Content marketing is immensely popular, with brands in every industry setting up blog posts and ebooks that are designed to build relationships and bring in leads in the form of new readers. Some brands have blogs that take off and even go viral, while others struggle. While this can come down to having great content, sometimes there are more factors at play.
In last week’s #SEMrushchat, executive editor of Search Engine Journal Danny Goodwin tuned in to share the insight he has gained and some of the strategies he uses while managing the industry-leading publication. Both Danny and many of our other chat participants had a lot of great advice on how to maximize the value of your content, so make sure you catch up on the discussion in this recap before you even start drafting your next blog post.
Q1. What are the steps a company can take to build a data-driven content marketing strategy for 2018?
We are still at the forefront of 2018, so now is the time to give your content marketing strategy a closer look as we head into the Spring. That means building a data-driven content marketing strategy, which allows businesses to set and optimize for certain goals, understand what metrics to focus on and how to find them, and how to interpret and act on the results.
First, ask yourself why exactly you are creating content. Are you using the blog as a part of a sales funnel to generate leads? Establish thought leadership? Start with a clear idea of why you are creating content, and then ask yourself what value it adds to your business and to your readers.
Next, start gathering data. What types of content are performing well, and which are helping you to accomplish your specific goals? Use this information to develop your strategy, and then review your analytics on a weekly basis. This will allow you to continually evaluate what content is driving traffic and conversions.
If you are optimizing for leads or conversions, it is important to make sure that your analytics platforms are set up to help you monitor for this easily. Set up goal tracking in Google Analytics to better be able to evaluate how your content is actually helping you to accomplish leads or sales. Being able to track leads in a very concrete way (instead of just looking for correlations in traffic) will benefit your long-term content strategy immensely.
Some content marketing strategies may focus on accomplishing several goals. That is fine, and it works exceptionally well for some businesses. It is important, however, to have specific goals for each piece of content that you write. Not every blog post you write needs to be focused on converting leads directly; some can be written for thought leadership purposes, or to build relationships with industry peers. Even if your goals for individual pieces of content aren’t always the same, however, every single one needs to be written with a goal in mind.
As you are creating your content strategy and deciding what types of content you want to create and what you want to write about, you should also get involved with your customers. Listen to their audience to discover what their needs are, and go out of your way to write content that solves their pain points and addresses concerns specific to them. You can also use your content to generate discussion on social media, so make sure that you chat with them there to build trust and get more insight into what they need.
Finally, get ready to create a schedule. It is not enough to just post randomly. Create a dedicated content schedule for both creation and promotion, cycling old content back in the distribution cycle, so it isn’t a one-and-done affair. This will help you get more results long-term.
Q2. What are the best content marketing metrics one should use to determine the success of a content marketing campaign or effort?
There is no one set answer to this question because it depends heavily on the specific goals you have for your content. The metrics and KPIs you are using to evaluate the success of your content, after all, won’t be the same for a lead generation campaign as a thought leadership or brand awareness campaign. In some cases, the metrics you are monitoring may even vary within your industry and niche.
This is why it is so crucial to determine the metrics you want to value most before you start running your campaign; it allows you to strategically optimize for these goals and monitor them more consistently.
In general, however, there are a few basic metrics that most content strategies should be evaluating.
The first, unsurprisingly, is engagement rates and conversion rates. Engagement rates — which include comments and shares — can tell you how much conversation your content is generating, along with how many people are finding it helpful. You can also use social listening for this purpose, and really get an idea of what your audience loves and why they love it. This can be exceptionally valuable, even more so than just having the numbers. It is not just about the clicks or the fact that there are comments, after all; it is about what customers are actually saying and how it impacts brand awareness.
Since most content strategies are either directly or indirectly used to drive conversions long-term, conversions are crucial to monitor. It doesn’t matter much, after all, if you are getting a ton of shares but it is making almost no impact on your business’s bottom line. You can set up goal tracking in Google Analytics to better see how your content is involved in driving conversions.
Content consumption, including the amount of time the average reader spends on a page, and if they scroll through the entire page, is a strong indicator of value. If you are getting clicks to your site, but then they click right away again, your content may not be interesting enough, valuable enough, or original enough. If, on the other hand, users click and read all the way through, it is valuable to them in some way.
Q3. What are some standard guidelines that a contributing author should follow when submitting a guest post?
Submitting guest posts to other sites is an excellent way to expand your reach and connect with new audiences. If you are submitting a guest post to a publication in which you could potentially be a contributing author, however, there are a few things to keep in mind.
When submitting, you should never assume that your article or authorship will be accepted right off the bat (or at all). Even blogs within the same industry aren’t one-size-fits-all, with each covering different topics or having different writing styles. If possible, ask the editors if there are topics they are looking for, or what their audience finds most valuable. You should also look through the site on your own time, looking for common threads in the articles. Are there a lot of think pieces? Tutorials with step-by-step screenshots?
You should always follow the writing style and tone of the site, in addition to having chosen a relevant topic. If you don’t, it won’t fit in with the publication, and it is likely that the editor will decide it is just too much work for them. If you are able to write in a way that drives conversions and appeals to the site’s audience, you will increase the odds of acceptance. Some publications have writers’ guidelines posted online; look for them before submitting.
You should also use common sense and blogging best practices. Your content should be unique; plagiarism doesn’t earn you friends. The post should be well-written and free of grammatical errors. The headline should be strong, and the content should offer the information promised in the title. The posts (for most sites) should be no less than 1,000 words. Provide links that are resources. Links to your own site can come across as overly self-promotional, and they take away from the level of authority you want to achieve. All guest posts should provide value and never appear like a sales pitch. Most blogs that accept guest posts are educational resources, and there is no place for selling oneself.
Q4. What are some of the best ways to grow your blog audience? Are there any strategies that work for everyone?
Growing your blog’s readership is something that can take time, but fortunately, there are several great strategies that can be used by brands and individuals regardless of industry.
The first strategy is particularly straightforward and involves offering content that your audience wants to see. What is valuable to them? If you are able to answer their questions, offer new or simplified ways of solving problems, or providing them valuable insider knowledge, you will build a readership quickly. If you need a little help with getting started, find an engaging community and draw inspiration from the questions and conversations they are having.
In addition to winning over your audience, trying to win over the hearts of fellow industry peers is a great strategy, too. Word of mouth is the best marketing strategy, so these may be individuals who will share your content and endorse you.
Online communities like Facebook groups and discussion forums can be a great place to promote your content. You can and should leverage these groups and social media as channels to share blog content, as this will help you grow your readership instead of just sustaining it. There is also the option of repurposing content from social media and turning it into a post, like writing up a recap from a live stream or, perhaps, a Twitter chat to send engaged users to your site.
You should also optimize your blog in every way possible to focus on readership growth. Feature incentivizes to engage or convert, like contests, giveaways, discounts, and lead magnets; promote them both in the text of your posts and in sidebar widgets. You will also want to make sure that there are social sharing plugins on your blog posts to make it as easy as possible for your readers to tweet it or pin it.
And while all of these strategies are great, remember that readership growth does take time, and there is no substitute for consistency and dedication.
Q5. What are your top tools for finding content for your blog posts?
This is one of the biggest struggles that most individuals and brands will face. Great results with content marketing, after all, requires consistency, and that means generating a lot of topics for content ideas. Fortunately, there are tools that can help.
SEMrush’s own topic research tool is my first choice, for many reasons. It will analyze your competitors’ content and automatically provide ideas for you to compete with them and resonate with your audience (and theirs). SEMrush’s keyword research tools will also provide you with keyword suggestions that you can use to generate relevant content.
It is also a great strategy, as discussed above, to answer the questions your customers are asking. Even if the answers may seem obvious to you, look at support questions, or the questions that people are asking on social media. Or, even better, look at the questions that your competition’s customers are asking them on social media. You may also get some ideas of questions being asked on different forums, like Quora or in Twitter chats.
Google Trends and trending topics on Twitter or Facebook can give you some ideas about trending topics that people are searching for, and what they most want to see. Similarly, Google’s search features can also be a huge source of knowledge if you look at the autocomplete or “people also ask” features. This can help you find relevant content ideas that will appeal to your audience.
A few other tools that our readers mentioned to help identify great topics were Buzzsumo, Feedly, Inoreader, Hubspot’s blog idea generator, and Answer the Public.
Q6. Fill in the blank: A great blog post has __________.
A great post should have a lot of things, with the core focus being on unique, original, and exceptionally valuable. Fresh ideas or techniques to solve a problem will always get more attention than the same ideas being rehashed, after all, especially if you’re able to solve users problems that affect their pain points most. Keep this in mind, and write content that has a point and a clear purpose.
Great visuals are always a plus, as are links and statistics to back up any claims or research that you are sharing. It should also be well-written and cleanly formatted to make it easy to read.
A strong stylistic voice can also help, or, as one chat participant put it, “mojo.”
Emotional appeal is also huge. Try to express or generate empathy, and use emotion to drive action. When in doubt, storytelling is key to the emotional appeal for most readers. This can be thought-provoking, which can help encourage engagement and conversions.
A combination of all of these factors will help you create not only great content but also content that converts.
That is all for today! Make sure to join us on this week's #SEMrushchat with Gini Dietrich to discuss "How PR is the New Linkbuilding." Hope to see you there!