Want to find new ways to reach potential customers? Then content marketing is for you. If you've spent any time at all researching the world of online marketing, you'll have undoubtedly come across the term before. But maybe you're not sure what content marketing is, or perhaps you think content marketing is only for big businesses.
In this guide, we'll look at how to start content marketing for your small business - from explaining what it is, to showing you how to start your first campaign.
So what is content marketing?
The idea behind content marketing is to create things your potential customers will be interested in.
What kind of things? Well, at a very basic level it might be blog posts. A more advanced example would be an online game.
These pieces of content aren't always created in order to generate sales directly, instead they're often used for things like building up mailing lists, attracting links to help with search engine optimisation, and attracting social media followers.
Of course, you need to make sure the content you create appeals to your potential customers. And that's the first step in getting started with content marketing.
Defining your content marketing audience
How well do you know the people you're trying to sell to? The more information you have about your potential customers, the better your content marketing efforts will be.
So how can you get to know your customers? By creating marketing personas. A marketing persona is a hypothetical potential customer who acts as a stand in for a group of real customers.
These personas help you understand who your customers are, what they do, what their interests are, and why they might be interested in your products and/or services.
Understanding these things will mean you're able to create content that is of interest to the right groups.
Check out this guide to learn how to create marketing personas, and the draw up your own.
Making sure you're able to track the results of your marketing
Before you start any new marketing campaign, you need to be sure that you can track the results.
The best and easiest way to do so is by installing Google Analytics on your site, and then ensuring you use it properly.
You can learn how to install Google Analytics in this guide, and you can learn how to track things with Google Analytics correctly in this guide.
Remember: If you're not tracking your marketing campaigns, you won't know if they're working.
Deciding on your content marketing goals
What do you want to achieve through content marketing? You've probably got some vague goal in mind already such as "boost sales". But that's not a very good goal, because it's hard to decide if you've achieved it.
Any content marketing goals you set should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant (to your business) and time-bound (Smart).
Our goal of "boost sales" isn't a Smart goal because it isn't specific or time-bound.
A better goal might be "grow our email list by 1,000 subscribers over a three month period".
Setting out your goals at this stage will help you decide which content marketing techniques you want to use. (Although you can always adjust your goals later in the planning process if you need to.)
Whatever you want to achieve through content marketing, make sure you set Smart goals.
Identifying which content marketing techniques you want to use
How will you achieve your content marketing goals? The answer to this question will depend partly on your goals, the resources you have available and the level of investment you're willing to make.
Here are the three best content marketing techniques for beginners, and the goals they can help you achieve.
Blogging: A good all-round content marketing technique. You can use it to improve your search rankings, boost social media follows, growing an email list and even generating leads.
Ebooks: Ebooks are great at growing email lists and generating leads. (Just make sure you comply with GDPR when collecting personal data).
Video: A social media star, video marketing is great for building awareness of your company and what it does.
Of course, each of these techniques has its drawbacks. For blogging and ebooks, you'll need someone to write the content (and create images too). With video, there's obviously a video to be recorded and edited.
You have two options: Learn to do these things yourself, or pay someone to do them for you.
Hiring a full-time blogger probably isn't a realistic prospect, but hiring someone to write and design a one-off ebook is.
You can use sites like Upwork to hire freelancers to help you with your content marketing. There's a guide to getting the most from freelancing sites here.
Brainstorming campaign ideas
By now you should have an idea of the kind of person you're trying to reach, and the techniques you'll going to use to reach them.
Now it's time to come up with some specific ideas for your first content marketing campaign.
Here are some ideas to help inspire you.
How tos/problem solving guides
These are a really great way for small businesses to do content marketing, as it relies on your expertise. If you're a plumber, a quick video on how to fix a leaking tap will be very useful to a large number of people (you can just film it on a smartphone). The viewers can see you know what you're doing, remember you've already helped them and be more likely to contact you when they need a bigger job doing.
For example, if you're a marketing consultant, you can publish an ebook on social media marketing. Yes, some people will use your guide to do things for themselves, but they were never likely to become your customers anyway. However, others will read your guide, decide it's not something their able to do by themselves, and hire you because of your clear expertise.
Data/research driven content
People love stats. So if your business generates interesting data, or you can conduct research to generate interesting data, then you can make it the cornerstone of a content marketing campaign.
You can do this by creating infographics, or seeking press coverage for your data. (You can read more about small business PR in this guide.
Just make sure that whatever data you produce fits in with the interests of your target audience.
If there's something inherently entertaining about your business, or the products you sell then you can turn that into a content marketing campaign. Video works best here. One of the most famous examples of this kind of marketing campaign is the "Will It Blend" series.
Planning how you will execute your campaign
By now you should now the people you'll be targeting, and the marketing material you'll be using to target them. But how are you going to get your marketing material in front of the right audience(s)?
Here are the main methods:
SEO: If your content is targeting the keywords your potential customers use in search engines, then your content should reach its target audience when it ranks well. However, ranking well in search engines can take some time. As such, you may want to consider using quicker methods for reaching your audience as well.
Social media: Whether you've got an existing following or not, social media is likely to play a key part in all your content marketing campaigns. Paid social is a great way to reach potential customers, especially on platforms like Facebook which have powerful targeting criteria. This guide will help you get started with paid social media.
Influencer outreach: If someone already has the attention of your potential customers, why not try and enlist that someone's help to reach your target audience(s)? That's the principle behind influencer outreach. If you can create impressive pieces of content, then industry experts, specialist publications and even the mainstream media will be interested in sharing them. You can learn about getting started with influencer outreach in this guide.
Whichever method(s) you choose, always make sure that they'll allow you to reach your intended target audience.
Monitoring your campaigns
By this point in the guide you should have the theoretical basis of a fully-fledged content marketing campaign.
The next step is to launch your campaign. Obviously, to do this you'll need to put in place whatever assets are required for your content, either by creating them yourself, or by hiring a freelancer as discussed above.
While you're doing this it's important to ensure you can easily track the results of your campaigns.
One of the biggest things you'll need to do is correctly tag URLs for Google Analytics tracking. If you read the guide we linked to above, you should already have an understanding of this.
You may also need to use a package like GoDaddy email marketing if you're planning on building a mailing list and don't already have a solution in place.
For search engine rankings, you may want to use a specialist tool like SEMRush to keep track of which keywords you're ranking for.
You'll also need to think about how you'll monitor the return on investment of your content marketing campaign. The simplest way to do this is to subtract the cost of your marketing campaign from the revenue generated, then divide that figure by the cost of your marketing campaign and multiply by 100 to get your ROI as a percentage.
Of course, this equation depends on easily being able to attribute a revenue value to the results of your content marketing, which isn't always possible.
Analysing your campaigns
What worked? What didn't work so well? If you're monitoring your campaigns properly, you'll be able to identify areas for improvement.
As well as looking at whether you met your goals, also pay attention to any feedback you got about your content. Did the influencers you asked to share your content offer any thoughts on how you could have done things better? Did social media comments raise any questions that you could address in a new piece of content?
All this can be used to plan better content marketing campaigns in the future. And don't forget, if your first campaign went well, you can make your goals more challenging next time around.