How to Create a Content Marketing Program from Scratch

I’ve been writing a lot about content marketing lately, since that’s what I specialize in. Last month I shared some tips for creating better content and before that I talked about content marketing trends that are hot right now.

Now it’s time to really dig in to the “meat and potatoes” of how to create a content marketing program. This month I’m starting a new series that walks through the process of creating a new content marketing program from scratch.

Can You Commit to a Content Marketing Program?

Before you commit to creating a content marketing program, you should first make sure that content marketing is the right strategy for meeting your goals. Successful content marketing requires a significant investment of time and money and a long-term commitment. So be sure you’re prepared to make this kind of commitment before launching a content marketing program.

Content marketing tends to work best for businesses and industries where customer education is crucial. The financial services industry where I specialize is a good example. Financial and investment products can be complicated and lots of folks are unsure about how to manage their personal finances. So there’s ample opportunity for creating content that helps educate people about money management and investing.

An effective content marketing program can help you accomplish a wide range of business objectives, such as:

  • Building brand awareness.
  • Boosting customer engagement.
  • Generating quality leads.
  • Improving customer retention.
  • Cross-selling and upselling products and services.
  • Establishing thought leadership.

The idea is to educate customers and prospects so that they trust you enough to do business with you. Content should notbe hard sell — in fact, just the opposite. You want to demonstrate that you are the expert in your field and readers should hire your business to help them solve a particular problem or take advantage of an opportunity.

Define Your Audience and Create Your Strategy

Start by defining the audience for your content. In financial services, we often segment audiences based on their income or assets. Content targeted to lower-income and less-wealthy readers is written at a more basic level, while content targeted to what we call high-net-worth individuals is written at a more advanced level.

With your audience defined, it’s now time to create a content strategy. This starts by identifying content themes, buyer personas and the voice, tone and personality you want to convey with your content.

A wealth management firm I started working with earlier this year sent me a detailed content strategy document that contained an analysis of six broad topic categories. The analysis included SEO data for search terms related to each topic, the seasonality of the topics and potential article ideas categorized by topic. We then created an editorial calendar with specific articles scheduled to be published each month for the rest of this year.

Don’t neglect the importance of voice and tone when it comes to your content strategy. You may have worked hard to create an image and personality for your business in the minds of customers and prospects, and this should be reflected in the tone of your content.

Think of Rocket Mortgage, for example. They’ve created a fun, whimsical image for their brand with their goofy TV commercials and print ads. So have insurance companies like Progressive, with Flo the blue-bibbed insurance lady, and Geico, with the gecko and the caveman.

On the flip side, traditional financial services firms usually convey a more conservative tone with their messaging. Who can forget the Smith Barney commercials where the distinguished-looking John Houseman, sitting in an elegant restaurant or standing in front of a historic mansion, says that Smith Barney “makes money the old-fashioned way — they earnit.”

Choose Your Distribution Channels

The next step is to identify your content distribution channels. These typically include the following:

  • Your business website and email
  • Industry-specific and special-interest websites and discussion boards
  • Social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter
  • Image-sharing platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and SlideShare
  • Video-sharing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo

One of the great things about content marketing is that once you’ve created content, it can be repackaged and reused across many different channels. For example, this article I’m writing now is posted as a blog here on my website and I’ll also send it out as an e-newsletter. And I’ll include links to it on my Facebook and LinkedIn pages and my Twitter feed.

Next month I’m going to dig deeper into the content creation process itself, including how to generate topic ideas and how to devise a workflow that ensures you have a steady stream of new content to fill your pipeline.

5 Tips for Creating High-Quality Content

In last month’s blog we looked at some of the interesting (at least to me!) data contained in the Content Marketing Institute’s recent B2B Content Marketing: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report. This is an extensive report that’s chocked-full of valuable data, so I spent some more time this week combing through it.

Two statistics from the report really jumped out at me. The first one is the fact that the average business today is spending a quarter of its marketing budget on content marketing. That’s amazing when you think about it because a decade ago, “content marketing” didn’t even exist as a formal marketing discipline.

The other stat that grabbed my attention was this: The main success factor cited by businesses with successful content marketing programs is high-quality and efficient content creation. In other words, they’re producing great content, and they’re doing so in a way that doesn’t tax their financial or human resources.

Defining High-Quality Content

I guess it’s logical that high-quality content is critical to a successful content marketing program. But let’s stop for a minute and answer an important question: What exactly isquality content?

To me, quality content checks each one of these boxes:

• It’s well-written. I’m constantly amazed at how much poorly written content there is on the web today. For some reason, there appear to be different writing standards for print vs. online publishing. Crappy content you’d never dream of seeing in print is all over the Internet.

• It’s relevant. For example, most of what I write is for business and financial services clients. I have to know and understand these industries intimately, as well as a number of niches within them, in order to write content that’s relevant and useful to readers.

• It’s timely. The best content has a shelf life and expiration date. That’s not to say there’s no place for evergreen content, but the more timely a piece of content is, the more likely it is to draw eyeballs.

Creating High-Quality Content

So how can you go about creating high-quality content in a more efficient way? Here are 5 tips to get you started:

1. Sharpen your writing chops. There are no two ways around it: If you want to create higher quality content, you have to improve your writing. And there are no shortcuts to becoming a better writer: It takes lots and lots of practice.

Start by studying good writing. Which publications and websites do you think are especially well-written? You might also invest in some professional training, such as taking a writing course online or at your local community college. Most importantly, you should make regular writing a part of your routine, even if it’s just a few minutes a day.

2. Keep an idea file. Great content starts with great topic ideas. And you’re going to need a lot of ideas if you want to feed an ongoing content marketing program for more than just a few months.

Start a new file (either paper or electronic) for storing topic ideas as they come to you. For example, whenever I see articles in The Wall Street Journal or some of the industry niche publications I read that I think would be good topics for my clients, I print them out and put them in a manila folder.

This is old school, I know. But having paper copies makes it easier for me to keep my ideas organized and easily accessible.

3. Follow current developments in your industry. As noted above, quality content is tightly targeted to your industry niche. So you need to stay on top of what’s happening in your industry in order to create content that your audience finds useful and relevant.

To do so, you should be reading industry publications and websites regularly and subscribing to industry-focused e-newsletters and podcasts. Also attend industry trade shows and conferences whenever you can and take advantage of opportunities to pursue continuing education opportunities in your industry.

4. Learn the fine art of repurposing. Keeping a content marketing program humming along smoothly requires a steady stream of fresh content. One way to keep the content pipeline full is to repurpose content you previously created.

For example, I once combined a series of articles on cash flow management into a more comprehensive whitepaper on the topic. You can also take the opposite approach by breaking up a whitepaper into a series of articles and blog posts to be sent out in your e-newsletter and posted on your website and to social media.

5. “Have a take … do not suck.” Sports talk radio host Jim Rome used to say this to callers. What he meant was that callers should have their own unique thoughts and perspective on an issue and not just parrot what they heard other people, especially so-called “experts,” say.

The same thing applies to your content. It’s easy to just rehash research or curate content from a Google query, but the best content brings something more by adding your own unique observations to the topic. This also helps position you and your business as a thought leader in your industry.

Keep These Tips Handy

If yours is among the 91% of B2B organizations that has a content marketing program in place, you need to do everything you can to boost the quality of your content. These 5 tips are a good starting point — keep them handy so you can refer back to them easily while you’re creating new content.

3 Content Marketing Trends You Should Know About Right Now

In last month’s newsletter I featured an interview with my friend and Internet marketing expert Jeff Powell, Vice President/CFO of Prosperous Internet Marketing, a full-service digital marketing agency in Pensacola, Fla. Click here to read the article if you missed it.

He stressed that content marketing is an integral part of any Internet marketing program today. “Publishing quality content is vital to ranking high in Google and the other search engines,” he said, adding that creating consistent, fresh and relevant content is one of the most important things they do for their clients.

Digging Deeper into Content Marketing

Jeff’s comment prompted me to dig a little deeper to find out more about what what’s going on right now in the world of content marketing.

For starters, how many organizations today are using content marketing? The answer: Almost all of them. According to B2B Content Marketing: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends, 91% of B2B organizations use content marketing. Among the 9% that don’t, more than half said they plan to launch a content marketing initiative in the next year.

But how effective is content marketing? Pretty effective, it turns out: About six out of 10 content marketers said that their content market programs are more successful this year than last year. Even more encouraging, about a quarter of the respondents said the overall impact of their content marketing programs was either “very” or “extremely” successful.

So what technology tools are organizations using to manage their content marketing programs? According to the B2B Content Marketing report, the top 5 content marketing tech tools and the percentage of organizations using them are:

  • Analytics tools (87%)
  • Email marketing technology (70%)
  • Content management systems (63%)
  • Marketing automation software (55%)
  • Webinars and online presentation platforms (43%)

Meanwhile, the most common distribution methods for content are email (cited by 93% of respondents), social media (92%) and blogs (79%). And the most effective types of content used by B2B content marketers are e-books/whitepapers (50%), case studies (47%) and social media posts (41%).

As a freelance writer (i.e., content producer), I found it interesting (and encouraging!) that nearly half of content marketers are outsourcing their content creation. Higher quality and more efficient content creation was cited as the number one reason for greater content marketing success.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

I hope I didn’t lose you with all these statistics and data, but I wanted to demonstrate just how far content marketing has come in just the past decade.

So what does all of this mean? What are some big-picture trends when it comes to content marketing? Here are a few that I discovered while doing some research:

1. Question optimization is replacing keyword optimization. The evolution of Google’s algorithm is making optimization of keyword strings less effective than it used to be. Google can now evaluate the context and intent of Internet searches without analyzing matching keyword strings.

Question optimization is building content that answers niche questions. For one thing, questions are more similar to natural spoken language, which optimizes content for voice searches. And Google now features questions with its “People Also Ask” feature that lists web pages that best answer search queries.

2. Dynamic personalization has become more common. This isn’t customer segmentation, but rather content personalization that customizes the online experience for each individual. A good example is the personalized, artificial intelligence-generated content suggestions made by Amazon and Netflix.

Most organizations don’t have an Amazon-sized budget for this level of AI sophistication, but you can still accomplish dynamic personalization by personalizing calls-to-action with the contact’s first name or making personalized product recommendations. Personalized CTAs can increase on-page interactions by more than 200 percent, research shows.

3. Measuring return on investment is becoming essential. It appears that the days of just throwing content out there and hoping this leads to increased sales are coming to an end. According to the B2B Content Marketing report, more than half of the most successful B2B content marketers now measure the ROI of their content marketing initiatives.

For example, most of them say that they can demonstrate how content marketing has increased audience engagement (77%), the number of leads (72%) and overall sales (51%).

Benchmarks for Measuring Your Efforts

I’ll conclude with some more data from the B2B Content Marketing report to drive home what the most successful content marketers are doing right. Nearly all of them are highly committed to content marketing and focused on building audiences for their content.

They also allow time for content marketing to produce results and are realistic about what content marketing can achieve.

These are good benchmarks against which you can measure your organization’s content marketing initiatives.

What’s the Current State of Internet Marketing?

No marketing program today would be complete without an online component to it. But what exactly is online or Internet marketing?

Google “Internet marketing” and you’ll get “about 7,920,000,000” results. That’s nearly 8 billion search results if you don’t feel like translating all the zeros.

Instead of wading through billions of online pages, I decided to call my friend Jeff Powell and get his thoughts on the current state of Internet marketing. Jeff is the Vice President/CFO of Prosperous Internet Marketing. Prosperous I.M. is a full-service digital marketing agency in Pensacola, Fla., that helps brick-and-mortar businesses throughout the U.S. and Canada market to their local area.

Following are the highlights of my recent conversation with Jeff.

Q: Your company is called Prosperous Internet Marketing, so how do you define Internet marketing?

A: Internet marketing today covers so many different areas. For example, at Prosperous IM we do website design and hosting, website landing pages, SEO and PPC, social media marketing, reputation marketing, call tracking, lead generation, video ad production, and related services.

Q: What are the biggest trends you’re seeing right now when it comes to Internet marketing?

A: Online video is a huge trend right now. It helps customers get to know you before they do business with you. The challenge is that consumers’ attention spans are getting shorter and shorter.

You’ve got less than 10 seconds to grab their attention or they’re gone. If you do get their attention, the sweet spot is about 90 seconds of video. From there you can move viewers to your written content.

Q: That’s interesting because a few years ago I wrote about how video was going to be big. What are some other Internet marketing trends?

A: Two other trends are call tracking and chatbots. Call tracking helps identify which ads and media (online and offline) are working best. We use a different local phone number on every ad, website, social media post, etc., so when a call comes in, we know where the caller saw the business.

For example, if someone started on Facebook which took them to a website, the phone number is dynamic and follows the person in the browser. Call tracking also works for text messaging. This is a really inexpensive technology now.

Chat bots are great and getting better every day. They let businesses start conversations with customers online so they get to know and trust the business enough to start a real dialog, which is crucial.

Q: What is one area of Internet marketing that is currently being underutilized?

A: Retargeting offers huge potential, but 90 percent of businesses that do PPC aren’t using it. Retargeting is when an online ad follows you to other websites after you searched an item or clicked on an ad earlier. It cost less than the initial click but has 10 times the click-through rate.

Q:What are the biggest trends you’re seeing when it comes to search engine optimization, or SEO?

A: We don’t really use the term SEO that much. Instead, we use the term Search Engine Marketing and refer to this as one tool in the online marketing toolbox. SEO is our point of beginning or initial setup for our clients. Once we have the websites properly optimized, it’s time to add value with content and start marketing the business.

Q:Talk about the role of content marketing as part of an ongoing Internet marketing program.

A: Publishing quality content is vital to ranking high in Google and the other search engines. Creating consistent, fresh and relevant content is one of the most important things we do for our clients.

Creating strong content doesn’t have to be overwhelming. For example, an article can be chopped up into snippets and published over a week or a month. The same thing goes for longer videos — edit them into several 60 to 90 second clips and post these individually.

Q: What about social media marketing? How important is this to an Internet marketing program?

A: Social media is just as important, if not more important, than a website. Many businesses have a professional website but their social media pages look like something a kid put together. Also, you need to keep your message and look consistent across all media.

You should post new content to your social media channels on a regular basis and use Facebook live to connect with your audience and make offers. Remember that it’s not about you — it’s about the customer. So provide value in your social media posts.

Q: What are your top three tips for Internet marketing success?

A: First, you need to define your ideal profitable customer, or avatar, so you know exactly who your digital marketing strategy will be targeting.

Next, update your website, social media channels and other online properties with quality content aimed at your ideal customer while soliciting as many positive reviews as possible. Reputation marketing is the starting point for digital marketing.

Finally, don’t think you can do all this yourself, or even hire a digital marketing employee who will know how to do everything. Find a digital marketing company that you feel comfortable working with to help you reach your Internet marketing goals.

7 Tips for Writing Great Website Copy

When I launched my freelance writing business 10 years ago, one of the first things I needed to do was build a website. Even though there were do-it-yourself kits you could use to build your own website, I’m not much of a “tech” guy so I knew I’d be better off hiring a pro to build my site for me.

But I wrote the website copy myself, of course. It clearly and succinctly describes the kinds of writing I do and the niche areas I specialize in — which are business and finance — so prospects can see the benefits of working with me.

As a bonus, my site ranked near the top of page 1 search results for the keyword phrases I optimized as soon as I launched it, and it has ever since. This makes it a great lead generation tool.

A Different Kind of Writing

Over the past 10 years, I’ve written copy for dozens of my clients’ websites. One thing I’ve learned is that website copywriting is very different from other types of writing, such as articles, blogs and advertising copy.

Here are 7 website copywriting tips based on my experience and observations over the past decade.

1. Write for the way that people read online. Most people read online content differently than they read ink on paper. For example, they tend to skim and scan instead of reading word for word. So you need to write website copy in a way that makes it easy for people to quickly find what interests them.

In other words, make your website copy “skimmable and snackable.” This means using plenty of subheads, bulleted and numbered lists, and boldface type. Ålso vary the length of your sentences and paragraphs, including writing single-line paragraphs occasionally.

2. Don’t indulge in “corporate-speak.” I wish I had a nickel for every business website I’ve seen that featured dull, boring copy talking about the company’s “core competencies” and “synergies,” or how they “utilize best practices” to help clients “achieve their strategic objectives.”

C’mon, does anybody really talk this way? No, and neither should you on your website. Instead, write like you’re having a conversation with a customer or prospect. And don’t overuse industry jargon and buzzwords, either — these are a surefire way to drive website visitors away.

3. Pay especially close attention to your homepage copy. Your homepage is usually the first page your website visitors will encounter. So it’s really important to get your homepage copy right.

Your homepage copy needs to accomplish the following:

  • Clearly explain exactly what it is that your business does.
  • Communicate your competitive advantage, or your USP — unique selling proposition.
  • Describe the benefits to clients of working with your business.
  • Help visitors navigate to the other pages on your site.
  • Ask yourself this: If the homepage is the only page on my website that a prospect visits, will he or she understand what my business does and the benefits of working with us?

4. Don’t get too distracted with SEO and keywords. Yes, I know that search engine optimization and ranking high for your target keywords is important. But in my experience, businesses sometimes put too much emphasis on this — often to the detriment of the website copy itself.

The main job of your website is to clearly explain to customers and prospects who your business is, what you do and how you can help them. Therefore, your main priority should be writing for human beings, not search engines.

5. Write an effective headline on every page. Headlines are often saved for last and just thrown together without much thought. This is a big mistake, because strong headlines are essential to attracting readers to your pages and drawing them into the body copy.

There are lots of different approaches you can take with headline writing — I could publish an entire article on writing great headlines. The point for now: Don’t ignore this critical aspect of website copywriting.

6. Let your business’ personality come through in your copy. Every business has a personality. Your website copy presents a great opportunity for you to share your personality with prospects who are checking you out online.

For example, maybe your company is casual, relaxed and informal. If so, write your website copy in a way that reflects this. Conversely, if your company’s personality and culture are more formal and buttoned-down, your writing style should match this as well.

7. Write in the active voice. I know, this is Copywriting 101 advice. But I’m including this tip here because it’s so important — and so often ignored.

Copy written in the passive voice is weak and ineffective. New research also indicates that passive-voice copy can actually hurt your SEO rankings.

Unfortunately, it can be easy to slip into the passive voice if you’re not careful. Before posting website copy, review it carefully — or better yet, have a professional editor review it — and make any passive voice copy active.

Make A Great First Impression

Your website is probably your most important marketing tool. It’s the first impression many prospects will have of your business, so it’s critical to make sure your copy is well-written and effective.

Compare your website copy to these tips to see how it stacks up. If your copy comes up short in any area, spend the time and resources necessary to get it where it needs to be.