Many small-business owners don't benefit fully from content marketing. Some never start on content marketing, others don’t take it seriously enough to get results, and still others give up too soon. Often, busy entrepreneurs think they don’t have the time to do content marketing or don't understand how easy it is.
The reality is that content should be a huge piece of your overall digital marketing strategy. Valuable content can help you find a potential customer long after you pause your paid campaigns.
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Once you know the basics of content marketing, you’ll be able to jump right in and start enjoying a steadily increasing flow of new customers.
The internet has made it possible for any business to enjoy the many benefits of attracting the right customers without spending too much on advertising. The secret is creating the best content - or having it made for you.
When you put out the best information for your customers - information they need and are actively looking for - the perfect customers come to you ready to buy. And they tell their friends.
Content marketing actually works very well. The Content Marketing Institute reports that 60% of content marketers say content marketing gets customers, 70% say it helps educate people, and 60% say it builds loyalty.
Small businesses have two huge advantages over big companies when it comes to content marketing:
- One piece of exceptional content can double or even triple traffic and sales, because it’s a lot easier to get a significant increase when you’re starting.
- You can display your small business personality. Customers want to connect to real people. It’s difficult for a Toyota or a General Electric to show a believable, personal face. But you are your business.
Having a working knowledge of content marketing and how to do it effectively will help you succeed.
In this guide, we’ll share:
- What content marketing is all about
- The types of content so you can choose what’s best for your business
- How to create a content marketing plan to give you focus and direction
- Content marketing examples that work for you to copy
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What Is Content Marketing?
“Content isn’t 'stuff we write to rank higher' or 'infographics' or 'long-form articles.' Content is anything that communicates a message to the audience. Anything.”
Ian Laurie, veteran content marketer
Content marketing is about making content that has the information your customers want and are searching for. To get the benefits you want, content needs to be:
- The most valuable information source available
- On the content distribution channel your customers frequent
- Optimized for search
While people consume your content, they learn about you, which makes it a strong way to market to them. Great content establishes trust, brand awareness, and loyalty while it grows your customer base.
Your content could be a selfie of your customer eating in your restaurant or using your product or service. It could be a series of blog posts explaining how to do something or solving typical problems that people in your field often have. Or you could record yourself talking or interviewing an expert for a podcast. Even social media posts and emails count as content.
You don’t even need to create the content yourself. You can hire a professional to make content for you. Or you can curate content, which means you use someone else’s content with attribution and permission.
Whatever content you produce, it has to be discoverable by being where your customers live on the internet. If the people you're trying to reach live on TikTok, posting on Facebook won't help you much.
A good content strategy will focus on your target audience and also help you to find people that maybe didn't realize they needed your product or service.
Content marketing is valuable for all business verticals from HVAC marketing to legal marketing.
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How to Make Your Content Findable
Before we get into the different types of content, how to create effective content, and where to publish it, let’s talk about how to help people find your great content.
Know Your Customer
The first part is knowing everything possible about your target audience. You’ll need to know how old they are, their income, habits, interests, likes and dislikes, where they hang out on the internet, what problems they have, and - most importantly - how you're going solve their problems. This isn't far off from the information you would have for a traditional marketing approach, but slightly different in that you need to know the digital channels a potential customer might be on.
Writing all of this out will give you the information you need to make content that your customers are actively searching for and want to consume. Your content team will need to refer to this document often to create content that appeals to your customers.
Knowing your customer lets you become a trusted authority that people will want to buy from because you’ve shown that you understand them and can solve their problems.
Use SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
The term "search engine optimization" can sound very technical and complicated. It’s not.
You’re already using SEO every time you do a Google search. The words you type into the search bar to find information are called keywords. When the keywords you typed in match the keywords in a piece of content, Google shows that content to you. Content creators add keywords to their content so interested searchers can find it.
After you press enter to search the keywords you typed in, each of the choices Google shows you has a link that you can click on to access the information you want.
And that’s all SEO is - keywords and links. The keywords help customers find your content. The links let them get to your content. You need to build every piece of content you create around the keyword phrases that people search for and have links that help people get to it.
Your keywords need to go in the content title and throughout the piece. Your links to the content go in the emails and social media posts you use to promote your content. Google pulls information from your content to create the meta title, description, and link shown in the search.
Google can’t see inside of videos and podcasts. If you want these ranked, you’ll need to write a description using your keywords to help Google index you correctly.
Types of Content Marketing
Creativity is everywhere on the internet. Technology and marketers are creating new content types often, while established kinds are still helpful for small businesses.
Traditionally, blogs have been the center of successful content marketing strategy, and they’re still one of the easiest and most effective tools content marketers have. Blogs have evolved from only having text to also including images, infographics, videos, and more to keep their visitors' attention.
Video has now overcome blog posts as the most widely consumed content form. Podcasts are increasing in popularity, while vlogging and influencer marketing is also growing. Email continues to be a solid standby.
Here are some points to think about when you’re deciding what content types will work best for you:
- What content type is popular with your customers? People who usually watch short videos may not be interested in reading a long blog post.
- What can you afford to create? Nearly everyone can afford a freelance writer, but video production may be more expensive.
- What skills do you have? You can bring costs down if you can write, design graphics, or produce videos. If you can’t, you may discover that you get better content cheaper by hiring an agency or freelancers than by creating content in-house.
- What type of content are competitors using? When you research competitors, you may discover opportunities. If the competition is only sharing images on Facebook, but your customer profile shows that your people love short videos on TikTok, you can get ahead of the competition.
Video is now number one with consumers. It grows in popularity because it takes far less effort to watch a video than to read text.
Both long and short videos work well in the right places. A one-minute video in an email or social media post lets you show your personality and build awareness. Longer videos work well for unboxing, demonstrations, and tutorials.
Streaming live video is an effective way to connect with your customers in real-time. They can send in comments and questions while you educate and entertain them. Facebook Live is an excellent place to start.
Not all video production needs expensive equipment. Smartphone videos are popular because they give viewers a personal feeling of being there while you walk them through a house you’re showing, a construction site, or a process. You can also make conversational videos with your smartphone if you enjoy talking.
Vlogging works better than blogging to reach some audiences. Instead of writing blog posts, you create video posts. Statistia reports that over 40% of young women, and nearly the same percentage of young men, watch vlogs. The travel, fashion, and makeup industries have been quick to catch on to vlogging.
YouTube is still the best place to host your videos, because Google ranks YouTube videos higher, while ignoring video content from sites like Vimeo and Facebook.
Blog posts are the first content type that most people think of, and your blog should be the center of your content marketing efforts. There are many different kinds of blog posts, but all use the same general creation process:
- Research the keywords and the information you’ll need. Ahrefs can help you find keywords, while BuzzSumo is good for finding topics and trends to write about. Googling your keywords will show you what information is already available, so you can figure out what new information you can teach people about.
- Start writing. Posts have a headline that grabs attention, an introduction that tells readers what the post contains, a body that goes into detail, and a conclusion. Use your keywords throughout. Dividing your content into topics and using subheads helps readers find the information they want fast.
- Edit your post. Grammarly is useful for making corrections quickly.
You can get a good idea of your business’s most useful post types from your customer profile. A 60-year-old DIY homeowner will want how-to articles and home tool product roundups. A new mother will look more for advice on common problems with newborns.
When you tailor your content type to your audience, it’s easy to keep their attention and market to them. Here are nine of the most helpful post types for small businesses:
- How to
- Product roundups
- Product reviews
- Beginner guides
- Problem and solutions
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Including bulleted lists and visual content in your post breaks up long text walls and holds the reader’s interest.
Excellent visual content can make a dull subject pop, but stock images don’t hold interest as well as pictures of real people doing actual activities.
- People love to share infographics. A good infographic can show information on one page that would require many pages of writing to convey.
- Screenshots are perfect for illustrating tutorials about using computers and the internet.
- Virtual reality and augmented reality images are an emerging trend. Smartphones can now also take 360-degree pictures, which is a new avenue to check out.
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Busy people enjoy podcasts because they're easy to consume while driving, cleaning the house, or exercising. Podcasts aren't as challenging and are less expensive to create than video. They are also gaining popularity quickly. All you need is a good microphone and sound-editing software to start.
You can quickly produce:
- Educational material
- Interviews or discussions
An ebook is a popular giveaway to exchange for an email address. Having an ebook also makes you look like an expert. People start trusting you and getting to know you through your ebook.
Case Studies or White Paper
A compelling way to convince people of your expertise is to write a case study where your business solved a problem. Case studies work well for B2B businesses because their customers often search for ways to solve problems.
You can also decide to create a White Paper which usually has some
Email marketing and content marketing are the perfect pair. Content pulls people in to subscribe with their emails, which you can use to reach out for a number of marketing benefits, like:
- Informing customers about new content
- Educating customers
- Selling your products and services
Including images, infographics, and short videos in your emails makes it more likely for people to open and read them.
Now that you’re familiar with the most widely used content types, let’s dive into consistently creating the best content.
How to Create a Winning Content Marketing Strategy
Developing a written content marketing plan will keep your team focused on producing the right content to reach your customers and business goals. Your plan should cover these steps.
Setting goals keeps your team focused and gives you a way to measure the success of your content marketing efforts.
Common goals are:
- Growing an email list
- Lead generation
- Gaining new customers
- Growing customer loyalty
- Improving customer retention
When setting your goals, ask yourself what you want your content marketing to accomplish.
Build Customer Profiles
Creating profiles, or customer personas, for your ideal customers enables you to get inside them. Your content can speak to them directly when you know their desires, pain points, fears, interests, and demographics.
Knowing where they live on the internet lets you choose the best platform to reach them on. Knowing the content they enjoy most tells you what content type to create.
Check Out the Competition
Knowing what your competitors are doing helps you discover areas where you can beat your competitors. You can also rework the information they’re using and publish it in a different form to a diverse audience, but be careful to avoid infringing on any copyright.
Research Topics and Keywords
Ahrefs is a good paid keyword research platform. It will give you hundreds of related keywords for any phrase you enter. SEO writer platforms like InLinks and Surfer SEO also have good keyword and topic research tools.
Evaluate the Content You Already Have
Screaming Frog evaluates your website content. Analyzing your site shows you where you’re missing content about critical topics and keywords that you found in your research.
Google Analytics is free when you create a Google Ads account. It will tell you which of your pages are most visited. From this, you’ll know what topics and content types your customers like, so you can create more of the same.
Content marketing services - You can look for companies that can help evaluate your content for you or even create new content for you to improve your content marketing funnel. If you don't have the time or don't want to make the time for digital content marketing then a services company might we worth looking into.
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Evaluate Your Resources
What’s your budget, and what skills does your content team have?
You can always outsource content production. If you do, it may help to have a content director who will keep everything working smoothly.
Plan Your Publication Schedule
60% of the most successful companies use a documented content calendar. The rest would undoubtedly benefit from one.
Your publication schedule will help you:
- List your content's core topics to keep up a consistent flow of the best information
- Keep your team working together
- Coordinate your social media posts
- Give people a set time to expect your content
Create Your Content
Content creation processes, an established workflow, and standard tools for team members will keep content production flowing smoothly. Creating a content brief for every piece of content will ensure that you meet goals and maintain the high standard of quality that the internet demands today. Using freelancers or agencies can lower production costs and improve quality while keeping up a consistent flow of content.
Publish Your Content
Where you publish will depend on the content type and the best way to reach the customers you profiled earlier. Once you’ve published, think about the many different ways you can promote it:
- Post about it on social media
- Email your list
- Blog about it
- Use paid ads
- Post in communities
- Use a reward and referral system
Evaluate and Tweak
Establish how you’ll measure success in meeting the goals you set in step one. Here are some common content marketing measurements:
- How many pieces you publish in a week
- Website traffic changes
- New customers
- Rankings for the keywords you chose
Creating engaging content is a repeatable process. Each piece of content you publish grows your brand image and adds to your traffic flow. Keep at it, and you’ll soon have a profitable river of traffic.
Content Marketing Examples
Many small businesses are successful with their content marketing efforts. They all have these features in common:
- Content that speaks directly to their customers' problems
- Valuable insights that improve people’s lives
- Good use of SEO and proper placement to make them discoverable
We’ve collected these examples to inspire you with ideas for your content marketing.
“The most educational swimming pool blog in the country ...” is River Pools' claim. It backs this up with a learning center that holds hundreds of posts and videos answering every imaginable question about swimming pools.
A proven content marketing method is displaying your expertise while answering customers’ questions. If you can successfully answer questions, you become seen as the go-to person for any future questions. You gain followers, brand loyalty, and more customers.
Growing a knowledge hub as River Pools did takes time, but you can start by answering common questions one at a time, as they did. Each time you provide the best information answering a question, you gain another trickle of traffic until you’ve got a river.
The easiest way to find questions to answer is to ask your customers what they’d like to know. You can also use Answer The Public, a free online tool. Enter a phrase, and it will search the internet for every question people are asking about the subject.
This WordPress online giveaway plugin lets you exchange a chance to win a gift for an email address. Raffling your product or service helps you grow your email subscriber list, increase customer awareness, and collect valuable testimonials to use in your marketing.
Website visitors give you their email address to enter the raffle. Then, the plugin provides an incentive for them to share the raffle on social media. Word of mouth works fast to grow your raffle and email list.
RafflePress has used something as simple as sharing social media posts for successful content marketing. They’ve gained awareness and user, with now over 10,000 active installations.
Selling cloud computing services puts Digital Ocean up against some of the world’s biggest companies. To attract customers, they’ve created a resource hub of solid tutorials that draw traffic.
Digital Ocean’s tutorial content is successful because it provides real value to a group of people who influence customers. And Digital Ocean makes it easy to access their tutorials, not even asking for an email address.
Their goal is to build goodwill and brand awareness so that the professionals who use the tutorials have Digital Ocean at the front of their mind if they ever need cloud computing services.
Content Marketing Success for Small Businesses Is Attainable
Now that you understand what content marketing is, its benefits, and how to do it, your content marketing efforts can start bringing you more customers. If you don’t have the resources to create high-quality content, you can hire freelancers or an agency to help out. Using professionals may be less expensive, and you may get better content and results.