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5 Techniques to Build a Better Content Platform

Several months ago, I made the mistake of traveling to a beautiful vacation destination – Honolulu – and (unintentionally) chose a dilapidated hotel on Airbnb. While my stay at the run-down lodging didn’t completely ruin my stay, it did impact my experience.

I’ll remember the hotel. I won’t be returning to it. And it left me with a sort of “meh” feeling during my vacation even though the destination was absolutely perfect.

Many brands do something similar. They offer visitors lackluster experiences on their owned content platforms. Even if the content is superb, the poorly designed site leaves visitors, customers, and subscribers with a “meh” (or worse) feeling.

A vision for exquisitely designed and executed content platforms is the remedy that should be at the forefront of any great content marketing strategy.

A great #contentmarketing strategy needs a well-designed and executed content platform, says @mjbecker_. Click To Tweet

How do you do that? I’ve searched the net, talked with content pros, and checked out top performers to identify five characteristics of the best “new age” content marketing hubs. Incorporate these ideas into your content marketing plan where it makes sense:

  • Create a dedicated content hub on your domain but separate from the main site.
  • Create the look, feel, and experience of a media company.
  • Build an owned audience with email subscriptions acquired through a masterful, multifaceted plan of acquisition boxes, overlays, in-line forms, content upgrades, and more.
  • Embrace multimedia. Supplement text-based content with imagery, interactive infographics, videos, audio, quotes, shoppable media, and more.
  • Consider the reader experience down to the finest details – hyperlinks, chat boxes, and more.

Without further adieu, let’s dive into the five characteristics of next-gen, high-quality content platforms that today’s best brands are employing.

1. Create a standalone content hub optimized for your audience

First things, first. A standalone content hub – a section of your website dedicated to content designed to inform and/or educate – shows your audience that you’re serious about building a bustling metropolis for them.

A standalone #content hub shows your audience your brand is serious about them, says @mjbecker_. Click To Tweet

How can a brand act as an educational, industry thought leader if it doesn’t have some sort of “resources” or “insights” hub? Still, many companies today don’t. In an age where information, knowledge, and experience are currency, brands with a thriving content hub stand to gain a competitive edge.

For instance, Uberflip’s content hub is well known throughout the B2B space because it epitomizes cleanliness, functionality, and aesthetics. Visitors can sort by topic or category and explore featured content including videos, reports, and articles. Uberflip also builds in nonintrusive lead-gen elements.

But the content and formats are only part of a strong content hub. As Kristen Vaughn, director, online marketing, KoMarketing Associates explains:

The structure and organization of a content hub is essential to the UX, but also to ensure your content can be easily found by search engines. This includes everything from where it lives on the main site navigation to your internal cross-link strategy, the categories and tags used, and much more.

Kristen also notes the importance of thinking like your target audience – use the language they would use to look for and consume your content.

Ideally, spend time doing audience and competitive research, interviews, and even ethnographic sampling or focus groups to understand what your audience really wants and how they consume content online.

2. Become a media brand

Think your brand is boring or your industry is too stale to do something cool? All the more reason to take CMI’s Chief Strategy Advisor Robert Rose’s advice and really treat your content function as a media company.

What does this mean? It’s two-pronged:

  • Make your content site feel like a media brand experience, not a B2B or B2C website.
  • Kill old marketing ideas and techniques (like sales funnels, product-oriented copy, and campaign-driven strategies) to adopt a subscriber-first, education-based media-marketing mindset.
Kill old marketing ideas & techniques to adopt a subscriber-first, education-based mindset. @mjbecker_ Click To Tweet

Does Red Bulletin feel like a typical website? Heck no. Instead of lulling visitors asleep with stagnant product- or service-oriented material, transformative brands embody the principles of a new marketing-media model — taking a brand journalism approach and altering how they build relationships with consumers through content.

Brands that turn their content function into a newsroom (publishing consistent, quality content like a magazine or newspaper) can be agile in covering industry news, themes, and stories, and company-related thought leadership topics with ease. With time and progress, this kind of approach will yield better benefits and more loyal brand fans.

3. Make email subscriptions the top priority

What if you shift focus toward earning new email subscribers? What if everything you did revolved around finding new ways to invite readers to opt into your email list?

That is the mentality it takes to make the monumental mind shift from selling to educating. And it’s the mind shift forward-thinking, content-first companies have made.

Here are a few pro tips to help you earn subscribers through your content platform:

  • Detail the comprehensive subscriber benefits on a separate sign-up or subscribe page.
  • Use social proof. Show how many others are subscribed, too. Include logos of other brands and media that published your content.
  • Leverage entry and exit intent overlays with a free PDF download in exchange for an email.

Brian Massey and the Conversion Sciences team uses some of the best tactics to urge visitors to opt in.

Make sure it’s easy and inviting to subscribe like Orbit Media Studios does by including an attractive sign-up banner at the top of the main blog page.

If the content converts, you can use a welcome mat that covers the page. Jeff Bullas at analyzed his visitor behavior to determine that it’s worth using this kind of overlay:

Content upgrades are perhaps my favorite tactic to generate email opt-ins. If you’re not familiar, these in-line or pop-up offers give visitors access to related downloadable content. Blogging Wizard uses this tactic:

#Content upgrades are a great tactic to generate email opt-ins, says @mjbecker_. Click To Tweet

Blogging Wizard’s founder Adam Connell says content upgrades convert well but require plenty of resources to deploy. Here’s how he recommends tackling that challenge:

Group content into four to five topics (or categories), then create a lead magnet focused around each topic. Then add targeted opt-in forms to relevant pieces of content. I tried this for an agency I used to work for, and email sign-ups tripled.

#Content upgrades convert well but require plenty of resources to deploy, says @adamjayc. Click To Tweet
Earning subscribers and building your email list is non-negotiable to thrive these days, particularly in a content-first approach.

4. Incorporate multimedia

The last thing readers want is a same old piece of content – and the last thing marketing needs is more cluttering, cookie-cutter blog posts. When I think about high-quality content, I imagine an immersive experience, filled and enriched with multiple forms of media.

Multimedia breaks up text, adds a new flavor, and surprises visitors with a different kind of sensory input. Here are ways to leverage multimedia on a content platform:

  • Embed videos. I include videos wherever they support the narrative I’m building with text. Often, these contain expert opinions.

  • Include tweets. Social posts that support or provide context, evidence, or proof add a little spice to content.

  • Insert audio content. Sound bites can come from your sources or from podcast excerpts. They are easy to make and embed. Like you would with videos, you can use audio to add color surrounding a claim, fact, or opinion being made.

In a sea of content sameness, differentiation is critical. Going the extra mile for your audience by including multiple forms of media – visual, auditory, interactive – will create a different visitor experience.

5. Consider the miscellaneous

It’s the little things in content that make it worth subscribing to. What might seem minor and insignificant at first glance can amount to a big impact when assembled in mass (and in tandem with the other tips in this article).

I’m talking user experience enhancements including sliding hero banners, talking head overlays, smooth navigation bars, click-to-tweet links, progress-reading bars, content upgrades, calculators and tools, comments, interactive graphics, expert quotes, shoppable media, and more.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of these ideas.

Sliding hero banners

Part of creating a media brand means incorporating engaging, flowing content – especially in your header –  that grabs readers’ attention as soon as they land on your page. Sliding carousel banners can be a great way to show off and draw attention to your latest and/or most popular content like Everlast does here:

Sliding carousel banners can be a great way to show off and draw attention to your most popular #content. @mjbecker_ Click To Tweet

Shoppable content

Shoppable media is the newest and hottest trend in content marketing, especially for B2C companies. A Styla contributed post published on Olapic explains:

“Shoppable content is any type of content (i.e., videos, articles, images) that provides a direct-purchasing opportunity and allows consumers to either add products to cart directly from what they are viewing or be taken to a product page and continue to shop from there … 

“The key is to satisfy the immediate purchasing desire that content creates in the heart of the readers.”

Shoppable media is the newest & hottest trend in #contentmarketing, especially for B2C companies. @mjbecker_ Click To Tweet

It feels like shoppable content is less hard sell than an interruptive CTA like a lot of B2B brands interject into their content. The delineation between storytelling, content, and a product push is more blurred, and shoppable content seems like it’s an acceptable and innovative option to spur higher engagement with your products.

Just be different

Many “little” improvements can turn your content platform into a finely tuned experience. For instance, progress reading bars and other use-related plug-ins are used by a lot of brands.

Other plug-ins can complement your content marketing strategy. Click-to-tweet buttons and integrated chat boxes also can add that extra spice.

I love the vibe on the Hacker Noon blog. While it’s not overly flashy, the neon green, unusual font, clean navigation bar, and different hyperlink style/convention makes it stand out from the pack:

The techy look and feel resonates with its audience of technologists, software developers, and bitcoin and blockchain enthusiasts. The site caters to their style.

Shape up your content platform

To create a truly dynamic, best-of-breed content platform, you need to move with the agility of an entrepreneur while leveraging resources like an established brand.

You need to throw out the status quo and embrace the marketing techniques that will set your brand up for success in 2020 and beyond. By embracing the techniques explored in this piece, you can create a content hub that truly excites your audience.

As you build and grow a content platform, let CMI help along the way. Subscribe to our weekday newsletter for tips, trends, and topics to help your content marketing strategy succeed. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute