Part 1: Have a Content Marketing Strategy in Place
I’ve been writing articles for 5 years now. I remember that, at first, I would start writing without having any specific steps in place. My gut feeling was what dictated the content and sometimes that was ok, other times it was far from what the audience expected. I used to believe that writing an article was all about inspiration. Now, I know it’s much more than that. It involves a strategy, research, a thorough understanding of the audience, optimisation and more. You may get the feeling that it’s all about writing stuff that crosses one’s mind when in fact it’s a highly documented process.
This is the first part of a longer article that will tackle all of the stages involved in writing blog content. It’s high time you stopped believing that writing an article is like writing a social media post while drinking your morning coffee. Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s not that.
The first big thing that you need to pay attention to and that I’ll be discussing here is the content strategy, what you need to do before you actually start writing an article or any other piece of content.
Writing an article like a pro means having a strategy
Yes, that’s right! Don’t invest time in writing content that only you will read. Sometimes, if not many times, we get the misleading feeling that if we like it, everybody else will. It’s a trap! Avoid falling into it by having the following 3 key processes in place:
Create Buyer Persona profiles
Buyer personas play a critical role in internet marketing, particularly in establishing the effectiveness of your content marketing strategies. HubSpot gives a very good and clear definition: ”A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.” In other words, buyer personas define who your targeted audiences are, and they are the starting point or the key element that all internet marketing strategies are based upon.
Regardless of what you are selling, you can’t sell it to every person on the planet and you definitely can’t sell it if it doesn’t satisfy a particular need. The key to effective communication, one that ultimately generates the desired results depends on how well you know the people you are talking to and how good you are at identifying their needs.
Creating buyer persona profiles is a customised process, as it is meant to help your team address its unique marketing challenges and opportunities. Here are the steps to get you on the right track:
Identify your target buyers and choose 2-3 Buyer Personas. Stick to the most relevant ones and make a promise to yourself to only create content that’s useful to them and that helps them overcome challenges and find solutions.
Create a Buyer Persona template. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it has to be useful. We’re normally creating a table in Google Sheets that we fill in with loads of information and details. Start by picturing your ideal customer and giving him/her a name.
Include important information in the table. Start with the person’s background and then move to identifiers, goals, challenges and any other relevant information that you can gather by asking the following questions:
- Who is he/she?
- What’s his/her job title?
- What kind of industry does he/she work in?
- What challenges does he/she encounter?
- What could you do to help him/her overcome the challenges?
- What stage is he/she in the conversion funnel?
- Is he/she the decision-maker or does he/she need approval for important decisions?
To learn more about your Buyer Persona’s content preferences, you may also want to ask questions like:
- How and when does he/she access information?
- How much information would he/she want to receive, and how often?
- What could influence his/ her content consumption?
Where do you get all this info?
That’s probably on your mind at this point, so I’m going to give you a couple of resources:
- A/B testing: running A/B tests gives you a pretty useful clue on what works and what doesn’t work for your target audience.
- Analysing current content consumption patterns: take a look at page views, time on site, downloads, newsletter open rates, and bounce rates to learn what your audience is interested in.
- Social media: use social media management and monitoring tools to assess consumers’ emotional states and gather relevant information about what their pain points and challenges are.
- Ask your sales and customer service teams: since they are the ones in constant contact with customer and prospects, they should have plenty of insights to share.
- Gather information directly from customers: hold interviews with customers and prospects and gather the info that you need directly from the source.
Our tip for this section
Personas will evolve and change over time. This will happen as you discover more information about your customers and what motivates them. The truth is that, when you create your first buyer persona profiles, much of the information will be based upon your personal thoughts and hunches. With time, as your businesses progresses, you will start learning new and more relevant things about your customers. As you evolve, the important thing is to always go back and re-define your buyer personas to make sure you’re targeting the right potential customers as effectively as possible.
Put together a Keyword Plan
All content marketing strategies begin with keyword research. Targeting the right keywords will lead to long-term organic search traffic for your website.
For keyword research, we use Google’s Keyword Planner, download the results, and then sort through them in a spreadsheet.
If you’re not one of those big websites with high authority, our recommendation is to always aim for long tail keywords. General words like gamification might have 60.000 searches and a low competition but your chances of getting found in Google with this keyword are near 0. On the other hand using long tail keywords like what is gamification highly increase your chances.
In Keyword planner, it’s important to stay away from keywords that have a high competition or a small number of avg. monthly searches. Aim for keywords with medium competition and with several hundred searches.
Find out more on how to use Google Keyword Planner here.
In an article published on Quicksprout, Neil Patel gives some really useful alternatives to Google’s Keyword Planner. Some of them are:
Find the questions that your Buyer Personas are asking
You can do this by using Faqfox, a tool that generates content ideas or keyword ideas. Based on a keyword you enter, the tool will scrape a list of threads on various forums and aggregators.
Visit Q&A websites such as Quora to find questions from your readers. You can also check:
- Yahoo Answers
- Stack Exchange
- Wiki Answers
- Ask Metafilter
Tap into Twitter chats
On Twitter, people include hashtags in their tweets to talk about a particular topic. This allows other users to search for that hashtag, see the latest results and interact with them.
A Twitter chat uses a specific hashtag so that groups of users can discuss topics, live. To take full advantage of Twitter chats, Neil Patel, recommends the following tools:
Our tip for this section:
Your keyword plan goes hand in hand with your Buyer Persona profiles and needs constant updating to reflect what your personas are looking for.
Create an Editorial Calendar
I deliberately left this for last because you must never, under any circumstances, create an editorial calendar without having Buyer Personas and a Keyword plan. These help you pinpoint the needs and expectations of your audience and deliver the content that they need.
Your editorial calendar will help you maintain content consistency, not only when it comes to blog articles but also when dealing with eBooks, whitepapers, reports, etc. All content deliverables should be included in your editorial calendar.
How the calendar is structured
We usually have editorial calendars spanning over 3 months. After 12 weeks, we hold a big brainstorming session and then create the calendar for the following 3 months.
We’re not using any particular tool. We’ve created an excel file with the following fields:
- Publication date
- Article title
- Publishing platform
- Keyword focus
- Buyer Persona
- Channels for distribution
- Key Metrics
How do you come up with the topics?
You start with your Buyer Personas.
- What are they reading?
- What are they interested in?
- What keywords are they using when performing a Google search?
Then you take a look at trending topics. For this, you can use Google trends or BuzzSumo. The latter is particularly useful because it allows you to see the most shared and trending topics.
An additional resource you can use for content discovery is NinjaOutreach. It can also be used to find influencers and bloggers and is a must-have tool if you are trying to strengthen your link profile via outreach.
Of course, the idea is not to copy other people’s articles or write the exact same things that others have. That’s when a brainstorming session comes into play. Gather your whole team, take the lists with what Buyer Personas are interested in and that with keywords and start coming up with creative and unique ways of presenting that content.
Last but not least, try to deliberate on the topics discussed in articles and less on the titles. On the latter, you will need to work more thoroughly once the piece of content is ready. That’s what we’ll discuss in part 2 of this article. That’s where you will also learn what the writing part involves and how to optimise your articles for search engines.