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The online world is saturated with content. In fact, we have too much content out there on the web. That’s why curation and content filtering tools are becoming so popular.
People are so frustrated with the overabundance to the extent that they are literally paying money for a tool to sift through it for them.
This leaves content creators in a bind. As if creating content isn’t difficult enough, we now have more competitors than ever, and web surfers won’t settle for “decent.” Our audience is looking to solve their problems, have their questions answered, or simply source out entertainment.
Whichever creators can do it best, tend to win. Just look at the average amount of time that bloggers are dedicating to their articles:
This study by Orbit Media suggests that we are investing more time in our content creation than ever before. If we don’t have an excellent understanding of our audience and how they relate to our product, we’ll lose. Furthermore, if we don’t respect and master the process, we’ll be constantly fighting a fire.
And that’s the focus today.
This guide is all about the creation side of content marketing. It’ll help you develop an understanding of your audience, help to connect your content with your offering, and ultimately help to optimize your content process.
I want you to be continuously thinking about your audience, the way you approach them, the purpose of each individual piece, and how it all comes together in harmony (hopefully).
I’ve broken up this guide into several sections. Feel free to download the PDF version as well:
- Audience and Personas
- Content Types/Purpose
- Content Ideation
- Planning Your Content
- Content Creation Tools
- Writing Faster
Audience and Personas
The first step in creating content is understanding who the content is created for.
It sounds dumb, obvious, etc. Demean it however you like. But at the end of the day, you must realize that content acts as an attraction to your website. Just like a roller coaster is an attraction for a theme park. Same principles here, just not quite as much fun.
If you aren’t attracting the right people, you lose. Not only are you wasting time creating content, but you’re generating inbound traffic that won’t convert.
That’s like a digital marketing sin!
The fact of the matter is, it’s in your best interest to have it defined in your mind, on paper, or digitally, who you’re speaking to.
Not only does this affect the topics you cover, but also the voice you write in, the length of content, and the format.
Today, I’ll be focusing specifically on written content (just so we’re on the same page). Nonetheless, much of this will apply regardless of the content format.
It’s not always easy to know exactly who your target market is. Your audience, especially if you’re a startup, may be slightly undefined.
Regardless, it’s still important to have at least a generic framework so that you’re working in a particular direction.
If you don’t have a direction, you’ll have nothing to measure your efforts on, and therefore, no way to improve.
Defining Your Audience
The easiest way to define your audience is by understanding your customer and relating it to their online activity.
Who do you serve? What do they look for online? What groups do they participate in? Do they like social media? If so, what platforms? Do they read long blog posts? Do they prefer numbers or prefer graphics?
Where do you fit in the big picture of their lives and how can you help solve their problems? Or entertain them? Or amuse them? How can you get their attention?
A good place to begin is by creating personas. Off the top of your head, you may have a solid idea of who your audience is.
Perhaps they tend to be middle-aged women who have children, teenage kids that play Xbox every day after school, or maybe even 50-year-old men who operate steel mills.
Digital Marketer offers templates that help to break down your personas.
It’s a great way to dissect pain points, objectives, and behavior to develop a better understanding of who they are.
To answer many of these questions, you may have to do a bit of research:
What are your past customers like? You already have some data, just analyze it. Who have you been serving lately? What type of people buy from you most often? Figure out what they do by simply sending them a survey or asking to interview them.
Similar to above, this information already exists, so take advantage. Look at the content that has performed well on your website. Look at the assets that have received the most shares, downloads, page views, etc.
Communities and Q/A Sites:
If you have an idea of who your customers are, but are unsure of what problems they are having, just join a few facebook groups or research questions on Quora. It’s an easy way to see where people are experiencing difficulties. If you can fix those problems, you’re golden.
I’m sure you have competitors that dominate. How are they speaking to the target audience? How are they leveraging content to get sales? Look at the type of content they create, the tone of voice, and the problems they solve. It will tell you a great deal about the people they serve. You can even opt-in to their email list and do some spying there as well.
What do they want?
Here’s where things get a bit more difficult.
Now you have to go from defining and understanding your audience, to positioning content for them.
Ultimately, it comes down to (a.) what they want and (b.) what you have to offer (product or service).
I like the word “tangentially”, meaning “in a way that relates only slightly to a matter; peripherally.”
At worst, the content you create will be tangentially related to the product or service you offer.
This sort of content will be top-of-the-funnel content. The reader may still have no idea what service or product you offer. Yet, the content will have some relation to it.
And I say “at worst” because this is as far as you will stray from your offering. If you discuss topics further unrelated to the product or service, you’ll attract unqualified traffic.
I like to think of it like a Venn diagram that is slowly converging.
For a B2B example, consider the article “5 Vital Strategies for a Successful Marketing Automation Implementation”.
Consider this: Perhaps I’m a marketer and I’m interested in implementing marketing automation in my business. I do a Google search, click on the result, read the article, and find it helpful.
This article is by Marketo, a world-class marketing automation platform.
Yet, Marketo does not mention their name once in the article. Plus, this article ranks second in the SERPs for “how to implement marketing automation”.
Marketo knows their audience (marketers) and what their audience is looking for in relation to the product offering (how to automate marketing).
Where do you think this piece of content would land in the content funnel?
Keep a mindset that you aren’t promoting your product or service, but rather you’re helping your audience in a way that aligns with your offering.
This can be a subtle game, but it’s key to building trust, not to mention traffic.
How to Identify Your Online Target Audience by ConversionXL
The Complete Guide to Understanding Consumer Psychology by QuickSprout
The Complete Guide to Online Customer Research by KissMetrics
What’s the purpose of your content?
You want it to inform, amuse, entertain, maybe get social shares, or even traffic from Google.
But that’s a lot of purposes for one piece of content.
The point I’m trying to make is that there are a lot of different types of content out there and they exist to serve different purposes.
Instead of blogging for the sake of blogging, we have to understand that each piece we create is an asset that serves a purpose.
But it can’t serve every single purpose at once. That would be comparable to creating a unicorn of a blog article every single time.
I also want to clarify that this isn’t about topic ideas, it’s about purpose and performance of online content. We will get to topic ideation soon enough.
Stop for a second and consider how people reach your content. Do they arrive via social, search, paid ads, referrals, etc.
Most likely it’s a combination of many different sources. That’s completely fine.
However, the point I’m trying to make is that different types of content result in different performance when it comes to traffic acquisition.
After all, the whole point of creating content is to drive traffic, educate customers, and sell products.
Take for example my article on chatbots. I asked several influential people their opinions. After publishing it, nearly all of the influencers included shared it on social.
And although this article was published months and months ago, it still receives social shares and drives traffic.
This article was designed to perform well on social:
- On a trending topic: chatbots
- Controversial title that makes you want to click
- Included opinions from influencers, who also shared it
The idea here was not to create an article driven by keyword research. I didn’t expect it to rank in Google and it probably doesn’t. That was never the point. It’s a social traffic asset that has served its purpose well.
On the other hand, my article “A Guide to Content Channels: Owned, Earned, and Paid Media” was meant to be strictly informational. It provides definitions, examples, and images for anyone trying to learn more about content.
I doubt this piece received much traction on social, but there is a chance it could rank in Google.
Each piece I create serves a purpose. You should approach your content creation with the same philosophy. You aren’t simply writing for the sake of getting something on your blog. Rather, you’re crafting something that will receive backlinks, earn social shares, or convert traffic.
An excellent example of this philosophy is described in an article by Tyler Hakes. He breaks down what his audience cares about and how he can create content that will serve them best.
This includes content to attract links that will help the website rank, evergreen content to show up in the SERPs, and content that will do well on social.
Although his strategy was developed for one website in particular, the principles remain the same for any website you’re creating content for: Focus on the purpose of your content, not the quantity of it.
Moving from Customer Want to Content Purpose
Say you have an eCommerce store selling outdoor gear and supply.
Your customers are avid outdoorsmen. There are a couple things that they may be looking for:
- Educational content: They may want to know how to start a fire in the desert, what time of day to fish, how to properly make a shelter.
- Entertaining content: Perhaps they enjoy reading interviews with influential outdoorsmen, or they want to know the ten best camping spots in America.
Now you can take these categories of customer intent and translate them into the purpose of your content.
- Educational Content: Create long form guides, ebooks, integrate video into your posts. Do some keyword research to see what your customers are searching for to find this sort of information. You want to rank in Google for this information.
- Entertaining content: Write stories about your personal travels, interview people, create aspirational content that gets people excited about going outside. This content may not rank, but it could help build a readership, encourage email subscribers to stay on your list, and may drive social shares.
Basically, you’re feeding customer intent. You’re fueling the reaction of people on the web.
If they’re looking for information, they’ll resort to Google. If they’re looking for a good story, they’ll stumble across it on social. Prepare your content for the environment and intent.
Your content serves a purpose. Figure out the purpose of each piece and understand which channels fuel its performance with that purpose.
By no means are the types of performance and purpose mutually exclusive. A piece may generate backlinks and traffic and also drive thousands of social shares. Unicorns are real!
Regardless, by understanding the priority of a piece’s purpose, you can work toward driving results in that one area instead of being torn in three directions.
To sum it up: Understand the content types your audience wants. Learn the channels which that type of content performs best. Then create content for that purpose.
105 Types of Content to Fill Up Your Editorial Calendar by Convince&Convert
What is SEO Content? A Guide to Creating Content for SEO by Wordstream
It seems easy to come up with content ideas, but the feeling is always temporary.
You brainstorm haphazardly on a whiteboard and come up with a slew of article topics and headlines.
Then, you or your content team go out and actually write all the content. Suddenly it’s all published, and you feel good about yourself, but it’s time to think of new ideas.
The content game never really stops, and if you don’t have a strategy for coming up with new ideas, you’re toast.
Here’s my strategy in a nutshell:
First off, we have to keep in mind what we discussed previously. Namely, the “wants” of our target audience and how that aligns with our offering. Stay cognizant of this as we work out ideas.
Generally, there will be an overarching content category, or subject, that we begin with.
Think sports, clothing, business, etc.
Above we discussed the idea of an eCommerce store that sold outdoor adventure equipment. Let’s continue with that example.
Let’s say that this outdoor adventure blog is focusing on three major topics: Sporting Goods, Clothing/Shoes, and Tents.
Our whole objective is to continue breaking down these topics until we can get very specific.
Content ideas are a lot easier to come up with if you already have an idea for the subject. Do the work up front to break up these categories and you’ll start to see articles form.
For example, we could take the “sporting goods” topic and break it up into the subtopics “hunting”, “fishing”, and “hiking”.
Then, we could break up the subtopic of “hiking” into “hiking trails” and “hiking gear”.
For “hiking trails” we could create content about trails in certain areas, do reviews on trails, ask people about their favorite trails, rank the trails in an area, provide maps and information on trails, etc.
For “hiking gear”, we could talk about the gear readers will need for certain types of hiking, how much gear costs, do in-depth reviews of gear, discuss upcoming releases, etc.
As we get more specific in our content ideation, we start to see pieces of content float to the top: “List of Hiking Trails in Massachusetts”, “Top ten Hiking Trails in the US”, “What to Watch Out for When Hiking Mountainous Terrain”, “Best Cold-Weather Hiking Gear”, “Review of the XYZ Hiking Boot”, “Top Brands of Hiking Backpacks, What to Expect to Pay”.
I know nothing about hiking. Perhaps these content ideas aren’t relevant. Regardless, the strategy itself still works.
In less than a few minutes I have a solid amount of ideas simply by getting as specific as possible with the overarching categories.
After all, it’s easier to think of a lot of content ideas when you have a long list of subtopics to create for.
The most important part here is connecting what we have discussed before (understanding customer “wants” and content purpose/performance) and connecting it to the ideas you generate.
For example, if you do a comprehensive review of hiking trails in Massachusetts that includes images, links to the park websites, complete documentation of trails, etc. it’ll be an excellent piece for search.
On the other hand, maybe you do interviews with some of the top outdoor bloggers and write up an article on their favorite hiking spots. I could imagine this performing well on social.
There are a few elements you have to work with here, but if you can connect the dots between each, the strategy holds up rather well.
101 Content Ideas for Your Website or Blog by AudienceBloom
7 Tools for Generating Infinite Content Ideas for Your Blog by QuickSprout
Planning Your Content
Personally, I always side on quantity rather than quality.
A major determinant of how much content you create is based on time and resources. Do you have a team at your disposal or is it just you?
Regardless, it’s better to create one great piece of content a week, than it is to create five terrible ones.
Yes, push your content creation limits, but make sure that the quality will provide the performance you’re looking for. Namely, if you want to rank in Google, you’re going to have to create long-form informational content that covers the topic tremendously well.
If you want it to get shared a lot on social for a trending topic, how can you get people to click and share? How much effort will it take to create that piece of content?
Once again, don’t create content for the sake of creating content.
Let’s recap quickly…
First, understand your customer. Then create ideas for your customer. Then take into consideration the resources at your disposal. Finally, create a content calendar that brings it all together in harmony.
Sounds glamorous, doesn’t it?
A content calendar isn’t do or die, but it certainly helps to keep both you and your team on task and on time (at least more so than not having a calendar to work by).
It will help your team stick to a strategy that will lead to growth in the long run. After all, it’s easier to rank when you already rank and it’s easier to get social shares when you already have a following. So start ranking and start building a following. Build the foundation to grow on.
As project manager of sorts, it’s your job to establish roles, responsibilities, and procedures for your content creation.
Who is in charge of what and when should it be done?
How much content to create, what types of content, and when will it all be published?
Furthermore, you’ll take into account ongoing trends, seasonal changes, events, etc. that may affect your content calendar and the publishing time of pieces.
Content Creation Tools
I’ll briefly cover some tools, as there is a good chance you’re already familiar with them.
Content Management System
You plan on writing a lot of content, but where will it be stored?
Your content management system will allow you to create and modify content, along with publish it.
Some of the more popular options include WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla.
Most likely you’re already using WordPress. Perfect for bloggers and businesses alike, it allows for a whole slew of software integrations for creating the perfect website and even offers a community to help you do it all yourself, if that’s what you’re into.
According to Rackspace, Joomla offers more content and structure flexibility compared to WordPress, and Drupal is best for “complex, advanced, and versatile sites.”
I don’t write blog posts directly in WordPress. Like many bloggers and content creators, I do my writing in Google Drive. Docs has proven to be a simple, easy-to-use environment for writing content quickly.
The interface is clean, yet I can use the outline on my left to navigate through a long post, use the explore tool to do web research on my right, and easily collaborate with others on documents.
This makes it great for individual work and team projects, along with content processes like outlining, drafting, editing, revising, editing again, etc.
To clean up your content and make it a bit more attractive, you’ll want some decent graphics.
For documentation and how-to’s, Skitch is the perfect tool. It will allow you to mark up images to further inform readers and educate your audience.
As you can see, I’ve used it for many of the images in this article, both for marking up images and screenshots, and also for creating completely new ones.
As for photography, there are a lot of free image websites, such as Unsplash, that have an excellent assortment of photos for all your content creation needs.
Writing is tedious. The entire process really can be a pain.
First, we have to come up with ideas that align with our audience, then we have to actually write all the content, then we have to fix errors and format it correctly…
It truly is a frustrating and time-consuming process, but I think I may be able to help.
This isn’t a quick fix that I have for you. It’s just a strategy that has made my life easier.
See, what takes us so long to write, is actually the thinking, not the writing.
Consider this: You’re at your desk, computer in front of you, and you so badly want to start typing away… but you can’t.
You’re thinking of what the next sentence will be, the next topic, how it will flow, etc.
This is why so many of us struggle to write quickly; we’re wasting our time thinking while we should be writing.
To avoid this problem, we have to think before we write. Then we can simply knock out posts without doing so much thinking throughout the process.
This means that you not only need to know the content topic, but also you need a good idea of the organization of the piece.
The simplest way of doing this is by drafting up an outline.
For long-form, research-driven content especially, it’s helpful to have the piece fleshed out before you write it. This means a general format should be outlined along with key pages that you plan on referencing for your research.
The idea here is that when you actually sit down to write the content, you can simply start writing and keep writing.
You don’t have to stop and think about the next subtopic you’ll cover or the overall message of the piece.
Rather, you can just create and let the outline guide you. Here’s an example from an article I have written in the past:
Time to Start Thinking, Then Writing
It’s entirely possible to develop a successful content strategy, but it all stems from the ability to understand the audience, create a content offering that aligns with it, and develop processes that focus on timeliness and execution.
With a repository of content ideas, a content calendar to keep you and your team accountable, and a “think-before-you-write” attitude, a content strategy can be manageable.
We are all aware of how time-consuming content creation is. I’ve tried to the best of my abilities to share my ideas and thoughts on the topic, but I’d encourage you to share any of your own in the comments.
How can we create better content? Learn about our audience? Leverage the right channels? How can we produce more “great” content?