Content marketing lives and dies based on your ability to create relevant content that people find valuable and engaging.
But coming up with content out of thin air is not always easy, so I’m going to show you how to come up with ideas, and produce content, that will work for social media and SEO (search engine optimisation).
….and how to make it engaging. The last thing you want to do is spend a tone of time producing content that no one ever looks at!
Before discounting SEO, if you’re in a competitive market and you’re thinking you’ve got no chance of ranking in Google, I think it still does not hurt to optimise your content for search engines. Over time as you build up more valuable content and interlink between pages as part of a long term SEO/content marketing strategy, your site will achieve domain authority around a particular topic, you may attract more backlinks for your expertise, and then you may start ranking easier.
So in this article I’m going to take an approach that will allow you create a content strategy and produce content for social in the short term, and SEO in the long term.
The Keys to A Successful Content Marketing Strategy
1. Define your core topic clusters
2. Keyword research
3. Creating content ideas
4. Outlines for each content piece (and the tool we use to make this easier, faster and better)
5. Having a content production plan
6. Promoting your content
– Publishing on your website
– Using video platforms
– Publishing to social media
– Outreach to websites and influencers
Defining your core topic clusters for your target market
So the first thing we’re going to do is come up with our ideas for core topics we’re going to cover. Different businesses may have different approaches to coming up with these topics, but I like to link these to services or milestones/deliverables required to deliver a positive outcome for clients.
So, for example, here’s our roadmap with 9 deliverables over 3 stages we need to deliver a successful outcome for our marketing clients.
Your approach may end up being different, but let me digress to explain the rationale behind what we are doing as it may inform your own approach to how you will tackle content marketing yourself.
Each of those 9 deliverables form our topic clusters that we can produce content around, and each can map to funnels that lead through to clients engaging us for part, or all of our services. I like to look at this as a reverse funnel where we’re breaking down our entire service offering, much like breadcrumbs leading our ideal clients through a process that educates them, and gives them a good understanding of what we do and our mentality around how it should be done
Why’s it so important to start with topic clusters:
- It makes it easier to map every piece of content to a CTA – the next most logical step as you move people further through your funnels and the customer journey.
- Grouping closely related content into a topic cluster helps keep your content organised, and makes it simpler for planning and maintaining internal linking between closely related content.
Doing your keyword research
There are a number of ways to come up with keywords that your target audience will be searching for. We may be tempted to just do variations of what our competitors are doing, but:
– Your competitor may have different things going on that result in their content ranking.
– Your competitor may not even be getting traffic to their content, or people may be visiting it without buyer intent.
Following are some options for generating your own list of keywords.
Via Google Search
When doing a search, look at
- The autosuggest options that Google gives you as you start typing a search query – these are trending search queries.
- Look at related searches that appear at the bottom of the page on search results.
- Some search queries will have a section for “People also ask”
Free/Freemium Keyword Tools
This is only a very small sample, there are a lot more out there.
Google Keyword Planner – to use this tool you will need to sign up for a Google Ads account, but you do not have to run ads to use it, so it is free to use.
Keywords Everywhere – this is browser addon for Chrome and Firefox. When doing searches in Google and Youtube (plus other sites it supports) it will display some related keywords, “people also search for” keywords, and long-tail keywords. The results it shows may not be as extensive as Google Keyword Planner, but it is very handy to have alongside search results
You can buy credits (quite inexpensive) to show extra data that they have available, e.g. search volume, average CPC for Google Ads on that search term, etc.
Keyword Sheeter will give you a “sheet”-load of keywords from a single keyword and lets you define country, state and city as part of the keyword generation process.
Freemium/Paid Keyword Tools
Again, this is only a very small sample of available tools. These tools often use their own data sources, or are accessing data sources they are paying for so “free” is going to start having limitations here. Depending on where you are with your business you may justify a monthly subscription for these tools, you could try to get it all done in their trial period, or you may just sign up and cancel the subscription when you have got everything you need.
Ubersuggest – you can only do 3 daily searches with this tool at the free level, but it does have some very handy features for generating keywords and content ideas, and determining the competition for those keywords. With a 7 day free trial to their paid plans, and paid plans starting from USD29 per month this is one of the more cost effective SEO tools available.
Semrush – this does a whole lot more than keyword research. It will also help you with competitor research (what they are doing for both organic and paid traffic), creating your content plan and a few other things. With plans starting from USD119.95 per month, you can get great value out of it if you use it.
The subscription may be a reasonable cost of doing business, but I’ve signed up to enough things over the years to understand that once you’re subscribed to a few things, they all start adding up and you’re probably only using a fraction of the subscriptions you’re paying for.
….so set some time aside to familiarise yourself and use it, sign up for the 7 day trial, and at the end of the 7 day trial you will have everything you need to go it alone, or know if it is worth continuing with the paid subscription.
Paying To Have the Keyword Research Done for You
For the time it takes to learn how to do keyword research properly and the cost of any paid subscriptions, it might be worth just outsourcing it to someone that has the experience and tools to do it properly. You could engage an SEO/digital marketing agency that will do it as part of a more comprehensive strategy, or find a freelancer on a platform like Upwork.com that might do it for something like $50.
Combining your topic clusters and keyword research to come up with content ideas
Keyword research is all about knowing what people are looking for, but from there you still need to be able to group them and come up with content ideas that people will want to read.
Take for example the ability for FocalContact to automate Google Review requests. If one of the markets we are targeting is healthcare, we know they have restrictions around how they are allowed to use reviews so if they are searching for things like “AHPRA guidelines for reviews” and “asking patients for Google reviews”, then it made sense for us to write an article on How to get more Google Reviews for your healthcare practice & stay AHPRA compliant.
Places to go to create content ideas:
1. Wherever your target market is hanging out. In groups (e.g. Facebook and LinkedIn Groups) and forums where your ideal clients hang out, people are asking questions and seeking advice from the community – not only can you go in there and add value to the community (let people come to you and don’t be spammy), you can also use the questions as ideas for content. Check out websites like Quora and Reddit, or Google things like “[keyword/niche] + forum”.
2. Top search results for your keyword of interest
3. Your competitors
4. Tools for trending topics – here’s a list of 14
The last 3 are going to give you content inspiration. Don’t just rip off someone else’s content – make it your own and better – give Google a reason to rank you, and bring your own voice to it.
Create an outline for each of your content ideas
A content outline (or brief) gives you the key points you need to address to cover in a piece of content, so you can make sure you address all of the key points to create content that comprehensively and completely answers the questions of someone that has clicked through to consume your content.
Now here is where I suggest a tool that you should definitely pay for. If you’re going to be producing any type of content this will make your life a whole lot easier.
Frase takes your search query and analyses the top 20 results for you. It will tell you the average word count, the titles and headings used in the articles, the keyword density and a number of other factors you can optimise your own content pieces for.
Years ago they used to say the best way to come up with a comprehensive outline on a topic was to look at the index page of a “Dummy’s Guide to XXXX” …this is what Frase does for you by extracting all of the elements from the top 20 search results.
You have to assume that there is a reason that Google has ranked these top 20 results, so use them as a blueprint for your content outline. Look at the headings they have used and decide which of those would be appropriate for you to use and how you could incorporate your keywords into them. This is geared to content writing, but I also use this to outline talking points for videos.
Of course, you can create your content outlines manually but the time you spend doing this (and the value of your time) will exceed the cost of using Frase.
Hook readers with an interesting title and intro
Did you know there are content publishers, from newspapers to magazines to online websites where they have people that are responsible for just writing headlines?
Why’s that? Because if people are not hooked, they’ll never pick up the publication, click that link or read that article. Hundreds or thousands of well written words can go unread just because a headline did not do it’s job, or an intro did not correctly set the scene.
Just because you start with a title, does not mean you cannot change it, whether it is during the process of creating the content, or after you have published it.
Write for your audience
People are looking for content, and the more specific you can be, the more valuable that piece of content is to the reader. The goal is to create high-quality content that is relevant to the person consuming your content.
Think of how that positions you as an expert in an individual’s mind versus a piece of content written for the masses. The upside of specificity is that you are targeting a more defined audience, which generally means less competition for SEO.
Provide knowledge that readers want
The goal of course is to create compelling content that people want. Sometimes this will be determined by what they think they are after, so if you need to go deeper make sure people understand how the concepts you are raising relate.
Sometimes knowledge can be a curse. We know the questions people should be asking, but we tread a fine line with staying relevant if we do not position the extra knowledge we are importing properly.
Know how it fits into your content funnel
The goal of content marketing is to move people further through our funnel to ultimately become a customer. To that end, it is important to understand the role of every piece of content you produce.
Earlier on I mentioned the concept of a reverse funnel. The concept is that if we know where we want people to end up at the end, then we can splinter off concepts from our main product to produce content where the natural flow is then into the main product.
If you are early on in your content journey, it’s quite possible that you don’t have the next piece of content ready – that’s okay just as long as you have mapped out your content plan and can go back and fill in the gaps later.
Producing your content
Here’s the thing…video is big now. It’s easy to consume and social platforms are rewarding video content producers.
The main stay of video is YouTube. With 3 billion searches per month it’s the biggest search engine behind Google.
Then we look at Facebook and Instagram – they were forced to evolve to compete with social video platforms – first Snapchat, and now TikTok.
Video’s not going anywhere, and the upshot of video is that it can be repurposed – strip out the audio and you have a podcast, transcribe it and you have an article.
So take your content outline and use it to produce a video. Each heading and subheading, use those as your talking points – your target market is not an expert in what you do, so use video to share your expertise in a natural, authentic way. It does not have to be an over-produced studio production…some good lighting and your mobile phone is going to do the job, with maybe some light post-production editing which can even possibly be done on your phone, as well.
Want to extract the audio – there are free online sites to do that or video players like Quicktime have an option to export to mp3.
Want a transcription – there are dedicated services for this, either human-based or AI-based, or if you upload to Facebook or Youtube they will autogenerate captions which you can edit, and you could copy.
Unlike writing this blog post, video is quick. If you’re like most people, you’re probably scared you will do it wrong…and here is the thing. Look around and you will probably see competitors that are producing video content you would be embarrassed to use, but while you’re hesitating those competitors are getting exposure and picking up work.
That being said, if you do want to write articles a tool like Frase will make it a lot easier – it will help you get everything you want in there for on-page SEO and by following it’s suggestions you are unlikely to fall into the trap of “keyword suffing” where you try to optimise for the search engines, but just end up producing something that people won’t want to read.
Promoting your content
There is a lot of content available on the web that has received zero, or close to zero, views. Content marketing goes beyond producing content, it’s also about how you get eyeballs on it.
The first job is to get it up – whether it’s on your own website, or on some other platform.
Publishing on your website
From the perspective of how you publish content on your website, if I’ve created a video I’m typically going to put that immediately below the page title as a YouTube embed, and then I’ll either include a transcription (this can be either completely visible or collapsed behind a “Read the video transcript”) or a proofread and polished version of the video as article content that may have had some rewriting to optimise for SEO.
Right there we’re using YouTube, and we also have text content making it easier for Google to index in search results.
Starting with video and repurposing has 2 key advantages for human consumption:
1. It allows people to consume content in the format they are most comfortable with.
2. You will maintain a natural, human tone that appeals to the reader. Content produced exclusively for search engines reads like that, and will turn people off – if Google detects a bad user experience your content will not benefit with good Google rankings.
Using the video platforms
There are a few video platforms available for the publication of videos. The obvious one is, of course, YouTube and outside of a sales page I would use the YouTube embed code if I want to include a video anywhere.
Other video platforms (outside what we would consider social media) you might look at include Vimeo, Dailymotion and Utreon.
Publishing and promoting on social
Here is where you get to extend the value of you content and get in front of people that may not have even been searching for a product or service like yours, or were too difficult/expensive to reach via search.
You can take your content and use as is, or repurpose, for the platforms that your ideal clients are using. It is true that some platforms lend themselves to different markets, e.g. you would not necessarily be expecting people to be looking for dog groomers on LinkedIn, but that does not necessarily mean those platforms may not have merit.
For example, retargeting ads are a great way to get to people cross platform – if someone expressed an interest by visiting your website, or even a particular page on your website, there is no reason you could not promote content or ads to those same people no matter what platform they are seeing it on, e.g. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google.
One of the strategies we like to use is to promote content to a wide market and let the content be the filter for a multi-step campaign. For example, if we create a video and use the video views ad objective in Facebook, we can assume that anyone that has watched, for example, 15 seconds of the video is potentially interested in what we have to offer even if they did not watch the whole video – this smaller market segment is then a group we can promote another piece of content or offer to.
You can check out how we use a content funnel to filter and qualify an audience, and reduce ad costs by only promoting to those most likely to purchase here
Outreach to websites and influencers
The last way to promote your content forms the basis of modern “white hat” off-site SEO, and that’s by doing outreach to other websites and influencers.
An influencer may share your content, or interview you, if they see value in it for their followers.
Other websites may:
1. Offer you guest posting opportunities based on the value of you existing content, or your own following that they may see a potential quid pro quo out of.
2. Link to your content from an existing piece of content on their site.
3. Link to you generally.
This is the basis of white-hat link building. If you can get contextual backlinks then this is what helps your content and site overall rank.
When you’re getting started with content marketing, what it comes down to is having a plan and some structure. While you may be able to rip out a few content pieces off the top of your head to start, sitting down ahead of time to decide on the topics you will cover, the important keywords and then coming up with a content production calendar will make the job a whole lot easier.
It will help you overcome the inertia of not knowing what to write, to maybe even having more content ideas than you can feasibly get to in the next year.
Understand that content will take time, but think about ways you can be more effective at producing content and getting it out there. Video is something that is currently in favour and if you get the topics right and get it in front of the right people they will consume it.
Video might even be the way you produce content – block out time and do several in one go. That may be enough to cover that one content idea, or it may be just enough until you have time to cover it more comprehensively.
If you plan for your business to be around a long time, then content is an investment in the long term success of your business.