Doing content marketing right: Insight from running a successful content marketing operations
TL;DR: Why I am such a believer in content marketing and how I run the entire process. What is the real effort (time) I put into each stage and what professional tools I love using?
I hope this article will help you build an efficient content marketing operation that will satisfy, and impress your managers!
Writing intros is one of my favourite things, so, please, take a seat and let’s get started...
Overseeing a wide variety of tech marketing activities for many of the startups and tech companies we support in G2Mteam, as well as being involved in immense efforts around increasing awareness, boosting conversions, and ROI, all the way to lead nurturing, has taught me a lot.
One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t really become the world’s top marketing expert, though you can (and many of us do) die trying. It’s just way too dynamic. But that’s a whole other discussion…
Another thing I’ve learned is that content is king. Not just any king. The mighty king.
I know that some people say that content is dying, and that people don’t read anymore, and the Internet is just overloaded with shallow content and yadda, yadda, yadda.
I’m not one of those people. I will say though, that there is content and there is superb content and these two content types are not the same.
To be honest, even if there were shortcuts, cheat sheets or a way to win some battles without content marketing, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t use them.
My love for content started way back when I was figuring out the internet, yep, somewhere in the middle ages. Since then, I have always been in awe of companies who do content so brilliantly.
It was only when I began turning to content, whenever I needed to dive in and learn more about a specific marketing task, that I realized the true potential of what it offered.
I used content to learn more about how to master mobile app marketing, and then when I wanted to learn more about B2B lead generation.
It was through content, that I first found out of ‘oh so many’ tools that are now playing main roles in the ‘list of tools I just can’t live without’
Then I started learning how to write. It took me a while.
Let alone to be able to talk about content distribution tactics.
Anecdote: You might not be reading through this post fully. You might just be scanning and skimming through the titles and
(are you?). Anyway, I’m good with both. When you come
well-structured content, you gain value either way.
Back to the importance of content, it seems the industry agrees: according to Neil Patel quoting DemandMetric: Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates about 3 times as many leads.
Of course, it’s hard (not to say impossible) to properly measure the impact of content marketing on direct lead generation (example: you can get someone reading your content and totally enjoying it, but eventually converting through clicking your remarketing ad. This wouldn’t happen without the content but the attribution will go elsewhere)
By the way, that’s why I measure not only leads, but traffic, session duration and additional important parameters that are easily tracked with Google Analytics.
Anyway, over time, I found my own way of running content marketing, strategy and tactics. Sure, it keeps changing, but the core is always there (thank goodness)
So here’s my recipe.. Ready? Go!
Part I: First thing first – Setting up content marketing infrastructure
I never start with content writing and distribution before I’ve set up the foundations properly. I don’t see the point in publishing content when the infrastructure isn’t there. The first few things we do when onboarding a new startup and gearing up towards a content marketing operation, serve us later on through our entire journey .
Sniffing around - Some background work
We start with raising up a few important questions about our content marketing strategy and expectations:
What are we expecting to achieve via our content marketing?
What expectations do we have as for the timelines (I mean us and the clients that we work for)?
Who is the target audience and what information do we have about the relevant personas (pain points, interests etc.)? What content are they reading? How high is their standard?
How great is the content of our competitors, or complementary solutions who target the same audience?
Are there any blogs and websites writing about the same topics we plan on covering, that we can lean on?
Are there any hot topics we must consider writing about first?
Are there any evergreen topics we should work on?
Once these questions are answered, we have a good idea of what we are dealing with and what efforts we will need to invest in order to cut through the noise.
SEO research – Content focused
SEO and content marketing go together. Before any content writing efforts begin, we run SEO research, so we can decide on key phrases we wish to focus on when writing the content. We use our SEO research to get an idea of the content topics we will add in our editorial calendar as well.
Visit this Kissmetrics blog post to learn more about the connection between content marketing and SEO.
Optimizing the blog web pages for lead capture and positioning
Many company blogs I visit are not fully optimized for lead generation or social sharing and in many cases are not even telling the company’s story. That’s a real shame.
I’m not sure what these companies are hoping to achieve with their content distribution efforts, but they can probably have a better starting point.
A blog article page is a landing page. So how come so many blog pages are lacking sign-up promo boxes, general paragraph about the company serving the content (readers are landing directly into this page, remember?), explicit call to action buttons, etc.?
I have my requirements list for blog page optimization. It includes side promo boxes for the company’s main solution and lead capture mechanisms, an about paragraph (usually under the lead blog post feature image), newsletter signup components and more.
Let’s run an interesting exercise. Below is a URLs of a company blog that we are working on. Can you spot any lead capture elements and company messages?
It’s not a rocket science, but it takes some thinking and attention. Also, please don’t forget to check your mobile browsing experience.
Setting up Google Analytics and your marketing automation
This is the dirty work that nobody likes doing. But you must.
You can’t just go around publishing content without being able to properly track it, see which potential customers that converted into leads had read the content and what were the general quality parameters.
If you are not sure how to use Google analytics for content tracking and what kind of metrics you wish to generate, read of this post, it will help you.
Part II: Generating content topics (editorial calendar)
Well, this phase is very important, as it determines what you’ll write about and how you’ll write it. If your target audience is interested in your topics, that’s great, you nailed it. If not, then…
I first use an excel to organize content topics. I then add “date” column and turn it to a sort of editorial calendar:
I think of multiple content formats (not only blog post but guides, whitepapers, use cases and alike).
I examine competitors’ topics – I use SEMrush to find top generating traffic backlinks and Ahrefs to get those backlinks stats.
More tools I use from time to time:
BRAND24 – allows you to check for competitors mentions (find articles of competitors that people refer to).
Social Crawlytics and Buzzsumo– these tools show you where competitors content is shared and how often. It also shows you where most information on this website is shared.
Google Trends - This tool gives you relative (not absolute) numbers about the popularity of certain search terms. You can also find ‘related terms’, which can generate even more content ideas.
Then I explore relevant social groups (in Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, reddit, Quora or alike) and see what the buzzing topics are. Quora is especially important for B2B because it shows what people are looking for. There you can not only see other people’s content, but also get good ideas for what people are struggling with, which is (hint hint), exactly what you should write about.
Lastly, I search for social trending topics around my keywords and around the topics I found in these last steps, using Buzzsumo.
Effort estimation: Yes, this task takes quite a few hours. Some people do it faster than others. I can’t really tell you how much time you should put into it, but generally speaking, the more advanced your competitors are with their content marketing, the harder you have to work on this part in order to find interesting topics that weren’t covered anywhere else yet.
We usually spend 10-15 hours on content topics research, but we’ve done it a lot, so I assume that you will need to work a little longer if you are a newbie.
We start with a list of 20 topic ideas or more, including ideas for use cases and whitepapers / guides. We don’t need more than that to start, but it’s your call.
I believe that you don’t have to release tons of content items to win with your content activities, as the real win will come from the quality of the content.
I always prefer working on a couple of superb quality content items every month (writing and distributing).
“Quality over quantity”
Part III: Let the writing begin (Our 6 stages writing process)
Also, titles should be WIIFM compatible (‘What’s In It For Me’), so users can understand right from the title, the value that lies within the article.
Well yes, since you asked:
Write several titles – the more versions you have, the better the final title is.
Try to put the most important keyword or key phrase in the beginning of the title, but only if it looks good, don’t force it!
Titles phrased as questions work well.
List posts, such as ‘7 top content marketing...’ STILL work well, in case you were wondering.
Use strong language. Strong phrases. Negative titles tend to work very well, like: “6 top content marketing mistakes to avoid” “Things People Hate”
Incorporate “trigger” words like: free, secrets, easy, instantly, new, discover, bonus, powerful, guarantee, results, amazing, ultimate, best, exclusive, only, etc.
Let users know you’ve included special content right from the title, for example, an infographic (which is a special treat indeed) should be presented in the title, by having the title start or end with ‘[Infographic]’.
If you’re lacking inspiration, or not sure how to write that damn title, you can find suggested titles to your chosen topic using this cool and fun free title generating tool called portent. Not all titles generated will make sense, but some will and you will enjoy the process.
Effort estimate: Content title brainstorming shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. As in any other activity, it will get easier as you get more experienced.
Stage 2: We’ve got a title – Now we need a content brief
Even if you’re not sending the piece to be written by someone else, and plan on writing it yourself, I strongly recommend you write a content brief before starting the actual writing. This will help you end up with a well-structured item.
When you are working with external writers, the brief must include the following:
A background paragraph about the company (who’s the target audience, what’s the blog about, what’s the product, what’s the tone)
A skeleton of the post – Structure, main bullets, sub bullets and alike. Imagine that the content is structured as a PPT. What would be each slide title? And the general content you would like covered in each “slide”
Effort estimate: Brief writing usually takes 1.5-2 hours. Depending on the topic. In rare cases, we even spend 3 hours on the brief. The brief writing usually includes some initial research as well.
Stage 3: Writing the article
Length – As just mentioned, nowadays there is more emphasis on deeper and longer posts than shorter and shallow ones. According to Curata, Long-form blog posts generate 9x more leads than short-form blog posts
Structure - The structure of the post should be broken down into sub titles (use the keyword in at least one of the sub titles). Start with an intro (and include THE keyword in it). Make sure the structure makes the item easy to digest and read. The average reader only spends 37 seconds reading an article or blog post (NewsCred Insights). Back to my intro, yes, we stop reading and started scanning. This statistics just goes to show that your item, as long as it may be, needs to be easily scanned, filled with images, visual breaks, bullet points, sections, in-post call to actions banners click to tweet banners, videos and so on. All these, will make it easy for the reader to scroll down and scan the item without getting lost, and still get value out of the item. click to tweet
Author bio – Always important to inform the reader who is behind this content item
Call-to-action (CTA) – Inline, at the end, when it’s relevant, when there’s room for a methodic break. Explore Hubspot’s blogs to see how it’s done. They have truly mastered this! Not promoting them either, nor anyone else.
Don’t be too promotional - Focus on real value, and lend your solution and production gently and naturally.
Use of humor and tone - Use your sense of humor and a light tone of voice. Don’t worry, it works for B2B as well. After all we are people. Formal tone, is less likely to work, unless that’s what your brand is all about (and then we can safely assume that you know this works with your target audience).
Talk about yourself - You, your experience, your thoughts, your beliefs. People are looking to read content that’s coming from other people, not content that was created by nobody.
Effort estimate: The initial writing of a 1,000 words blog post usually takes us about 5-7 hours. (Later on we invest more time in adding some more content layers and work on the item’s readiness for upload. This is when our items can reach 2,000 words or more. I will get to it soon).
Stage 4: Optimizing every article for SEO (really should be done in parallel to step 3)
The SEO work you’ve initially done when planning your content efforts is great. But there is more to do than just incorporating relevant keywords within the post. Google has a lot of other issues that its algorithm checks, before giving the article the SEO green light:
The main keyword / phrase should appear in the title, preferably at the beginning of the sentence rather than at the end. Now, although this is highly important SEO wise, if there’s no way of incorporating the keywords and still maintaining a quality title, I always choose the title over the keyword – remember, this is where readers get their first impression.
The main keyword should appear in the first paragraph of the article.
The main keyword density needs to be at least 1% of the words in the article.
Add subheaders (H2) and add the main keyword to it.
Add image to the article.
Have at least 1 outbound link in the item (link to other sources)
Write a meta description: A short description for the article that will appear on the article’s search result in Google. It should include the main keywords. Its text should meet the character limitation, which is 156 characters.
Write the SEO title / meta title of the article as it will appear on the article’s search result on Google. Use the original title, or edit it (if it’s too long, or if it doesn’t include the keyword). The title should meet the character limitation, which is 55 characters.
Use links to your own content (inbound links) within the article.
Stage 5: Adding content (thickening) and proofing (critical!!!)
Now, this is the stage where good content becomes awesome!
Once the article is back from writing (whether you wrote it or an external writer) it should go to an experienced professional, who can add a lot more juice to the item: Real life use cases, personal insights, examples, tools, etc. This stage can dramatically improve the quality and value of the item.
This person should be a good copywriter as well. This ensures that no content item goes through the motion without being viewed and edited by at least 2-3 professional team members.
This process usually ends up with a blog post that is about 30% longer than what it initially was.
Finally, once the writing is completed, we run the content piece through proofreading.
Effort estimate: This process usually takes 3-5 hours, depending on the complexity of the topic and industry.
Stage 6: Upload readiness. We are nearly done.
This part is fun! It’s the time to add more images (BTW, pixabay is a great FREE stock photos website), visual breaks (quotes for example), ‘click to tweet’ banners (as mentioned above), memes (do you know http://giphy.com/?) and so on.
Searching and creating these additions is a nice creative break. If you haven’t done it in stage 4 already, now is the time to write the meta title and meta description for SEO purposes or fine-tune them according to the end result (there are certain fields in the back office CMS to include them).
This image was added in the ‘Upload readiness’ phase
Part IV: Distributing your content - traffic won’t come by itself
Distribution is the art of growth hackers. The content distribution part can take on many different forms.
Paid distribution? Can be done via Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Adwords, Taboola, Outbrain and alike.
But let’s not forget that for a startup company, budget is scarce.
That’s why we put a lot of effort on organic content distribution using several creative ways.
We’ve learned how to distribute our content in relevant social groups using an organized methodology.
We first run what we call “content distribution research” and we map a lot of relevant social groups where our target audience is active (Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, reddit and alike).
Then we set up a Google sheet table (open to all team members), with all these groups (each group in a different row) and in the columns, we add the Group link, # of followers, Type of group per the target audience (e.g., developers / marketers).
Each content item will get its own column in this sheet and once we start with the distribution, we all add our name and date (in the relevant cell) in this group’s row, so we know the item has been uploaded in this group already. That way we all know which team member has published the article in any given group, avoid duplication or spamming, and work together to empower our posts by likes and comments.
Here’s how it looks:
For each social channel and each unique content item we create a unique UTM (Google Analytics URL Builder), so we can track how the distribution is going and which channels work best for various content items.
We post specific content in each (RELEVANT!!) group one time. We never spam. Our task is to offer real value to social followers who would appreciate it. Yes, we only post to groups we know the content will be valuable for. Each post is accompanied with a short and relevant copy. We do not pretend to be neutral or people who are not connected to the company, but at the same time, we are not pushy.
Click baiting is frowned upon, so you should avoid using sentences like “You would be amazed by…”.
You could use hashtags in all channels, not only in Twitter or Instagram. We’re all familiar with the hashtag language. Hashtagify is a good source for hashtags. Just remember, you should use hashtags in moderation…
Lastly, for each article, we run Quora research looking for relevant questions that our content may be relevant for. Here, as well, it’s important not to spam, but to offer added value. We start with stating out laud that we are involved with the company that published the article and we make sure to write a comprehensive answer, rather than just a teaser and a link, otherwise the moderators might delete our answers.
We encourage the startup team to publish the content as their own article in LinkedIn, Medium and in their Facebook page as a note.
We then turn each content piece into a presentation and also make a video out of it. It allows us to post the content on YouTube (more SEO), Vimeo, slideshare and alike.
Effort estimate: Content distribution research and table set up takes about 5-10 hours. Then, we spend an hour or more on a when-needed basis in order to optimize it, refreshing it with more groups (we usually manage to find over 100 relevant social communities we can post our content in), etc.
Once that’s done we work on content distribution in the groups for about 2-3 hours per item. Quora research takes about 2 hours per item and writing the Quora answers takes about 15 minutes per answer (we don’t usually copy-paste answers, and we try not to post too many answers at once)
Preparing the Slideshare presentation and creating a video takes about 4 hours extra, including uploading.
I’ve shared everything about how I run content today, and many of the tools I am using when setting up the operation for a new product or company, and during the ongoing work on content.
We strive to do great content marketing. We know today that quality content generation requires a time-consuming operation. There’s no way around it without compromising the quality, correct me if I am wrong.
As we vote for quality, we work on less articles, while investing in their quality and distribution efforts.
Thanks to Einav Laviv for sharing their advice and opinions in this post. Einav Laviv is a tech marketing expert, a startup founder and the CEO at G2Mteam, that supports Israeli startups with full stack global marketing services. She lives, breathes, and loves tech marketing!.
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