Why do marketers focus on digital content so much? They all seem to agree that content marketing works — but how? What is “content marketing” anyway? How does it fit into online marketing strategies — and how can you get it working for your business?
Well, the short answer to most of those questions boils down to one long-established fact: content is king. Quality content attracts, convinces and converts visitors into customers. Weak content does not.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. So, let’s start with what’s so special about digital content?
Why Digital Marketing?
Well, did you know that the UK is the world’s fourth biggest advertising market? In 2016, UK firms spent 21.9 billion GBP on advertising, and that figure is expected to keep rising.
That’s not just due to the obvious cost of TV ads, either. In fact, digital campaigns overtook TV advertising budgets over 18 years ago. Digital advertising tends to be more cost-effective.
Why? Well, partly because it’s generally faster and cheaper to produce. A blog post may take a few hours of writing, but even video ads typically cost less to put online than to schedule on a TV channel.
Digital assets can often also be modified after they’ve been published. Print mistakes can easily cost an entire print run; digital mistakes often cost little more than a few minutes’ work to fix.
Then there’s targeting. Broadcast ads may reach more viewers, but most of us find them either easy to ignore, or irritating. We call poorly targeted, broadcast digital marketing “spam”. Most digital advertising aims to reach those who might at least be interested. That makes it far more cost-effective than broadcast ads.
Finally, digital assets typically provide far more detailed and timely stats than traditional channels like print. Of course, trends still take time to show up and attributing bottom-line results to specific changes is rarely possible. Still, measurements lead to improvements, so digital marketing evolves much faster than traditional channels.
So, what can digital content marketing do for you?
Content Marketing Works For SEO
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a range of techniques used to increase ‘organic’ (unpaid) visibility in search engine results.
SEO basically encourages search engines to show pages from your site when people search for specific phrases (aka “keywords”). Pages that are relevant and well-optimised for the given search term appear higher in the Search Engine Results Pages (or “SERPs”).
Most searchers rely on the first page of results, trusting search engines to pick out the top ten most relevant sites. So, creating high-quality, unique, and interesting content that uses relevant keywords increases your chance of appearing in those all-important top results.
Content Attracts Visitors
The more high-quality, relevant material you create, the more useful your site becomes to your target market. It also gets a bigger “footprint”, gradually ranking for more related keywords. That makes it easier to find.
The way in which these benefits gradually build up is one of the top reasons why content marketing works so well. It’s also why your content is king.
A Key Word Of Warning
Picking the right keywords isn’t always easy, though. Sometimes, more traffic goes to an unexpected variation of a phrase than to a version that seems more obvious. So, researching the right keywords, using them effectively, and adding external links to credible sources, all give your content a better chance to rank higher.
That used to be true across the board. Even now, most search engines still tend to see synonyms as separate keywords. Words are just strings of characters to them, with little or no intrinsic meaning. However, Google tries to group topics with something called “Latent Semantic Indexing” (“LSI”) and “Natural Language Processing”.
Basically, Google can read. It still can’t interpret pictures very well though, and keyword research is generally useful anyway. Still, as Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) develops, detailed keyword research may become a little less vital than it currently is.
So, whilst “content marketing” can just mean creating any old content, the way effective content marketing works is a little more involved than that. Still, the difference that extra effort can make is why content marketing plays a key role in many SEO and general digital marketing campaigns.
Quality Content Builds Your Business
Specifically, creating high-quality content and using it well improves several Key Performance Indicators (“KPIs”) that you can’t afford to ignore. Not if you want your business to grow, at least.
Retention and Trust
No-one wants to waste time on sites that contain nothing of interest or use to them. So, if you provide useful, high-quality content and make it easy for them to find, they’ll stick around long enough to start trusting you. If they trust you, there’s a chance they may buy from you. Otherwise, they won’t — it’s as simple as that.
“Dwell time” measures how long a visitor stays on your site. Google promotes sites with higher average dwell times, as these suggest that visitors find such sites useful. This can improve your site’s position in the SERPs, which in turn leads to more visitors — who will hopefully stick around, too.
Likewise, no-one bookmarks, shares or talks about weak content. Or — pretty obviously — non-existent content. Sure, you had to create some content to build your site, but is that really enough? Almost certainly not.
Why not? Well, your initial content exists to promote your business, right? So, it follows that more content will promote it even more. Just give people something worth talking about and sharing, and they’ll often oblige.
Even if they don’t link to your site though, these “brand mentions” or “citations” can still give your SERPs rankings a (small) boost. Brand familiarity can also significantly increase customer trust and sales.
Of course, if your content is really good, your visitors are more likely to explore other parts of your site and to return occasionally. They may even to subscribe to your blog or newsletter so that they don’t miss out on your future updates. It’s usually a slow process, but building your audience like this will help to build your market.
Obviously, as the points above attract more visitors, you’ll have more chances to convert those visitors into customers, members or whatever your goal is. Still, effective content marketing isn’t content to leave it at that. It helps you to increase conversion rates in other ways, too.
You see, whilst increasing “dwell time” tends to build trust in itself, publishing relevant, useful and/or interesting content also demonstrates your expertise. So, this aspect of content marketing works by building your authority, and more trust, ultimately leading to higher conversion rates.
Off-Site Content Marketing
Of course, “content” can mean more than just the digital assets published on your site. True, an on-site blog or news feed is the easiest way to get started, as they let you publish short, time-sensitive updates rather than full pages. Still, you can get some of the benefits of content marketing by publishing and/or re-purposing similar stuff on other sites, in other forms. For instance:
- Social media posts
- “Guest posts” on someone else’s site or blog
- Press Releases syndicated to news sites
- Videos and slide shows (e.g. on your YouTube channel)
- Slide shows (e.g. on Slideshare)
- Email newsletters (with a legally compliant opt-in system)
- Downloadable PDFs (which can be great lead generators)
Choosing Your Content Marketing Strategy
So, which approach is best — on-site, or off-site content marketing?
Well, both. Each channel tends to offer its own unique benefits. Your more successful competitors are likely to be using several of them. So, can you really afford to ignore any of them?
A social media presence is vital, but it’s usually best to add content to your own site and link your social audiences to that. Social content marketing works, but there are pitfalls for the unwary.
Content posted direct to social feeds may only reach a very limited section of your audience (notably on Facebook, unless you pay to promote it). It also tends to disappear quickly, often helping the social media company more than it helps you. That’s fine for short posts, but longer articles on your own site become long-term assets rather than short-term adverts.
On the other hand, Press Releases, guest posts on other sites and videos can be a great way of reaching new audiences and gaining backlinks to your site. Again, that can improve your SERPs rankings, site traffic and bottom line.
Newsletter mailing lists and the downloadable PDFs that often work well as lead generators for those lists can be trickier. These work so well that marketers often say, “The money is in the list” — but these days, there are a lot of anti-spam and privacy laws to adhere to (notably the GDPR). Even so, the ROI on mailing lists is so high (often averaging over £35 per pound spent!) that they are likely to continue to be worth setting up.
How To Get Started With Content Marketing
So, content marketing works in many ways, but how can you start benefiting from it?
Well, as noted above, an on-site blog makes content marketing much easier. So does a Content Management System (“CMS”) that lets you add and edit other types of content. WordPress is a popular solution that offers both. You may want to get a couple of social media accounts too, if you haven’t already — but don’t take on more than you can manage comfortably.
Then comes “ideation” — figuring out what content to create — and the task of actually creating it. Those points are really beyond the scope of this article, but here are a few quick tips:
- Know your audience and provide content that they would find valuable (e.g. answer common questions)
- Keep a list of topic ideas as they come to you — and keep adding to it
- Write your first draft as if explaining the topic to a friend, then keep refining it
- Headlines matter — spend time crafting a title that engages your audience
- Images and structure (sub-headings, lists etc.) help to keep longer articles readable
- For social media, keep self-promoting posts below 10-20% of your content
- Try to re-use your best articles in other forms, e.g. infographics and the off-site assets listed above
Inbound Marketing vs Outbound Marketing
Content marketing works because, as “inbound” marketing, it aims to attract an interested audience. Old-school, “outbound” broadcasting to disinterested crowds is less effective, as savvy consumers have become almost “ad blind.”
Constant, blatant self-promotion tends to drive folks away, so think beyond that. Demonstrate your expertise by sharing tips and relevant industry news. For instance, a travel firm could commission or report on polls about is the world’s best airlines.
Incidentally, linking to other sites like that also builds credibility and helps with SEO. Naturally, you won’t want to overdo it, or link to close competitors, or very low-quality sites. Still, it is considered good “Netiquette“, helping other sites and visitors alike.
Do You Need Content Marketing Help?
So, now that you know how content marketing works, are you eager to start but not sure you’ll have the time? Or maybe you just aren’t a keen writer? That’s okay — I can help with everything from setting up a blog on your site to ideation, strategy, syndication and even creating the content itself.