By Andy Crestodina published October 16, 2012

The 5 Stages of Your Content Marketing Evolution

As a business evolves, so does its marketing. From a simple online presence to full-fledged content marketing, companies move step-by-step through specific stages. Think of it as marketing evolution.

Here’s a guide to power your own content marketing evolution. It’s also a checklist for what tools and adaptations you will need to make to take your content efforts to the next level.

content marketing evolution, stages

Presence

You’re online. Your site includes all the details about what you do and why you do it. These are the basic attributes you need to create a solid presence:

  • The content management system (CMS):
 Your site is easy to update, thanks to tools like WordPress, Mighty-Site, and Drupal.
  • Search optimization basics: A website needs to be built with search in mind, or it may never rank well. So at this stage, your basic keyphrase research has been conducted, and page content is aligned with your highest-ranking phrases. Your site has search-friendly title tags, headers, and internal linking. Technical aspects are also in place, including redirects, robots.txt, sitemap.xml, etc.
  • The contact form: Your site has a form — not just an email link — that visitors can fill out for more information. This can be a short, simple form with an auto-response set up on email, which makes tracking possible using…
  • Analytics: Traffic and conversions are being tracked. Goals for tracking conversions are set up, and traffic from computers at your office are being filtered out. This will set the baseline for all the future marketing advances.

Takeaway: Each of these components should be present before you begin the next stage in your evolution — publishing!

Publish

The big leap. You’re coming down from the trees, and you’re ready to move into content marketing. Here’s how you’ll evolve.

  • Blog: Your site is now more than an online brochure; it’s a platform for publishing. Call it news, announcements, commentary, op-ed, or just “our latest thinking,” but your site has a blog, and you’re committed to posting on it consistently.
  • Keyphrase research: 
Gradually, as you write more, you learn to align topics with keyphrases. You focus on topics and phrases that people are searching for and that aren’t overly competitive.
  • Commenting:
 Your blog is a social space. The posts spark conversation, readers comment, and you respond. Commenting systems, like Livefyre and Disqus, are helping to keep the conversation going.
  • Google Authorship: 
Each post is tagged and linked to the author’s Google+ profile. Even if authors are not active in Google+, Authorship will still work and profile pictures will appear in search results. If the blog has only one author, it only needs to be done once! Setting up Google Authorship should be a priority from the beginning.

Takeaway: This stage is critical. You’re beginning to build the skills and discipline necessary to be a more advanced content marketer. Putting yourself out there is a bit scary at first. But if you don’t, you’ll never move beyond primitive marketing.

Promote

Once you’re publishing, you can move into the promotion era immediately. You’re ready to use tools beyond your website. You’re ready for email marketing. You’re ready to promote your content.

  • Email marketing templates:
 The template matches the overall look of your website. It’s easy to send using an email service provider (ESP) such as MailChimp, AWeber, or Constant Contact. The reports make it easy to track opens and clicks, but the tracking doesn’t stop there…
  • Google URL Builder:
 You’re tagging links from emails to your site using Google’s URL Builder. This allows you to segment traffic from email campaigns inside your Analytics. Now you can see how visitors who click through your emails are engaging with the site.
  • Newsletter sign-up:
 As you evolve, you need to keep extending your reach by growing your list. You may need to adapt your site by upgrading the email sign-up form. This sign-up form is one of the biggest factors in list growth.

Takeaway: Your content can’t evolve in a vacuum, so make sure you are building in the tools you need to help your audience discover it.

You are now publishing, promoting, and measuring. You’re a legitimate, but still somewhat primitive, content marketer who is ready to take the next step forward.

Engage

You’re now standing tall, moving faster, seeing farther. In this stage, your business is actively making useful connections through social media. Here are your new essential tools:

  • Online networking: 
You are finding relevant people on Twitter and LinkedIn and developing research skills. When possible, you move the conversation to email, phone, and face-to-face meetings to strengthen those connections.
  • Social promotion:
 As your network and influence grows, tweets and posts begin to drive real traffic. Gradually, you’re learning which networks give you the best results. With focus comes efficiency.
  • Scheduling: 
You’re using HootSuite or TweetDeck to schedule tweets in advance, helping you to do more with less effort.
  • Social listening tools: 
Thanks to tools like Sprout Social and SocialBro, not only are you fully aware of the conversations around you, you are taking part in it, as well. New topics are being discovered. Questions are being answered online, and you’re hyper-aware of how you and your competitors are perceived.

Takeaway: Once social becomes part of your DNA, search marketing and email marketing both become more effective. You’re using social to find guest blogging opportunities. You’re building a community of bloggers and partners, and are uniting your efforts to create and promote content as a team.

Integrate

In the final stage of evolution, you are connecting your marketing systems with your sales systems. (Personally, I’m not this evolved, yet.) Here, your marketing is being integrated into all parts of your business.

  • Marketing automation:
 At last, the tools are in place to help you manage leads from their first visit through to the end of the sales process. Integrated systems like HubSpot, Salesforce, and Marketo show detailed information for each contact (e.g., which emails did they open? Which pages did they visit?).
  • E-commerce integration: 
For product companies, e-commerce integration syncs your website with inventory, ERP, and accounting systems in real-time.
  • Breaking through silos:
 Content and contacts are shared among your teams involved in sales, marketing, customer service, and PR. Meetings are filled with suggestions like, “Maybe we should have an article about this topic,” and “You might want to consider contacting this guy.”

Takeaway: You are now a highly evolved content marketing organism, so it’s only right that you promote your survival-of-the-fittest skills throughout the rest of your organization, starting with uniting marketing and sales into one advanced being.

Survival of the fittest content

While your competition is still hunting, gathering, and dragging their knuckles, you’ve evolved. You’re cultivating fields of content, building connected roads, and settling new lands and topics.

How evolved is your marketing? Did you progress in this order? Got an evolutionary trick we missed here? Let us know in the comments!

Want more content marketing inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with 100 content marketing examples.

Author: Andy Crestodina

Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago. Andy is also an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. You can find Andy on and Twitter.

Other posts by Andy Crestodina

Join Over 150,000 of your Peers!

Get daily articles and news delivered to your email inbox and get CMI’s exclusive e-book Launch Your Own Content Marketing Program FREE!

  • http://twitter.com/KyleAkerman Kyle Akerman

    Andy, great job breaking down the 5 stages of evolution.

    You said you are still working on the “Integrate” stage.
    Which stage do you think companies/individuals have the most difficulty with?

  • Manya Chylinski

    Andy,
    Love this post. Until today, I thought I was fairly evolved content marketing-wise, but I see some definite room for growth. This will be helpful as I work on updating my marketing plans. Thanks! Also, I echo Kyle’s question…which stage do you see companies struggling with the most?

  • http://twitter.com/crestodina Andy Crestodina

    Hey there, Kyle and Manya. I like the question. The biggest evolutionary jump is definitely the first, from brochureware to publisher.

    People really struggle with the idea of creating content. You can see it in their eyes. They light up once they realize how powerful content can be …then moments later, sadness when they realize that content has to come from somewhere, and they’re busy.

    Once people evolve to the publish stage, they often move very quickly through the next few stages. Until the last stage. Not everyone is going to do marketing automation. But I’m tempted!

  • http://www.stephdokin.com/ Stephen King

    This is GREAT! Really crystalizes each stage of the journey. Have already used your thinking approach with one client in my firm http://www.stephdokin.com.

    One thing people should be aware of though … keep in mind the whole journey as opposed to a single stage. For example, a website design (stage 1) without any contemplation of blogging, email newsletter signups or social media integration means extra work later on. In other words, when you launch that first website, you don’t need your blog yet, but you sure should think about how it will work and be integrated into existing design.

    Of course … and this is outside of scope of the article, but should NEVER be outside the scope of any marketer … the most important phase is WHEN SOMEONE BUYS SOMETHING. :)

  • http://twitter.com/PointA_PointB Catherine Morgan

    Contact forms are an instant abandon for me. I’d rather dig and find an e-mail address or find the person/company on Twitter or Facebook. Somehow they seem very cold and off-putting to me.

  • http://minacs.adityabirla.com/ Mahima Kini

    Fantastic article…As a marketing person, I thought we are already pretty evolved with all right steps in place…The article is an eye-opener really .. clearly content marketing is much than having an online presence!

  • http://minacs.adityabirla.com/ Mahima Kini

    Fantastic article…As a marketing person, I thought we are already pretty evolved with all right steps in place…The article is an eye-opener really .. clearly content marketing is much more than just having an online presence!

  • Nicolas Scheidtweiler

    Very important issue. Even the engagement is an often lost activity of publishers.

  • http://barrettrossie.com/ Barrett Rossie

    Andy, this is sweet! Thanks for sharing a great perspective. I had always tried to look at it as a whole, and as a result felt a lot of frustration.

    And congrats on being featured at SpinSucks today: http://spinsucks.com/social-media/followfriday-andy-crestodina/#respond Very well deserved!

  • http://www.BluewireMedia.com.au/blog Adam Franklin

    Hi Andy, I just read your article and really liked it. The Content Marketing Evoloution really resonates. Thank you!