Content marketing is the number one method for developing a relationship with your audience, whether they’re current clients or potential new customers. It’s a great way for a company or an individual to position themselves as a thought leader and to stay in front of prospects in a helpful way. Furthermore, content is a critical component of search engine optimization (SEO) in our current marketing landscape, and, if executed properly, you will reap residual benefits well into the future.
Many companies, however, are still not taking advantage of this fantastic marketing strategy. The two most common reasons for content marketing failure are:
- Not sticking with it long enough.
- Not properly planning everything out from the beginning.
You can’t start creating and publishing content and expect immediate results. In fact, before you even think about writing the first sentence of your first blog, or storyboarding your first video shoot, you need to outline your strategy and do your homework (research).
7 Steps to Take Before You Begin Creating Content
When it comes to content marketing, there are a few key components that will help you establish a framework for success. This seven-step blueprint should be in place before you begin writing, shooting video, creating infographics, and so on:
1. Proper Upfront Keyword Research (for SEO purposes as well as an editorial calendar)
Most companies have a good idea of what sort of keywords and phrases they’d like to rank for. But without conducting a proper keyword research audit, you’ll never know for sure. In addition, the information you learn from going through this exercise will likely uncover a lot of “hidden gem” keywords. This will not only give you focus for how to optimize your site, it will also give you a plethora of content ideas and topics to cover. In short, conducting keyword research will help you find out what your audience is interested in, and looking for.
There are many companies and tools that can help you with keyword research. This Ahrefs article, for instance, offers some valuable insight on how to create a keyword report.
If you skip this step, you’ll be flying blind when it comes to SEO. You won’t have any idea if your content marketing efforts are succeeding or failing when it comes to SEO, and you won’t fully reap the benefits it can bring to your business.
2. Identifying Goals
I’ve heard many content marketing experts talk about the importance of identifying goals, but Robert Rose from the Content Marketing Institute put it best. Before you do anything else, according to Rose, you need answer one simple question: Why? Why are you’re doing this? Why are you creating and publishing out content in the first place? There should be a goal and a strategy behind everything you do. To figure this out, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you trying to drive more awareness for a new product or a new company?
- Are you trying to help the lead nurturing process and pull people into your funnel more effectively?
- Are you trying to solve a customer retention problem because of a loyalty issue?
These questions will help you answer the bigger question: what are you trying to solve for? Because, ultimately, your content should help solve some sort of issue – you just need to figure out which issue it is before you begin creating any kind of content.
Once you have that figured out, you’ll be able to start laying down a content plan that supports those goals, whether it’s to drive more leads, drive better leads, drive higher quality leads, or drive more traffic to your website.
3. Identifying Your Target Audience
You absolutely need to identify who you’re trying to reach. Who is the person, the audience for the goal you’ve created? This is where buyer persona development comes in. It’s about looking at your audience and trying to understand their needs. It’s more than understanding the general demographics of your customers (e.g., gender, age, income level, etc.). You need to find out what’s important to them.
One of the best people in the business to learn about how to develop and create your buyer personas is Adele Revella from the Buyer Persona Institute. A quote from her insightful book puts this issue into perspective:
“A buyer persona is essentially an example that allows you to understand the buyers that you want to market to or sell to so that you can be more effective at influencing their decisions. The most important part of the buyer persona is understanding how, when, and why that person, that buyer makes the decision to leave the status quo, whether they’re using a current product or buying one for the first time, and actually make the decision that now’s the time to go do an evaluation and buy something new.”
What this will lead to is developing content ideas for the beginning (Awareness), middle (Consideration) and late (Buying) stages of the buying cycle. Because it’s critical that you speak to your audience at the stage of the buying cycle they’re currently in.
4. Setting Up Your Editorial Calendar
The best content marketers out there have a concrete plan for developing ideas, creating a content calendar, writing, editing, and publishing. Whether your business is a one-person shop or you’re outsourcing the heavy lifting to freelancers, you need to develop a workflow process for your content.
There are various ways you can manage your content, but here is a helpful video on setting up your editorial calendar in Trello.
5. Identifying Resources
The next step is to figure out who can and will do what. Before you seek outside help, you should identify the internal resources you have at your disposal. Not just employees, but the bandwidth (time) any of them can devote to a task. Not only will this save you money, but the more content production you keep in house the better – because who knows your business and your audience better than you?
This will also help you decide what type of content you’ll be producing. Most content marketing plans should include written content for a variety of reasons – SEO being the most important – but if you have someone on staff who is (or would be) fantastic on camera, then you might want to consider including video as part of your mix. And even if you don’t have someone who’d be a natural on-camera presence, I still strongly suggest giving video a try, as it’s growing in importance when it comes to audience engagement, and even SEO. You should also identify if you’re able to produce any surveys or studies (such as white papers). If you do, those can become resources other companies, bloggers, and websites will cite and link to – which can result in extremely valuable backlinks to your site, an important component of SEO.
So, once you’ve identified what you can produce on a consistent, on-going basis, fill in the blanks with outside help from an agency or freelancers. Make sure they’re on the same page with your mission and strategy, though. The key here is to ensure you’ll be able to execute your plan – whether it’s three blogs/week, or one killer post/month – before you start anything at all. This will not only help you achieve the results you’re after, but your stress levels will go way down if everything is mapped out ahead of time.
6. Deciding Which Social Platforms to Use
This is straightforward, but still important. You don’t want to spread your resources or your content distribution dollars too thin, so you need to determine the platforms where your audience lives, and get your content on those networks. Joe Pulizzi from the Content Marketing Institute, however, always warns against “building a house on rented land.” That means your content must first be published on your personal blog, website, or YouTube channel. You can and should distribute content across the various social platforms (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.), but those posts should point back to your website or channel. If not, the rug could be pulled out from underneath you, and you’ll be left with nothing (which is what happened to all the people who built audiences on Vine). Not to mention, if you’re not linking back to your own website with the content you distribute across the various social networks, you don’t gain any SEO benefit for your own website.
7. Creating Your Content Marketing Mission Statement
Finally, you’ll need to figure out what makes you unique. What differentiates you from everyone else putting out similar content? Think about what makes your company different from your competitors. It could be regional, national, or even a global thing. It could be your tone, attitude, or approach to business. It could even be the very product or service you provide.
As you think about your unique selling proposition (USP) or unique selling point, write everything down. Your purpose, your goals, your audience – everything should be written out. Otherwise, you’ll end up forgetting key pieces of your marketing strategy.
Circling back to Joe Pulizzi – who coined the phrase “content marketing” and is known as “the Godfather of Content Marketing” – he gives us a perfect framework to create your content marketing mission statement.
Become a premier destination for [what target audience] interested in [what topics] to help them [customer value].
Just Like Content Marketing, Planning Is Never Really Done
While it should be clear by now that you must start with a plan, the planning process itself is never really done. Here are some more important questions you can answer that will help you with creating your content marketing plan…and help it evolve over time:
- What will make this worth subscribing to?
- What’s the one thing you want to be known for?
- Become the “Ultimate Resource for ________”
- Find out some “must-knows” that people need to know about ________
- What are your business goals (the results you expect to achieve through content marketing)?
- To whom can you deliver value to satisfy these goals (i.e. the audience you will target)?
- What is the valuable content experience (independent of the products/services you offer) you will deliver at each stage of your customer’s journey?
- How is your voice/value unique (i.e. what is your “content tilt” – the unique content experience that only you can provide)?
This is more than a seven-step exercise: it’s a blueprint for content marketing success. If you don’t ask the questions, how will you know if the answers (the results or lack thereof once you start publishing content) are right?