By Justin Biel, trends editor at Grow Wire
⏰ 12-minute read
- Research suggests content marketing has the power to drive business growth with a higher success rate and lower cost than traditional marketing.
- Alli Berry, SEO lead at The Motley Fool, shared tips on creating a content strategy for search engine optimization at Denver Startup Week 2019.
- Her presentation provides a roadmap for companies hankering to start or sharpen their content marketing efforts via search.
Wise production and distribution of content can drive business results. In a recent study of 50 companies that publish content across six industries, content marketing produced three times as many leads per dollar as paid ads.
The Content Marketing Institute found that 64% of B2C companies and 93% of B2B companies have committed to a content marketing program. However, to make the most of these content marketing efforts, an established content strategy is essential.
Alli Berry is the SEO lead at The Motley Fool, a multimedia financial services company. Berry has a decade of experience in SEO at top agencies like Performics and private companies like Kaplan. She is an award-winning publisher for Moz Blog and was honored at the Women in Content Marketing Awards (WICMA) this year.
At Denver Startup Week 2019, Berry gave attendees an inside look at an expert content marketing program for search engine optimization. We’ve summarized the eight steps of her program below.
Berry described content as "an element that informs, entertains, enlightens or teaches people who consume it." Content can come in any form – text, video, imagery or audio.
A company blog, social media profiles, marketing videos and podcasts are examples of distribution channels for content.
Content marketing is the creation and sharing of content to an intended end consumer with the goals of providing value and prompting action.
"Content is any element that informs, entertains, enlightens, or teaches people who consume it.”
Content strategy for SEO, specifically (the kind of work that Berry does, which many content marketers prioritize) aims to increase the likelihood that users will click on your content after Googling (or Bing-ing, or Yahoo-ing) a specific term. The process is similar, but not the same as, engineering content that’s intended to catch fire on social media (i.e. an article designed to win Facebook shares or retweets) or drive click-through from a company newsletter.
While many tips in this post can carry over into content strategy for social media and other platforms, we’ll focus on making your website’s content rise to the top of search engine results.
Berry covered three primary benefits of building a content strategy:
"It's important to get aligned with your team around company goals and then define how content can contribute to achieving them," said Berry. Otherwise, you’ll be left unsure of whether your content is remotely poised to actually increase sales (or achieve any other business goal).
A content strategy helps avoid willy-nilly production and lets teams know which audience(s), topics and types of content to create, Berry said.
Too often, content production in companies falls by the wayside. But, "the second you write something down and have a due date on it, suddenly people are more motivated to get it done … ," said Berry.
"Get aligned with your team around company goals … then define how content can contribute to achieving them.”
Step 1: Set business goals.
Berry stressed that every content plan should be based on business goals. These vary from company to company, but some examples include acquiring new customers, retaining existing ones and growing revenue through sales.
- Each content marketing campaign should aim at a particular customer segment and support broad business goals.
For example, "at The Motley Fool, we’re trying to reach new customers, particularly women and a younger audience," said Berry. "We’re focused on those demographics from a content perspective, but [acquiring new customers] is the business goal driving that mission."
- It often takes multiple content marketing tactics to reach a single business goal.
For example, if you're looking to acquire new customers by driving more organic website traffic, Berry recommended a mix of search-optimized content, guest posting (publishing on someone else’s blog that has an audience you want to connect with) and amplification through paid ads.
The business goals of retaining customers and driving revenue, meanwhile, require a different mix of content and amplification techniques.
Understanding the broad applications of content strategy to drive results (in other words, reading the rest of this article) will help your business create the right combination of tactics for its goals.
"The idea is to set your business goals first, then figure out how your content can best support them," said Berry.
Be cautious of the temptation to work the other way around.
Step 2: Find your audience.
To generate compelling content, you need to know your audience. First and foremost, explained Berry, you need to know that "you are not your target audience."
"You are not your target audience."
To define your target audience, think about the pain point your product solves and who has those pain points. (Oftentimes, your target audience is anyone who’s a customer. Other times, it’s a narrow segment of customers, a prospect, etc.) Then, learn more about the pain points your target audience faces. Your content should help them overcome those obstacles.
How to identify your target audience’s pain points:
Berry highlighted internal departments such as customer service, sales, product, social media and tech support as great places to glean insights about pain points. Each of these departments has direct interactions with customers and knowledge about the challenges (pain points) at different stages of a customer's journey.
Listen to conversations on social media.
Do qualitative research.
Send surveys to customers.
Conduct keyword research with SEO tools. (More on that later.)
Case study: The Motley Fool -- addressing the pain points of recent college grads
Berry gave an example of a campaign for which The Motley Fool considered recent college grads a critical audience. To develop content to reach this demographic, the team first identified the audience’s pain points. Then, it determined what the college grads needed, or “the job to be done,” to relieve those qualms.
Pain points -- The Motley Fool found that graduating students face large student loans, a rising cost of living and a lack of knowledge about how to navigate finances.
The job to be done -- When students graduate college, help them learn how to manage money so they can afford to live on their own.
A content strategy to address the pain points and accomplish the job includes articles, videos and social media posts that cover a variety of topics*:
- How to get out of student loan debt in 10 years or less
- How much of your income should go towards housing?
- How to build a budget
- How to negotiate your first raise
- How much income to put away for retirement in your 20s
*That topic list is not exhaustive.
Your company should create unique, authentic content that stands out from other brands’. This is not always an easy task.
To find the unique nature of your content, Berry recommended asking a question: If your content disappeared from the earth, would anyone miss it?
"If your content disappeared from the earth, would anyone miss it?"
Another way of putting it: Find the crossover between your brand’s knowledge and the target audience’s pain point. Berry recommended writing your brand’s knowledge areas on one side of a sheet of paper and your customer’s pain point(s) on the other. Their intersection is your brand’s unique content angle.
When it comes to content, Berry stated that you shouldn't try to be everything to everyone. Spotlighting what makes your brand different allows it to stand out and attract your target customers.
Case study: Apple -- innovative technology and simplicity
Berry cited Apple in her presentation, mentioning that the brand is all about innovative technology and simplicity. This unique angle is reflected in the content Apple produces.
Apple’s unique brand angle is at the cross section of innovative technology and simplicity.
Berry noted that Apple’s homepage is “a beautiful image and then a single word: phone."
It works perfectly for Apple, she continued: "They know who they are as a brand.”
Berry described keyword research as "the process of researching how people search for particular topics or concepts utilizing tools for SEO."
The goal of keyword research is to identify the language that your target audience uses to describe its pain points, which your company solves. Then, you can use that language in your content.
Free keyword research tools include*:
- Keywords Everywhere (a Chrome and Firefox browser add-on)
- Ubersuggest (from online marketing expert Neil Patel)
- Google Trends
Here's an overview to aid in determining which option is best for your company.
Ubersuggest is a free tool by Neil Patel that helps with keyword research.
Berry stated that there are many free keyword research services, but "[paid tools] are, quite frankly, worth the money."
Paid keyword research tools include:
For every high-level keyword, or seed keyword, that you determine relevant to your target audience, develop several supportive posts that dive deep into the subject, Berry stated. A mix of content that utilizes seed keywords (broad terms for which search competition is high) and long-tail keywords (more detailed, specific searches) is the best way to build your SEO authority.
Case study: The Motley Fool -- identifying content marketing keywords for "student loan debt"
Using the keyword “student loan debt” as an example, Berry illustrated how a seed keyword can break into multiple topics such as “student loan consolidation,” “student loan calculator,” “average student loan debt,” “how to pay off student loan debt” and “how to refinance student loans.”
Content that addresses the seed keyword and each of these secondary, long-tail keywords will resolve a wide variety of pain points for graduates dealing with debt and help drive search traffic to The Motley Fool.
Student loan debt is the seed keyword, or hub, in this diagram, and the spokes represent associated long-tail keywords.
Berry simplified her takeaways for managing bulk keyword research and subsequent content production in four points:
1. Do your keyword research.
2. Export all keywords into a spreadsheet.
3. Prioritize topics based on target audiences.
4. Plug into an editorial calendar. (See step 7.)
Berry's three takeaways for choosing content formats:
1. Research what's working for your competitors.
Because there are so many content formats available, Berry recommended researching competitors’ content to determine which format -- be it videos, articles, a piece of original research, etc. -- your target audience consumes most.
The process here is simple: Use Google to input questions that relate to your customer pain points and target keywords, and see what pops up. The format of top-ranking content can be considered the type consumers prefer for that particular keyword. (But “don't be afraid to test new content formats," said Berry.)
2. Understand which types of content are realistic to produce based on your resources, time and skill set.
"It's also good to think about your time, resources and budget when it comes to creating content," said Berry.
Based on the state of your business, certain formats might make sense over others. Content like articles, blogs and video (shot on your phone) are relatively easy to create, for example. Developing apps, games, quizzes or calculators is more complicated.
3. Document this information to incorporate into the rest of your content strategy.
Keep this vision top of mind when forming and executing the rest of your plan.
A note on content production: With the format selected, you can get to work creating your content. Content creators can be members of your team, outside agencies or freelance employees that specialize in a particular content form. Content production is a huge topic -- stay tuned for more about it.
A distribution or amplification plan is crucial if you want audiences to see your content. There are both free and paid tools that amplify content.
Free methods Berry mentioned*:
- Optimizing for search
- Posting on social media (also called “organic social”)
- Guest posts or interviews (allowing guests to post on your company site, for example, creating potential for traffic due to the guest sharing with their followers)
*Again, these lists are not exhaustive. And again, some of these methods (i.e. optimizing an article for search) will increase your SEO authority more than others (i.e. posting an article on social media).
Paid methods include:
- Google, Bing or Yahoo ads (“paid search”)
- Social media ads (“paid social”)
- Sponsored content (paying another publication, influencer, or brand to create content that promotes yours)
- Press releases (the circulation of which often comes with a fee)
Again, you will likely use multiple amplification methods in the “content push,” and your budget will determine which you use. Your business goals can also influence which amplification mix is best.
For a new company whose business goal is to drive brand awareness, Berry suggested the following amplification methods:
The business goal of driving brand awareness for a new company requires a mix of amplification techniques like press releases and optimization for search engines.
For a new company looking to drive lead generation, Berry suggested a different mix of strategies:
The business goal of lead generation requires its own unique mix of content amplification techniques.
Step 7: Use an editorial calendar to manage content rollout.
Editorial calendars for your search-optimized content should include the following information:
- Publish date for the piece of content
- Target keywords addressed in the content
- Main points
- Product line (which product line, service or seed keyword the content is supporting)
- Target audience
- Call to action (CTA) (what your content prompts the audience to do next: learn more, buy this product, enjoy the next piece of content, etc.)
- Amplification channels
As a second step, put the information into a project management system. Berry and her team use Trello to manage individual tasks related to content production and distribution.
"This is especially valuable if you have a lot of people involved in the editorial process," said Berry. "Whoever keeps track of the content strategy should know where all the content is at any given time."
Other task management systems that work for this purpose include Asana and Monday.com.
Optimizing a piece of website content for search is a precise dance.
After publishing, always track your progress. For search-related efforts, one of the simplest ways to do this is reviewing metrics in Google Analytics.
There are several key metrics to review:
- Page views
- Email leads/registrations
- Pages per session
- Time on page or scroll depth
- Bounce rate
Your targets -- in terms of specific volume of page views, etc. -- will depend on your company’s size, business goals and more. Goal setting, a tool in Google Analytics, allows you to compare website traffic to customer behavior, added Berry.
For content campaigns in which you're sharing links across multiple distribution channels, Berry stated that you should use Google’s Campaign URL Builder. Adding information like source, medium, campaign, term and content, you can track the success of your overall campaign against previous campaigns you’ve run in Google Analytics.
The bottom line
Content marketing for SEO is one of the most effective ways for a company to achieve business goals and connect with its target audience. However, creating an effective content marketing plan for search is no small feat.
Berry's eight steps provide a roadmap for any company hoping to get the most out of its content marketing efforts. Stay tuned for more from Grow Wire on this topic.