Content Marketing Strategy 2021 - A Step-By-Step Guide

content marketing strategy

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By Brian BloomKing
May 6, 2021

This is a beginner's guide to learn content marketing strategy for the complex sale.

You'll learn about the critical interaction between quality content and SEO to drive organic traffic to your website and convert that traffic to leads and revenue and gain credibility with your target buyers.

Content marketing is used to capture buyers at the information gathering stage by matching keywords they (and the rest of their buying team) use for research with the content you produce.

These are called buyer intent keywords.  The interaction between these commercial intent keywords and your content is at the heart of content marketing for the complex sale.

The goal is to drive interested traffic and convert a portion of that traffic to leads.

In the process, as buyers interact with your content, you gain mindshare and credibility.

Even if they don’t fill out a form on a visit to your website, they now know who you are.

By the end, you will understand how to implement a plan for content marketing that drives product-based revenue.

The 4 Steps of B2B Content Marketing

Content Marketing Knowledge Gap

Surprisingly, there is a large gap between those who know they need to do content marketing and those who do it well.
Neil Patel recently pointed out a study by Zazzle Media showing that, while 79% of marketers believe content marketing is effective, only 6% know how to implement it.
Screen-Shot-2017-07-30-at-6.22.18-PM

Learn these content marketing ideas, follow content marketing trends, be patient, and you will get found ahead of your competitors.

Why Is Content Marketing Essential?

1. High Keyword rankings improve your chances of getting found and making it onto your target buyers' shortlists.

2. Credibility & authority increase when visitors to your site see valuable, insightful content to help with their research.

3. Repurpose content to create an endless source of material for other channels like social and video, which expands your audience and strengthens your brand and credibility.

Content Marketing Agencies

This guide is designed primarily to ‘do it yourself’.  A viable alternative strategy is to outsource your program to a b2b content marketing agency.

An agency can implement a content marketing plan with a purpose and strategy while freeing up your time for other marketing activities that can't be outsourced and are core to growing your revenue.

Qualify For a Free Content Marketing Strategy Playbook

We'll review your site, offerings, and keywords and see if you qualify for a free B2B content marketing strategy playbook.

Run a Test

Go to a search engine and type in some keywords you might use to research your offering as a buyer.   The competitors in the results are doing content marketing right (or at least better than anyone else) and getting deals in their pipeline from active buyers.

If you see no competitors but only bloggers and publishers in the top search engine results pages (SERPs), then you have a real opportunity to get ranked ahead of the competition.

You might notice more article content than product content in the SERPs.  Over the years, Google has changed its algorithm to favor authoritative, valuable information-based content over product content.

Keyword Ranking Factors

Before we dive into the four steps, let’s step back and understand at a high level the factors that all the search engines use (with a bias towards Google).  You need to understand each before you can start building a strategy to get ranked.

•Backlinks/Referring domains (RDs) - Google’s original insight was that the more a page has sites linking to it, the more authoritative it must be.  There are many more factors that go into getting high rankings, but backlinks are still critical.

•Domain Authority (DA) - Created by Moz, here is how they define it:

“A search engine ranking score that predicts how likely a website is to rank on search engine results pages (SERPs). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.”

Like your personal credit score, higher DA is a number you always want to try to improve.  You do so with consistently high-quality, engaging content and backlinks with a higher DA than yours.

•Engagement - RankBrain, is Google’s AI algorithm.  It tries to determine a query’s real intent by using past searches to determine the most relevant results for the keywords entered. When released in 2015, it became the 3rd most important ranking factor after backlinks and DA.

The search engines can’t tell how you engage with a target page once you leave their results.  But they do attempt to measure engagement through the SERPs.  Here are some things they consider:

Dwell time: How long does a user stay on a page before returning to click on another result.  The longer the dwell time, the more likely it is that the page is authoritative.

Long clicks - A user goes to a page and does not return.  This is a good result.

Pogo-sticking - A user starts on the first result and goes down the list of results but does not spend much time on each.  Google looks at this as a poor set of SERPs and tries to adjust accordingly in the future.

•Page load speed, including mobile - No matter how good your content, it will have a hard time ranking if the page loads slowly.  Google recommends an ideal of .5 seconds, but not more than 2 seconds.  There are free services online that will test your page speed.

•Site security: https - Check that your domain has upgraded to HTTPS.  SERPs rank secure pages over unsecured ones.

•Keyword matching - This is obvious. Search engines try to match results with a users' intent via RankBrain.

•On-page SEO: Google must understand your keywords and content to match your page with the user’s intent.  For a deep dive, search for ‘on-page SEO tips’ or something similar.

Keyword tools like Ahrefs are great at cleaning up on-page errors.

•Schema mark-up: This is meta-data you can append to your website to help search engines better understand how to classify your page.  For more details, here is a good primer: Schema Markup 101: How to Create Rich Search Results and Boost SEO

Get Started With Content Marketing: The Four Steps

Step 1 - Keyword Research   

Buyer Intent Keywords

Where do I get my content marketing ideas?  Start with keywords.

If you take away one idea from this guide, it’s this:  Keywords drive content ideas, not the other way around.

You know your industry.  You probably have some great ideas to share with your audience.  Writing random thoughts as an expert is valuable to those already on your site but not strategic enough to get ranked and found.

Start with your competitor’s keywords and ideas and then research industry intent keywords to get a definitive list of the topics buyers are actually researching.  Convert these keywords to content ideas.

The parallel strategy is to find top keywords but also less competitive keywords that drive traffic but will be easier to rank for.

Note: Before you start, create a master spreadsheet to track your keyword and content discoveries with these headers:

    • Discovery date
    • Keyword
    • Traffic
    • Search Difficulty (SD)
    • Paid Difficulty (PD)

As you come across good intent keywords, enter your findings in real-time as you do your research, so you don't have to go back and recreate everything.

Use a keyword Research Tool

Start with a keyword tracking tool like SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz.  There’s a monthly subscription for each, but it’s worth it. We use Ahrefs, so we’ll show you examples from their tool.  The concepts are the same for all keyword research tools.

Take some time to watch YouTube tutorials on the tool you select and familiarize yourself with the key processes and features.

The tools offer a great deal more than we cover in this beginner's primer.  Over time, as you become an expert, you can get creative with keyword research.

Start With Competitor Keywords

A good place to start is by seeing where your competitors are having success with traffic and rankings.

  • Look at top pages and the keywords driving traffic to those pages
  • Look at keywords driving traffic to their overall site

Let’s pretend you offer a solution for sales and customer service communications for websites.  You know your primary competitors.

You begin by entering their blog site (blog.domain.com or domain.com/blog) in the site analysis portion of your tool. You could also just enter the top-level domain (domain.com) and see what non-product pages appear at the top.  Or you can try both approaches.

Three things to look for when analyzing your competitors' informational content pages (as opposed to product pages):

  1. Traffic
  2. RDs (referring domains)
  3. Keyword difficulty (KD)

KD as Ahrefs defines it:

“An estimation of how hard it would be to rank on the 1st page of Google (aka the Top 10 search results) for a given keyword. KD is measured on a scale from 0 to 100, with the latter being the hardest to rank for.”

For example, here, let’s pretend your competitor is intercom.io.

These results below are the top content pages driving traffic to intercom.io’s site, with keywords that have a KD under 51 (In the orange box, you’ll see I applied a KD filter in Ahrefs to the results: ‘KD: Min-51’).

You'll notice the top pages are product pages.

You want to look for content pages that are getting good traffic.  In this example, the top content page is outlined in red.

intercom-top-pages

Keywords Driving Traffic

For the pages that have potential, look at the keywords driving traffic to that page.

customer-service-keywords

Keyword Intent

Not all keywords with low KD are equal.  As you look at the keywords, you need to decide if they are terms a buyer in your industry would use to research a purchase (the intent).

Customer support definition' is probably not a good intent keyword for a buyer.  'Customer support' is a good intent keyword and has a high volume low KD.  As does 'customer support services'.

When selecting keywords to rank for, always be in your buyers’ minds to predict what keywords they might use to find vendors.

Look at keywords driving traffic to their overall site

Now that you’ve narrowed down some good topics and keywords to outrank your competitors, it’s time to look at keywords that drive traffic to the site in general.

intercom-keywords

This report would indicate that good topics showing success for your competitor but with low KD  are ‘customer support, ‘saas sales’, and ‘martech stack’.

The keyword ‘customer support has a traffic potential of 399, and Intercom ranks at number 4, but with a search difficulty of only 37.

This would be a great keyword to pursue with some high-quality posts around onsite customer support.

If you drill down on ‘customer support’ you can get some related keywords using Ahrefs ‘Also Rank For’ report:

unnamed

This shows some other keywords with low KD to include are ‘tech support’ with a potential of 7,500 clicks or ‘customer care’ with 2,200 clicks.

There are potentially hundreds or thousands of keywords worth noting in your spreadsheet.  Include them all.

In the next section, we’ll show you how to organize your keywords around a main topic or pillar page.

Don’t stop at one competitor.  Enter as many competitors as is relevant.  You might start to see some trends in your industry on good keywords and topics that generate traffic and have low KD.

Analyze Keywords Across Your Industry

You are likely an expert in your industry, and you probably know some of the primary intent keywords buyers will use to start searching for solutions.

Doing the competitive analysis uncovers many of the keywords you’ll need.

It’s worth going through this next step of looking at all keywords to generate a thorough list.

Start with a known popular keyword in your research tool and see what suggestions come up.

Note the ones that show promise for traffic and KD, then dedupe them against the competitive keywords you already have.

A good intent keyword for our sales and customer service software would be ‘customer service software’ and a few variations.

customer-service-phrase-match

Download the list and go through it in the spreadsheet.  Keep cutting, pasting and deduping a master sheet.  Delete the rows that don’t make for good intent keywords.  Repeat for as many intent keywords you can find.

Notice for ‘customer service software’ the KD is only 38, but a Google Ads client will pay $80 for a single click!

The volume may not be high, but the high CPC tells you it probably converts well for the targeted buyers.

Write some great, authoritative content around that topic, and get that same click virtually free in organic search results.

Step 2: Organizing Keywords and Topics - The Pillar Page

Pillar Page

If you’ve been producing content but are frustrated that you’re not ranking, it’s likely the problem is not the content but how it’s organized on your site.

Adding more content to already underperforming content will confuse Google more and result in more expense and no results.

To organize content, you need to help Google understand what questions you are answering and how each page for that topic adds to the answers.

A pillar page strategy, also called a power topic, cornerstone, or tent-pole is the best approach.  In the simplest form, it’s a page on your website:

  • Around one broad keyword  - But not too broad - ‘customer service’ is too broad.‘Customer service software’ has good traffic potential but is more specific.
  • Covering the content in-depth, in long-format (5,000 words+)
  • Answers all the questions a buyer might have around the topic
  • Search engines view will as authoritative and engaging
  • Is your best, A+ effort on that topic

Cluster Topics

A pillar is defined as:

“a person or thing regarded as reliably providing essential support for something.”

What the pillar page supports are called the cluster topics.  They link from the pillar page and help google understand your content.

Think of a pillar page as a tree trunk and the cluster content as the branches and leaves.

Hubspot created the concept of pillar pages.  They conducted experiments and rearranged how they link content pages within their site.

They came up with an approach that gave search engines a clearer view of the relationships between related pages. In turn, this gave search engines a better idea of how to relate and rank the content.  Rankings increased across the site.

The pillar content is a detailed analysis of the main topic.   The cluster content is the ‘smaller’ related blogs that link out from the pillar page.

Here is how their site looked before pillar pages:

Old structure-2

Source: Hubspot

When they reorganized content around the pillar strategy, here is what their posts looked like:

Cluster model-2

Source: Hubspot

You’ve created a list of 100s or 1000s of keywords, and you’re starting to see some trends around good potential topics.  Zero in on precisely what you want those topics to be, and organize them into broader themes.

Look at related clustered topics and roll those up into one main topic.  Since you know your industry well, the main topic will probably be easy to spot.

That one main topic is your pillar page.

The cluster topics are around keywords that support the main topic and have good traffic, low KD and/or lower RDs.

Customer Service’might be too broad, but ‘customer service software’ is a main intent keyword that’s not too broad. Remember it also has a KD of 37, but a Google Ads advertiser would pay $80 for one click on that keyword, which shows exceptionally high purchase intent.

Cluster blog topics might be around ‘customer service chat software’, ‘customer service for small business’, ‘best online customer service’, and so on.

Since pillar pages are long-form content, make sure you follow a few guidelines to make it easy to read and to scan:

  • Don’t use long blocks of dense text.
  • Break paragraphs into the smallest possible units you can
  • Try to break up your sections with different font colors for headlines and text for readability
  • Summarize where you can
  • Make liberal use of pictures, charts, and graphs.
  • Use call-out boxes to convey main points in each section
  • Create a table of contents with anchor links to chapters

Other Sources to Create Cluster Content

There are several other approaches to discover cluster topics.  This is where it gets exciting and where all your research gets put to use.

Google Suggestions

Generate top search terms based on popularity and similarity.  Type your pillar keyword at google.com and see what they suggest:

cs-google-suggestions
Related Searches

Click on each suggestion, and then scroll to the bottom of the results page to see related searches:

unnamed (1)

Google is handing you other intent-rich keywords buyers are using for research.

Look them up in your keyword research tool and find the ones that meet the criteria.

Use them as topics for future posts or to include on-page to enhance posts with long-tail keywords.

Keyword Questions/Longer Terms

People ask more questions, use voice search (one-fifth of Google searches now), and input longer search terms than ever before.

By ranking for keyword questions, or longer terms, you can expand the audience beyond keywords.

Most keyword tools have a feature in their keyword listings to see the keyword’s top-related questions.

Here is the feature in Ahrefs for customer service:

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There are some great question keywords here with substantial traffic and low KD that would make for good cluster content and keywords to add to cluster posts.

Forums/Community Sites

Your topic will have communities and forums where cutting-edge discussions are taking place.  These forums are a great resource to find content ideas. Quora covers a vast breadth of topics by answering questions users have.  For ‘customer service’, you could start here:

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‘Customer Service Skills’ looks interesting. Plug it into your keyword tool. You’ll see there are some good ‘long tail’ keywords with low KD that would make great topics like ‘customer service manager skills’ potential traffic of 170 clicks per month if you can rank in the top 10.

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Editorial Calendar

Once you have your pillar topic and your long tail keywords, it's time to translate those into the actual topics you will write about.

An editorial calendar defines what to publish and when for cluster posts in a realistic cadence, given your resources.

Without a written calendar, the probability that your effort will fall apart increases.  An editorial calendar is a high-level, strategic roadmap, but it’s also a way to hold your team (or yourself) accountable for producing.

‘Realistic’ means that a post slotted in the calendar will receive ample attention and research so that it’s well written, valuable, and authoritative.

This prevents the single biggest obstacle to content marketing success:  publishing average content just to hit a quota. Or worse, stopping publishing at all.

The entire process builds around quality, not quantity.  There are levels of complexity for building your calendar.

Simple Editorial Calendar

Create a Google Sheet (or Excel Online) with at least the following. You can add more columns to suit your needs:

  • Proposed Title
  • Writer
  • Co-writer
  • Posting date
  • Final draft review date
  • Pillar topic
  • Main keywords
  • Research 1 - Research topic needed to support article
  • Research 2 - Research topic needed to support article
  • Research 3 - Research topic needed to support article
  • Next steps
  • Obstacles
  • Notes

Advanced Editorial Calendar

Set up a web-based project management account on a service like Trello, Asana, or Airtable.

Airtable has a free version and a premade editorial calendar template you can use.  Sign up for Airtable, go to ‘Templates’, and search on ‘editorial calendar’.  Here is a snippet of what it looks like:

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Editorial Collaboration

If you have a team inside and/or outside the company collaborating on content creation, you should create a group discussion room in Slack or Microsoft Teams.

Here you can ask more detailed questions and give real-time feedback on issues that come up when creating content.

Blogging Frequency

There is a vast amount of information on blogging frequency and what times to post.  You can search and study some of it, but realistically, you don’t need to produce a high volume of content to get traffic and conversions in B2B.

This guide focuses on getting found in search to convert readers to buyers of your complex product or service.  The rule of thumb for B2B content is always quality over quantity.

Always strive to use keywords your buyers are using and write content that answers their questions when using search.

To Start

  • 1-2 posts per week, along with
  • 1 high-quality longer-form piece of pillar content (like a guide or white paper) per quarter

6 Months

  • 2-5 posts per week
  • One longer form piece per month

1 Year Plus

Start doing experiments in blogging frequency. Look at your metrics, the most important being conversions, and see if blogging output increases positively or negatively impact your metrics.

Step 3 - Content Promotion and Content Syndication

Getting ranked and found in search is an important first step for content marketing.

However, if you are new to getting your keywords ranked, and your DA is low, it can take some time (3-6 months) to start seeing results.

Content syndication especially paid syndication, is a great way to get your content seen right away.

The goal is to find places off your site where your buyers visit and get your content placed there.

Content marketing channels for syndication include other blogs and websites, social channels, email newsletters, and paid promotion.

Content syndication is the practice of placing your existing content on another site to expand your audience and build credibility.

Content syndication vs. Guest Blogging vs. Repurposing

  • Content syndication is when you take a copy of your existing content like a guide or blog post and get it published on another site virtually word-for-word.
  • Guest posting is writing a new, original piece of content for another site.
  • Repurposing is taking your existing content and breaking it into derivative pieces to publish as new newsletters, social posts, videos, blog posts, etc.

It is possible to use a combination of the above.  For example, you can repurpose a subtopic of a comprehensive guide as the basis for a guest blog post.

First, let’s look at the potential pitfalls of syndication and how to overcome them.

Duplicate Content

You are giving a copy of your content to another site.  The search engines don’t like duplicate content because they don’t know which site is the original or authoritative version.

In this circumstance, Google will decide on its own which version is the authoritative one.  If they pick your syndication partner, you lose that SEO credit for your original work.

What To Do - The Canonical Tag

You won’t get penalized by Google for having duplicate content.  Google realizes that duplicate content is necessary (for example, a page with both a mobile and a desktop version).  However, you want to get recognized for being the original or ‘canonical’ author of the piece.

Fortunately, there is a technical fix.  Google and the other major search engines created a canonical tag to tell them exactly which version is authoritative.

You add the tag to the header of any page where your content appears called the canonical URL. It looks like this: rel=cononical.

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Source: Ahrefs

The ideal situation is to get every site where you syndicate to add a rel=canonical tag and the link to your original page in the header of the page where the syndication site hosts your duplicate content.

Here is a sample of how it looks and how you would ask a syndication partner to tag the page within the <head> section.

Let’s assume your original post is at https://example.com/customer-service-software. The header string on the syndication page that you would ask them to add looks like this: <link rel="canonical" href="https://example.com/digital-marketing/email-marketing/">

This tells the search engines, ‘don’t look on this page for the original copy, look other there’ (which is your url on your domain).

If a syndication partner refuses to place the tag, it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it or not to share your content and risk having their page become the authoritative one.  This is especially risky if the page has a high domain authority.

Can’t Use Conversion Tools

Virtually no sites will allow you to place the widgets you use to convert readers into leads.  This might be a non-starter for some companies that rely on their content to drive most of their leads.  It might still be worth it for the following two reasons.

Exposure/Branding/Credibility:- If you start to gain a solid reputation and get some big sites to publish your content, you gain exposure to 1000s of new eyeballs without doing more work. That’s great for branding and future guest blogging.

Backlinks:- It’s possible to get a site to link back to your site when giving credit for the blog post, like this:

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Promotion: Start With Guest Blogging

If you already have high credibility within your industry but are new to blogging, you can start with outreach to your network to see if you can get them to republish your posts.

If this is not realistic, start with guest blogging and build a reputation.

You might know some top blogs in your industry that address the topics you want to cover.  Begin by noting those sites in a spreadsheet.  Assume your content is around customer service software. To build out your list of syndication partners, start with a search like this:

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There are dozens of pages of similar results.  Start noting the ones that resonate with you.  Go to your keyword research tool and note their domain authority, traffic, and keywords driving that traffic. Find the contact information for the ‘Write For Us’ section.

You might notice these results are appended with a plug-in from Ahrefs that shows domain authority and traffic for each potential partner so you don’t have to look it up.  The browser plugin for your keyword research tool is a great way to filter potential sites right in your listings.

Focus on reaching out to sites with more authority than you and a minimum DA of 50.

Your pitch should be short and mention content wins and expertise you have.  If you’re getting started and don’t have any wins yet, be upfront about that.

Focus on 1 or 2 high-quality posts you’ve done.  Tell them specifically why you like their site.

You can see this is not a short-term method for success.  It takes time and effort to make guest blogging work.

The important thing is to build your authority and get some traffic back to your site, where you can use your conversion tools.

And understand that your content is working for you in parallel by being crawled and ranked by the search engines.

Free Content Syndication

After you have some guest blogging wins, it’s time to start syndicating your content.  Syndication is about getting your ideas and brand out to a broader audience.  You also get some of that traffic back to your site and drop it into your conversion paths.

You’ll also get the links you have within your content that point back to your site onto a higher authority site.  Search rankings, organic traffic, and conversions will all improve with syndication.

Always try to syndicate your content to a larger or similar-sized site based on DA.  Of course, this may be easy to do if you are just starting because your domain authority will always be lower.

Looking For Sites to Syndicate

  • As with guest blogging, you can start with Google to find sites in your niche that syndicate content.
  • Start with the phrases:
  • "originally published in"
  • "republished with permission"
  • "originally appeared on"

And then use the Google search parameter INURL:{your topic} to find pages that have your keyword in the url.  For example:

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Start clicking through to the articles.  You’ll typically find a link that invites you to submit posts for syndication:

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Enter the domains into your research tool and note the site’s DA, traffic, and keywords.  Note the ones with good potential that target your buyers, and have good DA above 50.

Follow the individual syndication guidelines for each site and start submitting your relevant content.

Free Platforms

For each post you can place your content on platforms that accept all content, such as social media, forums, question sites, & newsletters.

  • Do your research and find out all the places where your buyers hang out and do research.
  • Break it down by category.
  • Social media:  Platforms and groups such as Facebook or LinkedIn groups or Twitter Lists
  • Forums/Group Sites: Reddit, Stack Overflow, Slack, and Hacker News
  • Question sites: Quora, QApop
  • Newsletter discovery: Substack

How you build credibility in each community is unique.  You can’t just take a page link and a blurb and post it everywhere.  You’ll be ignored, or worse, accused of being a spammer and banned.

Study each place where you want to share.  See how users with high likes or shares present their content.  Does long-form work? Short-form? Commentary & analysis? A linked headline and blurb?

Once you create value with your communications, you can start capturing that attention.  Focus on one action for one platform.  If you’re on Twitter, ask for shares on Twitter.  If you’re on Reddit, ask for likes and upvotes there.

Start by being a good community member.  Comment, share others’ content. Try to make genuine connections.

Here is a question on Quora group around customer experience with over 2,500 members.  There are only 2 answers so far.

These are the types of opportunities you should look for to add your insight and refer back to your blog:

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You also need to learn how and where you can place links back to your content pages.  For example, on Quora, you can add relevant links in your answers using anchor text and a link.  You can also add a link back to your blog section in your Credentials & Highlights page.

If you think this takes time, it does.  Harry Dry from marketingexamples.com is great at amplifying his content.  He generated 19,000 email list members in one year. He spends 8 hours per week posting and responding on platforms.

Paid Syndication

If you have the budget, this is the best way to keep your content-driven leads flowing without waiting to get ranked.

This version of your content will probably fall under what is called ‘gated content’.  The goal of paid content syndication is to pay for the ‘conversion’, which is the data you want to collect for sales follow-up such as name, email address, etc.  That data collection form is called the gate.

Publishers

For years, the major B2B publishers have accepted white papers, ebooks, webinars, and other long-form content to promote to their targeted audience under different cost models.  There is a B2B publication for just about any industry.

If you don’t know the major publishers in your space, google your industry and add ‘magazine’ like this (we tried ‘customer experience’ as the broader topic as the basis for an industry publication):

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Notice the first one has over 18K RDs and a DA of 84.

Click through and scroll down to the bottom of their site and look for ‘advertising opportunities’.  Reach out to the publication and get their media kit.  See what types of opportunities there are to get your content in front of their audience.

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Syndication Costs Models

Cost Per Thousand views (CPM) - You pay for every 1000 views to your content offer. This offer is typically in a banner ad or in a white paper resource section of the publisher’s website. There is no guarantee that you’ll generate a single conversion, but you do get branding exposure and you might get some clicks.

Cost Per Action (CPA) or Cost Per Click (CPC) - You pay for every click to your site’s offer page.  Again, no guarantee of conversions, but you get traffic to one of your conversion pages, which is your goal.

Cost Per Lead (CPL) - This model is the most expensive, but it guarantees the number of leads you generate.  Under CPL, you pay for each completed registration form called a marketing qualified lead (MQL).  Often, publishers will tap into their valuable direct, opt-in email lists to generate your MQLs.

The cost per lead under this program ranges from $30-$100 per lead depending on how targeted you want your campaign.  You also need to commit to a minimum number of MQLs, such as 100 or 250.

Automated Services

You have probably seen the headlines and images that appear at the bottom of major websites like CNN or The Wall Street Journal.  These are paid syndication offers from companies like Outbrain and Taboola.

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These platforms work much like Google paid ads.  You set up a daily budget, upload your creative and conversion pages and specify your target audience.  The services will then display your ad where their algorithm thinks it has the best chance to convert.

You get the conversions, but not the SEO value of having a link on a site like CNN.  The search engines view these as paid ads and ignore them.

Step 4: Conversions, Measurement & Analysis

The purpose of all the strategies and tactics covered in this guide is to attract readers who convert to prospects and become customers.

Conversions are the most important thing you want to measure.

Other ‘vanity’ metrics besides conversions are important such as page visits, source of visit, and time spent on-page.  Many marketers look at these stats to judge whether a post is successful or not.

Conversions are a function of 2 things:

  • The content
  • The conversion offer itself

Your content comprises page design, keywords, topics, authority, and the keyword rankings that draw a visitor to a page on your site.

Once on the page, it’s the conversion offer that convinces them to raise their hand and give up some information about themselves.  The offer is a mini piece of content marketing itself.  Like the page visit, offers need to be measured.

Here are three types of conversion offers, in increasing degree of quality:

Newsletter sign-up - You’re capturing a name and email address.  What you’re not capturing is necessarily permission to follow up and discuss a business relationship.  It’s good to have a newsletter sign-up available on your page as a soft offer for those not ready to commit to a discussion.

Download an exclusive piece of content - This is a more targeted conversion.  It’s sometimes called a ‘lead magnet’ because it uses free content to generate interest and the magnet to convert.

The offer is usually for a longer form, more valuable piece of content with a registration gate or landing page.

This content should align with your company’s product offerings.  It’s a way to get a prospect to raise their hand to express general interest in your value proposition. Have an ‘optin’ box on the conversion page that opens permission for a business discussion.

Free assessment or consultation - As it sounds, the reader is expressing an interest to have you engage with them on improving a business process that your product or service can fix.

This is the ultimate conversion.

Don’t use this type of offer to ‘trick’ a prospective customer into a regular sales call by calling it a ‘consultation’.

Hubspot uses a website grader as a highly effective conversion tool.  You can offer calculators, templates, custom reports/plans, or free assessment tools as offers.

Test different offers on the same page and run A/B experiments on copy and creative to constantly beat your best-performing offer.

Harry Dry stresses the importance of framing the offer, not in terms of what you can do, but what you can do for them.

Go to his site and spend some time there.  It’s well worth it.

Here are some of his examples that will inspire you in the right direction:

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16

Notice this one uses a ‘free seo audit’ as an assessment offer.

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Students don’t care about the next generation of SAT prep, they care about acing the test.

Always be thinking about your customers, not you, when writing copy.

Measure and Analyze

Just as you need a keyword tool to find competitive keywords, you need a measurement tool to analyze your performance.  Google Analytics (GA) is the most widely used tool.  Other popular options are Hubspot’s analytics features and Heap.io.

You can set up all of these reports in GA. You can also create a custom dashboard to track everything on one page.

If you can’t set up the reports yourself, it’s worth finding a freelancer or hiring a content marketing expert who can do it for you.

Set Goals and KPIs

For each goal measured, set up a KPI for benchmarking.  Even if you have to make broad assumptions, start somewhere.  You can adjust KPIs later.

For example, goals might be to increase keyword rankings, traffic, and conversions.  To assign KPIs, put a ‘stake in the ground’:

  • 10 keywords per month ranking in the top 20
  • Total organic traffic to blog pages of 20,000 in 6 months
  • A conversion rate of 10% of organic traffic starting in month two.

Traffic:- The broadest measurement of effectiveness. Without traffic, there are no conversions, so monitor traffic growth rates in total, by pages, and by keywords.

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Source SEMrush

Traffic reports contain some other valuable data

New vs. Returning visitors - A healthy number of new visitors is important for growth.  New traffic above 30% is a good starting point.  Above 50% would be excellent.

Bounce rate - A good indicator of engagement which is important in keyword rankings.  In the above report, 45.27% is good and would suggest the content is resonating with the intended audience.

Session duration - If you’re writing authoritative content, your average session duration should be in minutes.

Traffic by Pages
Indicates which posts/topics are doing better than others. Also used to plan the repurposing of content and help messaging with other marketing programs.

Organic Traffic by Keywords
Shows the top terms driving organic traffic.  Extremely valuable to understand how you’re being found, and what to focus on when creating and repurposing content.

Valuable insights such as keyword position, clicks, and clickthrough rate (impressions in SERPs to click ratio) are available.

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Leads to Organic Traffic
A high level view of how your program is doing.  Divide your total conversions by the total volume of organic traffic to your content pages.

Conversions by Page
Which pages are generating quality leads.  Which topics are driving conversions? This is insightful for understanding what is resonating with your buyers and to repurpose content to other channels like social media, email, and video.

Conversions to MQLs
Are the conversions working as a good starting point for sales development reps (SDRs).  If you’re getting 50 leads per day, but none matches your ideal customer profile (ICP), you need to analyze why.

Keyword Ranking Stats

These are metrics you want to measure using your keyword tracking tool against your domain.  Set a baseline at the time you launch your pillar page and cluster pages.  These reports will show:

  • Keywords
  • Ranking Position
  • Volume
  • URL where they are found

Review the report weekly and watch for movement.

For your top ranking keywords, discover the CPC and build a report for management to show where you are ranking for keywords where competitors are paying for clicks.

Backlinks
Track how many total backlinks and unique referring domains (RDs) each post is generating.  Always be working in parallel to build backlinks.

Domain Authority
You should see your DA rise over time if you are publishing quality content with good engagement and backlinks.

Social shares

B2B content is not as widely shared as consumer content, so the numbers are always lower.  But there is still insight in social shares.

Attribution Tracking

Content marketing does not drop a straight path from reading a blog post to closing a sale. Many other pieces of content are consumed in the buying journey and by multiple people on the buying teams.

Consensus research is that at least five content touchpoints are needed before a buyer contacts sales.

The KPIs above are ideal for single transaction visitors.  These are visitors who come to your site from a search engine and then convert.

What about visitors who visited your website to read a blog post, then leave.  But 2 weeks later they come back to view a webinar.

Set up attribution tracking to see where buyers are stopping to engage, and what touchpoints are converting to leads.

MQLs by program - Set up attribution codes in your content marketing URLs for all your channels and track conversions by guest posts, free syndication, paid syndication, and from your domain pages.

See where you are getting high performers and increase resources there.

Attribution tracking is complex.  There is software available to add to your tech stack to help, such as LeadsRX and Attribution.  Hubspot also has attribution tracking on its CRM platform.

Generating Backlinks

Generating backlinks is a critical, ongoing tactic to help increase your rankings.

If your domain authority is low, you need to actively reach out for backlinks with outbound email campaigns until your DA rises.

First, if you write excellent, useful content that answers a search query, you will get some natural backlinks.

Second, you can run campaigns to ask for backlinks from other sites with higher DA.  The second strategy is complex, time-consuming, and beyond the scope of this guide.  Search for ‘How to generate backlinks’ and read the posts.

Once you have a system in place, you’ll realize generating backlinks can be boring and repetitive.  You can outsource your system to a content marketing agency, or freelancer on Upwork, or Fiverr.

Conclusion

Always

Look at what types of content are producing leads and which are just producing traffic with low conversions.

Do experiments and make adjustments to the resources you put into well-performing keywords and topics.

Every year, look at your assumptions and always test and measure the interactions between content frequency, type, quality, and conversions.

Putting it All Together

  • Look at the keywords you’ve included to define your main topic and make sure relevant ones are on the pillar page.
  • Don’t worry about using the keywords not enough or too often.   Use them where they can naturally appear.
  • Write naturally but try to include many long-tail keywords that support your post. You don’t need to pack your post will all the keywords in your spreadsheet.
  • Answer the key questions around the topic and create valuable and authoritative content.  Don’t worry about keyword frequency.
  • Learn on-page SEO and stick to the tactics recommended.
  • If starting from scratch, juice your pillar with some pre-written cluster blog posts you can link to from the pillar page. 2 or 3 will do to start.
  • Stick to your editorial calendar for subsequent posts.  As you write the cluster content, find places on your pillar page to link to the cluster content.
  • Your keyword tool will show your current keyword rankings. Create a baseline for your keyword rankings and domain authority.
  • There’s no need to check for movement every day.  Weekly is probably best for practical and sanity reasons.

Summary:

Research competitor keywords

Research top competitor pages and topics

Organize keywords around pillar and cluster topics

Look for keywords that have good volume and low search difficulty

Create an editorial calendar

Create a pillar page in the form of an authoritative guide or eBook

Write cluster content that links back to the pillar page

Look for guest blogging and syndication opportunities with industry influencers.  To find influencers, use SparkPost.

Use paid channels while you're building your organic channels

Repurpose your content.  Content ideas:

  • Blogs
  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • Webinars
  • Infographics
  • Social posts
  • FAQs
  • Newsletters
  • Industry interviews

Measure the sources of your traffic and find keywords and topics that lead to conversions.

Put attribution tracking in place to find out where buyers are converting.

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