March 08, 2012
How To

Content Marketing How-to: 5 tactics to improve results, pick topics, set goals

SUMMARY: Creating good content is hard work, so it's easy to want to get it out of the way. But you have to be careful not to rush your planning. Otherwise, you could miss the mark and have to start over again.

We pulled tactics from interviews with three content marketers to help you get better results with your whitepapers, blog posts, webinars and other content. Find out what you must know before publishing, and how you can find new opportunities for topics to cover.
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter

Too many companies assume they need a whitepaper without first considering why they need a whitepaper, says Stephanie Tilton, Principal Consultant, Ten Ton Marketing. Ten Ton helps companies create and improve their content.

"A problem is that many companies have a checklist of content-types they need to produce. They say, 'We have this product, so we definitely need a whitepaper, a brochure, a case study and maybe a webinar,'" she says.

Marketers are shooting in the dark with this approach. To get you on target, we interviewed Tilton and two other content marketers. They provided advice on how to align your content with your goals, audience and opportunities.

They shared these five tactics:

Tactic #1. Always set a goal beforehand

Each piece of content should be created with a goal in mind. The goal should drive the design and topic.

"Too many companies go that step without really considering why they should create a piece of content, and what purpose it is going to serve," Tilton says.

A simple approach is to target your content to a specific stage in your buying cycle, or funnel. For your next piece of content, what do you want it to support?
  • Top-funnel goals - raise general awareness of your brand; increase website traffic

  • Mid-funnel goals - raise awareness of your products and services

  • Late-funnel goals - get prospects to choose you over competitors

Setting even basic, high-level goals will provide a compass to keep you on track when you're planning and publishing.

Tactic #2. Educate new prospects - don’t sell them

There is a time for promoting your products and services; it's not when you are trying to attract visitors to your website. You will pull more people into your funnel by focusing on education.

"It is much too early for a prospect to even consider the specifics of your solution," Tilton says. Your content at this stage should "truly be valuable in terms of helping the reader learn about the issue at hand," she says.

For example, a Florida-based air conditioning service, Conditioned Air, publishes a blog with tips on cooling and dehumidifying homes and businesses in the region. The posts:
  • Provide useful information

  • Focus on educating visitors

  • Avoid direct promotion of the company

  • Have helped attract organic search traffic

Unique visitors make up 85% of Conditioned Air's site traffic, and 40% come from organic search, says Theo Etzel, CEO, Conditioned Air.

In another example, ChannelAdvisor, an e-commerce software provider, publishes whitepapers on paid search marketing, social marketing and other topics. The whitepapers do not mention the company's services until the final page, where a boilerplate message is included.

Tactic #3. Do not choose formats by default

Instead of mimicking what is offered in your industry, you should choose content formats that best suit your needs.

A few tips on formats:
  • Videos - both ChannelAdvisor and Conditioned Air use videos to explain helpful but technical information that would be painful to read in a whitepaper (such as how an air conditioning system works).

  • E-books - finding that many prospects did not have time to read a 15-page whitepaper, ChannelAdvisor improved results by repurposing whitepapers into e-books with more graphics and call-out quotes, says Delisa Reavis, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications, ChannelAdvisor.

  • Customer reviews - reviews can be very effective, but only 33% of marketers publish them, according to the MarketingSherpa 2012 Search Marketing Benchmark Report -- SEO Edition.

This chart from the report highlights the types of content that search marketers find to be most effective at achieving marketing goals:

Marketing Research Chart: Level of effectiveness in achieving marketing objectives, by content product

Q. Please indicate the LEVEL OF EFFECTIVENESS (in terms of achieving marketing objectives) for each of the content products used by your organization.
View Chart Online

Click here to see a larger, printable version of this chart

Tactic #4. Write to your ideal customer

Once you pick a goal for your content, you need to pick a topic. One strategy is to put yourself in the mind of your ideal prospect -- the best person you could possibly reach -- and list the information that person needs.

For every point in the funnel, consider what questions that person would ask.
  • At the beginning of the funnel, the ideal prospect for a discount footwear retailer might ask, "How can I find the best deals on new footwear?"

  • In the middle of the funnel, the ideal prospect for a B2B business might ask, "What products or services does this company offer?"

Your content should strive to answer these questions, even if the questions are more specific (see below).

Target a specific prospect

Once you understand the needs of your ideal prospect, you can then work to address the needs of a specific type, or segment, of prospects. Targeting a segment will add specificity to the questions you need to answer.

For instance, in the retail footwear example mentioned above, is the prospect:
  • A runner?

  • Male or female?

A female runner might be looking for something more specific than "the best deals on new footwear." Her question might be, "How can I find the best deals on new women's running shoes?" The company's content should help her answer this question.

Tactic #5. Find more opportunities through search data

People often use search engines to answer a question or solve a problem. By looking at search data, you can get detect the problems that prospects are trying to solve in your industry and create content to help them.

You can use Google's free Keyword Tool to do this type of analysis (see the "useful links" section below). Enter keywords related to your business and the tool will report:
  • Related keywords

  • Their search volumes

The tool will also report the relative competition for bidding on paid search ads for each keyword. You can use this information to get a rough idea of the competition you'd face in each keyword's natural search rankings. You can also manually search the keywords and analyze their results to size up the competition.

ChannelAdvisor recently hired a marketer to spend a portion of his time crunching search data, Reavis says. The team uses his insights to find new topics to pursue with content and keywords to include on landing pages.

Less competition, more opportunity

Every market has top-level keywords that generate tons of search traffic and for which there is heavy competition for rankings. Reavis's team often sidesteps these keywords and targets topics with these three attributes:
  1. Relevant to prospects' needs

  2. Somewhat lower search volume

  3. Significantly less competition for rankings

"I will consider developing a piece of content around [the topic] or to try to work it into some current content that we have," she says.

Useful links related to this article

  1. Video example

  2. E-book example

  3. ChannelAdvisor boilerplate message

Content Marketing and SEO: The world doesn’t need another blog post

Content Marketing: Videos attract 300% more traffic and nurture leads

Content Marketing: How employee content drove 200 leads per day at Guitar Center

Free Excerpt of MarketingSherpa's 2012 Search Marketing Benchmark Report -- SEO Edition

Lead Nurturing: Build trust, win more deals by helping prospects – not selling them

Competitive Messaging: Tell your customers what you can’t do

Google Keyword Tool

Conditioned Air

Ten Ton Marketing


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