After 5+ years of running our agency and writing in-depth articles about the nuanced details of content marketing (content writing, SEO, content promotion, content attribution, measuring ROI, etc.), we’ve decided to take a step back and discuss content marketing strategy at a high level for people and companies who are just dipping their toes into learning about content marketing.
Specifically, we’re going to answer some key questions on the minds of marketers and companies who want to get familiar with content marketing or are considering developing a content marketing strategy for their business.
Below, we cover:
Curious about having us run an SEO-focused content strategy for your business? You can learn more here. Or, if you’d like to learn the content marketing strategy that we share below, we also teach our entire strategy and process in our course and community.
What Is a Content Marketing Strategy? (3 Core Elements)
From our perspective, there are 3 fundamental elements that make up a content marketing strategy:
- The Goal: Be clear on which of these two you’re shooting for: (1) traffic and brand awareness growth or (2) leads and sales growth
- The Topics: What topics will you focus on that help you achieve that goal?
- The Execution: What content format will you use? And how will you create content and execute your strategy?
Let’s look at each.
1. What’s the Business Goal That You Want to Achieve with Content Marketing?
In general, content marketing can serve one of two purposes. It can be used to (1) generate traffic and brand awareness, or (2) generate leads and sales. Yes, of course, there can be overlap but this is an important distinction to think about. The reason is that these two content marketing goals require very different strategies to achieve (as we’ll explain below).
Most businesses and content marketers primarily focus on the first goal: traffic and brand awareness. However, the tradeoff or implication of that focus is that their content often doesn’t lead to many measurable leads and sales.
Why do most companies deploy a content strategy that doesn’t generate many leads or sales? On the surface this sounds nonsensical. It’s because of a common belief that if you focus on goal #1, the traffic and awareness you receive will eventually lead to accomplishing goal #2.
For example, it’s thought that some portion of the traffic you generate will continue coming back to your site, or you’ll be able to reach them through email marketing and social media ads, and eventually some of those people will become customers.
But over the last 5+ years of doing content marketing for dozens of businesses, we’ve found that this often isn’t true (as we’ve demonstrated in previous articles like our post on Pain Point SEO). Often content that’s focused primarily on driving traffic ultimately drives very few actual customers.
Now, this doesn’t mean that creating content with a primary goal of driving traffic isn’t a reasonable decision and investment for certain businesses (for example large brands with existing market dominance). But if you’re a small business with limited resources, or you’re expecting to see measurable ROI from your content (i.e. lead generation and sales are what you ultimately want from the channel), it’s essential to understand that you can design your content strategy to achieve this goal by choosing the right topics and executing accordingly.
In our experience, the majority of businesses investing in content and SEO strategy do want to see measurable ROI (leads and sales) from this content — they don’t have the luxury of spending budget on content for hard-to-quantify brand building.
2. What Topics Will You Focus On That Will Help You Achieve That Goal?
In our experience, once you decide on your business goal for content marketing, choosing content topics that serve that goal is the most important part of your content strategy. Because if you choose topics that don’t serve your goal, then it won’t matter how good your content is — it won’t help you achieve the results you’re looking for.
Generally speaking, if your primary goal is to generate traffic and brand awareness, you’ll best achieve this by focusing on content topics that appeal to a broad target audience and have high search volume (the number of people searching for that topic on a monthly basis). This is what will help drive the most traffic to your website and expose the most people to your brand.
In contrast, if your primary goal is to generate leads and sales, you’ll best achieve this by focusing on more specific content topics that are closely related to the product or service you sell (and naturally have lower search volume). This is what will help drive the highest qualified traffic from people who are in later stages of the buyer’s journey, looking for the type of product or service you sell (or to solve problems your product/service solves).
3. What Content Format Will You Use? And How Will You Create Content and Execute Your Strategy?
Finally, you’ll need to choose the content format you’ll focus on. Most notably, will you focus on written content, video content, or both?
Once you’ve decided on your content format, you’ll need to decide how you’ll go about creating your content and carrying out your strategy. The three most common ways of this being:
- Agencies: Hiring video or blog content agencies to create your content.
- Freelancers: Hiring freelance writers or video content editors to create your content.
- In-House: Hiring in-house content writers, video content creators, or content marketers to create your content (or building an internal content team).
Depending on which of these options you choose, or whether you use a combination of them, you’ll need to determine who is responsible for each step of creating and executing your content marketing plan: topic selection, content creation, content promotion and distribution, and measuring content performance.
It’s key to understand that these steps often require different skill sets, and thus you often need multiple people involved in order to execute content marketing effectively.
The Business Case for Content Marketing: Why Content Versus Other Digital Marketing Channels?
Understandably, one of the biggest questions people have when they set out to learn about content marketing is whether or not content is worth the investment. There are a lot of different channels where you can allocate time and budget, so why content over other channels like paid advertising?
From our perspective, there are a few key reasons:
Reason #1: You Don’t Pay for Clicks with Organic Traffic
First, along with promotion through email and social media channels, content marketing almost always involves a search engine optimization (SEO) component that’s designed to drive traffic through organic search (primarily through Google and YouTube — the two biggest search engines for written and video content respectively).
The huge advantage of organic traffic is that you don’t pay for clicks. Once you have content ranking for a particular keyword, that piece of content can continue driving free traffic for as long as it’s ranking. And if you’re using a sales-driven content strategy, that content can also continue generating leads (in the case of B2B businesses) or sales (in the case of B2C businesses).
Reason #2: SEO Results Compound Over Time and Your Costs Come Down
In addition, SEO content marketing has a compounding effect. As you stack pieces of content and acquire keyword rankings, your monthly investment can stay relatively the same, but the body of web pages you have that drive traffic and/or leads continues to grow. Therefore, your costs come down over time.
The same is not true of paid channels where the traffic and leads you get for your monthly budget is more fixed.
Reason #3: Search-Based Traffic Is Highly Targeted Compared to Other Channels
And lastly, the nature of search-based traffic is that it’s highly targeted compared to alternatives like Display ads or paid social media ads. In those channels, people are passively seeing (or, let’s be honest, often just ignoring) your ads. Whereas in search, people are actively looking for the topics you’re producing content on. This is particularly relevant and beneficial when you’re using a sales-focused content strategy (because you can show up in front of potential customers right when they’re ready to buy!).
For all of these reasons, compared to paid channels where you need to continue paying for clicks, traffic, and leads, this type of SEO content has a huge advantage from an ROI standpoint.
Again, that’s if you can get your content ranking. So let’s discuss how you can go about doing that by walking through our 5-step content marketing process.
A 5-Step Process You Can Follow to Create a Content Marketing Strategy
At our agency, we do SEO-based content marketing, so this is what we’ll focus on as we describe our process below. While this strategy is specific to written content, the steps also largely apply to video and other types of content (e.g. webinars, podcasts, templates, infographics, white papers, etc.), with the exception of steps 3 & 5 which are blog-specific.
Step 1: Understanding Your Customer & Why They Buy
Understanding your customer (or your client’s customer) and why they buy helps to inform everything you do in content marketing, but most importantly, it helps you produce content topics that are most likely to appeal to your ideal customers.
If you get this wrong, or simply ignore it and write or create videos on, well, anything, then you’re likely to waste a lot of time and effort on content that doesn’t really bring in your ideal customer or at least doesn’t bring them in when they’re ready to buy. You’ll end up in the common position of having a ton of content, which, when you sit and measure it, doesn’t actually generate that much business for you (leads, sales, demos, trials, add to carts, etc.).
This step can be broken down into 3 parts:
- Identify your audience’s product or service-related pain points
- Think through your product or service’s unique advantages and differentiators
- Factor in other characteristics of your target audience that might be useful (e.g. company size, industry verticals, etc.)
Let’s look at each.
Identify Your Audience’s Product or Service-Related Pain Points
Identifying your audience’s pain points is key for understanding why customers buy (particularly important if you intend to use a sales-focused content strategy). By listing out the challenges that you solve for customers, these pain points can inform the topics and keywords you choose to focus on.
For example, we previously worked with a client that sold book ghostwriting services and one of their customers’ biggest pain points is grappling with whether or not their book idea is original. So, we looked for and identified keyword opportunities around that and created a dedicated piece of content to rank for that term.
Because we knew that a decent percent of customers were asking this question, we knew that if we ranked for this term, some fraction of searchers were likely ready to become customers.
In addition, we use pain points in every piece of content we produce as a way to a) grab readers’ attention by showing them we deeply understand their problems and b) explain in-depth how our client’s product or service solves those pain points. This is key for compelling people to buy.
Think Through Your Product or Service’s Unique Advantages and Differentiators
Similarly, thinking through your product or service’s unique advantages and differentiators can also inform the keywords you target and the way you sell your product or service inside your content.
For example, if you sell a plant-based pre-workout mix (and being “natural” or “plant-based” is one of your competitive advantages), you’d benefit from searching for and targeting keywords with those specific phrases.
In doing so, you’ll have the advantage of reaching people who closely match your ideal buyer persona, while also teeing up the opportunity to speak to the strengths of what makes your product different or better than other pre workout drinks.
Factor In Other Characteristics of Your Target Audience That Might Be Useful
Once you’ve found keywords based on product or service-related pain points and prioritized topics based on your unique differentiators and strengths, you may also factor in a final layer of defining characteristics of your audience.
For example, at the keyword level, in B2B, you might consider going after keywords that include company size (e.g. “enterprise CRM software”), specific industry verticals (e.g. “HVAC scheduling software”), or key stakeholders (e.g. “executive assistant service for startup founders”). In B2C, you might consider targeting keywords that incorporate certain demographics, such as “running shoes for women.”
By thoroughly thinking through each of the factors we’ve discussed in this section — customer pain points, your unique differentiators, and other relevant audience characteristics — you’ll have the foundation you need to begin choosing keywords to prioritize and formulating your strategy.
Note: Our article on Pain Point SEO is a good jumping off point for getting familiar with pain point keywords, how to come up with them, and pain point content frameworks that we’ve found convert well.
Step 2: Content Ideation & Keyword Research
Once you’ve clearly defined your customer and why they buy, you can begin the process of content ideation and keyword research. This will look different depending on the primary goal you choose to focus on with your content marketing, as we discussed above.
For example, if traffic and brand awareness is your primary goal, you’ll focus on topics and keywords that a) have broad appeal to your audience and b) have relatively high search volume for your space.
If generating leads and sales is your primary goal, you’ll focus on topics and keywords that indicate people searching have intent to buy what you sell, or intent to solve a problem that your product or service solves.
In our article on content ideation, we share a number of specific marketing tactics for coming up with topic ideas and keywords, including:
- Hold a meeting with different departments that communicate with the customer directly and ask them what the most relevant product-related pain points are.
- Create an email autoresponder that provides a feedback loop that lets you know your customer’s biggest challenges.
- Join social media communities where your customers would hang out and pay attention to the questions and challenges they have.
- Look inside of your Google Adwords account and see what keywords are converting — and create blog posts around those keywords.
- Use competitor research tools (SEO tools such as Ahrefs, SEMrush, etc. offer a number of competitor research features to help with this).
- Get a list of commonly asked questions that your sales team receives on phone calls.
Learn about each of these tactics and how you can approach them by reading the article here.
Once you have a bunch of topic and keyword ideas, you can organize and prioritize them based on your content marketing goal, and create your content calendar.
Step 3: Content Production
Once you’ve identified your target keywords, an equally critical step is of course, creating content that has a good chance of ranking for them. At Grow and Convert, we use a 4-step process to create each piece of new content. Our workflow includes:
- SERP Analysis: Analyze the search engine results page (SERP) for the target keyword to understand which topics need to be covered in your article for it to rank.
- Content Interview: Interview a subject-matter expert within the company to learn about the topic and express product/domain expertise within the piece of content (this is what makes truly high-quality content).
- Content Writing: Structuring the article and writing it in a way that fills the piece with relevant content and compelling information about the topic and your product or service (including a call-to-action to take some desired next step).
- On-Page SEO: Optimizing the article to rank for its target keyword by including relevant keywords in the headings, subheadings, and body copy.
We’ve written about this process at length previously. Check out our article on SEO content writing for a detailed explanation of how to execute this process.
When it comes to producing quality SEO content, the best way to rank for your desired keywords is to create a dedicated landing page or blog post to go after each individual keyword. Many content marketers try to target several keywords with each piece of content, but in our experience, this is a less effective content strategy.
Search engines rank content based on how well it satisfies search intent for that specific query. So, by creating a unique piece of content (or strategically updating existing content) for each keyword, you can beat out other content in the SERPs that is less specific, and therefore doesn’t meet search intent as effectively.
Step 4: Content Promotion
There are 3 main categories of content promotion:
- Promoting to your existing audience
- Promoting through paid channels
- Promoting through SEO
The most effective content strategies leverage all 3. Let’s look at each.
Promoting Content to Your Existing Audience
The easiest way to drive traffic to your content is to share it directly with your existing audience. Specifically, when you publish each new piece of content, you should share it throughout your company, via your email list (if you have one), and via your social media pages as an organic posting. These are the quickest and cheapest ways to get eyes on your content.
Note, however, that this will not produce sustainable traffic growth, meaning you will get a spike when you promote the piece but not much after that.
Promoting Content Through Paid Channels
In addition, you can promote your content through paid ads. At our agency, we leverage paid promotion as a way to drive traffic to our clients’ articles while we wait for them to rank in search engines (which can take periods of weeks to months, depending on a variety of factors such as competitiveness of the keyword). This allows us to drive some conversions from targeted audiences in the short term, before the content begins receiving organic traffic and conversions. This traffic can be evergreen, of course, but you have to continue to pay for each click.
Promoting Content Through SEO
As we explained above, content should ultimately rank organically in search engines where it can pull in traffic and conversions over the long term without an incremental cost for every click. This involves 2 parts — optimizing your content (discussed above) and link building.
Link building is the process of doing outreach (or hiring services to do outreach for you) and acquiring backlinks to your content from other website domains. Backlinks signal to search engines that other people find your content to be relevant and credible, which helps your website domain authority and keyword rankings.
For a more in-depth understanding of how you can approach content promotion, check out our article on content distribution strategy.
Step 5: Measuring Performance of Your Content Marketing Efforts
Leveraging tools and creating systems to track key metrics and measure the performance of your content is the final key step to executing a successful content marketing campaign. Without measurement, you have no way to know what’s working, and thus no way to optimize your strategy as you progress.
At our agency, we focus on the following when it comes to measuring performance:
- Conversions: We track and report on conversions using the Model Comparison Tool in Google Analytics. Specifically, we measure leads and sales for our clients (this is very uncommon among agencies). However, you can also measure conversions such as email signups or other actions which are farther from the purchase stage (what most agencies and content marketers measure). Check out our article on content attribution to learn how you can set up the Model Comparison Tool.
- Keyword Rankings: We use Ahrefs rank tracker to monitor rankings progress for each article’s target keyword. (You could also use Semrush, Google Search Console, etc.)
- Overall Pageviews and Organic Traffic: We set up traffic dashboards in Google Data Studio that measure overall pageviews and organic traffic to our articles. (You can also set up reports in Google Analytics to measure this.)
By tracking these metrics, you can see what’s working and double down on those insights. For example, if you see a particular category of keywords is driving a high percentage of overall conversions, you might prioritize more of those keywords.
Or, if you see in Google Search Console that a certain piece of content is converting well and ranking on page 2 or 3 for a bunch of different keyword variations, you might choose to create dedicated pages to go after those terms.
Now, let’s look at how the general content marketing strategy we’ve explained here can be adjusted and tailored depending on the type of business you’re doing content for.
Content Marketing Strategy Examples: How to Approach Content for Different Business Types (SaaS, B2B, B2C)
Although the 5-step process we’ve shared above is broadly applicable to any business that wants to develop a content marketing strategy, there are nuances to content strategy depending on the type of business you’re doing content for.
For example, in SaaS content strategy, there are specific, high-intent keyword frameworks that can reliably drive trial and demo sign ups through content. In B2B content marketing, there’s a necessity to understand how to produce content that speaks to advanced B2B audiences. And in B2C (or eCommerce) content marketing, there are nuances related to the product keywords you choose to target.
Previously, we’ve written detailed posts on how we approach content strategy for each of these types of businesses. To learn more about particular one, check out these pieces:
How to Create a SaaS Content Marketing Strategy
How to Create a B2B Content Marketing Strategy
How to Create a B2C Content Marketing Strategy
How to Create an SEO Content Marketing Strategy (Non-Business-Specific Posts That Are Also Worth Reading)
Content Marketing Case Studies: In-Depth Client Case Studies That Demonstrate Successful Content Marketing
Here are 6 long-form case studies you can read to see how we’ve executed our content strategy for real businesses:
- B2C Content Marketing Example: How We Grew Cognitive FX to 70,000 Pageviews in 14 Months
- Content Marketing Case Study: How We Scaled Leadfeeder’s Signups to Over 200/month
- Scaling Content: Expanding From Bottom of Funnel Content to Top of Funnel (Geekbot Case Study)
- Scaling SEO traffic from 920 to 14,577 Sessions in 6 months: Circuit Case Study
- How to Do B2B Content Marketing without Domain Expertise (Rainforest QA Case Study)
- How to Create a Keyword Strategy for a New, Innovative Product (Case Study of a video editing software client)
Want to Learn More About Our Agency?
Finally, you can learn more about our agency, joining our team, or taking our course below:
- Our Agency: You can learn more about working with us here.
- Our Content Marketing Course: Individuals looking to learn how to grow their SaaS business with content can join our private course, taught via case studies, here. We include a lot of information and examples not found on this blog. Our course is also built into a community, so people ask questions, start discussions, and share their work in the lesson pages themselves, and we (along with other members) give feedback. We also get on live Zoom calls about once a month and dissect members’ actual content strategies and brainstorm ideas on how we’d form content strategies for their businesses.
- Join Our SEO Content Marketing Team: Alternatively, if this style of SEO-based content marketing appeals to you, consider joining our content marketing team as a writer or content strategist. We have awesome clients. We’re a remote company. We pay well. And you won’t have to stress about getting your own clients or spend a bunch of time doing outreach to get them.
Questions? Comments? Feel free to share them in the comments below and we’ll respond.