The dozens of digital marketing channels, tactics, and strategies available today make it difficult to choose and prioritize where we spend our time and resources.
There’s search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click ads (PPC), social media marketing, video marketing, affiliate marketing — the list goes on.
The general consensus is that, no matter which channel you choose, content is still king, and with good reason. Great content serves as the foundation for all other marketing channels.
According to CMI research, companies such as John Deere, Microsoft, P&G, and Cisco Systems consider content marketing to be an important advertising tool. And 92 percent of marketers believe that content is a critical business asset for their organization.
Step away from the big names and you’ll discover that small businesses rely heavily on this marketing medium as well. Why? Because it drives proven results.
Traditional marketing strategies (merely pitching your products or services in the hopes of making a sale) are becoming less compelling by the minute; instead, providing truly useful and relevant content to your potential customers is a far better way to win them over.
What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is an advertising strategy based on creating and distributing consistent, relevant, and valuable content. This assists businesses in attracting and retaining a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, driving profitable customer action.
Profitable customer actions aren’t just limited to sales but include brand recall, reach, referrals, and word-of-mouth evangelism.
What Can Content Marketing Do For Your Website?
Content marketing democratizes the market’s attention and makes success possible for anyone willing to put in the work.
Think about it: if you’re a small business that puts together the absolute best and most authoritative content in your niche, no competitor can take that away from you (unless, of course, they improve upon your work).
Thus, the spoils go to the most consistently valuable content creators — and if you’re willing to put in the time, effort, and research into creating great content, you can outpace companies 2 to 3 times your size.
Content is also, by nature, not intrusive. It’s a volunteer engagement by the user, not pushed upon them (as in the case of ads or other forms of interruption marketing).
Here are some other benefits of content marketing for your business:
Creating useful, evergreen content that your target audience is looking for has the potential to rank high in Google, resulting in consistent search traffic growth for your website.
And, because all of this traffic is organic, it will continue to flow—at least for a while—even if you take a break from your content marketing efforts. The same cannot be said for paid ad campaigns, where traffic seizes the moment money stops.
It Helps Nurture and Convert Leads
Today’s consumers buy from brands they believe in. The question then becomes: how do you earn trust?
One of the most effective ways to nurture and convert leads into customers is to develop a “nurture funnel” of sorts using content.
First, they become acquainted with your brand. Then they learn about the solutions you’ve developed to help them solve their problems, why you’re the best solution, and, finally, become customers.
Marketers call this top-of-funnel, middle-of-funnel, and bottom-of-funnel content. Each has an important role to play in the customer journey. Top-of-funnel content isn’t designed to sell but guide the user to the next funnel stage.
Of course, marketing funnels can be built using almost any marketing channel, but content marketing is arguably one of the simplest and most effective ways to get started.
Types of Content and Their Benefits
As Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message.” In other words, it’s not just about the content of the content (we’re getting very meta here), but how the content is packaged.
With so many different types of content available, determining the best content mix for your company can be a daunting task. To help, we’ve compiled a list of the top seven content types and how to use them to drive growth.
1. Blog Posts
Running a business blog is one of the most popular forms of content marketing campaigns today. This is for two main reasons:
- There’s a low barrier to entry — If you already have a website, blogging will likely cost you nothing but time.
- Almost all content starts with the written word, and blog posts can be repurposed across multiple content channels and types.
But a blog in the 2020s looks a lot different than a blog from 2005. It’s not about documenting your life, your business, or “journal” style musings (unless you’re a celebrity of some kind).
A blog is only successful when you’re creating posts that engage and add value to your target customers.
Blogging is also one of the best things you can do to increase your organic search traffic and authority in Google’s eyes.
Google views websites with lots of well-crafted blog posts on a particular topic as having “topical authority.” Sites with topical authority have a much higher chance of ranking for customer search queries (including ones with purchase intent).
According to recent HubSpot research, businesses that use blogs specifically for content marketing are 13 times more likely to increase their ROI. Just don’t try to fool Google by stuffing your content full of keywords. The Google algorithm is very sophisticated and can detect these sorts of “black hat” shady tactics.
In addition to offering SEO benefits, blog posts can help position your website and business as an authority in your niche (and not just to search engines, but humans).
You can use it to respond to questions or teach concepts relevant to your audience. This builds their trust in your business and, as a result, increases conversions.
Types Of Blog Posts
So you’re convinced that you should start a blog. But what should you write about? The best way to discover ideas is to find out what your target customers are talking about online.
First, go to Google.com and type in your main keyword — something directly related to your business. Then, hit the spacebar. You’ll notice Google automatically populating certain phrases and questions related to your keyword.
This is a great way to get ideas for blogging topics.
You can take it a step further and look on sites like Reddit and Quora for subreddits or topics related to your business. These social platforms are often on the cutting-edge of ideas well before the data is registered in search engines.
Keep an eye out for questions and ideas related to your business and how you might be able to answer them.
Once you’ve got some ideas, it’s time to decide how to package your blog content. Here are a few of the most common types of blog posts you’ll see in content marketing.
Listicles (also known as “list posts”) are blog posts on a specific topic that are written and organized in a list format. This post you’re currently reading is technically a listicle.
One of the reasons Listicles are so popular is that they’re simple to read and scan. As such, it can be used as a framework to help simplify a complex topic. Even if there isn’t a list that naturally fits a given topic, you can make one by approaching the subject from a different perspective.
Listicles also work for many of the same reasons that traditional lists do – audiences enjoy reading them, so they’re a great way to get potential customers’ attention. Additionally, as with other types of blog posts, industry-specific core keywords can be naturally incorporated to boost your website’s ranking in search engine results pages.
For example, let’s say you’re an eCommerce store specializing in selling mountain biking equipment. In your content research, you find out that “best mountain bike trail in Colorado” is one of the top queries.
Rather than making a short piece of content outlining the highest-rate bike trail, you could take it a step further and write a listicle on the top ten best bike trails in the whole state.
2. Thought Leadership Articles
Many B2B marketers love to use thought leadership articles for content marketing.
This is why: According to a study conducted by LinkedIn and Edelman Digital, over 80% of C-suite executives and business decision-makers say strong thought leadership pieces increased their trust in a brand, and 51.5 percent cited it as a key factor they use to vet potential agency partners.
Thought leadership usually falls in the category of top-of-funnel (ToFu) content and isn’t designed to sell, but rather build trust.
While building trust through topical authority is most important in B2B sales (due to the long buying cycles), many B2C companies take advantage of this strategy as well.
The key to success is to provide the best and most researched answers to your customers’ most pressing questions about a specific topic. You must demonstrate a depth of knowledge, address your customers’ challenges, and offer solutions to overcome them.
It is important to note that thought leadership pieces should not be used for business promotion, or your audience will tune out, and you will lose the trust you have worked so hard to build.
Guides, also known as instructional content or how-tos, are blog posts written in the form of a tutorial. The overarching goal of this type of content is to provide an audience with in-depth process explanations (often in the form of step-by-step instructions) that will assist them in completing a task.
If you research a topic thoroughly, it’s only a matter of time before you run into an “ultimate guide” post. Whether it’s the ultimate guide to Facebook marketing, beer-brewing, or landscape photography, ultimate guides are extremely popular because they work well.
Guides are definitely longer-than-average posts, even spanning a series of posts depending on the depth of the topic.
The exact nature of your guide post will depend on your audience and your industry, but there are no limits to the topics you can cover.
It’s a lot of work, but these guide posts are often “evergreen” pieces of content that continually draw in traffic for your site.
Checklist blog posts are a mash-up of listicles and guide content. They are frequently written in the form of a list but contain information that serves as a guide.
The only difference between this type of content and the others is that the points are written to summarize key findings and are not meant to be comprehensive.
Checklist-style articles are popular in industries with highly detailed, repeatable processes. The advantages of this content style are that you get all of the lead generation clicks that listicles generate as well as the authority-building power of guides.
It is important to note that, even if points are summarized in this content style, it is still crucial to pack as much useful information as is relevant to your audience and industry in them. Here’s a great example.
This may appear to be an unusual addition to the list, as FAQs can be a powerful way to drum up qualified traffic (especially on new sites).
Once again, let’s turn to Google. If you search a keyword on Google, you’ll likely see a section called People Also Ask a few scrolls down the page.
These aren’t just made up by Google — these are real questions searched by real people. The best thing? These questions often have low search volume and low competition. Therefore, they’re excellent for newer sites looking to start with some less competitive queries.
If you publish blog content thoroughly answering all of those questions, you have the potential of ranking for all those keywords (not to mention you’re adding value and building trust with readers by answering their specific questions).
Remember to keep the answers short and to the point so that people can find the information they need quickly.
2. White Papers
As you can see, there’s no shortage of content types you can publish on your blog. But content marketing goes well beyond simply blogging.
White papers allow you to go into greater detail about a topic and are often supported by peer-reviewed research, expert interviews, and hard data.
They’re usually long-form, downloadable PDFs, ranging anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 words.
White papers also tend to play better in more professional, high-risk industries that value authoritative perspectives over opinions.
While they can take months of full-time work to organize and produce, white papers are highly shareable, non-salesy pieces of content that go a long way in establishing your authority in an industry.
According to this survey, approximately 79% of B2B buyers share white papers with colleagues.
Here are some great examples of how this is done:
3. Case Studies
We’ll now take a brief trip to the middle of the funnel (MoFu) for our examination of case studies.
Case studies are great because they’re not explicitly hard-selling prospects. They’re simply telling a story. That story just happens to be how your product or service helped a customer solve a real-life pain point.
Publishing testimonial content is so powerful for a myriad of reasons.
- It demonstrates social proof that your solution really works.
- It follows the hero’s journey and helps your prospect see themselves as the protagonist of the story and you as their guide.
- It motivates purchasing energy by prompting the reader to ask, “What if this could be my story?”
Case studies are often rich, multi-format pieces of content with images, text, graphs, and more. You want them to be engaging, but supported by real data. They can be converted to downloadable PDFs (thus, they work well as lead magnets) or built natively on your site.
Anytime you can get language from the customer about how your business has helped them, that’s pure gold. Every customer interview, review, or success story is a potential case study. Don’t neglect this powerful content type!
Podcasting for businesses has taken off like wildfire in recent years, and it’s not hard to see why.
Thanks to on-demand podcast streaming apps, listening to podcasts has become just as commonplace as listening to music. Half the time you see someone with headphones in during their workout session or morning commute, they’re listening to a podcast.
Have you ever gotten addicted to a podcast, binged all its episodes, and weirdly felt like you were friends with the hosts? I can’t be the only one. Written content can’t convey a sense of inflection, emotion, or personality. Podcasts can.
This emotional connection is a powerful tool, especially when you start talking about your products or services.
That said, podcasts are highly ToFu content and should always focus on adding value to the listener. No sane person would willingly spend their morning commute listening to you hard-sell them.
But the value of podcasts goes well beyond just giving readers another way to engage with your brand. If you do an interview-style podcast, you have the opportunity to not only meet but engage with some of the highest performers in your field.
Even if you are newer in your vertical, most people will likely say yes to an interview if you have any audience at all. Plus, let’s be real, who doesn’t enjoy hearing themselves talk about something they’re passionate about?
These often result in traffic and backlinks from your guests who subsequently share their episode. The more this happens, the more your site authority increases and your professional network grows.
According to an Infinite Dial Study conducted in 2018, consumers aged 25 to 54 are the most likely to listen to podcasts, accounting for nearly one-third of all listeners. Consider this statistic all the encouragement you need to start a business podcast.
If you need inspiration, just browse the business podcasts on iTunes or Spotify, or search your industry.
Email newsletters are excellent content marketing tools for strengthening relationships with current and prospective clients. They can help position your brand as a trustworthy source of information while also keeping your audience engaged and informed about company news, industry updates, your service, and your product.
Furthermore, when used as a tool to build a brand community around your business blog, it’s another effective way to increase website traffic.
Email marketing is a complex discipline that can take months or years to perfect, but much like your website, no third-party platform can take away your email list. Those contacts are yours forever.
Therefore, using content marketing in tandem with email marketing — one attracts leads to your list, the other maintains and nurtures your list — is a profitable one-two punch.
For a deep dive, check out our post on email marketing.
Here’s the truth: your customers are more likely to engage with a 30-second video clip than a long article, regardless of how well written it is.
According to Wyzowl, video downloads and streaming will account for 82 percent of global internet traffic by the end of 2022, representing an 88 percent increase from 72.3 percent in 2017.
This means that video has a significant impact on decision-making during the buyer journey and is an excellent tool for both small and large businesses. Over the last few years, video’s accessibility and ease of use have elevated it to the status of a must-use form of content marketing.
This principle is especially true if you’re in an industry with a lot of technical “how-to” questions. In fact, thanks to Google search now providing video results, almost every query that begins with “how-to” features video most prominently in the search results.
And no, this isn’t about becoming a YouTube star or going viral. Don’t worry about your subscriber count, views, or like ratio. This is about creating video content to support and enhance existing content on your blog. That’s what will truly set your content apart from the competition.
Video doesn’t need to be expensive either. If you’ve got a smartphone, some natural lighting, and expertise, you can start making videos today.
Then, as video becomes a larger part of your portfolio, you can upgrade your gear, and — who knows — maybe you’ll achieve YouTube stardom after all.
Infographics are highly-visual, aesthetically-pleasing presentations of data. Imagine if you took the driest, most bland Excel spreadsheet and turned it into something beautiful (while retaining the information).
This is what any infographic should strive for.
A little-known fact about infographics is that they’re also excellent for ranking in Google image search. Therefore, make sure you tag your images with a keyword-rich, description alt tag. It’s also not uncommon for infographics to go viral on visual social platforms like Pinterest or Instagram.
One Final Note
If you feel overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Content marketing is a massive topic, and we’ve just skimmed the surface.
If you’re struggling to know where to start, we’d recommend starting with a blog. Why? Because as mentioned above, it’s likely free and almost all content begins with the written word.
Then, as your content begins to take flight, you can analyze your highest-performing pieces and start adapting them across other types. The key is not to get hamstrung by “analysis paralysis,” but pick a content type and just start creating.
For more advice on small business marketing, eCommerce best practices, and inventory management, subscribe to the SkuVault blog today.