There is no silver bullet in content marketing. Just as there is no universally best approach to fat loss, you would be hard-pressed to find one content marketing strategy that works for every business.
However, that doesn’t mean your efforts are futile. Far from it. For 85% of businesses that use it, content marketing performs from moderately to exceedingly well. Part of that success comes from understanding and following the industry’s best practices.
Now, before we dive into best practices for 2023, let’s quickly run through foundational content marketing principles you need to follow regardless of the year on your calendar.
The Core Principles of Content Marketing
Even if you follow best practices discussed later in the article, your content marketing strategies are bound to crumble without good foundations.
Understand Your Target Audience
Behind every successful marketing campaign there is a marketer that carefully analyzed their target audience. The exceptions are mostly blind luck and not something you should bet on.
Having an intimate knowledge of you target audience helps you:
- focus on the right content distribution channels
- adjust style and tone of voice to create greater emotional connection
- create content that helps solve actual problems your target audience has
- zero in on customers pain points and increase conversions rates
Furthermore, you need to keep in mind that your target audience aren’t just the people that are using your product or services. The pool is often much wider, forcing you to also target people who your customers take advice from (influencers), as well as the people they need to get approval from (decision makers).
Set Realistic Goals and Plan of Action
The same research mentioned in the intro states that 73% of B2B marketers have a marketing strategy, with 40% having the strategy written down.
I would argue that this research actually shows how only 40% of marketers have a marketing strategy. Because if it is not written down, there is little accountability, and it is generally too complex to just sit in one person’s head.
Defining realistic marketing goals and metrics is challenging. When you are doing it for the first time, you are going to miss with your estimates. Probably by a lot.
My advice is to get down and dirty.
First, watch who you are comparing yourself with. Your marketing budget is likely to be much smaller than top dogs in your niche. Instead of picking a fight with them right off the bat, aim to surpass companies that are just one or two levels above your weight category.
Secondly, be sure to outline the steps you need to take to reach your goals. Increasing organic traffic by 50% in 12 months is a fine goal. However, don’t stop there. Break it down. Define how many content pieces you need to publish and how many backlinks do you need to build to get there.
Do that for all of your goals and you will already be a step ahead of most content marketers.
Master the Basics
I like to think of content marketing as using content to build trust and awareness and generate traffic, leads, and customers. Usually in that order.
When you look at it that way, they only way to be successful at it is to understand the basics of:
- Content planning (target audience research, keyword research)
- Content production (selecting the right content type, consistently producing well-structured content with actionable advice)
- Content optimization (on-page seo)
- Content promotion and distribution (off-page SEO, PPC, influencer outreach, social media marketing)
This is a tall task for any business that isn’t big enough to set up an in-house marketing team. However, even if you outsource it, it pays to understand the basics to ensure that the agency you are working with is spending your money wisely.
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Content Marketing Best Practices in 2023
With firmly established foundations, it’s time to explore what are the best content marketing practices you need to start implementing in your business in 2023.
1. Create Keyword-Based Content Strategies
In personal experience, one of the most common mistakes businesses make is not having a clear, keyword-based content strategy. They think that just creating quality content is enough. Unfortunately, this is not the case of “if you build it, they will come”.
If you want to grow by converting organic traffic into leads and customers, you need to have a content strategy based on in-depth keyword research.
We have a few clients in industrial B2B niches and even there we are seeing competition seriously ramping up. Just throwing content at the wall and hoping something sticks rarely worked so far, and is definitely not the way to go in 2023.
2. Find Ways to Provide Additional Value with Your Content
More and more brands are understanding the value of quality content. If you want to compete for the top spots in SERPs for challenging keywords, look for new ways to provide additional value by making your content more convenient to consume and easier to apply.
That can mean a lot of different things in practice:
- Making sure that long form pieces are logically structured and come with an easy to use content table.
- That broad and general advice gives place to actionable tips and relevant real-life examples.
- Supporting complex concepts with custom animations or (info)graphics that include steps, diagrams, and other visual representations that increase the understanding of the topic.
- Reaching out to experts in the field and sharing their thoughts on specific issues.
- Adding polls, quizzes, and calculators to make content more interactive.
This is not a definite list, but it should be enough to get your creative juices flowing.
3. Be Consistent
Doing quality content marketing is a lot like trying to achieve a fitness goal. The key ingredient is consistency.
- produce and publish content consistently
- have a minimum level of quality every content piece should satisfy before it goes live
- try to keep a consistent style and tone of voice across all channels
- have a set of visual brand guidelines to create a recognizable visual style
If you are just starting out, don’t be afraid to test things out. It might take a while until you find your brand voice. When you do that, create your brand style guide – and stick to it!
4. Build What You Can, Outsource What You Can’t
Scaling up content production without any drop in quality is hard. If you do not have a dedicated marketing department, I would recommend turning to a content marketing agency for help.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should abdicate all of your responsibility to an agency. Nor does it mean that you should give them all of the reins.
For example, we work with a few businesses that have excellent content writers with in-depth knowledge of the subject area. In this case, we take the role of an editor – prepare content briefs, review outlines, add custom graphics, and make sure the content follows best on-page SEO practices.
In other words, those businesses use us to plug holes in terms of their marketing skills and knowledge.
Another reason to stay involved to some degree is to make sure the content follows your brand tone and voice and really connects with your brand, as well as to coordinate lead generation and other promotional activities you might be doing in parallel.
5) Leverage Your Analytics
As more and more businesses compete for customer’s attention, only those with a strategic approach to content marketing are going to see a fat ROI.
Recently, we talked with a semi-known brand in the interior design niche. They have over 500k monthly organic traffic but fairly low conversion rates as most of that traffic is generated by awareness phase-level content.
They wanted to spend most of their budget on building links to pages that are already performing well. While that would probably work ok, the more cost-effective idea was to split that budget in 3 parts.
The first part would be used to continue boosting pages that are already generating some leads. The second part would be used to increase overall conversion rates on the site.
Most interestingly, the third part of the budget would be used to boost pages that have the best conversion rates in terms of percentages, but currently generate a very small amount of leads because they are ranking poorly and do not get a lot of traffic – in other words, potential gems.
The key takeaway from this story is that creating such a concrete and cost-effective strategy was only possible because the client meticulously tracked the performance (traffic,conversion to lead, conversion to paying customer…) of all of his pages.
6) Be Transparent and Authentic
9 out of 10 consumers say that authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support.
In an age where every brand message is designed to sell something and where every social media post is meticulously planned, people are sick of that uncomfortable feeling of being manipulated and told what to think. They crave transparency and authenticity.
It is one of the reasons behind the huge success of Joe Rogan’s podcasts.
So, if there are causes you want to support and talk about, find those you really care about. Be honest about your product and service, and what you can offer.
Last but not least, when the context allows it, try to have some fun with the content you’re creating. Do your part to make the Internet a better place.
Trust the Process
It is not easy to measure the success of your overall content marketing efforts, especially as VPNs, GDPR, and other tools and laws reduce your tracking capabilities.
On top of that, content marketing campaigns with a modest budget can take 6+ months of consistent work to show provable results.
Putting in earnest work for a few months and not seeing results can quickly become discouraging. You might even be tempted to pivot and make significant changes. Think twice before doing that.
If you are following industry best practices and have polished internal processes that can catch and eliminate quality issues, it is time to exercise patience and put some trust in the process.