What You Need to Know to Create a Successful Content Marketing Strategy

What You Need to Know to Create a Successful Content Marketing Strategy

Without an effective content marketing strategy, your online business might as well not exist. It’s operating in a void if no one knows or cares about it.

Staring at a blank screen will NOT get your website noticed. Erratically throwing together 100 words on the first topic that comes to mind is sure to keep your rankings at the bottom of the search engine results pages.

And clickbait headlines can only get you so far once the reader realizes there is no substance to the rest of your post and clicks away.

You need a plan that will attract your ideal clients and keep them coming back for more, but the project seems overwhelming.

The biggest challenge content marketers face is constantly having to create so much material on an ongoing basis. Think of all of your different marketing channels — your blog, your YouTube channel, all of your social media accounts, your email list, and so on. You need unique content for each one.

Think also of the time frame. Your content stream develops over months or years, depending on your marketing plan. How on earth do the big, influential content creators stay on top of it all?

Of course, you can delegate or outsource, and tools can help. But being organized is the secret weapon. You’ll need to be organized if you want to use content to gain exposure, build relationships, and sell your products and services.

Don’t waste valuable time posting ineffective nonsense that could potentially alienate your target audience. Instead, understand how and why a content marketing strategy is essential for success — and create a simple, easy-to-follow plan even if you think you don’t know where to begin.

Why Content Marketing Strategy Matters

Having a documented content marketing strategy really is a big deal. Savvy shoppers these days avoid ads whenever possible, and 84% of people expect brands to create content. Content marketing costs 62% less yet generates 3x more leads than traditional marketing.

But although 72% of marketers have a strategy in place, only 30% have it documented. Considering that small businesses with blogs get 126% more lead growth than those without, their competitors who have not documented their plan in favor of keeping it in their heads are far behind in terms of attracting leads and increasing revenue.

A strategy is simply a plan of action designed to meet a major aim. Your business has a major aim: Generate revenue and earn a profit. Having a documented content marketing strategy will help you do just that.

5 Steps to an Effective Content Marketing Strategy

Step 1. Set SMART goals for your strategy. As we mentioned before, it’s the roadmap you’ll follow to make your business goals. So before you do anything else, define those goals and address why you’re creating content in the first place. SMART goals that are specific, measurable, actionable, results-based and time-bound are your starting point.

Next, inventory your existing content. You likely have blog posts, infographics, eBooks, case studies, and more. Be on the lookout for ways to repurpose these assets you already own to fill any gaps uncovered in your audit.

There are multitudes of creative ways to turn blogs into podcasts, eBooks into templates and worksheets, and other endless possibilities. So take stock of the various ways you might use new and existing content to achieve the business goals you’ve set. Providing the information your audience is looking for is the foundation of effective content marketing strategy.

Step 2. Perform target market research and develop buyer personas. You want your readers to look forward to your content to help them solve their problems as only you seem able to do — because you’ve taken the time to learn about them and understand their needs.

In order to produce content your audience loves, you have to know them well. You’ll need to collect data about them and use it to develop content. This requires an organized system of gathering and analyzing information about your audience, and keeping in constant contact with them so you can learn more.

The most effective content is that which offers a practical, unique solution to the problems your readers face. Your system should be designed to pay close attention to these needs and challenges.

Identify your market and find the types of content they prefer. Understand the emotions that lead your ideal clients on their journey from recognizing they need a solution to realizing that you are the solution they seek.

A content marketing strategy is essential. Create a simple, easy-to-follow plan.

A content marketing strategy is essential. Create a simple, easy-to-follow plan.

Step 3. Brainstorm topic ideas and keywords to target. If you’ve been paying attention, your potential clients have already given you much of this information. Use it to create a list of topics your audience has discussed online or asked about in forums. From that, make a keyword list of common search terms they might use to look for answers to those questions.

Don’t go overboard here, though. To create compelling content that readers will find valuable, always be sure to write for humans and not search engine bots. You’ll get better results than if you produce keyword-stuffed gibberish that doesn’t serve your target market.

Step 4. Create a content calendar. A content marketing strategy has many moving parts. The best way to organize these moving parts is to create an editorial calendar. Once your calendar is in place, you can simply open it each day and you’ll know what needs to be done.

Your editorial calendar should include each piece of content and when to publish it. It should also include each step along the way to creating the piece, such as planning, writing, image research, and editing.

Actually, every single task related to your marketing plan should be on this schedule, including brainstorming sessions, reaching out to any people involved, and monitoring your results.

Incorporate content ideas, keyword suggestions, and social media promotion. In addition to keeping you organized, this gives you a record of the types of content you’ve distributed, keywords you’ve used, and details on your social media sharing.

5. Develop remarkable content. With practice, this is not as difficult as it may seem. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Assemble well-written material using proper spelling and grammar.
  • Avoid jargon and complex terminology.
  • Format text for skimming with plenty of headers, subheaders, bulleted lists, block quotes, bolding, and italics.
  • Acknowledge your research using stats, case studies, and examples.
  • Attract readers by addressing both their problems and their common objections to moving forward.
  • Maintain interest in your content using relevant, high-quality images.

Position yourself as someone your readers can begin to know, like, and trust. Once you’ve determined your target audience and the purpose of your content, it’s easier to integrate with your buyer’s journey.

Making Your Content Strategy Work

The most successful content marketing strategies focus on nurturing readers who care about the information being delivered. Helping your business gain traffic and enhancing your SEO rankings are only two benefits of a sound strategy. You’ll also generate more leads and convert more prospects.

Develop a strong foundation by examining your business goals and matching your expertise to your target market’s needs. Then you’ll have the tools to create content from your unique selling point.

Your advantage lies in highlighting the perspective that differentiates you from your competitors.

Seeing the Big Picture

All of these moving parts, your editorial calendar, and data collection from your market should be aligned with the “big picture,” your long-term business goals. The first step in getting organized is to review and/or clarify your major goals for the next year or few years. This allows you to see the big picture, which makes it easier to understand how your content fits in.

Each piece of content has its own mini-goal within the big picture. Some pieces are for attracting people to your marketing. Some are geared towards building relationships or generating leads. There could also be pieces that are designed to drive sales directly.

The best things about content marketing are that it’s relatively inexpensive, quite cost-effective, and yields long-term results. You only need to invest the time necessary to build an organized, streamlined system for producing, publishing, and promoting your content.

In Closing

Understanding why and how to create an effective content marketing strategy is just the beginning. It’s up to you to put in the work to clarify your business goals and determine how best to reach your target audience.

Have you created a content marketing strategy? Do you need more information? Comment below or contact us if you’d like help creating your own content marketing strategy!

7 Signs You Need a Website Redesign

7 Signs You Need a Website Redesign

Website redesign: Do you really need it? The look and “feel” of your website can certainly have an effect on how many visitors you attract and how they interact with your site. Slow, dowdy websites turn visitors away. That means your bottom line takes a hit.

Your website is your digital calling card. These days, it’s your most important business asset. Keeping it fresh and attractive is more than an exercise in keeping up with the Joneses, though. It’s an opportunity to rebrand and refocus your business. Or showcase new products and services. Or appeal to a new clientele.

Have you refreshed your site lately? You should review it with a critical eye every so often to make sure it’s still interesting to your audience and keeping up with current design trends. Not to be trendy, but to stay relevant to your target market and generate new visitors.

Outdated sites have more problems than simply looking obsolete. Let’s take a look at seven signs it’s time for a website redesign.

It looks dated.

Old-school websites look uncared for and are not visually appealing. Adding new content is not enough if the site is not engaging. Show web surfers a beautifully designed site with a modern layout and interesting visuals. You’ll probably notice visitors spending more time rather than quickly clicking away.

Website redesign: Do you really need it? Outdated sites have more problems than simply looking obsolete.

Outdated sites have more problems than simply looking obsolete.

It’s dysfunctional/not user-friendly.

Poorly designed sites make it difficult for people to find the information they seek. They might click around for a few minutes before leaving the site in frustration. Direct your users with easy-to-locate navigation and they will likely stay longer.

It’s too slow.

Current recommendations call for webpage load times of 3 seconds in this short-attention-span age. If you can’t quickly catch a visitor’s attention, they’ll probably move on to another faster-loading competitor. Your refreshed website won’t keep them waiting.

It’s not responsive or mobile-friendly.

Unless your site is optimized for various screen sizes, it can be difficult to understand or browse effectively. Visitors view your site on everything from tiny mobile screens to humungous TV-sized monitors. Be sure they can use your redesigned website effectively no matter the screen size.

It’s a security risk or has been hacked.

Another problem with old-fashioned websites is they can be easily compromised. If you’re not keeping up with theme and plugin updates, your site is a definite security risk. Keeping your website updated is one of the best ways to deter hackers.

Your business has changed focus.

What started out as one thing has lead to another and another. You’ve totally revamped your product line or have developed new services. You no longer cater to the same market, or you want to attract a different clientele. Announce your new direction with a refreshed website to attract new visitors and impress your regulars.

To update marketing strategies.

If you’re still using outdated marketing techniques, you’ll soon find yourself left behind in this digital era. Upgrade your business model using the latest approaches and a redesigned website to promote your new direction.

Closing thoughts.

How often should you undertake a website redesign? If you have any of these issues, it’s time to get started. Don’t think in terms of years or months, though, because the website you recently launched might already be stale.

Check for tell-tale signs that your site is not performing at its best. Is your traffic down? Have your sales declined? A website redesign might be just the thing to help get you back on track.

VAWW Online is being redesigned using Divi from Elegant Themes. If you’d like more information on our website design and maintenance services, click here to start the conversation.

Next-Level Networking

Next-Level Networking

Networking is important in any business, and freelancers need it more than most. As independent contractors, we sometimes work in isolation for hours, maybe even days, on end.

But the truth is, we all need interaction and support, not to mention clients and trusted partners.

And networking is a sure-fire way to build relationships that can lead to opportunities throughout the course of your career.

Let’s take a look at some strategies and techniques to make the most of your next networking event.

When is Networking Important?

Even if you’re not looking for a career change or entering a new job market, there are always good reasons to network.

Whether you’re at your child’s basketball game or a neighborhood block party, one of the first questions you’re asked when meeting someone new is some variation on, “What type of work do you do?”

This is the perfect time to introduce yourself and find out how you might add value to the relationship.

No, you’re not trying to “sell yourself.” Just have a genuine conversation with a new contact and be open to opportunities that may arise from there.

Frequent networking is key to making and maintaining connections with valuable contacts. You want to follow up with the people you meet to build and maintain relationships that can be useful to both parties.

Expanding your professional circle is one of the best business building strategies because you never know where a connection might lead.

Be Prepared

Think about why you are attending this particular event and what you can do to get the most out of it.

Are you looking to meet trusted partners in your field or do you need contacts to assist with specialties outside of your skill set?

Brainstorm your biggest reasons for attending and figure out the best ways to go about achieving the results you need.

Learn about the format. Will there be speakers? Is there an agenda? What’s the dress code? Research online before the event.

Make a plan. Have your elevator pitch and business cards at the ready. Practice a few key questions and responses out loud in the days before the event so you’ll feel comfortable and the conversations flow naturally.

Tips for Shy First-Timers

Take or meet up with a colleague if you’re really nervous. But don’t stay glued to their side, though.

Remember that the point is to make new connections, so start by planning to and actually having conversations with two people you don’t know. If this is your first event, there’s no need to overdo it and make yourself even more uncomfortable.

Make it a point to introduce yourself to others, especially if you’re shy. Give a good handshake, keep eye contact, and repeat the person’s name aloud to help fix it in memory.

Smile, and be friendly and forthcoming.

Try to avoid giving in to nervous habits! The other person will feel uneasy in your presence and try to quickly make an escape if your body language displays your discomfort.

Stay at least long enough to get a feel for the organization and its culture. Are they boisterous and outgoing or reserved and professional? Where do you fit in, and what can you bring to the group?

In the end, just be yourself. Don’t try to put on an act that’s hard to keep up and easy to see through.

Stand Out, Make Connections, and Maximize the Experience

Have meaningful conversations with those you meet instead of boring chit-chat.

Ask good questions like, “So what do you like best about what you do?” People get really excited when given a chance to talk about themselves and their interests. And you can learn more about their pain points and business needs.

Asking questions and really listening is much easier than rambling on about yourself anyway, especially if you are shy. So really listen! And ask more questions!

To get yourself remembered, try to be sure the people you are connecting with are enjoying the conversation.

By being a good listener, asking good questions, and giving your undivided attention, your connections will feel good about you. That will make them more receptive when you share information and follow up as promised.

A Few Do’s and Don’ts

Do think about any connections you can make from within your existing network to new people you meet at events. Make introductions to someone else who might have a solution, rather than only promoting yourself and your services.

Don’t just rudely insert yourself into conversations. Listen for a while, and join in with a relevant question at an appropriate time.

Remember, asking a question will be easier than making a comment that you then have to justify, possibly to a hostile audience. Ask first, and let the group or maybe even your ideal client take the conversation from there.

It goes without saying that you should never ditch a conversation to go chase after someone else you’d rather be talking to.

That kind of behavior does not go unnoticed and does not speak well of your character, much less your professionalism.

And NEVER drink too much in an effort to get “relaxed” because it always backfires!

Do be courteous and thank the organizers on your way out. Knowing that they have produced a successful event encourages them to continue making these opportunities available.

Plus, it’s just simply polite to let them know their efforts are appreciated.

Do take notes after the event while it’s still fresh in your mind. Who did you promise to follow up with and why? Do you have an associate who might benefit from the expertise of someone you met at the function? Is this a group you will be joining or attending more events with? Were you comfortable with the atmosphere and the group’s purpose/mission?

Best Places for Networking

There are literally hundreds of opportunities for networking through local and national business groups, industry associations, and professional organizations.

These and many others hold conferences, trade shows, fundraisers, training/classes, meetups, and other functions.

No matter the size of your community, there will certainly be networking opportunities available to you. But don’t neglect to expand your reach whenever possible.

Industry conferences, for example, usually provide a chance to add to your skills and learn new things in addition to being great networking resources.

The growing popularity of shared office spaces opens additional possibilities for networking. These “coworking” environments can be rented by the hour or for a monthly membership fee.

They are especially attractive to tech startups, freelancers, and creative types, so you might find that the independent contractor in the next office has the very solution you are looking for.

Online you will find LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms; various user groups; and a multitude of virtual events.

Unconventional Networking Opportunities

Don’t limit yourself only to business associations, though. Joining groups devoted to your hobbies and personal interests gives you additional outlets to express yourself and grow outside of your usual working environment.

You’ll also be opening yourself up to opportunities that otherwise might be missed.

Although social gatherings are often overlooked, they can be valuable resources if you take advantage of them the right way.

Even in a non-professional setting, you are likely to meet someone who needs your services or products or can help one of your associates with their problems.

In conclusion, don’t think of networking as a dreaded, degrading act of “selling yourself.”

It’s really a proven way to make connections and grow relationships by sharing your knowledge and abilities with those who need them, and accepting the helping hands of colleagues when they are offered.

Truly connecting with others is rewarding in so many more ways than just professionally, and is a key resource in any business strategy.

Take the time to develop an action plan for your next networking event, and learn from each experience.

Practice your networking skills to get the biggest payoff in the end. And before you know it you can go from being a nervous wreck to a competent, confident networking pro!

This article is part of an ongoing series on how small businesses can improve their procedures and processes to maximize their growth. Are there topics you’d like to see in the future? Feel free to offer suggestions in the comments!