I’ve had content marketing for small business on the brain recently so I thought I’d write about it today. “Boy, there is a topic that hasn’t been covered recently,” said nobody in a long time.
Here’s the thing though, I think it’s one of those topics that is misunderstood and certainly evolving. Content creation has fallen squarely into strategy as far as I’m concerned. In fact I often call content marketing the voice of strategy.
Looking at your website, website’s structure, your SEO plan, and content or editorial plan, overlap significantly in the category of strategy, and while you have to address them in an integrated way, you also have to start thinking differently about content and how you’re going to use it to meet some of your business objectives.
Ever since the major algorithm changes that everybody talks about, the hummingbirds and the pandas, where low-quality content and dubious backlinks really got slapped, a lot of SEO people are really starting to come to realize that content is everything that drives that entire industry.
Then Google comes up with something called RankBrain. This is their artificial intelligence engine that learns not only about what people are searching for, but what they do when they find it, how they engage, how they dwell, and how they share.
In fact, one of the most important metrics or ranking factors in the future is going to be engagement. So creating your content around getting engagement is not only a good thing from an awareness and trust-building standpoint, it’s also a very crucial ingredient in how content is going to be ranked.
Towards the end of 2017 I created a guide for local marketing, because I wanted to create content that was specific to the challenges of getting a local business to rank or to get customers. By local I mean that they are in a community and most, if not all, of their customers, are in that community and interact by coming into their store, or their place of business, or that they go out and have a sales call with that person.
There’s a lot of content on local marketing. It’s a really hot topic right now, and with that guide, I was able to rank number one in Google for various search terms around local marketing in about two week’s time.
I have a lot of pages that are on page one, about 1700 last time I looked. So obviously I’ve got a tremendous amount of momentum, and so I’m not going to suggest that just anybody can do this.
There are a lot of terms I don’t rank for in this approach. Identifying a term, a problem and a challenge that a prospective client has, and then putting all of my energy into getting that content to rank, is what took me from, maybe page two or three to the actual number-one spot, and this now is generating significant traffic,links, and opportunities.
The key to anything we talk about with regard to content strategy is intent. What problems, questions, or goals does your client have?
Keep in mind that they’ll probably change along the way when they’re trying to find a product or a service like yours. To discover your customer’s intent, look at emails that you’ve sent. Talk to your sales or service reps. What questions are they answering?
It’s important to do keyword research, and SEO folks will still tell you that that’s step number one. I’ve certainly done a lot of education around this idea of how to do keyword research, and it’s important, but it’s a starting point only. If you stop there, you’re only going to get one piece. You’re going to optimize your content for keywords.
People aren’t keywords and their problems aren’t necessarily keywords. People may express problems in ways that turn into key phrases, but the content today has to be customer-focused. Go out and talk to your customers. Look at reviews. Look at your competitors. What are people saying?
Those are oftentimes some of the best markers, or clues, to find the real problems that people want to be solved. Many times what we find isn’t the stuff that we want to put on our website. It’s the little things.
Do you show up on time? Do you return my calls? Do you clean up the job site? Those are things that are real problems that you or your competitors are actually solving for their customers because they are turning up and voluntarily writing those words as though they are talking to another prospective client.
It’s some of the best content you can get, but don’t forget to talk to your customers and ask them a lot of questions as well.
Helpful tools for content marketing efforts
There are a couple of tools out there that we use all the time. Answer The Public is a relatively new tool where you can put in a search term and you’ll get all kinds of variations, ideas, and questions that people ask.
Questions are so great and so valuable because there’s a lot of intent. If somebody just types in a couple of words, “referral marketing,” for example, it’s not often easy to tell what their intent is, but if somebody types in “how to set up a referral marketing program,” it gives you a pretty good idea of what they’re looking to do.
We also use BuzzSumo which is another great tool that shows the most shared content related to your phrases. A lot of times the fact that people are sharing content means that it hit the nail on the head. It addressed a problem or answered a question.
I wish I could tell you that you’ll magically get five themes that will just be the perfect thing that you need to write about, but it’s not that simple. There’s a bit of art in this. I can’t always tell clients exactly what I’m going to find, but I always find it.
The last piece of this is that a lot of times people make the mistake of saying, “Well, we’re this kind of company, but the most popular content people want is X, Y, and Z.”
There are a couple problems with just choosing content that you think will be popular. It’s very hard to be customer-focused.
If you’re a business that serves a certain type of customer, but you’re choosing content because it’s popular but you aren’t an expert on the topic, or you don’t have a unique point of view about that content, you’re probably not going to produce something that is customer-focused.
After you do keyword research and talk to your customers, you’ve got to take your unique twist, approach, and expertise, and bring those to it so that it will be completely relevant for your customers.
Once you’ve done your keyword research, the next step is to create themes for your content. To come up with your themes, you must think in terms of a body of work, almost like chapters in a book, that you’re going to put your emphasis on, maybe for an entire month, and create content that will allow you to outrank competitors for key search terms.
You must stay very focused to do this.
Creating content packages
The best way to rank for any search terms is to know your customer better than anyone else and create, what I call, a content package to address your known client problems and challenges.
So what’s a content package? I’m going to go back to the local marketing guide example. I create a page, like The Ultimate Guide to Local Marketing, that becomes an actual core page on my site (not a blog post). I turn that page into a table of contents of sorts that includes all the major elements of local marketing.
From there, I create numerous posts that point directly back to that page, and I link them all together with categories, anchor text, and a little bit of theme magic in WordPress that allows me to display related content.
All of these pages, along with some useful curated content from some very high-domain authority sites, really create this depth of content that allows you to then rank for, in this case, key local marketing problems.
It’s like I’ve built this little wing on my website where the major jumping-off point is almost like a table of contents. You go to that page and there’s audio, video, and a whole list of links to other content that is related to a sub-category.
I’ve taken local marketing, I’ve broken it up into five sub-categories, and then those sub-categories blast out to all kinds of other content on my site.
The beauty of this is that I’ve now got a lot of content that I’d written in the past that I was able to bring to this, but going forward, I’ve got a lot of content that I will continue to write into the future, and I will link it to this page, so this page will continue to get updated and freshened up. If I do a webinar, maybe on local marketing, I’ll go ahead and put the archived video on the page.
While I targeted the key phrase “local marketing guide,” it is starting to rank for dozens of related terms because of the depth of that content. As a bonus, one of the posts for using Ad Words for local business, which is one of the categories, has also jumped to the number-one spot for related search terms.
The power of interlinking and building a table of contents or chapters-in-a-book approach is the most potent way to rank for content today as far as I’m concerned.
Now this may feel like a lot of work and that’s because it is, but the bar’s been raised, and those that jump high enough are rewarded.
These pages are generating significant traffic, links, and opportunities. When people come to the main page, there’s a lot to consume, so they stay on the page. Bounce rate is almost nothing because they click and dwell on those links, and they visit more links because it’s all woven together, so Google sees high engagement in this form of content.
In addition, these pages become tools for all of our advertising and lead generation efforts.
So what next? Simply choose more themes and repeat the process every month. After a few months, you’ve created a massive content machine that is focused on your ideal customers, expertise, and unique point of view, not keywords, which will assist in driving business and leads, not just spammy clicks.