The three E’s of successful content marketing: Engage, Educate, Earn

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Content marketing is on the rise, and businesses that want to leverage custom content to generate leads and sales should focus on on strategies to engage, educate and earn.

Content marketing budgets are booming this year with 60 percent of businesses allocating more money to digital content. But marketers are still struggling to find their footing when it comes to launching successful campaigns: 41 percent say it’s a challenge to come up with content that really impacts prospects. For those that are grappling with content ROI, I recommend sticking to the three simple E’s of content marketing: Engage, educate, earn.

First and foremost, this 3E content marketing blog might sound a little cheesy, but that’s ok. I’ve always welcomed cheesy. The most creative and successful ideas are often rooted in something that at first sounds simple, silly or, well, cheesy.

Let’s start with a little role playing. I’m the student and you’re the teacher. What is content marketing and what’s the easiest way you can explain it?

It all comes down to one simple equation:

Content Marketing Success = Engage + Educate + Earn 

Throughout last year and certainly within the first couple months of 2012, you’ve most likely heard an increasing amount of buzz around the term “content marketing.” Anyone interested in search marketing has heard the term “Content is King,” which Brafton has reported is still the mantra of search engine optimization. And even if you aren’t obsessed with Mad Men, you are probably aware that content marketing has always existed and it always will, but how we use content is changing – and it’s changing quickly.

Content marketing goes beyond publishing custom content; it depends on strategies that use original, valuable content to help a brand position itself as an authoritative industry voice in the minds of potential customers and to transform readers into leads. Content can be offered through the production of news content, blog articles, newsletters, whitepapers, case studies, infographics, video and more.

Every business has the opportunity to become its own media outlet with high-caliber editorial content, and great content marketing allows them to turn this website content into a vehicle for leads and sales.

Here’s your guide to the three E’s of content marketing, aimed to help your business maximize content returns.

Engage

Before content production begins, it’s important to map out how you will reach your target audience.

Determine who you want to engage … and what you want them to do

You need to first think about which actions you want people to take on your site. What would you consider content success? Getting people to subscribe to newsletters from a content page? Funneling traffic to conversion-friendly landing pages or shopping carts? Having people click to download free trials from content pages?

Tip for targetingOnce you know what you want people to do, ask, “Who are the people that would take these steps?” Build up your audience profile so you can identify the content types, style and tone that will attract these audiences. The performance of any piece of website content will partially depend how well it speaks to your ideal audiences. It’s important to consider the content style. The voice behind the content must appropriately speak to your audience. In outlining this, it’s necessary to choose the correct tone and language. The content should naturally match the personality of your audience.

Of course, the content’s success will also depend on its accessibility to targeted audiences and how clearly you give them next steps. Now let’s get into researching where audiences will be online (which tells you where you should strive for visibility and/or share content) and how you can set yourself up to measure engagement.

Research where you can best engage web audiences

Outlining your content marketing objectives will set a game plan for how you’ll reach the right audiences. From an inbound marketing perspective users must be able to discover you before they can be engaged, and no matter the social channels you find your target audience is most active on, 89 percent of Americans start the buying process with search - so you should be aiming to engage search audiences.

Content is strategically leveraged through search marketing. A core list of relevant keywords that will naturally draw search traffic is integrated throughout the content. A common goal is to be on page one in Google or Bing. Page one results present the user with an opportunity to competitively choose your brand over another – but personal search filters are complicating search rankings, so you have to be ready to measure content success beyond rankings reports. Plus, Brafton has reported that the majority of users will check out the first three results pages when doing their shopping homework.

Beyond search and mainstream social channels, look for the niche forums that speak to your industry. When in doubt, share your content headlines across the web! If it takes prospects too long to locate brand content then they might not even consider you.

Position yourself to measure engagementOur Top Content Summary via Google Analytics

Set your content metrics with the evolving online landscape in mind: Instead of focusing on just keyword rankings, set yourself up with an analytics tool that will let you look at traffic volumes from various search and social sources. Better still, look at the quality of this traffic, determined by time on site, bounce rates, valuable navigation pathways and more. At Brafton, we always offer analytics around quantitative and qualitative data, looking to identify the top performing content pages in clients’ online conversion processes.

Educate

Remember how we talked about investigating who to engage (and what you want them to do)? When it comes time to write and publish your content, make sure this information is reflected through valuble, original information. Successful search and social visibility can substantially grow traffic, but that doesn’t mean consumers have committed themselves to your brand.  Even page one results include 10 options. If your content doesn’t connect with me, I have nine other opportunities to learn more about my query.

Offer relevant, informative content

Your content must directly impact the user. The best way to do this is to educate them on your product or service. Assume that they always need the content to answer the following questions:

  • Is this a trustworthy brand?
  • What are the advantages of working with this particular business or buying from this particular brand?
  • Will the cost be worth the outcome?
  • What frustrations or risks will continue without it?

Even though it’s important to get your offerings on site visitors’ minds, one of the biggest mistakes a brand makes when trying to execute a content marketing strategy is assuming that it must always talk about its products or services. While landing pages can answer most of the aforementioned questions, your ongoing content should create a bridge from information about your industry – whether blogs with best practices or news content that builds demand – to website resources offers business-specific info.

You should have a variety of content in your mix, and make sure you’re devoting some resources to a strategy that lets you update website content with articles that educate the user on your industry or the environment in which the product or service is used. This opens your reach to people who know about your products and services as well as people who are just interested in the industry you serve, but who may need your goods or services.

New Balance

New Balance is a perfect example. Clearly, the most significant business objective is to sell athletic apparel, particularly to runners. A user might expect to be offered sales pages or product descriptions that ask them to buy running shoes, but the site also offers content on running news. New Balance is winning customers’ loyalty and generating larger brand interest with this less promotional content, but the company is also offering CTAs and links to pages where people can buy shoes that would be ideal for various running events they write about.

 

Become a reliable resource with frequent content updates

Also, if you fail to educate and only talk about your brand, you run a greater risk of running out of things to say. Indeed, producing enough content is a struggle for 20 percent of marketers and 7 percent struggle to produce a variety. This is where the online news demand or the influence of fresh blog posts on purchase decisions should factor into your strategy, paired with high-caliber landing pages. With frequent content publishing you’re in a position to maintain internet users’ interest and continuously broaden their knowledge of your brand’s message, reputation and product or service. Plus, frequent publishing stands to reinforce your online visibility as Google’s fresh factor algorithm rewards sites for up-to-date content.

Regularly updated content creates a huge opportunity for your strategy.  The more your audience is educated, the more comfortable they will become with your brand. This trust can turn into sales (in fact, Brafton has reported that frequent content updates correlate with online conversions). Plus, loyal readers might begin sharing the content your site has to offer. Whether content is being shared through Facebook, Twitter or StumbleUpon, the trickle down effect of this is enormous when it comes to brand awareness and traffic.

EarnEarn

Engaging and educating the user are the two most difficult parts of your content marketing strategy – there is no end to either – but marketers would probably argue that earning is most important part of content marketing. In order to earn, you need to ensure you’re updating the ways you engage and educate based on best results.

Your strategy should consistently be monitored and tweaked so that it remains parallel to your audience. Site traffic could consistently be on the rise, but at the end of the day the most significant measurement is how it impacted conversion. Let’s look at how to set up your content to earn and then update based on earnings.

Think about UX and calls to action

Simple usability is key to converting traffic. A good user experience is defined by how easy it is for the site visitor to navigate your site for more information or to make purchases. Do simple tests and click around your own content pages: Can you find the calls to action? Do they make sense on the context of a given page? Do the links work?

Strategic calls to actionTo convert content traffic the webpage must clearly illustrate a call to action that is relevant to the page’s content.  The more creative the call to action is the better. Without drawing the user’s attention to the CTA you’ve already lost. When creating CTAs, think of the billboards you drive by every day.  Like cars on a highway, site traffic is moving at a consistent pace but what is necessary to turn visitors’ heads?  Everything to this point has been executed through an inbound marketing strategy, but the CTA needs to be direct.  It’s the billboard of your content strategy and it should influence the user’s next move to convert.

Brands need to consider how much time they are asking of the user when designing their CTAs.  The CTA needs to get right to the point. What is it you are asking for?  Within a B2B site the CTA may be something as simple as a lead generation form to provide the user with further brand content and information. A B2C site is most likely offering the user the opportunity to purchase their product or service. The point is, a CTA should not waste the user’s time or ask for too much. The CTA should be seen as the closing action for conversion – not a road block for the user.

Here are the basics when developing calls to action:

  • Make sure the CTA is relevant to a page (demonstrate the link between your content and your offerings)
  • Keep the CTA above the fold
  • Keep it simple
  • Make it attractive
  • Make sure links point to pages that fulfill the CTA’s promise
 Measure content to see where you earn… and make strategic content updates earn more

When we talked before about setting yourself up to measure engagement, we were also talking about measuring where you earn. By identifying the pages that keep people on your site, inspire them click around and – hopefully – convert – you’ll get insights on how to update your strategy for maximize, sustained content earnings.

If you haven’t already, set up conversions in your analytics account. You can see which content pages come up in the path to site visitors’ conversions. For those using Google Analytics, here is how Google explains setting up conversions: How do I set up goals and funnels? 

Content Marketing = Engage + Educate + Earn

Brafton (and many of our clients) recognizes the value of 3E content marketing. There’s an audience for all businesses that are leveraging content for conversion marketing goals: 61 percent of consumers are more likely to buy from companies that offer custom content.

As Boston-based marketing professional Mark O’Toole reported in Boston.com, “this trend will continue as companies see the value in the independent and/or marketing content that staff journalists deliver.” So as you move further into 2012 and look at implementing or enhancing your content marketing strategy keep the three following words in mind: Engage, educate, and Earn.

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Zach MichonskiZach Michonski is a Senior Content Marketing Consultant with Brafton. His creative, sophisticated, and tactical approach to content strategy and brand voice has helped many clients quickly see the true value in content marketing. Along with building and implementing content strategies Zach also spearheads and project manages Brafton’s consulting and development work around content user experience and CMS integration.
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  • http://www.ContentEqualsMoney.com Amie Marse

    Comprehensive! Great job with this Zach. I’ve found using Google’s Ad Planner as a super clever way to find out where potential clients are. Sometimes the super niche forums or places are just so hard to find. The only thing I don’t see in here is competitive analysis. Don’t get me wrong, this is an awesome post but when you do an update I would include a section of spying on your competitors and seeing what holes they are leaving in their content. Anyway – awesome job :) 

    • ZachMichonski

      Thanks Amie, I’m glad you liked it.

      Competitor analysis is key.  It’s tough to measure it by conversion or traffic, but I would take the most converting keywords and always measure your rankings against theirs. Another good way to compare yourself against competitors is by your brand’s social authority.

      • http://www.ContentEqualsMoney.com Amie Marse

        There’s an awesome webinar put out by SEOmoz about data mining the social graph. Stellar for competitor analysis :)

  • http://twitter.com/markrotoole Mark O’Toole

    Zach, great piece. An underlying message here to companies considering more robust content marketing is “be patient.” There’s an expectation that digital content especially delivers results immediately. Like any good marketing program, though, “engage” and “educate” within a content marketing initiative require creativity with appropriate labor and commitment. Companies embarking on content marketing strategies need to commit to the program in order to see the “earn” part.

    • ZachMichonski

      Thanks Mark- You’re very right. Too often I run into marketers who become disengaged and impatient with not seeing results after a few months. The impact of digital content can be extremely effective but it’s a long term brand strategy that needs to be pieced together correctly.

  • http://twitter.com/DooneyPug Lori Finnigan

    Very informative post Zach.  Thank you!

    • ZachMichonski

      Thanks- If you ever have any follow up questions feel free to reach out.

  • http://twitter.com/seodirectca Jon Marc

    Even though I have been in the business for 4 years now, I am still learning lots from people like yourself. Thanks for the in depth article.

  • http://twitter.com/MelindaCaldwel1 Melinda Caldwell

    This was an excellent piece.  There were so many great nuggets in this post.  Thank you!