The Beginners Guide to Online Marketing

The Beginners Guide to Online Marketing

Chapter Six

Written by Neil Patel & Ritika Puri

Build Audience Connections with Content Marketing

You’ve heard the term tossed around a million times. Content marketing. The phrase seems simple enough, but what exactly is it?

Content marketing is just what it sounds like. It’s the process of engaging and growing your customer base through high quality content.

Content marketing is an investment.

It’s part of a larger marketing framework.

It requires strategic insight.

It targets users across the entire conversion funnel.

It should be held accountable to a standard set of success metrics.

Content marketing is NOT social media, an intern’s job, or limited to a company blog. Like any other marketing practice, it requires commitment to systems and standards. It should be held accountable to measurable results.

Now that consumers are totally in control of the buying process, you are seeing enterprise brands working to adapt to that. The whole movement to get found in search, or drive online leads or create business opportunities with social media starts and ends with a content marketing strategy.

In order for any of that to work, enterprise brands have to have something meaningful to say that, in some way, links to their marketing and business objectives.

Joe Pulizzi, Founder and CEO at The Content Marketing Institute via
The Content Strategist

Content Marketing Is a
Relationship-Building Tool

Content marketing is more than just the creation and distribution of content. It’s a tool that, when executed properly, positions your brand as an influencer.

Content marketing is the art of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a target audience — with the objective of driving profitable customer action.
The Content Marketing Institute

It starts with storytelling around the concepts that your customers value most.

Good storytelling can feel challenging, especially if you’re a marketer or business owner who comes from a sales background. With content marketing, you absolutely cannot and should not sell. Rather than pitching your services upfront, focus on driving awareness about your brand and thought leadership in your area of expertise. Think about moving prospects through the conversion funnel. Sales will happen as a natural byproduct of this relationship that you’re building with your customers and prospects.

Take a look at Qualcomm’s Spark platform as an example. This enterprise company is creating innovating content to keep readers engaged. And what aren’t they doing? Selling.

Rather than producing content from a team of marketers, the company hires journalists, business leaders, and tech bloggers. To the best extent possible, the brand tries to remove itself from the equation. They don’t talk about themselves. Instead, they cover topics that their audiences truly care about.

Focus on More than Just Blogging

Content marketing is more than just writing. There are a variety of channels that your brand can leverage to connect with prospective customers. These include:

Videos

These can be entertaining or educational videos produced on behalf of your brand. Focus on a specific topic that is related to your product or service.

Dollar Shave Club, a Santa Monica startup, was able to kickstart its user acquisition through the production of a hilarious video. It went viral and generated over 12,000 user sign-ups within days of launching.

Videos can range in cost from several thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. If you are looking to produce a video and need a quote, check out SmartShoot.

Content Portals & Microsites

These are content hubs designed to engage and educate audiences about topics that they care about. Qualcomm Spark is one example of a content portal.

For another example, check out LearnVest’s Life and Money platform, a resource committed to educating consumers about their personal finance choices. This content portal collects stories and actionable tactics from people learning to make the most of their money.

Articles for content portals tend to cost $200-$1,000 to produce.

Ebooks

These are longer-pieces of content, designed for the purpose of education. These can be self-published through Amazon or hosted on your website. For a great example, check out the 2013 Careers Guide from Wealthfront. Wealthfront is investment management software that provides online financial advice. So why do careers matter? Because young professionals have money to invest too. The company’s leadership team consists of highly seasoned Silicon Valley entrepreneurs (they helped to build LinkedIn). They understand how to navigate Silicon Valley better than anyone.

Clarity, a platform that connects advice seekers with experienced business leaders and subject matter experts, recently produced an e-book with stories on entrepreneurship. The resource, “Straight Up Startup Advices” shares stories on starting, growing, and launching a business. This topic make sense for Clarity’s audience of business leaders and new entrepreneurs.

Depending on length, Ebooks cost between $1,000 and $10,000 to write. Hiring a designer to supplement the writing can also cost up to $10,000 or more.

Infographics

These are storytelling tools and visual representations of data. Infographics are focused on a general topic like The Biggest Tax Dodgers in History or The Good and Bad Habits of Smart People. The key is to tell your story visually. Break down complex information into a simple, easy-to-follow form.

Here is an infographic (about infographics) from Customer Magnetism.

Depending on the level of sophistication, Infographics cost between $1,000 and $5,000 to produce. Expect to pay between $500 and several thousand dollars for promotion and distribution.

Online (or in person) Classes

One way to build a relationship with your audience is to teach a class in your area of expertise. You can teach this class through e-mail, videos hosted on your website, or in your physical store. Online platforms like Udemy also provide resources to help you produce, host, share, and monetize your videos.

Here are some examples:

QuickSprout offers a free course to help website owners boost their traffic:

Erica Swallow, a startup PR expert, teachers a class in her area of expertise (via Udemy):

Onboardly teaches a class on acquiring customers through blogging:

Ritika teaches and co-teaches in-person classes via General Assembly:

Both Michael’s (an art supply store) and Lululemon (women’s running and yoga gear) host in-store events:

Webinars

One valuable way to build your audience is to host a webinar: an online version of a seminar. These can be free to low-cost. The beauty of webinars is that they are scalable to accommodate as many people as you want, from anywhere in the world. KISSmetrics frequently hosts webinars to help customers and prospects develop their website analytics strategies.

Typically, the cost of your webinar will be the software you use to host it (unless you want to hire an expert to come give the presentation). GoToWebinar and Mezzanine let you host and record webinars.

When well-executed, all forms of content are valuable, so don’t feel pressured to drop $100K on an enterprise microsite if you don’t have the budget handy. Remember that ROI is contingent on your brand’s comfort level to spend.

Whatever you do, do it well. There is always room to produce more content as your company grows.

Content Marketing Can Be a
Major Referral Traffic Driver

KISSmetrics, CrazyEgg, and QuickSprout have always built their organic search traffic through content marketing. It’s inexpensive and provides fast results.

Through blogging and creating infographics, KISSmetrics was able to to get over 100,000 monthly organic visitors in less than a year. Same with QuickSprout — Google drives close to 100,000 per month to the blog.

CrazyEgg has been going through a similar process.

It is a great tool for improving the conversion of a website. We launched our blog, The Daily Egg, during the first week of November 2011, so the blog is only over one year old. In our first year, we had half a million visitors. Traffic growth has been on average 10 to 15 percent month over month, and subscriber growth really picked up at the six month mark.
Russ Henneberry, former Blog Manager at CrazyEgg via
The Content Strategist

Here are some key lessons learned from the three websites:

  • Be detailed and consistent. Short blog posts tend to get fewer links than longer pieces of content. Don’t feel pressured to churn out massive amounts of content each day. Prioritize quality over quantity.
  • Make content digestible by using visuals. Information overload is the norm online. Make information as simple to digest as possible, and your readers will love you… which means that they’ll share your content.
  • Be consistent. If you can’t publish content on a regular basis, it will be tough to get ROI. Make sure that you publish regularly.
  • Write awesome headlines. If your headlines are boring, nobody will want to read your content. You need to be compelling, edgy, and speak to your audience’s exact needs. Your headlines are the first chance to make a strong first impression.

    On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest of your post, explains CopyBlogger.

    Headlines should be short, sweet, and enticing.

Make Content a Part of the
Referral Traffic Ecosystem

Production is only 20% of the content marketing formula. The rest is distribution. In addition to creating high-quality content, you need to make an active effort to recruit eyeballs.

One way to bring visitors to your website is through email marketing. If you have a blog, make sure that there is a clear place for users to sign up to be a part of your email list. If you publish an ebook? Same thing. Collect leads. Make sign-ups the first step to download.

When you publish a new blog post, video, or ebook, tell your subscribers about it. Send them an email every time a new story is produced. Don’t worry about turning this into a promotional newsletter. Make it a short, attention-grabbing, and compelling personal note.

Here is how it’s done for QuickSprout:

Here is how LearnVest does it:

Some General Tips:

  1. Title your emails with compelling headlines, which can be titles of your newest or most compelling blog posts.
  2. Be extremely personal and personable. Make it clear that there are real people on the other sides of your company’s computer screens.
  3. Don’t be spammy about your emails. Let your users know how often you’ll be emailing them when they opt-in to your mailing list.
  4. Send emails once or twice a week, max!
  5. Monitor unsubscribe rates closely. Use these numbers to guide how often you should send your emails.
  6. Once your subscriber list is large enough, A/B test subject headlines on a portion of your subscribers to see which inspire the most opens. An important metric to monitor are open rates (the proportion of emails opened compared to the number sent.)

But we’ll talk about email marketing again later in chapter 8.

Whatever you do, don’t try to sell!

One of the core purposes of content marketing is to build a community around your brand. Marketers and business leaders get that. But for some reason, brands feel like all of the content needs to come from them. That’s the wrong approach to your content marketing. You should only produce a portion of your content in-house. Hire writers and content producers. Here’s why:

  • Professional writers and subject matter experts frequently have their own audiences. Reputable writers will help you kickstart or amplify your audiences.
  • Professional writers tend to work with multiple clients. Smart writers will cross-promote posts between clients.
  • Great writers leave footprints all over the web.
  • People want to learn from their peers in the community. If your CEO uses your company blog like a megaphone to blast corporate messaging, you’ll instantly scare your readers away. Hire writers to neutralize your sales pitch.
  • Writers can write faster than you can. You don’t have time to spend hours on a blog post that your writers can knock out in an hour. Spend your time building your product, and leave it to your freelancers to produce greatw content.

Take a look at some of the most popular blogs on the Internet. Typically, these folks will collect insight from multiple writers. This is the approach that KISSmetrics and CrazyEgg have taken. It’s an invaluable way to amplify your network and build a community around your brand — leverage the community that others have build around their own brands.

(Here is a screenshot from the Unbounce Blog. Look how many shares they’ve received! These are all guest writers who are in no-way affiliated with Unbounce as employees.)

Success Metrics to Watch

Content marketing is valuable for connecting with users at all stages of the conversion funnel. Make sure that you’re monitoring the right metrics to optimize your content marketing program’s performance:

  1. Engagement

    These metrics quantify the relationship you’re building with your prospects and customers. Pay attention to the following metrics to capture this important concept:

    • Pageviews: The total number of pages viewed on your website in a given time period.
    • Average visit duration: How long visitors are spending on your site.
    • Return visits: The number of total visits from users who have visited your website before.
    • Bounce rate: The percentage of users who visit your website and then immediately leave.
    • Average pages viewed per visit: The number of website pages viewed, on average, in a given time period.
  2. Virality

    This concept captures the influence, distribution, and reach of your content. It’s an indicator of whether audiences find value in what you produce. The following metrics will help you quantify this concept:

    • Social media shares: Shares through social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest give your content a higher probability of gaining visibility.
    • Unique visitors: The total number of distinct visitors who come your website in a given time period.
  3. Leads and Conversions

    A marketer’s most important job is to drive leads and conversions. Content marketing should align with these goals.

    • Leads: The number of leads that can be directly and indirectly attributable to content marketing.
    • Conversions: The number of sales / orders that funnel in through your content.
    • Sign-ups and inquiries: The number of people who express interest in doing business with your organization after consuming a piece (or multiple pieces of) content.

    It is important to understand how leads are interacting with your brand throughout the purchase funnel. Depending on your company and business model, it usually takes a series of steps to ultimately convert into a lead or paying customer. Content marketing should help your customers through this purchase funnel. The process should be emotionally engaging, fun, and frictionless.

  4. Revenue

    How much of your bottom line does your content program drive? To measure this, you need to be able to connect your sales to your content marketing efforts.

    • Recurring Revenue: Quantify the revenue that your content program drives over a specified time interval. Look for the percentage of revenue derived from content marketing as well as revenue from tangentially related marketing efforts.
  5. Lifetime value & Customer acquisition costs

    How much does it cost to acquire each user through content marketing? On average, how much value will customers drive over a lifetime? These metrics will help you craft an intelligent budget for your content marketing strategy — to make sure that you’re ROI positive and not losing money from your investment.

Content Marketing Through Webinars:
Unbounce’s Story

Unbounce is an example that we’ve featured throughout this guide, but in case you’ve missed the discussion — they’re an awesome company and are generating phenomenal thought leadership in the marketing community. Their company specializes in software that helps marketers create high-performing landing pages without web designers or IT. Not to mention, they have a strong content marketing presence with high quality writers and passionate readers.

They were wonderful enough to submit a case study for us about their recent “Unwebinar.” Here is a breakdown from Unbounce’s Director of Marketing, Georgiana Laudi.

What was the problem that Unbounce’s webinar was trying to solve?
Ritika

Unbounce launched its multi-client and multi-user capabilities last fall. Within a couple of weeks it became obvious that some of our customers weren’t sure how best to use the new features and that communication on our website wasn’t doing enough to show the value. Up to our necks with typical startup fury, Ryan (Director of Customer Success) and I set out to find a solution, we called them “Unwebinars”.

It was the first time we’d ever hosted a live online event (even though in marketing, we’d been guests on quite a few webinars). It was an experiment to say the least. We decided not to limit attendance to customers, giving non-customers a peak inside Unbounce. This MVP version wouldn’t last long though.

Georgiana
What were your goals?
Ritika
The goal of the first Unwebinar was 2-fold, 1) Communicate what was new (multi-user and multi-client capability) and 2) Gather feedback which would help us do a better job with our product, with our customers and communicating to leads. And, since we knew people less familiar with Unbounce would attend, we wanted to briefly introduce ourselves as well.
Georgiana
What important steps did you take?
Ritika

We built a fort of sleeping bags, stuck a desk in the middle with 2 mics and 3 computers (one for Ryan, one for Rick our CEO, and one for me to moderate). We put up a landing page (duh) and signed up for the de facto standard, GoToWebinar. We then sent an email to our customers and leads and also pushed out invites through our social channels.

We then nervously held the 30 minute webinar, and proceeded to high-five on a job well done. Anyone who has ever held a webinar knows though, the work does not end there. We then converted the recording and slides, gathered a list of resources that came up during the recording, and sent out our follow-up email, also asking for feedback. Emails and tweets were overwhelmingly positive, throw in some more high-fives, and we were off to plan our next one.

Georgiana
What was the outcome?
Ritika
Throughout the Q&A, it quickly became obvious that attendees had tons of questions about landing pages and A/B testing itself. We knew we had to switch things up; We were now going to focus on content to help marketers be more effective, primarily and almost entirely. We knew there was a place for demoing Unbounce itself, but marketers were desperate for tactical advice, so we set out to be as useful as possible.
Georgiana
At any point, did you need to change directions? Why or why not?
Ritika

By our 2nd Unwebinar, we’d convinced stage/camera/audio shy Oli Gardner (Mr. Landing Page) that his knowledge was in high demand in this format too (Oli launched our blog and writes 90% of our ebooks). It worked, Oli and Ryan not only answered peoples’ questions about Landing Page Optimization, but were pretty entertaining too. Feedback again, was overwhelmingly positive.

We’d found our winning Unwebinar format; Invite experts (like Anna Sawyer, Joanna Weibe, Chris Goward, Peep Laja) to come and talk about topics related to conversion rate optimization and give attendees a platform to ask questions in real-time.

We still do demo Unbounce after every webinar, but now we give people fair warning and they’re welcome to opt-out. Much to our delight, about ⅓ of attendees stick around for it.

Even better, as a result of our Unwebinars being more content focused, our Customer Success team continue to offer super useful weekly demos for people wanting to learn more about Unbounce itself.

Georgiana
What were some key takeaways that you learned?
Ritika

Our first webinar made it really obvious that while there is a place for demoing our product, marketers are hungry for great content and actionable learning.

Here’s how our registration and attendance have looked since we started:

Webinar Topiac Landing Page Registration GoToWebinar Attendees
Anable Steps to Client Management in Unbounce 190 50
Landing Page Optimization with Oli Gardner 476 178
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About AdWords with Anna Sawyer 1021 471
Copywriting for Conversion with Joanna Weibe 2282 627
A/B Testing Essentials with Michael Aagaard 1938 449
Designing for Conversion with Oli Gardner 2523 589
Multiply Your Conversion Rates with Chris Goward 2066 426
10 Landing Page Mistakes and How to Fix Them with Peep Laja 3265 610

Not only were our webinars themselves improving but we started to do what we do best, test dedicated landing pages. Through our integration with Zapier, on our 2nd webinar we were able to use Unbounce landing pages for our registration pages. Not only are they prettier than the standard stark format of GoToWebinar, we’re able to test to see which messaging works best, all while sending registrants directly through to GTW automatically. It was a game changer. Conversion rates on our registration pages have gone from 26% on our 2nd webinar to 65% on our latest, that’s an increase of 150%!

Speaking of our latest, this month’s Unwebinar is with Rand Fishkin, he’s gonna talk about Big Picture CRO and we couldn’t be more excited to have him.

Georgiana

Key Takeaways

  • Content marketing is more than just blogging. Get creative about the types of content you’re producing.
  • Hold your content marketing program accountable by monitoring success through metrics that translate into revenue for your company.
  • Focus on engagement, not self-promotion. Write about topics that your readers care about, and don’t be overly promotional about your brand. Let sales be a natural byproduct of your content marketing strategy.
  • Integrate your content marketing with a bigger-picture marketing strategy.
  • Focus on moving customers and prospects through your sales conversion funnel. Make the experience fun, engaging, and frictionless for them. Prioritize relationships above transactions.
  • Be relentless about quality. Your content should be amazing. Readers won’t care about a sub-par experience, as there is plenty of other content out there.