Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock in 2016, you’ve probably got content marketing on your to do list for 2017.
Good on you. But once the decision makers have nodded, ooohed over your wise marketing goals for 2017 and aaahed over your lists filled with all the trending marketing buzzwords… then what?
How exactly are you going to do that? What should you do and (more importantly), what shouldn’t you do?
First-up – and feel free to skip ahead to step 1 if I’m getting too 101 here for you…
What is content marketing anyway?
You’d think it’s pretty obvious I know – but then why do so many companies get content marketing so wrong?!
The first half of content marketing is content you create – that includes formats like…
- Blog posts – new content you publish on a regular basis, or old content you republish *
- Short-form content *
- Immortal content (this could be in any format of course) *
- Long-form articles *
- Photo and image galleries *
- Lists – Yep, the good-old ‘Top 10…’ isn’t going away anytime soon *
- Interactive tools – product selectors, quizzes *
- Guides – ‘Beginner’s Guide to…’ usually multi-page content *
- Video (no ‘Marketing in 2017’ guide could miss video off the list!) *
* Anything with an asterisk above is content you’ll find out more about in this article in step 3 – including what you should and shouldn’t do – to get the best returns from each format.
But the second half of content marketing? That’s the bit that’s not so obvious, and boy do people royally stuff this bit up!
Sure, selling your product and getting new customers is a shared goal of both, but content marketing is not the same as advertising.
Content marketing is about creating value
Creating content that your customers – and potential customers – want to consume. Want to read, want to watch, want look at the pretty pictures, want to share.
Who shares an advert? Exactly.
You’ll no doubt have heard that the secret is to create ‘unique’ content, but in this world where almost everything already exists online, unique content does not mean what you think it means.
Before we jump into the type of content you should create, you need a list.
This article will tell you:
- What content your company needs to create
- What you should do first
- What format your content should be in
STEP 1 – What content does your company need to create?
This is the easy bit I promise.
Either get your sales and marketing team in one room to kick off the New Year, or send round an email, and ask this one simple thing:
What are the top 10 (or more) questions you get asked by customers and potential customers all the time?
In other words, what do people want to know before they’ll buy from you? What do new customers want to know? What would make customers want to buy more from you if they only knew more – ie: What do customers need to be upskilled on?
I sincerely hope you do not have even one sales or marketing person on your team who can’t answer this one. If they can’t think of any FAQs, then, how do I say this nicely, are they in the right job?!
Your team’s answers are your starting point for what you need to answer first.
You should get back a long list of FAQ type questions from them, ideally ones people ask before they become customers (those are the bestest ones if you want to focus on content marketing that will actually get you new customers).
TIP: At least once a quarter, get your team together to brainstorm more FAQs. Ideally encourage your team to send you new FAQs straight away as they come up (your sales team should have customers asking them questions all day, every day, after all).
But now what? Once you have a list of lovely questions, it’s time to make some decisions…
STEP 2 – What should you do first?
Next step is to take your FAQs list and start chunking it into content types so you know what to focus on first. Priorities people.
Myself? I like to prioritise what existing customers need to know. This includes both what new customers need to know following their first purchase and – and this is one of my favourite content groups – what you can upskill existing customers on that, if they only knew that info, would make them buy more.
Most marketers however, feeling decision makers breathing down their necks, like to create content targeted at potential customers first.
That’s those FAQs people ask before they buy. Those people that, if they get the answers from you instead of your competitors, are more likely to become your customers as a result. Content that positions you as an expert.
But why do I do things backwards?
I believe when you want to grow your business, the easiest money to make is to sell more to your existing customers first, especially those ones you last engaged with ages ago, that you’re not keeping in touch with.
Right, so now you’ve got your FAQs split in two groups.
One group is content that targets existing customers, and one that targets potential customers. You can decide which group your focus will be on depending on your marketing focus for 2017.
- TRULY UNIQUE CONTENT
The first type of content you should focus on creating is anything on your list that is genuinely unique content.
I like to call it Unicorn Content because it’s so rare.
If anything on your team’s FAQs list is not answered anywhere online, you’ve got yourself a unicorn my friend and that’s the content to focus on creating first.
For unicorn content, I highly recommend you go for the written word every time.
Sure, you could do a gallery, a video, or any of those other content formats listed at the start, but words are precious metal to Google and to get yourself to the top of page one is pure gold.
TIP: That doesn’t mean you can’t do video for your unicorn content, not at all. Ideally – if you have the budget – you should always invest in video for content this precious. What it does mean is that your video needs words. Not someone saying something in the video, doh. I mean it must have the accompanying video script, formatted as an easy-read article, to go with it so that Google has something to index.
Never do a video intended for content marketing, without an accompanying article.
- RELEVANT CONTENT
I know, I know, surely no one would create content that isn’t relevant right? Ick, a double negative, not my finest work there.
That’s the catch though. What relevant means is not just what people search for, but what they intend.
So if you know one of your FAQs is ‘How to Change a Bike Tyre’, then don’t just list what you need to buy (ie: the products that you sell), include photos of each step, or better yet, a video, along with the step-by-step how to article.
In other words, keep in mind what customers intend when they search, ie: what they want answered, solved, explained. Solve their query. Be helpful!
- VALUABLE CONTENT
So here’s where a big portion of your FAQs will probably sit.
Sure, the information is already out there, but don’t skip an FAQ because your competitor already answers it on their site. Instead, add value.
- Is the information out there but it’s hard to find? Then create easily indexed content that will rank well in search results so it’s easier to find.
- Is the answer out there but it’s hard to access? You have to watch a 20 minute video or have to sign up or fill in a form before your competitor lets people get access? Then make yours more accessible.
- Maybe there’s so much content it’s hard for customers to know what to spend time consuming? Then create aggregate content like a list guide (eg: The Top 10 Exercises for Cyclists to Get Fit Before Your Next Race’).
- Plenty of answers out there but boy they’re boring? Then make yours more interesting. Put some personality into it (I like bad puns and dad jokes), add photos, video, say the same thing with your personal spin on it. Make it different.
So break that content down further into those groups.
Will you make it Easier to Find, More Accessible, will be it be Aggregate content or something Different?
- CONTENT WITH A BETTER USER EXPERIENCE
If the content exists but it’s a poor experience for the reader – in the wrong format for example – then make your format easier to consume.
TIP: Neither Google nor mobile devices like PDFs! Converting your own PDF content into articles is one of the fastest, easiest ways to create new content.
STEP 3 – Get creating. What content format is best?
Last step on turning your ‘content marketing’ goal into reality for 2017, is deciding which format each piece of content you plan to create will take.
Do not assume content marketing just means writing blog articles. Far from it!
To start with, try searching in Google for the question/s you’re going to answer with your content. Make a note of what format other companies content is in. This can show you two things, the content people – and Google – likes, and where you could stand out.
Are you seeing masses of long articles? Creating an image gallery might stand out.
Is everything short? Long-form content might be the way to go.
Sometimes there’s merit in being different, sometimes you have to follow the crowd, especially when a content format is obvious, eg: 20 Hair Styles for Long Hair has to have images or video to add value and answer the searcher’s intent.
Let’s review the main content marketing format types so you can work out what’s best for each one on your list AND the pitfalls to avoid…
When to use which content format, and how…
Top of my list, for a mix of justified and totally subjective reasons, is long-form content.
I’m talking articles like this. Make-yourself-a-cuppa-before-reading length.
Long-form content for the sake of length though? Nu-uh. Nope. No way.
By long-form content I mean focused, detailed, in-depth content that thoroughly answers what the reader wants to know.
If you find yourself skipping between topics in one article, those should be split into separate articles.
Focused matters more than length in that situation, otherwise how’s Google going to know what search term your content should rank for?
Sure, long-form doesn’t suit everyone, or every content type (like news articles).
However when you’re faced with an FAQ that everyone’s already answered, I’m going to bet most of it will be short content that just dips a toe in with general, overview information – and that’s where jumping in the deep end with long-form content can really perform for you.
How long is long?
A huge survey of more than 1 million articles done by Moz and BuzzSumo, found that:
- 85% of all web content is less than 1,000 words but long-form content (ie: over 1,000 words) gets dramatically more shares and links.
- Really long-form content of 3000+ words, received nearly twice the shares as content up to 1,000 words did, with posts under 500 words barely shared at all.
Backlinko did a similarly massive research piece into over 1 million Google search results and found:
- The average word count of a Google first page result is 1,890 words.
- This backs up SerpIQ’s research nicely also, which found pages ranked way down in the 10th search result position averaged 400 fewer words than pages in the number 1 position.
So don’t just take my word for it: long works – if done right!
Back up the truck here a second. 3,000+ words? That’s a bit ridiculous don’t you think? Right at this point, this whopper of an article is only sitting at 1,700 words.
What article length do people actually read?
Medium asked themselves the same thing and concluded posts that average 7 minutes to read (around 1,600 words) get the most attention.
So what does that mean for you?
I’d recommend aiming for between 1,600 words (for your readers) to around 2,500 words (for search engines). But again, only if you’re adding value throughout!
Don’t artificially bump up that word count unless you’re staying on-topic.
Um, so why is there so very little long-form content out there? Because it’s bloody hard work!!!
One of my articles averages 8 hours to write, and that’s if I’ve already done my research. This one ended up at over 3,400 words by the way. That’s a lot of cups of tea.
Long-form content should be…
- RESEARCHED – like I (try to) do. I can tell you to write long content but when I provide the data to back it up, and link to it, it adds way more value.
- EMOTIONAL – it’s especially great if you trigger an emotional response for readers. For me I like to think you’ll finish reading one of my novels with a list of things to do, feeling like you’ve learned something and actually want to put your learnings into action.
- REGULAR – No matter how long, short, or what the format is, once in a blue moon won’t get results like more frequent content creation (a blue moon, by the way, works out to about once every two and half years if you’re interested).
- READABLE – Seriously people? Ever heard of sub-headings? Bold? Bullet points? Please, please, please stop writing long, endless paragraphs. Please use simple formatting to break long content up into bite-size, faster-to-read pieces. Please.
- ORIGINAL – I don’t mean that it should be unique. I mean that long-form content should not be boring. Don’t repeat yourself just to get your word count up.
Okay, so what about short content? There is a time and place for it for sure.
Even short content should be at least 300 and ideally around 500 words long so it can be indexed by search engines.
To get results, short content is the way to go…
- If there is genuinely not a lot to say to your reader (really though? really?).
- If your reader is looking for a quick answer.
- If short is the only way you’re going to get your team to produce content at all.
- If you have a massive audience you’re already reaching
- You have imagery that grabs attention.
- If the content is super focused on a single idea.
- and of course, short is usually the way to go for social media content.
So if any of those apply, then for short to get you tangible business results, you must have frequency (yes, you’ll have to create content more often) and reach (ie: you already have – or you pay to reach – a large audience).
TIP: If you don’t know how much detail your reader needs, try searching the question/s your content will answer. Do you see lots of results from short-answer sites like Quora? Then your reader might only need a short, sweet, get-to-the-point answer.
BONUS TIP: This one’s a goodie. If this is the only thing you retain after you survive this article, it’ll be worth it. You probably have the answers to all your FAQs already typed up, ready to use. Seriously. Where? In your sales and marketing team’s sent emails. They’ve probably written a year’s worth of articles in those emails sent to customers. Voila! Even better? Once you’ve published them on your site, your team can save SO much time and send customers the link to the article that perfectly answers their question in the future. Your team’s going to love you for that one 🙂
Like unique (unicorn) content, immortal content is another one to prioritise on your list.
Also called evergreen content, that means any content that will not age, so it will always add value.
Immortal content tends to be the content your sales team thought of first when coming up with their FAQs, so make a note of all your unicorn (genuinely unique) and immortal content and tackle those first.
Surprisingly underutilised by many companies – or poorly done – yet image galleries can be a very powerful form of content marketing depending on your product or service.
Yes, you should always add captions to the images so Google has something to index, and to help engage readers even more, but why not give it a go and see how it compares?
This is a no-brainer in social media already. For example, a photo album with descriptions that then link through to the featured product/s on your site. Yet image galleries are often missed as a content marketing tool on websites.
Sure, not every product or service is going be to image friendly, but even some less obvious content types benefit from adding photos or images:
- Got a step-by-step or DIY guide? Add photos showing each step.
- How about some data-heavy information? Add images like graphs that make it easier for readers to quickly understand.
Oh I love me a good list article, I really do (no, that wasn’t sarcastic). I don’t care if everyone’s sick of them, they work!
I’ve even changed existing article titles to list titles (and numbered the content to match), and seen it get more views and shares as a result, like these:
Apparently I have a thing for helping you avoid looking dumb.
Lists set up expectations, help readability and add value immediately.
Would you rather read ‘The 20 Things You Need to Know Before You Buy a House’ or ‘Things You Need to Know Before You Buy a House’. See? Exactly.
If Lists get me excited, you have no idea how much interactive tools have me buzzing in 2017.
If there’s any complexity involved a customer choosing the right product, it’s worth exploring how you can simplify it – and make the process more enjoyable for customers – through an interactive tool.
This is especially true if you have that one top salesperson who’s so valuable because of the information secreted away in their head. Get it out and share it!
The more complex the decision or selection process, the better an interactive tool will work for you.
This works for cars, for beds, for choosing the right savings account (ahem, ASB, yes please), the list goes on and on.
Just prioritise the order the questions should be asked (your sales team or friendly retailer will know), and which products or services match the answers, and you’re away laughing.
Okay, so realistically the more complex the process, the trickier the scoping will be, but once it’s done you’ll wonder how you ever did without it. Customers and your sales team LOVE these tools.
TIP: Ask for your reader’s email address in exchange for emailing them their results and you’ll build a super valuable direct marketing database at the same time. Win win!
Oh wow, are these a b***h to write, but double-wow, do they work.
It’s because they require so much time and effort (to do properly) that a guide works so damn well for marketing. Since they tend to be lengthy, Google loves them too.
If you’re like many companies out there, you probably have them already, but in PDF or print format. How lucky are you?! Convert them to articles and you’re away laughing!
Phew! You made it!
You’ve already got Content Marketing on your to do list for 2017.
Next steps for your content marketing in 2017?
- Get those lists of FAQs from your sales and marketing team. Just you all alone? Use Google and competitors website’s instead for ideas to add to your own list.
- Break your list down into content that targets potential customers versus existing customers. Decide which group you want to look after first to match your business goals this year.
- Group your content by type. Focus on unicorn and immortal content first.
- Get creating! Work out which format is the best match for each content idea… and go!
- Okay, this last one’s just for me 😉 If you learned something, even if it was just how often once in a blue moon actually is, please take a moment before you go to like this 8 hour, 3,400+ word effort – or even better please share this with your network.
Thank you 🙂
PS: Follow me for more content like this on how to use digital marketing to get tangible business returns. You’ll only get an email when there’s new content published. No spam from me 🙂