Gina Edwards

September 8, 2016

Have you ever tried to play a new board game or sport without learning the rules?

Maybe you tried to jump in and follow along with everyone else, while a friend explained things along the way. You probably had fun, but chances are, you lost.

In order to win, you have to know the rules –– pretty simple. The same applies when it comes to building a successful content creation strategy for your online business.

These days, content rules the online marketing world.

It drives traffic to websites and facilitates clicks, shares, views, and — ultimately –– sales.

Whether you’re a new kid on the online block, or a web veteran, much of the advice around the content creation sphere is the same: make valuable content on a consistent schedule. People will subscribe, read, adore, and then purchase. Right?

At first glance, the content marketing model does indeed boast linear simplicity.

However, even within the same website, content may need to vary in order to meet specific requirements, be they branding, site discovery, audience-building, or potential customer grooming.

As mentioned above, many of the same rules apply for different kinds of content, but it is important to understand the various types, purposes, and strategies for building each piece effectively.

We’ll explore all of these aspects of content building along the way, from developing substantive material on a niche site, utilizing SEO strategically, creating beautiful, shareable posts, and bringing it all together to build a relationship with potential customers that will eventually lead to a sale.

Most importantly, we will look at how to intelligently employ each of these strategies to make sure you’re spending your time wisely and ultimately maximizing your ROI.

Developing Content on a Niche Site

Successful niche websites unify their content around one main topic: whatever they are trying to make revenue from. They do this so that readers who visit the sites know what to expect from them.

Early on in the creation of a niche site, owners must clearly define the target audience and their needs, and then begin pumping out useful and valuable content. This strategy encourages better engagement, which will ultimately yield happier readers and more satisfied customers.

If a new site attempts to create loads of content for an amorphous, mystery audience that they plan on defining later, they will quickly lose traction with whomever is reading at that time. Or worse, they may gain a reputation for being annoying or mediocre.

So, what type of content should your site employ? It depends.

While DIY sites, like cooking or home repair, might focus heavily on how-to articles, consumer sites, like technology or pop culture, might lend themselves to reviews and “top” or “best” lists.

Heavily-opinionated sites dealing with current events, religion, or politics will naturally bend towards extended commentary.

Think about who your target audience is, and what they need. What is their pain or frustration and how can your site fix it? If you’ve already developed your content focus, how can you make it even better?

Building and developing your content

Once you have the target problem your content will solve, consider the best delivery options.

Is it a blog with written articles? A YouTube video series? A crash course? A podcast? A photo gallery? Smoke signals?

Try the following steps to make sure that your content topic and method is in keeping with your target audience.

  • Analyze your closest competition, and do what they do better

Subscribe to competitors’ sites and follow them on social media. What are they promoting? Which types of posts are getting the highest level of engagement? What are people sharing?

From there, you can take inspiration from what you’ve seen and figure out how to make it new, different, and better. Maybe your competition relies heavily on blogs, but you see the most activity on their top 10 listicles. (If Buzzfeed is any indication, these do indeed get a lot of attention.)

Figure out a way to do listicles better, and start creating. Maybe you add a video that goes with it or a poll for people to vote. Perhaps incorporating fun memes or gifs will attract the audience you are trying to serve.

In addition, monitor the pulse of your particular topic by staying up-to-date on the news and conversation surrounding it. Create a Google news alert, follow related hashtags and pages on social media, scan discussions on Quora, and read popular blogs by industry leaders.

Knowing the ins and outs of your particular topic will allow you to start guiding the dialogue on your platform.

  1. Track engagement and try, try again

At the beginning, it may not be obvious which types of content have the magic formula for audience satisfaction, which means that trial and error will be part of the process. It sucks, but that is the reality of most successful content marketing.

With good maintenance of the available statistics, you should be able to find the right type of content for your readers. Over time, you will start to see which items garner the most clicks, time spent, and shares (more on that last one later). Google Analytics or other site trackers will become your new best friend.

As you grow and get to know your audience better, you might even want to ask them directly about what they would like to read or know more about. You could include a short, one-question survey in some unobtrusive areas of your site to capture feedback and ideas from your audience.

With research, trial and error, and engagement analysis, you should be able to create a consistent and trustworthy stream of content.

However, supplying valuable content is not always enough. While these days, there are many  avenues to get site views, it’s good to have organic search in mind when starting out. That means, learning how to write so that Google will lead people to your front door.

Writing for SEO, or How to Get Found

As mentioned above, for many sites, Google is a dominant gatekeeper that can have a huge bearing on a particular site’s success. Therefore, optimizing a site’s content to make it easier to find is an important step to take in order to maximize the traffic and views of a particular site.

Google is an ever-evolving animal, with algorithms and updates that can work for or against those who are building and developing sites. Entire courses, specializations, plugins, websites, and podcasts are devoted to this idea: search engine optimization (SEO).

For an in-depth understanding of how SEO functions, consult one of the aforementioned resources. For a brief overview and some quick tips, read on.

Being SEO-friendly

All content, be it text, photo, video, audio or other multimedia, can be optimized for SEO purposes. It is often just a matter of taking existing material and tweaking it so that the keywords your potential users will plop into the Google search bar are the same ones that appear in your content, whether overtly or discreetly.

For those new to the online scene, this might be a perplexing idea.

All it means is that Google (or any other search engine), will scan all elements in your website, not only the words you have published for your readers to consume. All the file names for photos, videos, posts, titles, and site elements (like headers, footers, sidebars), have titles and tags with text that are searchable.

These pieces can work together to help your site rank higher in the search results that Google spits out. If you’ve done your SEO effectively, your site will skip on up to the top.

Creating content optimized for search engines

There are a few key ideas to follow when trying to optimize your content for a search engine:

  • Know your keywords and put them to work

People looking for your site will likely have common themes in what they are searching for to get to you; such terms are your keywords. After you identify the keywords most likely to be used in searching for your site, find a way to maximize their potential.

You can figure out your keywords a few different ways. One quick trick is to think like your target user. Imagine you are searching for the kind of content you have on your website and what you would use to try to find it. Playing with and identifying such queries and their variations can tell you a lot about what types of content your users are looking for, and how highly your site is ranked in such searches.

To find more keywords and ideas for adjustments to your site, you might also consider using free services like SEOsiteCheckup and Google Keyword Planner.

Once you identify these words, make sure you use them in a strategic yet natural way. Which means…

  • Write a lot of clear, organized content

This might seem obvious, but as Google’s updates have rolled out, the hammer has come down on sites with weak or sloppy content. Now, rewards in the form of higher rankings go to sites with a large amount of quality content.

While you should certainly keep important keywords in mind and fit them into titles, the first and last sentence of the content, as well as meta tags and other places, keep one word in mind: natural.

People who try to stuff their content with too many keywords, making the piece almost unreadable in hopes of moving up in the rankings, will ultimately fall short. Increasingly complex search algorithms are sniffing out this sneaky practice and adjusting accordingly.

Keep the content clean, organized, and targeted — the keywords will do the work for you.

  • Analyze the results and reassess

But of course, that is not the end of the SEO story. One big question remains: what are your results?

You should be using some kind of platform, like Google Analytics or something similar, to assess the traffic on your site. Information found there can guide you on what keywords to focus on. From there, you should be able to see which keywords are actually bringing visitors to your site and engaging with your content.

Make adjustments to your SEO strategy over time, so that you can continue to adequately meet the needs of those who are stopping by.

Share the Love: Making the Rounds on Social Media

So, you have a great website with quality content that is SEO-optimized. You might wonder what role social media and sharing truly has in your content marketing.

Depending on the type of site you own, this answer could vary greatly, as some audiences have a much larger presence on social media than others. Further, audiences greatly vary on different social media platforms. Facebook’s main users are getting older, while Instagram and Snapchat are the preferred media hubs for young people.

However, no matter what relationship your site will have with social media, it is important to know the tenets of targeting content towards social sharing, as many of the lessons can make for better copywriting no matter the platform.

Getting Noticed

In keeping with the overall trends of media consumption in the 21st century, social share content must be eye-catching, scannable, and valuable.

When people share content with others online, they are attaching their name and endorsement or disapproval of the content within. Content with poor design, typos, or boring headlines will have a much harder time getting people’s approval.

The idea is to make the content so good that people will have to pass it along. But how to do that?

Making an offer they can’t refuse

There are a few tricks of the trade to help ensure that your content meets such high standards, and most require just a few extra minutes of tweaking:

  • Write grabbable headlines and meta descriptions.

With people’s attention spans growing shorter and shorter, it is key to be able to snatch their eyes away from all of the other available information. This means that headlines and descriptions are key to winning people’s precious time.

Make your headlines catchy by including numbers and time-sensitive words such as now, today, or immediately. The headline should clearly demonstrate the value that readers and watchers will gain from consuming your content without coming across as spammy or cheap.

But headlines aren’t the only content element that should warrant careful crafting. In some social media platforms, like Facebook, the meta descriptions can be just as important. When a piece of content shows up on a news feed, for instance, the meta description can make or break whether someone clicks.

Like the headline, make meta descriptions short and enticing, perhaps by asking a question or teasing the reader in some way. If you are struggling with how to craft these elements, a plugin like Yoast will give you everything you need.

  1. Add and optimize photos

We are moving towards an ever more visual society. These days, plain stock photos or clipart are content suicide.

Site owners must commit to using high-quality, interesting photos on social media posts in order to capture attentions and provide an interesting element to the content.

Once photos (that you either own or are open source) are chosen, test them out in a post to ensure that they fit nicely into the frame and look appealing. In addition, as discussed in the SEO section, make sure to optimize the photo with the appropriate tags so that Google can find it.

  1. Make sharing as easy as possible

Now that you’ve created an interesting, attention-grabbing post that will have readers clicking and reading, you might think your work is done. Not so!

One key element still remains: the share. Readers must have a very clear path to — and reason for — passing along your content to others.

Your sharing add-ons must be clearly visible and easy to use. Choose a plugin or service that displays the social icons prominently at the side or bottom of the content without being too distracting.

Within the content, you could also embed instantly tweetable quotes. Services like Click to Tweet make this especially easy to include.

You might also consider implementing some kind of contest or giveaway for users who like and share content from your site. This strategy gives users an additional reason to click, share, and spread your content far and wide.

Lead Nurturing, or Making Customers Happy Before They’re Customers

Your audience base is growing thanks to the above strategies. More traffic is coming to your site than ever before, and you feel like you’re mastering these content strategy rules.

Even though traffic is exciting to see, the revenue that said visitors can potentially bring you is even more so. Now, the trick is to capture visitor information in order to nurture them towards a future purchase.

Supplying value – free of charge

This tenet often means giving your visitors something of value in exchange for their email address. Consider email addresses a form of currency in your empire — they are what people pay you for “free” content, understanding you will likely ask them for something else in the future.

Often, this item of value is an exclusive piece of content, meaning that only users who subscribe or offer their personal email address can access it.

Examples of lead nurturing content include:

  • Cheat sheets
  • How-to guides
  • Coupons
  • Sales letters
  • Ebooks
  • Slideshow packs
  • Top or Best Lists
  • Webinars
  • Free Trials
  • Tip Sheets
  • Etc.

Obviously, each downloadable or accessible piece of content should be tailored to your site’s niche.

Most site owners already have the material for such content lying around in some format. Creating lead nurturing materials might require assembling several blog posts in one document, pulling information from other promotional materials, or refreshing and recycling old content.

Regardless of which option you choose to use, make sure that it is desirable and useful to your potential customer.

Individual pieces of content are not the only option for lead nurturing. Some site owners instead choose to create an email mini-course.

Such crash courses include a series of emails (usually five to seven) spread out over a period of a few weeks. With this option, site owners can create an opportunity for multiple interactions with potential consumers, and increase opportunities for engagement and further nurturing.

This option appeals to many who might worry that a one-off download that users might save and forget about will not end up yielding a sufficient ROI.

Giving strategically over time

No matter which option you choose, a few key rules can help guide this content creation so as to make it the most effective –– read: will yield purchase and profit –– possible.

  • Know and understand the phases of lead nurturing

Everyone who visits your site will have arrived for slightly different reasons: looking for a quick answer, gathering information, just surfing, is a superfan, clicked the back button too many times, etc.

This means that all those who stop by will be at different stages along the lead nurturing timeline. Generally speaking, the order goes from awareness to evaluation to purchase. In other words: learning > considering > buying.

So each phase of your lead nurturing will meet a different need, from raising consciousness about your brand or product, to educating about it, to facilitating a purchase.

For the awareness phase, possible materials include tip sheets, checklists, ebooks, and other informational products. Good evaluation stage materials might be case studies, product webinars, or cheat sheets. Finally, purchasing materials could include free trials, coupons or a live demonstration.

But how do you know where your users are in the process?

  • Use marketing automation to accurately target leads at different stages

Marketing automation is increasingly a favored tool of serious online marketers. By tracking data from individual users whose emails you’ve captured, it helps you focus your time on those who are most likely to convert into paying customers by creating automated systems that manage your email lists and engage with more promising users.

By utilizing the available data based on the links users click or the funnels they self-select, marketing automation systems put your lists into distinct tracks with set sequences of emails and follow-up. Those who recently join your site will join a different track than ones who have been around and engaging for a while.

Position the materials you’ve made along these strategic phases in order to maximize your conversion rates and increase your desired outcomes.

  • Slow and steady wins the race

Remember that it is called lead nurturing for a reason. The idea is to build engagement and trust between your site and its users by providing authentic, quality information.

Users who feel you’ve invested in them –– by providing them with valuable information –– will be more likely to buy something down the road. If they sign up for a website and immediately get hit with obtrusive, salesy content, they will disengage and your brand reputation will be negatively affected.

Instead, make like a turtle and lean in to the long haul. It will be worth it in the end.

Let’s Recap

Whatever stage of the content ownership and creation field you are in, you are likely realizing the complexity, depth and strategic planning necessary for producing your content.

By following the above suggestions, you should be able to create a solid plan that ultimately yields you profit.

When running a niche site, remember to analyze your competition and other related news sources for ideas to inspire you to improve. Over time, fine tune your content by tracking engagement and even asking your audience to help you map out future content production plans.

Optimize your site by using keywords within your clear, organized, and helpful content. Clearly display these target words, especially in headlines, meta descriptions, and at the beginning and end of the content. Continue to evaluate and tweak this process as you go along.

To continue building your presence and gaining traction with audiences, leverage social media platforms to your advantage. Make your already dazzling content stand out through eye-catching titles, descriptions, and photos. Then, make it easy for readers to share it by prominently displaying share icons, and giving them incentives with contests and giveaways.

Finally, nurture the leads you capture by providing free content through downloadable PDFs and access to materials, or provide an email crash course in a given topic. Through this process, be sure to understand the lead nurturing phases (awareness, evaluation and purchasing), and use marketing automation over a sustained period of time in order to build trust and eventually guide readers towards the end goal: a sale.

Build it –– and do lots of other things, too –– and they will come

Whether you realize it or not, every piece of content on your site is a mini-marketing campaign. Therefore, it should be designed, developed, and published with one important person in mind: your target user.

If done well, content marketing should be a beautiful back-and-forth between the content owners/creators and their audience.

Like in a game of chess or football, by learning the rules and using them effectively, you will get really good at it. With hard work complemented by sound strategy, you will greatly increase your odds of coming out on top in the end.


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Discussion
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  1. Tom Buckland says:

    Interesting post. I think you summed up content marketing in one sentence: “Analyze your closest competition, and do what they do better” – Pretty much sums up what you need to do to be successful.

    • Greg Elfrink says:

      Absolutely.

      If you can “level up” your competitors content, you’ll have the advantage for sure (backlink opportunities and conversion opportunities)

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