Everything you should know about content marketing to grow your business and reach your goals

Have questions about content marketing? Then you’ve come to the right place. This comprehensive guide takes you from inspiration through distribution to answer every question you’ve ever had about content marketing (and some you’ve never thought of).

Definitions and driving forces:

  • What is content marketing?
  • Why do I need a content strategy?
  • What is content marketing strategy?
  • What types of content do I have to choose from?
  • How do I distribute content?
  • How does social media fit into content strategy?

Getting started or improving performance in content marketing:

  • Where can I research content topics?
  • How often should I post to my blog?
  • How often should I release videos?
  • How often should I post to social media?
  • How do I post content to social media?
  • How do I organize my content marketing?
  • How do I track results?

Definitions and driving forces:

What is content marketing?

Marketing trends come and go. In the 1930s, radio ads were the hot new thing. In the 50s, it was TV ads. Marketing has pretty much always evolved to take advantage of the latest technology. You might call content marketing the marketing tactic for the internet age.

But you came here for a definition, not a history lesson. Content marketing is text, videos, audio images, or other content, thoughtfully distributed with the goal of building customer relationships and, ultimately, driving sales.

You build customer relationships by providing interesting and engaging content that your audience is eager to consume. As they consume your content, customers come to trust your business and see you as an authority in your industry. As a result, they feel comfortable giving you money in exchange for a product or service.

The best thing about content marketing is that rather than being annoyed by the commercial break, customers seek content to consume. According to Demand Metric, content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing while bringing in 3 times as many leads. So you spend less money and get a better result.

But content alone is not enough. The best content in the world is useless if nobody sees it. So you also need to distribute it to your audience.

Where and how you do that is all part of your content marketing strategy.

Why do I need a content strategy?

There are two kinds of businesses: businesses that don’t bother to create a content strategy and businesses that are top performers in their industry.

If that seems like an extreme statement, consider this. The 2018 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends Report from the Content Marketing Institute found that 62% of top performing companies have a documented content marketing strategy.

If you don’t have a documented content strategy you’re going to miss opportunities, miss customers, and generally just miss out.

How do I make a content marketing strategy?

A content marketing strategy tells you what content to create and what to do with it once it’s made. Developing a content marketing strategy starts with goals. Think about the effect you want your content to have. Are you trying to boost sales? Increase customer loyalty? Make more people aware of your product?

To measure your progress toward those goals you need to identify trackable metrics. How many people are clicking your link, reading your blog, leaving comments, sharing your posts and videos?

Make sure that every piece of content is effective by codifying your unique value. What sets you apart from other companies in your industry? What is your brand story? How you tell this story depends on who your audience is.  

Create customer personas to help you understand who your audience is. That way you can ensure that every piece of content you make appeals to the people you’re trying to reach. Personas will also help you decide where to distribute your content for the greatest impact.

Compiling all this information into a document that everyone on your team can access puts you on the road to being a top-performing company.

What types of content do I have to choose from?

Almost anything can be content. A blog post? Content. A video? Content. That funny gif you shared on Twitter? Content. All of it is content. The trick is to choose the format that fits your message and your audience.

Longer-form content is good for conveying complex messages or big ideas. It includes videos, blogs, newsletters, infographics, podcasts, e-books, webinars, case studies, apps, white papers, and slideshares. So, yeah. Pretty much everything can be content.

Short form content is better at conveying a single clear idea or topic. It includes charts and graphs, lists, mind maps, templates, quizzes, and polls.

Super-short content is good for reinforcing an idea you’ve already presented in long-form somewhere else. It can also help solidify your brand voice. Flash form content includes cartoons, illustrations, GIFs, memes, quotes, user-generated content, and timelines.

It’s almost impossible to assemble a truly comprehensive list of content marketing formats, because anything that entertains, educates, or informs your audience counts as content.

If you try to make content in all of the formats listed above, you’ll likely overwhelm your audience. Also, your marketing team might stage a coup.

You’ll get the best results by choosing two or three formats and doing them really well. Once you’ve mastered your messaging and customer interaction around one format, you can add another format to the mix.

How do I distribute content?

Where you distribute your content depends on who your audience is, the type of content you’ve created, and what your goals are.

The best content is created with the distribution channel in mind. For example, if you’re making a video, the length and tone might be different if you’re creating a video for an email to existing customers versus one that will be publicly shared on your Facebook page.

The go-to distribution channels are your website, your blog, marketing emails, and social media platforms. Choose your distribution channels based on who your clients are. If you’re selling designer sunglasses, LinkedIn probably isn’t your platform, but Instagram might be.

Find out: How to distribute your videos for maximum growth

While choosing the best distribution channel is important, don’t make the mistake of distributing on only one channel. Ideally, your content appears in some form on the go-to channels that fit you, like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram.

You’ll probably make some adjustments to fit the platform, but the extra work spent repurposing one piece of content means more eyes on it—and ultimately higher return on investment.

Where does social media fit into content strategy?

If you keep your content confined to your website or blog, you’re limiting its reach. Social media is where content goes to make new friends.

Guess what the most popular social media channel in the United States is.

Go ahead.

You said Facebook didn’t you? #facebookmarketingislife #remarketingcentral

In 2016, you would have been right. But in 2018, the Pew Research Center found that YouTube is actually the most popular social media site, with 73% of U.S. adults using the platform.

Facebook was a close second with 68% The next most popular were Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat. LinkedIn was on the list at 25% and Twitter at 24%.

Before you run to post your video on YouTube, hang on a second. The most popular site isn’t always the best option. Theoretically, more popularity means more eyes on your content. It also means more competition from other marketers.

If you’re posting only on YouTube and Facebook, you’re hitting a wide swath of the American public—but that might not contain your ideal customer.

Different platforms have vastly different demographics. Pinterest users are overwhelmingly female at 70%. Snapchat users are young, with 85% percent are between the ages of 18 and 34. LinkedIn users are business professionals.

Instead of distributing to everyone and hoping the right people see it, distribute on the platform with the highest concentration of your target audience.

Getting started (or improving performance) in content marketing:

Where can I research content topics?

Great content starts with a great topic. You need something that resonates with your target audience. Something that makes them sit up and take notice. Something they’ll go out of their way to consume.

So it’s no surprise that selecting content topics is the task voted Most Likely to Cause Marketers to Bang Their Heads Against the Wall. But the right tools can help you avoid those headaches.

Before we get into tools, let’s relieve some of the anxiety you’re feeling. If you think you’re going to come up with a completely unique topic that nobody has ever talked about before, you’re wrong.

Everything has been talked about before. Absolutely everything. The goal isn’t to come up with something completely unique. It’s to say it in your voice colored by your brand story.

Okay, now to the tools.

Google Analytics. The perfect tool for researching keywords and search terms that will help your content show up in Google searches. That’s a useful insight since Google is the top search engine in the world with 1.6 billion unique monthly visitors. The next runner up, Bing, only gets 400 million.

Google Trends. While we’re tapping the rich resources of planet Google, don’t forget Google Trends. This handy dashboard shows you what’s trending on Google. You can even search for specific keywords or phrases and see how popular they’ve been over time.

Ubersuggest. This helps you discover keywords and phrases related to your topic. Results include search volume, competition, and cost per click.

BuzzSumo. This website helps you find the most shared, trending, and highest performing content for specific topics across the web. This is a paid service, so expect a monthly fee.

EpicBeat. Similar to Buzzsumo, EpicBeat lets you see shares comments and engagement for popular posts on different topics. They have limited free functionality, but you can upgrade for full access.

Ahrefs Content Explorer. See how content has performed across different social media channels with this powerful content research tool. You’ll pay for this one, too.

Quora. A free membership site where anyone can post questions and anyone can answer. Search by your topic to find out exactly what questions people are asking about it.

Answers.com. Like Quora, you can type a keyword or phrase in the box and get questions from real people on that topic.

Answer the Public. This is a weird one, but you can’t beat it for ease of use and volume of ideas. Type your search into the box and get a graphic with dozens of questions asked by the internet hive mind.

All those tools are useful, but don’t forget your greatest resource—your customers. Pay attention to the questions they are asking. Your sales and customer service teams probably have a short list of questions that they hear all the time. Find ways to answer those questions with your content.

How often should I post to my blog?

Your blog is often the cornerstone of your content marketing efforts. It’s where you post videos, engage with customers, and share the special bonus content you’ve created.

According to Hubspot, B2B marketers who use blogs get 67% more leads. And companies that blog get 97% more links to their website.

The general rule is 11 or more posts per month will maximize your results. Anything less than that, and you’re getting small improvement for each additional post.

Super-small companies (10 employees or fewer) see a jump in traffic with each additional blog post per month. Even one or two additional posts can increase traffic by 50%.

The outlier here is large companies with more than 201 employees. They see very small change when they increase from one post to 10. But by posting 11 or more times a month, they can increase traffic by 4 times.

So, if possible, post about 3 times a week to get the most out of your posting schedule.

How often should I release videos?  

There’s no hard and fast rule for how often you should release videos. It depends on how you’re using them. If your videos are part of your sales funnel, you might create 8 or 10 and push them to potential customers through email over a period of weeks. If you create videos for your blog, you might need one per week.

But remember that they take little longer than a blog to produce, so you may want to make several in advance.

How often should I post to social media platforms?

Every social media platform has different methods of sorting posts. Those algorithms impact the lifespan of posts on the platform. Generally, marketers talk about the half-life of a post, the length of time it takes for content to reach 50% of its total lifetime engagement.

Twitter posts have the shortest half-life at 18 minutes. Pinterest has the longest with a half-life of 3.5 months. In between, you get Facebook at 30 min. Instagram at 19 hours. And YouTube at 6 days.

How often you post depends on how your audience responds to your posts, but the following are a good starting point.

Twitter: 10-20 times per day

Pinterest: 10-15 times per day

Facebook, Instagram: 1 time per day 

LinkedIn: 1-3 times per workday (skip Saturday and Sunday)

YouTube: 1-3 times per week

And remember, you don’t have to post on all of these platforms. Pick the one or two that are most popular with your target audience and concentrate your efforts there.

How do I post content to social media?

Posting several times a week or even just once a day can get time-consuming. Fortunately, there are tools to help you.

Facebook has a built-in scheduling tool that allows you to plan your posts weeks and months ahead of time.

Most other social media platforms haven’t bothered to add this feature. But that’s not a problem since dozens of social media management platforms exist that can be linked to your social accounts for scheduling and analytics.

Some popular favorites include Hootsuite, Sprout Social, and Buffer. They offer similar services at a range of price points and functionality levels. Explore and find the one that’s right for you.

A note of caution when scheduling posts: things change. Markets shake up. Major tragedies happen. News breaks.

If something major is affecting your industry, it’s a good idea to take a look at your scheduled posts and make sure they’re still on message before they go live.

How do I organize my content marketing efforts?  

It seems like a new content management tool pops up every day. Some are better than others for specific tasks, but ultimately it comes down to preference. Which tool you choose depends on what you need the most help with and the size of your budget.

HubSpot. Markets itself as all-in-one inbound marketing software. It allows you to plan, create, and track the performance of content across your website and social channels. There is a free version with limited functionality, but the paid versions offer a formidable suite of services that include blog and content creation tools, social media, email marketing, and more.

CoSchedule. A marketing calendar at heart. With drag and drop functionality and the ability to collaborate across teams, this calendar lets you plan blog and social content in one place. Paid plans range from individual to agency versions.

MailChimp. Designed for email marketing, MailChimp also helps you make weekly digests, segmented email lists, and RSS campaigns. A/B testing is built in. The free version has a lot of functionality but limits the number of subscribers and emails you can have per month.

Buffer. This popular social media management tool includes a social media calendar, analytics, and the ability to manage all your social media accounts from one dashboard. The free plan is fairly robust but lacks a calendar. It also limits you to three social accounts.

Trello. A robust project management tool, Trello works equally well when the project is your content. Trello helps you track where content is in the creation pipeline. And it’s free.

How do I track results?

Many of the tools mentioned above include some sort of analytics reporting to help you track how your content is doing. Social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube have built-in analytics dashboards, as do Hootsuite and Hubspot. A few other tools can give you even more insight into how your content is performing.

Crazy Egg. This tool gives you visual reports to track where visitors go on your website, what they click on, and how they move through your site.

Google Analytics. This is the go-to reporting system to help you see how customers are interacting with your content.

Kissmetrics. Helps you measure engagement, track the effectiveness of different marketing channels, and even send emails based on user behavior.  

Whatever tools you use, make sure you are tracking your results. Using that information, you can refine your content marketing strategy and boost your ROI.