How to start with content marketing? How to make content that works? Expert in the field, Shana Haynie shares her best practices with our readers.
What’s your advice for startups and small budgets that want to start with content marketing? Do you have any proven plan or schema for creating content? Many of small companies want to invest in content marketing, but struggles at the beginning without idea how to start.
Shana: My advice for a startup or company with a small budget is to be smart with your resources.
The fact is, while content marketing has proven to be a successful endeavor for many companies, it is still a traction channel that needs to be tested, and may not be the right channel to test first.
Content marketing is extremely time intensive and is also a long-term investment. If you have a very limited budget, there may be other areas worth exploring first, for instance, the development of strategic partnerships, investing in customer research, or even in continued marketing education for yourself and your team.
Again, this is all dependent on your particular brand, market, and situation, but just because content marketing works, doesn’t mean you should do it without the right understanding of how it works and how to make it work for you.
If you’ve decided that content marketing is the best way to go (based on the fact that you truly know who your buyer persona is and you have the time and skills to produce content regularly), do not outsource your content creation if you are the expert. No one is going to be able to explain what you do better than you. At the end of the day, hiring a freelance writer from Upwork is going to be a waste of money if you are the one who holds all of the knowledge.
How to find your target audience? What metrics are key to distinguish valuable leads?
Shana: If you know who your target audience is, it should be pretty simple to find them. Use basic research and survey techniques to figure out what they are interested in, who they like to follow on social media, what blogs they like to read, where they like to hang out - online AND in real life.
Just because digital marketing has taken over the world doesn’t mean it’s the only place to reach your audience. It’s very important to understand their digital preferences, but it is even more beneficial if you can afford to extend your reach beyond the internet.
If you don’t know who your target audience is, you might want to rethink your business strategy. It is much, much harder to monetize an idea if you don’t know whose problem you are aiming to solve.
With regard to the second half of this question, all leads are valuable. Whether they are going to buy something from you or not does not dictate their value - anyone who interacts with your brand can provide you something of value, whether it’s feedback, engagement, money or insight.
As a young company, you can’t turn a blind eye to someone’s opinion - even if you don’t think they are going to give you money or if you think they are wrong. All information can be used to make your marketing (and product or service) better. Defining negative personas, negative keywords, gaining experience in dealing with unhappy people: all of these are valuable learning experiences and will make you a better business owner if you know how to glean the knowledge from the people who don’t directly drive revenue.
What extensions or tools do you recommend to sharpen up content quality and its performance? Why they work so good?
Shana: For content creation, Grammarly is an extension that I use. It helps check your spelling and makes it easy to catch errors so you don’t look like an elementary school drop out.
For performance and idea generation, I use a combination of google search, google suggest, google trends, the moz bar and google adwords keyword planner. These tools can give valuable insight into what is being searched, what keywords are being bid on, what pages are are ranking for which keywords, and how hard it would be to outrank websites for target keywords on the first page of google.
Social media can enlarge content reach. How to distribute content via social media to sharpen up its outreach?
Shana: Social media is a great place for content distribution, but only if you have followers who are engaged with your brand. Social and content work hand in hand. That is why when I first started at Moves the Needle as the Inbound Marketing Manager, the first thing I worked out was my content and distribution strategy.
Even a company that doesn’t have a huge social followings can use social media as a distribution channel, the trick is creating content that your audience wants to engage with, and going beyond traditional posting to get it seen. This can require an investment into social media scheduling and growth tools, possibly backed by a paid strategy to reach as many of your audience as possible. This technique works to help build your social followings as well as guiding visitors back to your website.
I will caution though that social media is literally the last stage of the funnel you should be optimizing. Work out your content strategy from the bottom of the funnel all the way to the top and test those assumptions about your content - make sure it actually serves the function you anticipate before going all in on a paid advertising strategy. You don’t want to pay for traffic and then lose it all when they hit your site. Capturing their email so you can market to them more directly is a much better way to go than trying to sell things to people directly from a social media interaction.
What do you think is more important, high-ranked keywords for positioning the content or specified needs of the customers and precisely tailored articles?
Shana: When you think about your content strategy, you can’t just think about keywords. You really need to understand your buyer’s journey and their mindset at each stage of the funnel in order for a content strategy to really work.
Before you jump in and decide to write a bunch of articles or produce a bunch of videos, you need to get the answers to a few key questions.
- What are your customer’s biggest pain points?
- How does your product or service solve these problems?
- What are your potential customer’s objections at each stage of your sales cycle?
- What can you provide them that they truly want, will find value in, and will want to share with others in a similar position?
Once you have a very clear understanding of these answers, you can begin to strategize with keywords.
How to find influencers or free shares if you’re just starting your journey with content marketing?
Shana: Unfortunately, influencer marketing has become relatively pay to play if you want to utilize someone’s large audience for your own benefit. This can be a good investment if you are just starting out, but you need to be very careful of who you pay for these types of placements.
You can create strategic partnerships with other people in your industry to share your content for free by offering to share their content as well, but this only works really well if your audiences and brand values are 100% aligned.
Do your research, make sure their audience is real, engaged and has been proven to work for others.
What is the biggest content marketing challenge for you and how do you deal with it?
Shana: For me, the biggest challenge with content marketing is aligning the goals of all of the members on my team with the KPIs I’m being held directly accountable for, and making the time to get buy-in for all of the various strategies I want to explore while also continuing to produce “bread and butter” content like blog and social posts.
As a team of one, it can be overwhelming to manage the entire inbound marketing funnel with regards to content (from email, to social, to blog, to external channels like guest posting) which means that I need to keep everything very organized and make sure that all of my content initiatives are clearly defined with deadlines always being communicated to the rest of the department and organization as a whole.
Shana Haynie is a creative marketing leader with a passion for strategic planning and team development. She was the Co-Founder and COO of San Diego-based agency Vulpine Interactive: a Social Media Marketing Agency for exciting brands, but is now spearheading B2B content initiatives as the Senior Inbound Marketing Manager for enterprise innovation consultancy, Moves The Needle.
Want to connect with Shana? Find her on LinkedIn here.
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