SNEWS' top tips to make content marketing work for your business

Hear what our expert has to say about designing a content marketing strategy
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On Wednesday, SNEWS brought you a primer on content marketing — what it is, and why it's important for businesses in the outdoor, yoga and fitness markets. We also teased you with the top two tips included here. Now we're ready to share all 11 of our key recommendations on the specifics of this marketing strategy. Read on, and let us know in the comments if you've tried any of these already, and whether it helped you achieve particular goals.

1. Figure out your goals
Content marketing campaigns can be crafted toward specific goals. Some brands care more about increasing e-commerce conversions, while others are more focused on driving brand awareness. While both are tied to the bottom line, these two different goals require different approaches.

A strictly e-commerce focused content campaign will take more of an SEO approach meaning less focus on imagery, video and other uncrawlable formats of content. A brand awareness campaign may focus more on distributing beautiful imagery and video.

Understanding your goals will help you start crafting the format of your content.

2. Build metrics around those goals
Once you’ve figured out your goals, figure out how to measure success toward that goal. Say that the goal for a year-long content campaign is to increase e-commerce revenue by 20 percent over existing increases, with a secondary goal of driving a million new impressions to the brand. Now work backward and figure out what tactics you’ll use to get to that goal. We’ll start with ecommerce revenue.

The easiest way to increase ecommerce revenue with content is by increasing Organic Search Traffic through blog articles. Blog articles drive traffic and links and collect PageRank. That PageRank can be redirected into Product Pages, increasing their ranking and thus, traffic.

According to a study by Chitika, a page that is ranked No. 3 on a Google search has three times the traffic as a page that is at a rank of No. 7. Another study by One Click Ventures found that pages with a ranking of 1-3 have nearly twice the conversion rate of those in the 7-10 ranks. If we assume that traffic times conversion times order value is revenue, then going from a rank 7 to a 3 can increase revenue for that particular page by a factor of six.

Those specific revenue increases can be measured using Conversion Tracking tags within Google Analytics. Depending on the number of SKUs you want to track, a qualified developer should be able to configure your Google Analytics within a week, so you can start measuring ecommerce performance from the campaign.

Now let’s look at measuring brand awareness. This is much easier. On a blog, simply look at the new visitors brought in by articles. While it’s likely that many of those visitors are already familiar with the brand, many of them are not. Regardless, every reader is voluntarily engaging with your content as opposed to say, a banner ad that they’ve learned to block out.

If your goal is to get a million qualified impressions to your brand and your blog is doing 100,000 unique visitors a month, then you’ve exceeded your year’s goal. Once you’ve established your metrics for success, build an execution plan around those metrics.

3. Hire legitimate editors and writers
Remember the “valuable, relevant” part of the definition of content marketing? If you’re pumping out articles that offer no value to your audience, you’ll likely get no engagement. Google sees low engagement as an indicator of “thin” content. All of a sudden, your content marketing plan has turned against you and into a magnet for penalties and devaluations.

But perhaps more important than how Google judges the quality of your content is the judgment from your customers. You’ve spent decades creating a brand around authenticity and every published article is a reflection of that. Look for content creators who are intimately familiar with your brand, your industry and have publishing experience.

While industry-specific writers/editors with publishing experience are more expensive than generic copy writers, they’ll keep your blog’s voice on brand and help you avoid costly mistakes.

4. Know the legalities of publishing
Who owns the rights to the stories after they’re published? Who takes liability if a viral article harms your brand? How do you attribute photography and can you reuse it? How do you handle invoicing to writers? What are payment frequency and terms? These are things you’ll want to define before an engagement with a writer or service.

The world of content marketing so far has not been regulated heavily by the FCC but that could change quickly, so work with people who are familiar with the legalities of the space.

5. Create editorial guidelines
Just about every brand has a documented set of guidelines to ensure that marketing communications stay unified. The same should go for a blog. Before starting your campaign, define voice and tone, content subjects, as well as doing some quick demographic research. Then send this document to blog editor and writers and stress the importance of staying on brand.

In the beginning, writers will veer off brand so don’t be afraid to fine tune them. Over time, your writers should dial in to the intricacies of your brand. While it’s always better to vet writers beforehand, some writers just aren’t a good fit for a brand. In that case, it’s always better to put an end to off-brand content than to continue publishing it.

6. Publishing cadence
Whether you plan to grow blog traffic through organic search or you plan to buy traffic via a syndication network, you’ll need to publish at least one article a day. If you’re publishing once a week, search spiders and syndication services are unlikely to pick up your content, reducing your traffic potential. Replicate the publishing schedule of a traditional online publication with a goal of publishing daily.

7. Understand the process and create protocols
Going from idea to finished article takes lots of work. Here are some of the steps involved.

A pitch comes from a writer to an editor and the editor assigns. The writer writes a draft and submits for review. A copy editor copy edits, fact checks, and sends revisions. After revisions are submitted, images are added. Then articles are scheduled for approval.

After the article publishes, you have an agreed upon amount of time to pay the writer usually by invoice. You’ll want to have at least 4-5 writers in your stable so figure out how to streamline this process.

Also be prepared to deal with kill fees and missed deadlines – they happen all the time in publishing.

8. Drive traffic
“Your content is only as good as your distribution, so we make sure to share content across platforms – emails, social, catalogs and web site,” said Christian Folk, director of marketing at Outdoor Research.

There are many ways to drive traffic to blog articles. You should have a healthy mix between organic search, viral and paid.

The highest-volume but least favorable type of traffic is paid traffic. A recent study by Comscore noted that 54 percent of ad traffic in their survey was never seen by a human (mostly likely, a robot instead). Another controversial study found that 80 percent of ad traffic from Facebook was fake. While those claims are hotly contested by Facebook and other marketers, the point is there are higher-quality forms of traffic.

Organic search will come naturally as you publish according to a set cadence. Set up a pinging service (if you use WordPress, it comes standard with every theme) so each article you publish pings Google to come crawl the site for new content.

Every so often, you’ll publish an article that goes viral. This is perhaps the most exciting part of content marketing. If you’re on a daily publishing schedule, you should have at least one viral article per month.

If you feel your content is good enough to share, don’t be afraid to send it out to your email subscribers or other brands to share with their followers.

“We try and work with partners, endemic or otherwise, as much as possible. This gives us greater reach and builds our audience with fans of like-minded brands,” said Folk.

9. Get off Blogger, Blogspot and wordpress.com
Don’t co-brand with a random blogging platform. Rather, install the publishing platform of choice (I recommend WordPress) onto your own server. It’s not difficult and will make your campaign infinitely more profitable, especially if SEO is a consideration.

10. Separate the blog server from your store
Remember those viral articles we talked about earlier? Don’t lose sales because a viral article crashes the store’s server. The ideal configuration is to install your publishing CMS onto a separate server.

But be wary of who you entrust to host your files lest you are taken “hostage” and are not allowed to access them for “security” reasons. Any developer with server admin experience can complete this installation in a day.

If creating a separate server isn’t practical for your organization, at a minimum, keep your blogs on separate databases. That way if the code on the blog crashes, it doesn’t impact the store.

11. Don’t accept guest posts
It’s surprising that this practice still exists given the amount of energy that Matt Cutts has spent denouncing it (Matt Cutts is the head of search quality at Google and the face of Google for all SEO’s). If you have suspicions that guest posting is happening on your blog (or vice versa – your content marketer is guest posting for other blogs), put an end to it. Or as Cutts puts it, “Stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.”

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--Yoon Kim

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