OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, is a goal-setting strategy for defining and tracking your efforts and their outcomes. For your content marketing efforts, some examples of OKRs could be the following:
- Improve inbound lead generation by 10% in one year.
- Allocate 10% of marketing spend to content marketing efforts
- Increase organic website traffic by 50%
Content Production is Only Half of the Strategy
We know that the following needs to happen to create effective content marketing strategies:
- We understand who our readers are and why they want our products or services
- We understand that competitors are the biggest hindrance between us ranking and driving traffic and leads
- We understand that we have to be strategic about what we write so that it works to accomplish our business goals of brand awareness, lead generation, and ultimately, sales
With all this knowledge (which, by the way, takes a lot of effort to extrapolate), you may think you have all your bases covered. If you write it they will come, right?
Unfortunately, there is a whole other element to content marketing outside the content itself, and that is promotion. The main drivers of helping get eyeballs on your content are the following:
- Email marketing: One of the most effective ways to get instant eyeballs on your content is to share it with your existing email network.
- Social media: Like email marketing, social media is a way to push out content to your existing network. However, many social media sites make organic content discovery very difficult, meaning you’ll likely have to pay to promote your content if you want to get a meaningful amount of eyeballs on it. In fact, a recent study revealed that the median engagement rate of Facebook posts across all industries was less than 1%.
- Link building: Most SEOS agree that links are one of the most highly correlated aspects of ranking. I personally agree, and lean on studies that strongly support the claim that Google leans heavily on link building as a ranking factor. Bottom line: you need a link building strategy in place alongside your content marketing strategy.
Understand Resource Allocation
There are several ways to approach content marketing, including an in-house team, an outsourced team, or a combination of the two.
An in-house team is likely to be the most familiar with a company, its products or services, the ideal customer, and the company’s voice. On the flip side, they tend to be the least savvy in data-driven content marketing.
Outsourced teams provide an extremely high level of expertise, having the software, tools, and human resources at their disposal to roll out tried and tested content marketing strategies. On the downside, they lack that total familiarity with a company because they are on the outside.
A hybrid strategy combining in-house marketing teams and outsourced vendors may provide the best solution for content marketing. You get the complete buy-in from internal employees who work wholeheartedly with outsourced partners to ensure company goals are met.
There are cost considerations here too. Employees often cost 120% of their salaries when you include benefits and taxes. In this post-pandemic era where companies want to be more nimble with their expenditures and their ability to hire/fire, contractors are often a sound choice. Many agencies are cheaper than a salaried employee with the added benefit of several experts working on a campaign versus one employee.
Badass Content Marketing Examples
Here are some great examples of content marketing from some of our favorite technology companies. Note that some highlight entire content strategies while other examples hone in on one particular content type.
Ahrefs, an SEO software that I have alluded to several times above and use daily, is one of the best content marketing examples of a tech company. Using no outside funding whatsoever, they managed to grow to over $40m in ARR, in part because of their badass content marketing.
- Ahrefs does no paid spending on Google Ads
- They don’t attend conferences
- All their blogs feature their products
Yet, they make about $800k in revenue per employee. Facebook has similar metrics.
If you take a look at Ahref’s blog, you’ll notice that each post does the following:
- Provides an SEO problem and solution
- Is founded on keyword research
- Features their software as part of the solution
The ProfitWell blog is a wealth of information for SaaS companies that want to improve subscription businesses, but it is their Pricing Page Teardowns that I really love.
This is an example of some outside-of-the-box content marketing as it uses well-known brand names and tears down their pricing strategy to see what they could do better. The site itself does a great job of bringing in traffic (Ahrefs says it ranks for over 55,500 keywords), so this unique content angle provides a lot of value and is likely to get the attention of the companies they feature, potentially converting them into customers.
OTT software company dacast is a content juggernaut in the somewhat new OTT space. According to Ahrefs, their site ranks for over 106,000 keywords and ranks well for high volume searches such as “streaming platforms” and “streaming software.”
What is interesting about the dacast content marketing strategy is that they are not afraid to mention their competitors directly in their content. For example, on their top ranking blog on live streaming platforms, they use a mix of content marketing best practices — keyword research-infused sections — as well as a 20 company roundup post that showcases all of their pros and cons.
While many companies would be reluctant to introduce competitors within their blog posts, presumably, dacast does this to provide a side-by-side comparison that ensures they look like the best option.
HotJar, a top name in heat mapping software and recording, shows a great example of pillar and cluster (or hub and spoke) content with their heatmaps content.
The pillar and cluster format that HotJar used is really effective when it comes to trying to rank for a difficult keyword with a lot of related sub-topics (clusters). The page ranks #1 for “heatmaps,” and the supplemental content accessible on the sidebar provides a great user experience for visitors who want to learn more about heatmaps.
It hits the mark for keyword research as well, but the navigation on the sidebar (which is visible on all of the links on the sidebar) is the real winner for internal linking.
Kickstart Your Content Marketing Strategy
If you made it this far, you deserve an award. If you need a quick takeaway summary, here it is:
- Get company buy-in for content marketing. Share ROI metrics to ensure everyone understands the potential of a long-term campaign.
- Understand the competitive landscape, so you know how difficult it is to rank and compete on a keyword level.
- Plan your strategy around OKRs, so you have meaningful goals in place to center your efforts around.
- Find examples from around the web to fuel some of your efforts.
- Hire a badass content marketing agency like Digital Elevator if you want some help