Early last year, content marketing surpassed link building, when it comes to search volume. It’s definitely not something new, but apparently the term is sufficiently self-explanatory at CEO- and manager level to have earned content marketing a place on the product menus of sales-driven SEO and online marketing agencies.
In my opinion, there are two types of content marketing. The traditional, century-old form is to publish content in order to acquire customers. More recently, publishing content in order to acquire links has also been labeled as content marketing, but I think that this is fundamentally different from the original. Sure, it can eventually lead to the same results (more sales), but the initial goals are different. You’re either marketing your product through content, or you’re marketing your content.
Build it, and they will come?
Simply create compelling content and links will follow, right? In an ideal world, yes. But not in the real world.
I often see people trying to use content in their marketing strategy, then struggling with it, quickly followed by giving up when the results are unsatisfying and finally stating that “content marketing doesn´t work for them”.
Well, everyone can use content to effectively build links in a profitable way, but only with the right strategy. When defining the most suitable approach, this is the process I always follow.
Step 1: Situation analysis
Different situations require different approaches. Try to find out what you need most in your situation, by taking a close look at your competition with tools like CognitiveSEO or MajesticSEO. Not to see what you can copy, but for a SWOT analysis. You know, just like in old school marketing. To identify weaknesses in your link profile that need to be addressed, but also to spot opportunities or threats.
If it turns out that your link profile lacks relevance (you’ve got lots of links, but almost zero from your own industry), you’ll need a different approach than when you simply need volume. And the needs of an established, authoritative website are different from a relatively new site.
If you have defined your needs, you can move on the the next phase.
Step 2: Concept
With a clear SWOT in mind, you can try to come up with an idea that might help you to reach your goals.
Why do people share?
Before you start thinking about ideas that you can use, it is very important to get a crystal clear image of your target audience. Who are they and, more importantly, what makes your audience share stuff?
This usually differs between industries and between website types. For example, a travel affiliate site shows linking and sharing behaviour that is different from a finance blogger. And keep in mind: websites or companies don’t share things, people do.
In general, there are five reasons why people share stuff. Self definition is without a doubt the most important sharing motivator. You are what you share, and people continuously build their personal brand online. Just take a look at what you share online. I can probably get quite a good picture of who you are just by analyzing what you’ve shared in the past.
Another sharing motivator is Personal benefit. This does not necessarily have to be a financial payment, but sharing something because you want to get something in return, to create goodwill, or simply to get noticed are personal benefits as well.
Altruism (often reciprocal altruism, since real altruism is very scarce), Connectedness (maintaining relationships) and Evangelism are other reasons for people to share things online.
If you’re interested in finding out more about why people share stuff, I’d recommend reading this study from the New York Times.
Not all shares are created equal
With that in mind, it is also important to think about what attracts the right kind of shares. A photo of a cute cat might get thousands of likes on Facebook without attracting a single link, while an extensive resources earns hundreds of links but only a handful of shares or tweets.
Just take a look at the list below and ask yourself what you’d prefer. Usually the more effort a share takes, the more valuable it is.
* Facebook Like: “Here’s another photo of a cute cat.”
* Retweet: “Someone I trust likes it, so it’s probably awesome.”
* Facebook share: “It’s good enough to make me break my pattern of clicking the like button.”
* Tweet: “You’ve made me say something on Twitter.”
* Facebook post: “I have been triggered enough to create a post on Facebook.”
* Regular link: “I just logged in to WordPress / Tumblr / used DreamWeaver / whatever and unleashed my HTML-knowledge on something that exceeded 140 characters.”
* Google Plus: “Oh Google, I love you.”
I’m not saying that you should focus on links only, but selecting a concept that’s only capable of getting Likes or Shares on Facebook is probably not your best option.
For individual content items, you probably don’t need to create full-blown persona profiles, but you should definitely think about it.
Ask yourself this: “If I create this, who will link to it? And why?”. If you’re not able to answer this straight away, you’re probably better off creating persona profiles first.
Step 3: Creation
Once you have a clear picture of your target audience, you will be able to create content that is much more effective.
You need content that is made to stick. Or rather, content that is made to be shared.
Success is almost a guarantee when your content is:
Recognizable / identifiable
Unique / unexpected
Commerce is secondary (at most)
There’s already been written a lot about these concept requirements (I’d recommend checking out Ross Hudgens’ Content Marketing Checklist), but the last one could use some additional elaboration.
If you analyse different examples very succesful content, you will find that there’s one common denominator: they all trigger action-emotions.
Our normal behaviour is to digest content. Read, see, view, move on. But strong emotions can make people act different from their normal behaviour. It can make people take action, in stead of proceeding with their passive, digestive behavior. The stronger the emotion, the more effort someone will take to get the word out (Like vs. Link).
If you target the right emotions, you might be able to (subtly) persuade them to take action, by sharing your content. This might sound manipulative, but this is all what marketing is about: persuading people into taking specific actions.
There are dozens of different emotions, and some are more easy or effectively to target than others. In general, most emotions can be devided into six different categories; Pride, Pleasure, Passion, Fear, Anger and Sadness.
Keep in mind that there are also a few emotions that you rather want to avoid, including Lust, Relaxation, Boredom, Regret, Stress, Guilt and Embarassment. These are all emotions that most people prefer to exerience privately, and not in public.
Step 4: Promotion
If you have put enough effort in the first three stages of this process, the promotion will be a breeze. You knew from the start who you’d be targeting, which made it easier for you subtly make them share your content by triggering their emotions.
Sure, you’ll still need to send out dozens of emails and make a few promotional calls. And you’ll probably also want to spend some ad budget on Facebook, StumbleUpon, Outbrain or whatever is relevant in your situation. But all of this will be much more effective and lead to better results when your content is carefully crafted for your situation, and properly targeted at the right audience. Which will save you time and budget for the next content item.
1. Define your needs
2. Find out what makes your target audience share (and link!)
3. Create something that matches #1 with #2
4. Promote the hell out of it
5. Rinse and repeat
As you can see, content marketing is a *lot* more than just ‘creating good content’. Especially when you don’t have a lot of experience with creating and promoting content, it can definitely be overwhelming. Need help with it? Then you might want to check out this page.