This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.
One of the most effective, lowest-cost ways to drive traffic and build awareness for your business is through content marketing: creating and distributing relevant content to attract, acquire, and engage your target audience. Content marketing can run the gamut from publishing status updates and photos on Facebook Pages and Twitter, to writing compelling blog posts and posting videos on YouTube. Popular types of content you can start with include how-to articles and videos, Q&As, behind-the-scenes looks at your business, photos and videos showcasing your work and first-hand accounts of your staff participating in local or industry events.
While many businesses have already tried a hand at content marketing, not all have been successful at getting their content found, consumed and shared. Those who have are applying a few key strategies that can dramatically improve the effectiveness of any content marketing program.
Here are five key content marketing strategies to boost your program success.
1. Plan Your Content Ahead of Time
Staring at a blank screen can be daunting, so consider planning out your topics ahead of time.
Ben Young, co-founder of digital marketing agency Young & Shand, recommends simply brainstorming titles to get the creative juices flowing. “We have brainstorm sessions with our clients just to come up with some titles. In an hour we can usually get up to 20 different titles. We then follow up to get the key bullet points for each piece of content,” says Young.
Amanda O’Brien, VP of marketing at Hall Internet Marketing, suggests that you “look at your website analytics to see which pages are most popular and check the referring pages to see how people are getting to those pages. This should give you a decent idea of what types of content your website visitors are looking for.” O’Brien also recommends checking out question sites such as Quora and LinkedIn Answers to see what questions people are already asking out in the wild.
Staying informed on the latest news can also help fuel new ideas for relevant content.
“One of the first things I do in the morning is catch up on email marketing blogs, newsletters and tweets,” says Lindsay McMurdo, VP of marketing at email marketing company Topica. McMurdo recommends using Google Reader to aggregate relevant news from your industry, and also searching Twitter for relevant hashtags.
Another helpful trick is to repurpose content. “If you take the time to put content together, make sure you are getting the most use out of it,” says O’Brien. “For example, if you put together a presentation for a speaking engagement, consider writing a blog post summarizing your key points and embedding your slides.” If you’ve authored an informative white paper, break it up into multiple blog posts and tweets. Other content that may be ripe for repurposing includes existing FAQs, customer service requests and even demos, says O’Brien.
Young also recommends that clients create a blog post “cache” of 12 weeks’ worth of posts. “When we get busy, it’s easy to get distracted and forget to write. Creating a blog cache gives our clients the first 12 runs on the board, makes them feel great and sparks off more ideas over the next 12 weeks,” says Young.
2. Create Content That Pops
Nielsen reports that users typically spend less than one minute on any given web page, so many experts recommend creating content that can be easily consumed in under a minute.
“Web users skim and prefer easily digestible bits of content. Endless paragraphs of text will only make their eyes glaze over,” says Tom Warthen, president of ProSite Web Design. Warthen recommends displaying small tidbits or a high-level overview before drilling down to more detail.
Andy Crestodina, founder and strategic director of Orbit Media Studios, suggests breaking up your article into short sections. This will not only make it easier to read for visitors, it’s also good for search engines, because the headers and subheaders are great places to include keywords and related keyword phrases. Crestodina recommends paying extra attention to text formatting, such as bolding and bullets — this makes it easy for busy readers to scan and get your message quickly.
McMurdo also suggests that you look to pop culture to punch up your content. “Everyone loves a pop-culture reference, as long as it is one that most of your audience will recognize or identify with,” says McMurdo. For example, McMurdo tied a character from a Dos Equis ad campaign to the topic of email marketing in her recent post, “5 Things You Can Learn About Email Marketing From ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World’.”
3. Search Engine Optimize Your Content
Once your content is ready to post, the next step is to optimize it for search.
Start by researching which keywords and keyword phrases get the most traffic for a particular topic, using Google’s Keyword Tool or another similar tool. Tasha Mayberry, founder of social media consulting firm Social Media 22, recommends that you then use these relevant keywords or keyword phrases in your content title, in the file names of the article and images, as well as throughout the entire article or webpage.
Joe Chernov, VP of content marketing at marketing automation company Eloqua, also suggests standardizing your keyword tags to ensure that the highest density of keywords is associated with your content. “When you distribute new content, pre-author the description and list of tags, then simply paste that copy into every outlet onto which you upload the asset,” says Chernov.
4. Create Backlinks to Your Content
The more backlinks that point to your content, the more value search engines will assign to it. To increase the number of backlinks to your content, Mayberry suggests responding and leaving comments in relevant articles, blog posts and forums with a link back to your website or blog URL. Just make sure your comment adds value to the conversation so it’s not viewed as spam.
Mayberry also recommends publishing your articles to sites such as:
- Yahoo! Contributor Network
- Author Palace
- Ezine Articles
You should also create a Google Profile and list the URLs affiliated with your company, and claim and build out your listing pages on sites such as MerchantCircle and Yelp to maximize backlinks to your blog.
And of course, always look for opportunities to link to your existing content in your new posts.
5. Make Your Content Social
It goes without saying that you should promote any new content through social media channels such as your Facebook Page, Twitter and LinkedIn. But instead of just posting the title, consider pulling out a key point from the content or posing a relevant question to pique readers’ interest.
Becky Boyd, VP of marketing services at communications agency MediaFirst, also recommends posting to LinkedIn groups. “On LinkedIn, I belong to groups that focus on my clients’ target audiences. When my client writes a blog post, I submit the post to the groups’ News or Discussion section. This way, when a group admin sends an email update to fellow members, it will include a link to the blog post.”
Finally, don’t forget to make your content shareable using free social plugins tools such as AddThis or Wibiya. If someone shares your content, this will automatically create a back-link to your website and greatly amplify the reach of your content.
What other content marketing tips do you have for small business? Let us know in the comments.
For more Business & Marketing coverage: