Principles for driving content performance

July 24, 2020

How do we see forward-thinking marketers drive content? There are four principles that we’ve seen our clients use to be successful with content performance and SEO.

  • An organic search strategy that’s well-executed today can improve your marketing across all channels, forever
  • Marketers should build an audience that they own – not search engines
  • The best content libraries are treated as a product that’s continually improved
  • Underlying all successful marketing is an efficient idea-to-content pipeline that makes generating high-quality content part of the day to day operation of your business

1) Build an SEO strategy that improves your marketing everywhere

To be successful in organic search, you need a strategy. “Keyword strategy” is often made to sound complicated, but fundamentally it’s pretty simple – find topics (not just keywords, topics) that are relevant to your business, with a worthwhile balance of competition and volume. Here’s how we do keyword strategy, by the way, plus our template.

Once you have a strategy, you can pursue it using tactics that improve your marketing everywhere, not just on search engines.

  • The most important of these is to generate high-quality content – articles that have enduring interest for your customers, that respond to their questions and help them get more done, and that are additive to what’s already available to them.
  • This content has a good chance of performing well in search, but it’s also critical to distribute this content far and wide – we call this a “link distribution strategy”. One component of this might be backlinks, but what really matters is a process to get this content in front of as many people as possible who it can help. That means making sure it shows up not just on social, but also on sites that are relevant to your community, on Q&A forums, in relevant articles that other people have written, in emails coming from your sales reps, and more.
  • Since this content is relatively hard to create, you’ll get the most out of it by reusing it as much as possible. A blog post becomes a webinar, and it’s a chapter in a whitepaper, and so on.

Following these practices, you get your organic search strategy to reinforce all the other places that you’re marketing. Even fixing technical issues on your site can be helpful for everything else you do if you focus on things like improving conversion rate or fixing user experience issues.

2) Focus on building an audience you own – not Google.

A huge percentage of traffic is driven to sites via search – between paid and organic clicks, some estimate more than 70%. This isn’t necessarily a problem, particularly not in the short term. On the organic side, that means changes in algorithms influence whether people see your content. Sometimes that can be really good, but sometimes it isn’t. On paid channels, if you stop paying, you lose access.

(This isn’t just a search problem, by the way. It’s a problem with any channel where you rent access to your audience, and that could include content syndication, paid email lists, social, and many other channels.)

If, on the other hand, you spend time building direct connections with your audience – via newsletter subscriptions, targeted email, freemium trials, LinkedIn connections, and so on – you can talk to those customers anytime you want, without having to get past Google’s or anybody else’s filters.

Aside from revenue, growing a direct audience is the most valuable thing a marketer can do. It’s not only a source of future customers, it’s also a source of message propagation, because the people for whom your message is useful send it out again to other people who might want to join your audience.

3) Treat content as a product, with a library that’s continually maintained and updated and acts as a resource for customers.

As compared to one-off blog posts, a product is a collection of parts (individual content pieces) that work together to help your customer level up in their job. Here’s an archive of the Drift blog from when they were just a couple years old, to show you how this can work. You can see how all the posts work together to help their prospects and customers to do their jobs better. Posts include:

  • How to define the relationship between product managers and marketers, with a link to a Slack community
  • What Relationship Marketing is
  • Growth marketing framework
  • Explanation of how UX applies to marketing

Your content is a library for your prospects and customers, and the people they work closely with. For all of those people, what is everything that they need to know to do their jobs well, preferably with a focus on the use cases or tactics that your product enables?

4) Build efficient, effective idea-to-content pipelines that make generating content part of the day-to-day, not a chore

Marketers often focus on how to come up with content ideas, but you also need a good way to convert your ideas into published content pieces. We call this the idea-to-content pipeline. The key to the idea-to-content pipeline is that, as much as possible, you want to avoid writing things from scratch. Ways to get around this include:

  • Picking topics that you know you can write about. Looking at the keyword strategy advice we give above, an additional consideration might be the amount of effort involved in creating something that addresses a particular topic.
  • Creating an outline first, and populating it using data. For example, when we write an outline on a particular topic, let’s say “carburetor repair”, we’ll use Google’s search suggestions, or other topics we want to write about, or what’s popular on social for a specific hashtag (#carburetors) as suggestions for sections to write. As a bonus, content tends to perform better on search if it hits related topics that Google considers important.
  • Interviewing your customers (and colleagues) regularly, with questions that help populate missing pieces in articles. As a bonus, some of these interviews probably could be, and should be, webinars or office hours.
  • Repurposing as much as you can. If you think about your content library as a product, can you take other pieces of the product and combine them into something new? For example, if you are writing an article on “cutlery management” for your restaurant clients, can you insert existing content about “bamboo vs. plastic”?
  • A notebook is really helpful. We keep pretty good track of all the conversations we have, and the same themes tend to emerge as we look backwards to conversations we’ve had weeks or months ago. These themes are attached to specific wording and notes that we reuse in our blog posts.
  • Having a good process for getting content up on your site is really important and often overlooked – most people think that the CMS that powers your site is a technical decision, but in large part, the CMS you choose should be governed by the speed at which it lets you get content live.

Conclusion

Designing great posts based on keyword research is only the beginning of content performance. Think of your content as a product, and use it to build direct relationships with your target audience. Over time, individual posts will add up to a content library – a resource that keeps customers and prospects coming back.

To build this content and momentum in a sustainable way, break big campaigns down into daily tasks. With an idea-to-content pipeline, this can all be one fluid, creative process.


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