A little over a year ago, the When I Work blog was pretty much unknown. We had some loyal followers who knew our employee scheduling software and checked in with us regularly, but in terms of overall brand awareness, we were sorely lacking.
That all changed when we made a concerted effort to commit to content marketing. By implementing the following 10 steps, we were able to grow our site from 20,000 page views per month to over 200,000 page views per month in the span of just one year.
While we’re a start-up, many of these lessons can be applied to larger brands as well – anyone who wants to build audiences.
Step 1 ‑ Hire an in-house content marketer
At the start, we recognized that putting together a remote team of independent specialists left us at risk of a disjointed effort for which no one person really took ownership.
So instead, we hired an in-house content marketer who could devote 100% of his efforts to promoting the When I Work brand. In searching for this person, we looked for somebody who had the following skills and experience:
- A bachelor’s degree in journalism or communications with at least three to five-plus years of experience in developing content for multiple channels
- A passion for social media and understanding of user behavior and expectations in social channels
- Demonstrated excellent verbal, written, presentation, and interpersonal communication skills
- Knowledge and understanding of content management and publishing procedures
- Basic technical understanding of CMS, databases, and publishing software
- Familiarity with SEO content strategies
- Familiarity with marketing automation, and lead-nurturing programs and software
- Ability to interact and maintain good working relationships within a team, including presenting findings and recommendations
- Ability to take initiative and proactively seek opportunities, identify gaps, and recommend ongoing improvements in how content can be managed.
This role’s responsibilities included:
- Write and edit clear and consistent content across earned, owned, paid, and social media for a variety of digital tactics, including emails, landing pages, websites, microsites, social networks, mobile, banners, paid search, lead nurturing programs, etc.
- Assure quality of all content deliverables and use of a consistent voice and tone throughout all digital channels and assets
- Collaborate closely with the marketing department in the development of content strategies
- Manage daily content and content calendars for social channels
- Apply SEO best practices in the development of website content to create sites that feature strong keyword usage and are highly relevant to potential search queries
- Write dynamic web and ad copy – the stuff that converts like gold
Your description may be different, depending on the priorities of your business.
Step 2 ‑ Develop clear goals, KPIs, and a working strategy
To see any ROI from your content marketing efforts, you have to be intentional and purposeful. You have to be strategic. You can’t just publish a blog post three times a week, share it once across your social networks, and expect it to generate more brand awareness, new customers, or an increase in profit. You have to set specific and actionable goals.
We tasked the newly hired content marketer with creating a detailed content marketing strategy that illustrated where we were, where we wanted to go, and how we’d get there.
Our content marketing strategy included:
- An audit of content-related marketing tactics
- A competitive analysis
- SEO and keyword research
- Clear goals, KPIs, and timelines
- Customer personas
- A plan for promoting content
- An initial round of ideation
- A list of types of content that would be created and why
- A list of tools needed
- An estimated monthly budget
What you ultimately include or leave out of your content marketing strategy is up to you – we used this framework based on our company’s needs.
Step 3 ‑ Add more players to the content marketing team
To effectively implement a content marketing strategy and double down on what works, we added more players to our team so we could scale our efforts.
For the first few months, we experimented with hiring freelancers and contractors to help us with things like graphics, design, and social media management. However, we found that process to be expensive and it often prevented us from moving as fast as we wanted – so we took a little more than six months and hired seven full-time employees:
- Graphic designer – helps with blog images, Facebook ads, branding, and other marketing collateral
- Rich media producer – creates explainers, “pro-tip,” and trade-show videos, and other rich media projects
- Relationship and outreach specialist – helps build content and promotion partnerships with other companies and industry influencers
- Community manager – handles our social media profiles, engages with potential customers online, and keeps current customers
- SEO specialist – discovers and takes advantage of new SEO opportunities and trends
- Digital marketing specialist – assists other members of the team on any projects that require more than one set of hands
- Email marketer – builds and nurtures our email lists
If your budget doesn’t allow you to hire for all these roles individually, you may be able to find candidates who fulfill multiple roles (e.g., your digital marketing specialist also acts as your email marketer). Just don’t expect people to wear too many hats or you risk crippling your productivity.
Step 4 ‑ Produce amazing content
Given you’re on the CMI site, this step almost goes without saying, so I’m not going to waste time hammering home how important it is to create amazing content that helps you stand out from others in your industry.
But I do feel it’s worth mentioning because our team’s ability to create amazing content played a big role in our ability to increase our page views by 10 times. In addition to the standard blog post formats, we also experimented with other types of posts, such as:
- Epic, long-form content pieces
- Q&A content with industry leaders
- Promotion-driven posts that leveraged other companies
- SEO-focused posts that leveraged a particular long-tail keyword phrase
Ultimately, our goal was to provide “value, value, value” in everything we delivered. Infographics were not as effective given that there’s just too much noise and it’s hard to get any sort of ROI on them. Plus, they tend to be costly to produce. One type of content that worked well was the promotion-driven blog post. In this type of post, your goal is to mention a handful of companies or industry influencers whom you can follow and ask for their help when it comes time to promote your post.
Step 5 ‑ Establish and leverage relationships with partners and influencers
Because When I Work didn’t have a big audience, we invested time in building relationships with partner websites and industry influencers instead of only going after new readers.
Working with companies who target similar audiences (but didn’t compete directly with us) as well as industry leaders helped us leverage their audiences. Getting our content in front of their readers quickly boosted our brand awareness, resulting in more views for our content and our website than we would have captured on our own.
The easiest way to create relationships is by cold-emailing someone at another company (ideally in the marketing department) and asking if you could swap guest posts. You also can suggest co-hosting a webinar, but that requires more of your time and resources. Here are a few companies and how we partnered with them:
- TinyPulse (guest post on our site)
- Snagajob (guest post on its site)
- ZenPayroll webinar (guest post on its site)
Step 6 ‑ Use the right tools
Good content marketing can’t be automated, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use tools to facilitate the process. Here are a few that were critical to our campaigns:
- BuzzSumo for ideation and influencer outreach
- Zemanta for paid content distribution
- ClickToTweet for boosting post engagement and virality
- RSS-feed emails for driving traffic and building our audience
- Trello for managing our content projects from creation to completion
- CoSchedule for creating our blog promotion calendars
- Buffer for scheduling our social media updates
- Content Marketer for finding influencers’ contact information
- Yesware or Streak for email outreach when it comes time to promoting our content
There are literally hundreds of tools out there to use – and we’ve tested a lot of them. These are the ones with which we’ve had the most success.
Step 7 ‑ Launch paid campaigns
Paid campaigns aren’t the right fit for every content marketing team, but in our case, they helped us quickly build exposure that would have taken considerable time to achieve through organic SEO.
Our team tested promotions through Zemanta, paid social media ads, and traditional pay-per-click platforms like Google AdWords. If you’re struggling to get eyes on your content, I recommend experimenting with a campaign on one of these networks.
We allocated a small budget (around $2,000 to $3,000) and put a 90-day cap on any new advertising tool we wanted to test. If we saw viewership traction, which could be monitored in Google Analytics and most of the tools themselves, we upped the spend or extended the experiment.
If you test paid advertising, give it sufficient time, and make sure you pay attention to your spend and the data on a daily basis. If you do that, you’re much more likely to find a tool that gives you the ROI you seek.
Step 8 ‑ Take the time to do the outreach
Remember how I mentioned leveraging industry influencers earlier in this post? Well, a big part of maintaining these relationships comes down to your outreach after every new piece of content goes live.
After each launch, we emailed:
- Individuals mentioned in the content piece
- People who might be willing to share the content
- People who have shared similar content in the past
In addition, we reached out organically to these people on Twitter.
These actions helped ensure that we weren’t wasting our time – that every content piece created received the maximum number of views possible from our audience and beyond.
Step 9 – Extend the life of your posts
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is to hit “publish,” and never revisit that content. What a waste.
To get the biggest value from every content piece we created, our team used these evergreen tactics to drive more traffic to our posts over time:
- Content syndication for us involved sending cold email pitches to blogs and websites and asking them to syndicate our blog or well-performing individual posts. The best way to develop these relationships is to just ask.
Find sites that your target audience visits. Look for an email address for the site manager and contact the person to gauge syndication interest. You might get 50 rejections, but you could get three to four people who are interested, and that’s all you really need.
- Content repurposing involved transforming our on-site and off-site content into a SlideShare presentation, a LinkedIn post, a series of tweets, or a batch of visuals that we can share on social media.
- Post enrichment is the term we use to beef up blog posts with additional images, share buttons, and other types of rich media. In this example, we added header images:
In this example, we used a GIF header instead of a static-image header:
These are tactics that require you to go the extra mile with your content, but they tend to be worth it in most cases. That being said, not every technique will work perfectly for you, so test different ones and determine which might be worth doing on a regular basis.
Step 10 – Pay attention to the data
Finally, no content marketing campaign would be complete without a heavy focus on measurement data so you can see what is working and what isn’t. Our team took advantage of Google Analytics, RSS email data, and social media metrics on audience engagement to see where our efforts were succeeding and where we were falling flat.
This collective information helped us know our audience better and allowed us to zero in on the types of content and information to which our audience members responded well and valued the most.
The data also showed us how to reallocate our external content marketing activities so that we could ensure every action we took resulted in the highest possible impact for our brand.
Specifically, we looked at a number of things. Page views were important, but we also looked at engagement metrics as a way to decide whether a post was successful or a topic was worth revisiting.
If we found that traffic was high on a post, AND if shares were high, AND if click-through from email was high, AND if time on the page was high, we knew that the topic covered was a winner. From there, we would come up with a new batch of ideas that would allow us to revisit the topic from different angles.
It wasn’t an easy process – and it certainly wasn’t cheap to execute – but the results speak for themselves. By getting the right people on the bus, making sure they’re doing the right work, and leveraging their efforts to create audience interest in our blog, the team was able to dramatically increase our overall page-view count and as a result, drive an increase in free trial conversions and paid customers in the process.
Have you gone through a similar content marketing optimization process? If so, share any other steps or recommendations you’d add to this list by leaving a comment below.
Want to connect with your fellow content marketing professionals to hear their success stories, as well as their tales of challenges? Make plans today to attend Content Marketing World 2015. Register by May 31 for early-bird savings and use code CMI100 to save an additional $100.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).