One reason startups come to me is because they need help with content marketing.
The number one problem most startups have is that they fly blind with content. They have no framework for their efforts. In other words, they have no strategy.
So despite 86% of B2B marketers and 77% of B2C marketers using content marketing, only 48% have any kind of strategy behind their actions – and even less, just 35% - have a documented strategy driving their campaigns.
This is regrettable because a lack of strategic thinking leads to mistakes, assumptions, and disappointing results – and can often mean the stakeholders abandon content marketing before it’s had the chance to prove itself with a positive ROI.
Every piece of content you create needs to align with your business goals at a strategic level. You need to know what segment of your audience you’re targeting, consider where they are in your sales funnel, and how to position your calls to action to achieve the desired conversions.
None of this can be done without a coherent strategy researched and formulated before you type a single blog post or else you’ll make the common content marketing mistakes that so many make.
So what kind of mistakes does this lack of a documented strategy give rise to – what gets in the way of our content driving the traffic and conversions that we expect and hope of it?
Within this context, I've put together a list of the common content marketing problems encountered by startups and companies of all sizes – issues that could almost certainly be averted with some basic strategic thinking and even just a one-page written plan…
1. You're Not Using Personas
Personas are essential if you want to ally your business goals with the kind of content that will engage with your target audience. They provide a snapshot of a certain segment of your market – a representative avatar – that helps you understand what your audience wants and expects from your products and services, and equally how you can position your offers to help.
Not using personas is a big mistake, especially when they are relatively easy to research. For example, you could conduct interviews with your sales and customer service team, your buying customers themselves, or check social media accounts and forum profiles to find key demographic and career information. Note down details of what challenges and obstacles they face and how your solution could help them.
By gaining this understanding, you can then make a more informed strategic decision about the tone, style, and type of content that will best appeal to these target personas – and by extension how you can encourage them to engage with your brand, products and services by positioning yourself as the answer to their problems.
Interview your customers and check your demographic data in analytics to begin the research process.
Further resources on personas:
2. You're Not Looking at Search Queries
Many people think that because they’re now engaged in the process of ‘content marketing’ – the old rules of SEO don’t apply when it comes to getting seen online. Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Keywords and keyword research are essential in helping both real visitors and search engines find your content. So getting the on-page SEO optimization essentials in place on all your content – based on the right keywords – is a prerequisite if you want your pages to be found when you start promoting them.
Look at the Content Gap tool in Ahrefs and create content based on queries you are not currently optimized for.
There’s loads you can do with keyword research so try these resources for extra inspiration:
3. You Aren't Adding CTA's
Calls to action – or CTA’s – are essential if you want your web visitors to actually do something with the information you’ve given them. Whether they take the guise of contact forms, email signup forms, ads for products and services, text links to other pages or invitations to share your content – there are hundreds of things you can, and should, be doing with CTA’s.
After all, what’s the point in spending all this time, money and effort getting people to your website in the first place if you leave them hanging and don’t guide them as to the steps they need to take next? That’s just crazy.
If you aren’t already using CTA’s, go and put some on your site right after reading this article. Some popular CTA’s for my clients are: 1) Newsletter signup at the bottom of blog posst, 2) Contact Us field at the bottom of every landing page 3) Share on Social Media buttons on every page. Experiment with site positions, headlines, offers and graphics and consider A/B testing placement of CTA’s on landing pages to make sure your traffic generation efforts aren’t going to waste.
Develop a culture of experimentation : ABT “ Always Be Testing” use Optimizely and run a CTA experiment.
Useful CTA resources:
4. You’re Not Outsourcing
Unless you’re a really big name in your industry, chances are your latest blog post won’t gain the traction in social or search you were hoping for if you published it in isolation. Ask yourself if you really have the time to do the legwork needed to gain traction for your post. Things like contacting site’s that you featured in your post and asking for shares, submitting your content to niche relevant communities & groups such as inbound.org for marketing content, contacting influencers on Twitter who you want to know about your post.
And even if the search engines don’t reward frequent, fresh and original content (and there’s plenty of evidence suggesting they do), your blog and social media readers will expect a certain amount of content from you or they will go elsewhere – so why turn down an opportunity for more traffic just because you can’t create more content in-house?
Outsourcing your content production frees up time to spend on promoting it (and other essential tasks you need to do in order to run your business), and it definitely pays off if you find the right people and brief them properly. Don’t try and be ‘jack of all trades and master of none’ – get some help in to fill up your blog with quality content. In short, consistency matters.
Have you checked out CloudPeeps for outstanding and reliable sources of freelance talent?
The resources below start with a great piece on briefing writers:
5. You Aren't Optimizing Your Social Channels
Sharing and curating content on social media isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ exercise. After all, the various platforms are used by different audiences, (which you’ll discover when creating your personas); so blanket-bombing all your accounts with the same output is unwise and strategically unsound.
In general, Twitter is used by media-savvy senior managers and is of course confined by those 140 characters, while Facebook has a more conversational tone and is perhaps more focused on B2C interaction. LinkedIn is designed for making those professional connections – and as a result people generally dislike being overtly pitched to on this particular channel. And then there’s Google + which while some may say is on its way out, is nevertheless a platform with its own unique content requirements.
Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube – are all great for graphical and video based content and if it suits your target audience, should definitely be a part of your strategy. The point is - if you’re strategically thinking about your audience and where they hang out online – you should be tailoring content to each specific platform to create trust, authority, and clickthroughs, as well as SEO benefits.
Read up on best-practices for each channel and know what the proper format is before you post.
6. You Are Not Following A Posting Schedule
The benefits of having a documented content marketing strategy are that decisions like ‘when should I post my stuff on social media?’ become much easier to make.
For example, if you know that most office-based workers check their social media and email before they start work at 9 am – you aren’t going to post your latest B2B piece during a workday mid-morning.
However, if you know that most of your target audience are stay at home moms who’ll be available on their home computers outside the times of the morning and afternoon school runs – you’ll be primed to share your content when you’ll get the most eyeballs and engagement.
It's also safe to say experimentation should be practiced here. It's ok to post during off hours for a week and measure the results, you might find a late-night time slot where engagement is high with your U.K based audiences or night owls.
So when are the best times to post your stuff on social media? Use these three resources to find out:
Let Buffer optimize your share times for when your audience is online.
7. You Aren't Creating a Closed Loop Using Email Marketing
With an average of only 2% of website visitors taking the action you hope for (even if all your CTA’s are in place) – and with online attention spans waning – it’s never been more important to churn visitors back to your site by creating a closed loop with email marketing.
When you publish a new blog post or article on your site, sending a personalized, targeted email to your email list (or a whole email series) is now a prerequisite of content promotion 101. Taking things further and segmenting your email audience with highly targeted content is always a great idea too.
And if you’re not collecting emails in the first place? Well now is a great time to start. If you're on Wordpress or Squarespace it's a no-brainer as you can add email integration in less than an hour. Consider scenario A: let’s say 100 people come to your website, one buys your product and one fills out your contact form – then as mentioned above the other 98 just leave. Not great.
Now let’s look at scenario B: the same 100 people visit your site, one buys your product, one fills out your contact form - and 10 join your email list because you’ve got a relevant, irresistible lead magnet. Then over the next couple of months, you send out a series of emails that so engage one of those 10 new subscribers – that you make one more sale. Email marketing has just doubled your conversion rate.
Of course, that’s simplistic and there’s a good deal more to learn – but the premise is sound. The great news is that email marketing tools are really cheap too.
Take Chimp Essentials with Paul Jarvis if you haven’t already done so, he’s the master at Mailchimp and email marketing.
Here are two I recommend:
8. You Aren't Creating Content Upgrades
We’ve touched on these before in the CTA section – but content upgrades are such potent and high converting CTA’s that we’ve given them their own section.
The truth is, this type of custom content is definitely the future, and helps you segment your email lists by interest and intent as described above. This in turn leads to much higher conversion rates for the prospects on your segmented lists. Creating content upgrades is definitely more work – but it’s so very worth it.
For these super-CTA’s to work effectively, they need to be highly relevant to the content in the post. For example, it might be that you write an extended list post with nine items in the body of the article, and save the tenth, most effective one for a PDF download as your content upgrade. You can also offer checklists of action-steps if you’re writing ‘how-to’ style posts, or include a list of tools that help you complete a given task. At the very least you can offer a PDF download of the whole post itself.
Use Sumome Listbuilder on all your content upgrades if you aren't on Wordpress. If you are on Wordpress, check for well-supported plugins in the plugin gallery.
Essential CTA resources:
9. You Aren't Using Good Imagery
In copywriting there’s a phenomenon called ‘the wall of text’ – where written content is presented as long blocks of sentences and paragraphs – with little or no white space in-between. The general effect when looking at this is instant spaceout.
That’s why together with great font design, and superb layout – you need to deploy original, engaging images that complement the written text. And if you want to create trust and authority with your work, don’t use tired stock images but try to produce standout bespoke graphics that attract the right kind of attention.
All this is very worth doing because research shows that posts with images generate 53% more likes on Facebook than average posts – and the same thinking applies to your blog or company website.
There are loads of free and low cost resources to make fantastic custom graphics – so go and play around with some of them and have some fun.
At the very least choose high quality, free stock photos.
Custom images resources:
10. You Aren't Conducting Influencer Outreach
We’ve saved the best until last – because every successful content marketer knows that if you aren’t prepared to promote your content – even the highest quality work will go unseen. That’s why outreach opportunities should be baked into all the content your produce on a strategic level.
This means linking out to influencers in your niche from within your content, so you can contact them to say they’re featured afterwards. It means reaching out to people who have shared similar content on social media, and offering to share something of theirs in exchange for a tweet or like. And it also means reverse engineering similar popular content to see who linked to it – then approaching the same site owners for a backlink.
Of course, we’ve just made it all sound very much easier than it is. Outreach requires hard graft, a thick skin, and creativity. Think about sharing influencers’ work first and forming a relationship with them before you ask for anything in return – and when contacting site owners, think about why they should share or link to your work. What’s in for them? What can you offer them to sweeten the deal?
Despite the time and/or money outreach can cost you, the results are exponential. Think of all the most successful content marketers in your niche – the ones dominating social media and the search engines. They will all be conducting outreach in one form or another.
Mention influencers in your content and make sure to let them know they’re featured by tweeting at them or emailing them.
Key outreach resources:
When you do get ready to outreach, think about the person’s time as well and keep your email short and to the point. Flattery never hurt either.
You will want to try and reach them via social media AND email.
So there you have it, ten content marketing mistakes that are commonly made – but easily avoided.
Put just some of these right and you’ll greatly increase the return on your content marketing investment.
Start with just one of the ten things mentioned on this list that you’re not currently actioning, and make a commitment to do it properly.