What should content marketing look like for agencies and freelancers to make it work? There is often confusion around the term content marketing. In addition, there are many different definitions. In this post, I'll explain what it's all about. And which mechanisms perform best.
Definition and delimitation: What is Content Marketing
For content marketing to work, you need the right basic attitude. And of course, this is only true if you know what content marketing is intended and suitable for.
The problem starts with the term itself. Because the closer you look at content marketing, the clearer it becomes: The word marketing is misleading here. It's all about content. And it should not promote or even sell anything. Rather, it should accomplish two things above all:
- Bringing the right target group to your site
- Achieve a positive change in the attitude of these people towards your company
This sounds quite harmless at first, but it is more difficult than it seems. We'll take a closer look at these points in a moment. Before we do, it's important to emphasize: There are all sorts of definitions of content marketing. Some even say something like, "All marketing is content marketing."
That makes little sense from my point of view. Because the fact that you also need content for marketing is not a new insight. Ads, catalogues, brochures: These things existed before the Internet. What is new, however, is that companies are now creating and distributing content that would have previously been available mainly in specialist and how-to publications.
Content and the Customer Journey
Put another way, what's new is that content marketing starts at the very beginning of the customer journey. Namely, when future customers begin to understand that they have a problem. They've just started looking for a solution. And that's when they'll hopefully encounter your content. They should find you both knowledgeable and trustworthy enough to ultimately consider your offerings.
This content is therefore planned and implemented with more of a journalistic perspective. The information needs of the readership are in the foreground. Your content should be useful, helpful and non-promotional. Content marketing is often compared to corporate publishing, which mainly means customer magazines.
One big difference, however, is that the entry threshold for content marketing is significantly lower. Another is the disproportionately greater potential: An outstanding piece of content can reach considerably more people than a printed customer magazine. This is simply because such articles can still be found and recommended months and years later - depending on the topic. Because this isn't about filling paper pages over and over again. Here, it's about creating by far the best content for the respective issue.
This is then kept fresh and up-to-date over the years, instead of creating new content again and again. What content marketing and corporate publishing have in common, however, is that sales are not the main focus here - and success can therefore only be measured indirectly. We'll take a closer look at that in a moment.
Addressingthe right target group
Users discover new content in two main ways:
- You can find it in a search offer (Google, YouTube, Pinterest...).
- You get it recommended (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email, messenger...)
Do you deal with SEO? Then of course you know that depending on the topic it can be difficult to impossible to land in front in the search engines. But there are always alternative possibilities: For example, you focus on a more specific question, on a particular point of view or on a highly focused target group. As a simple example: Instead of optimizing your website in general for the keyword "WordPress ", you focus on "WordPress Websites for real estate agents in Cologne " - because this is one of your specialties.
SEO also ideally starts with the research: You should be clear about the essential keywords and questions that your content must address. If you optimize your content for search engines like Google only afterwards, then you lose a lot of potential.
It is also important to research the competition: What does existing content already cover? How well are they made? What is missing? How can you surpass these posts, videos or graphics so that your content stands out significantly better? Because only then you have a chance to be noticed at all.
Last but not least, it's important to keep search intent in mind. Because as explained before: Your content marketing should reach people at the very beginning of their customer journey. They may not yet have a clear idea of what they need, what is available on the market and how the individual offers differ from each other.
At the same time, not every topic should be based primarily on SEO. Because here, of course, you will only be found for things that your target audience is already actively looking for. This is not always the case, especially with new solutions.
This is also why it is important to consider the "shareability" of your content at the same time: In other words, it should meet all the requirements so that it spreads well on the social web. Or so that they are recommended in other ways such as email and messenger.
Mass production no longer works
Again, these basics include making sure your content is appropriate, interesting, and good enough to be recommended in the first place. The demands on content are constantly increasing. If only because the number of contents continues to increase. Interchangeable articles and videos don't do much anymore. What everyone can do, everyone is already doing.
For example, your articles and posts need an appealing headline and a nice thumbnail. Because these are the two things that a user sees on the social web. Therefore, you should avoid meaningless and arbitrary stock photos: They're better than nothing, but I really don't remember how many hand-shaking, smiling office people I've seen in my life. More than enough, I would argue!
A so-called content hub serves as an important contact point for your content - whether as a freelancer, agency or for other websites. This can be a simple landing page or an elaborate corporate magazine. See Jan's tips on the Content Hub.
Invest a few extra minutes here to find something that positively stands out from the usual monotony. Keep in mind that your content only has a few seconds (or fractions of seconds) to trigger the click you're hoping for. Plus, those thumbnails still need to work when you see them in postage stamp format on your smartphone.
More tips to increase the shareability of your content:
- Actively encourage people to share the content on your site . Share buttons can be implemented in a privacy-compliant manner, for example with the Shariff Plugin for WordPress .
- Put out interesting quotes and statements that can be sent directly as a tweet.
- Build in graphics to post and recommend on Pinterest.
This list could go on. The important thing is: The first step is to make the right people aware of you, your social profiles and your site . For this you need to
- Know your target group well
- Then develop the appropriate content
- Finally, implement these optimally as described
Once you've done that, it's on to the next step in the content marketing process.
Cause a positive change
It sounds unspectacular, but your so painstakingly created and distributed content should really "only" cause a positive change in the target group. This is how Robert Rose, among others, describes it in his provocative article for the Content Marketing Institute. Provocative because he calls for an end to measuring the success of content.
But that is only half the truth: Of course, it should be measured how successful the content is. But this is not done via typical measurement figures such as page views or clicks. After all, what does it mean for a company at the end of the day if its own newsletter has found 5,000 readers? First of all, nothing at all. Instead, the question is: How do these newsletter subscribers behave differently than other users? What does the ideal typical behavior of a user actually look like?
Generally speaking, the content in content marketing is the beginning of a hopefully longer sequence of actions and further changes in the intended target group. Content strategist Mirko Lange also sees it this way. He summarized his findings in this interesting presentation. It's a long way from "We produce content" to "We make more sales and profit". There are rarely shortcuts. Rather, it takes patience to generate the desired changes in the thinking and behavior of the target group.
First of all, contact is established in the first place - and attention is created. Brand trust is to be strengthened. At the same time, you want to make sure that potential customers think of your company first. Over time, they will then ideally develop a brand preference. And only this will ultimately contribute to the company's success and be reflected in higher sales.
Keep readers instead of just winning them
What this sequence also shows is that it's not enough to bring the target group to your site once. Once you've done that, you want to keep them. This can be done, for example, with the aforementioned newsletter. This may be an old-fashioned tool, but it still works great in many areas. And you have the great advantage that you own your email distribution list (which you have of course set up in accordance with data protection regulations). With e-mails, no algorithm interferes. Nobody tells you how, when and how often you can reach your prospects.
But if email doesn't fit, for example because your target group prefers other communication channels, then of course you respond to that. The important thing is that your content at the beginning of the customer journey keeps you in the minds of these people. This can also be achieved via useful downloads or a helpful email series.
For many companies, agencies and freelancers, it's a strange idea at first that they should invest resources in something that doesn't bring in direct revenue. However, this should not be completely unknown to you. After all, customer service has a similar status: its impact can often only be determined indirectly, for example via surveys.
A landing page or product page has it easier: It has a clear purpose that you can measure comparatively easily. With a useful, non-promotional advice article, on the other hand, things look different. How many euros of sales does it bring in the end? When have you reached the return on investment here? That's not so easy to say. In a separate post, I will explain in more detail how the success of content can be measured.
How does your target group decide?
But the fact that you reach your target group so early is actually important. Otherwise, your potential customers might end up with your competitors first - and ultimately be convinced by the offers and products there. Keep in mind: Decisions are not made as rationally as we like to believe.
- How well taken care of does a prospective customer feel?
- How much does this person trust a company?
- How much does she feel understood?
All of that plays into the decision.
Content marketing is a lot like a first date: you get to know each other and maybe you agree to go on a second date. A marriage proposal doesn't usually come after the first few minutes. However, that's how some companies behave: No sooner have I arrived on the website than I'm supposed to buy something. Especially with more complex products and offers, this makes no sense.
Don't get me wrong: I'm an entrepreneur myself. I know that I have to earn money at the end of the day. But it also has to be clear that only a portion of your activities directly contribute to revenue. Many others don't. They have other tasks that are at least as important.