Content marketing is a marketing strategy that uses content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience, and to convince them to take some sort of profitable action (also called a conversion).
I’ll be explaining why you should explore investing in content marketing (as part of your general marketing strategy) and breaking down 3 ways you can do it to increase your site traffic and your sales.
Why Content Marketing?
People are over ads. Just think of your own online behavior. When is the last time you clicked on an ad on Google or saw a billboard that you thought was cool?
Enter content marketing. Content marketing isn’t exactly new… in fact, it’s positively ancient.
A century ago, seed companies and farm suppliers like John Deere gave out almanacs to farmers. It was how they established relationships with their customers, found out their needs, and did long-term sales.
It’s 2019 and things haven’t really changed, except for the fact that content marketing is actually more suited to our digital age. The Internet is awash with attention grabbing headlines, which means no one even sees your ad unless they are looking for it (which is where Google AdWords comes in), or if it provides real value, which is what content marketing is all about.
Content marketing is also incredibly versatile. You can build an entire business around your content marketing efforts because it hits each stage of the funnel. It also integrates with nearly every type of advertising, from paid media to SEO, meaning you get more bang for your buck by creating great content to support your other marketing efforts.
So how can you put it to use? Here are three broad ways to approach content marketing:
Increase Reach & Awareness
One of the primary ways to use content marketing is to create content that gets you in front of new audiences. Basically, this boils down to creating unique and valuable content that’s broad enough to reach those who aren’t familiar with your brand.
Take this YouTube Channel by Jas. Townsend and Son, Inc. This content is broad enough that even someone who doesn’t know the brand can find it and even appreciate it. It fuels the “awareness stage” of the funnel (AKA, when someone learns about a brand).
When you’re using content marketing to increase reach and awareness, consider utilizing these three primary methods to achieve your goal:
By creating content that people are happy to share with friends on social media, you can expand your reach exponentially. Take the “This Girl Can” video from Sport England. This video went viral as thousands of people shared it across social media. Chances are, most of the people who came across the video had never heard of Sport England.
If you create content that ranks for broad topics that solve issues that correspond with your project, you’re reaching people that may not know you, but definitely have issues your business can solve. REI does a great job of this. They site provides resourceful content that addresses issues their target audience are trying to solve. So, when a hiker searches for “backpacking trips in the US” on Google, the top ranked content comes from REI – a brand.
By creating ads that are broad and applicable to a large audience, a brand can utilize advertising to expand their reach and audience scope. Think about Buzzfeed, which is funded solely with this business. They create epic content that goes viral on a regular basis, reaching a HUGE audience for their content and advertiser’s content, which exposes even more customers to brands (and Buzzfeed).
Increase Inbound Traffic
Content marketing it also useful for increasing inbound traffic. Inbound is just marketing jargon for being where your customers are. In terms of content marketing, it means putting content out there that brings people to your website, instead of throwing ads at them and interrupting whatever they’re doing (like YouTube video ads…). Let’s take a look at REI again and see how they do this through social, SEO, and advertising.
REI creates interesting and clickable stories that they share via their social media channels. This post about duct-tape hacks is a great example of interesting educational content that is applicable to REI’s outdoor enthusiast audience.
When it comes to advertising, REI uses content marketing exceptionally well. The brand was featured in AdWeek for sharing inspirational stories of dedicated campaigns as a new advertising campaign called “Every Trail Connects”.
The campaign highlights the strategic difference between inbound and outbound marketing: the inbound style here uses emotional content in order to connect with an audience, instead of making a cold sale to a potential customer through a paid media ad focusing on a big sale.
A third quick way to use content marketing is to create content that you can use to sell, reassure, or educate existing customers and visitors. This can come to life in three ways: through using retargeting, using on-site content, or using email.
When you retarget a customer, you’re reaching back out to someone who visited your site but did not convert. In terms of content marketing, this means using content to draw existing fans back. The content should be interesting and educational, and provide additional value that the customer didn’t originally find on your site. Perhaps you offer a special PDF download guide, or a webinar course that only few have access too. Whatever it is, make it valuable.
Getting customers to convert isn’t just something that happens outside of your site. You can actually use on-site content that educates or reassure high consideration visitors that they are making the right decision in doing business with you. This content can be customer testimonials, reviews, or third party references about your products and services.
Content marketing through email looks similar to retargeting in that you’re using it to serve content that brings customers back to your website. This email content can be anything — exclusive discounts for email list, advanced-access to a tool or educational video, or even a pre-sale announcement for a new product. The ultimate goal here is to get customers back on the site and to convert.
To get started, decide which of the above approaches has the most immediate and significant impact on your business. Then, start building that by creating educational, entertaining, and thoughtful content that aligns with your end goal.
Getting mentioned in a publication (aka PR) has tons of benefits from referral traffic to branding to long-term organic traffic growth. It’s a lever that can provide marketing returns well beyond your investment.
But “getting press” can be daunting. And plenty of agencies will help re-inforce that feeling.
There’s a role for PR professionals. But you don’t need to spend a lot of money on an agency to get press. Creating a PR campaign is not easy. It’s difficult, but it’s not magic either. In fact, the formula is fairly straightforward.
Write a pitch
Send it to a writer
They like your story & publish it
But in those simple steps bury some details. To run a successful DIY PR campaign, you’ll need to understand the process and create your own plan. That’s the goal with this post.
Let’s get started.
Step 1. Define Your Goal
A common misconception about building a PR plan is that the goal is to “get press”. Getting PR for PR’s sake is not a goal. It’s not a measurable outcome.
Instead, think of what you really want to achieve, and reverse engineer your PR strategy from there. For example –
Who do you want to get in front of?
If you want to reach a specific audience, you’ll need to focus on outlets that not only reach that audience, but also command high attention.
For example, young college-educated males who like hiking might browse Backpacker magazine every once in a while. But they might actually pay attention to Outside magazine or specific blogs like Andrew Skurka‘s.
Do you want broad awareness about your brand?
If so, you’ll need to pay attention to who reads & re-posts who. If you can get press in an outlet that other outlets re-publish, you’ll be much more successful at getting broad coverage.
Do you want to position your brand within the market?
If you get picked up by a general interest outlet, will that affect your boutique/elite branding? Does it fit with your target persona?
Are you looking to gain credibility?
If so, you’ll want to plan for the type of PR you want. For example, you’ll want to interviewed as an expert or have your original data cited.
Do you want to build links?
If so, you’ll need to prequalify your contacts to make sure their publication links out. There’s nothing more frustrating than investing hours and hours on outreach, follow-up, and interviewing to come away with no organic links.
Do you need to control your messaging?
If so, you might want to avoid outlets that have strict editorial standards. If a negative mention will be worse than no mention at all, you’ll need to keep that in mind.
All of these are PR goals, but they all have different methods in order to achieve them. Your goal defines everything. Without it, you can’t build a plan to begin with.
Step 2. Define Your Outlets & Writers
Once you have your goal, it’s time to nail down outlets and writers; specifically those that will accomplish your goal.
Start by figuring out the food chain of various outlets, or the type of content/stories they read and repeat. For example, if you’re targeting Upworthy, you know that positive and uplifting stories are their focus. Those are the stories that perform well for them and tend to get lots of shares.
The book, Trust Me I’m Lying, is an excellent resource on this approach.
You’ll also want to think about your outlets’ goals and how those align with your own. For an outlet like Upworthy, it’s going viral. They want to spread their story to as many people as possible. For others, it’s high engagement and exclusive rights.
Next, identify your outlets’ writers. These are the actual people who will write and publish the story.
What type of writer do you need? News, entertainment, financial? What type of content do these writers share? What’s the pecking order at the outlet? While the top writers may have more clout, those lower on the totem pole need to publish more stories. They’re more likely to run with a (good) story you supply.
Remember that their incentive is to get a topic approved by their editor – and get pageviews after publication.
For example, one of my best PR wins was identifying the junior staff writer at an outlet. She was responsible for the daily “fun & fluffy” type content. She was likely in constant need of fun, interesting & entertaining material.
My pitch made a lot of sense and got picked up immediately.
By identifying all of these things, you’ll start to formulate a hit list of the most relevant writers and outlets.
If you’re having trouble coming up with outlets on your own, try sorting through google news for the types of outlets/writers that relate to your story.
For example, if I want to garner awareness around my new sustainable dog bowls, I would search Google News for “sustainable dog products” to see the types of outlets and writers reporting on these topics and if they align with my product. If they do, I add them to my list of outlets and reports, which I keep in a spreadsheet.
You can use paid tools to find writers, but you can also learn to search more effectively on Google. For example, make good use of the inurl and/or intitle operators (e.g., “inurl:author”)
If you don’t want to do the heavy lifting yourself, check out the following tools:
Pressfarm: Gives you the contact information of 250 prominent journalists who write about start-ups.
Buzzsumo: Find the most popular articles on a certain topic, as well as prominent sharers (people who Tweeted the article).
Ahrefs: Use this to find inbound links for your competitors. Reach out to those outlets, too! You can also look for specific authors (and what content performs for them).
Alltop: Gives you the top ranking blogs for a specific topic. Remember to be very narrow in your search.
Keep in mind that when you’re doing outreach to achieve your PR goals, you could go the traditional spam — er… I mean, high volume pitch/PR wire route. Or, you could use the plethora of tools are your disposal to really learn about your outlets and writers, what they cover, and how to contact them.
In other words, you can send 100 templated emails hoping for a 1% conversion rate. Or you could send spend the time researching to send 10 emails with a 10% conversion rate.
Don’t forget something as simple as looking at their social media profiles. You can learn a ton about a writer based on what they share and comment on. Add notes to your spreadsheet so you can use this info to craft the perfect pitch.
Speaking of pitch…
Step 3. Define (or Refine) Your Story & Pitch
Here’s the thing: usually, people pitch the story they want to tell.
Nobody cares about your story BUT everybody cares about stories that educate, entertain or make their life better.
You need to create a story that will interest your target writer’s readers. This means doing your research and customizing your story to fit your target writer.
Distilled suggests looking at these different criteria to measure if your story will resonate with your target writer:
Timeliness: Is your story topical?
Impact: Does your story speak to a lot of people?
Prominence: Does your story feature a prominent person or issue?
Proximity: Are you targeting local news outlets for a local story?
Bizarreness: Is your story weird, or just plain out there? Will it get people talking?
Conflict: Are you standing up for something? Or conflicting a unpopular opinion?
Uniqueness: Are you doing something others haven’t?
Human Interest: Can you find someone to talk about your issue and put it into human terms?
Step 4. Define Your Pitch Process
Once you have your pitch, it’s time to figure out your pitch process. Arguably, this can be as important as the pitch itself, since writer’s have specific pitch preferences.
First and foremost: stick to email. According to OkDork, 81% of writers prefer this method for pitches. Some other important stats they mention? 88% of writers prefer emails that are 200 words or less, so keep it short and sweet.
Now, in order to stick to email, you need the correct email address. If it seems obvious, that’s because it is! But it bears repeating. When you research your writers and outlets, pay special mind to email information. Use tools like Voila Norbert, ContactOut, Find That Email or good ‘ole manual research to find the right email address.
When forming your pitch process, you’ll want to decide on what emails to send and when you send them. Okdork notes 69% of journalists prefer to be pitched in the morning. You can also check out when they’re active on social media, because chances are once that starts to happen, they’ve already checked their email at least once.
Now while most PR pitches include a short, templated email and a link, I’ve found the two step pitch works far better. The first step consists of sending a short email explaining what the story is and why they’d be interested. It does not include the link to view the piece of content. Instead, let them know that if they’re interested, you’ll pass it along.
If the writer is interested, send your piece along. You can also offer to create a custom intro to support your story if needed. If they don’t respond, follow up after 3-7 business days.
Keep in mind that with this approach, you need to be sure you have your story and supplementary material ready to go (such as media kit, references, bio, imagery, etc.). Make sure all of this is finalized before you start pitching, so you can have a quick turnaround for reporters who are interested in your story.
Step 5. Send Your Pitch
It’s time to send your pitch! You’ve already determined the proper times to send your email, but make sure you’re keeping your own availability in mind. Send your messages when you can be available to respond.
Also send and look for feedback from writer’s. If they’re not interested in the story, is there a specific reason they can point to? Is there a better time or way to communicate with them?
You’ll also want to customize your follow-up. If you sent a lot of emails, feel free to use a template. However, make sure the template can be tweaked to match the writer you’re sending it to.
If they send a fast, short response – then you should send a short, fast response.
Think through next steps in your follow-up. Anticipate additional questions. Try to concisely answer them to speed the process and make the writer’s job easier.
Step 6. Measure Success or Failure, Optimize
At the end of the day, all of this comes down to your goal (remember the first section at the beginning of this piece?).
As such, you’ll want to be sure you’re measuring success or failure in terms of that goal. If your goal was brand awareness, look at metrics such as unique visitors to your website or a specific product page you were promoting.
If you wanted to get in front of a specific audience, look at how your story performed and who is engaging with it. Do they match your audience?
Use this information to make changes and start on your next campaign!
Online advertising is an incredibly effective way to promote your business and attract a wide array of customers. Unlike organic marketing strategies, you can get started right now.
And unlike traditional advertising like TV, radio or billboards, you can advertise effectively through 100% self-service platforms. You can target any audience in any country through diverse platforms at any time.
But remember that your competitors can advertise as easily as you can.
How do you go beyond launching an ad campaign to making it even more effective and even more profitable?
There are tons of tips and tactics for every platform. But like improving your website speed – every tip that works for one person might not work for you.
Instead of a grab bag of tips, here’s the 5 step framework that you can use to improve your campaigns whether you are running ads on Reddit, Google, Facebook, Quora, DuckDuckGo or something completely different.
1. Understand Your Audience
This bit is marketing 101, however, truly knowing and understanding your audience doesn’t come from just evaluating what you know, it comes from evaluating the type of people you’re marketing to.
You can have the best ad creative campaign in the world, but if you are showing it to the wrong people then you’ll never truly improve.
Defining Who Your Audience Is
The first question isn’t too complex — who the are they? Are they CEOs of tech corporations? Are they home business owners selling on Etsy? Are they local small business owners?
Think about who you are really trying to do business with instead of what product you are trying to sell – “personas” in the jargon.
Without answering this question, you won’t be able to get down to the nitty gritty, such as your audience’s wants and needs.
Defining What Your Audience Wants
Once you have your target audience solidified, you’ll want to nail down what they actually want. What wants do they have? What problems do they need solved?
How do they currently try to solve those problems? If you are selling shoes – does your audience want cutting-edge features, fun styles or just a good deal?
Defining Where Your Audience Is
It’s all downhill once you have your audience, right? Not quite. You can craft perfect messages that your audience would gobble up in a second, but there’s one problem: if you’re putting that message out on a platform that they don’t use, it’ll fall on deaf ears.
Take some time to figure out where your audience spends their time. Look at your analytics, especially the multi-channel section. Run tests on different platforms.
Google has the most intuitive platform – if someone searches for “buy shoes online” – they probably want to buy shoes online. But stylish, impulse, novel or high-consideration purchases might not work as well on Google.
You might get better results with Pinterest ads or YouTube ads or even Instagram ads.
2. Understand Your Sales Funnel
To get ahead in advertising, you have to know exactly what your funnel looks like – and what the objective for each ad is.
A “funnel” is how you move someone from being aware of your product to actually purchasing it.
An ad promising “20% this weekend only!” has the objective of getting someone that is at the “bottom of the funnel” to purchase now.
In contrast, an ad for “Discover the stability of trail running shoes!” has the objective of establishing awareness of a product line.
Usually the most obvious ad opportunities are also the most competitive (ie, expensive). If you are a small shoe retailer, you probably don’t have the budget or data to compete with Zappos and OnlineShoes for “buy shoes online” in Google.
But if you can find the sweets spots in your sales funnel, you can optimize what’s already working for you and your ads to work together.
So, if you’re already killing it by driving sales from your email list, you can focus your paid advertising budget on something like educational searches that will get people to your email list (objective).
Define the full customer journey/funnel
What is the process that your customer goes through from initial thought to purchase? What do they research, where do they go, and what problems do they have at every step?
Say we have a recreational runner who needs a new pair of shoes. Let’s get inside their head for a minute.
“I think I need new running shoes” → checks to see how often running shoes should be replaced.
“I like my current shoes” → checks to see the latest model in the brand.
“What are the reviews of the newest model?” → looks for shoe reviews and alternatives.
“Maybe I need running shoes with a lower heel to toe ratio” → looks for shoes based on heel to toe ratio.
“Who sells these shoes” → looks for retailers with shoes in stock.
“These retailers’ shipping is expensive” → looks for coupons or promos.
“Ok whatever, I’m ready to buy” → purchases shoes.
It’s pretty straightforward right? Just think through every step a potential customer would take – and you have specific ideas for improvement at practically every step.
Decide on your offer & plan for purchase
What are you actually offering? Do you have a place on your website to actually send any takers to?
For example, if you’re advertising an educational post, don’t send potential customers to your latest sales page.
But, you do need to plan ahead for when your potential customers are ready to buy/convert. Look into retargeting them or pitching an email signup.
When they are further down the funnel – then pitch the sale.
3. Understand Your Traffic Source
Now that you have your personas and sales funnel thoroughly defined, you’ll want to get a grasp on your traffic source. Chances are, you’re already using (or more) of the popular online advertising platforms, such as Google Adwords or Facebook Ads.
These platforms give you enough and more information on your traffic sources.
Start with the platform where your audience hangs out AND makes the most sense to you
As I mentioned above, your analytics are a great way of understand your traffic source.
On each of these advertising platforms, your analytics section will give you an idea of where your audience is, which will affect where your ads should be showing.
Read the manual
Google Ads and other analytics platforms are great. But they’ll only get you so far if you don’t read the manual. These platforms (Google Ads and Facebook specifically) have default settings that won’t help you in the long-run.
Instead, you’ll want to get a thorough understanding of how to read the data and how to make tweaks based on the trends you’re seeing.
Did you know that building campaigns with Facebook’s Power Editor instead of their web interface will open up many more options? Facebook wants to push advertisers through a simple default interface, but advertisers that “read the manual” and use the Power Editor get an edge.
Self-serve ad platforms are built to be easy. But take time to read the Getting Started sections for you platform of choice and understand all your options.
Start small & look for wins that put you ahead
When you’re diving into traffic sources and ad platforms, it’s easy to get swept up in the big picture. You see search traffic for broad keywords or big audiences and immediately you think, “Yes! Look at all of the traffic!”
You have to slow down. Instead, prioritize small wins to get qualified traffic to your site. Start niche and stay niche until you are ahead of the game. Get some small wins, and then scale your efforts to reach those broader targets.
For example, on Google, instead of burning budget on a term like “buy online shoes” – go for “long-distance trail running shoes.” Figure out what works there and add.
Or if you are on Facebook, instead of targeting Women under 40 with your ad, start with Women 30 to 40 who live in Atlanta and like Running. See what works and add audience from there.
Most all self-serve platforms from Google to Facebook to Quora and even Spotify allow campaigns starting at just $1/day. You can start test campaigns for very cheap so that you can get your own data. And your own data will allow you to profitably expand and improve your campaign over reading a blog post with best practices.
4. Optimization & Testing
There are four elements in an ad campaign: an ad, an offer, a landing page, and the follow-up. Optimizing your campaign means you look for improvement in each element in turn. Then, as each improves incrementally, you get aggregate gains that move your campaign ahead of the competition.
Let’s dive back into Google Ads for a minute. We want to look at how different ad groups, ads, and even keywords are performing. Take advantage of tools such as the keyword planner, which can help you develop new ad groups and keywords based on your site and your offer. This can help inform your ads.
Generally – the more ads you create, the better you’ll do. The more you test, the more you’ll understand what your customers like and don’t like!
Some of the best advertisers will create more than 25 headlines to test for each ad. Now – that might not be the best use of a busy business owners’ time. But – the core idea is that you should try lots of variations to see what works instead of guessing at the one perfect ad.
At the end of the day, no amount of advertising can make up for a horrible offer. Keep in mind that your “offer” doesn’t necessarily mean your product.
Your offer can be lots of things: the content you provide on your site, the way you sell your product, sale or promo, or even loyalty programs or shoppers’ clubs – basically, anything that a potential reader or customer would be interested in!
A good offer goes further than any online marketing technique can take you. Make sure you’re offering something valuable to your customers that fits their wants and needs – and where they are in the funnel/buying process.
A landing page is also a prime opportunity to sell your customers on your offer. Since it’s such a valuable asset, you should make every effort to make it perfect – from the headline, to the copy, to the images and call to action. A well optimized landing page is crucial to setting your business up for success.
Say you set up a Google Ads campaign for people looking for landscaping companies in Atlanta. They click your ad, triggered by a keyword in your new ad group, and land on a page that talks about the best landscaping tips for DIYers.
As you can imagine, this probably wouldn’t be very effective. Instead of serving a landing page targeted to someone interested in doing business with you, you served a landing page targeted to someone in the discovery phase trying to find solutions.
Basically, each landing page on your website should have a specific focus – and your ads should match the focus of the page you’re targeting.
Believe it or not, your follow-up with visitors counts just as much – if not more – than the ad campaign itself. You are essentially targeting someone who interacted with your site, but did not convert.
So, say someone is in the discovery phase, and they come to your landing page for “best landscaping tips.” They read about your tips, but do not fill out a lead form to get more information about doing business with you.
You have a couple options. You may retarget them with an ad that promotes a special discount you’re running, that will bring them to a landing page promoting that discount.
You can also use emails to retarget. Popular platforms like MailChimp integrate this feature into their platform so that any business can do “email automation.” You’ve totally been on the receiving end of this right? You were checking something out on an online store but click off. Next thing you know, you have an email in your inbox that says you get 20% off any item for the next 3 hours!
Like any tactic, you can burn through these tactics. There is a fine line between friendly follow up and maddening spam.
But just like your landing page, your retargeting efforts are crucial to advertising success. You want to be sure you’re serving the right people with the right message at the right time.
5. Analysis & Refinement
Improving ad campaigns is a cycle. If you are making more money, then you can spend more money. If you are driving your costs down, then you can spend more.
Understanding the cycle and refining based on *your* data will put you ahead of competitors.
Stop what is not working
Nobody’s perfect. I guarantee when you dive into your analytics, you’ll find that some things just don’t work. Perhaps it’s a demographic you’re targeting, a device you’re showing ads on, keywords you’re using, or even the ads you’re showing. They may get impressions and clicks, but if they’re not converting? Stop them. You’ve now optimized part of your campaign. Standing still is better than going backwards.
Do more of what is working
With that said, you can’t just take that money and throw it into savings. Instead, invest it into what is working. Raise your bids on keywords, create more successful ads, spend more time speaking to demographics who convert, etc. At the end of the day, the money you spend investing in areas of your advertising that are working, the more money you’ll make.
Rinse and repeat
Online advertising isn’t a one and done deal. Things are constantly changing and evolving. And that means your campaigns need to constantly change and evolve.
After you discover what does and doesn’t work, you’re not done! You need to continually check on the progress of your campaigns and repeat the process all over again: figure out what doesn’t work — kill it; figure out what does — invest in it.
Improving your ad campaigns can be a daunting problem with no obvious starting point. Copying your competitors doesn’t get you ahead and trying a grab bag of tips doesn’t help either.
But like any daunting problem – break the campaign into a series of small, straightforward problems. Solve each in turn and you’ll end up with an ad campaign that builds your business.