Like an indie band that suddenly rose to stardom after making an appearance on a hit teen drama, content marketing is having a moment right now.
As the editor-in-chief of Contently, I’m as high on content marketing as anyone. But simultaneously, there are serious reasons to wonder whether the content marketing momentum will keep on rolling.
First, the good news if you’re bullish on content marketing: it’s booming! To prove it, the Google trends graph looks like this:
And just about everyone is creating more content than ever, per The Content Marketing Institute:
Now for the bad news: no one has a very clear plan. To start, less than one-third of marketers have a documented content strategy:
Even more troubling, less than half of marketers have clarity on what content marketing success looks like:
These figures are almost identical for B2C companies, and it’s a really, really big problem. Most marketers are diving into content marketing without a sense of what they want to achieve. That doesn’t just make measuring success hard.
It makes it impossible.
Being the neurotic New York writer that I am, I’ve been worrying about this for the past year. But unlike my fear of liverwurst, this one turned out to be productive, resulting in a Content Methodology Best Practices report that I co-wrote with renown content marketing researcher and analyst Rebecca Lieb.
Through case studies and interviews with the industry’s most successful content marketers and brand publishers, we were able to pinpoint several keys to creating a successful content program that consistently improves over time.
I encourage you to check the whole thing out, but here are five strategies you can start implementing today.
A lot of content ROI discussions go like this:
CEO: What’s our content marketing ROI?
Content Manager: We got 50 retweets last week!
CEO: Why do I care?
Content Manager: Uhhhhhhhhh (Hides under desk)
The biggest key to content ROI is mapping your content objectives and KPIs back to actual business goals.
Start with those big questions to determine your content objectives and the KPIs that align with them. Here’s a pretty comprehensive table of business goals, content objectives, and KPIs from our report that should help:
If you’re a B2B company whose primary business goal is revenue generation, for instance, one of your content objectives is probably going to be lead generation. That means you’ll likely want to include a healthy mix of downloadable content — like ebooks, webinars, and long-form interactive content — that’s gated through a landing page.
As a result, you’re going to hone in on more conversion focused KPIs — such as the percentage of visitors to that landing page who download your content asset, the percentage of visitors that qualify as leads, and the rate at which those leads convert to customers.
One of the most dangerous exercises in content marketing is mapping content to the funnel and audience personas based on demographics. It’s a dangerous road — one that leads you to superimpose Taylor Swift’s head onto cat gifs because you want to reach millennials who like mainstream pop music. Even though you’re an insurance company.
Instead, focus on your audience’s pain points and passion points. What is your target audience struggling with? How can you help?
Making entertaining content is great. It’s even better to be useful. (And ideally, you’ll be both.) For instance, check out this sample graph of how a real estate company might map their content to the funnel for young homebuyers. Instead of starting with a brochure, focus on your audience instead.
The biggest complaint I hear from content marketers is that their teams are understaffed. If you put one marketing manager in charge of content but then want to publish ten times a week, you’re destined to end up with a lot of crappy content. And if you don’t invest in the right technology to distribute content to your target audience and measure its effectiveness, nobody’s going to read it, and you’re never going to improve.
At Contently, we recommend a Crawl-Walk-Run approach to content marketing. You should be publishing at least once every two weeks — enough to publish a bi-weekly newsletter and keep your audience coming back. But if your resources are strapped, don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. It’s a losing game, and your audience won’t appreciate poor content.
Smart content marketers do two things:
a) They plan out what types of content they’re going to create and how they’re going to distribute it. (Topics, formats, style, channels, etc.)
b) Comprehensively re-evaluate what’s working and what’s not working every 90 days.
When creating your initial content plan, I recommend sticking everything into a simple chart that tracks the number of stories you’ll do in each category, their formats, cost, etc. That way, you won’t look back at the end of the quarter and realize that despite all that planning and research, you just went with your gut and didn’t execute the way you intended to.
Here’s an example how to chart your content:
For B2B companies in particular, it’s important to have a healthy mix of formats. Even if you’re only publishing four pieces of content a month, try to make one of those pieces an ebook or other form of downloadable content. That way you can ensure that you’re getting enough folks into your marketing funnel.
Ultimately, your content strategy will be a little more than a best guess. The real key to publishing is doubling down on what’s working and cutting out anything that’s not.
A simple way to do this is to compare production metrics with performance metrics. Simply tag your content by topic, format, length, etc. and compare how many stories you’re producing with how well those stories are performing. You’ll see the winners and losers pretty quickly, and be able to revamp your calendar accordingly.
For example, here’s a screenshot of my dashboard a couple of months ago:
On the left, you’ll see production metrics — stories created by topic, for instance. The blue line indicates performance during the current month, while the gray line shows performance the previous month. On the right, you’ll see some performance metrics — how many people actually read a story on each topic, for instance.
Analyzing this data, I saw that we clearly had to do more fun stories. Though we only created a few, they were one of our highest performing topics. And so we did, and what do you know: the more “fun” stories were a hit and drove nearly 200,000 new readers from Reddit last month!
Here’s the truth: You can’t do content marketing well without definite objectives and a clear strategy. But like getting your band to serenade millions of teens on TV, it’s just half the battle. The real fun starts when you figure out what works and start capitalizing on your successes.
About the author
Joe Lazauskas is the Editor-in-Chief of Contently. For more stories like this, subscribe to our newsletter.