content marketing industry

A Beginner’s Guide to the Content Marketing Industry: Where to Learn, What to Know

Content marketing.

Year after year, it continues to explode.

Google Trends Content Marketing

Google Trends results for “content marketing”

From B2B to B2C, everyone is getting in on the action.

In fact, according to the Content Marketing Institute, 89% of B2B marketers are either already using content marketing or plan to do so in 2017.

The thing is, most of them have very little idea what they’re doing. And, because of this, they’re outsourcing a large portion of their content marketing efforts.

So what does that mean for you?

Well, it means there’s a whole lot of opportunity to grab a piece of the pie if you’re willing to get in the trenches and learn about the content marketing industry.

And we’re going to help you do just that.

Let’s get started.

beginners guide to content marketing

What Can Content Marketing Help You Accomplish?

The beauty of content marketing lies in the fact that it can help marketers and organizations accomplish multiple business goals at once.

As Content Marketing Institute contributor Andrea Fryrear puts it,

“Content marketing is kind of like a Swiss Army knife; it can do almost anything if you set it up the right way.”

Some of the main goals that it can help accomplish include:

2017-B2C-Research-Organizational-Goals-rev-600x387

In order to accomplish these goals, however, you’ll need to develop a deeper understanding of the components that make up the content marketing industry.

How to Learn About the Content Marketing Industry

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk currently heads three different companies in three completely different industries (SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity).

But what in the world can Musk teach us about content marketing?

It starts with his views on learning.

In an AMA that Musk took part in on Reddit, he was asked a question about how he’s able to learn so much so fast.

Question for Elon Musk

His response?

Musk Answer

The part we want to hone in on is his advice that, when attempting to learn something, you need to understand the fundamentals first before moving onto the leaves and details.

There are so many different aspects of content marketing.

If you try to learn the ins and outs of the industry without first understanding the fundamentals, you’ll get lost quickly.

Fundamentals first. Details second.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Check out the beginner’s guide to #ContentMarketing via @ExpWriters! It shares the six fundamentals you need to know!” quote=”Check out the beginner’s guide to #ContentMarketing via @ExpWriters! It shares the six fundamentals you need to know!”]

The Fundamentals of Content Marketing

Let’s take a look at the six main fundamentals of content marketing. They include:

  1. Creating an Audience Persona
  2. Understanding SEO & Identifying High-Value Keywords
  3. Determining Content Types
  4. Creating an Editorial Calendar
  5. Understanding Content Publishing & Promotion
  6. Content Maintenance & Tracking Results

1. What You Need to Know About Creating an Audience Persona

The first rule of content marketing is simple; create audience-centric content.

As Neil Patel says, one of the biggest mistakes that content creators make is that they create content that isn’t ideal for their audience:

“When creating content with the ultimate goal of marketing a good or service, you have to know who your audience is. Understanding and targeting your audience is crucial to a successful content marketing campaign.”

Instead of being audience-centric, where they identify their audience and produce content that’s useful and relevant to them, these marketers instead create content and then try to find an audience for it.

This is a crushing mistake that will almost always lead to a failed content marketing strategy.

Content-Centric-VS-Audience-Centric-600x338

For this reason, creating an audience persona should be the first step when developing your content marketing strategy.

The personas you create serve as the catalyst for making sure that your content is relevant and useful to the audience you’re targeting.

And, in the end, content marketing success comes down to creating an audience persona where you’re able to identify your target audience, research them thoroughly, and figure out what THEY want you to talk about.

Where to Learn About Creating an Audience Persona

While there are quite a few resources to help guide you on how to create an audience persona, the two that I’ve found to offer the most actionable information on the topic include:

  1. Buffer The Complete, Actionable Guide to Marketing Persona
  2. Express WritersGuide on How to Develop a Target Persona and Reach Your Audience

2. What You Need to Know About SEO

The first thing you need to know is that SEO is actually all about content marketing, and vice versa.

One of the biggest problems with the mindset of modern content marketers is that, as Copyblogger founder Brian Clark mentions, they have,

“…a misguided impulse to put various tactics into separate boxes instead of seeing each as an aspect of one overarching strategic process.”

Instead of thinking of SEO and content marketing as two totally different tactics, Clark advises that,

“The smart way to practice effective online marketing is to treat social media and search engine results as aspects of a holistic strategy that centers around compelling content.”

While there was certainly a time when marketers could generate positive organic search results by focusing solely on technical SEO – and not on creating great content – that time has long since passed.

Today, SEO and content need to work together, along with social media, to form an online marketing combination capable of winning over customers that will stick around for the long term.

What You Need to Know About Identifying High-Value Keywords

The main thing you need to know about high-value keywords is that they have the power to transform your website, and business, when identified and used properly.

Interestingly enough, identifying high-value keywords, and building great content around those keywords, has been the main strategy that has helped turn Express Writers into a multi-million dollar agency.

In fact, using this strategy, we’ve gone from ranking for about 3,000 keywords back in November 2015 to ranking for over 11,000 as recently as June of 2017.

Take a look at this graphic from our case study about how we gained over 300 keyword positions in one day:

EW-total-traffic Nov 2015

At the time, we were ecstatic about these results. After all, we were generating monthly organic traffic worth $6.8k per month.

A year later, by September 2016, we were outranking competitors while quadrupling our monthly traffic and generating organic traffic worth $13.2k per month.

google-presence-Sep 2016

But it didn’t stop there. As of June 2017, we were ranking for over 11,000 keywords, our monthly organic traffic had risen to over 32,000 visitors, and our monthly traffic was worth $57.4k per month.

total traffic June 2017

And while I’m certainly proud of these results, I’m not showing you this to brag.

I’m showing you this so you can see what’s possible when you’re able to successfully identify high-value keywords and create amazing content around those keywords.

Where to Learn About SEO

I wrote a fairly comprehensive piece on how to write content for SEO that should get you on the right path towards successfully combining your SEO and content marketing tactics.

Rand Fishkin, co-founder of Moz, also put together a great resource on what to know about content creation and SEO that you’d be wise to check out.

No matter what resources you use, however, it’s imperative that you understand the main message being presented by content marketing gurus like Neil Patel, Brian Clark, and Rand Fishkin.

That message is that you need to view SEO and content marketing like this:

seo-vs-content-marketing-2

And NOT like this:

seo-vs-content-marketing

Where to Learn About Identifying High-Value Keywords

You’d be hard pressed to find a better resource on identifying high-value keywords than Moz’s chapter on keyword research that lies within their beginner’s guide to SEO.

I’d also encourage you to check out our piece on why keyword research is vital, which also lays out some of the tools we use to identify the keywords that have led to our success in SERPs.

3. What You Need to Know About Determining Content Types

With all these options, what type of content should you create?

This is where things can get tricky. Since there are dozens, potentially even hundreds, of different types of content, determining which options are optimal for your business can be a major challenge.

Here’s a look at just a few of the content types that are available:

types of content

The simple way to answer this question, and determine what type of content we should create, is to go back to the rule we talked about when creating an audience persona.

That is, we always want to create audience-centric content.

If we maintain that focus, we can reframe the question from, “what type of content should I create?” to, “what type of content does my audience want?”

From there, we can make our decisions based off a combination of what our audience wants and what our goals are for the content we create.

If, for instance, our goal is to use our content to generate leads, then we’ll want to focus on a few of the many types of lead generating content that our audience wants.

On the other hand, if our goal is to build an audience that will become loyal, long-term customers, we can follow the lead of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI).

[clickToTweet tweet=”Creating audience-centric content is key if you want to succeed at #ContentMarketing! Learn more via @ExpWriters:” quote=”Creating audience-centric content is key if you want to succeed at #ContentMarketing! Learn more via @ExpWriters:”]

How REI Cornered the Outdoor Clothing Market By Determining the Right Content to Create

REI is an outdoor clothing company that has used comprehensive, audience-centric content to build themselves into an organization with annual revenue in the 8-figures.

Their goal since the beginning has been to use content to inspire and educate their audience.

For education purposes, their website features an Outdoor Expert Advice section that has hundreds of detailed guides on topics ranging from mountain climbing and road cycling to backpacking and snowboarding.

REI Expert Advice GIF

For inspiration purposes, their Facebook page features regular posts intended to uplift their fans.

REI Facebook Page

They determined that education and inspiration were what their audience wanted. And, with that knowledge, they did everything in their power to make sure they created content based on those two principles.

This made it easy to determine their content types. On their website, they use long form guides. On their Facebook page, they create uplifting stories that are then featured on the REI blog.

Where to Learn About Determining Content Types

As we’ve mentioned, there are dozens of content types to choose from.

If you’re looking for some ideas, Convince & Convert contributor Nathan Ellering put together a list of 105 types of content to fill up your editorial calendar.

For more detailed information for determining content types for your specific audience, CMI contributor Michele Linn put together a great guide to creating content in formats your audience loves.

4. What You Need to Know About Creating an Editorial Calendar

The only thing that you really need to know about creating an editorial calendar, other than how to do it, is that it’s an essential piece of your content strategy.

When attempting to answer the question of whether or not you can benefit from it:

“Most of us know that the answer to that question is yes. We know that the number one way to get traffic to our blog is through the very habits that an editorial calendar will help us develop – organization.”

But it doesn’t just help with organization.

At this point, you’re probably aware that one of the main keys to a successful content marketing strategy is consistency.

When you commit to creating an editorial calendar, you’re putting a plan together that ensures this consistency.

Sure, you could go and put together your calendar and then never move forward with actually creating the content.

The likelihood of procrastinating on your content creation efforts, however, is significantly lower when you create an editorial calendar.

Where to Create A Dynamic Editorial Calendar

There are several different types of editorial calendars, although a large majority of them are fairly straight forward.

I love Airtable, for many reasons – mostly because it’s super simple, clean, and easy to use. They have preloaded templates you can start using right away. It’s a simple, more beautiful and dynamic version of Excel, but no harder than excel. And, you can share it with clients directly through email. (Check out Airtable’s blog calendar template here.)

I seriously haven’t found a better tool. I teach the use of Airtable in my content strategy course. Here’s the example calendar that I put together for my students:

airtable content calendar

Some marketers prefer to take the cost free route and create their editorial calendar (also referred to as a content calendar) through Google Sheets.

content-calendar-example

Others decide to use one of the many, multi-feature (and, expensive) content calendar tools available. Kapost and CoSchedule are two of the more popular options.

kapost content calendar example

To learn more about putting together a successful editorial calendar, check out Buffer contributor Kevan Lee’s guide to choosing a content calendar.

5. What You Need to Know About Content Publishing

Marketers are constantly searching for answers to questions like:

  • Where should I publish my content?
  • Should I be on as many social media platforms as possible?
  • Should I post the same content to each platform?

Earlier this year, I published an article offering a data-driven answer on where to publish your content.

In the post, I really wanted to make the point that answering this question should always start with finding out where NOT to publish.

Why? Because it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the options out there.

You may think that it’s a good idea to create your content, post it on your blog, and then follow that up by posting it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Reddit, and every other platform under the sun.

The truth is, however, that it’s just not possible to be successful on every platform.

The reason for this goes back to the number one rule of content marketing: create audience-centric content.

Since different platforms have varying demographics, it would be an exhausting exercise to try and create content designed for each audience.

In the end, your best bet is to focus on building an audience through your blog while honing in on two social media platforms that feature your target audience.

What You Need to Know About Content Promotion

You already know that creating great content is absolutely necessary if you want your content strategy to succeed.

Unfortunately, as Neil Patel points out, many content creators don’t realize that,

“Creating content is only part of content marketing. The other half is promoting it. Don’t forget the ‘marketing’ in content marketing.”

The main point to take away here is that creating great content isn’t enough. That’s an expectation, not a differentiation factor.

By combining great content with a strong promotional strategy, however, you can set yourself up for success.

Where to Learn About Content Publishing

On top of the article outlined previously, Neil Patel’s blog post featuring 16 Ways to Skyrocket Your Blog Traffic is also a great resource.

Where to Learn About Content Promotion

There are tons of resources on content promotion throughout the web. The two that I’ve found to be most useful are:

  1. Content Marketing Institute6 How-To Strategies for Content Promotion
  2. Buffer How Content Promotion Works for Blogs Big and Small

6. What You Need to Know About Content Maintenance

When it comes to the life expectancy of content, the numbers can be pretty demoralizing:

content shelf life

Fortunately, if you perform maintenance effectively, you can extend the shelf-life of your content.

First things first, and as we’ve mentioned over and over again, you need to begin the process by creating strong content.

From there, the two major factors that are within your control when it comes to content maintenance include:

  1. Updating core content. Making changes to the main body text of your article.
  2. Rate of link growth. Using white hat SEO techniques to continually grow backlinks.

While it’s impossible to tell exactly how long a piece of content will last, you can significantly increase its chances of a long term lifespan by focusing on these two controllable maintenance methods.

What You Need to Know About Tracking Results

If you want to make consistent improvements to your content marketing efforts, it’s imperative that you understand how to track your results.

And while proving content marketing ROI was a near impossible task at one time, that’s no longer the case.

As Content Marketing Institute contributor Mike Murray shows us, there are over 101 Key Performance Indicators that can help you measure the effectiveness of your strategy.

When you’re able to match the KPIs to the unique goals of your business, measuring content marketing success becomes a fairly easy task.

Where to Learn About Content Maintenance

For information on updating your core content, Joe Fylan, of Elegant Themes, put together a great post on Why and How to Update Your Most Successful Blog Posts.  

As for growing backlinks, Nathan Gotch’s guide on How to Build Backlinks in 2017 will give you everything you need to move forward with that.

Where to Learn About Tracking Results

In addition to Murray’s list of KPIs, Cathy McPhillips put together a Simple Plan for Measuring the Marketing Effectiveness of Content that will help you get started with understanding how to track your results.

Where You Can Learn About All the Content Marketing Fundamentals in One Place

At this point, you’re aware of the main content marketing fundamentals that make up a successful content strategy.

And, if you’ve reviewed the resources laid out throughout this guide, you also have a brief idea of what each fundamental entails.

But, instead of navigating from site to site trying to master the fundamentals of content marketing, what if there was a way to learn them all in one place?

Fortunately, there is.

Earlier this month, I launched my Content Strategy Certification Course.

The course covers each of these fundamentals in detail, while also giving you the opportunity to expand your knowledge to create a massively successful content strategy for your own website.

It’s the EXACT SAME STRATEGY that we’ve used at EW to go, in less than 2 years, from:

November 2015: Ranked for 3,000 keywords, monthly traffic of 1.3k, and monthly organic traffic worth $6.8k

To…

June 2017: Ranking for over 11,000 keywords, monthly traffic of 32.3k, and monthly organic traffic worth $57.4k

By the end of the course, you’ll have everything you need to achieve these same results for your own website or that of your clients.

And you’ll even have a certificate to prove it.

Signing Up for the Content Strategy Certification Course

Currently, the course is closed as we work with the students who signed up for the initial launch.

We will, however, be reopening the course later this year.

If you’re interested in finding out how to create, execute, and maintain a massively successful content strategy, I strongly encourage you to sign up for our email list to be informed of the re-launch.

Sign up below to get notified when the course launches again!

As for now, I hope that the content marketing fundamentals that I’ve laid out for you can help you get a head start on becoming a better marketer.

And if you’d like some assistance with your content marketing strategy today, our team offers content planning services that can get you moving in the right direction. I encourage you to get in touch with our content strategists to find out how we can help guide you to marketing success.

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