If a piece of content goes out into the world and no one reads it, did it ever really happen? Or so asked the ancient philosophers of the modern world.
And by that I mean content marketers who want to open their posts with a quip.
The world is full of bloggers. It’s even truer to say that the world is full of bad bloggers: spammy or boring content written once upon a time to game the SEO system. Years ago, a brand could get to the top of Google’s search results by pasting keywords onto their site and colouring them in white text—or whatever their background was.
This erstwhile practice was called cloaking and is a black-hat SEO tactic. The system has evolved hugely since, and where once a spammy tactic was enough to propel you to the top, Google is now a far smarter and more refined system.
And that’s where content, inbound, and outreach come into play. The holy trinity, if you will.
The golden era of content
Content marketing isn’t a new discipline. Go all the way back and John Deere (yes, the markers of tractors of all things) created a magazine called the Furrow in 1895; a magazine that was an agricultural Bible for farmers and a precursor to content marketing for marketers.
The Furrow was ahead of its time, born generations before marketers would pick up the mantle of ‘content’ in the mid noughties in Cleveland, Ohio. Of course, long before marketers embraced content, teenagers and twenty-somethings were on LiveJournal and Open Diary at the very cusp of the new millennium, writing weblogs on dial-up connections.
Blogging isn’t new. Business blogging, comparatively, is—especially in Ireland, where marketers really only started to embrace it around 2012. Much of the swap over to content was because Google tightened up its rule around building spammy links—very much the in vogue tactic for SEOs at the time.
Since then, we’ve grown into the golden age of content marketing—so golden in fact that whole ebooks exist to highlight the best 29 Examples of Irish Content Marketing, featuring the likes of Cully & Sully, BowWow Times and Hairy Baby.
But what does that mean for brands?
It’s simple: adapt or die. While a blog isn’t an instant gateway to lots of traffic, it’s certainly a stepping stone. By 2020, stats suggest that customers will manage 85% of their relationships without talking to a human. In B2B, brands that blog well receive 67% more leads.
So what’s that telling us? Customers are cutting out the middle man. They are getting their information online and taking it offline or continuing along their funnel to making a purchase. It’s not enough anymore to have a 200 word description of your product when your competitor has a whole horde of ebooks and content.
Maybe they won’t make a sale there and then, but their name is in the customer’s head—and not yours. Can you really afford that?
Inbound and content—a well-oiled machine
Only 14% of Irish marketers use a content marketing management system. Inbound is still very new in Ireland and hasn’t seen a huge adoption rate just yet. And why is that? Inbound is the method that adds real ROI to your content; that mobilises your brand and gets you out there.
But how does it work?
In four steps: attract, convert, close, and delight.
That’s Hubspot’s methodology, but we’ll borrow it for today. So let’s take a closer look at the beautiful, beautiful relationship between inbound and content.
So, Inbound’s entire methodology is built around the idea of attracting the right traffic to your site. If you sell women’s shoes, you don’t want a dude looking for the newest Nikes on your site because he Googled ‘shoes’. He’s traffic, but he’s not a potential customer.
That’s where personas come in: personas encompass goals, challenges, problems, and psychographic information. You know who you’re selling to, so attracting them is your first plot point. But how do you attract them?
With content, of course. Let’s say you sell washing machines. One of your personas, Silly Sally (alliteration is par for the course with personas) has broken her washing machine and is considering buying a new one. How do you snag her attention?
You create content around washing machines—remember you’re not selling yet. Your first post isn’t “Here is why my washing machine is the best”, it’s “8 things to look out for when buying a new washing machine”.
You’ll create content: blogs, ebooks, cheatsheets, and on and on. You’ll SEO optimise your content and site, and talk about it on social media. Once all that’s done, you’ll move on to step 2 and converting.
Silly Sally has read your blog about what to look out for when buying a new washing machine. She’s now moved onto an ebook on a landing page, a gorgeously illustrated cheat sheet about the upkeep of washing machines. She had a problem with her last machine, and you’re now helping her by letting her know how to maintain her next one.
She gives you her email address in the form on the landing page and is moved into a workflow—and this is where the magic happens.
Silly Sally is a lead. She’s into washing machines. You know hers is broke or broken—so you have an opportunity to close the sale so now it’s time to move her along to being an actual customer. Depending on who your company is and how you operate, this will vary. Maybe it’s a sales call. Maybe it’s a workflow with carefully chosen blog posts.
Whatever it is, this is your moment. Seize it. As the great poet Marshall Mathers once wrote: ‘You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow/This opportunity comes once in a lifetime (yo)’.
But seriously, if you’ve nurtured your lead properly they’ll be open to your company or product. Nothing ventured nothing gained!
A very American concept, ‘delighting’ is all about turning your lead into a long-term customer with smart content: useful infographics or funny blog posts or quippy, relevant emails. Engage, entertain, and upsell/build trust.
And how does outreach fit into inbound and content?
Of course, you don’t have to go down the Inbound route. If you want to keep it simple with a company blog and social media channels, you will need to consider outreach and promotion to get a solid return on content. Even with Inbound, outreach is integral.
There is a whole other post in outreach as a topic, so I’m going to quickly hit on the main points. Outreach is the process of reaching out to other bloggers, brands, customers, social media types, etc., in a bid to get them to share something you’ve written. It isn’t an advert. One of the biggest mistakes a brand can make when it comes to blogging is to treat it like an advert.
It, explicitly, is not an ad. You want your potential customers to know that you understand them. Silly Sally needs a new washing machine because hers broke. She doesn’t want a 10 part post about how amazing your washing machine is—or most certainly, she doesn’t want it yet. She’s still in her research phase so you can’t jump ahead.
Instead, you need to figure out who Silly Sally respects. Who does she listen to? Maybe it’s Mumsnet. Now you know who you want to target, you’ll need to come up with a plan. That could be an advertorial or sponsored spend; it could be banner ads; it could be writing and sending pitch emails; it could be Facebook advertising. Whatever option you chose, do your research and optimise your content.
Remember: it’s not about you.
Whole suites of tools exist specifically for PR and outreach. They’ll cost you, but use them right and they could be instrumental to the next phase of growth in your business.
If you want to gently get your toe wet before diving into the world of content, I’ve picked three easy tools to get you started on the path to the trifecta of great content, inbound, and outreach.
1. BuzzSumo – a content aggregator. Enter a search query, brand name, etc., and BuzzSumo will pull up all the most popular articles and the number of social shares they got. Particularly useful if you need inspiration.
2. VoilaNorbert – need an email address and can’t decide on what permutation of [name]@[company].[domain extension] it could be? Input their details into VoilaNorbert and it’ll do its damndest to return a correct email address. Just don’t use it to become a massive spammer. Don’t be that guy, okay? #notallspammers
3. Tweetdeck/Hootsuite – monitor social channels and set up custom searches for keywords, your brand name, and competitors. See what problems people have and figure out how you can fix them. If it’s appropriate (!), join the conversation. As an aside, you can also use either of these tools to schedule your tweets.
Of course, you can use all the tools in the world, but it’ll only really work if your content is excellent. Content, after all, is the glue that binds it all together.
I first published this piece on Irish Tech News.