By Steven Macdonald published January 13, 2015

The 5 Pillars of Successful Content Marketing


More content is being created in 48 hours than what was produced from the beginning of time until 2003.” – Eric Schmidt

It’s difficult to comprehend how much content is being produced, isn’t it? Did you know there are more than 2 million blog posts published every single day? It wasn’t long ago when I was updating web content once or twice per year; yet now you have websites like Huffington Post that update content more than a thousand times per day. Sounds crazy, right?

And creating all this content doesn’t come cheap either, as B2B marketers are spending more time, money, and resources on content than ever before, as:

  • 35% of businesses have a documented content strategy
  • 42% of businesses will publish new content at least weekly
  • 55% of businesses will increase their content marketing spend in the next year

Even though content spending is increasing, traditional marketers are struggling with the shift from outbound marketing to inbound marketing – and moving from a push to a pull strategy. If you have ever been asked if content marketing really works or why it’s important, read on and share with the inquisitors.

Why is content marketing important?

Well, it’s because of charts like these (organic traffic growth):

organic-search-traffic-increase image 1

It’s not easy to go from 300 organic visits per month to more than 9,000 organic visits per month. Look at the first three to six months, zero impact … and then, it skyrockets.

It’s not luck either, and it took two years of hard-fought battles, failing with certain content and succeeding with experimental content. It’s trial and error at scale.

Let me be blunt: Most content marketing efforts fail. Why?

It’s because most content strategies start with a brainstorming session to generate ideas on what to write about. The content teams then go out and write, publish, and move on to the next piece of content.

And then six months later, the report looks like this:

poor-performing-content image 2

This kind of scenario happens a lot. You create the content, hit “publish,” and expect visits, leads, and sales to explode overnight. It’s a nice story, but it rarely happens that way. And yet, when done right, content marketing will be your most powerful source for new traffic and customer acquisition.

What if, instead of seeing the previous chart, you begin to see charts like this for a single piece of content:

web-visits-to-great-content image 3

This content gets 2.5 times more views per week that it did when it was first launched.

So how do you create this kind of content? Let me outline the exact steps you need to launch a successful content marketing campaign with these five pillars.

1. Understand your audience.

Before you start creating your content, you need to understand for whom you are writing. Ask:

  • Who is my current customer?
  • Who is my potential customer?
  • Who would find my content useful?

To answer this, most companies create customer profiles or buyer personas. A buyer persona is a term used for creating personas based on types of customers that your business has and wants.

An example of a buyer persona might be Cool Kevin, a 35-year-old CMO at Big Corporation LLC. Cool Kevin is tech savvy and has experience in using marketing automation software. The content you produce for Cool Kevin will differ from the content for Boring Bob, a 55-year-old administrative assistant who has just been given the task of sending out his first email newsletter to clients.

How do you develop buyer personas? According to a MarketingSherpa survey, the most frequently cited effective tactics are:

  • Interviewing prospects and/or customers
  • Interviewing sales team
  • Surveying prospects and/or customers
  • Mining in-house database to identify characteristics of best and/or worst customers
  • Evaluating web analytics reports
  • Interviewing customer service
  • Using keyword research to identify topics of interest
  • Monitoring activity on social media sites

best-ways-to-create-buyer-personas image 4

Once you have the personas in place, use them to create content and solve problems. The key to your content is to help your customers help themselves, and the only way to do that is to understand your audience. If you do not understand your audience, your content will fail.

2. Map the content to the sales cycle.

buyer-sales-cycle image 5

Image source: CMI article published in March 2014

As a marketer, you need to create content to meet the needs of your prospects at each stage to help them move to the next stage of the funnel.

Content must be tailored to appeal to different prospects and at different stages. Just how different? Let’s take a look at an example. If a buyer is considering a one-time license fee for software that costs $50, you might write about the benefits of the software in two to three paragraphs and include one to two customer testimonials. However, if a buyer is purchasing several hundred licenses for software that cost $100,000, then the content should be much different. In this case, you might need to create case studies, product sheets, and integration guides (or all three).

This theory is backed up by data. A recent survey by MarketingCharts analyzed six types of content and how useful the respondents found the content during each stage of the buying cycle.

content-consumption-during-b2b-buyer-cycle image 6

Let’s break it down so you can see exactly what type of content to produce.


Create content to increase your brand awareness. At this stage of the cycle, the buyer may not have heard of your brand and the content you create should be focused on promoting your brand.

Awareness content formats: Blog post articles, white papers, educational webinars, and infographics


Create content to increase the number of marketing qualified leads (MQL). At this stage, the buyer is still not ready to make a decision but understands that your brand is a leader in this field.

Evaluation content formats: Case studies, product webinars, video, and technology guides


Create content to turn a marketing qualified lead into a sales qualified lead (SQL). At this stage, the prospect is getting closer to making a decision and the content should make it easy to choose your product over a competitor’s.

Purchase content formats: Implementation guides, free trials, and live demonstrations

3. Create the content.

You now understand the customer and know what type of content goes with each stage of the sales cycle. Now it’s time to create different types of content that decision-makers seek to read.

I can help you here, too. A recent report from the CMO Council and NetLine found that 65% of B2B buyers value research reports and studies compared to any other content type (followed by technical guides, insight, white papers, and articles).

most-valued-content-types image 7

What about content length? How long should your content be? A study by serpIQ found that longer content ranks higher in the Google search results than shorter content.

And the magic number of words you need to write to rank in the top 10? It’s 2,000.

search-rankings-by-content-length image 8

That’s right – if you want to increase traffic and show that your content marketing efforts are adding value for your business, short 400-word posts are not good enough (unless you’re Seth Godin).

Another benefit to writing more is that longer content is shared more on social networks.

social-shares-by-content-length image 9

Content that’s more than 3,000 words is shared two to three times more than content that’s less than 1,000 words. And that’s not all, longer content will get you more inbound links, which is great for SEO purposes.

inbound-links-based-on-content-length image 10

To clarify, longer content will help you:

  • Rank better in Google
  • Get more social shares
  • Get more inbound links

Now, are you sure you want to continue writing those 400-word blog posts?

Let’s put the first three pillars to good use. Imagine Cool Kevin (audience), who is an experienced marketing automation user, wants to learn new ways to use your software (stage of sales cycle). You can create a how-to guide (content) to help him become a power user.

Boring Bob (audience), who is new to email marketing (stage of sales cycle), needs to create his first email blast. You can create the “Beginner’s Guide to Email Marketing” (content) to help him get started.

4. Promote content.

You have to remember that content marketing is part content, part MARKETING. And, unfortunately, content cannot promote itself. As Upworthy CEO Eli Periser says, “You can have the best piece of content and make the best point ever. But if no one looks at it, the article is a waste.”

You need to push out your content as soon as it goes live and promote the hell out of it. Otherwise, you end up with content that no one shares and a visual reminder like this:

zero-social-media-shares image 11

At the very least, if you create content, you should advertise it through social media. If you are too embarrassed to share your content, then you need to create better content. If you create content that you are proud to share, then others will share your content, too.

The promotion of your content will largely depend on the campaign. While a blog post may be shared on social networks, a new white paper might require a bigger push in the form of paid content amplification.

Here are a few ways to promote your content:

  • Google AdWords campaigns: If you’re promoting a new white paper or eBook, you can create display campaigns to raise awareness and remarketing campaigns to retarget abandoned visitors.
  • Social media campaigns: Blog post content can benefit from promotion two to three times per day on Twitter so don’t be afraid to share content on that platform more than once. Remember to share content on both personal and branded pages.
  • Email marketing campaigns: Whether you launch a new blog post or new eBook, make sure you inform your email subscribers. These people are already engaged with your brand and are powerful promoters who can spread your content across social networks.

5. Measure and analyze.

It’s easy to click “publish” and forget about content, but that’s where a lot of content marketers go wrong. Did the content perform well? Did the content perform as you expected? You need to measure how well your content performs and analyze its progress.

To measure the content marketing success metrics, ask yourself these questions:

  • How many page views does the content receive?
  • What type of content is shared the most?
  • What type of content is read the most?
  • What keywords do people search for to find my content?
  • How many leads did my content generate?

Once you can answer those questions, you will have much more data to analyze and use for the next time you create content.

I’ve collected data on several months of traffic to the SuperOffice blog:

measure-and-analyze-content image 12

Looking at this data, two things are immediately clear:

  • Most blog visits are posts in the CRM and customer service categories.
  • People are more likely to share customer service and product blog posts.

Therefore, it makes sense to write more about customer service, doesn’t it? It ranks as most visited and most shared.

I use my own guest blog posts as content marketing case studies by analyzing the data of what topics/keywords work well.

I’m able to quickly identify that content that is more than 1,500 words and hosted on an authoritative website that will result in a higher ranking, which helps me narrow my future targeted keywords and guest post opportunities.


As I mentioned, most content marketing efforts fail. But when done right, they can transform your business and turn your website into a traffic and lead-generation machine. By implementing a successful content marketing strategy:

  • HubSpot grew revenue by 81% and gained 2,000 new customers.
  • KISSmetrics received more than 1 million unique visitors per month.
  • Monetate increased traffic by 255% and doubled sales.

The tips in this post will save you the years of guesswork and continuous optimization that I had to endure to see success. Use these five pillars as a guide to help you create valuable content for members of your audience and move them from one buying stage to the next, and continue to measure and analyze performance.

Want more instruction on how to manage today’s biggest content marketing challenges? Sign up for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Access over 35 courses, taught by experts from Google, Mashable, SAP, and more.

Cover image by geralt via

Author: Steven Macdonald

Steven MacDonald is a Content Marketer at SuperOffice . Based in Tallinn, Estonia, Steven helps global brands create engaging content that turns anonymous web visitors into happy and loyal customers. You can connect with Steven on LinkedIn and Twitter @StevenMacd0nald .

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  • Paul Manwaring

    Very nice complete run down of content marketing in a nutshell Steven. I knew that long content 1500-3000 typically ranked highest but I never knew it related to shares too. Looks like there isn’t much point in writing SUPER long articles for web content. Ive just finished writing 7000 words and think Ill start to break it up into smaller digestible articles.

    • Steven Macdonald

      Thanks for the comment, Paul.

      I think it’s great that you have a 7,000 word piece, but I do think that you will see better results by breaking it up into smaller pieces, as you suggest.

      The best part about having a 7,000 word article is the numerous ways you can repurpose it (ie, take 6-8 pieces of data from the post and turn it into an infographic).

      • Paul Manwaring

        this is what im planning on doing, thanks for the advice

        • Steven Macdonald

          You’re welcome, Paul. Let me know if there’s anything else I can help you with.

  • S Sagal

    Thank you for sharing these valuable guidelines. I was happy to have the B2B technology examples!
    Overall, google is bit like fad diets- what is good for google is not always every businesses best marketing match for content. The catch is that what is good for google is good for business. So, perhaps content marketers may need to meet both google optimizing content and other customer needs (graphic heavy content maybe?)

    • Steven Macdonald

      Glad to hear you enjoyed the post.

      And you’re absolutely right. I think optimizing for Google and the user is a perfect match – Optimizing your content for search will generate visits and optimizing your content for the user will generate sales.

  • Craig Thomas

    Very interesting article. As a freelance content creator, this is useful ammunition when pitching to prospective clients.
    But does the 2,000-word rule also apply when marketing to consumers? I work on mainly automotive content, so that would be pretty long for a review-style piece of content.

    • Steven Macdonald

      Thanks Craig!

      The 2,000 word guideline is based on research by SerpIQ for content that ranks well. But, there are ways around this, if you feel it’s too long for consumers.

      For example, you could create content that is broken up the same way that image sliders do for images on products. Or, you could hide the majority of the content and allow readers to click “read more” to expand it for further reading.
      It’s definitely something to test out in order to see what works best.

  • Advertising Agency

    Definitely sharing with my Phoenix SEO firm . I want to say one of those is 5 pillars is more important than the rest, but it is so hard. Maybe the “creating content” one is most important because without that, you have no content marketing.

    • Steven Macdonald

      Glad you like it.

      That’s a great point – Without the content, you don’t have anything to show for the work done on the other four!

  • Simon Wilson

    The stats are very useful – helps convince senior management to increase efforts/spend etc. The Likes vs Shares and Visits vs Leads are very interesting indeed. Together with the sales cycle matching discipline, it really helps focus content creation efforts. Thanks for posting

    • Steven Macdonald

      Thanks Simon, I appreciate the kind words.

      And if this doesn’t convince senior management, I’m not sure anything will.

  • Free Dope Downloads

    Very nice thank you!
    Definitely didn’t know the bit about the 2000 word min… kinda counter-intuitive

    • Steven Macdonald

      Glad you liked the post

  • Rechly parker

    Great thankful to your article post and you done a very impressive work on this essential topic.