How to create a content marketing strategy plan

The thought of starting to create content, if you haven’t already, can be daunting. It’s such a large undertaking and it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd. However, if you break it down and create a comprehensive content marketing strategy plan, you can make production manageable. The following tips should help you get started.

Outline your aim and goals

Before anything else, you need to decide what the overall aim of your content marketing efforts is. Think about your company mission and consider how content could help you work towards it. Then, break this down using the SMART framework: you want to identify goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. For example, an aim could be “to be seen as a thought leader in technology-driven pet accessories”. SMART goals for this could be “to appear on the first page of Google for the search term ‘automated dog feeder’ by 1st August 2016” and “to grow an email list of 1,000 subscribers by 1st July 2016”. With clear goals, you’ll have tangible targets to work towards and easily be able to measure your successes.

Identify your buyer personas

Now you know what you’re aiming for, it’s time to look at your target audience. To see results, you need to identify who you’re creating content for, this will determine the kind of content you produce and your tone of voice. You should have about three to five detailed buyer personas. You can get started with buyer personas with this beginner’s guide or by using Hubspot’s template and guide. Typically, you’ll want to find out more about your existing customers by speaking with them, doing surveys and looking at your site’s traffic.

Research where your personas go

In order for your content marketing activities to be effective, you need to know where your prospects go online. This will require some research. In a similar way to your initial persona research, it’s a good idea to speak with existing customers. Ask about their online habits – what sites they visit most often, their favourite blogs, the social media platforms they use and more. This will help you decide where you need to concentrate your efforts in terms of the kind of content you create and how you promote and distribute it. For example, a seller of keyboards for developers may find that many of their potential customers spend time on Reddit, so it could be worth growing a presence there.

Evaluate existing content

Next, take a look at any existing content you have. You’ll want to do a content audit to see areas you’ve done well with so far, and areas that have been lacking. How in-depth you need to go will depend how much you’ve produced so far. Basically, you want to list all your content, how much traffic it has produced, how many leads and sales it has generated, the keywords you used and engagement generated. See which pieces of content have worked well for you so you can create content on similar topics, or utilising the same keywords.

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CMI’s template for content strategy statement

Note the kinds of content you want to focus on

So you know what you’re trying to achieve, who you’re creating content for and what areas you’ve been successful with so far – you can use this knowledge to decide what kind of content you want to focus on going forward. You can choose from a world of options, including blog posts, infographics, videos and reviews. Think about your personas, what they’d like, and how different content could help you achieve your goals. For example, say you’re aiming to sell tractor attachments and your buyer persona is Tom, a young farmer who uses the internet to help his dad make the best purchasing choices for their farm. You could create a series of blog posts that review the latest bale spikes in detail and honestly.

Take a look at your team and their capacities

For a content marketing strategy to be effective, you need to understand your capabilities. Consider who will be working on your content, whether it’s just yourself or an entire dedicated content team. You’ll need to be realistic about what you’re able to do, so think about what you know, your strengths (e.g. would you be better at writing informative blog posts or creating an image using Photoshop?) and your other responsibilities. This will give you an idea of how much content you’ll be able to produce on a weekly or monthly basis, without over-stretching yourself. If your time is limited and you have the resources, you could outsource most of your content marketing.

Make an editorial calendar

By now, you should have a good idea of what you’re going to do, so it’s time to create an editorial calendar. Ideally this should be a spreadsheet with columns for the content type, title, goal, creator, deadline, distribution/promotion channel and any other important details. You can use an existing template to make things easier. Then get creating!

Once you’ve started publishing, you’ll need to promote your content through various channels. It’s a good idea to have a promotion workflow, which will ensure this important step is never missed. When a piece of content is published, you could email coworkers about it, share it on social media, forward it to your email subscribers and contact influencers in the hope they’ll share it.

Monitor and tweak

So you’re writing, publishing and sharing content on a regular basis, but it doesn’t stop there. You need to monitor how your content is doing and make changes to your plan if necessary. Analytics tools are essential for this. At the very least, ensure you have Google Analytics set up and configured properly so you can see important data about visitors to your site. Keep your eye on how content is performing and try to spot any trends; you can then tweak your plan to reflect content that has done well.

Useful templates

To make planning easier, there are many templates available. Buffer offers one of the most comprehensive, along with detailed steps you can follow. You’ll also find a straightforward, fast, one-page plan by Uncommon.ly here and an excellent content marketing strategy package for B2B companies by Velocity here.

Don’t put off writing your content marketing strategy plan any longer – get started today!

Image courtesy of Pieter Schouten

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The complete guide to content marketing on LinkedIn

We all know that LinkedIn is the social network for professionals, and a valuable tool for recruiters across the world. What you might not have realised, however, is the potential of the platform when it comes to content marketing.

As LinkedIn has evolved, opportunities to share content have increased, and with a growing, interested audience to market your services to, the site really should be an integral part of your content strategy.

How does LinkedIn differ from other platforms, such as Facebook, when it comes to publishing content? Well, for starters, posting cat memes and sharing photos of your dinner is actively discouraged. Quality content is placed on a pedestal, as Andrea Fryear of Ceros notes: “members are more likely to share professional content that builds their professional brands, strengthens their professional networks, or helps them sell to their networks. Marketing content will be shared more if it fulfils these needs.”

Here’s our complete guide to getting the most out of LinkedIn:

Content types

When planning your content marketing strategy on LinkedIn, it’s important to think about what you want to share, and what your goals are. This will dictate the eventual guise your content takes – do you stay short, or do you go long?

Short status updates

The easiest way to penetrate your audience’s consciousness is through the LinkedIn status update. Updates are shared with your network, and when someone likes your status, it is disseminated among their followers too. Status updates are a great way for you to release the latest company news, link to content published elsewhere and offer your reaction to news pieces or blog posts in your industry. Hubspot recommend posting a status two to three times a day – just enough to establish yourself among your connections, without coming across as too ‘spammy’.

LinkedIn even offer a handy guide, informing you how you can get the most engagement out of your status updates. These tips include encouraging your audience to get in touch or comment via a call to action, posting regularly (“Companies that post 20 times a month, on average, reach 60% of their followers with 1 or more updates”, the guide says) and implementing different ways to monitor performance. What better way is there to provoke comment than this example from Network Sunday?

Long form posts

The other main form of content found on LinkedIn is the long form post. LinkedIn has evolved from a professional networking site to become a bona fide publishing platform and, with 414 million users, your content could get a lot of traction if those in your industry pick up on it and decide to share. Long form posts can act as both a content creation and a content redistribution tool, according to Jayson DeMers of Forbes,  as users can publish fresh content or choose to repurpose their existing blog posts to reach a new, interested audience.

Longer posts, if implemented correctly, are beneficial as they portray you or your company as ‘thought leaders’, eager to share your knowledge and benefit from the experiences of others in your industry. Your connections will receive a notification when you publish a post via Pulse, so it’s easy to see how a well-written piece that adds value to the conversation can quickly spread like wildfire. Hubspot recommends publishing in this manner once or twice a week, for maximum effect.

One particularly good Pulse example comes from Shane Snow, co-founder of Contently. In this article, Snow discusses the importance of building a business’s story by delving into the background of Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Gosling. Now, whether the post spread (over 400,000 views and 3,000 likes to date) due to the link with the star of The Notebook or because of its powerful message (“the more personal a story we share, the closer it can bring people to us”) isn’t clear, but it shows the potential ‘thinking outside of the box’ can deliver – it’s a good post, with a tangible example and a valuable takeaway for the audience. And that is, ultimately, what you’re looking for.

Content distribution channels

Once you’ve decided on the form your content is going to take, you’ll need to choose the optimal channel through which to distribute it. There are five common options:

Personal profile

As a business owner, you’ll ideally have two presences on LinkedIn: a personal profile, through which you can establish yourself as an experienced and knowledgeable figure in your sector, and a business page, which represents your brand and also unlocks extra features, such as sponsored updates. The majority of your content should be published through your personal account, but remember to cross-promote posts and updates from the business, your employees and others in your industry for maximum effect.

Business page

Storytelling is a buzzword in content marketing at the moment, and a LinkedIn company page provides you with the perfect opportunity to get your message across. You can connect with employees and encourage them to share your company material, post job opportunities and update your connections with ‘news from the factory floor’.

IT firm TEKsystems are a good example to follow. They are prompt at interacting with users via the comment section on their posts, while the firm’s content contributors are encouraged to respond to feedback via their personal accounts, helping to expel the traditional image of companies being ‘faceless.’

Luke Brynley-Jones, founder of Our Social Times, says “94% of B2B marketers use LinkedIn to share content, making it the most popular B2B social media platform.”  With this statistic in mind, it would be madness for your business not to be present in some way.

LinkedIn Groups

LinkedIn Groups are places where those in your industry can interact, make contact and establish themselves as thought leaders in their sector. While some of the content you share may be irrelevant to a percentage of your followers, distributing as a participant of a special interest group ensures that you’re preaching to an audience who are interested in what you or your business has to say. Digital Marketing and B2B Marketing are among the most popular groups, with tens of thousands of members, but joining a smaller group, such as LinkedIn Business Strategists, could also be beneficial, as your content is less likely to get lost among all the noise.

LinkedIn Pulse

Pulse is LinkedIn’s publishing platform and is the channel to use if you wish to distribute longer content and reach a wider audience. Some of the world’s most influential people post through Pulse – even Bill Gates uses it! Quality content posted through this medium can invade the newsfeeds of thousands and help start a conversation, with you or your business right at the centre.

Sponsored updates

Sponsored updates are only available on business profiles, but they allow you to target your audience precisely. Try your posts organically on LinkedIn before you pay to use this platform, and use content that has gained the most traction. Use LinkedIn’s aforementioned guide to tailor your updates in the most effective way and this article from Adstage form inspiration from good examples of sponsored updates in the past.

Finding a balance

Like any successful content marketing strategy, you will have to find a balance between these five channels, a need recognised by Post Planner’s Rebekah Radice, who implores you to “stay top of mind by consistently sharing relevant content to your LinkedIn page and taking advantage of expanded reach through LinkedIn Pulse. And don’t forget to cross-promote within your LinkedIn Groups and via your personal profile.”

How you approach content marketing on LinkedIn will depend on your particular niche, the identity of your audience and, perhaps most importantly, the story you want to get across. For us, Jason A Miller’s quote, which can be roughly paraphrased as ‘users spend their time on Facebook and see their time on LinkedIn as an investment’, rings true, so ensure you’re always offering them something valuable, and work from there.

Image courtesy of Nan Palmero

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5 Fantastic content marketing idea generators

As a content marketer, you’ll be all too aware of the daily struggle to generate fresh, shareable content. You might be an expert in every aspect of the products or services you provide, but if you can’t come up with content that will be read and shared by the right people, you’re going to struggle to remain relevant.

Fortunately, you don’t just have to go it alone. Make use of the following 5 tools to generate ideas for content that will prove a hit with your target audience.

Alltop

Use this for: Jumping on the newsjacking bandwagon

Newsjacking’ should be a word you’re familiar with by now. It involves taking a current news story and then putting your own twist on it, so it resonates with your audience. If you’re struggling for ideas for your content, this is a great way to tap into people’s interests, establish your brand as an authoritative voice and get your personality across. A good site to use for newsjacking is Alltop, which ranks the most popular stories and sites from across the web.

You can also get a run down of what’s being talked about in your industry, as Alltop lists posts from the most influential brands and bloggers. A quick search for ‘content marketing’, for example, throws up blogs from the likes of Joe Polizzi at Content Marketing Institute and Copyblogger, as well as insight from more niche corners of the internet. If you scroll through the variety of titles on show, you’re bound to find an article or two from which you can take inspiration.

BuzzSumo

Use this for: Informing and inspiring shareworthy content

BuzzSumo’s primary purpose is to inform you how content is performing online, giving you an insight into how to tailor your future output. As the Content Marketing Conference succinctly puts it, BuzzSumo ensures ‘your content is getting the attention it deserves’. Although you’ll have to pay to use the full version of the tool, it’s indispensable if you want to stay on-trend with current topics and viral content.

The BuzzSumo Content tab is particularly bountiful if you want to discover what the most shared items of content are for particular keywords. Simply enter your search term, and BuzzSumo will scan the major social media platforms and, for Mike Kaput of PR2020, “the result is a priceless trove of data that tells you exactly what content resonates with audiences searching for a particular topic or keyword.”

BuzzSumo can also let you know who the top influencers are in your particular field, allowing you to identify guest posting opportunities and keep your finger on the pulse in regards to the topics being discussed by thought leaders.

Quora

Use this for: Adding colour and character to long-form blog posts

In this article for Cornerstone Content, digital marketing manager Dustin Christensen vouches for the all-round value of Quora as an ideas-sourcing platform, saying ‘Though it’s more of a platform, I use Quora to not only find content marketing ideas and topics, but to discover and engage with experts that I might not find otherwise. It’s a great way to generate content ideas, while also demonstrating one’s own insight by answering relevant questions with unique value.”

Quora allows you to track topics, search by relevant keywords and also add your own input, giving you an idea of what questions people are asking about the particular subject area you’re based in. You can extrapolate these questions, and their answers, to form a crowd-sourced blog post, or you could simply use trending topics as inspiration for your content marketing titles. This Buffer post offers further insight on how Quora can be utilised as part of your marketing strategy.

Soovle

Use this for: Researching keywords and optimising content

Soovle is a search engine combining the top results from the likes of Google, Bing, Yahoo and Wikipedia. It comes in useful if you want to research how people are currently searching for your target keywords, so you can optimise your content accordingly. Just search for two or three of your main keywords, and the search engine will return with the most common entries across all the main sites. You can save your results for future reference, and if you’re still at the content planning stage, we’d suggest diversifying your entries, making a note of these keywords in a spreadsheet, and running them through one of the title generators covered above, so you can come up with multiple pieces of content that target as wide an audience as possible.

This useful video from the Social Ghost gives you further insight into how you can use Soovle to search for potential content marketing ideas.

TweakYourBiz Title Generator

Use this for: Piquing interest and generating shareworthy blog titles

There are plenty of tools on the web which throw up blog title suggestions if you enter a couple of keywords, with HubSpot and Portent being two of the most popular. I prefer TweakYourBiz, however, as the results are organised into different article ‘types’, including how-to’s, listicles and question-based titles.

Of course, the generator works off an algorithm, so some of the suggestions will be nonsensical. If I enter ‘social media marketing’, I’m confronted with ‘Get more and better sex with social media marketing (it would be interesting to see how that would work!) but the generator also suggests ‘5 creative ways you can improve your social media marketing’ and, interestingly, given how active and confrontational he is on Twitter, ‘what Donald Trump can teach you about social media marketing’. You could easily plan and write two blogs based on these titles and, as the generator comes up with hundreds of possible options, you could keep returning again and again, which is especially useful if your keyword focus is quite narrow, or you find a particular term generating plenty of interest among your audience.

Now we’ve introduced you to our reliable brainstorming sites, how do you come up with fresh, interesting ideas for your content? Share your tips with us in the comment section below…

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How does content marketing generate leads?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you will have heard the hype surrounding content marketing. What might be less clear, however, is why exactly you need to be doing it.

As with most forms of marketing, measuring the ROI on campaigns can be tricky, which makes it tough for many small and medium-sized businesses to justify the spend.

If you are smart about it, however, we believe that content marketing can generate a tangible return in the form of what matters most, leads. Read on to discover the benefits and specifically how these benefits drive leads:

Content marketing drives traffic to your website

Leads generated by: Conversions, enquiry forms on landing pages, sign ups.

Think about the queries your customers might enter into Google, then answer these with useful and insightful content. In this content, where appropriate, link to relevant landing pages that offer your product as the solution.

Content marketing and SEO go hand in hand, and SEO remains as one of the most tangible sources of leads for many businesses. To rank on Google, you need content that utilises relevant keywords, links to your site from quality sites, technical optimisation (e.g. keyword-rich tagging) and consistent output. This is what content marketing is all about – it uses keywords, introduces links, improves the user experience and requires consistency. Do all this properly, and you’ll see your rankings on the search engines improve significantly over time. This increase in traffic will lead to more people contacting you about your services and signing up for your content (such as blog posts and email newsletters).

Content marketing builds brand awareness

Leads generated by: Potential customers becoming aware of your company and thinking of you when they have a requirement.

No matter how big your company is, branding is very important and can help build trust and confidence from your customers.

Content marketing is one of the most powerful branding tools at your disposal. Over 50% of marketers who create and distribute content say it has increased their brand visibility. Content acts as a branding platform, giving you a way to develop your own unique voice and communicate with your target audience. Through your content, you can present your guiding principles and solidify your value proposition, giving readers the information they want to know while showing your company in a positive light.

One excellent example of a company using content marketing for effective branding is the social media management system Hootsuite. The company aims to be fun, informal and easily accessible, and their content helps them achieve this, with blog posts such as ‘Five secrets to success from Santa, the ultimate entrepreneur‘ and ‘How to ask for things on social media‘. Their parody of the Game of Thrones opening speaks to their millennial tech-savvy target audience, many of which will be fans of the show and enjoy the way Hootsuite links it to all their favourite social media platforms. This kind of positive branding will lead to more people becoming interested in your business, with them turning into leads when they follow or like your social media pages or sign up for your emails.

Take a look at Innocent Drinks’ brand story for another good example of branding done right.

Content marketing increases readership and subscribers

Leads generated by: Readers turning into subscribers, creating opportunities for you to sell to them through social media and email marketing.

If you’re creating top-quality content, you’ll begin to gain a readership. These readers will most likely find your content through search engines, social media, paid advertisements or links from other sites. In fact, research shows that 71% of people are more likely to buy from a brand they follow on social media. So you need to be producing content and sharing that, along with other relevant content from third parties, on your social media pages.

With an increased readership comes an increase in subscribers – AKA leads. High-quality content keeps readers coming back for more, so more of them will sign up for blog post notifications and newsletters. You can utilise these leads to make sales, by sending them product or service offers that are relevant to them and emailing them special deals. It’s vital to avoid spamming your subscribers though, as it will undo some of the work you’ve done and damage your reputation. Check out Simply Business’s fantastic guide to email marketing if you’re wondering where to start.

Content marketing builds trust and authority

Leads generated by: Increasing trust in your brand and improving your reputation, leading to more people engaging with your social media accounts, increased enquiries and more subscribers.

If you are consistently producing great content, readers will return to your site and you will begin to gain their trust and build authority in your field. As well as attracting visitors to your site, this should also peak influencer and related companies’ interest. This can only mean good things for your business, as word of mouth should result in even more new leads from people joining your mailing list, asking about your services and joining the conversation on social media.

Authority and SEO go hand in hand. As your brand becomes more well-known and respected, Google will pick up on this with the increase in links, social media mentions and traffic, and push your site up the SERPs. Building authority will take time and effort, but it’ll be worth it in the end.

In a nutshell: Content marketing helps your business to reach more people

You’ll see that there’s a common trend with all the above points: they revolve around more people becoming aware of your business. And as the saying goes, “any publicity is good publicity”. With content marketing, you can enjoy all the benefits of traditional advertising and more with a much smaller outlay. You can use blog posts, infographics, videos, photos and social media to get information related to your company’s services out there, and wait for the increased number of visitors to start converting into leads. There’s no need to pump out content for the sake of it though; quality is much more important than quantity, so focus on content that will provide real value and insight to your visitors without being ‘salesy’.

Don’t underestimate the many benefits of regular, quality content for your company. As well as generating leads, research indicates that content marketing costs approximately 62% less than traditional marketing methods – who can say no to that?

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