Content marketing is a hot idea with businesses looking to increase their online presence. Small business owners feel they should be doing content marketing, but they often don’t understand it – much less have a strategy.
Content marketing…a term that got coined by somebody, somewhere. A term that caught on, even though what it means – or moreover how it’s applied – remains unclear.
What is content marketing? The short answer is that it’s content (blog articles, infographics, videos, niche websites, etc.) that businesses create online for sales, advertising, and branding purposes.
The easy part of the that explanation is that this is about business development. The grey area is who the content itself is for, and how it’s meant to garner an audience.
One important thing to note: a major part of that audience is search engines. For many small businesses, the underlying goal of content marketing is SEO; they want increase keyword ranking and search traffic to their websites.
Content creation…SEO…business marketing…you can see where the confusion comes from.
One of the better recent explanations of content marketing comes from Rand Fishkin of Moz. He qualifies content creation goals:
- Consideration phase content is content designed for people who are in the buying cycle and ready to purchase a product or service. The target audience is customers or potential customers. Keyword targets are directly related to your products or services. Often, this is content you optimize on your website’s main pages.
- Discovery phase content is where you provide information that directly relates to your business. People ask questions indicating they’re a potential customer. For example, someone who searches for “natural remedies to back pain” could be a potential chiropractic patient. For the SMB, this content is usually developed through blogging, YouTube videos and can extend to social media.
- Viral, super-broad content is content that is meant to build awareness of a brand but does not directly target buying intent. The business goal here is to build links and traffic into a domain, which in turn helps the first two types of content get exposure. This content is spread-out online through social media, article syndication, YouTube, PR efforts – anywhere you might draw traffic from.
Content Marketing for Small Businesses
You’re either directly writing about your services or providing useful information that pertains to them.
These three categories of content are helpful when trying to understand what different size businesses – with very different target audiences – should consider with content marketing.
The real question comes down to the third category. Any business that is doing internet, search-based marketing should do the first two. You are targeting potential customers. You’re either directly writing about your services or providing useful information that pertains to them.
Both of the first two are content you control on your website domain. All of this content has direct impact on your SEO, and can be integrated into your website conversion strategy.
- Consideration phase is analogous to sales copy. You’re making your offer and persuading people to work with you.
- Discovery phase is analogous to informational sales – somewhat like advertorials. You answer questions and provide useful information, but with a slant towards selecting your services. You still tie call-to-actions into this content.
- Viral content is analogous to branding. You’re building awareness of the benefits you offer and spreading your name. With internet marketing, this content has no direct sales agenda. In fact, any hint of of a sales agenda will kill this content. It must stand on its own for informational or entertainment value.
Do I Need Branding?
SMBs often don’t run branding campaigns because of ROI concerns. Viral online content/branding is expensive and time consuming to develop, but you’re not targeting people who are actually in the buying cycle.
For a small business doing locally targeted lead generation, viral content creation is not a necessity. ROI must be analyzed if you use resources to create much of this type of content.
Furthermore, you have to develop a plan for how to create viral content. Any business can create content that provides information directly related to what they do. But creating something that will go viral requires creative, in-depth idea development.
You have to create something that will capture people’s attention. No easy task in the information saturated era we’re in. And tough for time-pressed small businesses.
However, if you’re a small business with a national target audience (like a specialty ecommerce site, for example), you may want to look into some online branding. This is particularly the case if you’re targeting competitive keywords for SEO, and you need to build links into your website.
Informational Sales Content
Another point to consider here is the different views on how to develop discovery phase content.
Many content marketing advocates, including the Moz folks, feel that this content must be essentially free information that has no sales or advertorial slant to it at all (Fishkin actually notes how he’s kind of “allergic” to promoting his company’s tools…an odd problem). You’re publishing articles with useful information that are not promotional.
This is another area that confuses SMBs. If the content is not promotional at all (it might even discourage buying), why publish it for our business? It’s great to answer questions and build trust, but if it doesn’t get people into our sales funnel, why bother?
The argument today is that it will – eventually – fill your sales funnel. It’s what social media marketing fixture Gary Vaynerchuk calls the “jab” before you go in with the right hook (your pitch). He says a marketing story is “best when it’s not intrusive, when it brings value to a platform’s consumers, and when it fits in as a natural step along the customer’s path to making a purchase”.
It also echo’s Seth Godin’s concept of permission marketing, which purports that you can’t intrude your way to attention with digital consumers. You have to earn their trust, make a connection, and get their permission to make a business proposal.
So while typical SMB owners are more interested in organic traffic than thought leadership, they must also realize the two increasingly go hand-in-hand. You have to earn organic traffic, and Google rewards content that engages searchers with useful, relevant information.
Today, informational sales content walks a fine line. It is promotional, but has to stand on its own with informational value. It’s the “we’re here to help” strategy that companies like Progressive Insurance use. They give unbiased information on prices, but they’re only ostensibly helpful. The goal is to get you to buy from them. Likewise for the small business, you can never ignore the marketing aspect of content marketing. The jab must lead to an opportunity for the big hook.
With careful planning, you can answer real questions, develop trust, and promote your business at the same time.
Have a Content Plan
The most important thing for a small business is to know your audience and know your goals. Some businesses are so niche that they barely need to invest in SEO – much less viral content marketing – to reach their audience. Others have long-term goals where viral branding efforts will be beneficial.
You might want to dismiss the term content marketing altogether. Instead think of creating online direct response, informational sales, and branding content.
Again, the #1 rule of online marketing: know your audience and think exactly like they do.
If you’re audience has immediate needs and searches for local businesses on Google, isolate your best keywords and create content on your domain.
If you’re audience is on social media, create useful, fun content people will share.
As a small business, your goal is profit. The jabs are no good without the eventual right hook. Any marketing strategy that doesn’t increase profit should be reconsidered.
Branding remains the hardest to associate directly with ROI, so as a small business make sure your plan follows through with how you’ll get permission to show your promotional content.
SEO and persuasive informational content are a necessity for any business that wants to promote itself on the internet.
Your small business needs to market and it needs content to do it. How much you invest in that content depends on your audience and lead-generation goals.
But don’t do it because it’s a hot idea. Do it because it pays off for your business.