Beginner’s guide to content marketing: 18 ways to get started
If you’ve never invested in content marketing the idea of doing so can seem daunting. An avalanche of blogs, videos and ebooks will tell you about the wonders that can come with the right content strategy.
You can create, share and promote content that informs and delights your target audience. Whether they’re in the early research stage or ready to buy, the right piece of content, at the right time, can nudge them closer to becoming a customer.
Which all sounds pretty cool, but where do you start? Sophisticated content marketers are leveraging blogs, landing pages and downloads. They’re making videos, running drip campaigns and spending money on remarketing ads. They’ve got multiple agencies on hand or they’ve built an in-house team of writers, editors, designers, animators, strategists and promoters.
If you’re not quite ready for all that but you want to try out some small scale content marketing to see how it works for your business then read on. We’ve compiled 18 actionable tips for content marketing beginners, organised into 5 subject areas.
Let’s start with your audience. It’s a common mistake among rookie content marketers to jump straight into creating content that they think is interesting or important. The first step with any marketing campaign is the audience. Who are you targeting? Where can you get at them? And what do you want them to do?
Tip #1: Make some simple user personas
When you’re just getting started with your content marketing strategy you might be reluctant to engage an expensive agency to do lots of in-depth audience research for you. The good news is that for small scale campaigns you can do it yourself.
User personas are a useful tool for shaping your strategy, but you don’t need to be a marketing guru to put them together. The basic concept is to create an avatar that represents a particular segment of your target market. “Jess” the operations manager doesn’t have to be a real person. But making a little bio for her – with useful info like what she wants from you, where she spends her time online, how close she is to the decision maker – will be really handy.
You’ll find it helpful to think about Jess when you get to the content creation stage or start putting together a promotion plan. It will be easier to remember what questions she wants answered and what pain points she needs you to address. She’ll also help you bring other contributors up to speed a lot quicker.
Tip #2: Split your sales funnel into three stages
Another relatively simple and very common traditional marketing tool is the sales funnel. You’ll see lots of variations on the web, but the fundamentals are always the same: you have lots of people at the top of the funnel who are in the early stages of the buyer journey. Most of these people won’t become customers. As you move down the funnel you have fewer people, but they’re progressively closer to buying or signing up or whatever goal you ultimately have in mind for them.
As you create your basic user personas, you should also think about your version of this sales funnel. Let’s take Jess the operations manager. Jess might be a useful influencer, but ultimately not the decision maker. It’s therefore likely you’ll be trying to get at Jess at the top or the middle of the funnel.
At the top of the funnel Jess is researching a particular problem or maybe weighing some different potential solutions. Your content strategy needs to cater for Jess at this stage (more on that later) and hopefully move her down to the middle of your funnel.
In the middle of the funnel Jess is still not going to buy – ultimately she needs to hand over to a decision maker for that part – but she can indicate growing interest in your product or service by taking some useful, measurable action.
Tip #3: Create a goal for each stage of your new sales funnel
Useful, measurable action you say? Yes, that’s how we would define a content marketing goal. It’s a user doing something that has value to you and it will be different at each stage of the sales funnel.
At the top of the funnel you should offer low commitment goals to your audience. You want to identify users at this stage and give yourself a chance to remarket to them in the future. We recommend pushing a downloadable eBook as a good top-of-funnel goal.
Mid-funnel users still aren’t ready to buy right away but they are getting interested in your business and what you can do for them. We recommend offering a goal here that requires a bit more commitment. A webinar, for example. Or something that gives you a stronger indication that they’re getting closer to a decision, like a case study.
At the bottom of the funnel users are going to buy from someone. It’s just a question of whether it’s you or one of your competitors. At this stage we would recommend pushing a nicely-presented version of your primary goal (book a demo, start free trial, speak to an expert etc). You can support this goal with “social proof” like testimonials, a bragroll or more case studies.
So you’ve done some work figuring out who you want to target and what you want them to do. Now let’s get into some ideas for your content marketing strategy.
Tip #4: Do a basic website audit
One of the big advantages you have trying to start a content strategy for the first time is the huge range of free resources you can use to educate yourself. If you have a limited budget or no buy-in from the higher-ups you’ll have to upskill quickly and try some stuff yourself.
It would be completely wrong of us to suggest that you can read a few blog articles and watch some YouTube videos and become an expert on SEO or user experience (UX). But what you can do is get a basic grounding in both of those things and make a few quick fixes to your site. If you haven’t done content marketing, SEO, SEM or social media marketing before there may well be some low-hanging fruit there.
Tip #5: Document your content marketing strategy
According to the Content Marketing Institute, marketers who have a documented content marketing strategy have a much better chance of achieving positive ROI. And just because you’re a beginner doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from writing down what you’re planning to do.
There is of course more than one right way to do a content marketing strategy. For us there are two essential ingredients: goals and timeframes. Goals we’ve already talked about in this post. A content marketing strategy needs to be built around the useful, measurable actions you’re trying to promote.
Timeframes are important too. You have your goals and your budget. But you should also set a date for when you expect a portion of that resource to be used up and what results you expect to be seeing. If you’re going to win internal support for content marketing it’s best to think in terms of a fixed term campaign after which you regroup, re-strategise and restart.
Tip #6: Create a content calendar
A content calendar is a useful and easy-to-make tool to get your content marketing started. There are plenty of free templates available online or you can use your favourite project management app, like Trello or Google Keep. We’ve run perfectly good content calendars (including the one that spawned this blog post) in Google Sheets.
A calendar is a good way to look at how your resources can best be deployed across the timeframe you have in mind, the user personas you want to target and the goals you’re looking to support and promote. A calendar is especially important if you have multiple people working on your content marketing campaign.
Tip #7: Write a creative brief
Okay, “creative brief” might sound a bit fancy when you’re just getting started. But we’re not suggesting an afternoon of beanbag brainstorming at an eye-wateringly expensive creative agency. This is a beginner’s guide and chances are you’re bootstrapping.
Just as a content calendar and a documented content strategy can be useful tools, even if they’re simple, so can a creative brief. This is a chance for you to set some rules for your content marketing campaign, such as the tone and style of the copy and brand colours for your design work (infographics, banners, custom images etc). You can find out more about writing creative briefs here.
There’s more to content marketing than SEO but chances are the majority of your web traffic comes from search engines right now. Content marketing is a chance to improve not just the volume, but more importantly, the quality of that traffic. Here are some tips to get you started:
Tip #8: Basics of keyword research
Keywords are the words and phrases your audience is typing into Google and other search engines. You do keyword research for two reasons: to figure out 1) which keywords are particularly valuable and relevant to your business; and 2) out of those valuable and relevant keywords, which ones you can realistically compete for.
Again, if you don’t have the budget for agency help you can absolutely figure this out yourself. But don’t start spending time and money making landing pages and blog posts without doing this step first. You don’t win useful keywords through blind luck.
There are lots of useful tools that can help with your keyword research. We recommend Moz, which offers some basic elements of its SEO suite for free and has a ton of high quality, free resources on its blog.
Tip #9: Setting up Google Analytics
Google Analytics is free, enterprise-grade software for tracking the activity of your website visitors. There are other tools for monitoring your web traffic, but Google Analytics is by far the most popular and, like we said, it’s free.
When you’re just starting out with content marketing setting up Google Analytics isn’t the sexiest of tasks. But it is super important. If you want to be able to reliably judge the impact of your content marketing – or any digital campaigns – you need good Google Analytics hygiene.
Here are our top 3 Google Analytics tips: 1) use IP filters to block internal traffic. This will avoid people in your office inflating your stats. Really important for small campaigns; 2) enable benchmarks so you can see aggregated data from other, similar businesses. This gives you an idea of what you should be working towards; and 3) set-up the remarketing tags. This allows you to start building audiences to retarget on Google AdWords.
If you want to learn more about how to get the most out of Google Analytics you should check out the Analytics Academy. There are some great, free training resources in there that are useful for managing your analytics in-house and for keeping your agencies honest.
Tip #10: Landing pages for products and services
If you’ve never done content marketing before, chances are you’ll lack some of the basic assets you need. We could do a whole post on landing pages, but for content marketing beginners the priority is usually just creating dedicated landing pages for your products and services.
If your budget is really tight, start with the products or services that make you the most money. A dedicated page is useful for two reasons: 1) it’s much more likely to rank in search than a general page covering everything you do; and 2) it will offer more in-depth, more specific information for users. If users get more value from your pages they are more likely to complete your goals.
Tip #11: Get some links
Despite the best efforts of black hat SEOs to game it to death, link building still has an important role to play in boosting your pages in Google’s search results. After filtering out the crafty antics of search engine snake oil salesmen, Google uses links from one site to another like votes. Someone else linked to this page, so it must offer some value to users.
Now, if your venture into the exciting world of content marketing is successful you’ll have valuable, useful content to share with your audience. That should attract links naturally, right?
Sort of right. The theory is sound but the internet is a very crowded place these days and it’s getting more difficult to cut through the noise (more on that later). If you want people to link to your content you should take matters into your own hands.
Here are some ideas: 1) leverage your existing commercial relationships. So, suppliers, partners or affiliates that have established websites. Ask for links to relevant pages on your site to give them a lift; 2) look for mentions of your product or brand online. You can approach these sites asking them to link to you; and 3) offer to write content for blogs or sites in your space. Again, this only really works when you have existing relationships. Most blogs ignore unsolicited guest post offers these days (we certainly do).
Blogging is probably what you had in mind when you envisaged doing content marketing. If so, this is the bit you’ve been waiting for. Your blog is the engine room of your content marketing campaigns, feeding different channels and creating an archive of valuable evergreen content. Here’s how to put your blog to work:
Tip #12: Set up a blog sub-folder
This is just the start of your content marketing journey, but the foundations you put down now need to support your longer-term ambitions. A really simple example is the URL structure for your blog.
You want all of your blog content sitting together on your site. So, for example: www.your-site.com.au/blog/blog-title. If you set your blog up like that all of your posts will sit in the same sub-folder. Google (and other search engines) will find it much easier to crawl your posts and understand the relationship between them.
If, on the other hand, your blog URLs look like this: www.your-site.com.au/blog-title you’re likely to be doing lots of redirects at some point in the future.
Tip #13: Creating blog posts that can rank
We mentioned earlier in this post that getting cut-through to your audience is getting more difficult. The amount of digital content being produced every day makes the battle for useful keywords increasingly competitive.
The good news is that most of this content is rubbish. If you’re careful with your targeting and you have access to talented writers you can do a lot better. Google’s algorithm uses a number of signals designed to pick out pages that offer more value to users. So, while the internet has never been noisier, you don’t need the loudest voice to be heard. You just need to be smarter.
We’ve already covered keyword research. Don’t start writing blog posts before you know which keywords you want to win and you’ve had a look at the competition. We’d also recommend quite careful planning for each post.
We use a process called Content Mapping, for example, which helps our writers ensure each piece can compete with the existing search results and offer real value to the audience we’re targeting.
Tip #14: Talk to other departments to get blog ideas
Starting content marketing in your business for the first time can be tough. Something that will really help is winning over other departments. If sales or the product team support what you’re doing you have a better chance of getting more resources and attention in the future.
A good way to start building those bridges is asking other teams what questions they get asked or what blog content would help them do their jobs. Let’s take sales. These people are speaking to prospects, handling objections and digging into the detail of how what you sell works.
If you can produce blog posts that they can send with their follow-up emails you win a useful internal ally and you know you’re creating content your target audience actively wants. Spending time with sales will also help you tweak your keyword strategy. Sometimes the words and phrases prospects actually use can differ from your assumptions.
Social media and email
Even when you’re first starting out you don’t want to rely solely on SEO to get your content in front of the right people. You need to show some quick wins for your own confidence and to sell content marketing internally. Social media and email can help with that. Here’s how:
Tip #15: Add social media remarketing tags
When we covered Google Analytics we mentioned remarketing. This sounds super clever and sophisticated, but it’s well within your reach as a content marketing beginner.
Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other leading social media sites have remarketing tags. You install these tags for free. Instructions are available on the respective sites and you don’t need to be a developer to do it. Once they’re in place you can start building audiences of people who have visited your site, looked at particular pages or taken specific actions, like watching a video.
You can then run ads to target these users when they’re scrolling through their Facebook feed or spying on former colleagues on LinkedIn. This is often a good way to reach users who have been on your site and encourage them to reconsider you.
Even if your first few steps as a content marketer don’t stretch to a media budget for Facebook ads, setting up the tags and building the audience are free and are both useful investments for the future.
Tip #16: Pay to promote your best content with social media ads
Of course, it’s better if you do have some media spend at your disposal. Social media sites are not there to grant you free access to your target audience. They fund their futuristic offices with the free beer, compulsory yoga and indoor gardens by selling ads.
So, if you want your content seen by the right people on social media you need to use their ad products. The good news is that you have plenty of choice here. Facebook, for example, has an excellent range of advertising products and you can start campaigns with a very modest budget.
Tip #17: Curate content for your social media pages
If you’re planning to start your life as a content marketer focussing on the top of the funnel, curated content can play a useful role populating your social media pages. Curated content is content that isn’t yours. You see it on the web or someone else’s feed and then link to it on one of your social media pages, because you think it’s relevant or useful to your audience.
It’s important here to remember what you get out of content curation and what you don’t get. Content curation make your social media page look better. It can boost engagement and help you pick up more followers. It might also help connect you with useful people who will share your content in the future.
But, anyone clicking on links to curated content is off to someone else’s site. You risk losing that user for good. If you’ve got limited time to maintain and update your social media sites be careful how much of it you spend promoting other people’s content.
Tip #18: Start some email marketing
Email is an under-used tactic for rookie content marketers. And it really ought to get more than one tip in this post but hopefully it will have some impact coming at the end. Email should be much more effective at promoting your content and nurturing your leads than SEO, AdWords or social media marketing.
If you have someone’s email address you have a better chance of getting them to see your content than by serving them an ad. And email marketing often delivers superior ROI to other channels. A 2016 study by VentureBeat revealed that email marketing brought an average return of $38 for every $1 invested.
You might not achieve those numbers right away, but here are a couple of simple email marketing tactics to complete your content marketing beginner’s toolkit: 1) require email addresses to get at your downloads and other high value content. This will help you steadily add useful contacts to your database; and 2) start a simple email newsletter populated with recent blog posts. A platform like MailChimp makes automating this really easy, And also supports segmentation as you grow your list and get more sophisticated.