Content marketing is amazing for attracting your target audience and building a relationship with it.
There is just one problem, though…
How do you do it?
I share a lot of content marketing tips in my posts, but those posts usually assume you’re already doing content marketing, at least to some degree.
But if you haven’t started yet, or are very new to it, you won’t get as much out of those posts as those with some experience.
So, if you’ve felt that my past posts about content marketing have been too advanced for you, this one will help.
I’m going to give you a step-by-step process to follow to create a successful content marketing plan.
I’m talking about a plan that is simple to understand and execute but that can be used to drive thousands of qualified visitors to your website every month (in less than a year).
Why content marketing?
There are several dozen types of marketing.
They can all produce good results when applied in the right situation.
But I think we’re in a special time for content marketing.
Businesses and marketers are recognizing how effective it is in the modern consumer climate.
People have always liked to buy from businesses and people with whom they have relationships and whom they trust.
Until the Internet, it was hard for businesses to build those relationships.
But now, it’s easier than ever to deliver content to an audience.
This is important whether you’re selling straight to the consumer or to a business. A recent survey found that 67% of B2B buyers base their buying decisions on content.
And they don’t become just buyers—a large percentage of them also frequently share that content (most often in the form of a blog post – 40%).
Most marketers have just started recognizing all this.
Currently, 80% of B2B marketers have a content marketing strategy.
However, 48% (overall) do not have a written plan. In 99% of cases, this means that they really have no clue what they’re doing.
That’s good news for you. Why? Because just by putting in some effort to go through this post and writing a few things down, you’ll be ahead of over 50% of online marketers.
I’ll let you in on a secret:
Most businesses suck at content marketing.
Seriously, look at the blogs for most businesses—they’re a joke.
But still, 30% of marketers find content marketing“effective”, and another 44% get some results from it.
Don’t be in those bottom three groups…
There’s no reason why you can’t find content marketing very effective for generating traffic and, most importantly, qualified leads for your business.
Follow the six steps I cover in the rest of this post, and write down your notes as you go.
In the end, you’ll have a short, clear, and effective content marketing plan to base your future work on.
Step 1: Why are you doing this?
Before you can start producing content of any kind, it pays to do a bit of planning.
If you just produce content for a general audience, chances are you won’t get much in the way of results.
To really see great results, you need to:
Identify your target audienceCreate content that resonates with those specific readers
When you create general content, it will never resonate with anyone, which is why it isn’t effective.
But it’s not enough to just target a specific audience. You need to understand their beliefs, problems, and desires so that your content matches them.
Part #1 – Who are they? Create a section in a blank document for Step 1. At the top of this section, you need to define who your target audience is.
For example, if you sell running gear, your audience may be “runners.”
But do you see the problem with that?
While “runners” is technically an audience, it’s not a well defined one.
There are many different kinds of runners:
professional marathonersprofessional sprintersrecreational joggers (do it for fun)runners trying to lose weightrunners trying to strengthen their legs…
…and so on.
Do you think you could create content that would speak to both a professional marathoner and a random guy that’s just trying to lose his beer gut?
Not a chance.
Get as specific as you can. You want to identify an audience who would agree with your label.
A professional marathoner would say:
I’m not just a runner; I’m a professional marathoner who trains year round and races six times a year.
I’m not a running expert, so six times might be too many, but you get the point…
Once you have the name of your audience, write it down.
Now you can start to build a reader persona.
Give your average audience member a fictional name before moving on to part #2. This allows you to write to one person, which is an old copywriting trick for writing in a more conversational tone that is more likely to resonate with your readers.
Part #2 – What are they struggling with? Here’s where serious research comes into play.
You need to start profiling your reader.
In this part, you’ll identify as many problems your target audience faces as possible. If you can, classify them by severity.
Let’s continue with the running example.
How do you find out what problems marathoners have?
The best way to gather that information is to simply talk to them. I know it’s not the most comfortable thing in the world to do for some people, but if you can, chat with a few for 10-20 minutes.
Ask them about their biggest problems and obstacles.
If that fails, head to online forums and community sites specifically set up for your target audience. You want to find a place where they talk to each other about their problems.
If you have no clue where to start, start with Reddit.
You can find a subreddit (basically a categorized community) for just about any topic.
In this case, a simple search on Google reveals a couple of “marathon” subreddits:
Spend at least 20-30 minutes looking through the threads you find.
Record any problems you see people talk about as well as how often they come up and how serious they seem to be.
On the first few results, I already see two problems:
beginner marathoners who are not sure about etiquette during a race and
racerunners having joint pain during a taper (when they reduce their mileage leading up to a race).
Ideally, get a list of over 100 problems.
It sounds like a lot, but it’s doable, and you’ll be set for content ideas for a while.
Alternatively, do a search for forums on Google.
In this case, these results are probably better.
They are geared towards experienced marathoners, whereas that first subreddit was focused on beginners (although it will have some experienced runners too).
You do the exact same thing here—look for problems.
Again, I see a few problems right off the bat:
How do you set your pace for a marathon?What do you do if you start getting pain leading up to the marathon?
Write down your list of problems (in your document or in a separate spreadsheet) before moving on.
Part #3 – Where do they look for solutions? In order to provide your audience with solutions to their problems, you need to find a way to get those solutions in front of them.
Most of these places are online, so that’s what you should focus on.
You need to compile a list of websites they visit.
That starts with the forums and communities you just found in part 2.
Other than those, you’ll just have to search around.
I would recommend starting with:
top (niche) sites
top (niche) blogs
You should be able to compile at least 20-30 “popular” sites they visit.
If it looks like a site only has a few dozen readers, don’t bother recording it.
Record these sites as we’ll be coming back to them later.
Part #4 – How will you solve their problems better than anyone else? No matter what your topic is, there are already at least a few popular sites that cover it.
Readers need very good reasons to either add your site to the ones they already follow or replace one of them with yours.
And the way you convince them to do that is bygiving more value.
If your content is clearly better than that of your competitors’, you will draw readers away from them.
Start by going to the most popular sites in your niche.
Look through their content, and note any weaknesses in it.
For example, I picked the first popular marathon site I found, which was a blog on a major running site.
The content is written by a true expert, but it’s quite basic, and it’s very anecdotal.
I would note under weaknesses:
Not enough images, lists, etc.Could use more data supporting pointsVery short, doesn’t dive into the topic thoroughly
Then, I would move on to the next blog.
After 5-10, you’ll start to see the same things pop up every time. These are your opportunities.
Go back to your document. Your goal here is to create a concise description of how your content will be more valuable to your target audience.
Our content will include a lot of relevant visual content as well as data-driven answers. We will go deep into subjects to try to satisfy our target audience.
Having that description to guide you in the future will ensure that you focus on the right things.
Step 2: Here’s how you figure out the best type of content to produce
The “content” in content marketing can mean a lot of different things.
Pretty much anything that can possibly contain a message is considered content. That includes:
blog postsinfographicspictures (drawings, comics, photographs, paintings)podcastsvideose-booksslideshows
and much more.
If you produce certain types of content for your audience, you’ll get better results than you would with other types.
To figure out what the best type is, you have to consider two factors.
What are your audience’s preferences? Some audiences prefer certain types of content over others.
For example, home decorators are mainly looking for visual content. Pictures and videos are the primary form of content in the home decorating niche.
On the other hand, a niche like nutrition mainly will have your standard text content with pictures mixed in.
The tough part is figuring out what is best for your niche.
To do this, we’re going to look at a few different indicators.
Start by heading to Buzzsumo. Create a free account if you don’t have one yet, and then search for your niche (you can choose a broader niche here).
What you’ll likely see is that one of the main social networks is much more popular than the others.
If Pinterest or Facebook are the most popular, image-based content is going to be crucial. Pinterest is a purely image-based network, while images are by far the most shared type of content on Facebook.
But that’s not a perfect overview of the whole situation.
What about things like podcasts?
That’s where you need to search individually. The two other forms of content you need to check for are podcasts and videos.
With podcasts, you can use two methods.
First, you can look at Stitcher’s top 100 podcasts in a relevant category.
In our example, I picked “sports” since that’s what running would fall under.
I looked through the top 100 and couldn’t find a single podcast about running. That tells me there isn’t a lot of interest.
Ideally, you’d like to see at least a few different podcasts about your niche as an indicator of some interest.
If you see 3-4 in the top 10, that tells you that audio content is huge in your niche and you should definitely incorporate it into your content strategy if you can.
Anther way you can check for podcasts is to simply Google “top (niche) podcasts”.
I found a few, run by some popular websites. Then, I looked them up on Stitcher and found that they had barely any reviews. This means they aren’t very popular.
In this case, audio content is out.
Finally, what about video content?
Well, that’s pretty easy to check for. Go to YouTube, and search for your niche. You can also try a few suggestions from the search bar.
This actually surprised me. There were many marathon-running videos with several thousand views.
I didn’t expect this, which is exactly why you need to check.
Look at the number of views on each video. You’ll have to decide what you’d consider a significant number, but I’d be looking for at least 10 videos to have at least 20,000 views to indicate serious interest.
If there’s only one video with a ton of views, it’s likely a one-off viral fluke and should be discounted.
What are your strengths and/or budget? The second main factor depends on your skillset. If you’re not a good writer, you probably want to lean towards a different type of content.
Often, you’ll find that multiple forms of content are equally popular in your niche. That gives you a lot of flexibility. You can use any combination of them.
But what if only one type of content is popular?Well, then you have no choice.
If you aren’t comfortable creating that content, you have a decision to make:
learn how to create it or
hire someone to do it for you
If you have a healthy budget for content marketing, hiring is always a good option.
If not, you’ll need to develop those skills on your own.
Now, combine the two: Now you’re looking for the intersection of these two areas:
the type of content desired by your target audience and
the type of content you can actually produce.
The type(s) of content that falls into both areas is the one(s) you should produce for your target audience.