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Content Marketing Strategy: Tips, Tools & Free Templates

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Content marketing is the single best long-term marketing strategy for most businesses, no matter the company size and market niche.

And no, this is not an exaggeration, nor a sales pitch. Unless you build trust and loyalty and target potential customers earlier in the customer journey, you’ll never be able to expand your audience base and boost your brand’s visibility.

Seth Godin quote

Content Marketing is NOT publishing something on your website’s blog whenever you can spare the time.

It’s not about product launches and company news. Nor is it about reiterating your unique value proposition over and over again.

It’s not about producing text, visual, or video content to promote your product or service. It’s really not about your product /service at all.

Here is the definition of Content Marketing, coined by the Content Marketing Institute:

“Content Marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

It’s an invitation that you extend to your specific audience and deliver on a promise. If they take you up on that offer and enjoy the experience, you’ve already won.

But Really, Is Content Marketing Worth It?

Think of it this way – you simply cannot afford not to do Content Marketing. This is why:

  • Your competitors are doing it.
  • Your audience demands it.
  • It attracts traffic.
  • It builds your brand.
  • It creates trust and loyalty.
  • You cannot do SEO, link building, nor social media marketing without it.
  • And, yes, it will boost conversions, though not tomorrow.
Neil Patel quote

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How to Get Started with Content Marketing

Okay, now let’s talk about how to set up and scale your content marketing process.

Realistically speaking, creating and implementing a content marketing strategy is quite a commitment, so gear up. You will need to do research, come up with a strategy, track performance, and pivot when necessary.

Something else we need to get out of the way right from the start: content marketing means video first.

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Start Doing Video Content or Fall Behind the Curve

Producing video content might seem intimidating if you haven’t done it before, but it simply is a must for any business these days. Here is why:

  • 96% of people say they’ve watched an explainer video to learn more about a product or service, Wyzow’s research show.
  • 95% are more likely to remember a Call-to-Action in a video than text.
  • 79% of people say a brand’s video has convinced them to buy a piece of software or app.
  • Mobile video consumption is rising by 100% every year.
  • 92% of users watching videos on mobile will share it with others.
  • 87% of businesses now use video as a marketing tool.
  • 83% of marketers say video gives them a good ROI.81% of marketers say video has helped them generate leads.
  • 84% of marketers say video has helped them increase traffic to their website.

If you’re still not convinced, here is the Video in Businesses Benchmark Report by Vidyard:

Average number of videos created per company by industry

These findings are based on first-hand data collected from Vidyard, including more than 324,000 videos over a 12-month period, January to December 2018.

Beyond these stats, video has yet more benefits in store for your enterprise.

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Video Builds Trust

Most importantly, video creates a sense of authenticity and honesty, creating an immediate bond between you and your audience. They build trust, and trust is at the very core of all engagements and conversions.

Videos are also highly relatable, ignite emotions better than any other medium, and are most likely to be shared organically. As a result, all digital platforms – from Google and Facebook to Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok – are embracing video content and adjusting their algorithms to give them a push.

Videos don’t have to be difficult nor overly expensive to produce.

While quality videos do take planning, some equipment and software, and some post-production work hours, gone are the days when only seasoned professionals could create video content.

Today, all of us are walking around with powerful video-making equipment right on our hands – our mobile phones. Get a fresh idea, put it in video form, and watch the results.

Videos are great for discovery, brand awareness, and educating your audience. They perform exceptionally well for lead generation and remarketing. Videos are indispensable for user retention, customer support, case studies, and testimonials.

Here is a great resource for planning your video marketing workflow – in video format, of course:

With a strong personal message, a healthy dose of sincere emotion, and compelling CTA, a video can often outperform most other written content formats with the same goal.

Whichever content type you want to produce, though, keep in mind that content marketing focuses on your audience, not on your product. The best starting point is getting to know who you’re working for.

Enter persona research.

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Define Your Personas

A ‘persona’ in content marketing lingo refers to a generalized representation of the person you are writing for.

Consider the following questions as you shape your personas:

  • Who is this person? Give her a real name.
  • What are her professional and personal circumstances that will determine how she will interact with your brand?
  • What are her pain points in the moments that you hope she will find your content?
  • What questions does she have that you have answers to?
  • How will your content help her succeed in a way that will incidentally give her a favorable and lasting impression of your brand?

Personas should not be assumed by default. Personas’ needs should not be generalized or skipped as a shortcut to getting on with content production.

We advise content marketers to develop distinctly unique personas through first-hand research, such as surveys and direct interviews of customers and stakeholders.

Original research can uncover deeper layers of needs and insights than what may seem evident at the start. Understanding those needs – namely empathy with your persona – is fundamental to writing problem-solving content.

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The SEE-THINK-DO-CARE Journey

Another thing to consider when planning your content marketing efforts is the customer journey. What content needs does your persona have in the different stages of their journey?

The concept of a user journey on the web is a natural evolution of the classic marketing funnel concept, where the buyer is moving from awareness to consideration, and then to purchase.

The classic funnel implies a linear journey from one stage to the next, resulting in a small percentage of people who started at the top of the funnel reaching completion.

Today’s customer journey is non-linear. Smartphones make all the world’s knowledge and information accessible at any moment, empowering people to move seamlessly among device types, content formats, and classic buyer funnel stages.

They might be on the verge of buying in one moment, only to become suddenly aware of a new alternative, thus entirely restarting their research process.

A new model of conceptualizing this non-linear journey is the SEE-THINK-DO-CARE framework.

See-Think-Do-Care Framework

The SEE stage audience is the largest possible set of potential customers for your product or service. Most if not all people in this stage have not yet seen the brand, hence the goal of this stage is to get the audience to become aware that your brand exists.

The THINK stage audience is a subset of the SEE stage audience that has moved to a state of weak commercial intent. The goal of content in this stage is to move this audience to consider your brand as a solution to their problem.

The DO stage audience is a smaller subset of the THINK stage audience that has moved to strong commercial intent. Here, the goal is to get the audience to take action. Conversions in this stage usually have some real or estimated monetary value, such as a purchase or consent to be contacted by a salesperson.

Finally, the CARE stage audience is the group of people who are already customers, whether one-time or loyal. CARE’s goals are repeat purchase behavior, brand loyalty, and brand advocacy.

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Putting It All Together – Crafting Your Content Marketing Strategy

The goal of any Content strategy is to plan out what content should be produced and what goal it will serve.

The Content strategy is a clear yet flexible gameplan for what pieces of content you will produce, in what format, when/how often, and most importantly – why. HubSpot, one of the top authorities in content marketing, offers this guide to content strategy.

In short, a complete content strategy should address 4 main dimensions within each piece of planned content:

  1. The specific persona you are targeting and their position in the SEE-THINK-DO-Care framework
  2. The type and format of content that will be produced
  3. The marketing channels through which the content will be delivered and promoted
  4. The goals and KPI metrics for measuring success

Here’s what a final content strategy map might look like:

See, Think, Do, Care

Source: Alwaysbeinnovating.com

The first step in shaping your content strategy is figuring out what problem you are trying to solve for your persona on their journey. What is it they’re trying to accomplish, and how are you facilitating that?

Next, decide on the content format and the channels you want to use to promote it.

Ground your decision in your persona’s behavior. Are they listening to podcasts while commuting? Are they reading an article on their lunch break or researching a new project at work?

The distribution channel you choose will dictate the format and even the length of your content.

If you’re creating a video, for example, you need to know from the get-go whether you are going to share it on YouTube, on Instagram feed (1 minute-long), or via IGTV (up to 60 minutes long).

And, finally, your Content Strategy should address the goal you want to achieve with your content.

What do you want your audience to do after seeing your video or reading your blog article? Is the goal to get them to subscribe to your YouTube channel? Do you want them to follow a link to a landing page?

Once you have a clear idea of each content piece’s end goal, you can also assign the right KPI metrics and measure how it performs against them.

Content marketing’s primary goals are usually to inform, educate, and entertain, but not to sell; therefore, KPIs are engagement signals that indicate a positive, memorable brand experience. Other KPIs can include building remarketing audiences and email lists.

Before we map all this research into an actionable editorial calendar, let’s take a second and discuss how to plan your content pages with SEO in mind.

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The Pillar-Cluster Model

When planning content, it’s very important to know how you will create clear linking architecture between your website pages.

One of the best ways to organize them is the pillar-cluster framework. This is a structural model of organizing and interlinking pages on your website around thematic hubs, i.e., “pillar pages.”

As Google moves toward a more natural-language based understanding of content and topical authority on the web, this model gives Google the clearest signal as to which broad topics a website has authority on.

Once Google acknowledges and assigns topical authority to a certain domain, rankings and traffic will start increasing to that domain’s “cluster” pages due to their relationship to the pillar pages.

Here’s a great video from HubSpot explaining this theory in more depth:

For planning pillar and cluster topics, it’s best to start with a broad topic and decide on the pillar page structure and content. Next, research and brainstorm all related subtopics within the pillar and plan separate pages for them.

When mapping out your content calendar, it’s also important to consider whether the page you are creating is a pillar page or a cluster page.

Ensure that pillar pages link to all related cluster pages, and that cluster pages link back into their parent pillar pages.

As an example, the page you are reading now is designed as a pillar page.

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Content Editorial Calendar Template

Once you’ve done customer persona and journey research, and you’ve considered the types, formats, and channels you want to use to communicate your message, it’s time to put it all together.

The easiest way to organize your content marketing workflow and planning is to create an editorial calendar. This maps out themes and topics for the weeks and months ahead.

The content calendar should address all the key dimensions that you want to assign to your content pieces: which persona does it speak to, in what format, published on which platforms, and with what purpose.

This editorial calendar and content strategy are agile. They are meant to be tweaked and updated as you monitor the performance of published content, readers’ feedback, and your own business goals.

Editorial Calendar Template

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Start Your Content Marketing Campaign

Now that the content marketing plan is ready, you can start doing research for the individual pieces you’ll be creating.

No matter what type of content you’ve decided to produce – video, blog post, category page, or other, your first step is to identify the keyword opportunities.

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Keyword Research – Demand, Competition, Relevance, and Intent

Keyword research aims to discover the most attractive search keywords that can be targeted with content. The goals of your research are to:

  1. Discover potentially profitable keywords.
  2. Understand the searcher’s intent around a keyword.
  3. Decide which keywords NOT to target, based on irrelevance, weak intent, high competition, or low volume of searches.
  4. Get inspiration for new content ideas based on what people are already looking for.

Keywords and their attractiveness to web publishers are generally categorized based on 3 factors:

  1. Search demand, or the number of searches performed every month for a particular keyword, as well as the anticipated click volume potential.
  2. The level of competition and SEO ranking difficulty associated with the keyword.
  3. The relevance of the keyword to a particular business.

There’s a well-accepted concept among digital marketers, called the keyword demand curve. It has 3 areas:

  1. The head, consisting of extremely popular, highly competitive, often shorter search queries.
  2. The ‘chunky middle,’ consisting of medium level search volume, and difficulty. Queries here start getting slightly longer and more specific.
  3. The keyword ‘long tail,’ containing a nearly infinite number of unique, long, and highly specific search terms that have very little search volume individually but collectively outnumber the search volume contained in the head and chunky middle.
The Search Demand Curve Graph

Source: Ahrefs

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Identifying the Searcher’s Intent

Even if you’ve identified the best keyword opportunities based on these metrics and dimensions, your content might still fail if you fail to match the search intent.

That’s because search engines try to return content in the formats, structure, and style that best satisfy the searcher’s question or goal. A classic example of search intent is this SERP for the search term “apple”:
Apple SERP

While the user just might be looking for fresh produce, chances are they’re actually typing Apple’s brand in the search bar.

The searchers’ intent is broadly divided into 4 types: informational, navigational, consideration, and commercial. You’d want to use informational and consideration-type queries for your SEE-stage content, and commercial ones on your landing/product pages.

So, how do you find out what the searcher’s intent is? The best way is simply to look into the top 3-5 ranking pages for your focus query and analyze their content.

These top results – their depth of coverage on the topic, style, and format – all signal Google’s attempt to satisfy the searcher’s intent.

Do you see informational or transactional pages? If most of the top-ranking results are transaction-oriented, such as sales offers and e-commerce pages, an informative blog article probably won’t rank. Perhaps you, too, need to create an offer-based landing page to target this search term.

If a video shows up as the featured snippet, it’s a clear signal you should consider creating video content.

If the SERP is dominated by blog articles structured as lists, such as “Top 9…” and “Best free…“, it might be smart for you to create a similar page for your niche market.

Here is an example of a SERP that is dominated by listicles:
Search intent listicles

More on how to satisfy the searcher’s intent in this video by Moz:

Searcher Satisfaction

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Get a Free Keyword Research Template

There’s no shortage of tools that can be used for keyword research, and with so much data to absorb and analyze, it’s helpful to have a spreadsheet that organizes it all.

Here’s a link to Hop Online’s keyword research template that you can copy and start using.

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Keyword Research for YouTube Videos

Keyword research is vitally important when creating video content. To get the best results from your video marketing campaign, you should first identify the best keyword opportunities.

There are a number of ways you can do that, some as easy as using YouTube’s autosuggest feature. Similar to Google’s autocomplete function, when you start typing a phrase into YouTube’s search bar, you will see a list of related keywords showing up. These are based on other popular searches, which makes them a great source of keyword ideas for your videos.

You can also use keyword tools, Ahrefs or Keywordtool.io, for example, that have large datasets on YouTube keywords. Simply select YouTube as your search engine in the tool, plug your core keyword in the tool, and make a list of your keyword ideas.

Ahrefs

Another way to identify quality keywords for video content is by using Ahrefs’ SERP feature filter. This way, you can select only phrases with video results in the Search Engine Results Page, meaning that Google is already ranking video content for that query.

Ahrefs - SERPs

Other options include tools explicitly developed for YouTube optimization, such as TubeBuddy, as well as YouTube Analytics itself.

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How to Write a Content Brief

The content brief is where all your research findings should take shape, resulting in clear guidelines for the content creators. The clearer your brief is, the closer the end result will be to what you’re aiming to achieve.

How to write a content brief

A comprehensive content brief should contain the following information for the writer:

  • Topic description
  • Target persona, her pain point/goal that the piece addresses.
  • Brand guidelines – brand voice, instructions on the choice of visuals, and styling the content.
  • Content format (article, blog post, video, infographic, sales landing page, webinar, podcast, etc.).
  • Main goal of the piece, i.e to inform, educate, or move to purchase.
  • Stage of the SEE-THINK-DO-CARE journey the reader is in.
  • Product/service or page this content is supporting.
  • Target length of the piece.
  • Primary SEO keyword and secondary/related target keywords.
  • Call-to-action (CTA) telling the reader where he/she should go next after reading the article.
  • Page title of up to 65 characters in length, as well as a suggestion for the title of the article (H1).
  • Meta description of the piece up to 165 characters in length
  • Outline, containing all subtopics/subsections the content should cover.
  • Format style that will match searcher intent, as evidenced by current top rankings pages(e.g., listicle, how-to guide, etc.)
  • External links to other authoritative sources that can be referenced as citations (for text-based content).
  • Internal links to other related pages on your site and/or product pages.

To write out your content brief, you need to put in use your search intent and keyword research findings. Use your primary target keyword in the title of your content piece. Make the best use of the related keywords and popular questions by structuring them as subtopics. Incorporate variations of your primary keyword in the section headers. Avoid overstuffing the brief outline with keywords, though, just make sure you cover the topic in-depth and satisfy the searcher’s intent.

Always keep top-of-mind how you’re going to communicate your unique value proposition. With so many people offering answers, how do you stand out? Is it the fact that you have a decade of industry experience? Or that you’re new to the market and have a fresh perspective? These will dictate your brand voice and message.

Lastly, tell people upfront about what they’re going to get out of your content. At the end of the day, when you’re asking people for their time, you’re asking them to commit, and it needs to be worth their while. Make it very clear what the direct benefit to your audience actually is – state it in the title and meta description. If not, the reader may not make it past the opening paragraph.

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Download a Free Content Brief Checklist

To make your life simpler, we’ve put together a content brief template that you can download and start using today. It’s a checklist of all the necessary elements you need to include in your content guidelines.

Content Brief Checklist

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How to Write a Video Content Brief

To scale video content production for your brand, you first need to have a solid creative brief template. The clearer your goals, ideas, and expectations are, the better the final result would be.

So, how do you write a clear and extensive, yet short video brief? Much the same way you’d go about your text-based content. Here are the 10 things that you need to include:

  1. Why do you need the video?
    Define your goal. Are you creating a brand awareness video, for example, or want lead generation for a specific product? Do you want an explainer video, or do you need it to support a product launch?
  2. Who is your target audience?
    Specify the persona, their pain points/goals, and where they are in the SEE-THINK-DO-CARE framework.
  3. What do you want to say? Define the core message of the video.
  4. How do you want the viewer to feel?
    Describe what you want your viewers to think and feel. If possible, list videos that are similar to what you want to express.
  5. Where will you find your audience?
    Decide on the distribution channel and video length. The platform will define the specific format and length – a 6-second Bumper Ad on YouTube would look very different from a 30+ second video on IGTV.
  6. Share your brand guidelines.
  7. Define the keyword opportunity for video optimization. The primary SEO keyword should be in the video title and description.
  8. List your ideas on ways you can repurpose your video.
  9. State your budget. The video production team will know what they can do realistically and within your budget.
  10. Set a deadline.

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Content Optimization and Repurposing

While publishing fresh content regularly is a must, you should also take the time to revisit the content you’ve already produced. There are multiple benefits in updating and optimizing old content – you can provide a better user experience, boost page traffic, click-through rates, and rankings.

SEO content optimization comes down to analyzing your current pages and dramatically improving them for web crawlers and users alike. In a nutshell:

  • Select pages with the highest potential for improved performance through optimization
  • Redefine searcher intent around the primary topic
  • Revisit keyword research around the topic
  • Optimize the page title and meta description to make it more enticing for the user to click on
  • Expand the page’s content to cover all subtopics addressed in other top-ranking pages
  • Add internal links to the page from other authoritative pages on your website
  • Improve your Call-to-Action to better match the user journey
  • Re-launch social media advertising for the updated page

Similarly, it’s very much worth your time to go through your evergreen content and consider different ways you can repurpose it.

Repurposing Content Chart

For example, you could create a video based on a popular blog article, or vice versa – transcribing a video to create a blog article.

Text-based content can be repurposed into infographics and podcasts, while visual assets and videos are great for social media content. Recreating the same idea into various content formats to use for different channels is an easy and cost-efficient way to create more content, faster.

Here is an idea on how you can repurpose your video content, courtesy of the Video Island Podcast:

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The Era of Great Web Content Is Finally Here

If you take away nothing else from this content marketing guide, remember this – empathize with your reader.

Write content that covers a topic in-depth, answers all related questions, and Google will reward your page with high-quality traffic from lots of keywords you may not have even planned for.

Our job is to build great content that adds value to the web, and trust that Google will discover it, understand it and reward it with traffic. This is the implicit agreement between the world’s largest search engine and web publishers that justify its existence.

So go forth and create great content for your readers!

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