It’s 2016, and the digital tsunami rages on, drenching us all in a virtual deluge of online content and forcing companies of all sizes and industry segments to contribute to the endless content flow or be mercilessly drowned out by the competition. In the midst of such a content cataract, the question on everyone’s mind is numbingly simple but profoundly important: how do I improve my online content marketing?
It’s also a question for which I have not one, not two, but no fewer than eight (hopefully) useful answers for you to chew on. Isn’t it your lucky day.
Ok, enough chatter. Let’s dig in.
Clarify Your Target Audience with Buyer Personas
To survive and thrive in the digital age, we all know that brands need to develop personalized online content that connects with their customer base. Buyer personas help you do just that.
A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. Detailed buyer personas help guide content development, allowing you to provide the right messaging and resources to your target audience and enabling you to attract the most valuable visitors, leads, and customers to your business.
The end goal with buyer personas is to understand your target audience well enough to develop highly personalized, relevant content that speaks directly to them and addresses their specific wants and needs. In this way, online content marketing acts as a cornerstone, or catalyst, for your broader digital marketing efforts by providing a tangible starting point to maximize the value exchange between you and your customers.
Get Organized with an Editorial Calendar
It’s no mystery that producing quality, relevant content is essential to marketing success in the digital age. Today’s increasingly sophisticated consumers will not wait for your brand to produce content when you’re in the mood to produce content; if your brand doesn’t provide the information they need and want, they’ll seek out the information elsewhere.
Unfortunately, as anyone familiar with its demands can attest, consistent content production can be a difficult proposition. As new business floods in, content marketing is often the first to fall by the wayside; this is especially true for the majority of smaller companies that do not have the benefit of a dedicated content marketing team.
This is where an editorial calendar comes into play.
The purpose of an editorial calendar is to create a publishing schedule over the upcoming month (or more) that focuses on the information you need for content production during that period. This information can range from content topics and resource links to publishing dates and writer assignments.
Regardless of the amount of content produced or contributors involved, there are a number of benefits to establishing an editorial calendar. Here are a few that come to mind:
- Structured Content Production – Editorial calendars create a dedicated space to plan exactly what’s included in and needed for specific online content marketing campaigns far in advance. They help everyone on your team stay organized and continue working toward clear, outlined goals.
- Consistency – Structured production leads to consistency. As soon as you write down your plan for your business blog and other content efforts, your team becomes accountable for its execution.
- Increased Traffic, Leads, and Sales – Publishing quality content on a consistent basis builds trust with your target audience, enticing them back to your blog, website, or social platform again and again. The resulting increase in website traffic and customer engagement creates more opportunities to convert visitors into leads and leads into sales.
Experiment with New Approaches and Alternative Media
Although in the early years of digital “traditional” online content marketing was heavily associated with the written word, today’s online content comes in all kinds of media formats. Yes, we still have eBooks, blogs, and whitepapers, but even they are getting more visual and interactive.
Moreover, the rise of smartphones and tablets has hastened the ascendency of auditory and visual content media. From audiocasts and YouTube videos to infographics and SlideShares, from podcasts and Vlogs to Snapchats and Blabs, the very definition of online content is rapidly expanding and evolving.
On the video front, many (including myself) believe 2016 will be the year of video marketing. This year will find a growing number of brands experimenting with video as a tertiary or secondary, if not primary, content medium.
From formal webinars to low-res, snackable content shorts broadcast on Blab, YouTube, Periscope, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook Live, the options for brands interested in video marketing abound. And with video you get audio—whether or not you are watching the video. It is in this sense that video may become a virtual staple for brands trying to communicate with mobile-toting audiences.
Snackable content is defined as bite-sized nuggets of information that can quickly be consumed, understood, and shared. Videos, quotes, infographics, and memes are all examples of content that can be made snackable.
The key with snackable is to keep it short and sweet. For example, when it comes to snackable video, research from Animoto finds that 83% of consumers prefer videos that are five minutes or less in length.
In my own opinion, Vlogs (short for “video blogs”) are a perfect snackable content medium. For an illustration, check out this Vlog from our own Spencer Ploessl talking about…wait for it…snackable content.
Infographics offer another great snackable content medium. Check out this infographic from our own Jordan (Bruhn) Atkinson on the subject of—yep, you guessed it—snackable content.
Live Video Streaming
Another relatively untapped online content marketing medium is live video streaming. Pioneered by Meerkat and refined by the likes of Periscope (Twitter) and now Facebook, live video streaming is just what it sounds like—a tool that enables brands to broadcast live videos in real time over social media.
At first you needed a separate dedicated app such as Meerkat or Periscope to enable live streaming, but technologies have advanced, and now major social networks like Twitter and Facebook are beginning to incorporate it directly into their platforms.
If you’re like me, you’re probably busy imagining the various ways you could incorporate live video streaming into the online content marketing mix of your clients or your own brand at a relatively low cost. However, if you’d like to learn how others are doing it, this article outlines different ways businesses can leverage Twitter’s new in-app live video streaming function.
It should be noted that Facebook is also working on a live video streaming product, Facebook Live, which is apparently rolling out to all users soon. Check out this article for ideas on how your business can leverage Facebook’s latest tool.
Even though it’s been around for a while as an online content marketing medium, I’m still a big fan of the audiocast (Podcast). It just makes too much sense: with an audiocast, you have a captive audience who is able to listen while they’re doing something else and going about their daily routine (yard work, exercise, cleaning, riding on a bus, etc.). I keep threatening to put together my own audiocast. Perhaps 2016 is the year I finally do it.
Less Content, More Sharing
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one because I think it’s intuitively fairly obvious. Here’s the general idea. As more brands wake up to the merits of online content marketing, everybody’s getting into the content production game. As I noted in my intro, what was once a gentle content trickle has become a veritable content deluge, seemingly without end.
In such a content-rich environment, I’m recommending that brands deemphasize gross content production in favor of more targeted content sharing on social media. This less-is-more approach is especially relevant for the majority of SMBs and other companies with limited marketing resources.
In lieu of producing ever-increasing amounts of content, the focus should be on social sharing and socially engaging your target audience with high-performing content that seems to be resonating with them. You can identify this content by listening to audience feedback via social media, reviewing your social analytics, and referring to the various content performance metrics (landing page conversions, email open and content offer download rates, etc.) found in your marketing automation software (see below).
As an added benefit, this agile approach to online content marketing will keep you and your team focused on quality over quantity and value over volume—a useful mindset for marketing in the digital age.
Optimize for Mobile Devices with Responsive Web Design
News flash, the world has gone mobile. With each passing day, consumers are increasingly accessing websites searching for information via mobile devices. Somewhat surprisingly, the majority of small businesses still haven’t gotten the memo. According to the findings of a 2015 survey by research firm Clutch, only 56% of small businesses have applied responsive design to their websites.
Not to worry, responsive web design (RWD) offers an affordable solution for all you mobile laggards out there. RWD takes a mobile-first approach, designing backward from the smallest-sized device to the largest to ensure web-based content properly scales on devices of varying sizes.
Initially developed for the purpose of creating singular websites that can be accessed by any user on any device, RWD allows brands to provide a sense of consistency in both content and brand message across multiple platforms.
Although certain larger companies and ecommerce brands may opt for a dedicated mobile site and/or mobile app to service their mobile customers, RWD provides a useful one-and-done solution for the vast majority of small businesses just trying to make sure their online content marketing plays well on devices of any shape or size.
Amplify Reach with Paid Search and Social
It may seem counterintuitive, but paid advertising can actually boost the impact of your organic content. In fact, popular search and social advertising tools such as Google AdWords Ad Extensions, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Sponsored Updates, and Twitter Cards offer a streamlined way to promote your online content to highly targeted audience segments. Investing in targeted search and social ads is actually more affordable and flexible than you might think—virtually all of the major platforms give advertisers full control over ad spend and, in many cases, ad frequency.
The key to success with paid search and social is the relentless consistency of process. Always start by setting your campaign goals. Once you’ve done so, you can move on to defining your target audience, shaping your message (content), executing your campaign, and measuring results, always using the data gleaned to refine your campaign (if necessary) and then scale it (if not).
To learn more about how you can amplify your online content marketing reach with search ads, check out this blog, Paid Advertising 101, Understanding Search and Display Advertising.
To learn how you can do the same with social media ads, check out this one here, Paid Advertising 101: Understanding the basics of Advertising on Social Media.
Employ Inbound Marketing Techniques and Marketing Automation Software
Online content is one of the principal drivers of inbound marketing, which has become the predominant marketing approach of the digital age. I don’t have enough space to expand on the subject of inbound here, but to learn more about how the building blocks of inbound marketing—SEO, social engagement, lead nurturing, and data analytics & measurement—work together to improve your online content marketing and ultimately increase your marketing ROI, check out this blog here.
Speaking from experience, it’s much easier to manage inbound marketing campaigns with some kind of marketing automation software, which has a number of built-in web, social, customer relationship management (CRM), and content management software (CMS) functions. Popular marketing automation software options include HubSpot (which we use), Marketo, Eloqua, and Lyris, although there are numerous players in the space.
Outsource to the Professionals
In truth, online content marketing, and the inbound campaigns that often drive it, can be complicated to implement and consistently maintain without a dedicated team of experienced inbound marketers. That’s why I always recommend that businesses with limited human and budgetary resources committed to content and inbound consider streamlining their efforts by hiring an inbound marketing agency.
That’s all I’ve got. Hopefully, you’ve found at least a few of these tips to enhance the effectiveness of your online content marketing. Now get out there and create some (but not too much) quality content!