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content marketing
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If you’ve been freelancing for a while, or even if you’ve been doing the agency thing, you’re probably familiar with this term: content marketing.

But I’ll explain it anyway, just so we’re on the same page, k?

The difference between content marketing and regular marketing is the difference between a bee-less beehive and a megaphone.

One draws people in, though it may take a while for everyone to notice it’s there, and one gets in people’s faces and is generally very annoying.

They both work, it’s just that megaphones aren’t so popular these days…

The idea behind content marketing is so simple it’s almost absurd that it took us this long to come up with it. The idea is this — create content that customers actually want, that customers are actually looking for, instead of screaming in their face with a megaphone and hoping they’ll buy something.

Sure, if you scream loud enough, long enough, you’ll get a sale or two — but a lot of those sales are just meant to shut you up.

Content marketing, on the other hand, is silent, yet attractive. An undefended beehive filled with delicious honey isn’t going to advertise its presence — but, when people start to figure out that all that sweet, sweet value is just sitting around undefended, free for the taking…

Well, they’re going to jump on it.

I’m going to share with you some content marketing strategies that will help you attract customers like a pooh bear to a pot of honey, but to make all this stuff work, you have to keep one principle firmly in mind:

Content marketing is about helping first and selling second (or third, or fourth, or fifth…).

If your goal when creating your content is to be helpful — to answer a question, to provide insight, to provide something of value for free — if that’s your goal, your content will succeed.

If your goal is to sell things, your content will fail — that’s not content marketing; that’s sales copy.

I hate to break it to you, but no one cares much about all the cool stuff you can do or all the neat people you’ve worked for or your fancy products and services.

Your potential customers, your leads, they don’t give a heck.

They just care about what you can do for them.

And that’s why content marketing is so effective — because you’re demonstrating your value and what you can do through the content you’re spreading about the internet like a fairy spreading pixie dust and rainbow dreams.

People see that content, they see what you’re capable of, they see that you have access to secrets that they need access to, that you have skills they need in their life, and they reach out for work.

And though it can seem rather strange, you’ll find yourself, one day, getting a $20,000 job off a video you made three years ago.

In this phenomenal post that I’ve linked to just above, Bridget Willard discusses how a video she made three years prior was discovered by someone on Google and how that someone contacted her business and eventually became a (high) paying customer.

She made a little video, gave it away for free online, sat back, and waited for that sweet honey-cash to roll in.

The crazy part? That video didn’t even have very many views — even today, several years later, it has less than 3,000 views.

And in the interim, she continued to write blog posts, be active on social media, create more videos, and generally push free, useful content out the door — she tried to fill as many content-gaps as possible — but it was this one particular piece of content that paid off in a very real way.

I’m sure other pieces of content have since paid off as well.

This stuff works, but you have to keep the faith. You need to be a bit of a zen master, really — you need to focus intensely on one piece of content, ensure that it’s as awesome as possible, send it into the ether, and then be perfectly content for the content to not do a whole lot for you in and of itself.

So, now that you have the basis of content marketing firmly implanted in your noggin, and now that you see that it can create some real-world ROI, let’s talk about some tactics, shall we?

We shall.


Content Marketing Tactic Number Zero — Your Website, Your SEO Strategy, and Your Social media Marketing Strategy

So, for all of this stuff to work, you need to lay the groundwork.

Simply put, that’s your website and your SEO strategy.

Content is great, but if you don’t have a digital property that you own on which to house that content, then your content suddenly isn’t so useful to you.

For instance, if you’re putting all the awesome content you create on YouTube, and YouTube, in its infinite wisdom and unlimited power, decides to change its TOS or algorithm, you might find yourself SOL.

So you need a website, something you own and have full control over, as a place to keep all the awesome content you’re about to create.

Once you have that in place, you need an SEO strategy, one important facet of which is keyword research. Those keywords can show you a) what your target customers are searching for online and b) what topics are worth writing about (and what topics aren’t worth writing about).

While some of the keywords you choose should be applied to your static content, you’ll realize very quickly that there are simply too many keyword phrases out there to try to rank for. Your static content — your sales pages and about pages and home pages and such — just won’t be enough content to use all those keywords.

But, if you’re generating pieces of content marketing regularly…

That’s right — suddenly, you have enough content to use those keyword phrases.

Now, SEO strategy goes beyond keyword research — for example, link building is critical to any effective SEO strategy.

Can’t build links without a website.

OK, you totally can, but what’s the point of building a link to your Facebook page? Again, what if Facebook decides in its bounteous glory to remove some critical feature from your Facebook page, or, God forbid, to kick you off completely and ban your account?

So, when you’re out there slaving away at the link factory trying to get your friends, romans, and countrymen to lend you their links, you’ll want them to link to your website, not to your social media accounts.

Now, that’s not to say that social media is worthless — it has value, just a different kind.

Social media marketing is one of the ways you get your content marketing efforts out into the world. Now, you have to spend some time forming relationships, but, in many cases, it really does work to just blast the content out there — if it’s good enough, it will stand on its own.

Social media marketing also requires, at its root, excellent content. Just think about the social media that you love — it’s generally not the tweet or the post itself that you love, but rather the content that it’s linked to.

Do you want to go around sharing other people’s content and send your followers away to other people’s websites?

Well, actually yes you do to some degree — you don’t want to share only your own content, if you can avoid it.

But not everyone can avoid it — not everyone has 1 million hours to spend on social media, forming relationships and sharing valuable content.

Some people have work to do, dang it! (Totally not writing this from a place of resentment.)

Bottom line — your social media marketing strategy needs content to spread to the world, and your content marketing efforts are how you generate that content.

Make sense? Good. Now, about that content…


ignitur-in-body ad


Content Marketing Tactic #1 — Blogging

Maybe this strikes you as obvious, but blogging is probably about as staple as content gets — and it’s a great way to drive traffic to your blog.

You can (should) do it regularly — it doesn’t require a huge amount of work (though it does take work), and it can often be handled by others as your business grows.

But, as I mentioned above, it’s a great way to produce content that can be optimized for those keyword phrases that your potential customers keep plugging into search engines.

Blogging is great for another reason — because blog posts don’t have to be particularly long, they can answer questions that your customers might have in a simple and effective way.


Seven-hundred and fifty words will do. Unless, not enough to cover the topic (like this post)

And where oh where would a blog post go in this digital realm?

On your website, of course.

And what else do you have on your website?

All those products, services, email captures, contact forms, phone numbers, and addresses that you want leads to interact with.

The blog post draws them in, the website does the rest.

Imagine this scenario — you’re a consumer (this shouldn’t be hard since you are one).

You have a question about a widget. You get on your favorite search engine, Duck Duck Bing or Google, and you type in “How do widgets work?”

The third option on the list looks promising, so you click it.

Suddenly, you’re at the website of a widget manufacturer, but you don’t quite notice where you are at first — you’re too busy reading the answer to your question.

In great detail, the blog post you’ve landed on explains how widgets work.

And then, as you near the end, you think to yourself “Man, my dude, these guys know a heckin’ lot about widgets.”

So you start browsing around the site.

And maybe you make a purchase that day, maybe you make a purchase that month, maybe you just enter your email in their email capture form, but you take action — and that action has a real payoff for that business.

Because those megaphones just aren’t that effective.

Oh, and speaking of email forms…


Content Marketing Tactic #2 — Email Marketing

Email isn’t dead — it’s very much alive, and it’s an excellent way to provide some serious value to some leads.

Why are they suddenly leads and not just potential customers? Because they took some action — signing up for your email list — which means they’ve warmed up to you a bit.

You’ve demonstrated some value to them, likely through a blog post you’ve written or some other form of content marketing you’ve created.

They’re not sold just yet — but they’re listening.

Here’s where most people screw up.

Giving someone your email should be considered an act of extreme trust, a sacred bond not to be violated by man or god.

Instead, that email address is snapped up, and the emails start to flow.

This isn’t bad in itself — as long as the emails have value.

Now, even though I’ve been denigrating poor little megaphones this whole time, here’s a place where you can use them just a bit…

OK, maybe just use a conch shell for now — screaming out the value of your products and services in the first email you send to folks is likely going to send them running for the hills.

Instead, provide something of value. Maybe that means sending them a list of your most popular blog posts. Maybe that means sending them a coupon or a promotion, a reward for entrusting you with their sacred email.

Heck, maybe that just means sending them another, large piece of free content, like an ebook or a whitepaper.

Whatever it looks like, you need to keep that content marketing mindset running, and you need to remember that this stuff takes time.

Some people are going to make purchases based off that first promotional email you send them, but many aren’t. Many need dozens of touches before they finally decided to take action.

You must be patient — you must cultivate an attitude of zen, accepting whatever comes and patiently building upon your work, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Continue to send emails regularly, continue to provide value, continue to sprinkle in a call to action or two.

Let the honey do its work… but it’s OK if you use a (small) megaphone every now and then.

I won’t tell — pinky swear.

Remember those ebooks and whitepapers I mentioned? Yeah, those are tactic three.


Content Marketing Tactic #3 — Downloadables / Lead Magnets

Just because you have an awesome blog doesn’t mean that blog is going to convince people to sign up for your email list.

But what if you happen to have something really, really awesome that your potential customers really want to get?

What if the only way for them to get it is to download it from you?

What if you didn’t give them access to that downloadable until they gave you their email address?

Sneaky, eh? But I’m sure you’ve seen this tactic before…

And you’ve probably given up your email just to get some downloadable thing that just looked awesome.

It worked, right? Building an email list is hard if you don’t offer anything of value, any incentive to get people to sign up.

But, if you have something of value to give away, you can hide it behind an email capture form and use it as a magnet to draw in leads and build your email list.

There are a lot of places that do this stuff really well. For instance, one of my favorite literary websites, Authors Publish, does a phenomenal job of providing boatloads of free downloadables for the price of an email address.

In fact, that particular website grabbed me with its super useful blog posts, snagged my email with the promise of an awesome ebook, and will totally sell me on something as soon as they stop giving the damn things away for free all the time.

(Seriously guys, send us one thing that’s not totally free — I’ll pay!)

Whatever the thing happens to be, it’s something you download, it’s something that has more value than the average blog post or video that you create, it’s something that draws the lead to you and convinces them to give up their email address.

You know, like a magnet.

In practice, this could look like an ebook about publishing in a literary journal, a comparison sheet for two different enterprise SaaS offerings, a whitepaper on the viability of spray polyurethane foam roofing in the next fifteen years, or a checklist of symptoms to consider before talking to your doctor about testosterone replacement therapy.

So, you’ve got a lot of options here, but there’s one last content marketing tactic that I want to mention before I call it a day.


Content Marketing Tactic #4 — Videos

Now, I put this at the bottom of the list for a reason — videos are hard to do well, are time consuming, can be quite expensive, and, well, they’re just a pain in the heckin’ butt.

But, if they’re done well, they can be absurdly effective.

Let’s not forget that video that Bridget Willard put together, with a simple camera on a tripod no less, that brought in $20,000 worth of business.

Beautifully effective, but still time consuming. Creating a video is nothing like writing a blog post — you may have to do many different takes before you get it right, you may find being on camera frightening or anxiety inducing, you may not want to pull your employees out of their daily activities to make a video, you may struggle to get angles and lighting right, to even hold the dang camera straight.

And you may get really, really sad when that video only gets 100 views on YouTube.

However, they can be extremely effective, especially if they’re hitting the sweet spot for length — long enough to provide some value while still short enough for people to easily watch on social media.

In terms of quality, the better the quality, the more likely your video is to get out there and really have an impact, but the law of diminishing returns is in play here like nowhere else — it can take a very large expenditure of time and money to make very small improvements to your videos.

Don’t worry if it’s not perfect — neither are 90% of the videos being shared on social media anyway. Just get out there and make some videos, share them liberally, keep them housed on your website (NOT on social media), and allow them to do their work.


Combine These Tactics for Awesomeness

At this point, you’ve got a good general idea of what content marketing is, how it works in practice, and why you need to spend some time on it.

However, you may not have that time — and believe you me, I understand.

So sit down, chat with the team (even if the team is me, myself, and I), and figure out what you can commit to — if you can’t do it yourself, you may want to consider hiring a content marketing writer.

Then get started.

And, if you’re struggling with the basics, check out our free resources — we have tons of downloadable templates that can help you with the basics of content marketing, old fashioned marketing, and everything in between.

Check out our free content marketing resources here.

And happy marketing out there, champ.


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Adam Fout
Adam Fout specializes in content marketing and has written for a variety of publications in the marketing world.Follow him on Twitter @adamfout2, LinkedIn, or the Blue Steele Solutions blog if you like valuable information accompanied by snarky simplifications of complex subjects.