Are you writing blog posts or thinking to set up a blog for your business?
Do you feel that despite all the efforts and high-quality content, the blog doesn’t seem to drive organic search traffic through Google and convert visits to paying clients?
Why isn’t content marketing working for us, you might be asking yourself RIGHT NOW.
Don’t worry; I’ve been there too.
In this blog post, I’ll share how we’ve been able to increase our organic search traffic by 300% in 6 months – the post will summarise a process and a list of activities that helped us to rank highly in search results and drive conversions without a big budget. This blog post will guide you how to:
- Define the target audience and voice
- Plan the main topics
- Create content ideas
- Define keywords for SEO
- Analyse the competition
- Write 4-6 shareable pieces of content
- Optimise the structure for SEO
- Add call-to-actions
- Reach out to a new audience through email and social media
- Drive traffic via social media ads
But before we dive into the activities, I’ll have to share our story giving you some context.
At Flockler, we started our content marketing activities at the end of 2013, and over the years we’ve published 3-4 blog posts a month. In total, 182 posts to date. It’s a decent number for a tech startup without a full-time marketing person.
However, all the way until the end of 2017, our organic traffic growth was low. Randomly our stories were ranking high on Google, but we didn’t have a clue why. NOT A CLUE.
Was the quality of our blog content good? Sure, we had a plan to create content for tech-savvy marketing professionals, and the content was written by journalists and other freelance marketing professionals we commissioned over the years. I have great respect on all of them - they’re truly talented people.
Was our website technically optimised for Google? Of course, our platform powers hundreds of websites, and we’ve been lucky to collaborate with some of the best SEO professionals in the world.
The key reason why the growth was moderate?
Our content strategy wasn’t listening to our clients and solving their problems.
That’s where most of the companies GET IT WRONG.
Despite all the content marketing buzz and conferences drumming the same message on how brands should become media companies, creating interesting, helpful and informative content isn’t enough to cut through the noise and convert clients.
Content needs to be aligned with the services you provide and discuss the real needs, dreams and fears of the customer, and most importantly solve their problem.
Content needs to drive a high-quality audience to your website. This is where agencies struggle: the definition of a high-quality audience is unique to each company, and it’s almost impossible to understand and scale something that’s so profoundly client-specific.
Content needs to be moving your customers through the sales funnel. Remember AIDA? Some say AIDA is dead, and the funnel logic doesn’t apply to online consumers - I’m sure some of that is true, but you’ll still need to be able to serve content for all the stages. So don’t throw AIDA away just yet.
Content needs to be to optimised for SEO – the technical side is relatively easy, but do you have a recipe for content structure - and are you regularly testing, measuring, and iterating it? Do you know what type of content Google loves and do you regularly hit the first page?
The content needs to be actionable – we are all looking for concrete and actionable advice that takes us from A to B faster.
So what was the medicine for us?
Next, I’ll guide you through our content marketing process and how it has enabled us to increase our organic search traffic by over 300% in 6 months. .
1. Define the target audience and the voice
Have you created customer personas?
With almost 100 % certainty, you can throw the existing ones away.
Here’s one of the images I’ve thrown away:
A typical customer persona description created by the marketing team goes like this:
"Our target customer is 25–40 -year old living in an urban environment, with income over $50k a year, interested in the latest technology and gadgets…."
So pretty much everyone living in the up and coming areas of London and New York?
Most companies are selling products and services to a much more granular audience and shouldn’t your customer personas reflect that?
Create customer stories with someone you know quite well. It doesn’t need to be a friend but pick someone who’s either already using your product or someone you know would benefit from your product.
Ask them how they came across your product and what problem does it solve for them. Ask them to describe how they feel when signing in and using your service. When we discuss our feelings, we tend to share a touch more than we would do otherwise.
The Fizzle’s guide defining your audience provides an excellent framework for this.
As a result, you’ll have one or a few real customer stories - and it will be easier to design your content plan, select keywords, and create content going forward. Whenever you are writing new content, you can always go back and think if the content would spark emotion in that person.
2. Plan the main topics
The next step is to plan a key topic and you can literally start with one.
I’m serious; you don’t need more than one topic to get started.
There are two critical elements to consider at the start; make sure that the topic:
- Drives the right people to your website.
- Is aligned with your product helping you to move the visitor through the sales funnel.
How do you know what the right topic is?
It must be shocking but if you’ve built a relationship with your clients and created customer stories by interviewing some of your existing or potential customers, you have the answer already. If you have multiple customer segments, it probably makes sense to target the people similar to your most profitable customer segment!
At Flockler we provide a content marketing platform - and about a year ago we noticed our clients repeatedly asking how to do influencer marketing and if we knew anyone who could help them to get started. Influencer marketing was a perfect topic to get started - it provides value to our current customer base, and we’d like to attract people similar to them. The topic is aligned with our product as different groups of influencers are a vital part of the content marketing strategy today and the years beyond.
Many topics are exciting and relevant to your customers – pick the one that is aligned with your product and start by writing 4-6 in-depth blog posts about the same subject. Design the content for different skill levels from beginner to advanced, helping you to connect with customers at various stages of the sales funnel.
3. Create content ideas
Now that you’ve decided on a topic, it’s time to create ideas for blog posts.
So many marketers get stuck here – I’ve heard marketers saying a million times that there’s nothing or not enough exciting things for their business to write about that wouldn’t have been covered yet.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
Here are just some of the sources of inspiration for me:
- Customer live chat: What are your clients asking on your website, messenger and other live discussions on the web?
- Client meetings: Whatever your company provides, ask the customer to describe the main challenges in their business right now.
- Events: Industry events are another great opportunity to learn what related topics are relevant to your customers.
- Forums and threads: Quora is perfect for me, and I’m sure there’s one for your industry too!
- Book and product reviews: Go through negative reviews of a competitor or a product that is used together with your service. Write about something that seems to be a challenge or a source of frustration for your customers.
- Leading blogs, podcasts and vlogs: It’s impossible to list all my favourites but a shout-out to The Fizzle, Buffer, Agorapulse and How I Built This podcasts.
- Social media discussions: Ask a question in LinkedIn and participate in discussions. Or even better, engage your audience in creating content. I recently wrote how brands are using microinfluencers for marketing.
- Popular social content: Use tools like Buzzsumo to find out influencers in your topic and the most popular content. Always a good idea to reference some of the content your audience is already familiar with.
I use ToDoist to gather the ideas on the go. Some of the ideas are more concrete and worth a blog post. Some of them vague and perhaps just an inspirational line from a podcast but they can be useful for a sentence or two in a future post. Don’t stress too much about the quality of ideas - make it your routine to gather inspirational phrases.
4. Define keywords for SEO
Alright, the next step is to take that massive list of fresh ideas and start planning the themes your blog posts would cover.
And here’s when SEO comes into play.
SEO is sometimes mystifying but stay with me. It is not rocket science.
To get the maximum value out of your content, you’ll need to target keywords that your customers are searching. What are the phrases and questions they are using? That's where the customer stories and discussions with your clients can help - how do your customers describe the problem?
Your customers have a number of challenges to solve and, just like building your product and tailoring it to solve a specific problem, you need to pick your battles in SEO too. I can’t highlight the importance of this enough.
So I’ll repeat, pick your battles.
If you’re just starting to create content and not working for a well-known brand with a strong web presence, some of the search keywords will be too competitive for you. To give you an example, the top search results for “influencer marketing” are taken by Wikipedia, Forbes and other respective web sources and it will be very tough for flockler.com to hit the first page.
Instead, concentrate on long-tail keywords to increase organic search traffic. Those are search phrases your customers are likely to use, and which have a decent volume of search traffic every month and relatively low competition.
How to find long-tail keywords? Maybe worth asking Google for tips?
Here’s how Google can help you to define the keywords:
First, go to Google AdWords Keyword Planner and type the main topic you are planning to write about. Keyword Planner will show you the monthly search volume of that term but also related keywords. To give you an example, “influencer marketing” gets 3,600 searches per month, whereas “influencer marketing examples” gets 90 searches. Note: you'll need to have an active AdWords account to get the data.
Second, you can use Google.com and check what the search box is suggesting as related keywords. Again, type your main keyword and Google will display the related keywords. Google thinks these are relevant to your topic, so I’d suggest to pick a few of them and save a few of the high ranking stories for later.
Third, type your main topic to Google’s search box and then scroll down at the bottom of the page. There you’ll find another list of related keywords. Pick a few of them and save for later.
5. Analyse the competition
The next step is to research the top search results of the keywords you are planning to target. You can Google to find the most successful pieces of content but the search results are always user and location specific, so you might consider subscribing to a tool like Moz.
Analyse what makes the content great - and how you could make it even better. To give you a few examples, you can achieve this by making the content a bit more in-depth, update the original post with fresh data, or use a new content format to make it more digestible (say infographic). The content marketing experts like Brian Dean call this the skycraper technique.
6. Write 4-6 shareable pieces of content
Now a short break from SEO research and it’s time for creativity.
I’m sure you’ve heard experts say that the key to content marketing success is to create shareable content.
But what is shareable content?
Some say the content needs to be unique and relevant to your audience. Some say the content needs to inform, educate and entertain.
Sounds too vague?
That’s what I think too, so I decided to put together a list of 13 concrete and actionable tips on how to create shareable content. Here's a summary:
- Tap into the trends with Buzzsumo: I love to use Buzzsumo to analyse the content that has been shared within a specific topic and identify what makes the stories popular.
- Debunk the myths: Test something yourself and share the results with your audience.
- Write a review of the products and services you use: Pick products and services that your customers can use together with your product.
- Link to third-party content and mention friends: Nothing’s more powerful than getting a well-known influencer to share your content through social - or linking back to your content in a blog post.
- Interview your partners and clients: In addition to authentic and unique content, you’ll have a larger group of people sharing your content on social channels and linking back to your articles.
- Serve the beef at the start: Start by sharing the key takeaways of the post, and you’ll increase the likelihood of someone reading further and eventually sharing it with their network.
- Share a personal story: Readers like to get in touch with the author by commenting on the story or sharing the content and mentioning the author’s username on social channels.
- Run social competitions: Include a competition or challenge as part of your story to make it stand out from the crowd. Check our tips on how to run a successful Facebook competition.
- Create content together with your audience: Ask your customers to post their ideas and content via social media channels and gather all the social media feeds in one place with social media aggregator tools.
- Write longer stories: According to research, longer blog posts get more shares than shorter ones.
- Add images to increase shares: The content with at least one image will get more shares than the content without an image.
- Answer to the typical sales questions: By providing a solution to a typical problem faced by your existing customers, you’ll be reaching out to an audience similar to your current customers.
- Add reaction buttons: Tools like Click to Tweet and React & Share help you to encourage readers to share your content on social channels.
7. Optimise the structure for SEO
I hope you enjoyed the break – we are back in the final pieces of SEO game.
In addition to the technical side of SEO, there are a few easy tactics to improve your rankings:
Meta title and description
There are a lot of great resources on the optimal meta title content and length, but I'll highlight that it's crucial to include one or two of the long-tail keywords to your meta title. That will improve search ranking significantly.
For example, one of my latest blog posts has this title on the page: How to run a Facebook competition that builds engagement and increases reach.
But the meta title for the same post is: 'How to run a Facebook competition | Ideas & Tips for 2018'.
'Ideas & Tips for 2018' helps us to drive organic search traffic more effectively than the title on the page by covering more searches – 'ideas' is also one of the related search terms suggested by Google when searching for 'Facebook competition'. Ideally, you should neatly cover both broad and longer-tail terms within the overall title.
The content of the meta description text doesn’t really help too much with rankings directly but there’s one important thing to keep in mind: Google analyses the popularity of your content and moves your ranking position based on the clicks you get on a search results page. Make sure your description text helps to increase visits to your site to indirectly influence rankings.
Repeat the keywords in the body text
There’s no definitive truth to this but according to Andy Crestodina from Orbit Media, you should repeat the keyword 2-3 times per every 500 words. Make sure to use a few variations of the keyword too.
Link to relevant, high ranking sources
That includes both your pages that are ranking high and the pieces written by others. Do you remember when I recommended saving some of the high ranking articles for later? Now, use that list and add some of the relevant sources to your article. That's one of the reasons why longer pieces of content rank better - from Google’s point of view the longer article is covering the topic from multiple angles, in more depth - and linking to relevant sources is a way to prove that you are an expert on the topic.
A numbered list and h2 titles
And the final step, add a numbered list at the start of the page and then repeat those points as h2 titles throughout your content. If you're not familiar with html, the h2 title is a term your website developer or web editor will be familiar with when creating the page layout - as a content marketer you can concentrate on creating a story with a numbered list and matching titles.
One of the key benefits of using numbered lists and h2 titles is that you have a chance to be featured in highlighted box in Google search results page ("Featured snippet"). According to Search Engine Land's case study, the click through rate increased from 2% to 8% after being featured.
Our blog post on how to display hashtag feed from Facebook is featured on the top and ranks higher than Facebook's help pages.
8. Add call-to-actions
Unless your content is targeted for the audience at the end of the sales funnel, the chances are high that they aren’t ready to buy your service just yet and a screaming call-to-action driving traffic to a sales page might be off-putting.
Instead of a 'buy now' button, you could create downloadable resources providing more value to someone reading your content. Make sure the material is aligned with your content and that you can add it to all the articles around the same topic. And of course, ask them to leave their email address to download.
What makes this approach very powerful?
First, the client downloading the content is very likely to find your material valuable and relevant. After all, you know what content they were reading and you should be able to design the materials to support and add value to it.
Second, you’ll get a list of leads who have a) read your content around a specific topic aligned with your product and b) downloaded extra materials related to the topic. It’s likely that this person matches your target audience.
Third, we don’t tend to leave our email address lightly, so there’s a high chance that someone who does will be interested in reading your future content related to the topic and you’ll be able to move that person through the sales funnel.
Lastly, useful resources can get linked-to. Links from other websites are still strongly correlated with high rankings so getting more links will help your posts to gain better visibility and more organic traffic.
9. Reach out to a new audience through email and social media
I have some disappointing news:
Sharing your posts in social channels and through other marketing channels isn't enough.
If you've followed the steps above, you'd have a great piece of content but you are competing for my attention against other trusted sources like The Economist, podcasts and entertainment like Netflix and live sports.
You need to provide something targeted and personalised to get my attention.
Here’s what I do to reach out to new audiences via email and social media:
- Search the main topic with Buzzsumo and filter the most popular content within the past few weeks or months.
- Read articles and match them with the 4-6 pieces of content I’ve created.
- Create and export a list of influential people who have shared the particular piece on X (formerly Twitter) and create a separate Excel tab for each article.
- Create a social media message and an email template, and contact the people on the list. I use Mailshake for email outreach.
Yes. It isn’t yet another email, though.
If you’ve done your homework properly, you are sharing the content with someone who’s both influential and interested in the topic. Here’s the email template I use:
Are you using the same approach?
10. Drive traffic via social media ads
The final step is to design social media advertising for your content. Although the traffic from social media ads isn’t organic traffic, social media ads will help you to drive that too.
First, the traffic from ads will help you to raise brand awareness, and the visitor is more likely to recognise or search for your brand later.
Second, some of the visitors will be sharing your content on social channels, via email and in messaging apps or even link to your site through a blog post, and over time those will increase your overall site traffic.
Third, Google is using both social signals (shares) and the popularity of your content (site visits, dwell time, bounce rate, etc.) to fine-tune rankings and the traffic growth is likely to improve your rankings too.
As a last note, two quick tips regarding the optimisation of social media ads:
- We’ve followed the Facebook Ads concept by Azriel Ratz, where the copy texts for Facebook ads are short, and all the texts are interchangeable between the main text, and link's title and description. That approach enables you to test different variations of the copy text fast.
- We’ve targeted Facebook ads to followers of the people we recognise to be experts in the topic but not necessarily superstars like Gary Vaynerchuck. Unless you already know the right authors, Buzzsumo might help you to identify the people with a lot of followers, but also high engagement rates.
For more inspiration, check our five tips for an effective social media advertising campaign.
Bonus track: Hidden gems of Google Analytics
I can't finish this blog post without mentioning that measuring the success of your content marketing is an integral part of the process. Well, without measuring the performance of our blog content, I wouldn't have been able to write this post.
Measuring success is very organisation-specific, but I'd like to point you towards a few hidden gems of Google Analytics:
- Assisted Conversions can be stored in Google Analytics when some digital activity - in this case, a piece of content - has contributed to a final website conversion. For example, a visitor may first read a blog post, then return later using Google search and purchase your product. However, unless Assisted Conversions are being measured, then only the Google Search gets the credit, and the purchase shows under organic search engine traffic in your report.
- Measure engagement by comparing the performance of each page to the rest of the content on your site. One of the powerful, easy-to-use features of Google Analytics includes the ability to compare the 'Page Views' and the 'Average time on page' helping you to understand what type of posts have performed well (and which have not), and over time you might be able to recognize patterns of what makes a successful post.
Phew, if you scrolled all the way down here, you’ve deserved a pint, cocktail or mocktail of your choice!