I have a good friend also happens to be a client.
His website was slapped by Google about a year ago for some shady SEO stuff a contractor did to boost his search rankings back in the day.
He’s tried a bunch of different ways to climb back into Google’s good graces, including content marketing.
In fact, he’s invested over a thousand dollars a month with a company who promised to create and promote articles for his blog… Yet they’ve failed miserably.
And it’s tragic because I know his small businesses is one of those companies who can benefit most from what content marketing has to offer!
Most business don’t even try content marketing out of fear and confusion rooted in lack of understanding around:
- What is content marketing?
- What are the key advantages to integrating it into your marketing mix?
- What does the exact marketing process look like?
- And how much does it cost?
In this video lesson with entrepreneur and content marketing automation expert, Brian Casel, he teaches us the answers to each of these questions and gives examples of how he implemented them on his own company website, Restaurant Engine.
Below the video I’ve also included a complete guide detailing each of the key steps involved.
[audiobox]Prefer audio? Great! Click this link to get the Mp3 audio file.[/audiobox]
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If you’re serious about automating your content marketing efforts, you should check out Brian’s free and premium course that goes into greater detail.
Want to jump ahead in the article guide? Below is a handy table of contents.
- An effective content marketing strategy starts with research
- Master the process by running through it a few times yourself
- No one will care if you don’t take the time to promote it
- Create a well documented content marketing system
- Hire a writer who will create content people care about
- Once your content marketing machine is running, these are the levers you want to pull to make it go faster.
Now let’s dig into it.
Step 1 – Know your target audience
The biggest risk you face in starting this process is that you will see no results and quickly conclude that implementing a content marketing strategy isn’t worth your time.
For businesses who try content marketing and fail (of which I have seen a few first-hand) the cause is usually they do not understand their target audience and/or the level of value offered by what’s written in their blog posts is meager at best.
Here’s an example of the most common mistakes I’ve observed:
- The blog post is usually 500 words or less – According to Neil Patel and other expert blog marketers, the ideal length for a post (from a reader’s perspective) is 1300-1500 words. From an SEO perspective, Google favors articles that are longer, around 2400 words.
- The tone of voice that the post is written in is impersonal or unprofessional – People aren’t fools. If you hire a writer who is not a native US or English speaker, your readers will quickly realize this. I know that whenever I come across a post that is written not in the first person and/ or has glaring grammatical mistakes, my cynical side kicks in. I immediately lose interest and think, “This post has no value, it’s not worth my time, and it was clearly written just in the hope of getting some traffic.”
- The writer doesn’t care about the needs of the reader – The concept of content marketing is based on the principle of “give to win.” In other words, if you help others by providing valuable information that can solve real problems or bridge an information gap, they will trust you. In turn, some of them will become clients or customers. A friend of mine, Brennan Dunn, is a great example of this. Brennan writes a blog for freelancers and is constantly thinking of ways he can improve his content to address their questions, concerns, as well as how best to guide his readers toward new, upcoming solutions.
- They rarely offer anything new that their target audience isn’t already aware of – If you want to be remembered, grow your email list, get sales, get social media shares, it’s important that you bring something new to the table. It can be as simple as presenting your opinion, or it could be a useful way of bringing together existing ideas and research to provide an insight for your target audience.
- They call their content posts, not articles – Here’s what I advise everyone who asks me about their content strategy: everyone else’s blog content is posts, and YOUR content should be referred to as articles. Why? Professional journalists, people who are PAID to write do not call their news pieces posts, they call them articles because that word assumes a level of professionalism and thought that went into making it. It’s a simple psychological trick, but do it and you’ll take your content marketing more seriously, and so will your readers.
So now you know the most common mistakes. But the question still remains, how can develop a deeper understanding of your target reader in order to avoid making these mistakes?
Here are 6 easy to remember ideas to help you get started using a very clever acronym I just made up called… wait for it… M.A.R.K.E.T.
- M – Message boards and forums are kind of an “old” form of social media but many are still active and popular. Try typing into Google [target audience keyword] + message board or [target audience keyword] + forum. Pay attention to the the questions being asked, the frustrations voiced, and the tone / style of language.
- A – Ask people! Send out a survey to your email list or message people one at a time. As Brian mentioned in the video above, one tactic he uses to lower his risk of creating content that his audience isn’t interested in is an autoresponder. When someone new subscribes to his email list they receive an automated message from him asking what their biggest frustration is with X.
- R – Indepth research. Pop open the major social networks and find groups and pages where your target audience hangs out. Take extensive notes on what you can observe, which, unlike the first point (message boards), will tell you more about their identity (i.e. age, sex, race, location, and more). You might also consider searching major 3rd party databases like Lexis Nexus for articles and research statistics not freely available via a simple Google search.
- K –
KompetitionCompetition (ok I’m cheating a bit, but you’ll just have to give me a pass this time 😉 ). If you want to know something about your target audience and their content preferences, study what is already working for your most successful competitors. What is being re-shared and Liked the most on their blog?
- E – Email and other forms of communication. Think back on conversations you had with clients and customers, especially before they made a purchase: what were their fears and concerns? How did you come into contact with you? What specific problem were they looking to solve? If they didn’t buy because they felt they were beyond the point where they needed your solution (or too early), what was the explanation they gave?
- T – Target one person. Imagine your top 1-3 clients right now. In your mind, mold together some of the “averages” and patterns between them to create a mental “avatar” of who the target client is that you’d like to reach. This is a strategy that John Lee Dumas regularly promotes on his weekly webinar about podcasting.
After you have some understanding of who your audience is, it’s time to dive into the content creation part of the process.
Step 2 – Get a first-hand feel for the content creation process
Before you can start to automate your content marketing, it is incredibly useful to have a first-hand feel for the process.
That’s why I recommend you don’t skip this step but instead take your research and your now deeper understanding of who your target audience is and write the first two articles (at a minimum).
As Brian explained to us in the video interview above, even though he had the capital and general know-how on what the writer he would hire would actually write about, he choose to write the first few articles to understand the process requirements.
This allowed him to better train and delegate the work to a professional writer in the next step.
As for choosing writing topics, Brian recommended a very practical approach.
- Create “category buckets” – You want to vary the topics you write on from week to week since your target audience isn’t interested in only hearing about topics directly related to what you’re selling. For example if I ONLY wrote about building high converting landing pages every week, you probably would unsubscribe from my newsletter.
- Check what people are searching for – As I’ve said in the past, use Google Keyword Planner and the Google Trends to see what words and phrases people are searching out within your target market. When I first started writing a weekly article, I was surprised to find that no one was searching for the keywords included in my article titles. Making this one small tweak to has helped AutoGrow’s search impressions to more than double over the last several months (see graph below). Too often it’s the low hanging fruit that make all the difference.
- Test and measure click-through rates – Don’t expect to always “know” that you have the right topic and title before you or your team hit publish. Plan to experiment over time and pay special attention to email click-through rates along with social shares as an indication of how happy your audience was with your content.
Once you’ve got a feel for the content creation process it’s time to define your system for promoting it.
Step 3 – Promoting your content
Although this could be included as part of step 4 (where you’re documenting the entire system), promoting your articles is so critical to the success of your content marketing strategy that it deserves a step of its own.
Here’s a basic checklist of what you should do as you work your way through the promotion process:
- Send an email newsletter to your list of subscribers
- Like it on Facebook
- Share it on Facebook
- Tweet it on Twitter
- Plus it on Google Plus
- Sharing it on Google Plus
- Share it on LinkedIn
- Share it on relevant content sites in your niche (e.g. BizSugar.com, GrowthHackers.com, etc.)
- Stumble it on StumbleUpon
Once you’ve mastered those, consider implementing one or more of these advanced promotion tips for each blog post:
- Write a custom post with a link for 1-5 relevant groups on LinkedIn
- Write a custom post with a link for 1-5 relevant communities on Google+
- Message popular Facebook pages in your niche with 10,000+ fans. From doing this I can say you’ll get a 10-15% response rate, mostly favorable too if you target it correctly. Unfortunately Facebook page reach is dropping, but it’s still marginally effective.
- Use the Skyscraper Technique, a term coined by SEO and link-building expert, Brian Dean. This one is quite time intensive if you’re going to do it right, so plan in advance.
- The Platforming Technique. This is a strategy I will write more indepth about once I have more hard data to show you (sign-up for my newsletter and I’ll be sure to share it with you when it’s ready) but here’s the jist of it. Find people on Twitter who have already shared similar articles in the recent past to what your current article is about. Then you reach out to them one by one via email to check if they are interested in reading your content and, if they like it, ask them to re-share it.
- The Spiderweb Technique, has helped me increase our organic SEO traffic by 326% in recent months and continues to build over time.
- Add your articles into an email autoresponder to promote to new subscribers who are unlikely to have seen it.
- Reach out to companies and people mentioned in your article to let them know you’ve featured them. Invite them to share it with a simple click to tweet link.
- Re-purpose each article into a video or slideshow and upload them to YouTube and Slideshare, respectively.
- Tweet Snippets – Each article you write should generate around 20 post-worthy quotes that you can share on Twitter across the span of a month, along with a link. I read one case study where a blogger was able to quickly increase his referral traffic from Twitter by 250% using a WordPress plugin called Tweetily which allows you to “drip-out” and pre-schedule Tweets over time.
- Optimize your on-page SEO for increased visibility in relevant keyword searches (meta tags, title tags, h1 and h2 tags, and on-site links)
After you’ve gone through this process a few times, it’s easy to see the end-to-end steps involved and how it’s possible to begin to delegate it to someone else.
Step 4 – Document your content marketing system
Before you can delegate though, you have to document write down all of the steps in simple, specific detail that’s easily shared with others.
You could just point people to this article, but each company and business owner has their own unique brand and way of doing things. So I don’t recommend that (but I do recommend you check out my bonus download at the end of this article for that very purpose though).
It’s important to capture your content marketing system on “paper” so that whether you work with 1 person or 20 people to automate your content marketing, you don’t have to individually train them. Instead you’ll simply hand them your documentation.
To document the business and marketing systems here at AutoGrow, I used a few tools:
- Google Sites – With Sites, you can build your own internal intranet / wiki. It allows you to create and organize as many pages as you need, facilitates discussion, and it even allows you to embed videos, forms, and images. Plus, you have complete control over who does and doesn’t have access.
- For providing visual references (like, let’s say I want to point to something on the screen with a note), I recommend Jing for screen capture, which is free.
- When it comes to recording video, I’m a fan of screencast-o-matic (free and lightweight) or Camtasia (which costs about $300, but allows for a bit more customization and control). The main reason why I don’t recommend Jing for this purpose is their video recorders limits you to 5 minutes and they do not support uploads to YouTube, which is the only type of video that Google Sites allows you to embed.
- Finally, I like to think of each of my systems documents as a “living” part of my company. They’re constantly being tweaked and updated, and it’s important to understand when and how often tasks are getting done. For this reason, I recommend you embed a daily or weekly checklist form within your systems docs. The checklist should contain all of the steps required of the person who will be performing the task (i.e. writing an article, promoting the article, proofreading, etc.). If you use Google Forms to do this, you can embed it directly on the page. If you’re ok with just including links to the form, use Wufoo (their product is far superior to Google Sites anyway).
Once you’ve taken the time to document each of the steps in your content marketing process, it’s time to find and hire your first writer (yay delegation!).
Step 5 – Hire a writer and agree on goals
I’ve run a few experiments with hiring writers in the past.
The results were “eh,” mixed, to describe it accurately.
As you’ll hear in the video interview with Brian above, this wasn’t an issue for him.
This is probably because unlike him I didn’t take the time to really define (a) a writing strategy and a clear direction when I made our first hire, (b) I only interviewed a few people one-on-one, and (c) I was fast to hire, but slow to fire when I saw that it wasn’t working out.
So learn from my mistakes 🙂
- Define in advance what specific content buckets (see Step 2) your writer will be generating ideas for (i.e. in the case of RestaurantEngine.com, Brian’s company, it might be: restaurant website design, offline restaurant marketing, and online ordering).
- Interview more than a few candidates one-on-one so you can truly make an informed hiring decision. Make sure to ask for recent writing samples (both live on the web and offline).
- Take your time with hiring, and if someone isn’t able to deliver up to your standards, make a decisive decision about whether to give them another try or to let them go.
Here are the best places to find writers to help you automate your content creation:
- Elance.com – a one size fits all virtual marketplace of freelancers and companies where you can post your project for people to bid on.
- Contently.com – High-end platform for managing your editorial calendar and sourcing quality writers.
- ProBlogger.net – Job board for recruiting professional bloggers
- Scripted.com – Virtual platform (with an API) of mid-level and higher end writers. Order 1 or more articles to be written at a time.
- AJAX Union.com – You can also go the agency route for your content creation efforts. I interviewed the founder of AJAX Union, Joe Apfelbaum, not too long ago.
Once you’ve made your decision to hire a writer, the next step is sharing your systems doc with them so they can train themselves and ask you any clarifying questions.
At this point, you’ll also want to agree on goals and setup a shared editorial calendar. For goals, I recommend you regularly share your marketing analytics with your writer(s).
This will help give them visibility into what content performs the best as well as give them a sense of ownership over the results (or lack thereof).
For setting up a shared editorial calendar, you can do this with Google Calendar, but you might want to check out a more premium solution like this WordPress plugin called CoSchedule.
There are free options out there as well, but Coschedule is used an recommended by a friend of mine and from what I can see, because they charge for it, they can probably afford to provide better service and support.
Pro-tip: don’t expect your writer to do everything. Yes, they can find some pictures for their articles, probably proofread as well. But for the second-half of the process when it’s time to promote the content, I recommend you assign that task to someone else. A virtual assistant is perfect for this since most of that part of the process can be templated-out. When it comes to optimizing the content topics and text for search engines, you should seriously consider delegating this role to someone else who can focus exclusively on it.
Step 6 – Optimize your content marketing machine
At this point you understand how the process goes first hand, you’ve documented the system, and your writer(s) / team are regularly producing quality content on your company’s blog.
Take a vacation?
… Not quite yet.
Now you want to step into a strategic role.
You should be looking closely at your stats and doing regular quality checks to make sure each part of the system is running smoothly.
For example, as Brian mentioned in the video interview above, what he does now for RestaurantEngine.com is to look at the editorial calendar and occasionally edit a title, topic, or shift the publishing schedule.
The metrics you want to pay attention to for the first couple of months after the content marketing process is systematized and live are:
- Email click-through count and rate (%)
- Email newsletter subscribe and social media share rates
- Inbound search traffic
Over time, all numbers should gradually be increasing, but look for any peaks, “spikes” or “outliers” in the data. Study them and find out how you can “scale” those peaks.
For instance, on the AutoGrow blog I noticed a couple of months ago that an old article I had written about sales funnels two years ago was still getting a substantial amount of traffic.
So I decided to write an updated, more complete article on website sales funnels with examples and analysis. That updated article remains one of our highest trafficked pages today.
You want to make similar strategic decisions during the initial months that your content marketing machine is in place.
As a final tip, don’t forget to maintain your systems documentation. Remember, it’s a “living” document and you’ll want to continue to update and tweak it to make the process more efficient for both you and your team.
Conclusion & Bonus Download
Content marketing automation is not a one size fits all solution, but for many businesses it’s an effective sustainable way to generate inbound traffic and leads.
Many businesses make the mistake of trying to automate the process right away without giving any thought to quality, who the target reader is, and what problems he or she faces.
If you’re willing to put in a little extra work and understand each step of the process first-hand, the end result will be substantially better: you’ll make better hiring decisions and your content marketing system will be 10x more polished.
Whether you’re doing the content creation yourself right now or you’re ready to automate the process, here’s a free download bonus to help you become more efficient:
This will help you write faster with a higher level of quality and/or make it easier to delegate the task to someone else.
What’s your best tip for choosing an article topic? What are some other ways you can think of to promote your blog content?