How content marketing works: An in-depth guide
Non paid content marketing has been around for quite some time. And despite the usual evolution of jargon, the very basic principles and essence of content marketing has remained the same. This is because the very purpose of content marketing has never changed. Content marketing is a really powerful digital marketing tool that is used to attract and engage prospects and customers alike. In addition to that, it is increasingly being used to delight targets. But often times, many people have struggled to get their mind around it. So what is content marketing in the first place?
- 1 Introduction to content marketing
- 2 The types of content to write on your site
- 3 The keyword research process
- 4 Content quantity
- 5 Importance of internal linking
- 6 How to organize your content for best content marketing results
- 7 Let us discuss topical relevance
- 8 How Google works with regards to content strategy
- 9 Hiring writers for content strategy and what to look out for
- 10 Why site engagement matters
- 11 AI and my views on it
- 12 Conclusion
Introduction to content marketing
I would describe content marketing as the process of publishing helpful and delightful content with the aim of attracting and engaging the content consumers. Its key strength lies in the fact that it has higher conversion rates than traditional digital marketing ads. Also, content marketing is a super power when it comes to brand awareness.
Content marketing is the perfect top of the funnel channel. It helps websites drive enormous amounts of traffic. I also have to mention that the traffic, for the most part, is more affordable than normal Google Ads. Actually, Google Ads is like shoving money into a furnace when you compare it to content marketing.
Here is what I mean by top of the funnel channel.
The top of the funnel is where the magic begins. In the customer journey, it is where complete strangers become aware of what you do and what you provide. If I may be so bold, but I could make the argument that you could survive as a business with content marketing alone.
Without content marketing, the traditional sales funnel as we know it would not work. Okay, maybe it will still work, but it is going to be very expensive and the customer acquisition costs will take huge bite into your profits.
So content marketing is a must for any business wishing to grow their top line, without spending a fortune, so that there is something left over in the way of profit after removing marketing expenditure.
So what do you need to do content marketing?
The answer to this question is rather trivial and will surprise you. The humble blog forms the very corner stone of content marketing. A blog allows you to easily condense your thoughts and ideas into long form written content. It is this content that is presented, to the target. Content marketing is often combined with email marketing and social media outreach to cement your reputation as an authority in a particular field
It is this authority and trust, that motivates people to reach out to you and seek your assistance. As a result, you are able to build a lead generation mechanism. With content marketing’s organic reach and traffic, you are able to create a steady stream of warm bodies who are interested in what you have to say and offer.
These warm bodies can be converted to customers very easily. Its remarkable really, what you can gain from a seemingly simple blog.
But alas, there is always a catch. The catch in this case is that, you will not be the only person. The competition in some areas is rather stiff. You have to really focus and create good content.
What do I need to create a blog?
Don’t reinvent the wheel here. WordPress has been the go to platform for content marketing and blogging for a very long time now. This is because it works. So sign up for an account at your favorite hosting company, we prefer DREAMHOST. This is where most of our websites are hosted. We like it, we trust it, but there are always other options.
The next step is to actually build your website. In this day and age, building a website is such a simple affair. There are numerous themes and templates you can use. Most of them don’t require much technical knowledge to modify and deploy. But if you are stuck, hired help is always around the corner.
Of course you will also need a couple of landing pages depending on the services you are offering or a complete store if you sell products.
This is the chapter where I burst your bubble. While, content marketing is powerful, it can be insanely difficult to pursue. It requires a significant upfront time investment. In addition to that, there is issue of know how. One does not simply pick a random topic to write on. Rather, picking topics and doing the keyword research is a skill onto itself.
There are many instances where people launch blogs with a lot of fanfare but they fail to pick up traction because they did not do their research. It is a very painful experience spending the time writing only to discover, many months later, that your content, did not attract even a single visitor. So there is a definite learning curve associated. But by the end of this article, you should have enough of a grasp.
However, while it is good to be grounded to reality, panic is not necessary. There are many ways of generating content that is both cheap and time saving. We shall discuss them later on in the article.
The types of content to write on your site
Now that you have bought your domain, got web hosting and set up your website, what is next? You need to do some research. What type of content will best resonate with your prospects. What kind of prospects are they in the first place? Have a close look at their demographics and locations. You could also do a small poll and try to ascertain what they would respond to. For guidance, here is a list of the various content types you can publish on your website
The informational blog post
This is going to be a staple for you. It will form the very foundation onto which you will build your reputation. An informational blog post is simply you writing an article that will give your reader more information on the chosen topic. How long the article should be and how to find and use the keywords for the said article will be discussed in the coming sections.
The all important video
A lot of people are visual people. They prefer to see what it is you are talking about rather than read about it. Some like both, they will read an article but if a video is available, they are definitely going for it. A video allows you to condense complex concepts into a more digestible delivery format. In addition to that, it allows you to do demonstrations and show live case examples. So for your content strategy to work, you are going to need videos.
Again, this is a visually heavy format. Its good for conveying bits of information at a quick glance. It is easily digestible and often times, it triggers the hunger for more details. Infographics are a definite must have in your content marketing war chest.
I did my own impromptu survey among respondents aged between 12 to 33 years and I found that a good 40% of them had listened to podcasts. What makes podcasts great is that, they can be consumed while doing other things. You could listen to a podcast during a workout for example. Again, a great arsenal to have in your war chest.
This can be a part of content marketing, although personally I don’t believe that is what it was built for. Social media has always been a channel to connect and communicate with your users. So it depends. Personally I would stick to blogging and video. This is because social media is notoriously difficult to generate return on investment.
People don’t go to TikTok for example to learn about a certain topic. If they want information, they have to go to the search engines to research. Social media is for fun. If you are willing to make your content strategy fun and engaging, I guess social media could work. And yes, many have managed to leverage the vast reach of social media to build upon their content strategy.
The keyword research process
But before you begin the content creation process, you really need to understand keywords. An understanding of how they work and how they are used will improve your chances of success.
The problem with content marketing is that, it takes a long time to get a response. You see if you have a calculator, you can input a sum and immediately get the computation. In order to know whether your bulb has blown out, all you have to do is simply switch it on or off. And you will have your answer.
With content marketing, he feedback loop is often very long. It takes 6 months for an article to rank. And that is if you have done everything right. So for the most part it will take around 8 months. You will only know whether the keywords you chose were winners after 8 months. But none of us have 8 months to test an try keywords. Before we optimize for a certain keyword, we need to know to a certain degree, whether the keywords will work.
Hence it is prudent we discuss the keyword research process.
What does it entail?
Keyword research is all bout identifying keywords that;
- Have sufficient search volume. Meaning, enough people are actually searching for them.
- Are low competition. There are some websites that you will not beat. Its not that you are not good enough but rather, they have bottomless resources. You definitely don’t want to be competing with those guys.
- Are relevant to your products and services. You could rank for keywords that do nothing for you because, they are just not relevant to your business. That would be wasted effort.
My favorite keyword research method is the alphabet soup method. That combined with cross checking on some crucial keyword tools, you will be able to identify the keywords that will serve you well.
So what is the alphabet soup method? Here is the thing, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel and complicate things. To do great research all you need is your browser.
You first start by coming up with a few seed keywords. These will form the basis of the keywords we would wish to generate.
Then you type them on the browser, one by one followed by a letter of the alphabet. Lets say, your niche is dog breeds and one of your keywords is “German shepherd”. You would go to the browser and start with “German Shepherd a”, the result you get is something like this;
As you can see, you already have a list of keywords. And the best part is that these keywords are the most frequently searched for. Then you continue with the next letter of the alphabet, “German Shepherd b”.
As you can see, our list of keywords is growing. And we are getting great insights on what people search for.
The next step is to determine the level of competition for the keywords. This will inform you on whether to actually go for the keywords or not. And if you do go for the keywords, what you would need to rank higher than your competition
You need to get a simple tool called keywords everywhere. It is a google extension that will give you insights on the searched for terms and will allow you to do rudimentary competitor analysis.
You can purchase it on https://keywordseverywhere.com/.
Keywords everywhere demonstration
Using keywords everywhere is rather simple. As I mentioned, all you need to do is to install the browser extension, activate it and you are set to go. All you need to do is to search on the search bar as you normally would. Remember the list of keywords you had generated earlier on dog breeds?
When you search you get something like this.
This may seem confusing at first but let me explain each detail. You may notice that the search result looks a bit different from what you would normally see. There are additional data points. Lets look at them in detail;
|Traf/Mo(us): 210/1500||This is the first item that you may notice. It is the traffic that page generates for that particular keyword. In this case this page generates 210 visitors out of the 1500 visitors it receives per month|
|Moz DA: 26/100||This is the web page’s domain authority. Essentially, it is a score used to determine the overall authoritativeness of the website. The higher the better. It runs from a scale of 0 to 100. Most big websites like CNN.com or Hubspot.com have very high domain authorities because they are considered to be heavy hitters in their industry.|
|Ref Dom||These are the referring domains. Meaning, the number of domains that link back to this particular page|
|Ref Links||These are the actual referring links. It is different form the metric above as Ref domain is just he domain. The Ref links are the actual clickable links that lead to this domain.|
|Spam score||This is the spam score.|
There is another side bar you get when you do the search with keywords everywhere. Here is a screen grab.
So what does this all mean?
The four metrics;
- SEO difficulty
- Brand query
- Off page difficulty
- On page difficulty
All show how difficult it would be to rank for the particular keyword. Most importantly is the SEO difficulty score. A difficulty score of over 60 means that you have very little chance of ranking for the keywords.
So how do you use these metrics to analyze competition
Before you do anything else, you need to click on the first 10 results and take a note of the length of the articles.
If a website has a lower domain authority, it is going to need longer content to rank on Google. Also, you need to pay attention to the traffic generated. There is no use, aiming for a keyword that will result in a little bit of traffic.
So you need to look at the domain authority of the top ranking pages. If the domain authority is over 60, you will not outrank them easily.
Then have a look at the length of the top 10 blog posts, if your domain authority is lower than them they you have to write a longer blog.
Also pay attention to the search difficulty. A difficulty of 60 is hard to beat, unless your domain authority is pretty high.
So analyze your keywords one by one. And try to spot the keywords that are low competition but still bring in enough traffic. Stay away from keywords that have little traffic. In my opinion its better to compete for high traffic keywords than to place your faith in little traffic keywords. I mean, yes you will rank higher but it will result in very little traffic.
So what do you need to rank high. Content. I know some people will make a big show of backlinks but content has always been king. The more content you have on your site plus high dwell times, the more of an authority in your field you are. Its that simple. So we have the issue of content velocity vs word count.
Content velocity is the sheer number of posts that you publish on your blog. If you publish articles per month, then your content velocity is 10. Its a simple metric. Word count is the number of words per article. There is this discussion and discord in the industry about what is more important. Is the word count important or content velocity is the more important metric according to Google.
The answer to this question allows for better unit economics. If you only need a certain number of words to rank, why spend the time and effort to add more words when you could be working on more articles.
Here is the thing. When you are starting off, and your domain authority is pretty much nil, you need very long articles on your website to make an impact. In my experience word count is more important than content velocity at the initial stages. Although you have to remember, you need to meet the threshold of 100 quality articles on your website for Google to pay any attention to you.
Time to rank
Also remember it takes around 6 to 8 months for each article to rank. So if you are able to get 100 quality articles with high word count fast, you should do it. Otherwise the ranking process will take too long.
Although we will further discuss the engagement metrics, remember that dwell times are important. These are how long your visitors spend on your pages. A higher word count will always result in a better dwell time because it will take longer to peruse through all the content. Someone can quickly glance through shorter content and be on his/her way. Anyway, more on this in the user engagement section
Once you are more established, something happens
Not just exhaustion for you but you simply exhaust the topic. It is not possible to infinitely write for a certain topic. You eventually run out of things to talk about. Instead of filling out your content with fluff which decreases your quality, it is okay to put out lower word count articles.
I mean, at this point its more about opinion pieces and industry news.
Links are what signal to Google that a certain bit of content is important. I have seen that, to get great results you need to internally link your blog content together. It needs to flow organically. If for example it a reader would need another bit of information after reading a certain article it is important to link to that.
But then a common issue I have struggled with is low dwell times. Someone will come to my website, read a blog, but if there is a link in the middle, they may click on that link. So instead of staying 15 minutes to read an article they spend 7 minutes.
But I guess this is the draw back to internal linking. So more often I try to keep my internal links at the very bottom, unless its too important.
How to organize your content for best content marketing results
So how do you structure your content? How do you organize your content to get the best return on investment?
You are going to need a content calendar and dedicated resources for content marketing. One of the most bizarre trends I have noticed is that people see content marketing and content strategy as something that can be done part time. But like I said, you need a threshold content count of 100 articles. And it takes 6 to 8 months for each article to rank. So if your content velocity is 5, meaning 5 articles a month, it will take you years to rank and see the impact on your revenue.
What happens next is that you get frustrated. Even at a velocity of 5 people still complain that it is work. And it is, this is because that is not the only thing that your are doing. On top of the myriad of other stuff, you have to come up with a quality piece of content every week.
The dark path
This frustration leads them a dark path. They start looking for shortcuts. This leads to them paying for really expensive tools and other programs that will try to shorten their timelines
The content calendar
If you are truly serious about content strategy, you need to block out time on your calendar to do keyword research, competitor analysis, creating and proof reading your content.
A content calendar will help you. Depending on how soon you want to see the results, you can come up with a content velocity number that is achievable on your schedule.
Alternatively, you could always assign someone those responsibilities. If you your goals are big and timelines ambitious, you will need a full team of full time specialists.
Let us discuss topical relevance
We have talked about keywords and using competitor analysis to come up with topics to create content on. However we have not discussed the topical relevance.
You see, you cannot write about anything and everything because the keywords are high traffic and low competition. You need to stick within your general topic. Sometimes this is difficult. Because, in some fields you need a content velocity of 100 to 800. This is really difficult to do, if your chosen niche is too narrow.
So always make sure that there is a relationship between all your content. If your niche is dog breeds, venturing into cat and hamster content, will work against your authority?
So how do you stick within your topical relevance?
Basket of keywords
You need to come up with a basket of closely related keywords that you can use as seed keywords. It is these keywords that you will seek to rank for.
Unique key phrases
These are unique key phrases that you use to optimize your content. Stick to one key phrase per piece of content. I have personally tried to rank for more than one key phrase and It did not work out for me. Also most of the research that I have done, I am yet to see a web page rank well for two or more keywords. What happens is that they will rank well for one set of key phrases and rank “badly” for the next set of keywords.
They could be top 3 for one set of key phrases and be on the fifth page for for the same piece of content.
Another thing you have to notice is that, as you write your content, you are subconsciously optimizing for other keywords. There are some phrases and words that you will use over and over, and they will help you rank for those frequently used phrases. So its an added bonus.
How Google works with regards to content strategy
Ain’t this the mystery. Google seems like a black box. But if there is one thing you need to understand about Google is that, Google places a lot of emphasis on giving its users a good experience. This means that it seeks to surface pages that have very high relevance to the user’s search intent. It tries to ascertain what it is the user was looking for and points the user in the right direction.
This it does through several ways.
- Crawling and indexing your website
- Checking backlinks
- Analyzing engagement metrics
- Checking your web performance
These are what it uses to extract the over 200 ranking signals used to determine which page ranks higher than the other.
Something to mention here is that you also need to keep an eye out for your web performance. Stay away from themes and website features that slow down your website. It is a tragedy to do everything right only for your website to rank poorly because it just won’t load in good time or its unavailable.
Hiring writers for content strategy and what to look out for
Eventually you are going to need help. No matter what your goals are, a day only has 24 hours. It is impossible to keep up with a high velocity content schedule on your own. So how do you hire content creators and how do you hold them accountable.
You need to document your internal processes and best practices. This will help the newer content writers to easily get a grasp of what is going on. In addition to that, it will highly improve the quality of your output.
Its okay to hire non fluent speakers
A lot of people, especially in the foreign markets can write really well but their pronunciations leave something to be desired. Failure to pronounce words well should not be a deal breaker. As a matter of fact, every country has its own nuance and accents but the language is still the same.
Pay people well
With the rise of Upwork or Fiverr, people think that its okay to pay service freelancers and specialists pennies. But, like they say, if you pay peanuts you get monkeys working for you. You need a team of people who really care about what it is they are doing. All it takes are spelling mistakes to ruin your credibility. Especially if you have high content velocity, quality issues are a real problem.
But for people to care about what you do, you need to show that you also care about them. This means paying good wages and assigning reasonable workloads
Why site engagement matters
This is a bonus section. Right now you have everything to ensure your success. But you also need to keep an eye on your engagement metrics. These are a key ranking signal. It is tragic to get a lot of traffic then have that traffic taper off because of poor engagement metrics. Traffic should always be going up, so that the number of leads go up and the revenue to keep going up.
Pay special attention to the bounce rate and time on website. Although they vary from industry to industry, it is good to know the typical engagement metrics in your industry.
You can do a competitor analysis to try and get benchmarks. But rule of thumb is, whatever your metrics are at the beginning, assume that you need to improve by 25%. If your dwell times are an average of one minute per article, try to improve that by at least 25%. Same goes for bounce rates.
AI and my views on it
AI has come a long way. And there are tools that leverage AI to make the content strategy easier. But in my opinion, we are a long way from a complete AI take over. Yes, we do have tools like Jarvis but they are still rudimentary and you have to do a lot of guiding them. Plus what makes content marketing special isn’t simply giving facts and figures. It is about having empathy and truly understanding what problems your users are trying to solve. You cannot do this with software.
Plus you voice and opinions in critical issues matter. So stay away from AI tools and learn to create human content. Because at the end of the day, no one will ever understand a human than a fellow human.
Content strategy has the power to unlock the world of endless affordable leads that you can use to grow your business. If you do have some questions or you need some help to come up and implement your strategy, you could always reach out to us.
And there is this guide for entrepreneurs that you can read here.