By Alan Grainger published August 12, 2013

Build a Successful Content Marketing Strategy from Scratch in 7 Steps

stacking up success-content marketing strategyContent marketing is a term that has been in use for a number of years. However, recently it has become more prevalent, as the subject has found its way onto SEO blogs, as well as throughout any literature that touches on online marketing.

By looking at the Google Trends data I’ve compiled below, we can see this growth mapped out in the number of searches for the phrase “content marketing” over the last five years, culminating in a huge increase in interest since 2011.

google trends graph-term content marketing

From this data, we can assume that more businesses are looking to explore the concept of content marketing and investigate whether it is something they can use to promote their products or services.

Perhaps you, yourself, are in this very position at your organization. But before you dive into developing content to market your company, there are a number of factors you must prepare for in order to get the most out of your time and expenditures. Rather than just “giving it a punt” by planning a content marketing strategy and analyzing the results, consider building a platform from the ground up that will result in ongoing success across all of your online marketing activities.

If you have been toying with the idea of creating content for a while and are now ready to formalize a more structured content marketing strategy, here are seven steps you need to take in order to maximize its potential for success.

1. Define your goals

Before you begin working on a specific piece of content, it is important to define and communicate your goals. This is particularly important if you need to justify your budget investment to your company’s executives, as it will help you quantify your results later on.

You can also build your content strategy with specific goals in mind — for example, increasing your number of Facebook “likes” or growing your database of email addresses. By setting your goals right from the start, you can then focus on building your content in a way that will increase the chances of meeting those benchmarks.

Tip: While it may be tempting to analyze the direct influence of content to sales and make this one of your key performance indicators (KPIs), in reality, your content efforts probably will not function this way. Instead, decide on goals that will align with your other marketing strategies, such as improving your social media presence or harvesting email addresses for future email marketing campaigns.

2. Record your performance metrics

Once you have decided on your goals, you need to work out how you will track and measure your performance against those metrics.

Google Analytics is great for recording goal completions, and Google is always adding to its available measurement features and functionality. If your desired goal is getting readers to take an action, such as tweeting your post or signing up for a newsletter, make sure you are tracking the results for each of these events. This information will help you to work out your conversion rate, as well as allow you to better analyze the success of each content effort and identify areas for future improvement.

3. Gather your data

Most successful content does one of two things:

  • Introduces a brand new concept, idea, or news story to your audience (existing or new), or
  • Repurposes an existing idea into a new format

Whichever way you do it, you will need to begin gathering data that will provide value to your target audience. This data should offer a unique perspective of your industry and could be gathered through interviewing customers, discovering the success rate of a particular initiative, finding out satisfaction rates — anything that will offer a valuable insight into a particular sector.

This may be data you gathered from scratch or existing information; but this process will dictate the success of your entire campaign.

If you decide to collate your own data, you may want to use services like Survey Monkey, which are helpful for creating and delivering questionnaires which could go out to your email database. They can also be placed onto a page on your website, and you can use incentives such as discount codes to encourage site visitors to fill them in.

You could also create polls of your own customers or website visitors, or utilize social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to ask questions and compile data on a subject.

If you are looking to repurpose other people’s data, look for independent industry authorities who are known for collecting relevant information. For example, online marketer Sean Revill has produced a comprehensive list of resources for data gathering efforts.

There are pros and cons to using other people’s data vs. collecting your own. If you use other people’s previously gathered data, you can lose the immediacy of producing something unique and newsworthy. However, by repurposing data, you can help expand its reach to new audiences — and if the original content author likes what you’ve done, they may even promote your content in return.

4. Decide on your content types

Once you have your data, you are free to create your content in any way you like. You aren’t restricted to one piece of content either, as you can create a wide range of content depending on what you are looking to do with it.

For example, you can compile the data into an infographic that you display on your website, and then write a blog post to go with it that discusses the infographic in further detail. The information can then be worked into a press release that promotes this content on your website, or you can even create a guest post on a relevant website that discusses the data from a different angle.

5. Create content

The topic of content creation is worthy of a number of posts all of its own, but for the purposes of designing your strategy, you should ensure that every piece of content is professionally created by someone who specializes in the particular content format you are working with. For example, press releases should be written by copywriters, and designers should be responsible for infographics.

Regardless of who creates your content, though, you should also dedicate sufficient time to headline writing, as this will play a big role in dictating the success of your campaign.

Your content also should be created in alignment with your overall marketing strategy. So, for example, if you are trying to promote yourself as an industry authority, the types of content that you produce should all be aligned to benefit this aim. Write press releases and produce media packets targeted at relevant news websites; create graphical interpretations of your data that you can approach bloggers with; and make sure that you dedicate a section of your website to your subject: If you’re using external content to promote yourself, it is likely that you will see visitors to your website looking for more information on the subject, and you could lose their interest if you have not aligned your on-site strategy with your off-site goals.

6. Distribution

One of the biggest problems encountered with content marketing is that once content pieces are produced, they can exist in glorious isolation on the website on which they are hosted. Distribution is everything, so you need to make sure that you forge a clear path for those you want to engage with your content.

To do this, look at your existing routes to market, and analyze the weaker areas. Can you utilize social media, the press, or your existing visitors? Can you leverage industry authorities to share your content through their own networks? Could you approach the authors of your data and encourage them to promote it?

The work is not over once you hit “publish,” you need to make sure that you spend the same amount of time and effort that you did in creating the content when you go about marketing it. For example, think about who you want to read your content, and consider where these audience members are likely to be.

You also need to consider the image you are trying to portray. If you are looking to boost your authority as a financial thought leader, for example, you will need to target esteemed financial publications, rather than smaller, less authoritative blogs.

7. Follow-up for SEO

Even if you have run a successful content piece that has been published by all of your target websites, you might still have to do a bit of housekeeping to ensure that you receive all of the SEO credit.

Many people may publish your content but not include any links back to your website, so you need to keep as complete a list as possible of the websites that have run your content.

This can be done by setting up Google Alerts that email you whenever your blog title is published or your company is mentioned. You can also use services such as Followerwonk to track social media mentions.

Once you have compiled a list of websites that have published your content, you can analyze each one and make sure they have linked back to your website. If you have produced the content then you certainly deserve the credit.

If you find websites that haven’t linked back, simply drop them an email or a tweet and request that they include a link to your website. If they have used your content, most will be happy to do so.

Also, don’t worry too much about the anchor text used in the link. If they are coming from authoritative sources, you don’t need to be concerned about what the anchor text says.

Summary

If you are looking to take your content marketing strategy to the next level, then there are many things to consider. Keep your overall marketing and business goals in mind at all times and make sure that everything from concept to distribution is considered with these goals in mind.

Set up internal processes to make the process a little smoother and ensure that everyone in the team can contribute to making your future content a success.

Follow our simple, step-by-step plan to integrate unique, impactful, and strategic content marketing into your organization. Download Launch Your Own Content Marketing Program.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Alan Grainger

Alan Grainger is the SEO and Online Marketing Specialist at Superdream, a full-service marketing agency based in the UK. You can contact him on Twitter @aj_grainger.

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  • http://WiltonBlake.com/ Wilton Blake

    Thank you for such a comprehensive overview of developing a content marketing strategy.

    I’m wondering if you or anyone else has thoughts on integrating whitepapers and case studies into a content marketing strategy. It seems that most content discussions focus on B2C marketing. I write B2B content and I try to work with my clients to market their content in ways similar to what you’ve described above. Most seem happy to have their whitepapers and case studies available for download but they are not aggressively marketing them.

    • alanjgrainger

      Hi Wilton, yes have tried White papers in the past, LinkedIn and Facebook advertising can be really good for marketing these given how targeted they are. Glad you like the article.

  • Full Tilt Consulting

    So much valuable insight here, Alan. It’s not surprising that the number of businesses looking to implement content marketing continues to soar, but what is surprising is that so many decide to just “give it a punt” and see what happens, rather than create a strategy that sticks. I love your seven steps for that reason – for those who have no idea where to start, this serves as a great resource for initiation. And for those who are getting it right, yet desire actionable follow-through ideas, this helps to make the process smoother by safeguarding future success. Thanks for sharing. – Lisa Tilt, President of Full Tilt Consulting (fulltiltconsulting.com)

    • alanjgrainger

      Hi Lisa, glad you like it and many thanks for your feedback!

  • Tamarray Cain

    If there was ever a perfect post, this one would be so close to it! Thank you so much! :)

  • Spook SEO

    I’m surprised that data gathering isn’t on the later part of the flow. I mean sure you need to gather data when determining which contents to produce and how to plan out your content marketing but you also need to measure at the end of the process to make sure that goals are met or if they aren’t.

  • Achraf

    Keyword research, the thing that is the most overlooked in a content strategy.

    Now that 100% “Not Provided” is right around the corner, carefull keyword search is more important than ever.

    I like calling the staff of a company a “Human Keyword Tool” if they know how to listen to their clients.