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What Is Content Marketing? (Plus: How To Make It Work!)

Content marketing is one of the most powerful ways to grow your business this year and beyond.

Although most marketers have heard of content marketing, it can be confusing on how to actually execute a strategy that will deliver big results.

What exactly is content marketing? And will it work for your business?

In this guide, we’re going to be breaking it all down for you!

What Is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is the process of creating, publishing, and promoting content to attract an audience that will grow your brand and acquire customers.

By creating content that is useful or interesting to your target customer, you can attract them to your brand. Through the content, you can answer questions they have, connect with them and establish trust and authority, and eventually lead them to purchase.

Content marketing isn’t just about attracting leads and generating sales, it can expand to broader goals like brand awareness and establishing thought leadership.

Let’s talk about how it works in more detail:

How Does Content Marketing Work?

Content marketing is a multi-step process that results in attracting customers to you through purposeful content.

Here is an overview of how content marketing works at a high level:

Step 1: Define Your Content Marketing Goals

The first step is to decide what you want to accomplish with your content marketing.

If you miss this step, you may end up creating a ton of content that doesn’t produce results, so it’s imperative to define your goals clearly.

Here are some examples of goals to think about:

  • Promote a new product or service
  • Attract more of a certain type of customer
  • Address common objections that are preventing sales
  • Gain trust with proof
  • Attract links to your site
  • Rank for large volume keywords

When you define your goals clearly from the beginning, it makes it a lot easier to determine what content needs to be created!

Step 2: Identify Your Target Audience / Customer Avatar

Next, you want to clearly define WHO you’re trying to attract.

Spend a little time creating an ideal customer avatar. Think about who your ideal customer is, including any personal facets that allow you to speak to them in a way they understand and connect with your content.

Some things to consider might be the average age range, financial status, interests and any other information that can help you market to the right audience.

Step 3: Identify Their Pain Points & Interests

Once you have decided on your target audience, identify their pain points and interests.

Think about what questions they have before they want to buy?

What kinds of doubts might they have that you could explain?

What are the common misconceptions that you could break?

After you identify these pain points and questions, you can move on to creating the content.

Step 4: Develop a content creation plan

The art of this process is creating content that not only is engaging and connects with your customers but also will drive traffic for your business.

Develop a plan so that you can create content consistently and predictably. Decide how often you will create content, what type of content you will produce and how you will come up with content ideas on a consistent basis.

A couple of ways to create content on an ongoing basis include:

  • Doing keyword research to discover keyword phrases that your target audience is searching for and creating content around those keywords. (Need ideas? Here’s how to get 100+ in 3 minutes with a Content Gap Analysis)
  • Monitoring your competitors and creating content based on what performs well for them.

Some of your best content ideas might randomly pop into your head, but ideally, you should also have a consistent plan to create content that doesn’t rely on brainstorming or arbitrary ideas.

Step 5: Create a content promotion plan

You also need a plan to promote the content so that people will discover and share it. Email outreach, influencer collaborations, social media sharing, guest blogging, and paid ads are a few ways businesses can promote their content.

Businesses that are successful and consistent with content marketing will see a steady rise in inbound traffic, a growth in sales and improved brand awareness. Content marketing is usually a long term marketing tactic and organizations that commit to it will reap the rewards.

Does Content Marketing Work?

The data shows a resounding YES!

According to Hubspot’s State of Inbound Marketing Report, 82% of marketers who use blogging to grow their business see a positive ROI from their inbound marketing.

study by Kapost shows that content generates 3x as many leads as paid search per dollar spent. It also generates 3x as many leads as outbound sales while costing 62% less.

Not only does content marketing work, but it also continues to rise in popularity. In fact, an estimated 90% of businesses and organizations use content marketing in their marketing efforts.

Well crafted content engages readers and allows businesses to build trust with potential customers.

Publishing content also drives more website traffic and attracts inbound links. These links not only help the site’s content rank in the search engines, but it also boosts domain authority which can allow websites to rank for the keywords that attract paying customers.

In fact, a study by Hubspot found that sites that publish 16 or more posts per month get almost 3.5x more traffic than businesses that only publish between 0-4 articles per month.

Why Is Content Marketing Important?

In a world that is moving towards ad-blocking software, consumer privacy, and rising paid ad costs, content marketing is a way to cut through the noise and attract your target customer by helping them through inbound marketing.

Content marketing stands out from other forms of marketing by putting the customer first – first giving value by helping them, then gaining trust and ultimately winning the sale.

An investment in content may not result in fast or immediate returns, but traffic, brand awareness and sales will grow over time if your business is consistent in its content marketing efforts.

Why else should businesses get into content marketing?

Here are a couple of key reasons…

Consumers have more options and do more research

Consumers and businesses have more options than ever before when it comes to making purchases.

In the past, brands with the biggest advertising budgets could win by placing ads on television or in the newspaper.

With the growth of the Internet, small businesses can now attract their own audience and grow their business by creating valuable content.

Studies show that up to 88% of consumers also do online research before buying a product or service.

Content marketing can be a great way to reach customers while they are researching your product or service (or getting information related to it). Providing genuinely useful information can help your business establish credibility and trust with your customers so that they think of you when they are ready to buy.

Content is the core of all other marketing

Content also forms a good foundation for other marketing tactics. People generally don’t enjoy being sold to, but they do like being educated and entertained.

Effective content can be repurposed into other marketing channels. Once you create a piece of content, you can market it with all the other channels – It can rank on Google, you can turn it into videos, you can email it to your clients, you can post it on social media, you can run paid traffic to it.

I like to think of pieces of content as marketing soldiers that will keep working for you 24/7.

Good content can create a strong core foundation for all other marketing tactics.

What Are The Benefits Of Content Marketing?

Here are a few reasons that you should invest in content marketing:

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

Content marketing can help websites increase their search engine traffic. Informative articles can attract links and rank for keywords that a target customer might search for.

In addition to ranking for content, writing articles and blogging can also improve rankings for a website’s main home page keywords.

Andy Crestodina runs Orbit Media, a web development agency in Chicago that employs over 30 people and generates over 7-figures in annual sales by focusing mainly on content marketing.

A quick search on Google for “web design Chicago” or “web development Chicago” shows Orbit Media on the first page of the search listings.

Orbit Media also has acquired more than 3x as many links to their site as their closest competitor due to their popular blog. In fact, the site has over 220,000 links from over 5,000 unique domains according to AHrefs:

Gain Trust

Effective content also allows businesses to build trust with their customers, which can lead to more sales.

Moz sells SEO software that helps businesses increase search engine traffic to their sites.

The Moz blog is one of the most well-known blogs in the inbound marketing space, featuring authoritative guides and independent research studies on SEO and inbound marketing. The blog has accumulated a following and established thought leadership by putting out high-quality content for over 10 years.

This Quora discussion from 2016 shows that many professional SEO experts preferred other tools over Moz as other tools indexed more web pages.

However, despite not being the top SEO tool, Moz still generated over $47 million in annual revenue in 2017 and is still one of the most well-known SEO tools. That is the power of thought leadership in content marketing!

Note that Moz has since updated their tool and is now competitive with other tools as far as features and index size. But they still grew for many years due to their dominance with content marketing.

Educate Potential Customers & Close Deals Faster

By explaining all the questions around your product or service, your clients will be well educated after consuming your content.

That means you don’t’ have to spend your time explaining everything from the beginning… With content marketing, you’ll start closing deals faster!

Build Brand Awareness and Thought Leadership

Building brand awareness and thought leadership is another reason that content marketing can be effective for businesses. In fact, brand awareness can result in more sales than trying to get sales directly from content.

In early 2018, Oli Gardner from Unbounce ran a 30-day experiment where he tried to get more readers to convert into free trial users for some of Unbounce’s newer products. However, despite his efforts, the blog only converted at 0.3%.

Oli asked himself…

Was content marketing a waste of time? Why weren’t more readers converting into paying customers?

Oli reached out to other successful marketers to ask their opinions about content marketing.

What other influential content marketers revealed was that sales resulting from brand recognition and thought leadership greatly exceeded sales coming directly from content.

Becoming a thought leader can amplify content marketing results, but you don’t have to be an influencer to do well with content marketing.

You can build brand awareness by creating content that drives SEO and social media traffic to your site. If you have great content and a great product or service, people will talk about you, link to your website, and share your business with others.

A Quick History Of Content Marketing

So how did content marketing get started? Let’s take a quick look at the history of content marketing.

Several sources, including Content Marketing Institute, credit Benjamin Franklin as the earliest example of content marketing when he published Poor Richard’s Almanac to promote his printing business. The publication contained a variety of information useful to consumers at the time, including a calendar, weather information, poems, and astrological information.

However, it is likely that people used content marketing to promote businesses even before then.

Some other notable historical applications and developments for content marketing include the following:

  • 1867 – Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company launch The Locomotive, the oldest company magazine still being published in the United States.
  • 1904 – The Jell-O company gives away its first Jell-O recipe book, resulting in over $1 million in sales by 1906.
  • 2001 – Penton Custom Media starts using the term “content marketing”
  • 2008 – The book “Get Content, Get Customers” is published becoming one of the first popular handbooks for content marketing.

Although content marketing has been around for a long time, a big surge in interest in content marketing occurred around 2011. The graph below shows the sharp increase in searches for the term “content marketing”:

One of the core reasons for this shift in interest in content marketing was Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates. These updates made it much harder for SEOs to build links with low-quality content and tactics like reciprocal linking.

Through the years, Google continued to release updates to improve its search results and make it harder for online marketers to rank using spammy tactics like mass directory submissions, article directories, and link trading.

As a result, online marketers started to focus on tactics like content marketing to earn links and attract an audience that would link to their content naturally.

Summing It Up

There are countless studies and real-life examples that show that content marketing does work.

To increase your odds of success, be sure you are ready to commit to content marketing as results often accelerate when content marketing is done consistently. Be prepared to invest the time and resources to create an effective strategy and make content marketing a priority for your business.

Are you ready to win with content marketing?

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