Where is the first place you go for expert advice or an answer to a burning question? My guess is Google (or your preferred search engine). You’re not alone — Google alone answers over four billion search queries everyday.
When you enter a question into the search bar, those links that appear in your search results are content. Whether you know it or not, you consume content on a daily basis.
That marketing strategy guide … content.
Those articles that diagnose your symptoms … content.
The video tutorial on how to create Victoria Secret-level hair volume … content.
Content is a large part of your everyday life. It’s hard to avoid, but why would you want to? Content keeps us informed, answers our questions, entertains us, makes us smile, guides our decisions, and more.
Content helps you attract, engage, and delight prospects and customers, bring new visitors to your site, and ultimately, generate revenue for your company.
In other words, if you’re not creating content, then you’re behind the curve.
What is content creation?
Content creation is the process of generating topic ideas that appeal to your buyer persona, creating written or visual content around those ideas, and making that information accessible to your audience as a blog, video, infographic, or other format.
Why Is Content Important?
Content creation is the ultimate inbound marketing practice. When you create content, you’re providing free and useful information to your audience, attracting potential customers to your website, and retaining existing customers through quality engagement.
You’re also generating some major ROI for your company, as these content marketing stats demonstrate:
- Content marketing brings in 3X as many leads as traditional marketing and costs 62% less.
- SMBs that use content marketing get 126% more leads than those that don’t.
- 61% of online purchases are the direct result of a customer reading a blog.
- Companies that publish 16+ blog posts per month get 3.5X more traffic than those that post four or fewer posts per month.
Content equals business growth. So, let’s get started with your content strategy.
Content Planning and Strategy
You wouldn’t start building a house without a blueprint, a sculpture without a sketch, or a company without a mission statement. So, there should be no content creation without a plan. Otherwise you risk getting derailed from your objective.
A content strategy includes everything from brand and tone to how you will promote your content and eventually repurpose it. Let’s go over how to create your content plan, step-by-step.
Set Your Content Goals
Similar to a traditional marketing campaign, your content strategy should be centered on your marketing goals (which should, in turn, be derived from your company goals).
Your goals could range from attracting more visitors to your site to generating more leads to anything in between — as long as they’re SMART goals. An example of this kind of goal would be to increase organic traffic to the blog by 25% in the next quarter.
Once you determine that, each piece of content you create should be aligned with your goal and contribute to your desired outcome.
In sum, start with your goals, then create your content.
Create a Buyer Persona
Building a content strategy is more than considering what type of content you want to create. You first need to know who you’re speaking to, how you want to speak to them, and where to find them.
The key to creating successful inbound content is to make each reader feel like you’re speaking directly to them.
The only way to do this is to get intimate with your visitors, leads, and customers — you need to know them like you know an old friend. You should be aware of their obstacles, their pain points, their challenges, and fears. Similarly, you should understand their best possible outcome, their dream solution, and their biggest fantasies.
Always remember that you are marketing to humans that want to feel connected.
Ideally you’d know and be able to speak directly to every individual that visits your website, but you can’t. The solution? Create a buyer persona.
Your buyer persona is the person that you want to reach with your content. This semi-fictional character serves as a representation of your target audience, i.e., the people who are most likely to benefit from your message and become customers.
Creating a buyer persona takes a bit of research, some guesswork, and tweaking. But the end result is a clear picture of the person you want to market to and someone who will happily consume your content.
Not sure where to start? Use MakeMyPersona to build out your buyer persona.
Rely on the Buyer’s Journey
If you’ve ever had a headache, the first thing you likely did was try to figure out the cause. Perhaps you were dehydrated, or caffeine-depleted, or maybe you were sick. After you diagnosed the problem, you moved on to solutions — drink some water, grab an espresso, or take some medicine. Finally, you decide between solutions: Evian or tap water? Starbucks or Peet’s Coffee? Aleve or Tylenol? Hopefully, your headache then subsided and you were able to go about your day.
This is a representation of the buyer’s journey. Each of your prospects follows a path to a solution — that path involves awareness, consideration, and decision stages. But each of your prospects is in a different part of that journey, so it’s important to use your content to appeal to each stage.
By creating content for each stage of the buyer’s journey, you’re ensuring that no visitors fall through the cracks and that every individual that comes to your site feels like they are receiving relevant, useful information.
You also want to select a format for your content so that it’s tailored to each stage of the buyer’s journey. A new visitor in the awareness stage won’t want a live demo of your product, but they would read a quick checklist or blog post that helps them better understand their problem. A prospect in the decision stage doesn’t need to know about all the possible solutions, they need a consultation or demo that shows them that your product is the right solution. Always meet your audience where they are.
Here’s a guide to the best content formats for each stage of the buyer’s journey:
Awareness: Whitepaper, Blog Post, Checklist, Tip Sheet, Infographic, Ebook, Game, Quiz
Consideration: Podcast, Webinar, Worksheet, Comparison Matrix, Template
Decision: Demo, Free Trial, Product Guide, Consultation, Coupon
Perform a Content Audit
Whether you’ve been creating content for a while without any clear direction or you’ve been following a strategy all along, every marketing department can benefit from a content audit. Just because you didn’t start out with a clearly defined strategy doesn’t mean that the content you already have won’t fit into one.
A content audit is simply taking inventory of the work you’ve already done, then organizing it to fit under a your new content plan.
The process might involve some re-writing, or it could reveal gaps that need to be filled with content that appeals to your persona and their journey stage.
Here’s how you’d perform your content audit:
- Gather all of your content in a spreadsheet.
- Create columns for target keywords, buyer persona, buyer’s journey stage, format, and main topic, then fill these in for each content piece.
- Add columns for your key metrics, like page views, shares, engagement, etc.
- Finally, categorize each post (using highlights or another column) by those that are doing well, need improvement, should be rewritten, or can be merged with another post.
While a content audit may seem tedious, all the manual labor will be worth the increased traffic and leads. Plus, you’ll have a verified plan moving forward.
If this process seems a bit overwhelming, check out this post for some more guidance.
Choose the Right Format
Remember that buyer person you created? You’re creating content for them. That means you should be crafting content in a format that is most easily and enjoyably consumed by your prospects.
The format you choose might be a blog post, video, slideshare, graphic, ebook, whitepaper, podcast, or whatever your creative mind can conceive. As long as it serves your persona, you’ll be in good shape.
Also, you don’t need to stick to one format for every piece of content that you create. But you should be able to create content — in whatever format — on a consistent cadence. What I mean is, a podcast series might be a great marketing tactic, but if you lack the resources (and patience) to stick to it, then a blog might be a better route.
Use these questions as a guide when choosing your content format:
- What stage of buyer’s journey is this for?
- How easy is it for your audience to consume this content?
- Where does your persona spend their time online?
- What format can you create on a consistent basis?
- Are you able to produce this content at aquality level that’s competitive?
What good is it to create all this great content if no one sees it? In a perfect world, herds of people would flock to your site every time you published a new post. In reality — especially when you’re just starting out — you’ll need to entice people to consume your content and even shepherd them into your online space.
Hence why content promotion is just as important to your strategy as whatever content you create.
Your promotion plan should be guided by your persona. Where do they spend their time online? What time of day do they use a particular platform? How often do they want to see content from you? How do they like to consume content? What email subject lines get them to click?
Content promotion varies by medium, and there are specific rules to follow for each.
While social media is a relationship building tool, it can be used to promote content. It’s all about finding the right balance between self-promotion, sharing useful information, and entertainment. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat are all great mediums to both create and share relevant content. The key is modifying that content to fit the platform.
Email is one of the best ways to reach your audience for any reason, especially to promote content. The reason is anyone on your email list has opted in to hear from you and you can guarantee that they’ll get your messages. Better yet, you can improve your open rates by sending relevant content to segmented lists, meaning they’ll be eager to read everything you send their way.
Pay-per-click (PPC) helps you get your content in front of new audiences through targeted, paid advertisements. These ads can run on social media, search engines, or other websites. Once you define your buyer persona, you’ll want to go the paid route so not to waste money targeting uninterested parties. Once you have your audience down, paid promotion can yield a great ROI.
Getting your content promoted through authoritative, third-party channels is a great way to build your audience. Syndication gets your brand in front of fresh eyes (and wallets) that you wouldn’t otherwise reach with your own efforts.
When you repurpose content, you’re reusing something you spent a lot of time to create and transforming it in various formats so that it can be more widely consumed.
Think of it as recycling. You want to spend less time creating and more time getting your content in front of your audience. For example, that blog post that you wrote on marketing stats can also serve as a great infographic or even a video.
If you created something in one format, try to think of all the other ways that you could reuse that information that might be just as effective.
The Content Creation Process
We marketers are busy. We don’t have time to waste on inefficient systems. That’s why we create processes for everything we do. We devise a system, roll it out, tweak it until it works, then repeat that system over and over to generate the results we want. Think about every marketing campaign you’ve ever done — webinars, autoresponders, surveys. Each of them had a process. Content creation is no different.
Follow these steps to create content, remove the guesswork, and allow for more creative mental space.
1. SEO Research
Creating your buyer persona likely gave you some ideas about what topics to write about and what questions your audience might have, which is a great start. Now, you need to confirm if those ideas can apply on a bigger scale to a larger audience. Sure, it would be great to write a blog post directed toward a single person, but, boy, would it be a waste of energy.
SEO research — a.k.a. keyword research — will show you the search volume of a specific keyword phrase and whether it’s worth the investment of creating a piece of content around it.
A good way to go about keyword research is to write down some questions that your persona might have based on their obstacles and goals. Then, perform some keyword research around those queries to see if enough people are searching for them. A rule of thumb is to target keywords that are attainable, meaning that have a monthly search volume (MSV) and keyword difficulty that corresponds to your domain authority. Trying to target high volume (read: highly competitive) keywords when you’ve just started blogging won’t pan out too well for you.
Before we go any further, let’s detour into a quick-and-dirty SEO explanation:
One important factor that helps you to rank in search engines is domain authority. You gain domain authority by how many external sites link back to your content. In order for this to happen, you need to have a pretty large library of content that is valuable enough to cite. That means, the longer you write high quality content, the higher your domain authority and the easier it is to rank for highly competitive keywords that will put you on the first page of Google.
If you’re not quite there yet, the best thing to do is to target long-tail, low-volume keywords with minimal keyword difficulty (<50) — we’re talking 200-1000 MSV. This will give you the best chance at ranking for keywords and getting your content in front of more people.
SEO lesson concluded. Back to our scheduled programming.
There are a few ways you could perform your keyword research:
- Use keyword research tools, like SEMRush or Moz Keyword Explorer.
- Type your keyword into a search engine and take note of the auto-filled queries.
- Check out the related searches section on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Now that you’ve determined which keywords to target, it’s time to brainstorm some content ideas. HubSpot research shows that the best way to organize content is through topic clusters, meaning you create a long-form, comprehensive pillar page based on a keyword that then links to content you’ve created on related subtopics (think blog posts).
To illustrate the point, it looks something like this.
The topic cluster model makes brainstorming so much easier because now you have structure to follow (… told you we like processes). You can use your main keyword to create a pillar piece that covers that topic in depth, like … say a guide to content creation. Then, you can create shorter pieces of content — infographics, blog posts, templates — that help your audience dive deeper into the topic and target long-tail keywords.
If you’re stumped for ideas, you might want to consider looking for inspiration from books you’ve read, industry studies, your competitor’s sites, or related searches on SERPs.
Once you have all of your ideas down, you can develop your editorial calendar and start creating.
I’m going to talk about the writing process because … well, that’s what I do. Your specific content creation strength might be videos or graphics or podcasts. Whatever it is, the creation process follows some pretty similar guidelines:
- Write to your persona. Use their voice, their euphemisms, even their humor to construct a piece that resonates.
- Use titles, meta descriptions, and other teasers to compel your audience to read your content. Put the benefit of your content right in the title to let them know why they should read it.
- Create something unique. Don’t simply regurgitate the information that’s already out there. Infuse a unique style or cite new research to emphasize your points.
- Stick to one idea and use your content to reinforce it. Don’t confuse your reader by going on tangents or trying to explain multiple semi-related topics in a single piece.
- Stay true to your voice. Don’t try to impress your audience with eloquent prose or an expansive vocabulary if they don’t speak that way.
- Be concise and clear. You want your audience to relate to you and derive value from your content … and not have to sift through jargon or confusing metaphors.
The way you edit your (or others’) work is a very subjective process. You may want to edit as you go, or you might wait a few days and review the work with fresh eyes. You might care a great deal about grammar, or you might aim for a more colloquial piece.
Either way, there are a few things that should definitely look out for as you refine your content, like active voice, clear language, short sentences, and plenty of whitespace. Consider having a colleague or manager review your work, too.
Now that your content is ready, you’ll need to put it somewhere that people can access it. A content management system (CMS) is software that hosts digital content and allows you to display it on your website (or anywhere else on the web).
The benefit to a CMS is that it connects all of your content and stores it in one place. So, you can easily link to a landing page in your blog article or insert a content offer in an email. Not only that, but you can analyze the results of all the content you created for a specific campaign (which can help with content audits). A CMS saves you from having a disjointed content marketing system.
For example, CMS Hub is home to our blog, where you get access to all of our great content and useful free offers.
Publishing content is as simple as clicking a button. So, why include a section on it? Well, because it’s not always that simple. Yes, you can publish your content immediately after uploading, or you can maximize its impact by waiting for an optimal time.
If you’re just starting out, then clicking publish right away probably won’t impact your audience too much. But if you have committed to a regular publishing schedule, like delivering a new post every Wednesday, your audience will expect to see posts published on Wednesdays.
Something else to keep in mind is to publish according to trends or time-sensitive events. For example, if you create content about national holidays or current events, then you’ll want to publish those at specific times.
A CMS will allow you schedule posts for a future date and specific time, so you can click, schedule, and forget.
Content Creation Tools
While a CMS will help you manage your content, it won’t help you create it. That’s where content creation tools come in handy. These are especially useful if you’re artistically impaired, like me, or if you don’t have the capacity to hire help. From GIFs to infographics, these content creation tools will help you look like a professional, regardless of what kind of content you’re making.
Canva will help you create beautiful designs for any platform, from social ads to Facebook cover photos to infographics. The software features aesthetically pleasing templates that you can customize with colors, images, and text … for free.
Giphy The GIF has replaced emojis as a completely normal form of communication, and, therefore, an acceptable way to present content. Giphy allows you to search millions of pre-created GIFs in their database or even create your own.
Vidyard is a video hosting platform that was made for marketers. The software allows you to customize your video by adding overlays, text, or CTA buttons, split test, transcribe, and has SEO features.
SurveyMonkey is a leading survey creation platform. Why might you need such a thing? Because a good marketer knows that customer feedback is critical to an effective marketing campaign.
MakeMyPersona is HubSpot’s own nifty tool that will walk you through the process of creating your buyer persona. You can generate a document to reference throughout your content creation process.
Anchor is the podcasting tool for beginners. It’s free, allows you to record and store unlimited episodes, and you can easily upload to any third-party platform.
This is far from an exhaustive list of all the great content creation tools out there — this list is much better!
Creating a Content Plan
Content exists everywhere, but its success relies on your ability to adapt it to the medium on which it lives. One size does not fit all when it comes to posting on different mediums — or the platforms within those mediums, for that matter.
Social media content varies from blog content, which is different than website content. So, you need to know how to tailor your creation to reach your audience where they are.
Let’s dive into some guidelines for sharing content on various platforms.
Social Media Content
There is an art to creating content for social media. But it’s well worth your time since there are 2.6 billion users across social media platforms worldwide. Plus, someone who follows you on social media is like a warm lead — they already like you and are interested in what you have to say. So, you have an eager audience that’s ready to engage with your content.
Here are a few quick tips for creating content on some popular social channels.
Facebook can be used to build micro communities via Facebook Groups or to share to a mass audience on Facebook Pages. When it comes to sharing content, questions and videos reap the most engagement.
Instagram is best for sharing high-quality imagery and short videos with brief captions. Hashtags work well on this platform as long as they’re relevant to your account and business. Instagram Stories has introduced a new way to engage with your followers, from quick polls to questions to real-time videos.
YouTube has 1.3 billion users and counting. Users frequent this platform to watch content ranging from DIY videos to parodies. Some of the most successful content on this platform are how-to guides, vlogs, product reviews, and educational videos.
Twitter best practices include short messages, supporting images, relevant hashtags, and retweets. And, of course, replies go a long way to win over your audience.
Website content should focus on three things: your persona, your target keywords, and your solution. Not unlike your blog content, the copy on your website needs to guide visitors to your solution in a cohesive and natural way. Think of web content like a map to your product.
Be careful not to turn visitors away through social media feeds and other distracting elements. Once you you’ve attracted a potential customer, you must do everything you can to keep them there, and that’s the key function of your website content.
The purpose of blog content is to support your business by attracting strangers and bringing in qualified leads. Blog content is a free resource that’s not often directly tied to sales, but don’t underestimate the power of a well-crafted blog to ultimately generate revenue for your business. Research shows that companies that blog more get more traffic and more leads than those that don’t.
Analyzing Your Content
The final, and arguably most important step in content creation is analyzing your content. Without data, you can’t know what’s working or how to improve it.
There are several data points you could track when analyzing your content, so use your goals as a guide to set some parameters. Whatever you want to accomplish with your content will help you choose your metrics. (Remember that initial goal we talked about?)
What you analyze is completely up to you, but here are some ideas for metrics to track:
- Page Views: the number of users that visit your content.
- Organic Traffic: the amount of traffic that comes from search engines.
- Bounce Rate: the percentage of visitors who leave your site after visiting only one page.
- Conversion Rates: the percent of visitors that engage with a CTA.
- Engagement Rates: the number of people that interact with your content through likes, shares, comments, or in other ways.
- Audience Growth: the new subscribers or leads that are generated from a piece of content.
If you need more tips on analyzing your content, check out this free HubSpot Academy course.
Content creation is an iterative process that pays off tremendously with your audience. Once you have the content creation process down, you’ll be able to generate creative work that not only delights your audience but also grows your business.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.