Content remains the best way to drive positive interactions with people, encourage them to engage with you, trust you and ultimately buy. So has anything new emerged recently to change the way small businesses do content marketing?
The latest – Small business content marketing in autumn 2017
One of the biggest changes in content marketing this year is simply that more people are doing it. Which means you need to do a better job than ever. According to the Content Marketing Institute 59% of marketers still don’t have a clear content marketing plan, but planning remains the best way to decide what to say.
How do you know what content to create?
Your first stop is common sense. Imagine you want to buy your own products. What information do you need to make a sensible buying decision? Jot down your questions. If you’re having trouble seeing the wood for the trees, ask some consumers. It can be friends and family if you like. Get them to write down the top 10 questions they’d ask about your products.
Does your list dovetail with theirs? There are probably plenty of overlaps. To confirm your findings, do some basic keyword research. The more popular the search query and the more competitive it is, the more desire there is for answers and the higher priority you should give to answering those queries.
Evaluating competitors’ content also helps identify good subject matter, pinning down the content they’ve covered but you haven’t. If you can do what they’re doing but do it better, you’re onto a winner. But who are your competitors? If you’re talking digital, they’re the ones that appear above and around you in the SERPs, the search results pages, not necessarily the traditional competitors who are just down the road from you.
Do you need to pin down audiences and create buyer personae?
You only need to pin down the attributes of your audience if they’re actually different from the average consumer or business owner. Otherwise, all you’re looking for is people who want to buy your stuff. In the case of loo roll and other fast moving consumer goods, more or less everyone buys them. In the case of business IT technology, almost every business needs at least one computer. There’s usually no need to dig any deeper than that.
There’s a lot of nonsense talked about buyer personae, too. To keep things simple for small businesses, it’s helpful to bear in mind that people are not that different. We’re all humans, we all make emotion-based decisions that we justify with logic. The same applies whether we’re Millennials or over 50s, sports lovers or couch potatoes, people who love or hate Marmite. These things don’t define us, but our common humanity does. Don’t bother with personae unless there’s a clear, distinct and genuine business reason for doing so.
Forget the intricacies of the sales funnel!
The sales funnel consists of several stages: lead generation, audience building, nurturing, conversion, sales, post-sales, retention and evangelism. Crikey. As a small business, why bother with that level of complexity? It might be wiser to step back and simply give people the very best you can at every point they come into contact with you.
Including on-page SEO in your content
Unless the way search engines work changes drastically, even a small amount of SEO wisdom will stand you in good stead for the future.
Google is 19 years old. Search Engine Optimisation has been around for at least 17 years. It sits at the heart of every web page and site design, and every piece of content. So make the effort to grasp the principles behind on-page SEO, learn how to carry out basic keyword research, and use relevant keywords in every item of content you write as well as the meta data for every page and post.
Perhaps you did your keyword research a couple of years ago/last year/five years ago, and haven’t looked at it since. Whoops. OK, some industries might not change much from year to year. But there’s very little chance that your competitive landscape has remained the same. Old players will have fallen by the wayside, new ones will have joined the fray and everyone is busy doing their own content marketing. All this makes the online environment we operate in extremely fluid.
It’s worth taking a look at keyword research at least once a year to make sure you’re still focusing on the right set of keywords. It’s also worth looking into ‘longtail’ keywords if you haven’t already, in other words those that indicate someone is close to actually buying.
The ‘head term’ keyword yacht might be very competitive and popular, but it doesn’t indicate that someone wants to buy a yacht. On the other hand the longtail keyword buy a yacht for under £25,000 reveals a clear intent to buy, or at least find out more before buying. Majoring on longtail search queries can give you a valuable edge over other small businesses that’re knocking themselves out trying to beat the big boys on hugely competitive head terms.
Make sure you get meaningful results
Two years ago a piece of shocking research highlighted how just 21% of B2B marketers said they bothered to track ROI. In 2017 it’s much better at 75%. More of today’s marketers align content marketing with their business plans too, good news since there’s no way to know whether you’ve succeeded or failed without a clear goal.
It needn’t be complicated. Just decide before you create your content what impact you want it to have, whether it’s win 10 hot new leads, convert 5% more people next month, get 5 social shares or sell an extra £5k of stock over the next 6 weeks.
Physical formatting and links
Formatting still matters. Lay your content out so it’s neat and tidy. Use headers and subheads to break it up into readable chunks. Avoid massive long paragraphs. Leave a space between each paragraph. If you want to make something super-clear, turn it into a bullet list or numbered list. When you do everything you can to make something readable, more people will read it.
If you want to refer people to another blog post, page or article, video, graphic or whatever, whether it’s internal on your site or external on someone else’s, link to it so they don’t have to make the effort to find it themselves.
Personalisation versus automation
Do you need a content automation system? As a small business, maybe not. It’s one of those things… automation can save you a lot of time and hassle, but at the same time genuine personalisation is enormously powerful. And one of the best ways to personalise your marketing campaigns to perfection is to do it yourself.
As a small business owner with a small database you might get better results if you personalise every email you send, for example using a different sign-off, adding a personal comment or a personal P.S directly inspired by things like the number of orders they’ve placed with you, the number of years they’ve been with you, the relationship you’ve developed with them. If you can drill down and get genuinely personal, there’s every chance it’ll deliver better results than something wholly automated.
Construct your message wisely
You don’t always have to sell, sell, sell. Think about it. As a consumer you probably don’t like to be bombarded with sales messages. So don’t do it to your audience. Most of the time people are looking to find stuff out and improve their knowledge. We often only need to buy a product once, which means its important to focus on information and insight as well as sales.
If you want to sell, there’s a sensible order in which to lay out the information:
- Start of with the most important consumer benefit then talk about any secondary benefits
- Provide proof
- Include at least one testimonial
- Make it clear what could happen if they don’t buy
- Summarise everything briefly and clearly
- Ask them to take specific action, making it clear how to act if it isn’t obvious
Promote your content
Build it and they will come? Sadly, they won’t. You need to promote content via social media, direct messaging on social media, email campaigns, in fact using any and every way you can think of – online and offline – to get your message in front of people.
Manage your expectations
Don’t expect high response rates. Be realistic. Think about the way you treat email and other marketing messages. Most of the time, we delete them unread or click away. It’s pretty tricky to get someone to open an email or click on an ad, never mind read it or actually act upon it.
Don’t expect to generate backlinks to every page or comments on every blog post, either. Unless you’re tremendously lucky and hit that magical, mysterious sweet spot, it won’t happen.
Even the best digital marketing agencies have no idea how to create content that goes viral. If they did, we’d all be doing it. Expect to progress in small steps thanks to the occasional link, the odd share, a rare comment. Take it steady and don’t be discouraged when your content falls on deaf ears, which it will most of the time.
Even if you feel nobody is taking a blind bit of notice of your carefully-constructed content, Google will appreciate that you’re constantly adding fresh stuff to your website, and might reward you with better natural search visibility. Great content is never wasted.
Get real – People don’t want more content!
Marketers often say that their audiences want or even ‘demand’ more content, better content, tighter-targeted content. That’s nonsense. Let’s be honest, most of us want nothing of the sort. If anything we want less content, fewer messages shoved in our faces at every turn. The internet is about a whole lot more than just shopping. Bearing in mind that content marketing isn’t every consumer’s wet dream makes more sense than assuming that every consumer is perpetually gagging for it.
Most people just want the information they need, when they need it. Do that and you’re half way there.