Welcome back to another installment of the SOAR Innovation Client Engagement blog series! With this initiative, we’ve been exploring how small business owners and operators can forge strong customer relationships — and create a lasting foundation for success.
Check out Part 1 for helpful tips on designing an engagement program that transforms customers into evangelists.
Today, we’re focusing on an often-discussed (but frequently misunderstood) topic: content marketing.
What is content marketing? It’s the practice of using long-form content to engage, nurture, and retain customers.
Content marketing can be useful to many types of businesses. While it will require a time investment, you can expect strong results if you’re consistent.
January is the perfect time to sit down and create your first annual content marketing strategy — or fine-tune your existing plan. Follow this guide to design, launch, and optimize a content marketing program that creates value for your customers and your business.
How content marketing forms strong customer relationships
At its core, content marketing provides free education to your customers. It demonstrates your authority on a subject matter that relates to your business.
Content must answer your audience’s most pressing questions in an engaging, easily-digestible format. You’re effectively aligning your business with solutions to their needs if it does.
And if your blog post ideas meet these criteria, you’re in a good position to use content to build strong customer relationships.
What content marketing should never be
Your content shouldn’t focus on a random topic you love chatting about in your free time. It has to align with your value proposition and be useful.
Also, your content should never be an overt sales pitch.
You must always include a call to action (CTA) after you’ve provided helpful information and education on a topic. But product or service promotions shouldn’t be your content’s primary focus.
Put yourself in the reader’s shoes.
Would you find it valuable if you click on an article that promises to teach you something useful but quickly devolves into a sales pitch? You’d probably stop reading.
The trick to getting started with content marketing is honing in on topics you’re already comfortable discussing. The ideas can flow if you’re not worrying about sourcing a topic.
Then, it’ll be much easier to focus on implementing a well-researched strategy.
7 steps to create a content marketing strategy
A content marketing strategy starts with planning and coordination.
You’ll find that after you set yourself up with a strong foundation, it’s much easier to stay consistent and keep working on improvements over time.
The following 7 steps will help you build your first (or enhance your existing) content marketing strategy. We’ll also examine a fictional business to put these ideas into a real-world context.
Step 1: Review your value proposition
Your value proposition is a summary of the benefits provided by your business. It should inform the development of your content marketing strategy.
Every piece of content you write should seek to establish and solidify your credibility on the topic at hand, which must come directly from your value proposition.
Let’s discuss a (fictional) brick-and-mortar women’s clothing shop on Main Street: “Lucky Annie.”
Lucky Annie sells seasonal apparel and accessories to women between 30 and 55. The owner relies on foot traffic during tourist season and a small but loyal local customer base. She also wants to generate repeat online sales from out-of-town customers.
Competing with the endless options presented by online retail is an ever-present challenge for the store.
Lucky Annie’s value proposition is: “Unique, high-quality fashion to express your personal style.” How can the owner leverage these 3 promises to engage effectively with customers and create valuable content?
Step 2: Consider what your audience needs from you
How can you align your content with your company’s value proposition? Start by inquiring deeper into your customer’s needs:
- How do they use your products and services?
- Which common questions do you receive from customers?
- How can you help your customers make the most of their purchases?
These questions will help you sketch out your initial content ideas, which should always consider the customer and tie back to your company’s purpose.
If the owner of Lucky Annie asked herself these questions, here’s what she might come up with:
- Our customers shop at Lucky Annie because they won’t find the same curated selection online. Plus, you never truly know the quality of a garment’s make and material if you buy online.
- When a unique item catches a customer’s eye, we’re sometimes asked which other pieces might go with it or how long it will hold up.
- If we can help customers express their unique style by learning more about putting together outfits, we can help them find the clothing they truly love and gain confidence.
With this information in mind, you can start aligning your initial content ideas with best practices for search engine optimization (SEO).
Step 3: Prepare an SEO strategy
Quick refresher: search engine optimization is a series of practices that help your target audience locate your content when performing online searches.
You gained your first experience with SEO when setting up your business website, and for good reason: the web pages on page 1 of Google search results use it to rank above the competition.
SEO is a complex and ever-changing field. To launch your first content marketing strategy, stick to the fundamentals: using keywords effectively.
Keywords are words and phrases that internet users input into a search engine, of which there are two categories:
- Short tail keywords: 1-2 word phrases, general
- Long-tail keywords: 3-4+ word phrases or questions, descriptive
Your keyword strategy aligns commonly-searched terms with your content. The trick is to align with your customers’ search intent without casting too small or too broad a net.
Here are a few keyword best practices to help you find a happy medium:
- Search engines look for keywords in titles, section headers, and within the first 50-100 words of a blog post or landing page copy.
- Always include your keyword in the title, at least 1-2 section headers, and near the beginning of your introduction section.
- Try to incorporate both a short-tail keyword and a long-tail keyword into each piece of content. That way, you can target a variety of related searches and help search engines bring the right traffic to your website.
As the Lucky Annie owner plans her SEO strategy, she believes “womens jackets” could serve as a potential short-tail keyword. Since there are millions of searches for “women’s jackets” per month, including a mid-volume long tail keyword, “spring jacket trends for women,” will add precision without going too narrow.
How to find relevant keywords
Free keyword research tools like Moz help you make informed choices based on estimated monthly search traffic. The trick is avoiding low-traffic ones since they likely will perform poorly. On the flip side, picking a highly competitive keyword may prove difficult to gain traction.
Keyword research tools provide alternatives if your first pick doesn’t meet your search volume requirements.
Keep in mind that you must walk a fine line between SEO best practices and content writing. While it’s important to play by the search engines’ rules, don’t let them interfere with the quality of your writing.
Your bottom line is engaging potential customers with free education. You can satisfy the search engines and your readers: it comes down to strategic topic selection.
Step 4: Develop your topics
By this point, you may have at least a few keywords in mind. Your next step is translating them into engaging, informative titles and content outlines.
We already mentioned that the title should always include your keyword — especially a long-tail keyword if you have one. Your title should also help your readers understand the underlying purpose of the content and prove it will be useful to them.
You can lean on these common title templates often used by expert SEO content writers:
-  Tips and Tricks for [Keyword]
-  FAQs about [Keyword]
- The Best [Keyword] in [Year]
- How to [Keyword]
- A Guide to [Keyword] in [Year]
Before you start writing your article, consider developing your outline first.
Break up the content into sections every 100-250 words, using H2 tags for section titles. Each should explain one key aspect of the broader discussion and build on the preceding section.
Your conclusion must include a CTA with a link to your website, subscription form, or contact page:
- Find out how Lucky Annie can help you dress your best this season.
- Want to hear weekly tips about women’s style tips? Subscribe to our newsletter.
- To schedule a complimentary personal styling service, contact us.
Free tools (Grammarly, for one) can act as a second pair of eyes to edit your content before publishing.
Step 5: Create a content calendar
It’s a major relief to start a new month and remember you already planned out your content. Bonus points if you wrote your articles in advance, too.
A content calendar houses all planned, upcoming posts and your ideas for future content. Managing a content calendar will help you stay organized and consistent. Both are key to your strategy’s success.
Lucky Annie may decide to focus on creating content related to seasonal style tips using well-researched keywords that connect to her value proposition.
In January, she may opt to write about:
- How to Tie a Scarf (Including 4 New Ways!)
- 3 Tips to Help Your Wool Sweaters Last Forever
- Keep Your Resolutions This Year with the Top Activewear Trends for 2023
Your content calendar should also consider:
- Seasons and holidays
- Times of year when business is slow
- Unique events that align with your business
Use a free project management tool, such as Asana, to plot out what you’ll post and when.
Step 6: Create and stick to a consistent publishing schedule
Pick a schedule that you can commit to. Then stick with it.
Quality over quantity and consistency over frequency. Always.
If that means you’re publishing monthly or even every 2 months, so be it. That’s better than putting low-quality content out there several times a month.
The owner of Lucky Annie decides to stick with a once-monthly posting schedule based on her busy schedule. She also sets a goal to create the next month’s article by the 20th, creating a recurring task in Asana to remind herself.
Step 7: Create a channel strategy for promotion
Once you create your valuable content, how will you get the word out? If you don’t get eyes on it, all your hard work will be for nothing.
An email newsletter and social media channels are good options. You don’t have to do it all — pick the channels where you know your customers like to hang out and consume content.
A few easy ways to earn subscribers include:
- Capturing email and SMS subscribers from your point-of-sale (POS) system
- Running a giveaway challenge on your social media channels
For example, the Lucky Annie owner researched social media channel user trends and found that most of her customers use Facebook or Instagram. She plans those promotional channels to bring customer traffic to her content.
Before launching any subscriber sign-up initiatives, make sure you have a consistent social media history and an email content plan. They should immediately see relevant, useful content from you to establish a good first impression. We’ll dive more into social media strategy in Part 3 of this series, so stay tuned to the SOAR blog.
Next steps for your content marketing strategy
At this point, you may realize outside help could be useful. You may already be comfortable with some associated tasks, such as setting up email automation or designing graphics — but the idea of writing a monthly article gives you pause.
You can hire an outside contractor or freelancer to do the job well. Consider searching for help on Upwork, Fiverr, and LinkedIn or asking your network for direct referrals. SOAR can recommend Hella Good Marketing for expert writers who follow the strategy laid out in this blog post to the T.
Content marketing is a worthy investment.
Your website SEO performance will improve. Customers will anticipate your latest content. And you’re likely to enjoy lasting, more loyal client relationships over the long run.
Find out how SOAR Innovation can help your EKY small business thrive
SOAR Innovation provides free resources, guidance, and direct services to small businesses in Eastern Kentucky. In 2022, our team got a lot done on behalf of our entrepreneur community:
- 781 startups served
- 190 startups referred
- 57 startups advanced
- 19 new business created/attracted
- 64 new jobs created
- 31 events hosted with 3,739 attendees
- 27 startups funded
- $130m+ in startup investment
Get in touch to discover how our team of small business experts can help you achieve your 2023 goals. In the meantime, download the Complete Guide to Entrepreneurship for step-by-step instructions on operating, growing, and improving your company.