Understanding Content Marketing
Do you believe in the value of organic search? If you answer yes, then keep reading. If you answer no let’s talk about how much money you’re spending unnecessarily every month on low-converting pay-per-click advertising.
This article is meant to serve as an in-depth what is content marketing guide. We pack tons of statistics, quotes, and resources into this single marketing bundle to help you as you learn to use content marketing effectively. You can read through everything at one time, or come back time and again and review different sections to help you as you improve your content and your content marketing automation.
Let’s get started as we normally do by looking at a good working definition. We need to understand what content marketing is and what problems it solves. Here’s a very common definition you’ll find through a standard Google search.
Content marketing is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain customers.
That’s a pretty solid definition and is rather easy to understand, unlike some of our previous articles content marketing is not a difficult concept to grasp. Instead, content marketing is a difficult task to complete. There’s several reasons for this difficulty but we’ll get to that later in this article. Now that we have a good example of what content marketing is we need to turn our attentions to what makes this type of marketing so special.
What makes content marketing special?
Content marketing is without a doubt a special form of marketing. Content marketing has grown exponentially and has become a staple of every good marketing toolkit. What makes content marketing special and why do so many recognize the value of content? Let’s look at three types of content and see what makes each type special.
1. The Power of Created Content
The first type of content marketing we are calling created content. This is unique, original content that you create for your blog or website. The power of created content is immense. The words you write, the resources and media you create have never been seen before. You are imparting your knowledge and your research to others. Google and other search engines love this type of content. And if you are sharing highly valuable information then you are rewarded for this work. Created content is a cornerstone for what makes content marketing special.
2. The Opportunity of Curated Content
Before we discuss the opportunity of curated content we need to briefly define what we mean by curated. This can be thought of similar to a museum curator. The job of the museum curator is to find, protect, share, and rotate great pieces of artwork so that others can enjoy them. They spend countless hours seeking out fresh, exciting pieces of art to bring to their exhibits. They look for those pieces which otherwise would remain hidden, obscured, and unavailable to their museum-goers. This is a great definition and example of curation. Curated content is done in much the same way.
This is not the blind re-sharing of overly popular pieces of content. Good content curation takes time, lots of time, perhaps not as much time as the original, created content we referenced above but certainly more than just a reblog of someone’s old content. Curated content takes thought. Curated content provides added value to the content to be shared.
Curated content is the careful selection and sharing of highly relevant, interesting content previously published by another source with proper attribution given to the original creator.
3. The Success of Co-Authored Content
The last form of content marketing which helps to make this a successful strategy is what we’re labeling co-authored content. This form of content is when you either share your content on someone’s platform (website) or request someone to publish on your blog or website. Co-authored content gives you a couple of ways to generate value in your content marketing.
First, off-site content, the co-authored content which appears on someone else’s website gives you an opportunity to spread the power of your brand through other channels and reach new audiences. These posts are successful because they can often bring strong links and ties back to your website as well.
Second, on-site co-authored content can be highly successful because you are able to demonstrate the quality of your own website and brand through the power of the guest bloggers you have contributing. As you grow and your guest bloggers become more familiar names your credibility in the industry and in the market space grows and becomes more familiar to people as well.
These are three of the most common aspects of content marketing which help to make this marketing highly successful. These are the common aspects, but what does this content actually look like? What makes up content marketing and what trends are popular currently in this form of marketing? This is the next question we’ll answer.
What are current trends in content marketing?
Content marketing is a constantly evolving and changing form of marketing. To be an effective content marketer requires paying close attention to trends in society. What new technologies are being used, what forms of content are most read, and what criteria is being observed by search engines when ranking content. All of these are important things to consider when constructing a content marketing strategy and a content roadmap. Be sure to keep this constantly changing nature in mind as you review the following current trends. These may change in the future.
The infographic format is an incredibly popular way of sharing statistical and chart-based information in an easy-to-read format. Think of an infographic as a very long picture with text, graphics, and charts. No one likes to try to read an excel spreadsheet (ok, maybe a few people do) for most of your audience an infographic which displays key pieces of data in a stylish pie chart, or using some other unique way for sharing the otherwise boring, dry data. Here’s an example:
2. How-To Content
The second trend we see in content marketing is the prolific use of how-to articles. These types of content are created to share information about how to do something (obviously). Usually you will find how-to posts are useful to convey detailed or tricky information in an easy-to-follow step by step guide. As Google (and other search engines) work to improve their search results to respond to long-tail keywords, full sentence searches, and even the “question search” the how-to content becomes increasingly important. Search engines love this content because it directly answers a question.
3. Research Content
The third trend in content marketing is similar to the previous one. Research content marketing is the presentation of large amounts of data in an exhaustive, highly detailed piece of content. Research content has many different sources, citations, and authoritative links to establish the quality and relevance of the material. Research content is perhaps the most time-consuming and difficult to create of all the current trends we discuss in this guide. This guide is an example of a research type of content.
4. Top 10 List
The “top” lists are very hot trends in content marketing. These list based posts do several things that make them popular for content marketers.
First, creating “best of” lists gives your audience a very quick way to compare common tools, evaluate their options, and provide a trusted source as a basis for a future decision. When these lists are created the right way they can save your audience valuable time as they do their own research. These lists must be created the right way, because if there is any bias, or perceived favoritism towards a particular product or service the entire post will be disregarded.
Second, creating list content also encourages those businesses, or individuals who “make the list” to share this content with their audiences. Everyone likes a little recognition and a little praise. If you mention them favorably in your list the chances are good they will share your content with others. Because of the highly social aspect of these lists they are highly popular in today’s content marketing strategies.
The final content marketing type we’ll mention as a trending format are slideshares. This form of content marketing has certainly become a very trendy way of distributing content thanks in part to the growing popularity and success of Slideshare.com This type of content marketing allows you to share valuable and informative content in a similar way to a live presentation. In fact, one feature available to Slideshare users is the injection of YouTube videos directly within the presentation. This feature provides a great way to blend searchable content with video presentations.
Slides are a popular way of sharing content and have become a rich media format for engaging your audience. Many great content marketers will provide recap posts, and summary slides in the form of a slideshare presentation for a longer research or how-to article. We’ve done so as well in our content strategy. Here’s an example.
We published an extensive article on the topic of Understanding B2B Marketing. You can read the entire article with all the details, or you can quickly skim the following short slideshare.
As you can see, the Slideshare content format is a compelling way to engage your audience quickly.
These are five current trends in content marketing and as technology continues to evolve so will these trends. A good marketing expert recognizes the need to stay current and relevant in their content marketing roadmap. We understand what content marketing is, we now know what makes content marketing special and we’ve looked at five trends in content marketing, but next we need to understand the purpose of content marketing. What’s the reason for all this content?
What is the purpose of content marketing?
All this information is great and we’re beginning to see what makes content marketing special and what the current trends look like, but why bother with content marketing? Is there really any value in this form of marketing? What is the purpose for spending all this time creating, curating, and co-authoring content? These are the questions we want to answer next. We’re going to break down the purpose of content marketing into four main sections.
This is perhaps the most common reason for creating content. Businesses, organizations, and individuals want to inform others about something. It may be a new feature that’s been released, a new service being offered, or a new product that’s been created. Everyone wants to tell the world when they’ve done something new. They want to inform their audience about their “great new accomplishment”. Unfortunately while this is the most common reason for content creation this should probably be the least used type of content marketing. Let’s look at why we believe this. This informative purpose of content marketing is focused usually on the business creating the content not the audience. A content marketing plan which focuses on the business rather than the audience will fail. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using content marketing for the purpose to inform; but use it sparingly.
“Marketing used to be about making a myth and telling it. Now it’s about telling a truth and sharing it.“
– Marc Mathieu, Global SVP of Marketing at Unilever
This second reason for creating content is closely tied to the first but should not be confused with it. Using content marketing to educate your audience is an important aspect of a good marketing strategy. Educating your audience does a few things for you. First, educational content demonstrates your expertise and skills in a particular field. This educational content will showcase your abilities, talents, and understanding of a subject. When your audience sees this expertise they will come to trust your judgement and opinions. Second, educational content demonstrates your desire to see your audience become smarter. You are giving them the opportunity to grow and to learn. Think of this as a priceless gift you are offering to your audience, the gift of knowledge. You’re sharing what you know, not just to help them today but to help them every day in the future. This is the practical form of the old saying, “teach a person to fish”. The key differentiating factor between educational content and informational content is who receives the attention.
“Make the prospect a more informed buyer with content.”
– Robert Simon, Four Seasons Hotels
82% of consumers feel more positive about a company after reading custom content.
Demand Metric, 2014
You may want to create content simply for the purpose of entertainment. There is absolutely nothing wrong with entertaining your audience, and in many cases this is a welcome break from education and information content purposes. Great content marketing plans take this into consideration and plan strategic content whose sole purpose is to entertain the audience. Everyone likes a good laugh now and then. Whether this occurs as part of a presentation or merely as an additional media resource shared during the course of a particular content marketing campaign the results are the same. They show your audience you’re able to be an authoritative source but also have a good time. You can also use content marketing for the purpose of entertaining and demonstrating your ability to laugh at yourself. This takes confidence and security in your own brand image to be done effectively.
We’re calling this final purpose of content marketing establishing. You want to use content marketing to establish your brand, establish your credibility, and establish your position with search engines. There’s no doubt content marketing does all of these things. Establishing your brand through word-of-mouth and off-site references is a primary purpose of content marketing. Everyone wants to be the first result in Google. Everyone. The best way to increase your search engine rankings (SERPs) is through high-quality, consistent, authoritative content. Establishment is a key purpose of content marketing. This is the purpose we addressed in our initial question – the value of organic search. Content marketing is the most powerful way to improve your organic search results.
But content marketing has some very real negatives. If content marketing were easy then everyone would do it and do it great. Instead, as we mentioned in the initial part of our guide, content marketing is not a tricky concept to understand, but a difficult task to complete. Let’s look quickly at a few of the negative aspects of content marketing.
What are the negatives of content marketing?
When we examined the definition of content marketing we mentioned that the definition was easy to understand but the task of implementing successful content marketing strategies was difficult. There are several reasons for this difficulty and we’ll look at each of them and how to best handle them.
“Content Marketing is a commitment, not a campaign.“
– Jon Buscall, Head of Jontus Media
1. Content Marketing is time-consuming.
Anyone that tries to tell you that the art of crafting original content is quick and easy is telling you a lie. High-quality content, the type of content that will improve your search engine ranking, establish your brand, and educate your audience takes time and attention to detail. Creating original content requires thought and research, a careful approach to statistics and other third-party resources. Curating quality content takes time to read, evaluate, judge, polish, and frame before sharing with your audience. Co-authoring content requires time spent locating and requesting the time and energy of quality writers. All of these aspects take time. Then consider the time taken to create additional resources and media strategies for each of those content pieces. All in all content marketing is time-consuming. Because of this time requirement many simply do not engage in content marketing. They may understand the value of content marketing; but they don’t truly value it enough to dedicate the resources necessary.
Coca-Cola spends more money creating its own content than it does on television advertising, according to Columbia Journalism Review.
Red Bull reportedly employs approximately 135 people just for its media house.
When large corporations demonstrate their belief in the importance of content marketing this should be a clear indicator to everyone else. Don’t underestimate the importance or value of great content marketing. Spend the time. Content marketing is worth the investment:
Per dollar spent, content marketing generates more than three times the number of leads than paid search does.
2. Content Marketing is tricky
The second difficulty many face in content marketing implementation is the trickiness of doing content marketing “right”. What do we mean by doing content marketing right? Everyone can create content. Many do not create quality content. Your content marketing platform should not be a mass posting tool stuffed with your identified keywords. Bad content marketing means trying to beat the system by mass posting hundreds or thousands of articles in an attempt to rank higher in search engines. This may help you gain a few positions in the short-term but ultimately will bring about your demise. You may think you can beat Google and other search engines. This should not be your goal. Remember, you want high quality content that accomplishes the purposes mentioned earlier. You want to inform, educate, entertain, and establish your brand and your business.
This is why some consider content marketing tricky. What is right and what is wrong? What’s considered best practice? These are the types of questions you might be inclined to ask. But if you will remember what makes content marketing special, what the purpose of your content marketing is, and what the current trends are you will find yourself naturally creating the right kind of content. Content marketing does not have to be tricky, it simply takes a little common sense.
3. Content Marketing is tempting
We touched a little bit on a tempting aspect of content marketing in the previous point. Massive amounts of articles full of relevant keywords with an immediate boost in your search engine optimization sure sounds appealing. But this thinking is a trap. Remember what our parents always told us growing up, if something is too good to be true…it probably is. Don’t be tempted to spend your time looking for a magic cure, a hidden secret to content marketing that no one else has uncovered. Instead create a marketing plan that accomplishes your goals and follows the right steps. Don’t be tempted by shortcuts that can lead to disaster.
There’s no denying these are some negative aspects of content marketing. If you are aware of the potential pitfalls you’ll be able to avoid them. Your content can be your strongest asset; be diligent to avoid these negatives.
How do you use marketing automation with content marketing?
Next we turn our attention to how you can improve your content marketing platform and content tools. Just because you need to be creating all this content yourself does not mean there are not ways to make your life easier. Content marketing automation tools are still highly useful and have a big part to play in your content marketing platform. Here are three ways you can use marketing automation with content marketing.
1. Scheduling content
Marketing automation (MA) platforms are a great way to help you schedule your content marketing plan. Every good marketing automation tool provides campaign creation. These campaigns allow you to organize your content and outreach efforts along a timeline or based on the decisions of your leads. When your target audience and potential leads reach different stages of your campaign you want to provide them with different content. With marketing automation your content can be recycled, re-shared uniquely with each lead at just the right time. Content marketing automation is a real thing. Marketing automation platforms that focus on the power of content marketing do exist and they provide fantastic tools for scheduling content, engaging leads, and converting leads to sales.
2. Share content
Beyond scheduling your content marketing automation can also help you share your content. MA platforms also give you the ability to engage your social media channels with your content. Creating great content is only the first step. Sharing your awesomeness with the world is the second piece of the puzzle. Amazing content marketing does more than just create content. Marketing automation software is a great way to take your content and spread it. You can schedule posts (see the first point above) to automatically be shared to your social networks.
27 million pieces of content are shared every day. (AOL/Nielsen, 2013)
Sharing content can take two forms. One is the active sharing where you engage your audience by broadcasting your content out on your brand social channels. This is the most common and most marketing automation software will let you do this in one form or another. The second way you can share your content is what we’ll call passive sharing. This means providing your readers the opportunity to share your content without actively pushing it in front of them. Most of the time this takes the form of social share buttons on your content pages. Marketing automation can also help with this by tracking and aggregating the value of these social buttons, where they perform best, and how to improve overall page structure to increase this social sharing and ultimately conversions. Think A/B testing at this point, if you have questions about A/B testing we’d recommend reviewing this quick 60 second video.
3. Save Time
The third way that your marketing automation and content marketing work together is by saving you time. The core purpose of marketing automation involves saving time by helping perform repetitive tasks. While your content marketing must be crafted with care and it requires time to create there are still ways you can save time. Think about all the extra things you do when creating your content marketing plan. Think specifically about those things you do repetitively. Are you spending time contacting your audience via email with every new piece of content? Marketing automation helps you keep in touch automatically (and personally) with your leads. Implementing marketing automation with content marketing creates a powerful one-two punch to delivery and execution of your content strategies.
As we continue in our guide to content marketing and how to get started we now reach a point where we need to stop and evaluate how our content strategies are working. We want to track the outcomes of our content marketing and measure our performance.
How do you measure the results of content marketing?
You’re well on your way to creating killer content. You’ve setup a content marketing strategy and you’re identifying which content marketing trends you want to focus on. You’ve written your first couple articles, or created a Slideshare or two, and you’re stuck on what to do next. Maybe you’ve even implement marketing automation software already. Now you need to start looking at how you measure the results of your work. Here are three common ways you can measure the effectiveness and overall opportunity associated with your content marketing.
It almost goes without saying that the first way you should measure your conversions. Your content marketing is helping to establish your brand and your search results presence. One of the key ways to measure if you are successful in doing this involves how many conversions you see as a result of your efforts. Let’s talk about conversions for a minute. Conversions can be several different things. Conversions might be form submissions, they might be product purchases, they might be phone calls, they might simply be length of time your visitors spend on your website. There are many different types of conversions. These will be unique to your business, industry or vertical market. Your job as a content marketing expert is to identify what conversions are most desirable for you.
Here again your marketing automation software can help you and make your job easier. MA software can be used to generate reports based on metrics you define. These relate directly to your conversions details. Never worry about manually creating a report to see how effective your marketing efforts are. Marketing software makes this data always available and always up-to-date.
2. Social Engagement
Social media impact is the second way to measure how well your content marketing is performing. Keep in mind you are sharing unique and original content with the purpose of informing, educating and entertaining. Your social engagements will reflect how effective your content is. If you see tweets and re-tweets, shares and re-shares of your articles then you can quickly see which pieces of content are most engaging and receiving the best response. Don’t be hasty to attribute a low social volume with bad content, but do recognize good content is shared.
“Behind every tweet, share and purchase, there is a person. Care more about the person and less about the share.“
– Shafqat Islam, CEO and Co-Founder at NewsCred
3. Traffic Improvements
Lastly strong content marketing can be easily measured by the improvement and increase in your site traffic. When your content marketing is effective your search engine rankings will increase. You will be able to see which keywords you are ranking well using and make continued improvements as you go. There are many great tools to help you monitor the results of your content marketing. Here are a few
Google Webmaster Tools helps you track your website as they appear and relate specifically to Google web searches. You can upload your sitemaps, view impressions, clicks, and rankings of your website as Google sees it.
Keyword Spy helps you quickly see the organic and pay-per-click keywords of your website and your competitors. You can dig into the statistics behind any site available. Their free version offers a limited number of results. Plans begin at $89/month.
SpyFu is very similar to Keyword Spy but has beautiful charts and graphs and a powerful comparison feature to allow you to see how your site ranks against your competitors. They offer a free version with limited results. Plans begin at $79/month.
SEMRush is possibly the most popular of the tools listed here when asking content marketers what they prefer to use. SEMRush offers many of the same features you’ll find in SpyFu or KeywordSpy. They offer a free version with limited results. Plans begin at $69/month.
Of course there are many more, these are merely a few that can help you keep an eye on your traffic and more importantly your keywords. You can monitor your own content and determine if you are effectively targeting the keywords you have identified as important to your target audience and you can also examine your top competitors and see which keywords they rank well for also. There’s nothing wrong with being aware of what others are doing. This can also help you realize other potential keywords you should focus on with your global content marketing plan.
Lots of great information and hopefully you feel like you have a great overall understanding of content marketing, the purpose, trends, benefits, pitfalls, tools and ways to measure success as you build a content marketing strategy for your business. We will follow up in a future article (shorter) with a quick six step guide to getting started with content marketing. You can be incredibly successful with content marketing and implementing a marketing automation platform in your content marketing plan will give you a definite edge. If you have questions or comments on anything above feel free to share! We’d love to hear you thoughts on current content marketing trends as well as maybe what you see as the single biggest problem people face implementing content marketing.
Be sure to also check out Mautic for your marketing automation software. Mautic is free marketing software you can download and install as easy as WordPress or you can run a free hosted version if you prefer. Mautic gives you the edge you need at a price you can afford because every business matters, regardless of size.