Blogging Business Strategy Content Marketing

How to Develop a Content Marketing Strategy to Attract Leads and Boost Sales

Having a content marketing strategy is the most important part of doing marketing on the web. This is especially true in the B2B world where the sales cycle is long or if you’re selling services or high ticket items.

Having interesting content is what helps you start that initial relationship with your prospects and keeps them engaged. In most cases, prospects are not ready to do business with you upon their first visit to your site.

But if you have relevant and compelling content that teaches them something new, show them how to solve their pains or problems,  entertains them, intrigues them, or provokes them, then they would be more likely to consider you when they are ready to make their buying decisions.

So, to attract web visitors, create engagement and establish your authority, you must offer content that is educational, useful, relevant, and original. In other words, your content must be remarkable!

Examples of organizations that have done a great job of content marketing are Hubspot, Marketo, and Breakpoint Systems. Just visit the websites and blogs of these companies and pay attention to how they write their blog articles as well as how they create and give away useful and educational E-books. Every content they produce are packed with useful information!

The benefits of Creating Awesome Content

Creating awesome content benefits your business in so many ways. Here are a few:

  • Awesome content helps to establish yourself as the expert and authority in your field.
  • Awesome content is more likely to attract links and mentions from external websites and blogs. Why are links important? In SEO, links are significant ranking variable.
  • Awesome content gets shared in the social media universe, generating publicity and traffic for your site.
  • Awesome content engages your audience and builds trust, driving your visitors and prospects further down the conversion funnel.

Creating Awesome Content Requires a Great Deal of Efforts!

I’ve preached the merits of content marketing with every organizations that I have worked with and I’ve always run into a wall each time. Indeed, creating high quality and interesting content requires a great deal of time and efforts. Most organizations struggle with creating content because they just don’t put enough resources into this very important marketing initative!

In addition, the people who have the knowledge and the insights already have full time jobs to deal with. Furthermore, most of them are not good writers and trying to get them to write is like pulling teeth.

So with all of these challenges, how do you proceed? Read on to find out…

The Content Creation Process

So how do you go about coming up with content ideas and creating the content? Below, I outline the steps that you should follow to create awesome content.

1) Know Everything about your Target Audience

The first step you should take is to truly understand your target audience. Asides from gathering basic demographic information, you should also find out what keep them up at night, what are their pain points, what problems are they trying to solve, what are their aspirations, what do they want to learn, etc.

In addition, you should find out about their online behaviors. What keywords do they search on? Which blogs do they frequently visit? Which social networking sites (linkedin, facebook, twitter, Pinterest, etc) and forums are they most active on? Do they prefer video content or blog articles?

Keep in mind that in the B2B world, you should have different types of content for different people that are involved in the decision process (i.e an engineer cares more about unique features and tips, a purchasing manager cares more about cost and supply chain, and C-level exectives would care more about your company’s history, reputation, track record, etc).

The best ways to gain insights into your prospects and customers are to survey them, talk to folks in sales and customer service, and review your Google analytic data. In fact, by reviewing your Google analytic data, you could mine valuable data such as which keywords are bringing in the traffic, which pages have the most views, and what are they keywords people search for when they are on your site.

The above exercise is very important so you should spend the right amount of time to research your target audience and truly understands their needs, desires, problems, pains. Armed with these information and insights, you will be able to create content that really resonates with them.

2) Understand the Content Need for Each Stage of the Buying Cycle

How fast a prospect becomes a customers depends on the length of the buying cycle and how fast you can accelerate a prospect through the buying cycle. Having relevant content at each stage of the buying cycle would certainly help propel the prospects through the buying cycle.

A prospect that is still at the early stage of researching for a solution would need different information than a prospect that already has a short list of potential vendors and is evaluating the qualifications of each vendor.

At the early stages, prospects are more interested in educational and insightful information about industry trends, new developments, new approaches to solving the same problem, etc. Blog articles, videos, infographics are the best types of medium to deliver these types of content.

At the later stages, prospects want to compare features, benefits, lead time, pricing, quality, reliability, delivery, etc. At the later stages, content in the forms of case studies, comparison reports, webinars, and product demos help build your case  and move the prospects closer to doing business with you.

3) Perform keyword research

Perform keyword research using the free Google keyword tool or other tools (wordtracker, keyword discovery) to identify the topics and issues that are popular with your target audience. The keyword tools can give you valuable data such as the popularity of the topics (based on monthly number of searches). You should target the long tail keyword phrases (keywords with more than 3 words) since they are more targeted and have less competition.

4) Monitor social media, forum, and blog conversations

Forums and social networking sites such as linkedin, yahoo answers, quora, twitter, facebook, etc are places where people go to to ask questions and share thoughts and ideas. By monitoring these conversations, you can gain lots of insights into the topics or issues that your target audience cares about. You can also use social media monitoring tools like Social Mention, Technorati, TweetBeep, Topsy, Google Alerts, Twilert,  Trackur (paid), Radian6 (paid), Hootsuite, Argyle, Alterian, etc to track and monitor conversations around certain keywords that you want to monitor.

If your competitors already have active blogs and forums, you should go there and check them out to find out what types of topics are  currently hot.

In addition, you should subscribe to related blogs and industry news sites. By keeping up with the hot topics and trends related to your industry, you can find inspiration to write your own articles.

5) Create a Content Creation Plan & Calendar

Once you have completed steps 1-4, it’s now time to put together a content creation plan. Your plan should includes the topics for your content, who should be the writer and editor, the types of content (blog articles, solution guides, videos, webinars, etc) and when to publish the content (content calendar). Ideally, you should be cranking out content on a weekly basis.

For technical oriented types of content, you definitely want to enlist the help of subject matter experts. Subject matter experts possess specific knowledge and insights that are valuable to share with your target audience. Since most technical people are not really good writer themselves nor do they have the time to write, it’s best for you to interview them to get the information and then get a technical writer to compose a coherent and compelling article.

Keep in mind that you don’t necessary have to produce all the content in-house. You could always outsource some aspects of your content. For more general and industry trends types of content, you might want to outsource to free lance journalists (Check out contently.com and brafton.com!)

To help keep your content plan organized, you can use Google Calendar or an Excel spreadsheet.

What are the different Types of Content

Your content could be in many forms. Here are a few common forms of content on the web and their uses:

  • blog articles – blog articles are great for establishing thought leadership. Blog is usually used for sharing industry trends, announcing new product releases, discussing current issues in your industry and business, and discussing about issues that are relevant to your target audience’s concerns. Blog articles are ideal for generating awareness among prospects that are at the early stage of the buying cycle. Blog articles also help drive traffic to your site and help your overall SEO efforts.
  • White papers (PDF) – White papers are ideal for talking about a complicated idea and sharing tips. When a topic is too long to be a blog article, it’s best to create a white paper for it. White papers are great offers to give away to prospects in exchange for their contact information.
  • E-books – An E-book is a comprehensive write up on a particular topic. E-books are perhaps the best offer you can give to your prospects to entice them to give up their contact information.
  • Videos – Videos have the power to engage and captivate people’s attention. Your videos don’t need to be professional and expensive to produce either. The important thing is that the audio is good and that you have good content to share.
  • Infographics – Infographics are graphic representation of a topic. Recently, infographics are becoming very popular on the web as they are nice to look at and they do a better job of conveying an idea in a graphical format.
  • Podcasts – A podcast is a series of audio files that can be subscribed to and downloaded. You could host your podcast files on Apple’s Itune store for people to download.
  • Webinars – A webinar is basically an online seminar. It’s a very cost effective and interactive way of hosting an online event on a particular topic and allowing your audience to engage with you through online Q&A. Popular online webinar services include gotomeeting.com, webex.com, anymeeting.com.
  • Case Studies – Case Studies are a great way to establish social proof and to educate prospects how you help clients from different industry solve a particular problem or improve business efficiency using your products, services, or solutions.
  • Interviews – Interviewing experts and other authority figures in your industry is a great way to associate yourself with prominent figures which adds to your credibility.

Note that you could also take an existing piece of content and repurpose it. For example, a PDF white paper could be repurposed into multiple blog articles and a video could be converted into a podcast file. Repurposing makes a lot of sense!

6) Follow Good Copywriting, Design, & SEO Practices

Good copywriting and story telling and great designs are important to keep your audience engaged. Your content must not only be remarkable, but they must be easy to consume, interesting to follow, and beautifully presented also.

In addition, be sure to follow SEO best practices by doing keyword research and doing proper on-page optimization.  Do not try to stuff keywords at the expense of content quality. It’s important to keep SEO in mind, but your writing should also flow naturally.

7) Promote Your Content

Now that you have invested the time and efforts to create those awesome pieces of content, it’s time to let your target audience knows about it. Leverage your relationships with bloggers, media outlets, and key industry influencers to promote your content. You can also use social book marking (digg, stumbleupon, reddit, etc) and social media channels (twitter, facebook, google +, & linkedin) to share and promote your content.

Great content + SEO + social media promotions will bring massive web visits and boost your sales. If you continue to do these things well, you will see your sales shoot through the roof!

8) Monitor, Measure & Analyze

In order gauge the effectiveness of your content marketing and social media efforts, you need to monitor, measure, and analyze your results and performance.

Start with identifying your goals and metrics. What do you want to achieve? More traffic to your site? Get more links to your site? More engagement with your target audience? More leads/sales/revenue?

For measurement and analysis, analyze the data from your Analytics program (Google Analytics, Kissmetrics, Omniture, etc) and find out:

  • Which articles drive the most traffic
  • Which keywords are effective
  • Which social media channels drive the most engagement
  • Which topics resonate the most with your target audience

Just Do It!

As I stated above, embarking on a content marketing journey requires a strategy and commitment from almost everyone in the entire organization. Organizations must realize the importance of having a sound content marketing strategy and must invest in the necessary resources to create relevant and interesting content. The pay-offs will be huge if done well. But if your organization is slow to implement an effective content marketing strategy, then pretty soon your business might become irrelevant!

Peter Nguyen
I'm an Interne/online marketing expert with a strong blend of creative, technical, and analytic skills. I have over 6 years of experience doing online marketing for B2B as well as B2C Ecommerce. My expertise is in SEO, PPC, Social Media, Analytics, Copywriting, Landing Page Design, B2B Lead Generation, Conversion Optimization, Web Design, and project management. I am passionate about online marketing and I am constantly learning and keeping up to date on the latest advances on online marketing and social media marketing.
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