SME Content Marketing: Big Results With Small Budgets

I had the privilege at the start of this year to talk at the first Learn Inbound conference at the Digital Exchange in Dublin. Speaking alongside me was Aleyda Solis, who put together a fantastic presentation on SEO for small businesses, and Stephen Kenwright, who took an analytical look at searcher intent and how this should have an impact on your content (well worth checking out).

Learn Inbound Speaker Panel

Within my talk I shared the approach that I take to deliver successful content marketing campaigns that can be easily scaled, don't break the bank and have an extremely positive effect on your search engine visibility, social media and email marketing campaigns. There's also a short case study that shows a practical application of the technique in action.

Overall, the conference was a huge success and I'd strongly recommend checking out their upcoming events (they're free, by the way!) as they offer some seriously valuable insights for marketers and businesses alike.

The whole talk was filmed so you can check it out in full below. If you have any questions then just drop them in the comments below and I'll get back to you.

You can also download my full slide deck here.

Video Transcript

Learn Inbound Conference

What I'm going to be talking about today is content marketing. One of the things that I suppose over the past couple of years has really taking off, in terms of our industry with content marketing, is the widened use among major brands across the world. It's become just a buzzword now, content marketing, content marketing. But, the reality is that you don't need to be a major brand to start using content marketing and actually getting results from it.

So what I'm going to talk you through is a general process that I've taken and it's really made up of four key parts. I'll go into these individual components in more details and what I'll do is I'll talk you through some of the different tools I use, some of the different results that I've had across many different campaigns or clients that are all the way from local businesses all the way through to FTSE 100 companies as well.

So the first stage, and probably one of the most important stages really is defining the actual objectives of your content marketing campaign, what you actually want to achieve. Once you've actually found and defined your objectives, the next stage is really developing a content-marketing strategy. This is the bible of your campaign. This is something that you go into great, great detail around. It can be shared across the whole business and essentially all of your objectives, the way that they're going to be achieved is going to be put through in this strategy.

The third part is by building out a content delivery team.

And then the final stage of course is actually measuring the success of all this.

So the first stage: setting objectives. Content marketing is likely to have much of an indirect impact upon your business as direct impact as it has. So you've got things like lead regeneration being typically one of the main things that most SMEs, in particular, would want to gather from content marketing. This may not come directly through someone visiting your site and reading a blog post and then going, "Okay, now I want to buy from these guys." There may be a gestation period of nine months and it may actually be that the content have a knock-on effect to your search engine visibility. Brand identity shifts in the way that you want your brand to be actually seen. Are you going to be developing out of thought leadership pieces to change the whole identity of your brand? There's going to need to be a substantial amount of PR content marketing done around that in general.

Data collection is another huge part of content marketing from an objective point of view that's really quantifiable. If you want to gather more data, more insights on your customers, potential customers or the target market as a whole, and on the most basic level, where we're are looking really here the top of the funnel just generating more traffic coming into the site.

So there's a lot of things that content marketing can achieve. That was by no means an exhaustive list, but the main thing to take away really is that content sits in the middle of everything and you shouldn't just view content marketing as doing a few blogs each week, because the reality is you that don't need to even be doing blogs to be getting involved in content marketing. Just simply doing some print advertising and traditional marketing is still part of content marketing and it still works for a lot of businesses.

Email marketing, display advertising, content plugs into all of these and the reality is that what you start to get with each of all these individual channels is lots of different metrics that you can measure the success of each of these individual component pieces of content.

So once you've got to the stage where you've sat down and said, "Right, what actually is it that we want to achieve from our content marketing campaign?" Maybe it's that you want to increase brand awareness by let's just pluck out something, 60%. Maybe a way that you're going to do that is by looking at search volumes or brand-related key words within the search engines. More people are searching for us, more people recognize our brand, therefore brand awareness has grown over a period of time. The important point is that to put quantity of metrics next to each of the objectives. And then it allows you to start formulating a strategy that's all focused around actually achieving those metrics and objectives, should I say.

So the content strategy, what I was talking about before, is really this is probably the most important part of one-off bit of work that you'll do within your content marketing campaign that then can be refreshed over a period of time. I've wrote content strategy documents that go into the hundreds of pages before. I say "I have" along with the rest of my team, complete taking credit for everything there. So the way that we'll usually map out a content strategy is half research and half practical applications before actually going into more detail, into specific themes, topics and actual ideas to go within this.

The first stage that I always do within this part is to do a full audit of your competitors and yourself, so that you can completely benchmark exactly where you are in the market at this point in time, compared to the rest of your competition. This process can even be done before then. If you're going to be setting objectives for campaign, you probably need to know where are actually at in the market place, as a whole. And then looking a bit further out of that is analyzing what kind of content's going on within your industry. This doesn't need to be through direct competition, but it may be content from publications, other companies that indirectly target your target market. And then you go on to the stage of developing specific content ideas, themes, and form the basic content strategy, which I'll come on to.

So, this is typically the steps that I take, some of the tools that I use, for the competitor research stage of developing a content strategy. Some of these tools I've mentioned are paid-for tools and some of them are free tools. I'll start with looking at all of the web traffic and search traffic of your competitors bring in. This gives you a good idea of how much traffic that content, as a whole, is generating. So you can use things like SimilarWeb, which gives you a fairly good estimate of overall web traffic. SEMrush, which will then go in to tell you another very good estimate of total search traffic coming through to your competitors' websites. And Quantcast, again very similar to SimilarWeb. So you get a good idea of where people are at in terms of the traffic they're bringing through to their website.

The next you can look at links coming through and mentions. Now, one of the things I would say here is, don't just start looking at this and saying, "Okay, well, one competitor has 100,000 links pointing to their website, and one competitor has 2,000 linking pointing to their website. So, 100,000 must be so much better. Go into a bit more qualitative detail. So get the top level figures, and then start saying, "Right, what kinds of websites, what kinds of features are they getting?" And one of my competitors just getting from a load of spammy blogs and they're not really that great editorial features. Is it really a result of that content marketing developing organic mentions, or is it just a bit more manufactured from that side? Or are they getting featured in Forbes, hoping some toes, and are they getting all these great amazing comments coming through onto that content? That's more of a better indication to go a step deeper into understanding where your competitors are at.

Take a little top-level look at their followers’ social media following. How many followers or that kind of statistics on a top level, and start to see how much engagement they get. A really good tool that I often use for the social media following as well is having a look through the likes of Sprout Social. I don't know if any of you guys have used that before, but they give a really good competitive comparison. Virtually the percentage of users that will actually engage with the brand, as opposed to just the number of followers they have.

Then you can have a look at the amount of volume and the frequency of content that's being posted out on maybe their blog, or this could be FAQ few areas, or places that are regularly updated. Download as much of that information into spreadsheets as possible, because then once you've got all the information, you can start having a look and seeing what's worked. You can use tools like Topsit or go and have a little [inaudible 00:08:42], BuzzSumo, as mentioned, to see how many social shares a lot of that content's getting, what's the top performing content, because these guys are going to be targeting the same people as you. You can take a lot of lessons out of what's worked, what hasn't worked from their content.

And again, just having a look at any other online mentions, set up Google alerts, if you're looking to [inaudible 00:09:07] free. Mention.com, a pretty good free service as well, that you can go in and start having a look and see where your competitors are being mentioned. Moz with their Fresh Web Explorer. Essentially, this is a huge data gathering operation. Don't expect for this to be a couple of hours' job, just scoping through this. It's going to take a long time and this is really the most important bit of data analysis that you're going to do, because it's going to form the large basis of your whole content strategy.

BuzzSumo is a tool that I love. People often actually ask me if BuzzSumo pay me to actually mention their brand a lot, which I don't. I just constantly talk about these people, because from a content marketing point of view, being able to just go in and analyze something as simple as typing in your competitor's domain, you'll be able to see all the content very quickly, without having any technical knowledge that's performed really well.

Similarly, what I talked about SimilarWeb. You can go in and just type in any website. You don't need Google Analytics access, and they'll give you a rough estimate. I mean don't take these as completely the [inaudible 00:10:15] metrics, but they'll give you a rough estimate of what web traffic's looking like.

And then you go in and do the exact same process for your own presence. Now, the nice thing about auditing yourself is you have a lot more information available. Most of you should have Google Analytics, and still those of you who don't go home tonight and get that installed on your website. Have a look at how many search queries are coming through within Webmaster tools, so you can get an idea of actually how many people are searching for your brand, as well as your content. Gives you an idea of search engine visibility. Have a look at where you're getting mentioned, where you're getting back links, so you can have a bit of analysis. Even if you've never knowingly done content marketing with the purpose of a set campaign before, there may be a case to find things that have worked almost by accident, or as a result of the other companies that you're doing.

When you've all of this information and you start realizing you've got a hundred pieces of paper on your desk and you have absolutely no idea how to even begin looking at all of it. Now's the time to start whittling it all down, getting things in spreadsheets, start looking at how you can actually use this information to start formulating specific ideas. One of the ways that I often have a little look at ways where people are actually talking about specific topics when coming up with ideas, is I'll usually take the top performing articles that I've gathered from BuzzSumo from all my competitor research and I'll gather them all together and I'll use a tool called TagCrowd and it essentially allows you to make just like quick word clouds, and it'll just highlight out some of the most frequently seen phrases within all of those blog titles, and you can essentially across most industries, even industries where there's not a lot of online activity going, you can do the same thing with print advertising.

I mean, just with myself, I've probably say about 95% of the clients that I work with are generally B2B and of them, probably about 70% are fairly industrial clients. We're talking running content marketing campaigns for companies that make vowels and the inside of the vowels. It's not selling an iPhone. So, use offline magazines, print material, all the kind of things that as a digital marketer you ingrained in you to think that they're a bit crap. Because they're very useful. And in some cases customers do use these [inaudible 00:12:50].

All of this information at the top here is used to circle down and create your content itself. And I'll come back to this diagram, because what we talked about really is just the top part here. The reality is that great content alone, you could get all of research right, you could essentially develop some of these amazing ideas came from your research and you've created this perfect piece of content. The reality is that great content alone is not enough. I've learned that first-hand and promotion, being able to go out and get to your audience is just as difficult, if not much more difficult, than having great content in the first place.

Understand the different types of content and one of the things that I wanted to stress here is another kind of pet hate of mine. I've got a lot of pet hates. Sometimes companies will say to me, right, "Matt Gots [SP]," this could be my old clients, new clients, "I have got a great idea for a new piece of content, trying to get your ideas." We'll sit down and I'll go, "Right, we want to do a video series." Or, "We want to do an infographic." I'll say, "Okay. That's not content idea, that's format of content." And a lot of people get obsessed with the idea of the format of the content, the wrong end of the content creation process first. And it's very easy to do, because you can see an amazing infographic.

I remember going back now probably about two years ago, when infographics were not as widely adopted, and everybody made infographics, because everybody loved it. And people can then start to get obsessed with the type of content they're doing, before they even put out the idea. The reality is your content can take multiple forms. It can be a video, it can be an article, it could be an infographic. A contest could be embedded within something that's then reshaped into a newsletter that then you record as a podcast. It can take multiple formats. But if the idea behind it is rubbish, if we are telling people and the content doesn't resonate with them, has no real feeling of their knowledge gaps, then they don't care what type of content it is.

But, where the different types of content come in are at the last stage. And it's understanding how and why your audience actually enjoys sharing and viewing these pieces of content. And a great way to understand this is looking back at the research that you've done, having a look at some of the most shared content, the most linked-to content and then you'll get an idea of the types of format that people within your target market, because every target market is going to be different, like to consume information. And then you can start working on it from there.

And these are just a few examples of different pieces of content. I love this list. I went through a load of my bookmarks. Simple little things can be really, really interesting. You don't need to go to the length of like four videos or web apps, or going through and creating interactive maps. It can be something as simple as a little check-list, a text-based article, and it can be a fantastic piece of content. But it's what your audience, the people that are consuming the content, want. And this is how you build up that content.

So once you've got to the stage where you've got all these ideas, you've done your research, you think you've got a few ideas and you get to the stage where you go, "Right. How the hell are we going to actually do this? I've just had an amazing idea, but I've no one. I can't produce this. My team can't produce this, and even if they could, to be honest they probably don't have the time." This is where building out a content team can be incredibly powerful. And by this, I'm not talking about just coming through and paying tons of money to an agency, for example, that's going to then give you that PR team. I'm talking about partnering up with people within your industry that don't just write content, don't just create content, but more importantly, they have the channel strategy to distribute that content.

So where I will start building out a content team to deliver some content for the campaign, really being able to write well and create the content is a secondary part for me. One of the first processes that we take is we'll go through Twitter, we'll go through local communities, we'll go through and have a look at local publications, offline/online, and see if we can get a huge list of people that we can start building in to create content for us. But the main metrics we'll look at is their social channels. We'll look at how much credibility they have, their links with journalists, who else they write for. How can we, through the people that we [inaudible 00:17:56] within the content creation process, benefit the content promotion process?

For example, if we get someone to create an article for us, are they then going to share it out to the social following? Do they have links to some bloggers? Do they have links to journalists that could then go and feature this? Those kind of things, without the influence in the first place, are very difficult to achieve. And you can use tools like BuzzSumo, like Followerwonk, you can look through the simplest things. Looking through Twitter to see who's talking about the kind of topics you're talking about. And more often than not, the people that we will work with and just bring into a team will just drop through an email, and they won't even be necessarily freelance out and out content writers. And this is where you can tap into a whole diverse set of skills and knowledge, and you can just work on content by content basis production. You could have a content team of 50 different people, if you wanted. And you're just paying per piece, but you've got in that pool of people, just tons of different distribution routes to get actually, going back to the objectives of your content marketing campaign, to actually achieve those.

And this is an example of what Barkener [SP] achieved in a recent project that I started at the end of October. It was with a company called BuildFire. And BuildFire were a completely new company. They only launched their website in August, I think, and they were going in to an incredibly competitive marketplace. They pretty much had zero brand awareness, and they were looking to rank force of extremely competitive key words. Some of their product essentially allows local businesses to go in and create their own mobile apps, without any kind of technical knowledge.

Now, the guys at BuildFire wanted to build out their social presence. One of the big focus was to be on honest with SEO, but this purely being fueled through a content marketing campaign. But, it didn't have hundreds of thousands of pounds to start spending with us, because the reality is they were a new startup. What we did is we extracted tons of different people that were talking about the things that we wanted to be creating after we'd done the whole process of creating a content strategy. Within three months we'd built out a team of around about 25 people. And what we tend to do is by the time we get about six, seven months into a campaign, I'll have usually whittled down that list to about ten people. If one piece of content doesn't work that great with someone we may try working with them again. We may say, "Okay, let's try someone different." It's really easy to hop from one person to the next. Kind of incentivize writers who get the most social shares on blog content, by giving them an extra percentage of cash at the end of the month. And it really just influences people to then go on and create and promote the content more than anything.

What you've also got is you can email and send out to all the people that we're working with and say, "Right. Yeah, we've just plugged this through to a local subreadit, that's really relevant to a lot of our target market or an online community here. Can you guys in and start help pushing that forward? Can you leave some comments? Get the conversation going." And this is just the first five blogs that we've published on the blog. From essentially a completely new website. And we got a ton of social shares. We're now at the top of page one, literally after three ones for the word "app promotion". I think we we're like number two. We had app ideas that we started ranking pretty close to within two months on page one. And, as you can see, traffic went from about 1,000 visits a month all the way up to, when we checked in January, we were up to around about 35,000 a month.

And within that time, since the end of October, our features mainly through the networks that we've built within our content delivery team, and also a project to the content we've created across CNN, Moz, Huffington Post, Forbes, Entrepreneur, TechRadar, and we've built a snowball effect now, of where you've had great content being produced and initially you relied on the content team to fuel this initial promotion of your business, where you have none. Once the promotion starts going and you start picking up features here, you're able to build those relationships instantly yourself.

So then the onus goes more onto the actual content creation program from that, because promotion becomes a lot easier. And that's when if we go all the way back to this kind of diagram and you start making all of these areas in the promotion section a lot easier. And what you're doing is everything has become very inbound, your content promotion team, your content delivery team are now promoting all of this. Your in-house team can start focusing on building relationships with other bloggers and journalists, making better use of your time. You can start responding through listening to what's being talked about and responding in the communities that your content's being created, and start achieving some of these goals that you wanted to achieve at the very bottom in a much more direct way.

We had a fantastic result. One of the best thing was, that on the site, within his campaign, it's probably one of the best conversion rates I think I've ever seen on a campaign that works on like this. We actually had a conversion rate of 15% generated from, and this is new users coming in and using the service. Directly from the content campaigns we had engagement across twitter, Facebook, visibility within search engines and more importantly, we had loads of relationships build with key industries influences, the doors kept opening, things become easier and easier. And you find that this struggle that you usually have at the start, that usually can take years to get to the point where you're starting to think about getting features in places like this, starts to happen at the start when you need it most. And then as you move on things become a lot easier.

So this comes on to then the final part of just measuring success. I think one of the most important parts of when you're reviewing your campaign, when you say, "Right, okay, three months has gone by, six months have gone by, nine months, twelve months, two years, how have we done on actually achieving our objectives?" and this is an important point as well with your objectives, not to just to think too far into the future.

Yes, you need to have more of a long term goal. These goals may change over time, depending on how things are going in the first few months, but one of the easiest ways to start really focusing in on how well your content marketing campaign's performed is by understanding what the true value of a website visitor is. This can be difficult for some businesses. It can be pretty easy for others, if you're a SaaS business like BuildFire, for example. It's fairly easy, because we can just calculate the conversion rate, the average order values online, the customer life time value and then what we say is, "Right, whichever of these channels is bringing through a better conversion rate we can work out that as a split of their average order value.

Other times it can be a bit more cloudy, when you are measuring offline lead generation. But, as close estimate as you can get to understanding what the value of a single web visitor is, the better understanding in the long term you'll get of the impact to your content. Because the likelihood is, someone isn't going to just convert instantly into a customer after reading one piece of content from you. They need to be nurtured through the conversion funnel, brought further down until they're at the point where if they want to make a sale, or they want to have a friendship with yourself.

Simple things like monitoring social shares on contents, and finding out your online reach, brand awareness like what I was talking about, monitoring through the number of branded searches. So how many people are actually searching for your brand name or things related into your products or brands within the search engines? It's a good judge, of over time, how well people are actually recognizing your brand.

Obviously, the number of mentions and acquisition of new back links to your website is a great way to actually measure success.

Web traffic, content engagement and then online and offline conversions, of course. And this is actually a dashboard that we use for BuildFire. And I'd really recommend using dashboards to display metrics. This is actually using a program called Sife [SP] and I think we pay something like $19 a month, and it just pulls in data from all kinds of places. And it's probably one of the biggest improvements I've found displaying lots of data, especially from an agency side or a consultant side, to clients giving them a quick top level overview of everything, then you can go and drill down into more information. But there's tons of dashboard solutions out there that you can just link up pretty much to every single free service, Twitter, APIs, things like that. And they're really useful.

So, just coming back to remember the process that I talked about at the start, and just reiterating the four key points I was talking about. Starting with defining your objectives, from here going through having a good understanding researching your competitors, your current position. Building out your strategy. Then actually building out this content delivery team, its creation and promotion. And then, ultimately measuring the success and taking findings and then re-going through this process at each point in your campaign.

Now I've just put together a few bits of extra reading. Hopefully, if all goes to plan, technology hasn't failed me; I'll have tweeted out the slide deck for this, so you'll all be able to get everything you want to do. And, don't ask me questions apparently. So just to confuse you all, and if you guys want to get in touch with me with any questions afterwards then feel free to get in touch and I'll be around all this evening to have a bit of chat with you all.

So thanks. [applause]