Content marketing is something about which people have an endless amount of questions.
These are the most common ones I’ve heard:
Everyone says that my business needs content marketing. I hired some people to create content for me, so why am I not getting any leads?
I’ve been producing much more content than before, so why am still not seeing any results?
If this sounds familiar, here’s the main thing you’re lacking: strategy.
Blindly churning out non-targeted content, no matter how much of it you produce, isn’t going to magically get you leads.
The concept is pretty simple: in non-marketing terms, think of it as playing basketball.
If you don’t know where the basket is, you’re shooting completely blind. Even though your goal is to get the ball into the basket, you’re going to miss the basket 99 out of 100 times… and I was being generous with that one lucky throw.
If you want to succeed at content marketing, you need to start by defining your target or goal—then create a strategy to score.
What exactly is a content marketing strategy?
Here’s a fantastic definition by Copyblogger:
A content marketing strategy is a plan for building an audience by publishing, maintaining, and spreading frequent and consistent content that educates, entertains, or inspires to turn strangers into fans and fans into customers.
It’s quite a mouthful, so let’s condense that a little.
Content marketing is about consistently creating high-quality content that’s designed to turn strangers into customers.
Note that second bit: “designed to turn strangers into customers.” This is where strategy comes in.
And don’t worry: you don’t need a vast amount of resources to pull this off. You can succeed at content marketing even as a solopreneur or with a small team.
Not to toot our own horn, but I know this from experience—we’re our own case study at Ahrefs!
Our marketing team of ~8 people has grown our blog traffic exponentially over the last four years and beat out most of our competitors.
As proof that content marketing actually does work, notice how our blog growth coincides with our ARR growth as a company:
Our strategy is simple.
During the content creation process, we focus on search engine optimization (using our own tools, no less) so that this content appears whenever relevant topics come up.
This way, whenever strangers interested in our niche search for information, they naturally end up interested in our tools, and many become our customers.
Here’s our step by step process.
Step 1: Keyword research
Remember the screenshot above? Ranking for keywords like “SEO tutorial” makes sense for us (Ahrefs) because we’re an SEO toolset. This way, we’re able to naturally present our product as a solution in the content itself.
If we ranked for a term like “wooden sculpture” instead, I’d be pretty surprised if we managed to win over any customers.
So: how do we know which topics and phrases to create content around?
We do keyword research.
This is far from being the sexiest part of content creation, but it’s arguably the most critical step.
Before we do anything else, we want to figure out which informational keywords and questions interest our target customer. This step will inform all content creation moving forward.
Time to find out what yours are.
Start by thinking of a keyword that’s relevant to your niche.
You’ll end up with a giant list of keyword ideas to start with.
You can also use Keywords Explorer for YouTube research if you’re creating videos: just make sure you set the search engine to “YouTube” before pulling your report.
Another way to get a list of keyword ideas is by looking at what’s already working for your competitors.
Head to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer > plug in your competitor’s URL > go to Top Pages report.
This report ranks the pages of a website based on how much organic search traffic they attract.
In other words, you now have a list of your competitors’ top-performing articles—and the keywords that send them the most traffic.
Step 2: Narrow down topics with the most potential
The next step is to filter this list of keyword topics so that only the best ones remain.
Ideally, you want to zoom in on topics that have: traffic potential, business value, and that are low-competition.
Let’s talk about these things one by one, starting with the simplest to tackle: low competition.
This is especially important if you don’t already own a website with high authority, because your chances of getting your content to rank will be exponentially lower.
In basketball terms, think of this as having to face off against Michael Jordan. Definitely a scenario you’d want to avoid.
Whether a topic is low-competition or not is pretty easy to determine: take the report you pulled earlier in Ahrefs Keywords Explorer and set the KD, or Keyword Difficulty, filter to 0–10.
This filters the list to keywords that are easy to rank for. Feel free to adjust this number if you’re more experienced.
Traffic potential is the next thing to consider.
Even if a keyword is low-competition and thus relatively easy to rank for, if it doesn’t have many searches in the first place, it’s probably not a good option to target.
Let’s put things into perspective. Which would you rather spend your resources creating content for: a topic that 10,000 people are interested in, or for a topic that 10 people are interested in?
To figure out traffic potential, paste your topic or keyword into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and scroll down to look at the “Traffic” column in SERP overview.
This tells you how much estimated monthly organic traffic the top‐ranking pages have—you can expect to achieve these numbers yourself if you’re able to rank in the top 10.
Rinse and repeat this step, weeding out the topics with low traffic potential along the way.
Now, all that’s left is one final step.
This step is often where people go wrong. No matter how amazing your content is and how much of it you produce, if you aren’t managing to showcase your product or value in your content, you aren’t doing content marketing. You’re just doing content.
So: look at the remaining list of keyword phrases and think about business value, or how crucial your product is when it comes to solving each particular problem.
At Ahrefs, we assign potential topics numbers based on this scale.
- “3”— our product is an irreplaceable solution for the problem;
- “2” — our product helps quite a bit, but it’s not essential to solving the problem;
- “1” — our product can only be mentioned fleetingly (mostly for “brand awareness,” rather than “sales pitch”);
- “0” — there’s absolutely no way to mention our product.
We focus on covering topics that score 2–3, and never publish anything that scores a zero.
Feel free to follow this scale or create your own, but make sure you finalize your topics based on whether you can naturally mention how your product or service helps to solve an overarching problem.
Note: this process remains largely the same for video content.
Step 3: Create your content
You’ve already narrowed down a list of high-potential topics to create content around—now for the content creation itself.
When it comes down to it, consistent content creation is all about finding the balance between quality of content and speed of content production.
Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do to help you on this point—you’ll have to experiment on your own and discover your own “sweet spot.”
I do have one handy trick for you, though: if you’re stuck on how to expand on a particular topic, try using Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool to get some inspiration.
(I’ve actually heard this tool described as “magic” by our own team members.)
Let’s say that we want to write a review of coffee bean grinders.
Check Google for some of the top-ranking pages for “coffee bean grinder review.” Drop these URLs into Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool, then hit “Show keywords” to see which other keywords these pages are ranking for.
Going down the list, some of the terms that stand out to me are “manual coffee grinder,” “electric coffee grinder,” “burr grinder” and “budget coffee grinder.”
These are all great subtopics to cover in your content.
It also pays to remember that not every piece of content has to be a blog post.
For example, imagine that you’re an accountant. You realize that a lot of people are searching for “how much will I make after taxes.”
Could you write a blog post about this? Sure. But some kind of tax calculator would probably be more helpful for your target audience.
How do we know? Because all of the current top-ranking results are precisely that.
One more quick tip for teams: each topic should be assigned to whoever can do the best job with it. Since things can get messy, an excellent way to stay organized and effectively manage schedules is to maintain a “master list” of topics—we use Notion at Ahrefs.
Step 4: Promote your content
Promotion is an important part of any content marketing strategy.
Think of it this way: if nobody sees your content, nobody will become your customer. The more eyes you get on your content, the higher the chances are of your content doing its job and turning a stranger into a fan.
Search engine optimization
In our opinion, this is by far the best form of content promotion (did you expect anything else?) If you’ve been following this tutorial, you’re already employing this strategy to an extent.
Here’s why it’s so great: ironically, it removes some of the need for “traditional” promotion.
Remember that our goal is to get more eyes on our content. With SEO-optimized content, you don’t have to promote your content to people—they naturally search for, and find, your content in search results. As a bonus, these people are already interested in your topic and likely to understand your business value.
This also means that SEO is both a scalable and long-term tactic since you get leads passively with each piece of content, rather than having to invest resources into one-off promotional tactics.
Here’s what your traffic might look like if you’re publishing post after post without SEO in mind:
And here’s what your traffic would look like if your content is optimized for SEO:
But wait—where does that initial traffic come from?
Well, as you wait for your content to start ranking in search engines, there’s plenty you can do to increase its visibility. In fact, this too has a compounding effect.
When more people enjoy your content and share it, even more people have the chance to consume and share it in turn. Some people might even link to your content, increasing its chances of ranking—and so the cycle continues.
At Ahrefs, even though we’re so heavily invested in SEO, we still engage in a handful of more traditional promotional tactics that have proven to be very effective:
Sharing your content on social media is not a new concept.
On the other hand, there are tons of ways you can promote your content without doing a mindless copy+paste of your content title and URL.
Try experimenting with different categories of posts and discovering what works best for your business. Some areas you can explore:
- Sharing snippets of data
- Creating infographics and sharing those
- Sharing “how-to” tutorials
The vast majority of Google searches are very specific and unpopular (i.e., long‐tail).
A whopping 92.42% of them get ten searches per month or fewer! pic.twitter.com/ICQDN5Ij0E
— Ahrefs (@ahrefs) December 22, 2018
As much as we all hate to admit it, if we already have a target audience in mind, this is probably still the fastest way to get your content in front of new prospects.
Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or even Pinterest, when you put some money into paid ads, you’re paying for trackable results: from impressions down to link clicks and even conversions.
Right now, Ahrefs promotes every new post with Facebook ads. If these ads perform well, we invest more money into the ad (this generally means a low CPC of < $0.30).
We also regularly sponsor podcasts and do the odd experiment with Twitter and Quora ads.
This one is the oldest trick in the book for a reason: it works.
We still send out a dedicated blast every time we produce new content and average a 6–7% clickthrough rate across a segment of ~50k engaged subscribers.
It might sound low, but that’s an average of 1–2k interested people who might forward our content to their own social network per post.
Step 5: Monitor the results
The bad news: it’s not enough to simply create content. Since things change all the time, we also have to make sure that our content stays relevant in order to rank years down the road.
The good news: That’s where monitoring our content comes in handy, and there are plenty of ways to keep track of how our content is doing.
The first thing that most people think of is, of course, Google Analytics—this is the industry-standard when it comes to manually checking actual traffic numbers.
On the other hand, it’s not a requirement for tracking content performance.
Ahrefs survives just fine without Google Analytics (we disabled it around March 2018, in fact). Since we have such a small team, we much prefer automated tracking over having to conduct regular manual checks.
Enter Rank Tracker, which monitors your rankings over time for you.
We generally track our primary keyword in Rank Tracker and keep an eye on it—you can also schedule reports to be sent right to your email inbox. Super handy!
Here are a few more ways you can gain actionable insights from Rank Tracker monitoring:
Beyond this, our Head of Content Joshua Hardwick has a spreadsheet that tracks which pages saw the biggest organic traffic drops or increases since last month.
If traffic for a specific page drops for a few months in a row, it’s probably a good idea to start looking into why that happened—in these cases, we often schedule a rewrite or update of the post.
Step 6: Refresh / rewrite
As I just mentioned, you should keep an eye on how well your content is doing at any given point of time.
If it’s maintaining its rankings in search results, it’s probably not in need of an update.
If it’s rapidly dropping ranks and losing visibility, though, it’s probably time to give it a makeover.
This includes employing techniques like:
- Updating information – “content freshness” helps rankings for search queries that demand it. If you’re not sure what to include, use the Content Gap technique described earlier on the top-ranking pages to come up with some ideas.
- Rewriting the post entirely – at Ahrefs, we usually wait about six months to give a blog post time to rank before deciding to rewrite (video format doesn’t exactly have this luxury, though.) If the content still isn’t ranking, it probably isn’t what people are looking for.
- Fixing broken links — you can use the Broken links report in Ahrefs Site Explorer to find these.
- Redirecting or deleting entire pages — with 301s, of course!
For those last couple of points, things get a little too technical to go into here. If you’re interested in learning more, please read our in-depth guide to conducting a content audit.
Step 7: Rinse and repeat
So you managed to create a piece of content that ties into business goals, rank for it in search engines and get lots of passive leads.
Time to do it all over again. And again… and again.
Dry humor aside, this is a crucial (and often forgotten) aspect of any content marketing strategy.
Let’s rewind all the way back to our discussion of the term itself: Content marketing is about consistently creating high-quality content that is designed to turn strangers into customers.
There we have it.
The truth is, plenty of businesses can produce one-hit-wonder pieces of content…but never seem to be able to replicate the same success or build on it.
The final step is being able to produce great consistently. Here’s where you have to strategize and plan ahead: do keyword research in advance, keep an eye on the topics with higher priority and manage your resources well.
Over to you
So many people have no idea where to even start when it comes to content marketing.
I get the feeling that their focus is only on the “content creation” part of the process when equal importance should be placed on both figuring out which topics to focus on, as well as planning ahead for a consistent schedule.
Not to mention the issues that come with promotion: without optimizing your content for SEO, you’ll always struggle to get eyes on your content.
But hey, now you know all the secrets behind our own content marketing strategy: being consistent with SEO-optimized content that’s chock full of business value.
The next time someone expresses their confusion, send them a link to this post!