An effective content marketing strategy can generate leads, increase sales and establish your brand as a trusted online authority.

Note to self: trust and authority are key to online success.

The content you publish online should be credible, engaging and convince readers that you have the solutions they need.

Building an effective content marketing plan involves more than simply generating ideas. It requires a cohesive purpose that raises your online profile, attracts customers and outstrips your competitors. Brands should also be looking to produce a mix of content on a variety of platforms. Don’t limit yourself to your blog and social media networks.

Look at producing popular types of content such as:

  • Blog posts
  • Video (demonstrations, chat shows, news round-up etc)
  • eBooks
  • White papers
  • Webinars / Online presentations
  • Case studies
  • Podcasts
  • SlideShares
  • Infographics

This list is not exhaustive and the type of content you choose to publish will depend on your budget, how and where your audience is mostly consuming content and the topics you are addressing.

1 – Define Your Goals 

The first place to start with a content marketing strategy is to draw up a list of realistic objectives. Whilst your ultimate goal is to generate sales, the reality is that content sells very little.

The real power of content lies in leveraging your brand as a credible and trustworthy business. People read content to discover information that resolves their pain points.

Realistic goals for your content should, therefore, fall into the following categories:

  • Raise brand/product awareness
  • Build an audience / reach a wider audience
  • Establish your brand as an authority
  • Develop a brand personality
  • Streamline the sales process
  • Increase online conversions

2 – Identify Your Target Audience 

Before you even start thinking about the topics for your content, you need to consider who your audience is. What do they want to know and why?

Defining your audience helps you focus on the important factors your content requires. It’s important to remember you have more than one type of audience, each of whom has different needs.

Draw up a list outlining each type of customer you expect to attract. This should include location, age, interests, marital status, income bracket and pain points. You can get a feel for how to create a buyer’s persona here.

3 – Create a Content Marketing Sales Funnel

Given content is predominantly focused on providing your audience with relevant information, the content you create should be geared around prompting readers to take the next step at the right moment. Sales funnels differ across industries but the typical customer journey follows a four-step process:

Awareness – Evaluation – Decision – Purchase

The third step – decision – is arguably the most important for online businesses. By the time customers make a decision, you need to have inspired them to feel confident about buying from you.

Google defines the customer journey in micro-moments:

  • I want to know
  • I want to go
  • I want to do
  • I want to buy

You will find some good examples of how ‘brands are winning micro-moments’ on the Think With Google website.

Positioning content in the right place at the right time depends heavily on publishing your content on the right platform. Sometimes, this requires thinking beyond your blog. More on outreach later. Before that, we need to discuss generating content ideas.

4 – Brainstorm Content Topics

Once you have determined who your audience is and what they want to know at each stage of the customer journey, creating topics is far easier.

The core ingredient of your topics will be the message you want to deliver at each stage of the customer journey. What pain points will you address? How can you convince readers that you have the solution they need?

Consider the best possible ways of getting your message across through the various mediums of content mentioned above; blog, video, webinar etc. How can you leverage brand awareness and earn the trust of your audience?

5 – Develop a Voice and Brand Personality

Your brand voice and personality has a significant impact on how your audience perceives your brand. If the content you are publishing is lacking in quality, people will not like your brand.

They certainly won’t trust your brand!

To develop a brand voice, imagine your brand as a person. Then imagine the type of person your audience would trust. This conceptual approach gives you a visualization of how your personified brand would look and talk.

Then all you have to do is transfer the voice you have developed in your head on to your webpage.

Okay, I say that is all you have to do. Writing as you talk is more difficult than simply transferring your imagination on to a page. The key to effective writing is to imagine you are actually talking to your customer. Use words that brings your brand voice to life and are easy to understand. In other words, avoid using flowery language.

And don’t forget, you can always go back and edit a polished version, so don’t be afraid to spill your thoughts out via the keyboard.

6 – Optimize Content for SEO

Top-quality content is proven to perform well in search engines. And because search engines drive customers to you, they are arguably the most powerful marketing tool ever invented.

The issue most brands struggle with is first-page visibility. SEO optimisation, therefore, becomes a critical process in a content marketing strategy.

Key components of SEO are choosing relevant keywords and publishing in-depth content. Google typically favours content with 2000-words or more, have clear, headings that are well laid out and sentences that span no more than three or four lines.

Analyse the content of your competitors and determine why that page is ranking. Then apply all the rules above and craft superior content that is fine-tuned to the SEO-chorus.

SEO-optimised content should include:

  • Keywords in H1, H2 and H3 tags
  • Keyword phrase in the first 100 words, 3-5% density of body text and final paragraph
  • Engaging images with keywords in the alt-text field
  • Easy to read on mobile (well-spaced, short sentences etc)
  • Internal and external links
  • Reads naturally for human consumption

It’s worth noting the majority of metrics search engines use to rank pages relate to how users interact with the content.

For example, if readers stay on a page long enough to skim read the content, and then explore other pages on your website, these are strong ranking signals.

When creating content, bear in mind the user-experience.

7 – Create An Outreach Program

Outreach programs are an essential component for cultivating an effective content marketing strategy.

Publishing content on third-party websites gives you the potential to reach a wider audience and inbound links can help to leverage your search engine visibility. There are strict rules to adhere to, however. Search engines do not tolerate purchased links – so avoid low-authority domains that publish low-quality content. They are probably link farms.

Ideally, you should be approaching influencers in your industry. Influencers range from celebrity influencers and social media mega stars to micro-influencers. It is the latter category where SME’s will have the most success. Micro-influencers are recognised experts in their field – often through consumerism and personal interest.

Consumers are more inclined to believe a blogger that specializes in a niche area over a washed-up celebrity or Kardashian-type personality who use influencer marketing for making money. What’s more, micro-influencers have a ready-made audience for you to tap into. Their audience also trusts them which you can use to your advantage providing the influencer respects your product and your values.

It’s impossible for brands to exist online without an effective content marketing strategy. And if you’re not online it’s difficult to exist at all. Think about that!