Organizational Planning is a process Small Business Owners are extensively familiar with. From marketing to financials & operations, having an ambitious yet realistic plan is essential to maximizing your business results. In fact, one study found that businesses who implemented and stuck to a plan saw an increase in bottom-line results by 2x! Most companies have already noticed that the importance of connecting with your customers through digital technologies and channels has never been more critical in driving business results. As the number of sources to communicate with customers continues to increase, many businesses are left wondering what combination of strategies and channels will be most-effective for their unique business.
Instead of focusing on the tips and advantages of each platform as it exists today, in this article we offer a different approach to generating new business online, centered on creating meaningful experiences with the people already connecting with your company. Why? The truth is, no single channel, from Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to Pay-per-Click Advertising (PPC), to Social Media, is unanimously the “best” or “most-effective” source to drive lead generation; it all depends on where your current customers already are and where you’re most likely to find new customers you haven’t reached yet. When your time and resources are limited like most small business owners, you’ll find it’s much more cost-effective to structure your marketing channels around your content, rather than your content around your marketing channels.
Online content encompasses every interaction point a prospect or customer has with your business online. Content marketing plans specifically focus on the creation of new content or refreshing of old material, for your blog, eBooks, Whitepapers, and Videos. While the type of content you produce mainly depends on the capabilities of your organization, keep in mind a healthy mix of all kinds of content is most effective at satisfying the wide-variety of preferences for consuming information.
If you have a digital marketing plan or social media plan already, then chances are you’ve already covered many aspects of a traditional content marketing plan. However, you can still utilize the guide below to make sure your program is robust and customer-centric.
What is a content marketing plan?
A content marketing plan is a strategic plan, similar to other annual business planning, focusing on the content you will create throughout the year. Companies have been utilizing content marketing strategies for a long time.
Over recent years, the importance of content has grown with a variety of new digital-based channels and publishers have expanded the availability and accessibility of information and entertainment. With that growth, content marketing for businesses has evolved into much more of a science than in the past, with brands strategically employing content to help shape, and even create, the experience customers have along the customer journey. A content marketing plan encompasses what content you will produce, who you will produce it for, when you will publish it, and how you will measure the success.
Why is content so important?
Simply put, content is the key to creating value online. Arguably, it’s one of the only ways to create value for your customers online.
Unfortunately, the amount of websites, blogs, and videos produced daily is mindblowing, while capturing attention is a zero-sum game. Whether it’s on your site, in an email, a blog post, or a detailed guide, the quality of the content you produce is the single most crucial factor in the success or failure of your digital marketing ambitions.
Content can be used strategically by sales teams to assist with shortening the sales cycle and improving conversion rates. As Forbes points out, “You can also leverage your sales experience to write better, more valuable blog posts. Your salespeople, through their discussions with leads and customers, can learn about what problems your customers are facing and what their chief concerns are.” This aspect of content marketing is precisely known as Inbound Marketing.
Quality content can positively impact your company’s bottom line in many ways, although they aren’t likely to be directly measurable in a dollar figure attributable back to any specific piece of content. Much like branding a service truck or creating an engaging storefront, quality content gives potential customers a window into the experience of working with your company before making a decision or even contacting your team.
Why is a content marketing plan important?
Think about these statistics from Hubspot, primarily based on a 2016 Demand Gen Report:
“Strategic content marketing is the key to 67% more leads for B2B companies who use it… A big chunk of buyers (47%) said they look at 3-5 pieces of content before talking to a sales representative… 96% of B2B buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders.”
Furthermore, according to original research from Kapost and Eloqua, content marketing costs 31% less than paid search for mid-size businesses. That means a content strategy is a more cost-effective route than funneling money into ads due to the ongoing, and compounding effects, of quality content.
Check out what digital marketing expert Neil Patel has to say about Content Marketing:
How to identify potential subjects of value to your audience
There are multiple philosophies when it comes to choosing your content. Some companies brainstorm ideas and execute the topics they like best. Others have a clear, limited set of topics they can cover to maintain their relevancy and authority in their fields.
Instead of approaching it from the point-of-view of your organization’s current capabilities, approach it from your customers’ point of view instead. If you don’t have the time or resources to ask your customers directly, ask your sales team what questions and objections they receive the most, what sales materials do prospects engage with most, and what sales materials they feel like your organization is currently missing. Use this information to prioritize fixing points of friction in your customer’s journey. Creating content that your customers find meaningful can reduce sales cycles and allow your sales team to spend their time more effectively.
How to Organize Your Content Marketing Plan
With your intelligence regarding your customers’ experience in hand, create a list of potential topics that would answer at least one objection. Next, organize these topics into similar categories, with a common theme amongst them. Coined by Hubspot, this is known as a “Content Pillar and Cluster” strategy. By aligning your topics around a common theme, you’re able to create a robust experience for prospects that enables easy exploration of information related to the original piece of content. Additionally, add in any content your organization has already produced. You might find that many of your existing posts just need to be updated or adjusted.
SEO and Content Marketing
Before we cover how your content marketing strategy and SEO strategy work together, let’s take a quick recap of where SEO is at today. Google’s goal for search has and always has been to deliver the searcher to the right place, the first time they search.
In 2014, Google transitioned from an algorithmic system of ranking pages (known as PageRank) to a Machine-Learning based system (RankBrain). Since then, Google has been increasingly prioritizing the rankings of websites that deliver great user experiences, while penalizing the tactics traditionally used to “beat” the system. One of the keys to a great user experience Google discovered is subject matter expertise, which in part is signaled by the coverage of keywords closely related to the main topic (for example, if you offer repairs for Cars, Google would also expect to see content related to other services commonly offered by mechanics, such as oil changes. Within oil changes, Google might expect to see “regular” and “synthetic”).
If driving new business through long-tail keyword rankings is part of your digital marketing strategy, add in the keywords you’ve identified around the pillars and clusters. Always create the pillars and clusters with your customers in mind.
When you utilize a pillar-and-cluster content strategy, you are building out the exact format Google expects to see from subject matter experts. Make sure to link liberally between your pillar-and-cluster pages for maximum effect. Per usual, you’ll want to employ all on-site SEO best practices when drafting your content, such as writing compelling Meta Titles and accessibility-minded image alt text. This pillar and content structure should be replicated within your blog as well. In the context of this blog, our pillar is “Marketing Tips for Small Business Owners,” our cluster “Content Marketing,” with this blog focusing on starting a strategic content marketing effort. Within this blog, you can find many of the related subjects to starting a content marketing plan, such as identifying what to write about, how to organize your program, incorporating SEO, and crafting your content calendar. While there are no defined guidelines on how long your content should be, your articles should be no less than 400 words. According to Brain Dean at Backlinko, he found by analyzing 1 million google search results that the average Google first page result contains 1,890 words. Best practice is to have it be no longer than it needs to explain the topic thoroughly. Great content is ultimately judged by the user’s experience, not the number of words.
Crafting your Content Calendar
To create a content calendar, start by evenly distributing the content you plan to produce throughout the year. There are a few things to consider when scheduling your content.
Is there a particular event or season that your content is relevant to? Are there any critical pieces missing in your customer’s experience that needs prioritization? With those things in mind, evenly distribute your topics throughout the year as it makes sense for your business. If it looks sparse, that’s not a bad thing. You’ll have more room to focus on the next step: breaking down each piece of content into smaller, bite-sized pieces. You can use these bite-sized pieces of content to increase the promotional lifespan of your content by promoting it in unique and engaging ways. Many people refer to this process as content atomization.
Popularized by Jay Baer of Convince & Convert, “Content Atomization” can be a powerful tool for getting more miles from a single piece of content. As Jay defines it, “Content atomization = Taking a strong content marketing platform or theme, and executing it in many, strategically sound ways.” With one quality piece of content, you can break it down into smaller pieces of content that can be a significant factor in driving results for your campaigns. Jay claims atomized content is more searchable, is more find-able, gets consumed more, gets spread more, gets more mind share, and generates more leads, in addition to it merely stretching the impact of a single idea. To learn more, check out Convince & Convert’s article describing 49 tactics to atomize your content.
How to Start Content Marketing
With your content calendar in hand, it’s time to start creating content! Whether you create the content yourself, delegate to a team member, or outsource to a content specialist, make sure to track how your customers respond closely.
While it’s important to note that not all valuable content will be a homerun instantly, you can identify topics that resonated well to expand on that subject in the future. The simplest way to start is by analyzing your social media engagement metrics. To take it to the next level, you can set up goals in Google Analytics to see if your content is affecting your customer’s experience in the way you intended. For example, to confirm potential customers are turning to your blog for more research, you could set goals specifying a particular set or amount of activity that indicates investigation, or you could set specific goals for returning visitors. Additionally, you can use UTM parameters in your sales team emails to see if prospects are responding to your email marketing. Regardless of how sophisticated your metrics are, the only way to know what content will work for your business is to start writing, wait for your customers’ feedback, and go from there!
Want to Learn More about Content Marketing?
Check out this infographic put together by DemandMetric
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